Friday 13 December 2019

Scotland By Rail - Wemyss Bay walk from station to Kelly Reservoir

Kelly Reservoir with wren

Following on from my previous blog post exploring Wemyss Bay station and the journey there from Glasgow Central. 

This new post charts a nice four mile there-and-back walk uphill from station to moortop reservoir, through wooded gorge, along country track past fields and a few dwellings, onto open moor with pylons and views across the Firth of Clyde to Bute and Arran and the Cowal Peninsula.

There was good birdlife including buzzard, reservoir wren, five jays in some birches, chattering and flitting about, a raven up on the moor. Apparently hen harriers are a possibility. And outside the station down on the shore were lots of gulls, some eiders, swans, cormorants, oystercatchers, more...


The walk:

Watch the ferry arrive or leave, visit the station bookshop and cafe, look for the Red Wheel plaque (see previous post). 
Watch the waterbirds on the shore. A good place for this if the tide is out is from the road bridge immediately south of the ferry and station entrances.

Once you've enjoyed the waterbirds don't cross the bridge into Skelmorlie, turn left at this signpost and walk uphill towards the caravan park:
turn left at this sign just before the road crosses the Kelly Burn

caravan park entrance, walk uphill here

The Kelly Burn, a wooded stream, is on your right and very soon the road turns sharply left. Leave the road and pass straight ahead through wide metal gate:

Follow the footpath uphill, Kelly Burn always on your right.

I find signs like this are rather jarring,
but there definitely are steep banks so take care if children are with you.
lots of oak trees...

Don't turn right across this bridge and gas pipeline:

Instead turn sharp left to leave the Kelly Burn and pass through this gate:

After a short way emerge onto a very minor road and turn right to continue uphill. Turning left takes you through the caravan park as an alternative route back down to the station. 

spot the jay

Pass a house or few a couple of times. Don't worry, this is the correct way.
Now and again you *might* spot small round signs marking the route.

And onto the open moor:

Very strange to see pylons with their wires down. I'm not sure if the wires are currently being renewed or if it's all in the process of being decommissioned.

Looking back over the Firth of Clyde, Arran mountains on far left, Cowal Peninsula on far right, Rothesay straight ahead. The two Bute ferries passed each other half way across.

At the not overly obvious spot illustrated in the photo below walk straight ahead and up onto the reservoir wall. 

If you wished a much longer walk you could turn left and continue on the track another seven or so miles to emerge eventually at Drumfrochar station on the south bank of the Clyde. I haven't done it but it sounds a really interesting station-to-station walk, more info here

Part way along that route is the Greenock Cut Visitor Centre. Again, I haven't been, but I'd like to! Info and opening dates & times here -

As an aside, one of my own favourite station-to-station walks is on the West Highland Line -  from Bridge of Orchy to Tyndrum following the Old Military Road and the curving of the railway round the famous Horseshoe Curve. See my (2012) blog here.

At this not overly obvious spot walk straight ahead and up onto the reservoir wall. 

Kelly Reservoir

reservoir wall with bench
reservoir wren, pencil, watercolour & pen in sketchbook

But please, take your litter home:
crisp & sweet & cigarette packets, and fishing twine. Gathered from under bench and along the reservoir wall

Here's a leaflet showing the whole of the Kelly Cut route, not just the small section I walked -

And here's a nice blog post showing more of these routes -


How to get there:

ScotRail runs hourly trains from Glasgow Central to Wemyss Bay. Check the Ayrshire, Inverclyde and Stranraer timetable here.

Many thanks to ScotRail for their support of my Scotland By Rail work.

Scotland By Rail - Wemyss Bay Station & Red Wheel Plaque unveiling

A Scotland By Rail day to Wemyss Bay on the Ayrshire coast. Attending a station tour and the unveiling of a new Transport Trust Red Wheel plaque. “The Red Wheel Scheme was created by the Transport Trust to recognise and commemorate the most significant sites of historicalimportance to transport heritage in the United Kingdom.”

There are so far over 100 Red Wheels around the UK. Wemyss Bay is only Scotland’s third but is hopefully a sign of lots more to come. The other two are Glasgow, Paisley & Ardrossan Canal and GlenfinnanViaduct.

7am - Christmas in Glasgow

Trains from Glasgow Central to Wemyss Bay are hourly and as mine departed Central at 7.50am I was excited to be exploring a new stretch of line. When you start looking at how many stations you have or haven’t visited you realise there are an awful lot out there.


