Girvan, on the southwest coast of Scotland, is not the first destination of choice when considering a rail trip to the coast. It takes longer to get to from the northeast than London and is on the indirect route to Stranraer via Kilmarnock. It can be reached along the Tyne Valley to Carlisle, then on into Scotland via Dumfries, although many journey planners route you instead of via the more circuitous but faster route through Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Ayr. The answer is to go one way and back the other, to take full advantage of the scenery options.
I stayed last autumn for two nights at the Royal Hotel, a few minutes walk from the station on Montgomerie Street, using a voucher from Groupon. It’s a basic, friendly hotel, and I had a good view of the front first-floor bedroom. Read the reviews for the Royal on TripAdvisor, but I had no complaints. If you want to go a little upmarket, try the Queens Hotel further along Montgomerie Street, and if you really want to go upscale and have over £300 per night to burn, book into Donald Trump’s Turnberry Hotel and golf resort which has come under the spotlight given his USA Presidential nomination. That’s a bit out of town to the north and you would need a car to get around, but the railway is quite sufficient if you stay at the Royal or the Queens.
The best time to visit Girvan
You would not go to explore Girvan in the winter, but a late summer stay, about this time of year, is eminently possible, and whilst you could explore the main street in 20 minutes, the harbor and the promenade can be enjoyed. A small boat goes out 16km to Ailsa Craig, the volcanic rock which sits off Girvan, which is now an uninhabited island. Also in the harbor is the RNLI station which is the home to one of the Mersey Class lifeboats, often open to the public. Last year, Girvan lifeboat station became briefly famous as it had a 17-year-old schoolboy, Sean Lowe, on the strength as a volunteer crew member. He has his RNLI pager during school lessons and had permission to leave on his bike to pedal to the lifeboat station if there was a “shout”. The RNLI is one of Britain’s best-loved charities, and most effective charities too, saving lives at sea from stations around the coast. A visit to one of their lifeboat stations is always worthwhile, whether in Girvan or elsewhere.
The Rail station
The station in Girvan first opened in 1877, but the building burned down in January 1946. The London, Midland and Scottish Railway which owned the station was aware of impending nationalization and elected not to rebuild at its own expense. When nationalization went through, the new British Railways picked up the tab for building a new station but used a 1930s design which was not completed until 1951. It’s an evocative design, now showing its age in peeling paintwork, but is still welcoming visitors to the town. I enjoyed a good Chinese and Indian meal from the town’s ethnic restaurants and used Girvan as a base to discover the delights of both Ayr and Stranraer traveling to each by train. I even managed a side trip to Prestwick Airport, which makes Durham Tees Valley look busy. Girvan is no day trip destination owing to the journey time, but for a night or two away it’s worth considering a visit to this largely forgotten corner of Scotland.
Written by Alex Nelson, Stationmaster, Chester-le-Street and Eaglescliffe
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