Thursday, May 14, 2009

Home Farm to Port Carrick Bay – The Cliff Walk

I SET OUT FROM my lower cottage flat, walk through the wooden gate onto the Castle path in front of the bookshop and follow it round and along the tree-lined path to Robert Adam’s Ruined Arch, the entrance to Culzean Castle. On the way, Chaffinches gush their song to all who will listen as the Robin and Blue Tit fight to be heard – a Blackbird darts to the undergrowth, cocks his head and watches me pass; the Song Thrush loudly aims to confuse. At my feet walking along the path: Campion, Alkanet, Mayflower and some late blooming Daffodils dance in the sun – Daisies, Speedwell and Dandelions make themselves known, but their scents are overpowered by the omni-present Wild Garlic, now a flowering blanket of white.
I arrive at the old Ranger Station, now a sweetie shop, a nice building in the wrong place – too close to the Ruined Arch. The Arch appears to be an older ruin, but it was designed in that manner and though it may seem to some a Folly, it is not. The Ruined Arch is a deliberate Adam design, fashioned for a specific purpose – to suggest to all who viewed it that it was much older than the new buildings he was creating and to lend a sense of history to Culzean Castle – his last, and arguably his finest, work in a long and distinguished career. The Arch also gave the Kennedy family, at the time headed by David, the 10th Earl of Cassillis, the look of “old money”. It was a great idea and fools people even today.
Culzean Castle is not actually a castle at all, it is a beautiful example of a Georgian Castilian mansion, built of Kirkoswald stone, and incorporating the remnants of the tower-house which had stood on the site for over 200 years before it – itself built of sandstone from nearby Segganwell. Adam’s design of Culzean Castle and its surrounding woodland and gardens is a tour de force. Planned and built in the last ten years of his life, Adam did not live to see its completion, but he knew his vision was manifest.
Passing over the serpentine entrance, designed so that visitors would get their first real view of the castle through the side window of their carriage (a sudden and inspiring sight), I come to the entrance to the Fountain Garden once a deep gully between the hill and the basalt outcrop on which the original tower-house was situated. Adam had the gully filled in to create the garden which is still well below the castle. Descending the stairs I come to the terrace above the lawn which has a subtropical feel to it with palms and exotic flowers. Looking down from the terrace, the fountain inhabits the very centre of the garden lawn – once fed by the fire-pond above the deer park, it is now plumbed to the watermain. Descending onto the lowest level I walk past the glass house that is the Orangery and out through the portal to the West Green, a simple lawn area, and on towards the West Green Battery. The Battery has nine cannon behind earth fortifications and was built in the early 19th century by the 12th Earl who was fearful that Napoleon might invade Britain through Scotland. The views across the Clyde from this point are spectacular.
Walking along the path from the Battery I look down on Dolphin House with its huge Tipi tent on the lawn. This building which was once the laundry, became derelict and was restored in the 1940s as a dwelling house, is now an outdoor centre mainly for young people. I leave Dolphin House behind and walk on along the path now enveloped in the branches of Sycamore and Beech, hardies planted to shelter the park from the oceanic elements of salt and wind. The Snowdrops which earlier carpeted these woodland floors are a faint memory, and the Daffodils and Dog Violets which replaced them are now also beginning to fade, giving way to Lady’s Smock/Cuckoo Flower, Cowslip, Bluebells, Campion, and Green Alkanet.

The deciduous trees have begun pulling on their crochet’d sun-hats and the paths are now becoming more shaded, dappled light dances from leaf to petal; photons absorbed into chlorophyll, becoming sucrose to feed insects and the element-fixing bacteria in the ground and on the roots of the trees surrounding me. I pass the Powder House on my right. There is a nice pathway to it, but I am not going there, I head for the next path which, turning right, will take me along the cliff.
The Finches and Tits are in good voice. The Chiff Chaff’s monotonous song is out-competed by the Great Tit’s squeaky wheelbarrow call. The Willow Warbler’s pretty, but slightly subdued, song echoes through the trees. Further away, a Treecreeper calls out, warning of danger – somewhere, deep in the wood, a cuckoo.
I am now on the Cliff Path with views north to Bute and Argyll. Arran and Kintyre rise out of the sea to the west and south where, I am told, on very clear days you can see Ireland beyond the imposing basalt rock that is Ailsa Craig. A short way along this path, before turning south, I stop at an outcrop on top of the cliff. A chaffinch above me calls out: "pink, pink", to warn others that I am around. I look back towards the castle; the sky is becoming leaden; reaching down it begins to swallow Arran. The sea is a herd of white tailed, slate-grey, mares galloping landwards, carrying gifts for a grumpy old shore – the rock pools below the castle will soon be seething and teaming again with life in all its beauty and savagery.
Above me the sky remains clear and blue as I turn to go on. Suddenly, there among the Bluebells next to the path is a nicely carved bench (though it is now rotting slightly); a memorial to “Rocky” – Lou’s lost love. I have no idea who Rocky was, but he was younger than me when he died – at my age it is sobering when those younger pass away. Rocky must have been a Pink Floyd fan because his epitaph signifies that he has gone: “…to the great gig in the sky”. He obviously enjoyed the view from this spot where the bench now sits. I think fancifully of a fellow rocker reclining here on a summer’s evening sooking on a spliff, earplugs in and listening to … ah yes … Echoes, while watching the sun slip to bed behind Arran. I salute a fellow Floydy (shine on you crazy diamond!) and move on.
The path twists and undulates on its way towards Port Carrick. The monotonous green at the path edge is broken by yellow leopard’s bane and cowslip, the cerise of Campion blazes the trail. On the left the woodland floor shimmers in a blue, or more correctly purple, haze as the Bluebells dance on the wisp of a breeze. Below me, to the right, on the rocky shore the Cormorants stand embracing the incoming tide. Two Swans take off with an awkward grace towards Maidens, heading for home in a looping flight which will bring them back to Swan Pond just over the hill from where I stand – so too the Shell Ducks, though, with a more direct flightpath. The Gulls and Fulmars remain, bouncing on the air like paper in the wind. Suddenly, among the white flashes, black as polished mudstone, Raven hunts a juicy morsel.
Further on the path edges a gully which runs out from the cliff to the sea. There is another smaller path which goes a short way out to the right from where I look down into the gully. I can see the Otter trail running from beneath the rock face to the shore. You need to be here late in the evening or very early in the morning to see the otters come down to the sea to hunt and play. I walk back to the main path and head onwards.
Soon after leaving the “otter” path, the main path rises then turns left and runs downhill. At the bottom of the hill the pathway opens out on to Swan Pond. Turning left would take me to the kiosk and aviary (which is now empty). I turn right back along the path towards the stepped boardwalk down to Port Carrick beach. Above me on another pathway is the refurbished Pagoda which used to, but no longer, house apes. Arriving above Port Carrick, at the top of the steps, the path continues on to the conifer woodland and then down on to Maidens Beach. My destination is Carrick so I descend the steps onto a small, but beautiful, sandy strip. The beach is approximately a hundred metres long, and sits between two rocky outcrops. It is arguably the prettiest beach in all of Ayrshire.

The sky above me is still blue though the distant clouds have now devoured Arran completely. The grey sea rumbles onto the sand as I stumble off the wooden steps on the landward side of the beach. I sit on the bottom step, open my bag, extract my lunch and relax.
Overhead, a gull lets out an excited cry – keee-yah, keee-yah, keee-yah!
I find it difficult to disagree.

No comments: