Friday, 3 June 2011

The Stranraer To Ayr Line

Every six weeks I have to make a trip up to Ayr to the orthodontist to tend to my nuisance called braces. Due to my father being a work and my mother's business, it's impossible for them to make the 3 hour round trip for often what is only 15 minutes worth of an appointment. Therefore I make my way to Stranraer to catch the 10:05 from Stranraer to Ayr. The line itself is single track and twists and turns through some breath taking scenery before finally arriving at Ayr.



Stranraer use to have two stations, Stranraer Harbour and Stranraer Town, however now only the Harbour station remains. This is where our journey starts. This is a really old line with it first dating back to 1852 when the Ayr to Dalmellington line was built, this was then extended onto to Maybole and then to Girvan. Originally the line bypassed Stranraer instead terminating at Port Patrick, but when Stranraer was developed into the biggest port, and is now the oldest harbor in regular use in the U.K, so the line naturally altered. The station itself has one platform and is right next to the ferry terminal making quick changed easy. It has a ticket office and a indoor waiting room. The service is run entirely by super sprinters, these are not the most modern of trains but they are comfortable and relaxing. As you leave the station you can view Loch Ryan on the left and on a clear day this is simply stunning view. As you leave the town you pass Stair Park, home to the 3rd oldest football club in Scotland named Stranraer FC and you join the old Stranraer to Dumfries line that is no longer in use. After that you hit the signal box at Dunragit,

Water Of Luce and The Moors

The line now sweeps through the countryside and on a clear you can see Luce Bay, The Mull of Galloway and even the Isle of Man. After that the line goes into a set of reverse curves known as the Swan's neck, where the direction of the track turns from south westerly to south easterly. It begins to rise steeply into the hills. From here the landscape becomes bleak, this earned he area it's nick name 'The Moors'. In past winters, many trains have been stuck up in the moors for weeks, however the longest a passenger train was 3 days. Soon you reach Glenwhilly signal box which has to be in one of the most remote and lonely locations on the British rail Network.




The first stop on the line is to the small rural station of Barrhill. This little station has two platforms with passenger having to go across the rails just as many would have done in Victorian times (I hasten to add that they have a special walkway for this). Barrhill is one of the best examples of a rural station, it surprisingly does have a ticket office (albeit a part time one) and a station toilet. The station is also perfectly located with the Machars and Newton Stewart being 30 miles down the road.


Pinmore and Pinwherry

As you come down from the bleak moorland and Barhill you come by a beautiful stretch of track. Consisting of breathtaking scenery and outstanding viaducts, the largest of these called Kinclear offers a mass of beautiful scenes to take in. Another viaduct along the line is called Laggansarroch, the original structure was swept away by a storm, however its replacement iron structure has stood the test of time. In this stretch of track you can see the village of Pinwherry and after that you pass through Pinmore where the only tunnel on the line is found. After this you now begin you're descent into Girvan



Girvan is the biggest town in between Ayr and Stranraer. The station looks (by the way I am no expert on this) to be from around the 1930s. It has two platforms, each accessible by road. The station is manned but only on a part time basis. As you enter and leave the station you are afforded picturesque panoramic views of the town, the sea and Ailsa Craig. In the summer the paddle steamer The Waverly makes occasional trips out to Ailsa Craig which makes for a lovely day out. The town itself was built on its harbor and agriculture but also it was a popular tourist destination. Just Outside the town is thememorial to the Russian cruiser Varyag which ran aground there in 1920 and finally sunk in 1925.



Carrick HillS

Once you leave you are now only around half an hour from Ayr. For a long stretch there is mainly woods, so you'd be surprised to hear that this was once the south Ayrshire coalfields. Between Maybole and Girvan alone there were no fewer than a 100 mines, the last closing its pits in 1977 after 550 years of mining. Now you pass the closed stations of Dailly and Kilochan, and further on amongst the woods you pass the signal box at Kilkerran. This was once a station but now it is just the signal box and a train passing place. Now the line meanders North and to the left you should spot a large monument which is to Sir Charles Fergusson of Kilkerran




When you approach Maybole you can see Baltersan Tower House which was built in 1552 by John Kennedy. It fell into disrepair in the 18th century but the current owner is planning to restore it to its full glory. As the ancient capital of Carrick, Maybole is steeped in history. The town was home to the barons in the 17th century and no less than 28 lairds and landowners with townhouses in the area. After the arrival of the railway in 1856 the gentry moved into more prestigious addresses in Ayr and Maybole transformed into an industrial town and became home to a localized shoe business, however the last factory closed in 1962. Maybole station is just a halt with only one platform




As you enter Ayr the landscape changes from open fields and green fields changes to flats and busy streets. Then you reach Ayr station. The station is fully manned with ticket gates. The train does carry on past Ayr to Glasgow Central via either Kilmarnock or Kilwining, however more often than not it is quicker to change to the electrified line from Ayr to Glasgow. This is where I get off and dash to my appointment. Ayr itself is an archetypal seaside town with golden sands but also a regional shopping centre. If none of that takes your fancy then how about going on the Robert Burns trail. There is a regular bus services to Alloway.



