Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Ayrshire Coastal Path. Doonfoot to Dunure via Heads of Ayr. A Five Star Coastal Walk.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN
As it was a lovely day last Sunday, but only south of Glasgow in the morning, myself and Alan decided to head down to Ayrshire to walk one of the best sections of the Ayrshire Coastal Path, a 100 mile, multi day, long distance hike from Glenapp to Skelmorlie with some lovely varied scenery contained in its length. Alex received an invite as well but he's always been more interested in mountains than coastal walks and had other things to do.
Above is a low tide view of the clifftop ruins of Greenan Castle and in the distance the Heads of Ayr, where the Carrick Hills end abruptly by plunging in eroded volcanic cliffs straight into the sea.
The start of this section of the walk is the car park at Longhill Point at Doonfoot on the southern outskirts of Ayr. This is a view of the sizable town of Ayr from the car park start. It's a walk where Tide Tables for Ayr or Girvan have to be looked up beforehand but this is easy to do... just type into a search engine  BBC WEATHER. TIDE TABLES then click on Coast and Sea then Tide Tables then Scotland and then click on the nearest named town beside the walk. In this instance it's Ayr or Girvan.
Ayrshire is famous for its miles of sandy beaches and as the home of Robert Burns. You pass the distinctive thatched cottage where he grew up in Alloway on the drive to this beach front car park. A visit around his old haunts there can also be included as it's only 2 km away or five minutes run in the car.
Tide Times are important here because this is the same view as the first photo but taken at high tide with the sea right up under the castle cliffs and the flat sandy beaches flooded. You can still scramble around the coast here but it's a far harder proposition and may involve waist deep wading along the bottom of the cliffs in a few places unless you head inland to find the upper path across the fields.
Having looked up the Tide Tables the night before and clicked on Sunday, low tide was around 6:00am and high tide was around 3:00pm. As we arrived fairly late deliberately just in time for the predicted early morning rain showers to clear away northwards we had a sunny day yet setting off on this walk around 10:30am from the Doonfot car park still found easy flat sands to walk over and get round the Heads of Ayr before the tide came in fully and cut off the route. So there is plenty of leeway here and you don't need to arrive at maximum low tide early in the morning to find easy flat sands to walk on. 1:00pm to 5:00 pm in this instance, on that particular day, is the tricky time for a low level traverse. Alan and his faithful hound just approaching the start of the Heads of Ayr.
When the sands are exposed like this it's a five star adventure classic and is covered in my book "A Guide to Walking and Cycling Around the River Clyde and the Firth of Clyde" which has over 80 walks and/or cycle rides from Lanark to Givan including the Firth of Clyde Islands in one handy volume plus 146 original colour photos similar to this one for £1:99 on kindle. The link to all my books can now be found down the blog side bar in alphabetical order but here it is again. A worthwhile photographic journey down the length of the Clyde packed with interesting walks and cycle rides suitable for beginners or experienced hikers, many little known but worthwhile.

