Monday, 25 January 2016

Saltcoats to Kilwinning across the amazing Ardeer Peninsula.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
The Ardeer Peninsula, a large tract of sand dunes, desolate beach and bleak river estuaries sitting between Stevenston and Irvine in North Ayrshire has fascinated me for many years now. Once the site of one of the largest explosives factories in the world, manufacturing Dynamite and Gelignite for mining, construction, and both World Wars it had a maximum work force of 18,000 at its peak, its own train station (Ardeer) and dozens of explosives blending and mixing huts, a dining hall for meal times, boilers, cooling towers, engine and power sheds, underground bunkers, and warehouses. For many years, unless you worked there, it was a closed site and terra incognita on many maps. Even today it is a remote and little known destination with a very real atmosphere of end of the world desolation and decay.
On a raw, wild winter's day just before Christmas 2015 I thought it would be a good place to visit, given the wild conditions for any hill-walking, and Alan was up for it as well, bringing along his dog. We parked the car at Saltcoats with the intention of walking from there along the coastline, where possible, to reach the peninsula. The first photo was taken at Saltcoats the second at Stevenston Beach where a pedestrian bridge led us over a small river onto the sands. Both Alan and his dog enjoyed the coastal scenery here.
 Once out on the sands we had a walk along the coast with a weak winter sun above, coastal Ayrshire being one of the few places that day with a sun symbol over it, hence our visit. Alfred Nobel, (the Swedish Peace Prize guy) invented Dynamite and Gelignite as well as taking out hundreds of other patents during his lifetime. He came from a long line of inventors and engineers as his father created Plywood and worked on the development of early floating mines and torpedoes. The Ardeer site was chosen for its remote setting and its plentiful sand dunes which could be arranged and shaped around the huts into handy blast chambers that would insure that any explosion would not spread to nearby huts. Chain reaction explosions had already happened at other earlier sites and had to be avoided at all costs.
One of the areas where you can still see the extensive sand dunes and the remains of old buildings. At its peak this site was a major employer in the area with Ardrossan, Saltcoats, Stevenston, Kilwinning and Irvine locals benefiting over decades. Like Bishopton Royal Ordnance in Renfrewshire (another large explosives site) it could be a dangerous place to work if you were unlucky or made a mistake but it also kept families in employment in an area with few other steady job opportunities. A fascinating link here to the history of Ardeer viewed first hand through the eyes of a young women working in the explosives sheds. See under War Years and Explosions.
I was initially surprised to see so many young girls had been recruited and killed but I suppose during the war years most of the able bodied men would have been already called up to fight. From my own point of view I was intrigued to see what it was like and if you could make an interesting walk out of it.
Although I'd visited the edges of Ardeer on a couple of occasions on my own I was not sure if it was still off limits or if you could cross the peninsula on foot then get over a bridge across the River Garnock estuary to reach Kilwinning. Despite searching for info online, facts about this area were few and far between and mostly outdated and none mentioned if this old bridge was still a viable crossing point. If it no longer existed or was closed off we would have a long walk back to Saltcoats, retracing our steps.On a previous trip I'd cycled along the beach at low tide from Saltcoats then halted at the River Irvine mouth as you can go no further. A bleak and desolate area I later found out was Scotland's only official nudist beach though you are more likely to find hairy Naked Rambler types there in summer than fashionable nubile young devotees. It is still a very wild area yet close to urban development and as far away from the South of France that you can possibly imagine.
On that first occasion The Big Idea ( a modern hands on visitors centre for inventions and innovators had just closed (I was there around 2004/5 at a guess) with massive debts.
As it was nearby I left the bike and wandered over out of curiosity to see this empty building but an automatically triggered loud hailer soon informed me that it was out of bounds and that the police had been informed and were on their way. Considering it's remote position and the fact that the bridge across to Irvine had been removed I wasn't that bothered and had a quick look around anyway as they would have to reach me first and I wasn't doing anything untoward. As this message kept repeating loudly it did put me off exploring the rest of the peninsula however, (I assumed at that time it was all off limits) and I soon returned to my bike and cycled back along the sands.
What I did manage to see on that occasion were abandoned huts lying half buried in the sand dunes, miles of old barbed wire fences and a general air of decline. A few years later I returned on a summer bike trip along the cycle trail from Saltcoats to Eglinton Country Park and had a detour into Ardeer from that direction. It is a very large site and distinctly creepy as you never see anyone around except occasional gangs of local teenagers, random curious adults, or equally bold individuals. On that occasion I met a male adult stranger wandering around in a spacious underground bunker I was exploring on my lonesome, containing several rooms, and we both jumped involuntarily coming face to face around a dark corner then gave a nervous laugh. " It's a scary place." he admitted before continuing to look around. At that point, when his guard was down, I killed and ate him. Well, it's that sort of location and I pride myself on my ability to fit in with my surroundings.
He should have watched more old cowboy films as the bad guys in them always give a cheery grin before they shoot someone. That will teach him to relax near me. Classic beginner's mistake when meeting a psychopath in a deserted area. I didn't much care for the colour of socks he was wearing anyway and he seemed a right dodgy type to ever turn my back on. If you are not fast you're last in the quick draw game....And that is a true story. I haven't been back since. (the houses in the background seem empty but are guarded by cameras and patrolled)
Africa House. Once the South African Pavilion during the 1938 Glasgow Exhibition it was transported here afterwards to be used as a staff restaurant and conference centre. It is now abandoned and forlorn like most of this site. Nobel Explosives then ICI chemicals controlled this entire area but we wandered through here without seeing anyone although I did meet some members of a biker gang here on another occasion when I was exploring alone. Not a walk to everyone's tastes but certainly bold surprises exist round every corner... as I can testify.
Another side of Africa House.
An apt and accurate depiction, given the surroundings.
Inside an abandoned warehouse. Beauty can often be found in unusual settings and I liked the reflections on the flooded floor here.
A male goosander (Type of diving duck) in a marshy pond.
Tufted ducks nearby. Wildlife will always use abandoned habitats when humans have no further use for them.
The part of the site that is still being used and off limits. Despite three visits here in total I have yet to repeat myself and this trip with Alan opened up an entirely new set of buildings and dunes not visited on previous trips. We both enjoyed it and it was reasonably sheltered from a constant icy wind.
The old bridge and railway or tram line running across it. As the River Garnock is wide and deep here I was very glad to see it still intact and we were able to cross to the far side where the remains of the old Bogside Race Course once stood with cheering crowds in the stands. This entire journey is a walk though the ghosts of the past and a day trip into a wild and empty location that feels as isolated and remote at times as any highland fastness. In fact you will probably see far less people here and might actually want to avoid any you do come across :o) I found it exciting however and a very interesting day out. The walk into Kilwinning was a bit of a slog along roads and back streets, filled with abandoned factories and semi derelict industrial estates, many with for sale signs outside and once again I was reminded of just how prosperous and independent a lot of small towns in Scotland once were. On my travels around I've encountered hundreds of mysterious large squares of empty concrete in urban areas where some kind of factory or building must have stood. Many towns are still in free-fall and have been since the 1980s. Reminds me of the Shelley poem about the vast ruined city buried by the desert sands and the famous lines in it.... "Look on my works ye mighty... and despair."

