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Scotland: North Ayrshire and the Island of Arran - a short trip

Scotland: North Ayrshire and the Island of Arran - a short trip

Aug 9th, 2019, 06:14 AM
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Scotland: North Ayrshire and the Island of Arran - a short trip

The youngest son of the Greek family I know will be starting university in the UK in the autumn and he wanted his girlfriend to see some of Scotland when they stayed with me for a few days a fortnight ago. Like all of his siblings he has been my guest many times but usually in wintertime (his family are in the hospitality industry so any travelling was done out of season). From a toddler all he wanted to see was snow! As they were only going to be here for a short time I thought it would be better to travel west rather than the usual north i.e. down to Ayrshire, explore a little then take the ferry over to Arran.

I was born and spent my childhood years in the Argyllshire village of Tighnabruaich but when I was 11yo the family moved to North Ayrshire to allow my father to find work. I know the area reasonably well. Unusually we had superb weather the whole of that week, very warm and sunny. He couldn’t believe that his weather app showed Glasgow to be warmer than Athens. Neither could I but laughed when he took a screen-shot to send his dad.

Day 1:

We travelled west from Glasgow to the small Ayrshire town of Largs (less than an hour driving time). I’ve always enjoyed this pretty, small town with a long esplanade and this time enjoyed even more the friendly faces and the flowers in bloom throughout the place. On every visit to this small resort I always feel I’ve been transported back to the 1950’s and that’s fine with me. It has some bonny buildings and one or two famous ‘institutions’. One in particular is the Art Deco ice-cream parlour called Nardini’s – very well worth checking out. We noticed as we journeyed through the town a few places where info could be found about the 13th century Battle of Largs between Norwegians and Scots. One place I know of but which we didn’t visit is called Vikingar. It’s located in Largs itself and details are here: https://www.visitscotland.com/info/s...kingar-p253071.

There is a very regular ferry service from Largs across to the island of Great Cumbrae with a short journey time of only 10 minutes. I recommend this wee diversion. A visit to this island’s town of Millport is a good way to spend a few relaxing hours (you used to be able to hire bicycles to take a trip around the island but I don’t know if that service is still available).

Time was moving on, we'd all enjoyed our short visit and as we began our journey south of the town, we again found terrific displays of flowers in private gardens on either side of the road. All credit to the owners and to the local council too for their public displays of colour.

I wanted to take them next to what I’ve always considered a jewel in Ayrshire’s crown, the little hamlet of Portencross. Not often visited bit very much worth seeing. Driving south from Largs you first pass through the village of Fairlie (much changed since I was a kid, with an almost hidden from view enormous power station), then a few miles further, on the right we could see Hunterston Castle. I’ve never been there but just checked and find that it is now open to the public. Details are here: https://clanhunterscotland.com/. A few minutes later, we came to a junction where Portencross is sign-posted. Turning right onto the B7048 the views of Arran across the Clyde were terrific and in a few minutes we’d arrived!

I’ve always loved Portencross, a quiet little place right at the edge of the sea with particularly wonderful views. I was surprised but pleased to see a small car-parking area for visitors, which I don’t recall from earlier visits. By this time, right in front of us, was Portencross Castle, built in the 1300’s and historically important. When I was young, it was a locked up ruin but now it is open after some major reconstruction and safety work. At school we were taught that Scottish Kings were taken, from the year 800 onwards, from the small inlet here to the Island of Iona for burial and I actually see the mention of this on the castle’s website (I always thought it was a fact but the castle historians say on the website that it has never been confirmed). The castle’s website is at: Welcome to Portencross Castle

I’ve been waiting almost two weeks for the photographs the kids took on their phones but nothing yet. I did a search and found a local photographer’s site (Peter Ribbeck) with some outstanding images. I contacted him and he has kindly given me permission to use this one he took of the castle.

https://www.peterribbeck.com/p490956688/ea780641e

It had been a long day and was now late afternoon so it was time to drive a few miles south again, to Seamill and the hotel we’d booked there (the Hydro). Both rooms had terrific sea views across to Arran. My standard double was £112 and their slightly larger room was £125. Breakfast was included. https://www.seamillhydro.co.uk/

That evening I was hoping the kids were going to enjoy the island as much as I always have. Often referred to as ‘Scotland in Miniature’, I felt sure if the weather stayed this good it would live up to its name. Coming up: Ardrossan, its castle, the ferry over to Arran and our drive around the island.

