Thursday 24 January 2019

Ayr. The Beach Walk. Birdlife By The Coast.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
A weekend day trip down to Ayr saw me boarding the X 77 express bus down to this well known west coast seaside town. This runs from Buchanan Street Bus Station in Glasgow via Kilmarnock and Prestwick  and takes about an hour as it mainly uses the fast dual carriageway down to Ayr. Another bus leaving from the same bus station is the number 4 but it takes around 2 hours to Ayr as it goes via Mearns Cross, Fenwick, the back roads, and various small rural communities but gives you a real sense of the Ayrshire heartland of farms, cow dotted fields, and small villages. Ayrshire is famous for dairy farming... or it used to be back when cows were popular and milk made a reasonable profit to justify keeping them in the fields. My own childhood was filled with dairy cows everywhere in the landscape five minutes walk away from the house. Black and white icons of the surrounding rolling countryside. Not as many different herds left now though, whittled down to only the most productive, technologically advanced farms in any given area.
Above is the Arklow Valiant cargo ship out of Rotterdam unloading at the Port of Ayr. I wandered down here straight from the bus station as you are always likely to see something happening in a port and around the docks, even in a small port like this.
The sandy beach at Ayr came next and as it was a still, windless morning with a low winter sun and  light sea mist this double act combination cast a diffuse golden light over everything facing south, into the sun, perfect for silhouette photography. This next photo below is north facing though from Alloway looking back towards Ayr with the sun behind me. Very different look. High tide in these shots with not much beach visable.

Ayr beach is a cracker but I've not been on it for many years, at least 25 years. Long enough to forget it.  As a family growing up we rarely visited Ayr although it is the largest seaside town on the Clyde Coast. It also has the greatest number of shops per head of population than any other town centre in Scotland I believe so maybe that was why we turned against it early on as it was hard to get a free parking spot here on a sunny summer day unless you knew the place really well and all the half hidden small car parks in the back streets. I remember driving around these for ages trying to find a free space that tourists could park in rather than outside someone's front door. I also remember a well documented case years ago of touring caravans/ mobile homes getting locked in along the seafront promenade as they closed the road gates surprisingly early in the evening, trapping late arriving visitors in who had stopped to explore or get a meal in town. The sentiment by those folk then was 'do they really want visitors coming here?' which I thought was a valid point at that time from my own experience.
They also seemed, years ago, to be more interested in attracting 2 hour shoppers, rather than day trippers, as the parking areas we visited all had a weird set up where you had to visit a shop in Ayr to buy a parking ticket which only lasted 2 or 3 hours then you had to go back and buy another one. Inconvenient for day visitors on a five hour walk away from the car so we tended to avoid it after that as we didn't get that hassle anywhere else along the west coast resorts. The last time I visited here I parked in a housing estate beside the River Ayr and walked into the town centre over a bridge to solve the parking problem. It still seems to be a busy place to get parked near the main beach or town centre on a weekend, if sunny. On this visit anyway the seafront was stuffed with parked cars, especially along the free section with few spaces available. (it has been foggy for weeks this winter so this was a rare good day on a weekend.) Usual story though- park a mile away up this same beach, but near Alloway and you can park there in several car parks that only see dog-walkers or coastal explorers.Not very handy for the shops though. My own walk headed south along the beach towards the Carrick Hills, seen here in the distance
The up side was it was like visiting a completely new area as I'd actually forgotten how attractive it could be down here... or how much history it had to offer. Just up from the beach is this wide expanse of short grass. Now a pleasant open walking environment with a central path through it this used to be the town's common grazing area where people could bring their livestock (sheep, cattle etc) to eat summer grass for free. I've seen other areas where the farms have closed down and within a few seasons beautiful grassy fields and meadows like this turned into impenetrable jungles of long grass, jaggy shrubs, brambles and infant tree growth. So there was a good reason to encourage livestock on it years ago. It's probably cut by lawnmower squads now.
The northern edge of the open meadow area. Classical municipal buildings and a seaside fun palace for children and families. While I was down here, visiting a seaside town, I was also reading Cathi Unsworth's dark novel 'Weirdo' on the bus, loosely based on Great Yarmouth in England during the punk era, full of visiting biker gangs, the seedy underbelly of amusement arcades, prostitution, drug use, and seaside town terminal decline under the gay surface glamour of  sand, sea and entertainments. Although roughly similar sized populations in both towns ( Ayr at 47,000 is slightly larger, but including outlying adjoining urban districts is over 60,000 residents) I,m willing to guess Ayr is not like that at all, luckily, and is not a mini Blackpool in the off season. A vivid and very interesting book though, if fairly dark in tone from the start and jet black by the end. My mind was filled with various images from that book when wandering around here. A strange double vision effect. England is a very different country to Scotland though with Great Yarmouth a weekend jaunt away by car or bike from London, Manchester or Birmingham, the UK's largest urban centres. Around 15 to 20 million people within a weekend catchment area of potential summer visitors. Scotland has just over 5 million citizens in total, most of them living in the Central Belt. An empty country by comparison- except for the currently in fashion again Scottish Highlands each summer, beloved by tourists worldwide. Wonder what the car parks are like these days in Great Yarmouth? Only thing I knew about Great Yarmouth before reading that book was that English rock guitar band Catherine Wheel came from there who released some very fine songs in the 1990s I still enjoy like 'I Want To Touch You' 'Happy Days' ' and 'Fripp'. All lesser known alternative classics of You Tube.

