Wednesday, 19 March 2014

An energising walk from Fairlie to Ardrossan: 15th March 2014

Last year I'd walked south from the Ardrossan Accies RFC Beer Festival, this year I decided I was going to walk south to their Beer Festival. This would involve starting at Fairlie, hopefully passing a few interesting structures on the way, stopping for a bite of lunch at Seamill, before reaching the Beer Festival mid-afternoon (weather permitting, of course).

View Seamill in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Glasgow Central to Fairlie (48 on the hour)

It was a bit of a dreich mizzly day when I set off from Fairlie train station, certainly there was no sign of the Isle of Arran making an appearance across the Firth of Clyde. The path alongside the busy A78 took me across the Clydeport Hunterston roundabout and then to a signposted path for the Ayrshire Coastal Path almost underneath the Hunterston Ore Terminal conveyer belt.

This path eventually connected me onto the service road to the Hunterston Power Station complex. There's a Test Centre for offshore wind turbines here; as always I'm always amazed at the sheer size of these things.

But this paled into insignificance compared to the size of Hunterston B Nuclear Power Station which slowly came into view, but then (irrespective of your views on nuclear power), it does currently provide over 25% of all the electricity that Scotland generates. I'd somehow thought that a nuclear power station was going to be quiet, but there was a noisy, echoing and almost eerie whine from the turbines (I assume) which are used to convert the heated steam into electricity.

EDF Engergy provides tours at Hunterston B, but they need 2 weeks notice (for security checking), but I'd hoped the Visitor Centre outside the main plant was going to be open. However the place was definitely closed, and when I checked at the security gate, a formal tour of the facility had just started (probably from the party off the UlsterBus parked outside). That was a bit of a pain (I should really have phoned beforehand), but I guess they don't get too many drop-by tourists at the weekends.

I rejoined the road south which took me past Hunterston A Power Station (currently being decommissioned) and a number of high-tech office buildings until it petered out to a muddy path hugging the shoreline. The cliffs here facing the sea are known as The Three Sisters and are really quite high & somewhat intimidating.

Further on the path become more stony & well-defined and here I came to a small harbour with views across to the ancient fortress of Portencross Castle. I was able to access the Castle and the spit of land it sits on through a path between a couple of cottages, but the doors to the areas inside the Castle were locked shut (it's due to re-open in early April) which meant I couldn't get to experience what must be great views across the Clyde to the Island of Cumbrae and further beyond.

I then followed a narrow road which turned the corner of the peninsula until I came across a helpful signpost to 'The Shore'. This marks the very far end of the renowned West Kilbride Golf Course and the path extends past a number of holes of this links course (beware the cry of Fore!, a couple of wayward drives went pretty close to me).

The beach goes on for quite a distance and there are a number fairly elegant baronial-type dwellings which overlook it. A mile or so past the start/end of the golf course I came to the private entrance for the Seamill Hydro Resort.

This took me through the secluded gardens (looking very green, unsurprisingly after all the rain) and to one of the many entrances of the hotel/resort. Here I was able to follow a number of well marked directions until I came to the Aura Lounge Bar, one of 2 restaurants at the Seamill Hydro (the Orangery is the more formal one, but with my muddy boots and sodden balaclava I didn't think I had much chance in getting in there today).

It's a pretty impressive hotel bar - a large central rectangular bar with twinkly hanging lights set from the ornate ceiling & lots of sparkling glasses, lots of high bar stools, a number of columns set to the ceiling, tables on the floor area in front of the bar and a raised area with more tables & seats at the windows. Interesting enough it got quite a bit darker the further out from the bar I went. It definitely has all the ambience of classy hotel piano bar, complete with jazzy background muzak, but since it is still the West of Scotland, the early football game was being shown on the large-screen TVs (and not the 6-Nations Rugby, hmmm...).

There were 2 sets of identical keg taps with (to be honest) a pretty disappointing selection of beer, but thankfully WEST St Mungo was present (and being well promoted), and there were also bottles of Innis & Gunn available in the fridge.

I ordered a pint of St Mungo, looked at the menu and then deliberated on which of the 2 'Build-a-Burger' choices to have. These were the winning entries from a recent competition to 'design' a burger, with the 2 winners fighting it out for a month on the Aura menu and the winner (i.e. the most ordered) being kept on the menu for a year (and the designer allowed to have free burgers for the duration - not a bad prize!). The choice was between a Spicy Haggis Burger (including Pepper Sauce) and a Pepperoni Pizza Burger, and since I'd tried a variation on a Haggis Burger before, I decided that the Pepperoni Pizza Burger had to be tried. When it came it certainly did look the part - a full-on tomato pizza sauce between the bread & the burger, a topping of pepperoni & melted cheese and some really great fries. It tasted absolutely great, albeit that pepperoni did swamp the taste of the burger somewhat, but it was certainly something different to try.

