Sunday, 31 August 2014


Largs View
Our base during our Scottish trip was the very pleasant town of Largs, situated on the Firth of Clyde and about 30 miles from central Glasgow.  I was pleased to see that in volume 36 of the Pathfinder Guides (Glasgow, Clyde Valley, Ayrshire and Arran) walk number 14 was an exploration of the town and its hinterland.  This gave us the perfect opportunity to have a good look around the town in which we were staying.  The whole walk was 5 ½ miles, which was modest enough in length for all of us to enjoy during a morning.

Moorland Clouds
In keeping with the weather for the rest of our week it was rather a gloomy morning as we started by the pier.  The route took us up the hill away from the pier through the rather pleasant housing that characterises Largs.  Behind the town is a large area of moorland, reminiscent of the Scotland to the north of Glasgow rather than the lowland belt.  This is quite a wild area, not one that you might readily associate with central Scotland but certainly one that adds to the charm of the Firth of Clyde coastal area.

Leaving Civilisation
It took some time to free ourselves of the housing but eventually we reached a gate to the moors at the top of the hill just beyond the main school.  What followed was undoubtedly the highlight of the walk for we were to climb up and away from the town along a pretty well-worn path.  In fact I wondered whether this path might once have been a road into and out of Largs?  Before the tarmac road across from Kilbirnie it must have been quite hard accessing the town from the east.
Greeto Bridge

We climbed steadily up the wonderfully named Gogo valley on a path high above the roaring river that we could hear but not see way down in the valley.  Alongside was the pungent smell of bracken and I had a horrible feeling that this might have been harbouring all sorts of biting insects but to our relief we managed to get away with it.  As we climbed it was very tempting to look back every so often at the magnificent view unfolding.  We could see the Cumbrae islands, Arran, Bute and Kintyre from our lofty perch.  

Douglas Park
Eventually the path levelled out and we passed by some small woodland areas that looked deliberately planted although surely too small to be commercially viable?  After we had passed the woodland the character of the walk completely changed as we were now fairly and squarely in the moorland area, with the view behind us having receded.  The sun was desperately trying to poke through the stubborn clouds which swirled around the hill tops.  We felt as if we had the whole place to ourselves, which was a great feeling especially for the children who thought we were epic explorers.  That turned out to be a bit of an illusion though as when we got to Greeto bridge, spanning a tributary burn to the Gogo River, we found a couple of people camping .  I thought that it was probably a pretty good spot as sufficiently lonely to feel like you were wild camping and yet close enough to civilisation to go and obtain some supplies.

Douglas Park Colours
The walk abruptly stopped at this point.  The track obviously continued on over the bridge to somewhere else but for this walk I think the author only ever intended that we should get a taste of the countryside and enjoy the view back across the Firth of Clyde.  I am not sure my children would have been up for anything more adventurous so that was just about perfect.

Burial Tomb
On the way back down the hill it was very difficult to balance the need to enjoy the view but also watch where to put your feet on the descent.  The view was even better on the way down as by now some of the clouds had rolled away and the sunshine was lighting up the whole scene.  We watched the ferries going backwards and forwards to Great Cumbrae, the trip we had done only a couple of days earlier.  Further away we could see other ferries heading to Dunoon and Rothesay as well as some other shipping heading in and out of Glasgow.  If there had been time it would have been fascinating watching the ships for quite some time.

Seafront Colours
At the bottom of the hill the path took a sharp left and crossed the Gogo river. A few streets of suburban walking followed before we reached the very colourful and well-kept Douglas Park.  I have to say that the grounds maintenance in Largs was second to none – with lawns and flower bedding immaculately kept.  We wandered around the grounds enjoying the colours of the bedding and the character of the park before heading off to see a small burial chamber tucked away at the back of the housing.  Apparently this old tomb is more than 8000 years old.  I wonder how the occupant likes being surrounded by houses these days?

Clyde Clouds
This was another spot where we had to retrace our steps and head back to the park entrance.  The path crossed the road and through another Park (Anderson Park), which apparently hosts the site of the Battle of Largs.  This took place in 1263 and was the final act in a long running war between the King of Norway and King of Scotland, although the battle itself was indecisive.  A few years after the battle the Vikings gave up territorial rights to the area and ceded it to Scotland.

Arrival From Cumbrae
We then dropped down to the seafront and away to the left we could see the Pencil Monument, erected in 1912 to celebrate what was seen as the decisive victory against the Vikings in the Battle of Largs.  In the intervening 100 years, historians have long argued about the place of Largs in the war against the Vikings.  Nevertheless the townsfolk of Largs are very proud of this piece of heritage and I cannot blame them.
Arrival of Waverley

Largs seafront is a particularly attractive place to walk, with plenty of open area in front of the housing and not spoiled by a road running too close, except for a short stretch leading to the ferry terminal.  The official walk led us back only to the terminal but we also continued onward around Largs Bay to admire the wonderful planting schemes that characterise the seafront.