Hints And Tips

First things first, do not miss your train. This line isn't the most regular meaning if you miss your train to Stranraer you could be stuck in Ayr for up to 5 hours. Also some trains will be more packed than other, in my experience the 12:32 (valid as of 22nd of May 2011) from AYR can be quite full as it directly connects with the ferry. My opinion is that this is such a beautiful line that no matter where you sit, you'll miss things out, so if you are on a return journey then try to be sitting on opposite sides. Unfortunately this line's days are numbered. Soon the Stenaline Ferries will be moving to Cairnryan. This means that instead of running the trains all the way to Stranraer they will instead just terminate at Girvan and a bus service will replace the rest of the line. I cross my fingers this does not happen as not only is this line a treasure but it is also vitally important to the community.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Less Holidays???? No Thank You Mr Salmond

Mr Salmond, I am not impressed. The idea of cutting school holidays to save money is more than flawed, its jaw droppingly silly. It's not for the best of education and it's not going to save money. Tampering the Scottish education system is a risky thing to do and I am afraid Mr Salmond this idea is not worthy of the high standard of education the Scottish nation expect nor deserve.


The SNP's great brain wave is to cut school holidays to get better value for money out of teachers wage packets, part of the new cost cutting measures. One itsy bitsy detail the Scottish government may have overlooked, the fact it will cost more money. It really is simple; the more schools are opens, the more the tax payer has to spend on heating, electricity and other supplies. This would completely council out any gains from value for money out of teacher's wages. There are many avenues Mr Salmond and his colleague in education could explore such as transferring two weeks from the summer to the winter holidays which would save on heating and electricity cost or the government could invest in making our schools greener. In whatever case this clearly isn't a very good idea.


Another thing the SNP seems to have overlooked, or just couldn't care less about is that teachers and pupils may not be too thrilled. Teachers, who have a very stressful job at the best of time, will have to work longer hours for the same pay. This without a doubt will impact on morale which in turn will impact on teaching. Teachers are an essential part of society, so let's treat them that way. Also it's not only the teachers who won't be happy about this; I can hardly see the pupils being too pleased either. I see it first hand, the longer term times are, the longer the time in between holidays, the more restless and stressed kids become. Stress in term time is a major issue as it affects performance directly, this isn't just a case of wanting more time off, this is a case of psychology. Let me put it into math for you; longer working hours + stressful teachers + stressful pupils = a serious problem in education. Just imagine it was your work place, the boss is getting ratty, your workmates are getting stressed and you've been asked to cancel you hard earned holiday, I don't think you'd be too happy. It's the exact same for schools and Mr Salmond does not seem to grasp that. In my view these decisions need to go back to the drawing board before they can do damage to out education.

The Membership Are Not Amused

When I tried to come up with a start for this article of this new blog, I could find no clever analogies for it or any sophisticated ways to say it, so allow me to put it plainly. The new Liberal Democrat registration system for autumn conference is a joke and not a particularly funny one at that. Not only is it illiberal, I hasten to remind you that are not a meagre thing, but also immensely frustrating.

My issues with this new registration process are varied and each equally as annoying, however the biggest one is in the principle. The Liberal Democrats prided themselves on opposing I.D cards and CCTV, we are after all trying to stop big brother in its tracks. So forgive me for being a more than a little annoyed at this system that stipulates that to give proof of being a member is not enough. Under this new process to even be allowed to proceed you must first enter either your national insurance number, you driving licence number or your passport number. After that, even if you have provided a photograph for past conference, during your registration you must give over a passport style photograph. Now I know there is a big push on security, we saw that in Sheffield, but this is just pushing it too far.  I saw a fabulous tweet that summed it up “the only test should be if you’re a member or not.” I totally agree with this and find it incredibly disappointing that this is not the case.

My concerns do not stop there. While this system is illiberal and usually what we would want to stop, but practically, I find it a bit of a nightmare. A major flaw that has been seemingly over looked is some people may not have the necessary documentation to register. Now for everyone over the age of 16 this is impossible as you all have national insurance number, but what of the under 16s??? Nobody under 16 has a driving licence or a NI number andlet’s take it to consideration the fact some under 16s won’t have a passport number. In these cases registration would be very difficult indeed. It seems, yet again, children and young teenagers are being over looked and that severely gets on my nerves. It is true that my age group are in the minority but we are still members and still deserve to be treated as if we are fully grown. Age should never be a disadvantage however with this registration system it’s certainly a major setback.

Well, already this system is proving to be going down like a lead brick with other members and me. It’s not just the fact its illiberal, causes confusion and puts every under 16 at a disadvantage, it’s that fact that it purely gets on our nerves. To be fair, this system is driving us a bit mad, many see it unnecessary and a waste of time. It’s managed to annoy many a member with some not knowing if they have paid or have paid twice, people with joint registration are more than a little confused and some even question if they should bother registering. In short this system is annoying. I am more than a little annoyed that the police seem to be calling the shots when it comes to registration and think the old system was perfectly adequate.

In conclusion, this system is massive nuisance, anyone could see that just from the splash it’s made among the membership. I hope, beyond all hopes, that conference committee take note and rectify the system ASAP and certainly before registration opens for spring conference.