Sunday, 10 February 2019

Ayrshire Coastal Path. Ayr to Dunure via Bower Hill Headlands.

                                               ALL PHOTOS CLICK FULL SCREEN.
On the first visit to the west coast seaside town of Ayr on the beach walk I was looking across at the Carrick Hills and Bower Hill but the tide was covering most of Ayr beach that day so I knew the continuation walk on-wards to Dunure would be out of bounds as it's only accessible at low tide. A couple of weekends later therefore I was back again to do this longer walk of around 12 km, most of it under rugged cliffs and headlands where the Carrick Hills stop abruptly by plunging into the sea. Above is Ayr Beach, this time at low tide.
As I walked along I was watching a dog chasing the seabirds off the beach then saw something I've observed before with crows and ravens. Highly intelligent birds rather than being scared they flew up into the air and then seemed to enjoy mobbing the dog as much as the dog enjoyed chasing them. It was definitely a two way thing with the crows taunting the dog for its lack of ability to catch them, flying just in front  or swooping down near its head. Rather than attacking it they seemed to be in play mode, something that has been noted before between husky sled dogs and wild polar bears. The bear could easily kill and eat the chained dogs but the dogs, being vulnerable and static, adopted the 'play card' response and surprisingly the bear took up this offer. With otherwise hard lives dedicated to the continual hunt for food certain animals do seem to have a capacity for fun and games and will play with each other, even across species.
Half the time in this interaction the birds were deliberately chasing the dog who seemed to appreciate it although the wily crows definitely appeared to be the smarter of the two species playing the game. Even the gulls joined in, halfheartedly. A view across to Arran above. Contrasting this scene with that of a fox as a predator and the body language would be very different with a fox totally intent on getting a meal, probably trying to sneak in unnoticed, rather than barking and galloping in with a lot of noise and an obvious charge along the beach. It was fun to watch as well.
A curlew doing what curlews do best which is probing into soft sand or mud with its beak to find food. This is the main reason you will find curlews and other waders by the coast or in marshy ground as it needs to be soft enough material to do that.
Same bird who seems to have found something, maybe a razor clam under the sand.
A view of where I was heading. Greenan Castle beyond the River Doon estuary and the Carrick Hill headlands. This next stretch is uninhabited and one of the wildest stretches of the Ayrshire Coastal Path. It's also better attempted on a falling tide as you only have a few hours before the waves are coming in again right up to the cliffs. The ruined castle dates to the 16th century as a tower house but evidence of an earlier more basic fortress predates it, built around the 12th century.
There is a car park here at Doonfoot, just west of the River Doon but as I had taken the bus I walked from Ayr itself. Coming by car you could start the Ayr to Dunure walk from here, saving a few km. Greenan Shore is a local nature reserve. See info board above.
Redshank. A wader wading.
Heading for Bower Hill across the sands. At this point the coastal walk is pleasant and easy, at low tide, but further on it gets harder to make good time.
A distant view of Ayr getting left behind. This is a zoomed shot as it's much further away than this photo suggests.
A lone walker under Greenan Castle. The only other person spotted on this walk after crossing the River Doon until I reached Dunure. It's still very easy to find solitude in Scotland if you go to unfashionable places away from the tourist hot spots. Judging by the grassy paths inland once away from the coast this section of the Ayrshire Coastal Path does not get that many visitors, which is good to see. The River Doon district of Ayrshire used to be well known for its hanging trees where old time justice reached a speedy conclusion.
The low tide traverse under Bower Hill Headland. A committing stretch this with few escape routes if the tide turns.
In some places slippy going underfoot across seaweed and flat rock. As this section is under several feet of water at high tide it's not a place travelling alone to slip or fall. Years ago a friend had a climbing accident falling from a rock route on a sea cliff and was badly injured with the tide coming in. If he hadn't been with companions who carried him to safety and got help and medical assistance he would have drowned under the rising waves- something you have to take into consideration walking on your own over tricky ground like this.
Bower Hill. A sunlit arete.
Bower Hill cliffs.
I had a choice of routes here once past Bower Hill. A signpost for the Ayrshire Coastal Path led inland across grassy fields but as I'd never walked the next stretch of coastline before I fancied this unofficial route instead. I hadn't bothered to look it up beforehand online as that takes away any mystery so I was unaware if I could make it around the next two headlands  past Bracken Bay, seen here.
At this point the sun disappeared and the route suddenly became more serious in feel with awkward walking underfoot and the speed of travel across the ground went right down. The true distance back towards Ayr seen above.
A lonely bleak stretch this section with no certainty I would get around the next headland or find any escape routes up into the fields. Although lower the cliffs here were still steep and coated with thorn bushes like gorse and impenetrable, tightly packed scrub.
As a compensation for that five or six caves could be found along this stretch although most were dank and inhospitable places to spend more that five minutes exploring. Unbidden, I thought of the 16th century cannibal family Sawney Bean at this point who reputedly lived in a sea cave on the same stretch of coastline, not that far away at Bennane Head near Girvan. Hiding in a deep cave inaccessible at high tide this large incestuous family would creep out at night and murder luckless travellers, carrying the bodies back to eat. Although there is no hard evidence to prove they ever existed the wild coastline and uplands between here and Stranraer, known as Galloway was always a savage area populated by equally savage tribes in past times. Ayrshire by comparison was civilized, fertile and low lying. Looking at the history of the mountainous interior of Galloway during previous centuries and the well documented warlike tendencies of the inhabitants, an area known for fierce fighters in any battle, a few incidents of savagery and cannibalism probably did take place but only through desperation and starvation in dire times rather than a preference to eat human flesh. Wrecking ships and claiming salvage rights or gaining wealth through spoils of war were the main ways to prosper in these remote upland districts or preying on more settled farmlands below which probably gave rise to the legend of Sawney Bean- known throughout the world. Strange how it was placed in just this one area though yet over in the east and not the west was where most of the witch burning took place. Each area prone to outside influences and its own unique character traits. Funnily enough Sawney Bean was originally from the east coast- an outsider supposedly. Couldn't have a local family involved in such darkness. It's always an outsider in these tales-beware the stranger rather than your own kin... even today that rule applies. Not always wisely or correct, just tapping into primal fears of contact with unknown groups.
Of all the caves along here this one was definitely the finest. The one nearest the waterfall which possessed a flat dry floor, good views out to sea and was high enough up on the cliff face to deter any sheep from reaching it. Running through farmland this stream would not be safe to drink. I have occasionally slept in caves before during coastal walks but it is not something I enjoy much on my own. Quite creepy at night if you have a vivid imagination for all the weird sounds you hear in the long deep dark of winter evenings.The sun disappearing affected the mood somewhat, even now, making it bleak and cold in winter without its warmth, and I couldn't put my finger on it but this stretch was not that enjoyable or friendly feeling as a result. It had a grim aspect on this occasion with a cold raw wind.. Not the cave but the general coastline at this point felt intimidating and somewhat serious in nature. Rugged but certainly not beautiful at this point. Hard going underfoot as well.
Probably due to the tough walking conditions, the sea being very close to the cliffs and no handy escape routes.
The Sawney Bean story here as this seemed a fitting place to put it. A fascinating glimpse into Scotland's dark past in medieval times where history of common folk gets hazy. Even a prominent real life figure like William Wallace is unclear, his low status early life largely undocumented but he grew up either in Ayrshire or Renfrewshire, Elderslie being the best guess.

