Monday, 27 March 2006
I live in a seaside town on the southwest coast of Scotland called Girvan.
It’s a nice to see it appear between the hills as I wind my way home at the end of a tour. The locals may take it for granted, but as an American from upstate New York I find it hard not to be continually awed by the scenery here.
No matter what direction you approach Girvan from you get a spectacular view of the Firth of Clyde (the waterway where the Clyde River opens up to the Irish Sea), the headlands jutting out into the water, and the Isle of Arran (called the “Sleeping Giant” by locals…on a clear day it really does look like a giant Disney dwarf lying on its back having a peaceful snooze).
But most spectacular of all is the Ailsa Craig (called Paddy’s Milestone by the Irish across the water) sitting in the middle of everything nine and a half miles out…a giant, almost impossibly perfect-looking volcanic granite mound. It is now a bird sanctuary with one of the largest populations of gannets in the world. The sunsets over the Ailsa Craig are unreal.
It has become a tradition during my summer workshops to take my students out to the Ailsa on a local boat. While there’s nothing especially guitaristic about these jaunts, a certain spiritual feeling seems to take hold of everyone.
The surrounding area — the countryside of South Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway — offers seemingly endless sightseeing and history. Robert Burns and Robert the Bruce are the biggest names around here.
There’s Culzean (pronounced “Killane”…like so many Gaelic names in this part of the world, you could never figure out how to pronounce it from the way it’s spelt) Castle where Eisenhower resided during the latter years of WWII and is said to have planned the D-Day invasion.
There are the ruins Crossraguel Abbey along the road to Maybole, the Castle Kennedy gardens — with the finest walled garden I’ve seen — a forty-minute drive south, the artist town of Kirkcudbright (pronounced “Ker-coo-bree”) still further south, and — my favourite one-hour walk — the Wood of Cree nature reserve on the way to Newton Stewart.
There’s the Turnberry hotel and golf course five miles up the road, which will be hosting the 138th Open Championship in 2009.
Back in town, there’s the Girvan Bowling Club, tucked away behind the North Parrish Church, with its four beautifully coiffed outdoor greens.
And there are lots of sheep. Everywhere.
If you want to see more of the coastline, you can take a drive north on the coast road to Ayr (check out the Electric Brae…one of the oddest things to experience in a car…the illusion that you are being towed uphill by an invisible magnet), or south on the A77. You won’t miss fantastic scenery in either direction.
A trip around the Islands and local ports on the Waverley, the world’s last remaining ocean-going paddle steamer, is a must-do.
I was surprised by the Waverley’s speed and robustness the first time I rode on it. Because of the designation “paddle steamer” I had in mind of a sort of easy-going, riverboat-type experience. While capable of placid cruising in and out of ports — or a gentle, gannet-filled circling of the Ailsa — this vessel is no slouch on the open water. The massive engine below decks, which you are welcome to observe up close if so inclined, its giant pistons pounding away at centre drive-axle, make the whole boat throb. It goes like the wind.
I ride my mountain bike along the seafront promenade and up around the hills most evenings. I often stop at the end of the pier at the mouth of the harbour and look out to the Ailsa and Arran , then back at Girvan, and finally at the sheep-dotted Carrick hills behind.