Monday, 15 December 2014

Prestwick. Ayrshire Coastal Path. Part Two.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN

Although my intention was to walk from Saltcoats along the beaches towards Irvine Bay I soon realized this would be a miserable outing as frequent and violent squalls started coming in at regular intervals and the sky turned black. A particularly nasty hailstone shower, seen above, convinced me to turn back after I'd taken this photograph of assorted birds.Mainly starlings. For wildlife, finding food in winter overrides staying dry and big storms like this one throw up a lot of little sea beasties caught in the waves that would normally be inaccessible under the sea.
With the wind chill it started to feel very cold on the bits of my body that hadn't stayed dry so I took a few more wave shots here then cut my losses and headed back to the car.
Another big wave.
One with seaweed and bits of wood in it which can be a real hazard if you stand too close and get hit  in the face with something hard like a small stone.
More of the seashore lands on the esplanade. I found out later the wind speeds off St Kilda, an isolated island past the Hebrides, hit 144 miles an hour. Electricity was also knocked out on Orkney which experienced colossal waves even by the standard of islands well used to rough weather. Luckily, it didn't cause much structural damage on the mainland or elsewhere but with warming seas we could yet experience hurricanes in the UK at some point in the future according to the programme on Britain's extreme weather I watched tonight as we already get mini tornado's occurring here now.
It's only a short hop in the car further down the coast to Prestwick but when I arrived I couldn't believe the difference in the sea conditions. It was maximum high tide here and a different seabed surface near the shoreline which changed the sea. Normally this is a sandy beach, popular in summer, so maybe for that reason the waves didn't have anything hard to smash against and instead had turned into a foot deep blanket of foamy lather that hid the edge of pavements and anything sitting on them.I found out later the foam is created during severe storms by millions of dead tiny sea creatures getting mashed up by the waves and the fatty residue left mixing with sea water to create this effect.
The wind was also getting stronger and the seas wilder, probably because they didn't have the full shelter of the outlying island of Arran anymore and the waves were able to travel further unimpaired.
This town was a whole different ball game as the spray was more or less continuous where there was a sea wall and they were all "punching" waves, traveling a good way inland in a solid front almost a kilometer long. Getting any decent photographs here would be far harder if I wanted to protect my camera as there seemed to be very few places you could stand without getting a torrent of spray in your face. Once again observation was the key although at times it was hard to see anything and a shower of freezing sleet started to come on. The normal easily defined boundary between land and sea no longer applied.
I persevered through and started walking along the promenade which is lovely on a sunny summers day but was really grim on this occasion. It was hard at times to stay upright in the wind.
The wind increased even more until it did indeed feel like a "weather bomb."
Huge seas at Prestwick.
There was a lot more ocean coming on land here and even with boots and full waterproofs on I began to get soaked and started to get cold. With my experience of winter mountains I usually know how far I can push this chill as my core temperature drops and I did have a change of warm clothing in the car.
A brief lull allowed me to do a section of beach walk further on where more deep form obscured any obstacles underfoot and made progress tricky in the gusts.
 You only really see the full power and grace of seabirds in conditions like these as the gulls were completely at ease in 70mile and hour winds and were actually swooping down occasionally to pick off small sea creatures from the tops of the wave crests if they spotted an opportunistic meal. Shortly after this it turned very dark and the town lights came on although it was barely 2:30pm in the afternoon and more hailstones, sheet lightning, and thunder made an unwelcome appearance.
At this point I threw in the towel and started heading back towards the car as I'd tempted fate long enough and was feeling really cold. When I reached the car I was so frozen my hands could barely grip my keys (actually a flat card reader device) and I was so weak finger wise it took me ages to push the button, open the boot, then get my boots off. Many people die on the hills in winter just because of this fact and they may even have something in their rucksacks or they find some sort of basic shelter that would save them but their hands are completely incapable of opening anything by that time, even with gloves to protect them.. I've actually had to use my teeth on a few occasions on mountains in the past to pull up the zip on my jacket tight to the top, even with winter gloves on, due to frozen fingers. I,m not that keen on winter mountaineering these days in grim weather. It's just too bloody miserable.
Anyway, the really dangerous part of the day was driving back on the A77 from Kilmarnock to Glasgow as it was dark by this time and the highest section across Fenwick Moor had ice and frozen snow on the road yet people still insisted on driving far too fast for the conditions and I witnessed three separate crashes on the journey home which took ages because of tailbacks and holdups. Nature I can usually predict and avoid real danger points most of the time but the sheer unpredictability of humans in cars (as everyone unfailingly thinks they are the best driver to ever past a test) is another matter. I was very glad to arrive back unscathed.
The end.

Another performance video from Beats Antique with a completely different theme highlighting how versatile and different this unusual group are.


Carol said...

Makes you wonder how birds like seagulls fly in such strong winds.

So far as I'm concerned, we already get hurricanes, albeit probably only hurricane-strength winds and not the actual weather system the Americans get. We used to get winds of 130+ mph in the Hebrides in winter and then the anemometer used to blow down so we didn't know what happened after that. It picked me up and moved me several feet a few times though.

Great photos. You were lucky to see starlings I think - I haven't seen one in quite a few years now - we don't get them around here any more (like hedgehogs) :-(

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Although I like visiting the Highlands and the Hebrides I wouldn't like to live there. I,m a city boy through and through and like sunshine and shelter too much to be happy up there.It takes a special kind of person to enjoy Scottish west coast winters and it's certainly not me, although I'd like the storms as long as my house stayed intact.

Robert Craig said...

Pretty sure 150mph has been recorded before in Kirkwall, and also 173mph on Cairngorm. 144mph still pretty breezy though!

blueskyscotland said...

Thank you Robert for the info. I have now corrected my mistake.

The Glebe Blog said...

I am envious Bob.
My fascination with big waves began a long time ago in Kirkcaldy when me and my cousins took pictures of us getting drookit.
One of our walking group on holiday in the Canaries last month loved diving into the waves. Sadly a whopper grabbed her and threw her out. The bruises took three weeks to vanish.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Jim,
You wouldn't have been envious on the drive back.Over two hours to get to Glasgow and some bad crashes. Every year people seem to forget how to drive on icy roads and still keep the foot down. Dodging big waves was easy compared to that.