I reached as far as the next headland but it was slow tedious progress with the tide coming in fast and me getting pissed off and tired boulder hopping constantly- speed down to a crawl. Looking ahead there was no end to the cliffs in sight and I was going really slow now so I reluctantly turned back before my retreat was cut off by the incoming tide. My curiousity was satisfied. Not saying you couldn't get round this way just it was really tedious and desperate underfoot for an old guy like me who realized I still had a fair few miles to cover before the sun disappeared. I retraced my steps past the caves and took the signposted far easier route inland over the grassy fields.
As if to confirm it was a wise move the sun came out again and easy walking on good paths lifted my mood back to full enjoyment of the surroundings. The dark cliffs and boulder hopping slow pace of my aborted coastal romp can be seen here behind the sheep where the edge of the land drops vertically into the sea. An hour beforehand that was where I was with the tide coming in.
On the uphill inland section of the official path. Ayr in the distance.
Two crows and a buzzard. Unlike the play aspect of the crows and dog there was no love lost between crows and buzzard as they harassed it constantly until it disappeared into the distance.
Very different body language from the dog interaction.
Back down onto the rocky shoreline and only a few km from Dunure. Ailsa Craig in the distance here. A steep rocky island home to many breeding seabirds.
And finally the small coastal community of Dunure. I was very glad to reach this haven, also containing a ruined castle and rugged coastal cliffs. Here I intended to get a local bus back to Ayr but I bumped into a fellow keen photographer who kindly gave me a lift in his car back to Ayr. Many thanks as it saved me a long wait. An enjoyable day out. Around a 12km, five hour walk, longer and harder if you go off route and round the extra headlands at low tide.


