Ayrshire Coastal Path: 2 – beaches, barriers and braying bovines

7.18 miles 3h 19m ascent 118m


Trudge: V. (intr) to walk laboriously, wearily or without spirit but steadily and persistently (Orig. obsc)

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary

This word accompanied my thoughts as I walked, and re-appeared as I reflected on the day. I had assumed it to be a lexical blend of tread and drudge, but with each step on the beach I began to wonder if it might be onomatopoeic. The internet, with its limitless supply of unproven etymologies, suggested an origin in Scandinavian words, such as trudja, snowshoes, so perhaps I’m not the only one to associate crunch and trudge.

The weather had been lovely for several days but we arrived to grey skies, rain and blustery winds. On a better day we would have savoured the views and given the hedgerows the attention they deserved. We might not have been quite so put out by walking beside a main road and could have enjoyed our lunch in the open air.

Instead. We trudged.

The first hour after leaving Ballantrae was beach walking but which shouldn’t have been a surprise, Baile na Tràgha does mean “the town by the beach”. The rain was intermittent and light, the wind bracing, more than a breeze but not especially unpleasant. The dogs enjoyed their freedom and we humans enjoyed the views. The Mull of Kintyre and Arran were on the horizon when the rain cleared. Ailsa Craig, being much closer, was a constant companion.

Ailsa Craig, SG Ailsse Creag, the Fairy Rock, is only 9 miles offshore and visible all along the west coast of Ayrshire and Galloway. Knockdolian, the mischievous hill or False Craig is her less famous onshore twin, a tad less tall and mostly hidden by surrounding hills. But we were able to see both the Fairy Rock and her mimic from the beach at Ballantrae.

Knockdolian, Ailsa’s twin

The beach was pleasant but walking on sand takes more effort. I found the wet sand easier than pebbles and much easier than dry sand. This can apparently burn up to 2.7 times more calories. In places we were forced onto uneven rocks which is OK for a short stints but soon saps your energy, especially when they are slippery.

Ballantrae Beach

There is a windmill (‘rems of’ – according to the OS map) on Mill Hill above Ballantrae, but it has no vanes, so doesn’t look much like a windmill. In fact I thought the traffic cone we saw (in the photo below) was a more interesting find. Wild traffic cones have a colour scheme better suited to camouflage than their domesticated cousins which have been bred for visibility.

Wild traffic cone

Our walk brought us gradually closer to Bennane Head. You can just see the entrance to Snib’s Cave in the photo below. A hermit had lived there until 1983.

Snib Scott was the name Henry Ewing Torbet was known by while he was resident in Bennane Cave, where he lived for the last 30 years of his life (as he never gave his own name he apparently inherited the name from a previous, c. 1920 dweller in the cave). Born in Dundee and trained as an accountant, but at 33 and engaged to be married, he left his well paid job in a Dundee bank, severed all connections and took took to the road. He became a tramp and beggar. After several arrests in the 1940s and 50s for aggressive begging in Perth and Kirkcaldy and the assault on a shopkeeper (he threw a bag of flour and two bars of soap at the shopkeeper after being refused service when he did not have ration coupons), he disappeared for a while reappearing near Arrochar before moving to a derelict miner’s cottage at Waterside in Ayrshire.

For many years Snib was self sufficient. There were plenty of rabbits and left over potatoes. He combed the beaches and brought back driftwood for his fire and fish to cook on it. Instead of claiming state benefit, he gather bottles from the foreshore and exchanged them at the local shop for anything he needed. In summer, he lead an idyllic existence, often sleeping out under the stars, but winters could be especially cruel, with a south-westerly gale which made the cave almost uninhabitable. In fact this is what killed him. In December 1983, he was found in the cave suffering from pneumonia and hypothermia. He was taken to hospital but died two days later. 

Scottish Cave and Mine Database

Barbed wire, locked gates and livestock stood between us and the cave. So we stepped across Duhorn Burn and the more substantial Bennane Burn then climbed up to the old A77 and turned right. The ACP had originally turned left along the old road past Snib’s cave but now runs beside the new road. There are signs suggesting the old route might still be used but with warnings about livestock. I had also read reports of barbed-wire topped and locked gates at either end so we took the boring route. Dogs don’t mix well with barbed wire, locked gates and livestock in a limited space.