We managed to get a bus back in Kilwinning and arrived in Saltcoats just after nightfall. 12 to 14 km one way depending on curiosity and mostly flat. Around 4 to 6 hours at an easy pace, exploring on the way. Interesting sculpture.

As a more scenic alternative here's a stunning route in Wales (Tremadog) that Alex and I have actually done years ago. One from Classic Rock and a great video. It's a deceptive climb put up by two Scottish intruders into the Welsh heartland so we were keen to tick it off. Starts easily enough in the security of the trees but soon becomes very exposed and elevated on a toenail traverse with no handholds for a few moves then weaves a devious snaking line up a near vertical cliff face to the top.  Photos of Tremadog climbing in here.
A brilliant open route we both enjoyed, along with a few other fine routes nearby before a well earned snack in Eric Jones' climbers' cafe below. Wouldn't fancy doing this climb now as I've lost my bottle for serious verticality these days. Worth viewing full screen. Great rock architecture throughout. Wish head cams and Go Pros had been around when we were climbing as we were fairly prolific around the UK in those far off days.


Robert Craig said...

What a fascinating place! My wife would love a poke round those ruins.

Carol said...

How the hell is that climb only Hard Severe? It looks horrendous in places. Watching that made me think I'm not much of a climber as I really don't think I'd tackle that and I can supposedly do Severe outdoors. I would never have led it! :-o

Interesting walking area in the dunes there with all those old buildings - not sure I'd want to bump into a gang of yoofs or something on my own though.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Craig,
It's a fascinating area to wander around but not a place to visit alone as I wasn't joking about the infrequent gangs and trail bikers since they like it as well and it's is their back yard and occasional playground. Most times though you will never meet anyone. Trains also run back from Kilwinning to Saltcoats.
"Secret Scotland. Ardeer.". also has more photos of different building interiors.