Carol said...

I like a walk with a hint of danger such as the tide threatening to come in so I'd probably like that Ayrshire Coastal walk - certainly one to consider for the future. That Bower Hill arete looks really tempting and quite easy - have you ever done it?

The polar bear/dog story is very interesting. And I'm sure the crows and the dog were having equally as much fun as each other. Always interesting to watch inter-species play and quite rare to see!

Anabel Marsh said...

Hmm, I think I would have taken the easy route in the first place!

Kay G. said...

Crows are fascinating, are they not? They can talk too. We saw one years ago in St. Augustine, Florida. (It was at the Aligator Farm there, but they have birds too!) As we came close to the crow, we were near some folks from up north and they spoke in a very nasal accent. The crow said "HELLO" as if the bird grew up with a New York accent! And then, I said something and the bird said, "HEY" in the heaviest drawn out drawl you could imagine! It was very funny, if you can picture the bird saying those two words so differently!
Love your photos but the one where the sun came out and the sheep are on pretty green grass? That one made me go 'AHHH", I love that!

Rosemary said...

Have you ever visited Ailsa Craig? This volcanic plug looks so blue on your photo which I suppose is hardly surprising. I seem to recall that it is made up of blue hone granite used to make curling stones. I wonder if they still use it?

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
Yes, that is probably part of the attraction. A thrill of danger without the extra effort of ascending 3000 feet just to go down again -an addiction that no longer pulls at me as much as it did in the past.

The arete is far harder than it looks as it is made up of poor composite rock, hard to climb with few crack lines in it for protection via a rope. It's also vertical at the top with snap off holds which is why it is not in any rock climbing guidebook to my knowledge.

blueskyscotland said...

Cheers Anabel,
Yep, the older I get the more sensible/lazy I get on walks as years ago I would have carried on regardless and trusted to luck and climbing ability that I would get up to safe ground somehow when the tide reached the cliffs. My boulder hopping abilities are pretty woeful now though and I've not got the underfoot fast reactions I used to enjoy, travelling at speed across rough terrain,knowing I could quickly correct any slip or unexpected rock movement, before I fell over. Ah, the confidence of youth.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
Yep, very intelligent. Same thing here. I was once in a house where a women had a very strong Northern Irish accent and the budgie she'd learned to talk had the same. No doubt why children always have the same speech patterns as adults they live with.
I,m sure corvids, parrots, dolphins, whales and other species intelligence will rise even further in our estimation the more we learn about them. Going by the crows on the beach they are smarter than dogs.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Rosemary,
I have. I know friends who have a boat so I've been lucky enough to visit it twice with them. Once to climb to the summit then walk around the base of the cliffs and the second time to stay in the boat and circle the cliffs to observe the seabirds on the ledges. If you type in Alex and Bob's Blueskyscotland. Ailsa Craig. you should see that post from a few years ago. The stone quarry is no longer active but they still use Ailsa Craig granite surplus reserves to make new stones as far as I'm aware.

Andy said...

Excellent bit of coastline and rockier than I would have thought. Had it in my head it would be all dunes and grassland