Another of Peter's pics this time of tomorrow's destination:

https://www.peterribbeck.com/p490956688/ebc82541d

Last edited by billbarr; Aug 9th, 2019 at 06:23 AM. Reason: add pic
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Aug 9th, 2019, 08:20 AM
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A lovely start. I’ve always thought the Isle of Arran doesn’t get the praise it deserves. It really is Scotland in Miniature and an excellent destination for those with limited time. Looking forward to your next report.

Thanks for the new to me information about Portencross and Portencross Castle. The Hydro looks like a perfect place for an overnight especially with the sea views. Will now check out Hunterston Castle and Largs. Love finding new places in Scotland especially the less travelled ones.
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Aug 9th, 2019, 08:22 AM
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Really looking forward to the rest. I haven't been on Arran in years -- probably 18-20-ish, but we always enjoyed it

aside: Not sure if you've mentioned Tighnabruaich before - but my ex and I once enjoyed a WONDERFUL Hogmanay as the only guests at the Kames Hotel and went first footing. Fabulous part of the country.
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Aug 9th, 2019, 09:38 AM
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Thanks to you both. My only regret is I couldn't get Peter's images to show inside the report rather than just a link to each but no matter what I've tried it hasn't worked. I've one more thing to try and if that fails then I'll give up.

We have indeed discussed the Kames Hotel before Janis and also its bar, locally known as the 'glue pot'. I think you may have inadvertently met one of my many uncles who used to stagger miles home from there every night, completely drunk!
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Aug 9th, 2019, 09:40 AM
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Thanks for posting.

Iíve always loved the Clyde, particularly Millport.

We may be cycling through Tighnabruaich in two weeks as Iím very much trying to drum up the enthusiasm in my son to do the 5 ferries route from Ardrossan.

Unfortunately, enthusiasm isnít a personality trait which is overly apparent in 14 year old boys.

I love Hunsterton, I seem to remember they were given a reference in the Bayeux Tapestry, could be wrong. Architecturally, itís a mess but shows how the site has evolved over 800 years.

Fairlie and the area is home to some great wooden yacht builders. The words William Fife runs shivers down the spine of most sailers. Along with Fairlie themselves and McGruers, greatest boats on the water, anywhere in the world.




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Aug 9th, 2019, 09:50 AM
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Here are the two pics of Peter's. The first is of Portencross Caste with the added bonus of the Northern lights and the second is the bonny Island of Arran (fingers crossed the code works this time)

Scotland: North Ayrshire and the Island of Arran - a short trip-p2810209310-3.jpg

Scotland: North Ayrshire and the Island of Arran - a short trip-p3162657821-3.jpg
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Aug 9th, 2019, 10:04 AM
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Originally Posted by BritishCaicos View Post
Thanks for posting.

I’ve always loved the Clyde, particularly Millport.

We may be cycling through Tighnabruaich in two weeks as I’m very much trying to drum up the enthusiasm in my son to do the 5 ferries route from Ardrossan.

Unfortunately, enthusiasm isn’t a personality trait which is overly apparent in 14 year old boys.

I love Hunsterton, I seem to remember they were given a reference in the Bayeux Tapestry, could be wrong. Architecturally, it’s a mess but shows how the site has evolved over 800 years.

Fairlie and the area is home to some great wooden yacht builders. The words William Fife runs shivers down the spine of most sailers. Along with Fairlie themselves and McGruers, greatest boats on the water, anywhere in the world.

Take plenty of midge repellent with you BC as this year I've been told they've been very bad up there. Great information about the wooden yacht builders. The heart was ripped out of Fairlie years ago and it's never really recovered which is a shame, especially after reading about the heritage you've described. My father spent his life at sea (the reason why we had to move to Ardrossan) and I've a library of his books here each and every one about ships, boats and yachts. At the weekend I'll go looking to see if there are any about William Fife etc. Many thanks!

Last edited by billbarr; Aug 9th, 2019 at 10:21 AM. Reason: add text
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Aug 9th, 2019, 12:31 PM
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It’s strange how good deeds repay themselves.

It was kind of a Peter to allow you to link his work. I’ll repay that kindness by buying some of his prints, they are stunning and would look great on our white walls.

