I hadn't been able to get out for a decent walk outwith Glasgow for some time so when I was finally able to do so I wanted to head to somewhere where I could watch the last of the 2013 6 Nations rugby games and preferably somewhere where there was some decent beer. Thankfully this flyer from the Ardrossan Accies Rugby Club seemed to suggest that here was a place where this was a more than likely possibility so I decided to head off to the Three Towns area of the North Ayrshire coast.
View Ardrossan in a larger map
Outward travel was as follows:-
Glasgow Central to Ardrossan South Beach (18, 48 on the hour)
Literally only a stumble across the road from the car park of South Beach train station is the Lauriston Hotel, blessed with great panoramic views of the main promenade, the expanse of South Bay and the Isle of Arran (when visible).
I made a quick (and hopefully nonchalant) inspection through the large front windows, noted that the large modern conservatory seemed pretty quiet early on a Saturday afternoon and so I instead entered the adjoining Lauriston Bar through its separate doorway at the left-hand side of the building. This opened up to a long, fairly narrow wood-clad bar with lots of bar stools and 4 large square tables opposite the bar area. The first impression today was that I had dropped into a Guinness promotion - the place was packed full of St Patrick's Day 'tat' - flyers, ribbons, hats, wrist-bands, balloons and probably lots more besides. It was also packed full of people - a group of guys on a stag doo had commandeered a couple of the tables & most of the front of the bar to watch the early football, so there was a fair amount of banter flying back and forth. There was only Caley Deuchars IPA on hand-pull (as well as Tennents, John Smiths Smooth, Strongbow and Tartan Special(!?)), so I took a half of this, ordered the soup-of-the-day (and some Guinness crisps, curiosity overcame me) and took the last table at the back of the bar. Behind all of the green and black 'tat' were a lot of nautical themed objects - barometers, clocks, displays of knots & model ships and there was also a remembrance memorial picture & a poem to HMS Dasher, an aircraft carrier which sank off Ardrossan in 1943.
When my soup came I also noticed the nautical theme on the table tops - interesting old navigation maps (on mine the 'Western Approach to the Firth of Clyde'). And the soup was excellent, thick & spicy roast pepper with crème fraîche, and (OK, I admit it) the malty toffeeness of the Guinness crisps went down quite well with it.
I left the stag-doo to the rest of their St Pats themed afternoon & evening and walked the short distance past the railway station and the Holm Plantation park to the clubhouse of the Ardrossan Academicals Rugby Football Club.
It had just opened at 12:30 so it was still (very) quiet, but the guy manning the entrance for the glasses and tickets had indicated that it had been pretty busy on Friday evening so the event (only its 2nd time of running) seems to be a definite success (not surprising at £2.50/pint). The beer casks were racked as 2 groups of 6 on gravity dispense and comprised Kelburn Jaguar & Dark Moor, Loch Lomond Ale of Leven & West Highland Way, Strathaven Avondale & Old Mortality, Ayr Leezie Lundie & Jolly Beggars, Fyne Avalanche & Vital Spark and Houston Slainte & Zywiec - a more than acceptable selection of local beer.
The 2 guys who were manning the beer stand had also worked at the Troon Beer Festival last year so we got chatting about the situation at the forthcoming Larbert Beer Festival where Cromarty Brewing's Red Rocker beer order had been cancelled due to a CAMRA rule which warns against the possibility to 'mislead the drinker' between cask and keg versions of the same beer (see blogs here and here). Interestingly enough it seems the Troon Beer Festival had the same issue with Harviestoun Schiehallion last year and so did not take this (though they did take Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted, also seen frequently on keg). I just find it very petty (and not supportive of some excellent Scottish breweries) and I can only hope that this does not lead to more cask beer cancellations at future CAMRA Festivals. As kick-off time for the rugby approached the clubhouse certainly got a lot busier and it was good to have a few 1/2's of decent gravity-fed beer (I quite liked the Polish hop(s) in the Houston Zywiec giving it an interesting mineral-like pils flavour) and also watch the occasional person have their photograph taken in front of a palm tree & beach back-drop and send it to their friends.