The Heads of Ayr cliffs with the tide coming in. Luckily for us we had traversed this section by now and were at the stage of climbing uphill and slightly inland where beaches and rock pools are replaced by high level views, green fields, yellow flowering gorse bushes and spring lambs.  A marked path of white cairns and stiles runs parallel to the coast at this point over fences and across fields then open meadows but dogs must be kept on a lead at all times on this section to keep the livestock safe.
This is what happens when you don't as any dog's natural instinct, as a predator, is to chase sheep and cows if it's free to roam off the lead. Even the fluffy ones that  "wouldn't hurt a fly." There are warning signs up on this inland stretch but one section has already been permanently closed off on this long distance path due to irresponsible dog owners ignoring the many signs. Full details in here halfway down the page and several other incidents which could have been fatal for livestock.. or out of control dogs. The photo above incidentally looks like the work of a fox or possibly even a badger if the lamb was already dead in the field as dogs tend to rip lambs apart more messily than this and rarely eat them for survival, especially as cleanly as this one has been picked for the best parts of the body.
Although the beaches looked clean and fresh they didn't get that way without a lot of effort as detailed in this link. Even in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, remote coral atolls thousands of miles from the nearest land have beaches covered in washed up junk and a percentage of it will stay there for eternity unless removed by hand. A sad reflection on our fad driven society that produces millions of useless items every day that will be tossed out weeks later when the novelty wears off... only to be replaced with another useless piece of crap, possibly shipped from the other side of the world. Why should we care? Well, Armageddon might not be the big bang quick event beloved of action films but the more mundane ending of a world slowly smothered to death by stupidity, greed and advertising. We need saving alright... from ourselves.
Think recycling is the answer? Often many of the materials carefully sorted into our bins get dumped together in the hold of large ships then travel back to the other side of the world again where it's simply tossed into big holes, sometimes right next to beautiful scenic places, where it remains buried forever ten feet down if its plastic based. This way of thinking doesn't make any sense to me. Like sweeping dust under the carpet for future generations to clean up. Watching "Back in time for the Weekend" put things into perspective as this rapid acceleration of disposable junk only happened in the 1980s and 1990s which wasn't that long ago yet the world economy is now dependent on it making a few people very rich but trashing the planet for the rest of us.Surely the answer is not to produce so much unnecessary rubbish in the first place?
Death is a common occurrence on any nature walk, especially at the end of a stormy winter. This gannet could have died of illness, starvation, injury or through accidentally swallowing rubbish, like fishing tackle or lures then been unable to pass it out again.
Death and great beauty often sit side by side however and this pretty little crocus patch was discovered growing inland not far from the unlucky gannet.
A tennis sized ball that someone has put a face on.  This made us laugh and has probably cheered up hundreds of walkers passing by on the route. Several caravan parks line this route inland with paths leading down to the sea and I've had holidays on this Ayrshire coastline myself as a child including a very special one at an early age that introduced me to someone who shaped the rest of my life and thinking from that point to this day.
The sweet evocative smell of flowering gorse and summer heat never fails to bring me back to that special enchanted time as the sights, sounds, smells and experiences of childhood mark and define the rest of your life no matter how hard you try to brush them away, like any stick of seaside rock with the letters of a particular holiday resort running inside its core.
Dog safely on the lead now, travelling through sheep and lamb country on the higher level path.
The rich coconut smell of gorse all around was intoxicating and really defines "spring" every year. Snowdrops and crocus are her fingernails sticking out still cold ground into often frigid air but gorse in abundance like this heralds her full arrival when the temperatures rise to T-shirt warm- the best it usually gets in Scotland. Why a "she?" Mother Nature, Isis, Luna, Diana, Demeter, Aurora... "Spring" is always female....the rebirth... just as " he"- male- is blood, death and war.
This was the warmest part of the walk as it was gently uphill and sheltered from any sea breeze by a long avenue of gorse. At the top we stripped off down to T-shirts for the remainder of the day and I was in my element, soaking up the heat.

Sunshine is my Shepherd
I shall not want
"She" maketh me lie down in green pastures,
beside the still waters.
And I will dwell in that house
 all the days of my life
for ever and ever.

Yes. It was an eventful holiday so long ago when I was stamped to the core with letters from another soul like an unsuspecting stick of rock.
At the end of this colourful tunnel of childhood memories and shivers by the sea we arrived out at Dunure, a pleasant little harbour surrounded by a rocky shoreline with another ruined castle perched on a clifftop.
This is a popular destination in good weather for day trippers with an elevated grassy adventure playground area for families, an assortment of hidden little coves to find, an attractive harbour, pub, cafe, and ice cream shop. As parking is adequate but not abundant it's preferable to get here early on in the day to be sure of a parking spot. Although busy in season a short walk in any direction from the harbour gets you away from the crowds, like most tourist haunts, as 90 percent of folk tend to stick within a twenty minute walk of their car.
The  unmistakable"Neptune's Bunnet"- "Desert Island" shape of Ailsa Craig looming through the usual sea distortion effect, similar to heat haze or a mirage when taken with a zoom at a low angle to the water. The most mysterious and illusive of the larger Firth of Clyde islands as it's uninhabited and few holiday makers have been there with it being well off the normal tourist trail. Private boat hire or owning a sea going craft yourself being the only way to arrive on its steep sided shoreline.
We had an excellent ice cream and a seat at the harbour before catching the bus (£3 one way every hour) back to Doonfoot, Ayr and the car. Allow 4 to 5 hours at an easy pace. Around 8 to 10 km depending on route or you can just explore around the Heads of Ayr on foot without continuing on to Dunure. A classic five star outing all three of us enjoyed as Alan's dug loved the seaside and the sandy beaches as well.