I’ve always wanted to excel in both photography and music, I’m hopeless with both but appreciate the work of others.
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Aug 9th, 2019, 12:33 PM
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Enjoyed this greatly. I grew up in the region, spent numerous holidays on Arran and at Millport. My grandparents went to Largs for two weeks every summer without fail.

Happy to be reminded of a lovely place. Do they still serve the most delicious sticky buns on the steamer? (Probably the paddle boat The Waverly is long gone.)
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Aug 9th, 2019, 01:08 PM
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>>We have indeed discussed the Kames Hotel before Janis <<

I thought so -- remember discussing Tighnabruaich/Kames with someone on here but couldn't locate it in a quick search.

Peter Ribbeck's photos are gorgeous!!
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Aug 10th, 2019, 05:07 AM
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Originally Posted by shouldbewriting View Post
Enjoyed this greatly. I grew up in the region, spent numerous holidays on Arran and at Millport. My grandparents went to Largs for two weeks every summer without fail.

Happy to be reminded of a lovely place. Do they still serve the most delicious sticky buns on the steamer? (Probably the paddle boat The Waverly is long gone.)
Thank you, shouldbewriting. Can you believe the Waverley was still doing almost daily trips to Rothesay, the Kyles of Bute, Arran, Inveraray etc right up until 2018? It and its sticky buns have been withdrawn from service this year as it has mechanical problems which hopefully will get fixed.

I was last on her more than 20 years ago when she did a one-day excursion from Oban to Iona and she was looking good then. That was the first time I'd been close to Mull which janisj correctly writes highly about on this forum and I remember being amazed as I looked up at its high cliffs as we sailed below them. I never did get the chance to actually visit Mull which is a real regret.
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Aug 10th, 2019, 09:16 AM
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That’s incredible about the Waverley! Hope she returns to work as good as new.

My sister lives in Alloway and on Monday she’s taking two of their grandchildren to Arran for the day, weather permitting.
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Aug 10th, 2019, 03:05 PM
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Day 2 Ė Ardrossan and beyond!

Although we didnít need to be at the ferry terminal until 09.15 we checked out from the hotel close to 8am as I wanted my young Greek friends to see a few things before leaving for Arran. The weather was once again outstanding.

First, a bit about the Ďmechanicsí of the trip. We had booked our Ardrossan to Brodick, Arran tickets online using the Caledonian MacBrayne website and needed to have the car checked-in at 09.15 for the sailing at 09.45, returning on the 19.20 ferry - the total round trip cost for the three of us and the car was £55.90 (£8 per person, car £31.90).

I often recommend this as a day trip-trip from Glasgow. For example, the 08.30 train from Glasgow Central direct to the Ardrossan Harbour station connects with the ferry we used. Coming back that evening itís a straight-forward reversal arriving back at Glasgow Central 21.30 . Scotrail sell it as a round-trip costing £16.80. The harbour station is less than a 2-minute stroll to the boat.

We drove south from the hotel and quickly were on the coast road to Ardrossan, only around 4 miles away. On our left were fields of what looked like the famous crops of Ayrshire potatoes, which thrive on the sandy soil, on our right the long and rugged north shore beach. Only a few minutes into the journey I asked that they stop the car to let them look across at ArranĎs sleeping warrior i.e. the outline of the tops of the Arran hills show what looks like someone resting on their back. Sometimes it can take the eyes a bit of time to focus on and find it but today it was very clear. The kids took around 10 photos each and kept saying how cool it was!

Only another few minutes along this coast road, on the left, we could see the small hills of what we were told at school were prehistoric mounds. I asked my young driver to left up a small farm road because I knew just over the hill and out of site were the remains of Montfode Castle. I think we all enjoyed a look around what is now a single motte.

You know, Ardrossan was an ugly town. When I was young, it was home to an enormous petro-chemical works and a very busy port. The town centre always seemed to be over-shadowed by huge black and oppressive cranes, which surrounded the harbour area. I was very pleasantly surprised and pleased to see the enormous changes as we hit its outskirts. Gone was the petro-chemical works, gone were those cranes and the place looked much cleaner and fresher. Many new houses have been built, including beside and amongst the old Victorian villas. The harbour itself has been converted into a superb yachting marina with private housing overlooking it all. Well done the local council. The town deserved some TLC and it now looks that it has been delivered. Yes, itís still a bit rough and ready in places but is so much better than before.