Largs Seafront
As an introduction to the area this walk was very good, even though it seemed a little contrived in places.  While the nature of the walk seemed a little odd when viewed on the map in the guidebook the reality made much more sense as it took in the main places that you would want to see without taking you on a lengthy and unnecessary journey just to complete a loop.  The views are magnificent and the character of the town as well as its surroundings can really be appreciated.
Viking Memorial

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Great Cumbrae Island

Largs Ferry
Our holiday this year took us to some different parts of the UK that we had either not visited for a long time or even at all.  It was rather refreshing to explore some more of our own nation after heading overseas in the last few years.  Our main reason for staying in the UK was that we had arranged to visit the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and we worked the rest of our holiday around that.  We based ourselves in Largs, a small town on the Ayrshire Coast about 30 miles from Glasgow.  It was a rather delightful place and even though the weather was rather mixed we thoroughly enjoyed our stay.

Leaving Largs
Across the water from Largs is the small island known as Great Cumbrae.  It is only ‘Great’ in comparison to its smaller neighbour Little Cumbrae (or Wee Cumbrae as I believe some of the locals call it).  The ferry crossing across from the mainland is only 10 minutes and ferries run frequently thoughout the day.  When looking out across at an island I always think it begs to be explored and so on one of the days when our Games event was later in the evening we decided to take the ferry across and take a look.  The island is mostly rural but has the small town of Millport hugging the southernmost bay.  Strangely despite being so close to Largs it is impossible to see one from the other.

Millport Harbour
We decided to have a go at walk number 6 from the Pathfinder Guide no 36 of Glasgow, the Clyde Valley, Ayrshire and Arran.  It was modest in length but we felt that it would give us a flavour of the place in the short time we had available.  The weather was rather a mixed bag and so it suited us not to have to go too far in case of a deluge of rain.

Old Cemetery
We parked up along the seafront in Millport, which is a delightful little town much loved by tourists due to its easy proximity to Glasgow. In days gone by it was a regular stopping point for paddle steamers heading down the Clyde from Glasgow but I think these days most people come over on the ferry from Largs.  There seemed to be some thriving shops on the seafront, many of which had a rather bygone character about them.  It is claimed that Millport has the smallest cathedral in the UK, seating only 100 people.

View to Bute and Arran
Our route took us away from the harbour and up the hill leading inland from the town.  As we climbed the hill we soon came upon the old cemetery.  Looking inside we could see that some of the old graves were very old indeed and there was a sign up saying that it was no longer in use.  We were surprised at how much housing development there seemed to be further up the hill.  I cannot imagine that there is a huge amount of work on the island itself and commuting every day by ferry must get a bit tiresome especially during the winter months.

Eventually the housing ran out and we passed a very popular looking campsite and the new cemetery before the route took us out into farmland.  Now the walk got rather more interesting as the views across from this ridge were superb.  It was a rather changeable sort of day with lots of clouds billowing and scurrying across the water on the west side of the island.  Across the Firth of Clyde we could see the islands of Bute and Arran as well as peninsulas of land that jut out between sea lochs.  In the far distance we could also see Kintyre.

Heading Down Into Fintray Bay
My girls were quite inspired by this view and we had taken the precaution of packing some watercolours, pencils and pads just in case the opportunity arose.  We sat for quite a while trying to get our impression of the view onto paper although sadly our efforts were cut short by a pesky rain shower that passed over.  We packed up our things double quick and resumed our walk although annoyingly it stopped very soon after.

Fintray Bay Cafe
The path headed for about a mile over this section of high ground and I really enjoyed the view out to the west of the island, which seemed to constantly change with the sun finding gaps through the clouds and lighting up sections of water and the coast in the distance.  About 10-15 minutes after our painting stop we headed down off the high ground and down to the coast road below.  The coast road makes a complete circumference of the island and is approximately 9 miles all the way around.  It stays largely at a few feet above sea level and has no major hills (or traffic) and that makes it very popular with cyclists, not just enthusiasts but also families who can safely come with their children and not have to worry too much about road safety constantly.

Fintray Bay
We had clocked a cafĂ© at Fintray Bay on this stretch of the Cumbrae coast and as it was lunchtime with more rain threatened we decided to see what was on offer.  We took the opportunity of settling into the window seats and within a few minutes some hot and steaming jacket potatoes came out of the kitchen, perfect grub for such an unsettled day.  We enjoyed our leisurely lunch while the weather outside cheered up considerably and the threat of rain appeared to dissipate.  The girls were anxious to complete their watercolours and so after lunch we abandoned the idea of taking the official route in the guide book, which was back to Millport via the coast road in favour of retracing our route back over the high ground.  We had earlier driven around the coast road and while I can vouch for its scenic beauty, in my mind it was probably a good decision.

Exploring the Millport Coast
We paused again at the top of the hill for about half an hour to allow paintings to be completed before heading back into Millport where we split up.  I took youngest daughter with me down to explore the rock pools and sea front area while the other two headed to the shops.  I found Millport utterly charming and the view across from the seafront was amazing.  The smaller island of Little Cumbrae looked rather mysterious with some small buildings evident but looking otherwise like one of the Hebrides rather than an island in the Firth of Clyde.  I gather that the island is privately owned and access is not available to the general public.  Further across the Firth is the industrial site of Hunterston which houses a nuclear power station and coal yard.
Millport Seafront

As we headed along the increasingly busy seafront as we headed eastwards we found a bustling shopping centre, plenty of people enjoying the seafront and a bagpipe band entertaining visitors.  Who knew that such a little gem could exist only 30 miles from the heart of Glasgow?  It was like another world entirely…