My long time favourite summer video. A repeat but it captures the essential essence of lazy summer days and goes with this seaside post like strawberries and cream. If it happens in Scotland (a summer heatwave that is) it's regarded as a miracle. We might have blue skies here but not the extended dry summer heat of the English south coast to go with it.


Linda W. said...

I just love hiking along the beach! Stunning scenery.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Linda,
Me too as there's always plenty to see on a coastal walk.

Carol said...

I'm sure your definition of Armageddon is completely right unfortunately. I try not to buy much or be consumeristic but there's still a lot of waste no matter what. I'm sad to hear that about my recycling - I was really hoping it got sorted out properly and over here. I think my biggest sin is the sheer amount of food I eat and, because I don't cook, most of it is overpackaged.

blueskyscotland said...

Yes, I heard that recently then looked it up. A lot of waste in bins is still unusable, unsuitable, or councils simply don't have the facilities to process it at present. Personally I've always thought a percentage of "Green Options" are only there to make us feel better about ourselves as we continue to make ever-increasing amounts of unnecessary junk. Think of mountains of unused gym equipment for one example where walking in an interesting location is far more fun,costs nothing, and you can keep it up for life.
I need to hold my hands up as well here as my house is full of junk I'll never use under the pretext of "that might come in handy some day."

Carol said...

Yes but our houses being full of 'junk' that might come in handy some day is our attempt to re-use which everyone should be doing even before recycling. My Mum & Dad's is the same and my house/garden was until I got totally fed up recently and started a clear-out.

Tom said...

Roughly when you were walking this i was sitting over on Stevenston beach near the robbie burns mural thinking the cliffs south of Ayr looked interesting!

After your post we tried the walk from doonfoot to dunure today and an excellent choice it was. I had always been vaguely aware this walk existed and have passed along the coast road above many times but had no idea how special the scenery along the coast would be. Much like the giants causeway area of northern ireland, where half a mile inland you are in fairly unremarkable farmland but get within earshot of the coast and it all becomes much more dramatic.

Even better was a complete sense of seclusion, from craig tara to dunure we didn't pass another living soul, there must have been something else on!

We had half a mind to walk back but opted instead to laze around in Dunure for a while, another as yet undiscovered gem for me. The bus gave us one last bit of entertainment as the driver got himself incredibly agitated and started gesticulating wildly while narrowly stopping in time to avoid the two idiot tourists who tried to flag his bus down in the wrong direction. I thought i had been clever and assumed the bus would carry on round the loop road before turning right onto the main road back to Ayr.

The path south of Dunure looks interesting too, one for another day.

Lux G. said...

The view is always worth the hike. Especially when it looks like this. Amazing.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Tom
Glad to be of service. One thing that's remarkable is it's solitude for such a great walk yet my visit to the Giant's Causeway was heaving with people, tour buses,ice cream vans,food stalls, and put me off a little after all the other Irish walks I'd been on had been every bit as spectacular but quiet.I've noticed that 'fashion', for want of a better word, plays a huge part in walking these days. I'm a big fan of going off the beaten track and even though it was a sunny Sunday we only spotted one other person after the holiday camp at Craig Tara as well.
That bus back to Ayr surprised us too by heading up into the Ayr suburbs and away from Doonfoot but the walk back through a brand new housing estate to the beach was interesting as well.
The other great walk down there is Maidens car park to Culzean Castle and grounds along the beaches and only go inland after passing under the castle and sea caves. It's on the blog under Blueskyscotland. Maidens.Culzean Castle.
Cheers again as it's nice to get some feedback.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Lux G,
Thank you for your comment. Can't beat a nice beach walk.

Tom said...

True enough with the giants causeway comparison, just the scenery i thought was similar butt he two places are worlds apart for atmosphere. And you have to pay something daft like £8 to park at the causeway, which as it came shortly after paying £8 each to walk over a rope bridge which isn't a patch on the corrieshalloch gorge (£2 parking, free for cyclists!) is something that will stay with me.....!

We will definitely try the maidens walk another day.

blueskyscotland said...

The highlights within the estate grounds are the sunken gardens under the castle walls, the Happy Valley trail through the flowering rhododendrons and the Swan Pond. Another five star coastal outing in good weather at its best in late April, May and June for the gardens.