The fun palace and fountain. Couldn't find any public toilets in Ayr bus station but male and female toilets are found here beside this building and also just off Ayr High Street. 30p needed to get in which is the norm these days. Getting older I always suss out where the toilets are on any urban walk, just in case.Can't hold it in for hours now without discomfort like my bladder used to do.
Ayr public buildings and War Memorial.
A close up view.
A colourful mural near the sea front in a concrete period wind shelter. ( I may elaborate on this mural in another Ayr post later.)
Cormorant drying wings. Like many primitive snake birds worldwide cormorants and shags have to dry their wings after diving underwater, unlike dippers and kingfishers which have evolved waterproofing and trapped air in the feathers so they do not need to stand like this.
And now a selection of birds by the coast. I think this is a meadow pipit... or perhaps a skylark...  all the little brown birds this size look fairly similar to the untrained eye on the ground.
Turnstones in the kelp edges looking for sea bugs to eat.
From a distance in the sunlight this pair looked like twin gold bars attached to a tree. Yellowhammers. Along with linnets, ring ousels, and goldcrests a common bird from my childhood rambles near my house- rarely seen today, although I do look out for them on walks.
And this is a first. A Teal. A beautiful little duck and I don't remember ever seeing one before, let alone getting this close for a photograph. Chuffed with this shot.
Apart from a few soft waves from passing ships far out to sea, moving and diminishing gradually as if travelling through honey in languid slow motion, barely touching the shoreline to end silent and subdued, it was a millpond of stillness. The water like glass- which is maybe why it had so much active bird life on it seeking a meal. Thousands of birds here between Ayr beach and the distant island of Arran. Clusters of white dots sitting on the water as far as the eye could see. A very rare weather event for windy and storm prone Scotland. It has been very calm and mild this year so far.
A raft of swans gliding slowly past on one of those rare winter days that always seem to be accidentally dropped from a bag marked ' the weather in heaven.'
Further on, looking across the other river that flows through the outskirts of Ayr, the River Doon, which passes Robert Burns home turf of Alloway, also had its collection of wildlife on the banks.A lone mallard duck passing sleeping redshanks here waiting for low tide. Waders like these often work to strict timetables and this is their rest period waiting for the beaches to become exposed again. In Britain the bird numbers here might paint a false picture of everything's rosy and ok but worldwide the pollution and growing population problem is still with us with half the planets animals disappearing in the last 40 years alone. Another recent staggering statistic is that China has poured more concrete in the last 3 years than the United States managed during the entire 20th century. That's mind-boggling. In Jeremy Wade's recent series about the world's great rivers, The Amazon, The Ganges, The Danube etc, he is finding out that most of the fish have either vanished or are getting really scarce.It's hard to ignore these facts.
But young folk growing up today should make the most of it- This is the golden age as every age will be and should be for teenagers living through their own times, when they look back nostalgically later on and assess it. Every age faces its own unique problems. And today's world is full of great new inventions, exciting discoveries and opportunities around every corner that previous generations didn't have-including the internet..... just not good for wildlife in certain parts of the planet at the moment. All our heavy industry from 50 years ago shifted elsewhere so now we enjoy cleaner rivers, healthier wildlife, and stricter environmental safeguards but the problems associated with heavy industrialization has simply been moved elsewhere and up-scaled in size.
The Heads of Ayr. To be continued...
Same teal duck, half asleep.

Friday 18 January 2019

Dunbar. John Muir The Boy. The Sunshine Coast.

