by Linda Brown
I have escaped the Irvine Valley. Ventured from East Ayrshire to South Ayrshire. My destination? Ayr.
It’s early on a glorious summer’s morning. I’m standing on the Millenium Bridge, which spans the River Doon, looking out over the estuary to the Firth of Clyde. Arran, picture postcard clear on the horizon, looks close enough to paddle to. The tide is out; a flotilla of swans glides towards a flat calm sea, oystercatchers strut along the damp sand, their long red beaks poking for breakfast, and herring gulls, as ubiquitous to Ayr shore as fish’n’chips and ice cream, skirl overhead. There are only a few dog walkers and a couple of dedicated runners out and about; the wet-suited paddleboarders and kayakers have yet to arrive.
I’m setting off on my favourite coastal ramble – Doonfoot to Greenan and then to Deil’s Dyke. My backpack, carrying the essentials for a seaside walk (water bottle, snack, sun lotion) bumps against my back as I trot down the grassy banking towards the small inlet known locally as Doonfoot Lagoon. This area is great for birdwatching and I love a meander along the well-trodden path which skirts the lagoon. In the past I’ve seen lapwings, snipes, sedge-warblers and heard, but never seen, an elusive water rail here. This morning, a heron in stealth mode hunts the shallow waters, and chirpy sparrows zip around the bushes. I keep my eyes peeled for stonechats perched on the rushes. They are such bonny, hardy, wee birds and can cling gamely to long grasses even on the blusteriest of days. Across the water, I spot two – a male and a female (the male has an orange body, with a white neckband and dark head while the female is mainly brown with an orange tinge). They are a smidgen too far away for my camera to capture clear, unobstructed images, so I take a detour, following a trail around the lagoon and on to the sand dunes, hoping for a better view. Turns out there are a few stonechats flitting among the rushes and reeds; I home in with my zoom lens, but they swap positions so quickly, I’m peerie-heided trying to keep up with them. But patience pays and finally I rattle off a handful of decent shots (fingers crossed.)
Back on the grassy path, hungry rabbits are out in force, enjoying the sunshine and ensuring the grass is kept cropped. As I approach, most scamper to hide under the dense foliage of beautiful beach rose bushes but a few freeze and stand their ground, keeping a wary eye on me as I pass by.
Further along, I come across a couple of tents and the remains of a campfire. I give both a wide berth, reluctant to disturb the occupants who, judging by the squashed cider cans and empty lagers bottles lying around (sincerely hope they bin them later), must be suffering headaches. Although I can understand the attraction of setting up camp at the beach, I do worry about the impact it has on the environment.
Heading towards Greenan Castle, I make my way along the track behind the dunes. The small trees and bushes here are also a haven for wild-life. A pink-breasted linnet is in full melodic voice, giein it laldy on top of a hawthorn bush while bees and peacock butterflies waltz around the brambles and wildflowers.
At the end of the track, I follow the narrow short-cut to the beach, which cuts through overgrown blackthorn bushes, already laden with bluish-black sloe berries (ideal for jam, jelly or gin). It is a tight squeeze and an excited dog almost knocks me off my feet as he overtakes me and bounds ahead, desperate to get to the sea. His owner puffs an apology as she jogs past, trying to catch up with her pooch.
I head down onto the shore too, and before moving on, take a few moments to stop and savour the joyous spectacle of the cocker spaniel skelping across the sands and launching himself into the water.
Perched on top of the cliff, the ruin of Greenan Castle looms above me. I choose my route around the slate grey rock face carefully, crossing the stony patch of beach with caution The stones are slimy with algae and the salty stink of decaying seaweed is strong. I catch a glimpse of movement along the water’s edge and hear a repetitive high-pitched creaking noise. It takes me some time to find, then identify the aptly named rock pipet. He is well camouflaged against the stones, damp sand and bladderwrack. Most birds take flight when they spot my camera, but this little rock pipet is up for a photoshoot and he strikes several poses while I snap some really good shots.
It’s only a short plod across soft sand from here to reach the next small headland and the Devil’s or Deil’s Dyke, where I intend to stop, take a well-deserved break, soak up the tranquillity and dig in to my snack. Deil’s Dyke is a natural formation of rocks which extends from the coast out into the sea. During high tide most of the rocks are submerged – but at low tide, like this morning, some of Deil’s Dyke is visible. I find a suitable rock, not too jaggy, on the shoreline to park my behind on. The rocks closest to the sea are already occupied; a gulp of cormorants are gathered, staring out across the water. Some preen their plumage. Others, like a Dracula tribute act, stretch out and flap their broad cape-like black wings.
Deil’s Dyke is a fabulous spot to sit and watch the sea. To my right I have a terrific view of Greenan Castle and Ayr, and to my left, the dramatic Heads of Ayr and the beach at Craig Tara. I hear the distant giggles of children playing on the sands over the rhythmic lap of the waves on the shore. Has the tide turned? Looks like it – but no panic, I have plenty of time to enjoy a much-needed drink and indulge in my cereal bar and nectarine before I retrace my steps to Doonfoot.
As I admire the shimmering beauty of Ailsa Craig floating on the hazy horizon, one by one, my cormorant companions take flight. They skim across the water, before plunging into its depths. Must be snack time for cormorants too.