I wanted to have a bit of a walk along the long expanse of South Beach promenade and so left the Accies clubhouse fairly early. The promenade still has a number of classic seaside holiday features - large amusement arcade, swing/play park, bandstand and even a crazy golf course (although I don't know if this is still in use).
Further on towards Saltcoats I was just able to see the remains of the saltwater pools that were once part of the Lido bathing complex and also the observation tower on the sea wall which heralds the start of the mass of Braes rocks before Saltcoats harbour - it's a good bracing walk all the way out there.
I decided to head into the main streets of Saltcoats and couldn't really miss the JD Wetherspoon pub, The Salt Cot - this large building used to be the La Scala cinema and entertainment venue until its conversion in 1999.
As per most Wetherspoons on a damp, cold afternoon it was busy with a diverse mixture of people on a number of different seating levels. The 5 hand-pulls had Arran Dark, Ruddles, TSA Glencoe Stout, Batemans XXXB & Deuchars IPA (I should have stayed at the Beer festival) so I took a half of the Arran Dark and sat down for a few minutes. There were a few local 1920's/30's prints about but the most striking print was a large one of a Pierrot troupe who had played at La Scala back in 1924.
As I walked back to the coast along Saltcoats Hamilton Street there was the usual number of small amusement arcades, cafes & take-aways. This one caught my eye - the The Kandy Bar.
It had been awarded Best Scotch Pie 2011 so there was no real choice but to give one a try. And it was good, a nice decent crust, but I've definitely had Scotch Pies with a tastier, more peppery & spicier filling.
Next I wanted to walk along Seaview Road and the path at the water's edge towards Stevenson. It is here that the electrified railway line is really close to the shore (although not as close as us pedestrians). This is the view that is always used on the National News when there is a serious westerly storm & the waves break over the sea barriers and onto the passing trains.
From here it was a walk of a couple of miles past a large caravan holiday park into the lower part of Stevenson and further on into Ardeer. Most of this peninsula is still taken up by what used to be known as the British Dynamite Factory, established by Alfred Nobel in 1873, although it was subsequently renamed and taken over by ICI, and is now part of a Japanese conglomerate called the Inabata Group. Part of the complex seems somewhat run-down, but it's certainly still operational.
Further south along the beach & foreshore I hoped to find an interesting mural, and I could glimpse this and something else from a fair distance away. Bizarrely enough the something else actually turned out to be a silver Subaru Impreza - a couple of young guys had driven out to take their (huge) dog for a walk along the beach. How they had managed to drive across a couple miles of rocky scrubland & beach I don't know - I was impressed.
The mural of Robert Burns is painted directly on the breakwater wall and is approximately 25 feet high by 16 feet across. I think when the Ardeer Youth Group initially planned it it was going to be a lot larger but they couldn't get permission for this. Obviously it's now had some graffiti and some alterations but I'm guessing Mr Burns wouldn't be too bothered about the sunglasses.
I then retraced my steps over the beach & the common-land to walk into Stevenson proper. I went past a fair number of pubs on the way, but I wanted to try the Champion Shell Inn just off the Main Street, a place I'd hadn't been into for probably well over a decade.
It definitely used to sell cask ales (as is advertised by the original hanging sign outside) but inside there were none to be found. I took a Ginger Grouse instead as an alternative since 1/ I hadn't tried it before, 2/ it wasn't a Guinness and 3/ there is still some sort of sponsorship tie-up with the Scotland Rugby team - it was vaguely refreshing but I probably won't ever have another. The pub itself was fine - nicely decorated with a dining area & lounge on the left, bar on the right, and a supposedly haunted function room at the back. The TV was showing the rugby and I managed to alternate my attention between this and some of the prints & items on display on the walls, in particular this one of some mining explosives & detonators - a nice reference to the local Ardeer works.
Train: Stevenson to Glasgow Central (15, 45 on hour)