                                                ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
A day out in Dunbar on the far east coast of Scotland. Bass Rock above. Bus from Glasgow to Edinburgh then green bus X7 to Dunbar from Princes Street, an express run to Dunbar via Haddington.
I had visited Dunbar before but it had been many years ago since my last trip there. It hasn't changed much. In sunny conditions, calm or rough seas, it's a spectacular place with a sheltered enclosed harbour, seen here, and a unique cliff top walk with extensive views out to sea.
The harbour entrance is not easy to find, especially in rough seas, as it is situated halfway along a line of jagged cliffs and the entire coastline here is a maze of reefs, flat rocks, soaring walls and submerged hazards. Hundreds of ship wrecks have occurred here over the centuries.
If Heaven exists on earth in Scotland though this is my idea of what it should like. A truly beautiful place.
Dunbar is where John Muir grew up and where he formed his lifelong love of nature The John Muir Way starts here and retraces his childhood early rambles along the coast, up towards Edinburgh before cutting across the central belt to west coast Glasgow and then Helensburgh. The stretch from Edinburgh to Glasgow was not walked by the Muir family as they travelled by train before setting sail for America. The John Muir Way retraces that journey on foot.

Usually when I arrive here I'm straight down to the sea and exploring- keen not to waste a sunny day indoors but this time I visited John Muir's house and birthplace. You would think the early life of John Muir would be fairly idyllic as he left Scotland for America around 11 years of age... but not so... as I soon discovered inside.
The Muir household was a very strict one. In his own writings later Muir remembers being frequently thrashed for escaping to the coastline and countryside, either alone or with friends. His father was devoutly religious and it was an extreme version of it. Playing was a sin as it was an extravagant useless pursuit in his eyes so the Muir children had a strict regime of school lessons, household chores, then bible studies every night. Anything that deviated away from that was forbidden. The normal boyhood pursuits of running around and exploring the surrounding landscape always resulted in punishment afterwards. Although not a poor family for that era- food was strictly rationed as well and the young Muir often went to bed more famished after his meager meals than before. Any spare money the family had went to the church. By the age of 11 John Muir could remember by heart all of the New testament and most of the old, with the bible shut in front of him.
Cormorants. Indeed one of the reasons the Muir family left for America was the father's dissatisfaction with Scottish religion in general as he seemed to find them not to his taste and hankered after a far stricter variety to be found in parts of the new world where you had the freedom to plug into it fully without the extra trappings and traditions of the powerful and well established guidelines of the conventional church holding you back at every turn.
Imagine having all this on your doorstep and not being allowed to visit it and if you did stray on occasion being punished for it afterwards as a wilful act of disobedience. That's probably what rankled with the young John Muir the most as being beaten for doing wrong was the normal approach in those times right up until the mid 1980s, not worth talking about later. Most youngsters just accepted it as a part of daily life, if justified. Teaching right from wrong, except if excessive and unnecessary force was used unduly. What his father considered a major sin however was never one in his son's mind no matter how many thrashings he got for it. Always hungry, no doubt there would also be good pickings to be had here like ripe berries, certain flowers, stray crops in the fields, fish, and fresh eggs. He also had a bright inquiring mind, inventing labour saving devices from a young age and noting the different layers of rock around the coastline- already wondering how they were formed.
In America the family carved a new home for themselves in the wilderness and an older John Muir would walk 1000 miles across it, observing and trying to understand how different landscapes occurred but he never forgot his wanderings around Dunbar, made even sweeter by being forbidden encounters. He never lost his faith in God either- just transferred that faith from books and paper learned by heart and hard punishment to everything he could see around him occurring in the natural world. In a way, nature became his own, self discovered, religion, and he devoted his later life to it.
Curlew on the shoreline.
And no wonder with all this on his doorstep five minutes away. The cliff top esplanade walk along the coast running west and north towards Belhaven Bay. Easy and safe it's a great winding flat ribbon to follow as magical as any yellow pathway in the lands of OZ.
Rock formations viewed from the walkway ten minutes easy stroll from Dunbar Harbour. This is looking down on a low level traverse under the cliffs I would attempt later.
Part of the winding coastal path running above the cliffs.
Old Red Sandstone. Looking back towards the harbour and its hidden entrance. Also part of my traverse line.
A set of steps leading down to the beaches. Dunbar in the distance.
A lone kayaker exploring the coast. Big swells here and submerged reefs so not an easy paddling option except in perfect weather conditions. An area usually left for experienced kayakers if paddling alone.
And leaving the clifftops behind you come eventually, tiptoeing around past the golf course, to Belhaven Bay. A fantastic wild and windswept beach. One of my favourites in Scotland. Part of the John Muir Country Park. There is a separate car park and toilets here. A tourist car park can also be found beside the cliff top swimming pool above the harbour entrance in Dunbar.
Belhaven Bay and Bass Rock. You can walk along this beach to the far end and the mouth of the River Tyne A spectacular outing. No bridge exists to cross it but a circular route slightly inland leads to several different paths as a return.
This is one. The back lands salt marshes which sometimes flood to create a barrier between the beach and the countryside inland but easy to get around by other paths.
On the return leg I opted for a low tide traverse under the cliff walkway as I had not done that before.
It turned out to be more adventurous than I had bargained for as the tide did not go far enough out in a few places, leaving a thigh deep wade  at two points. A committing traverse under the cliffs as you would be completely stuffed and stranded if the tide turned quickly. For that reason I would not recommend it as an option as escape routes are conspicuous by their absence.
I did not want the embarrassment of a drone and lifeboat rescue so I turned back when it became obvious it was too committing around one last corner with a deep water wade and an unseen traverse still ahead under high cliffs before possible safety and escape routes beckoned. Being a coward can save your life at times. Also called common sense.
An easy part of the low tide traverse under the cliffs.
A deep water wade section. Too cold to strip off and swim it so back we go to the upper path.
On the traverse under the cliffs.
And another part of Dunbar Harbour to end the day. A great trip and destination.

