24 Jun Going to Ayr
I went to see my ailing aunt who lives in Ayr. She’s the only aunt left so I want to visit as often as I can. The ‘so’ in that last sentence is misplaced. The wish to see her is not because she’s the only one left. Were there other aunts, a visit to her would still be important. She’s such a special woman.
A familiar train journey from Euston to Glasgow Central on the Virgin Pendolino, with its swift, smooth ride and its collection of features that never quite work: the coffee machine and the card machine in the shop. I pull down the little table in front of my seat and find a dirty tissue and a folded copy of the Daily Mail. I chuckle at the conjunction of these two objects.
The second leg to Ayr is not familiar – at least not by train. It’s the line that took Glasgow men (for it was mainly men) along the Ayrshire coast to play golf on its famous courses. In June, the sides of the track are littered with ox-eye daisies, their white heads wave us past. Meadowsweet willow herb with their soft mauve-pink flowers join in. Higher up the banks on either side of the track, rowan trees hang with fading blossom edging to berry – so soon? Gorse just past its golden best. Supple Ayrshire landscape strewn with crops and livestock, a few sheep but mainly cattle. Beef and dairy. Ayrshire’s finest.
The train stops near the golf courses – the ‘links’ as they are called up here. I suppose this is because of their marginal, coastal character, the way they form a link between land and sea, stretching out within hitting distance of the shore. Irvine Bogside, Western Gailes, Kilmarnock Barassie, Royal Troon, Prestwick St Nicholas or St Cuthbert. Big names. Big, shiny cars fill their car parks. The train no longer the golfer’s main route to the first tee. On the left, scrubby low vegetation clusters on mounds in an otherwise smooth, pale ribbon of fairway and bright puddle of green. On the right, more sculpted hollows and humps where men (for today it is mostly men) walk in groups of two, three or four. So green the land, so fashioned, blending manicure and nature’s rough stuff.
Ailsa Craig, a huge cone of rock out in the sea like something expelled or discarded, some lonely place of exile. Blue Hone and Ailsa Craig Common Green are quarried here and make more than half of the world’s curling stones. I feel a sense of relief that it’s a minority sport and that Ailsa has not yet been quarried away. Further north and west, Arran lies stately and graceful. Cloudy sky with sunlight edging through. An immense coastal sky that surely goes on forever. Back on land, communities are strung along the coastline, little towns whose architecture tells the tale of social class in the twentieth century: grand and gorgeous sandstone houses with generous gardens alongside unlovely painted pebble-dashed semis, once-upon-a-time public housing.
This is not home for me though it’s familiar. Childhood holidays staying with Ayrshire grandparents. Afternoons spent on its chilly beaches building sandcastles, collecting shells. Feeling the coarse sand rubbing against my skin as my mother dried me off. Hearing my teeth chatter. We must have been hardy then.
Ayr is the end of the line. Which, given my ailing aunt lives there, feels either apt or ironic