Snib’s cave

An ACP sign at the A77 warned us we were crossing a trunk road and told us we should cross back after 1500m. The road was quite busy and the traffic zoomed along but we got across after a short wait. The grass beyond the crash barrier had been mowed, but not this year, and it had formed into tufts. This was the only uphill walking of the day and I trudged with my head down as the lorries whooshed by, unable to see much other than a big hollow to our right. When we reached a lay-by, the path ran between two fences but was impassable for 20m or so.

We had to pause for me to shed a layer and were joined by a herd of curious calves who followed us as we climbed over Bennane Head. Christy was not happy having these big braying creatures looming over us and I’ll have to say I was a little worried that they might trample the rather flimsy fence between us. I’m glad I wasn’t on the same side of the fence as them.

Carleton Bay comes into view

Once over Bennane and heading downhill, we had great views across Carleton Bay, with Whilk Isle and Pinbain Hill. Annan disappeared into the rain but Ailsa Craig still loomed.

The Fairy Rock in the rain

A little after the road off to Little Bennane we came to the ACP “TRUNK ROAD CROSSING” sign and crossed said trunk road, to rejoin the old route. The lay-by above Sawny Bean’s cave (which we didn’t visit) seemed a likely place to take a break for lunch. The crash barriers would have made good misericords but we didn’t fancy having lunch in a wind tunnel and pressed on hoping it would be more sheltered lower down.

We climbed over the crash barriers out of the lay-by for more roadside walking. The crash barriers were just too high to easily swing a leg over. The dogs of course had no problem, they went underneath. We were on a much narrower path here but at least it had been mown this year. We had the A77 traffic to our right and a steep drop to our left, which I presume was Games Loup. It was hidden by trees and shrubs so the actual edge was difficult to see but I was worried that a slip here might lead to quite a tumble unless the hedgerow saved me. I kept Christy on a short lead.

Shrub ragwort and ox-eye daisies

The opposite side of the road looked to have a gravel ‘path’ but I suspected the gravel would turn out to be a drainage trough and didn’t fancy climbing the barrier and crossing a very busy road to find out. There was a great deal of shrub ragwort along this section. A native of New Zealand I believe. I’m sure we would have spent longer enjoying the profusion of flowers on a better day.

There was pavement bedside the “Pebbles Spa and Lounge” which had lost some of its roof to a fire but had a sign proclaiming it was due to open later this year. Beyond there we came to a sign pointing onto the beach, an ACP route “for use at low tide”. By then we had had enough A77 for the day, so down we went.

The beach was tough going with a choice between soft wet silt, drier silty sand, uneven rocks or mobile pebbles. None were especially pleasant and the tide was definitely making its way up the beach. Perhaps the low tide would have revealed easier walking. As it was we thought better of our choice and used the next ramp to return to the road.

Chapman’s Craig is in the middle

At least the road had a pavement. Occasional waves were throwing spray into the air as they hit the sea stacks so we looked to have made the right decision.

There were several very attractive houses along the road. All would have had excellent views. The 6 six OS map has Chapman’s Craig marked around here and when I saw a massive sea stack filling a cottage’s garden I wondered if we had found it. But the actual Chapman’s Craig is is a little further along. It is the rock the road has been blasted through.

Our next stop was the Varyag Monument, a large bronze cross commemorating the cruiser Varyag which sank offshore in 1920. There is also an anchor and a section of chain salvaged from the wreck. Several plaques, some in English others in Russian provide information. More info.

Here 500 Metres off the coast
the Russian cruiser Varyag
which won glory in the Russo-Japanese war
of 1904-1905 found its last resting place

On January 27, 1904 the 1st Rank cruiser Varyag and
the gunboat Kubeets were blockaded by a Japanese
squadron comprised of 15 vessels at the Korean port of
Chemulpo. They were offered the opportunity to
surrender and turn down the flag, but the Russian
seamen rejected the ultimatum and accepted an uneven

Varyag and Kubeets suffered extensive damage
during the battle. With no apparent possibilty of
continued resistance, the Russian seamen scuttled
the ships and returned to Russia onboard foreign

In 1905 Varyag was raised by the Japanese and was
introduced into their Navy under the name Soya. In
1916 the cruiser was repurchased by Russia and got
back its previous name. In 1917 she was sent to Britain
for repair, but because of the Revolution and Civil War
in Russia, the legendary ship was set adrift. In 1920
Varyag was sold by Britain for scrap. En route for
dismantling she grounded near Lendalfoot and
subsequently sunk.

