Getting Active in the Biosphere

Rhona C.S. Anderson

Girvan, a great place for a wee drive along the coast for ice cream, fish ‘n’ chips and to watch the sun go down over Ailsa Craig. Yes! But nowadays, when Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z are looking for more action, they will find it in Girvan.

Hashtag GoGirvan is the rallying cry for this rapidly re-awakening town. Go Dancing! Go Walking! Go Paddleboarding! Go E-cycling!

As Girvan secures its place in the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, there’s a new energy in town – and it’s people powered. There’s a bit of GO about the place. G&SA Biosphere is celebrating 10 years of facilitating partnerships that support conservation and a sustainable local economy in this world-class environment. With the Biosphere also promoting wellbeing in the Biosphere community, and energetic, tech-savvy Millennials showing the way, it is no coincidence there has been a surge in the availability and choice of outdoor activities in and around Girvan.

Girvan has always been a great choice to simply Go Walking. Energetic hikes on the Byne Hill, Dow Hill and Saugh Hill provide an effective cardio workout. Back down at sea level, Girvan’s shoreline offers gloriously scenic sections of the revitalised pilgrim route, the Whithorn Way or the 100-mile Ayrshire Coastal Path. For local people and visitors, taking the sea air has been popular for centuries, with Girvan Promenade the perfect location for a 600-metre brisk and breezy walk from Beach Park to Bandstand.

New for this decade, taking the possibilities of the Prom to the next level, Girvan Prom Park Run is a free, weekly 5k event supported entirely by volunteers. Participants choose to run, walk or jog along the Prom, and round Stair Park, twice. Most weeks there’s a celebration of someone completing their 50th or 100th run. Parkrun baggers plan Parkrun holiday trips all around the world! The flat terrain of Girvan Prom is popular with visitors seeking to improve on their personal best, but the sou’ west wind often sweeps in with other ideas.

Girvan Prom sees a different kind of action on summer Sundays: people Go Dancing! Music on the Prom transforms the Prom into an outdoor Strictly Come Dancing. Every Sunday in summer, striped deck chairs appear, music washes across the dunes and bus loads arrive to enjoy live music. Line dancing boots mingle with sling backs and sand shoes as they skip or shimmy towards the seafront, drawn by familiar strains such as Here Comes the Sun, or Under the Boardwalk.

Girvan Youth Trust is the power behind this seaside sensation. “Don’t forget yer dancin’ shoes, yer gonnae need them!” is their weekly reminder. Music on the Prom attracts families, golden oldies and especially holidaymakers. With tribute bands ranging from Simply Rod, Kenny Rogers, Status No, The Jersey Notes and celebrated local bands such as The Peas, line dancers can ‘do their thang’ as couples twirl together, performing their fresh air fandango as the sun shines over Ailsa Craig.

Have the dancers got their breath back? Ready to Go Paddleboarding? Wetsuits, boards and enthusiastic instructors await at Adventure Carrick, an innovative social enterprise offering a range of outdoor activities across the 5,300 square kilometres of the Biosphere and the surrounding Ayrshire coastline. Standup paddleboarding is one of the fastest growing sports in the world with a recent surge in popularity in Scotland. Girvan Bay offers plenty of scope for paddling and balancing as well as posing for that iconic photo with Ailsa Craig as the backdrop.

For those who discover the lure of the sea – and if they’re safety conscious and aware of the risks of hypothermia – they might Go Open Water Swimming with a local instructor at Swim the Lochs. In the 20th century, before Mediterranean package tours, coastal dwellers and summer visitors will remember going for a ‘dook in the sea’. In fact, in the 1980s one intrepid local woman, Margaret Kidd, swam from Ailsa Craig to Girvan, and on another occasion from Arran to Ayr. In the 21st century, the health benefits of Open Water Swimming, also known as Wild Swimming, are once again celebrated, this time on Mumsnet and in the Sunday supplements. There are many scenic lochs and rivers around Girvan, perfect for swimming. Or who wouldn’t want to try waterfall dipping? For safety when trying a new activity, always learn with a qualified local instructor.

Prefer terra firma? Like many towns in Scotland, Girvan has its own football team. Girvan FC, founded in 1947, is fondly referred to as The Seasiders. With a sharper focus on improving health and increasing physical activity in Scotland’s population, football supporters can do more than shout encouragement for their team from the stand at Hamilton Park. Now they are encouraged to hoof it on the hallowed turf themselves. Go Walking-Football was introduced in Girvan in 2017/18. Health advantages for the over-50s range from building physical fitness to improving mental health. Girvan’s squad includes women, and men recovering from major surgery. The late Raymond O’Neill was an inspirational player – having an artificial leg did not hold him back. Walking Footballers play twice a week, and they are as competitive as any in the Premier League!

After all that action on the pitch, it’s time for some gentle stretching and to slow the pace right down. From one passion-filled green space to another, Go Gardening is flourishing across this community. Opened by a forward-thinking group in 2011, the idea for Girvan Community Garden grew from land which had been derelict for over 30 years into Girvan’s favourite eco-friendly gathering place. The Community Garden is a hub of activities for all things green and good. Through weekly practical gardening, Girvan’s Green Gym inspires volunteers to improve their mental and physical health and the environment at the same time. Local gardening gurus are there to foster growth in every sense of the word.

Another exciting growth area in Girvan is Go Cycling. Recent Girvan cycling innovations have created a buzz of cycling and biking opportunities. From traditional road bicycles, mountain bikes and e-bikes to three-wheeled adaptive bikes, Go Cycling in Girvan is for everyone. With the town’s largely flat, cycle-friendly terrain, Biosphere Bikes chose to set up here in 2021. The project has been wildly successful, encouraging locals and visitors to explore Carrick and beyond on bikes. Adding a Bike Library affords good value hiring to locals for active travel to work. In the space of 18 months, the founder Ann Berry has been voted Visionary Champion of the Year 2022 by no fewer than four national cycling organisations.

If level pedalling is literally too flat for some, they should try biking in the Ayrshire Alps. For competitive riding, check out The Girvan, a challenging sportive which sets off from the town. Girvan’s hills have been a popular playground for many years, and with the addition of windfarm and forestry trails, there’s a whole lot of gravel-riding adventures to be had. The Biking Explorers guides lead mountain bike or e-bike tours around some of the secret and most spectacular scenery in the Southern Ayrshire zone of the Biosphere.

As the sun goes down after a wee day out cycling, or dancing or gardening, devotees who like to GoGirvan will have earned their fish ‘n’ chips and ice cream treats as they relax by the harbour, planning another life-affirming, busy day out and about in Girvan.

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