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Carol,
That climber has some great routes posted on You Tube. Think it was a Sept Weekend we went down there and we also did Poor Man's Peuterey (Severe) afterwards. Felt a bit nippy for Hard Severe due to the exposure but good holds and protection throughout. Mountain multi pitch crags are different from one pitch routes as they feel more serious when you are stuck halfway up a cliff on a tiny ledge and you know you have to make it to the top to be safe.

Carol said...

Didn't like the look of the handless traverse. And you're right - multi-pitch are way more serious and I'm sure that why I only do the small single pitch routes. I actually enjoy them but don't think I'd have enjoyed that climb in the video. Too high, too long and way too serious. I think I just have the 'climbing wall' mentality unfortunately and no ambition!

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Carol,
That move is not too bad actually as you are still in balance shuffling across and it's only a short distance. Myself and Alex gave up rock climbing and Munro bagging years ago so I'm amazed you still have the energy, enthusiasm and drive to still do the big stuff, especially coming up from England every summer. You have more ambition than both of us as we are content to bag pimples these days. Alex has now collected almost 1000 of the lesser Scottish hills so they might be small but there's more of the buggers :o)

Carol said...

There's no way I'm ever going to tackle lists like the 'Marilyns' - I can't see the point in those. I won't be doing many Grahams either unless they're gorgeous and tempting! I'll certainly do some of the Corbetts but am not planning on bagging them all as I think there's too many left for me to do for my age - I've only done 30 so far.

Tom said...

When i was in primary school we used to go to Ardeer for "clued up kids", which was supposed to teach us about the big bad world by putting us into all sorts of testing situations like crawling through smoke filled rooms, planting ten pound notes in substations and footballs by old railway tracks. The goal was to get through the day without losing any "lives" and I was devastated to be killed only when i thought the day was over when we were set free to play, and i fell into the trap of speaking to a stranger who asked for directions. Not a member of a biker gang though as far as i remember.

I have never ventured anywhere near the end of the peninsular but we often walk along irvine beach, which itself is impressively wild for being so close to a large town, but its amazing to look across just a couple of hundred yards from a large car park to a bit of land which must need several miles of walking to get to.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Tom,
That sounds like a fun day out although they would never get away with sending children near railway lines or into smoke filled rooms nowadays. Obviously my confession to casual murder was just a ruse to see if people were paying attention during a word heavy post and not just skimming through the photos as one of my friends a while ago cheerfully admitted he's usually guilty of doing. Worrying that no-one picked up on that spilling of the beans or maybe they just know me too well by now to believe I bump people off in remote places if I don't care for their foot attire.
I can't think of another location in Scotland as desolate and empty feeling as the sands between Stevenson and the Irvine Mouth. Very melancholy atmosphere even on a sunny day.

blueskyscotland said...

Hello Carol,
Doesn't really matter what "floats the boat" as long as people find something to really believe in when travelling through this life. Finding a strong sense of purpose to commit to (Love,stamp collecting,Religion,a weird all consuming fetish, lists of mountains... is the gift that keeps on giving :o)

Anonymous said...

Hi there I met you and your coulegue in Nov 2014 on a fab walk on the big Buchille, your friend provided his number to do a few walks but have not got it, as I had a fab one looking to get it again if poss and fab blog....

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anon, I don't remember going up the big Buachaille then but I do recall meeting a couple of guys on Bidean nam Bian next to it. I don't give any personal details out on an open blog for obvious reasons but it you are that guy and are looking for a hill-walking club t0 join The Glasgow H. F. hill-walking group are a friendly bunch that have a weekly programme of Munro walks. I started out with them and it's a good place to meet people and make friends as it is a larger group.
As you will see from the blog we tend to ignore Munros these days, collecting the lower hills instead so I suspect, being younger and keen, you might feel frustrated after a few outings with us as we climb very few Munros each year.
The Orion Club. Glasgow. and the Glasgow Langside Club are also online (just google in names) and usually keen to attract new members and all three tend to concentrate on Munro bagging.
If you live outside the city there are many other good clubs( rather than informal meet up groups) online and that is how I started. I've been in half a dozen over the years and each has its own merits so if you like the hills you will find one you enjoy and make friends in.
Our own small group is getting older every year, with limited enthusiasm for the higher hills and it's better to find folk your own age to enjoy the mountains. That is exactly how we all started out decades ago so you do find friends for life if you keep at it.
Hope this helps.
Best wishes, Bob.