The exploits of the cruiser Varyag, which makes us
bow our heads to the valor of Russian seamen, will
always remain in the memory of grateful future

According to the IWM website, the Memorial tablet was unveiled on 30 July 2006 (Russian Navy Day) by Provost Sloan and attended by senior Russian politicians, navy personnel, veterans and local dignitaries “but the Russian people wanted a more significant memorial” and on 8th September 2007 the bronze cross was unveiled in a ceremony attended by the Russian consul-general Vladimir Malygin, Scottish & Newcastle Breweries’ chairman Sir Brian Stewart, former Nato Secretary-General Lord Robertson, Rear Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt and Rear Admiral Alexander. Shuvanov of the Russian Navy. The unveiling and dedication of the memorial was apparently broadcast live across Russia.

This all struck me as rather strange but perhaps I don’t appreciate how the Varyag is seen in Russia.

The Varyag memorial site did offer some shelter from the wind. I climbed a wee rise and found a bench, but missing its seat. But hiding in a little niche we found a picnic bench and were able to have a delayed lunch. Though, as ever, Christy didn’t want to stop.

Bring your own slats

There is a “Welcome to Lendalfoot” sign just after the Varyag lay-by. I found myself questioning my memory when we passed another Lendalfoot sign half a mile later.

My visual system showed its mammalian evolutionary past when I noticed a wild boar standing on a roof. It was in “Kew Gardens” which looked like a small shanty town. As we drew closer I saw there was also a Dalmatian but they were both still as statues (for self evident reasons). I’m not sure why they are there. [PS There are apparently free living wild boar in Dumfries and Galloway.]

Next we passed the “Black or Salmon hut” built into a large rock. The buildings opposite are marked “Carleton Fishery 1832”. The black hut was where the fishermen kept their nets.

The Black Hut at Carleton

Beyond the fishery there were more ACP “at low tide signs” pointing on to the beach, but the sea spray put me off and we stayed on the pavement. A milestone told us we had come 6 miles from Ballantrae and were 7 miles from Girvan.

Lendalfoot doesn’t seem to have changed much since the Rev R Lawson had described it as “half-a-dozen houses … clustered round a school”. He considered this an improvement since the houses had previously clustered around a wayside inn. That was in 1892. The schoolhouse is still there but it is now a community hall. Sadly there wasn’t a wayside inn.

Audrey had wondered if there might be somewhere to sit in Lendalfoot. I scoffed at the idea but there were actually a couple of benches. In better weather they would have been a good spot to sit if you didn’t mind being buffeted by passing lorries.

The deafstone and a small ruin

There is a large named rock on the outskirts of Lendalfoot, the Deafstone. It sits beside a small ruin on the lean dail, marsh meadow. Its strange name is thought to mean “useless stone”.

The reverse of the Welcome to Lendalfoot signs encouraged us to “Haste ye back”. I hadn’t realised that was from a song so I didn’t start humming, or god forbid, singing. That might have been the final straw for Audrey. We strode out of Lendalfoot silently and came to a gravestone by the road.

Haste ye back, we loo you dearly
Call again, you’re welcome here. 
May your days be free from sorrow, 
And your friends be ever near. 
May the path on which you wander
Be to you a joy each day. 
Haste ye back, we loo you dearly
Haste ye back on friendship’s way.

Haste Ye Back. Robert Wilson
Erected to the memory of
Archibald Hamilton & crew
Natives of Kings Cross
Who were drowned
near this place
September 11th 1711.

Ye passengers who e’er ye are
As ye pass on this way
Disturb ye not this small respect
That’s paid to sailors’ clay.

It is a long way back to 1711, but the people of the district have piously preserved this little spot of ground, and thrice at their own expense renewed the tombstone. A few years ago, a big storm washed away a portion of the earth to the right of the stone, and the skeletons of the drowned fishermen were still seen lying side by side as they had been laid on the day of their burial.

Places of Interest about Girvan. Rev R Lawson 1892

Beyond here there was no more pavement, indeed there was only the narrowest verge and at times no verge at all. We decided to brave the beach but soon had to climb through the long grass back to the road. We then had a very unpleasant quarter of a mile trying to keep the dogs on the minimal verge. The road was very busy and the dogs were often spooked by the traffic thundering past. Mabel had to be carried.

But we made it to the car. The dogs could rest on their blankets and we could escape the wind and rain, the Ayrshire Coastal Path second part completed. Better in the recall than the immediate experience.

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