It was a bit of an expensive lunch, but it's a nice, classy, modern place (and it's still privately owned, with a recent £4Million investment), the staff were great (there are supposedly 180 employed at the Hydro), and lunch was a bit out-of-the-ordinary so I was glad I stopped there. I headed out through the main entrance of the Hydro and onto the A78 main road heading to Ardrossan. Only a about a mile further on I came to The Waterside, a place which has gone through a number of changes in the recent past, but which has now settled down as a restaurant specialising (mostly) in fish.

The car park was mobbed, and as I went in I heard that there was a wait of ~30 minutes for food, but since I was only in for a beer I wasn't too concerned about that. What I was concerned about though, was the beer choice, and it seemed for a moment that I was going to be forced to have a pint of (authentic Belgian!?) Heverlee or just leave (I wasn't sure which), but then I spotted some bottles of Arran Brewery's Guid Ale in the very bottom of the fridge. This is probably one of Arran's better beers nowadays, a decent bitter session ale, with more flavour than its 3.8% abv would possibly suggest.

Since it was so busy I had to take a seat at the long bench table in front of the kitchen, but that was quite OK. All the fish signs & decor and the staff in full flow kept me occupied. It was quite amazing to see the amount of Fish, Chips & Mushy Peas being sent out from the kitchen and the size of the portions would have been enough to keep almost anyone happy.

And if you wanted something different then you could always make a choice from the fish counter in front of the kitchen (although there wasn't too much left at this time in the afternoon).

There is also a terrace extending out to the rear & left side of the building which would be great in the summer and it seems they will be further extending to provide accommodation at the right side - it definitely seems to be a successful place (or plaice!). As I left The Waterside I thought about waiting for the frequent 585 bus from just along the road straight into Ardrossan, but since the wind was pushing me in (vaguely) the right direction I decided to steel myself and head on further down the coast. I passed a Garden Centre/Italian Bistro Restaurant (The Rowan Tree)and then carried on at the Three Town Bypass roundabout into Ardrossan itself. Since I had been denied my high-up views over the Clyde at Portencross I decided on a slight detour to Cannon Hill, the site of Ardrossan Castle. Unfortunately it seems the Castle has fallen into ruin (with I'm guessing, no money for it's upkeep) and so the whole site has been completely fenced off. This was the closest I could get to it (with the camera held just over the fence) and there was no way to get to the subterranean vaults (named Wallace's Larder).

However the hill did give me great views in almost all direction (this was the view south along the beach into Saltcoats and beyond)...

...and there was an interesting needle-type Memorial to local physician Dr Alexander McFadzean who is credited in helping to bring street lighting as well as water & gas to every house in Victorian-era Ardrossan.

I left Cannon Hill by its southerly exit, walked past a playground and then across a railway bridge to South Crescent Road. At the Lauriston Hotel I turned back inland and then it was only a short walk to the Ardrossan Accies RFC Clubhouse.

It was £3 to get in, which I happily paid, but in my rush to get to the bar and watch the Scotland rugby game I managed to leave my wallet at the entrance. I didn't realise this for about 40 minutes, but then went through the 'normal' state of panic when I had to purchase some more beer tokens. Thankfully my wallet had been put away into the kitchen for safekeeping by the honest Accies folk - many thanks indeed for this ! At the bar there were 12 casks setup on gravity with beers available from Loch Ness, Windswept, Atom, Houston, Strathaven, Isle of Skye, Alechemy, Fallen and Atlas (Orkney) which had been obtained via The Village Inn at Fairlie (with a number supplied from the AleselA people). I was hoping that Alechemy's 10 Storey Malt Bomb was going to be as Over-The-Top malty & sweet as the couple of pints I'd had earlier in the year, but it was definitely a bit muted, however their Starlaw was great and (slightly to my surprise) I also liked Isle of Skye's Young Pretender a lot - both lovely citrusy golden ales.

It was also good to meet up with a couple of the Ayrshire CAMRA guys and swap beer chat. It seems Houston Brewery has been rescued from the brink after founder Carl Wengel's departure last year, and it was also useful to learn about a few more local outlets such as the Saracens Head in Beith and the forthcoming JD Wetherspoon pub in Irvine's Rivergate Centre (name still TBD). As always this is worth knowing for future visits down Ayrshire way.

Return travel:-
  Train: Ardrossan South Beach to Glasgow Central (11 & 41 on the hour)


  1. Great stuff as ever, Adam - I never thought I'd see the Waterside on W&C, I've been there a few times with family (last time for Christmas dinner) - not that I drank beer then, I don't think. Small world...

  2. Cheers, Rich. The Waterside is a nice place; think they did have a hand-pull at first (Deuchars) but it didn't really sell out (most people take the car). Both were safe choices but I wasn't going to risk the centre of West Kilbride...