We turned right onto what is possibly one of Scotlandís widest longest roads called Glasgow Street. Our school teachers made sure we knew our local history and they let us know the roadís foundation was originally laid out to accommodate a canal from Glasgow to Ardrossan Harbour, the brainchild of Lord Eglinton. The project never happened all those hundreds of years ago and it was converted to the main road of the town.

The evening before in the hotel, I read the local newspaper and it had an article about a new excavation of the 12th century Ardrossan Castle and attached churchyard, which had just been completed. Both sit on the hill in the middle of Ardrossan town and if anyone is passing through, I recommend a visit. Unfortunately, we didnít have time but Iíd have liked my guests to have seen the views from the castle of Ayr, the volcanic plug known as Ailsa Craig and also Arran.

Soon, after stopping at a small cafe called The Cheery Cup and Saucer (honest!) for three coffees to take with us onto the ferry we were sitting at the harbour terminal. This is when I saw how impressive the new marina and private homes there were. There is also what looks like a new restaurant built inside one of the old harbour buildings which looked impressive. Apologies, but I didnít get its name.

Soon we were rolling onto the ferry and we left on time, not long after the Glasgow train arrived. The sea was calm, we were relaxed and the sail, which took less than an hour, was excellent. I could see the looks on the young folks faces change the closer we got to Brodick. The island really does look terrific and a wee bit imposing as you sail into the bay. Hereís another of Peterís picture to give you an idea of what we were looking at during the journey over.

Scotland: North Ayrshire and the Island of Arran - a short trip-p2810184715-4.jpg

In my head I had an idea of the route we would take on the island which had to include Lochranza in the north. In some way I was being a wee bit selfish because from there I could look across the sea to the Ardlamont peninsula where I was born.

Next, our day on this lovely island.
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Aug 10th, 2019, 05:36 PM
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Hope you’ll be going to Lagg, my favorite!
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Aug 10th, 2019, 08:16 PM
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Totally off topic - but OMG -- I was just skimming through Peter Ribbick's galleries and stopped up short. There is a photo that was taken about 300 meters from a cottage I rented overlooking Loch Achray. And another taken (I'm almost positive - it isn't captioned) from the shore of Loch Ard essentially in front of a place I've stayed several times. I've taken an almost identical shot of an overgrown rowboat and pier - but it could be one of the other small lochs in the Trossachs. There are other rowboats and piers
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Aug 11th, 2019, 04:33 AM
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Following along-what a great report!
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Aug 11th, 2019, 05:49 AM
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Originally Posted by janisj View Post
Totally off topic - but OMG -- I was just skimming through Peter Ribbick's galleries and stopped up short. There is a photo that was taken about 300 meters from a cottage I rented overlooking Loch Achray. And another taken (I'm almost positive - it isn't captioned) from the shore of Loch Ard essentially in front of a place I've stayed several times. I've taken an almost identical shot of an overgrown rowboat and pier - but it could be one of the other small lochs in the Trossachs. There are other rowboats and piers
Isnít that amazing? I found Peter on a google search where he came up as an amateur photographer who lived and specialised in images of North Ayrshire (and we now know a lot more places too). I could hardly believe the pictures I found on his site. Iím completely in awe of someone who has the skill to photograph sunsets, dark skies and mists as he does.

He was very kind to give me permission to link to some photographs (quite correctly, heís made it impossible to download images from his site).

This is the one that, to me, is the work of a genius! The Milky Way over the Holy Isle and Arran: https://www.peterribbeck.com/p490956688/ebc82d983
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Aug 11th, 2019, 05:55 AM
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Originally Posted by willowjane View Post
Following along-what a great report!
Thank you very much willowjane. I did smile last night after posting the latest installment thinking that folks who know the area might wonder how the heck I could write so much about Ardrossan, of all places. But hey, everywhere has something special and you just need to know where to find it
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Aug 11th, 2019, 09:58 AM
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I love the connections you've made to things you learned in school, billbarr, and I hope you've sent the photographer a link to this thread as he may enjoy reading the comments and viewing how his photography has so wonderfully illustrated your report. Thanks for writing.
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Aug 11th, 2019, 10:31 AM
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Most of his photos are really terrific -- a few are 'merely pretty' and some are out of this world. But the night time shots of the Falkirk Wheel of all things are gob smacking . . .
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