Gradually, as I walked north from Girvan, the Firth of Clyde became filled with headlands and islands: first the Kintyre peninsula, then the Isle of Arran. Walking up the coast to Ayr was to be the last time I would see open water stretching to the horizon until I reach the North Sea beyond Edinburgh, on Scotland’s east coast. These warm cloudless days felt like the last blaze of summer sunshine, autumn was already at hand: everywhere the leaves were turning, morning mists muffled the sea and the evenings had become distinctly chilly.
Ayr is over twenty miles north from Girvan: a long hard slog along a rocky coast with frequent loops up onto the coast road when the beach becomes impassable.
In Ayr I stayed one street back from the seafront in a friendly B&B which usually served “Workies and Weegies” or, as it was patiently explained to me, Building Workers on Contract and holiday making Glaswegians. Both mornings I was there I shared my table at breakfast with an itinerant shopfitter from Huddersfield; we chatted like old acquaintances and our talk set me up for the day!
I walked on from Ayr to Troon and then on to Irvine, nearly twenty miles straight down the wide sandy beach. The tide was out, the weather was perfect and the deep blue sky was reflected in the sea with an almost hallucinatory intensity. In late afternoon sunlight of aching clarity I passed Saltcoats and Ardrossan, reflected in sea as calm and smooth as a millpond.
I walked into Largs at the end of a long, cloudless day and found myself amongst couples and families strolling leisurely along the wide seaside esplanade, as if they were part of an Italian passeggiata. Fuscias and hydrangeas bloomed in parks and gardens; offshore, the Isle of Bute and the two Cumbrae islands.
I liked Largs and stayed for three nights. I had the impression that the town is just beyond the gravitational pull of Glasgow which acts like a force field drawing everything in towards itself. At the end of a day’s walking I was happy to take the bus back to Largs, and enjoy the peace, the views of the sea and the islands, and the lack of bustle.
Beyond Largs the Firth of Clyde narrows still further: I could see across to the coast of Argyll and Bute, and had long views up Holy Loch, then Loch Long and Gare Loch. The town of Dunoon was so close across the water I could see the cars moving along the roads.
Somewhere in the vicinity of Greenock the Firth of Clyde becomes the River Clyde, at which point the river is still nearly two miles wide. As I walked along the riverside walkway at Greenock there was almost a carnival atmosphere: people smiling and greeting each other, expressing surprise at the warm sun, the fine views, the unbelievable clarity of the light, the windless unruffled surface of the river. The whole world seemed to have turned blue: the river was blue, the sky was blue, the air was blue; it was almost as if we were all walking, drifting, floating, wallowing, weightlessly afloat in blueness.
When the riverside path came to an end and the only option was to walk the pavement beside the busy riverside motorway I headed uphill and inland to follow the quiet and apparently almost unused Old Greenock Road for the last ten miles to take the Erskine Bridge over the Clyde and into Glasgow. Cresting a hill near Langbank I had my first view of Glasgow. It was like reaching the Promised Land. Glasgow had been my immediate goal and focus for 500 miles since Liverpool; there was still a very long way to go around the coast but, sitting on a stile eating an orange, I felt that this was definitely a moment to pause and reflect.
Venturing down from the secluded hills I skirted a tangle of major roads and a maelstrom of traffic at the south end of the Erskine Bridge. The bridge rose up and up in a magnificent arc; from the top I had a panoramic view back along the Clyde, both river and firth, to Greenock, Gourock, and beyond to the lochs and islands of Argyll and Bute. The arc of the bridge plunged steeply down onto the north shore of the Clyde and a little slip road took me directly into the railway station at Old Kilpatrick.
Next day I doubled back beyond Old Kilpatrick to Bowling where, at a set of lock gates, the Firth and Clyde Canal branches off from the river to flow through Glasgow to Edinburgh and beyond. This will be my route to the North Sea. I followed the Canal, like a ribbon of countryside winding through the city, for its first fifteen miles into the centre of Glasgow. Then, taking to the streets I walked to Buchanan Bus Station, arriving in time to take the night bus back over the border and home again.
© Nick Creagh-Osborne and manwalkstheworld.com 2015.