The Journey
After crossing the Clyde then passing through Cardonald, Hillington East, Hillington West, Paisley Gilmour Street and Paisley St. James there’s a short nice stretch through open farmland on your left (some of which is the former ROF Bishopton), airport on your right, then bending left to run along the south bank of the Clyde. Here it’s old industrial and houses and lovely glimpses across the water to another line which I do know well – Glasgow Queen Street to Helensburgh.

The volcanic plug of Dumbarton Rock looked impressive as I saw it for the first time from the watery viewpoint for which its buildings were presumably designed. Read my Dumbarton Rock blog post here.

A pale turquoise light beacon in the water… a green buoy, a red, a green, a red, a green, a red… pairs marking the safely navigable centre of the river.

Grids of old wooden pilings in the tidal shallows.

That little peninsula, Ardmore, which we’ve been meaning to walk around for years.

Cardross, station stop for Geilston Garden, National Trust for Scotland. See blog post here, I really really recommend this day out.

Helensburgh where we were married. Behind it the hills where I do my BBS bird count. See blog post here.

Fields. Trees. Business parks.

Becoming more built up again.

High rises. Port Glasgow. Old churches, new warehouses, new houses. Everywhere houses are replacing fields these days. #biodiversitycrisis

Retail park.

Flock of starlings twisting overhead.

Greenock where Chris and I left for our National Trust for Scotland tour of the Scottish islands, including St Kilda, Foula, Orkney, Shetland.

Carrier ship? Six legs. Red hull, white top.

Whinhill. A stream, lots of trees.

Train became busy with schoolkids over several stops. Emptied suddenly over one or two more.

Through a deeply frosted valley, mostly still nature. A factory-less factory site. Just flat concrete remains amid grass and trees.

Warm light of sunrise now replaced by cool, almost-full-day light, though clouds and hilltops are suddenly red.

Inverkip. I’d wondered about getting off here and walking the couple of country miles to Wemyss Bay, over the hill.

Bend sharply to the left for the final two miles south to Wemyss Bay. Looking across the water to Cowal peninsula and Dunoon.

Trees hug the track sides. Arriving into Wemyss Bay. There’s Bute and behind it the mountains of Arran…


The Station

The first station was built at Wemyss Bay in 1865. Unusual as primarily for people rather than cargo it became a famous interchange for holidaymakers travelling from Glasgow to Rothesay on the island of Bute. For his 1903 rebuild of the station architect James Miller wanted to emulate highly successful systems for the movement of people which he’d seen in the States. The train-to-boat changeover was intended to take passengers and luggage no more than five minutes. Wemyss Bay’s newly unveiled Red Wheel plaque celebrates this achievement: “An attractive and effective 1903 facility, by the Caledonian Railway, for the rapid trans-shipment of holiday-makers and their luggage.”

Explore the station and notice the old wood-beam-floored platform closest to the sea. This was for luggage. Luggage came out the right-hand doors of the train, passengers came out the left. The luggage was taken along its own platform, down a ramp and onto the waiting steamers. The passengers walked a grand wide curving downslope to their boat. Passengers and suitcases would be reunited in Rothesay.

At the top of the slope is ‘Bobby’, a bronze sculpture by Angela Hunter. A young boy strides forward, shorts on, wooden boat held proud, ready for his week at the seaside. Bobby was commission by the Friends of Wemyss Bay Station and is companion piece to Angela’s young girl statue ‘Annie’ in Gourock, commissioned by Riverside Inverclyde Regeneration.

Even the urinals are curvy.

The Friends of Wemyss Bay Station is a very strong group which has done much for the building they so love, including their excellent second-hand bookshop with museum/archive and gallery/display spaces.

Take time to explore the Friends website, full of interesting info and photos -

local artefacts

And there’s the station cafe. When I visited Wemyss Bay it was *literally* freezing outside and after only ten minutes of short shaky biro sketch watching the Bute ferry loading and departing I had to head inside to warm myself in the cafe with coffee and iced ginger cake whilst finishing my notes on the day so far. I bought a tea for my flask in preparation for the walk I planned up onto the moors. Then across the station concourse to the bookshop. 

The bookshop is brilliant. I bought old art and rail and maritime postcards and had a good chat with Rita and Gladys, two Friends of Wemyss Bay Station volunteers. As well as lots of local knowledge they offered space to sit and stay warm in their museum/records room. Reluctantly I declined, I really had to make myself get out into the chill and up that hill.

