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This second stage of the Ayrshire Coastal Path follows the sand, shingle and pebble beach from picturesque Ballantrae harbour along to Bennane Hill where you might choose to take a short de-tour to visit Snib’s cave. From here the official route heads slightly inland to follow the A77 down towards Lendalfoot. On a clear day you’ll enjoy fine high-level views from here out to Ailsa Craig and north along the Ayrshire coastline. This route is best experienced at low tide, when you can finish up with an enjoyable walk along Lendalfoot’s sandy beach to finish at the Varyag Memorial.
Route: From the car park on The Vennel, Ballantrae, turn right (N) onto The Vennel and follow the road round the corner onto Foreland. Walk along the grass until you reach the small harbour. Use the slip to access the beach. Walk along the beach for approx 1.8 miles, heading inland (right – E) at two cottages beneath Bennane Hill, as directed by the Ayrshire Coastal Path signage. Follow the track up onto the grass verge beside the A77 Trunk Road. Turn left (NE) and for the next 2 miles walk along the grass verges beside A77 Trunk Road. Look out for Ayrshire Coastal Path signage as you go, which directs you to cross the road several times to take advantage of wider (and therefore safer) verges. Just beyond Pebbles Spa go down onto the beach (if the tide permits – otherwise use roadside pavement). Walk along the sandy and rocky shore for approx half a mile until you reach the Varyag memorial car park on your right-hand side.
WALK REVIEW: 8th April 2017 and 3rd May 2023
When I first walked this section back in 2017, I had a very mixed experience due to the couple of miles where you are required to walk beside the A77. The road was busy with traffic and the bushes beside the crash barrier were encroaching on where I should have been walking which forced me to walk on the traffic side of the barrier. That didn’t feel safe at all, especially with lorries and coaches whizzing past. Having said that, the views out across the coast from up there were phenomenal – well worth the initial climb!
Fast forward to 2023 and I am delighted to update this report having walked the section again and having had a far more positive experience. I found the vegetation to be well maintained so I was able to walk behind the crash barrier and there is even a section which is separated from the road by some bushes. With all the plants growing nicely now that we were well into the start of springtime, I stopped many times to look at different flora and fauna along the way: an abundance of gorse in full bloom, primroses, orchids, Scots pine, common hogweed and rosebay willowherb shoots, sea buckthorn and hawthorn, and even some (unidentified) mushrooms beside the path! A treat for the senses.
The vegetation being in such good condition was no accident or fluke – the Ayrshire Coastal Path Management Board have worked hard over the past 5 years to come to an agreement with Amey to honour their originally agreed commitment to maintain this section (and all parts of the ACP which runs on Transport Scotland property). At the time of writing, it is understood that the agreement is for Amey to cut/strim this section in early May and early July. It hadn’t yet been completed on my visit on 3rd May, however it did not pose any problems yet and I am grateful to have experienced all the wildflowers which will soon be strimmed away!
There is a route which goes around the outside of Benanne Head which avoids approx half of the roadside verge walk. It is actually the original A77 road! You can still choose to follow that road, as a responsible walker exerting their rights under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, however the Ayrshire Coastal Path doesn’t have permission from the landowner to have the official route go that way. I have done so myself in the past and found it to be very worthwhile both for the avoidance of the trunk road and also for the stunning, rugged coastal views. The last 500m had crazing cattle, which had a look at me but otherwise didn’t seem particularly interested, and it was necessary to climb over a couple of locked gates to reach the A77 at the top of the hill.
Either side of the 2 miles of roadside verge, pristine sandy/pebble beaches were a joy to walk on.
The beach between Ballantrae and the cottages at Bennane started off beautifully sandy, that easy compacted sand we all love to walk along. As I progressed the terrain turned to pebbles and shingle and further along still the beach became strewn with small rounded boulders of every colour imaginable. Very picturesque, although harder going than the Walkhighlands summary had suggested. The highlight of this beach was definitely the sheets of dark red sandstone; so vivid! It made me want to research geology a bit more to find out about the history of this area and why there should be red sandstone on the beach.
The beach at Lendalfoot was also a real pleasure to walk along: the near white sand dotted with dark grey rocks every so often and the silhouette of Ailsa Craig beginning to show itself on the horizon. On both occasions, despite the fact that I was walking parallel and very close to the A77 the whole time, I was not actually aware of the road being there thanks to a high embankment between the road and beach, and the noise of traffic being drowned out by the waves.