Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Taking The Ayr

DAY 24:

Today dawned bright and sunny and, frankly, it just kept getting better.

I'd been really looking forward to today's journey through Galloway, which I and many others think of as the forgotten Scotland, and thanks to clear blue skies and bright sun it was everything I'd hoped for.

I'd hoped that the service 500 to Stranraer would be a modern bus, and preferably a double decker to maximise on the scenic views. So I was slightly disappointed to see a rather venerable old single decker shamble up the bus stop at Dumfries. It was so old, in fact, that it had two steps up inside the door – no modern lo-floor kneeling bus, this – and no luggage rack or space for wheelchairs or buggies. It even smelt as if it had been lying at the back of a garage for a couple of years.

No matter. With my rucksac on the seat beside me, we were soon barrelling through the Galloway hills. It's strange and deeply attractive countryside, both soft and rugged at the same time, with heather-topped gorse-flecked hills overlooking lush fields filled with lounging Friesians and occasionally with the local breed of cattle, the delightful Belted Galloway cattle.

The towns and villages we pass through – Castle Douglas, Gatehouse of Fleet, Creetown, Newton Stewart - share the same simple style, with low granite or white-washed buildings topped with steeply sloping roofs strung along a single street, with strings of cottages behind. You see the same type of village and town all over Scotland and if nothing else it means you can seldom get lost popping out to the shops!

From Gatehouse of Fleet we begin to see the Solway Firth once more, with acres of sand flats and still blue water offering views right across Wigton Bay. We climb up onto the tops of unseen cliffs and the views become yet grander and more extensive. The hills become bigger, more heathery, then the landscape changes yet again to look a little more maritime, more sandy and windblown, with huge stands of oak giving way to more mottled woodland of birch, rowan and hazel.

Then we are into Stranraer with its busy little streets and its ship's funnels sticking up over the roof tops. It's a quick change here to the No. 60 service to Ayr which heads up the Ayrshire coast by means of the steeply wooded and achingly attractive Glen App (which sounds like something which turns your iPhone tartan). It's a spectacular run up the coast, much of it only inches above the rocky volcanic beach, with jaw-dropping views across the sea to the Mull of Kintyre (and I'll still never forgive Paul McCartney for that song), the remote mountains of Arran and the strange, breast-like rocky island Ailsa Craig.

This area was a real surprise to me. It's a fantastic road to travel along especially when you have the time to gaze into the distance. I'll be coming back here.

From Ayr I was going to catch a bus further up the coast and eventually into Glasgow. However, I spotted that Stagecoach were running an express service to Glasgow via Prestwick Airport using those extravagantly streamlined, triple-axle Skyliner double-decker coaches I used to travel to London on in the 1980's. They are such unusual and eccentric vehicles that it seemed an opportunity too good to miss so I took my place at the back of long queue at Ayr bus station.

I'd forgotten how huge these vehicles are, and despite being one of the last people on the bus there was still plenty of room. Better than that, because most of the other passengers were pensioners returning home from a spree to Ayr, it was the downstairs seats that filled up first, which meant that I could still bag myself a front seat upstairs! Bliss!

What followed was a smooth, almost silent, air-cushioned romp all the way to Glasgow through countryside which suddenly gave way to the Big City. Glasgow felt big and brash and noisy after the stillness of the Galloway countryside, but I love its vitality and it was a pleasure to be out on its streets.

In fact, I felt so generally happy and contented that I decided I deserved a curry tonight. So I popped into a miniscule little restaurant I'd heard of just around the corner from my Travelodge entitled, appropriately enough, the Wee Curry House. It was brilliant and I recommend it unreservedly.

Tomorrow I had decided to visit the Transport Museum, which is excellent but is also, I have discovered, currently closed. Apparently they are moving the whole collection to a brand new museum down on the riverside. So I will have a little time to kill, not that there's any shortage of things to see and do in Glasgow.

And the Wee Curry House does open for lunch...

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