Become a Friend of Wemyss Bay Station - 

Rita and Gladys, Friends of Wemyss Bay Station

My next blog post will describe this four mile there-and-back walk from Wemyss Bay station up Kelly Glen and onto the moors at Kelly Reservoir:


How to get there:

ScotRail runs hourly trains from Glasgow Central to Wemyss Bay. Check the Ayrshire, Inverclyde and Stranraer timetable here.

Many thanks to ScotRail for their support of my Scotland By Rail work.

sun setting, ferry approaching, as train home departs Wemyss Bay

Sunday 10 November 2019

Scotland By Rail - North Berwick - shore walk & art session with Scottish Seabird Centre wildlife group

Every year I run a couple of art nature sessions with the children in the Wildlife Clubs at the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick. I love going to North Berwick. It's such a pleasant place with lovely old houses, nice tree-ed gardens, a High Street of interesting shops and cafes, a really brilliant coastline of beach and rocks and views to the islands. And at the High Street the excellent Scottish Seabird Centre (nb - cafe and shop are open but the Discovery Experience is currently being refurbished and due to reopen in December).

I walked from station along High Street stopping at Steampunk Coffee for takeaway oat latte and as delicious a slice of banana loaf as I've ever had. Steampunk is just off the High Street up pedestrianised Law Road. Rustic, hip, cosy, sustainable, low waste - "fully traceable and responsibly sourced coffees." Great place.

After that, along Kirk Ports beside Old St Andrew's Church and graveyard, along East Road, down Balfour Street and onto the shore. 

The wind was seriously cold blowing foam past my feet as waves poured onto the beach. The view is brilliant. Craigleith island on the left and the Bass Rock on the right are the most obvious but ten miles out in the gap between them was a third island, the Isle of May. As the island appeared over the rollers, Main Light lighthouse (where I had my exhibition last year) was visible on the dark west cliffs, now and then the South or North Horns stretching weirdly upwards in optical illusion and turning dark or bright white when sun cracked through the clouds. I was watching through binoculars when seawater poured suddenly into my left shoe.

Geese were flying overhead, this large group chattering high-pitched yapping calls - pink-footed geese.
grey geese id video from BTO (British Trust for Ornithology)

I walked east along the beach as far as the rocky headland then sat to do an hour of sketching. A few sleek grey orange-long-legged orange-longish(but-black-tipped)beaked redshanks and a group of twenty or thirty smaller dumpy brown-mottled turnstones were foraging the seaweed and watery sand. A cormorant preened and stretched its wings to the wind but flew after a short while. A black-headed gull was my best subject for sketching, bobbing on the waves as they foamed onto on the sand. Best subject as it returned to my part of the beach much quicker than the waders each time dogs and walkers unknowingly sent them flying. I saw a couple of rock pipits and two lovely stonechats enjoying the dying back vegetation where beach ended.

After not-quite an hour and despite thermals on both top and bottom I was so cold that I had to stop. I climbed the steep path to the headland top and as the view reopened there in front of me was a curving panorama of Bass Rock, Isle of May, a dark looming sky, a square of rainbow to the left of the May, sand and rock and waves down below and a foreground of wind-blowing tussocky grass and a low wind-sculpted hawthorn. I'd have loved to paint a speedy watercolour ink study but I was too chilled.

Fast walk the mile back to the Seabird Centre, along pavement for speed, an hour in the cafe gradually warming and getting energy back. Then my afternoon with the Wildlife Club in the Seabird Centre Education Centre, a lovely group of primary 5 - 7s. We talked about the local islands and in more depth about the Isle of May. I showed my sketches and described what it's like to stay in the Bird Observatory and what duties we have to fulfill when we do. Then the art - oil pastel wildlife on black paper, paint and collage to create the habit around.

Children are the best artists! :

Then time for half an hour in one final cafe on my way back to the station - whynot? - a space for a cafe, a delicatessen and over twenty independent retailers.


How to get there
Trains to North Berwick take a bit over half an hour from Edinburgh Waverley
- See 'Lothian and The Borders - Glasgow - Edinburgh - North Berwick/Dunbar' timetable and 'Buy Tickets' on ScotRail website.

*** Seabird Centre ScotRail Offers ***
Get 2 for 1 entry to seabird Centre when you show a valid ScotRail ticket for the
One child goes free when you show Kids Go Free train ticket or Club 50

Many thanks to ScotRail for supporting my ongoing Scotland by Rail work. 

Previous blog post 
Bass Rock trip from Scottish Seabird Centre -