Friday 11 January 2019

Yorkshire Trip. Wharfedale. Langstrothdale. Hubberholme Circuit.

On the Sunday of our Yorkshire trip the weather was much the same as the Saturday. In other words dull, damp and misty all day. If anything it was worse as it had been raining heavily overnight and it was still a light drizzle at lower levels when we looked out but above the 1000 foot mist level it appeared more intense as the skies were much darker up there. No one in the hut seemed particularly keen to rush up into it to bag summits. This view of the dale and Buckden was taken in the afternoon from the balcony trail when it had improved into a half decent day, late on.

Yesterday, the Saturday, we had climbed the two peaks while Gail had been geocaching on her own with her dog at lower levels but today, due to the weather, she would have human company. I had already picked a lower level balcony trail as a possible wet weather alternative on the map running from Buckden and Wharfdale up to the tiny hamlet of Cray then along the limestone cliff edge to Yockenthwaite through Langstrothdale, returning via the river and part of The Dales Way long distance path through the National Park.. As regular readers will know I have little interest in climbing invisible hills in the rain so had intended doing this route myself anyway- on my own if necessary, if the weather was bad.
As it turned out joining Gail at lower levels was a popular choice, with John, Craig, Doris and I all keen to avoid the rain as well with a lower level balcony route. This looked scenic on the map and it was in reality, even in cold muddy November. As it was the most obvious low level circular walk in the valley near Buckden this was also the route of Gail's chain of hidden geocaches to find.
Traditional stone built barns near Hubberholme. The route was well signposted and led us from Buckden, with it's public house hunting themes... the typical dry stone wall field enclosures popular throughout this area. I'm not sure if it was a lack of trees or because limestone was abundant lying around in chunks in areas that had to be cleared or if it was very easy and cheap to shape and cut, leaving fertile green grass pastures behind but well built dry stone walls and barns are a feature of this entire district.
Well seen here in Wensleydale. Being inland and high up they do get severe winters in this area with long lying snow at times. Further north the Scottish west coast mountains, even at 3000 feet tend to be more affected by the warm currents of the Gulf Stream ( North Atlantic Drift)  encouraging moist, slightly above freezing conditions year round, melting snowfalls quickly except above a certain level near the summits or inland so this area is more akin to a lower east coast Cairngorms type climate. Incidentally, this was the only brief glimpse of sunshine we spotted over the entire weekend, and that was on the drive back home.
I noticed that the sheep are larger here as well. Massive big beasts... just like the Cumberland Sausages. Maybe the stone walls offer some shelter from driving snow and rain. Looks like moss growing on it here, similar to a South American sloth due to the constant damp weather this autumn and winter. It has been largely grey and dull for several months now.
On the balcony trail above Langstrothdale. Limestone pavements near the cliff edge.
Heading down into the hamlet of Yockenthwaite to reach the river and double back along the Dales Way footpath. I was thinking at first the large stone barns were for storing hay and grain or supplies but then I watched a recent programme about this area where the farmer was using them to shelter the entire flock inside during heavy snowdrifts last year to prevent them getting buried for days under eight foot high snow drifts in all the surrounding fields. A really bad winter last year with the weather coming over from Siberia and Moscow.
A range of different types here....
and they have more meat on their tails than the average supermodel has standing on the scales :)
I was surprised at the lack of bird life on the walk, unless they had all disappeared to more sheltered environments, only crows and dippers spotted, even in the patches of woodlands we walked through.
A waterfall near Cray.
A minor road section.
One highlight of the walk was this old church near Hubberholme with an ancient graveyard and a history dating back to Norse times.
And lovely stained glass windows inside.
The Yorkshire born author and broadcaster J.B. Priestly is buried here as it was a favourite place of his.
A very small, hand sized, but detailed Last Supper carving that caught my eye on our travels around the district.
And two guys we met at the Great Whernside summit that wanted a record of it to show they were there on that day. Saturday. Better late than never. I have a two month backlog of posts at the moment.
Meanwhile...............................It was a hard walk for little legs....