Largs and Knock Hill January 2020

Largs Front

Helen Rose Outdoor Diary


On a crisp January day I went to Largs with the Bearsden and Milngavie Ramblers to climb the hill above it called Knock Hill. Largs is a town on the Firth of Clyde in North Ayrshire on the west coast of Scotland, about 33 miles from Glasgow. The original name means “the slopes” in Scottish Gaelic. It is a popular seaside resort with a pier and the town markets itself on its historic links with the Vikings. An annual Viking festival is held each year in early September. The Battle of Largs brought an armada of up to 200 Viking ships to the west coast but the planned onslaught of Norsemen was weakened by a sudden and powerful autumn storm. The battle in 1263, delivered no clear victor but it ultimately led to the end of Viking influence over Scotland. The town also has an interesting link with World War Two when the Hollywood Hotel was designated HMS Warren as the headquarters for combined training. A conference was held there between 28 June 1943 and 2 July 1943, code name RATTLE. It was known as the “Field of the Cloth of Gold” (named after an event in France during the time of King Henry VIII) because of the number of high-ranking officers taking part. The decision that the invasion of Europe would take place in Normandy was made at this conference. King Haakon of Norway was at the time in exile in Britain due to the German Occupation of his kingdom. He visited Largs in 1944 and was made the town’s first honorary citizen.

Ice Cream Cafes

Waves of Italian immigrants have been arriving in Scotland since the late 19th Century. Unification of Italy in 1861, intense poverty and two World Wars have seen millions of Italians leave their native Italy. It is part of Scottish culture in every wee town and village where there is an Italian cafe somewhere. It was a treat in days gone by to go to the Italian Café for an ice cream. Fortunately, the culture continues and the cafes in Largs are thriving. Before we started our walk, we had coffee and scones at Guzzini’s seafront café. No ice cream as it was winter!

Knock Hill

The walk to Knock Hill was a circular eight miles starting in Largs and combined the lower and higher variants of the Ayrshire Coastal Path. The path was good but rather muddy in places. The Ayrshire Coastal Path is a coastal long-distance walking path in Ayrshire. The route is 161 kilometres (100 miles) long and runs along the coast from Glenapp, Ballantrae in the south to Skelmorlie in the north. I have walked sections of it over the years.
The boggy track leads from the coastal path to Knock Hill and spirals round to ascend to the summit. The view expands to include the islands of Cumbrae, Arran, Bute and a great sweep of the Firth of Clyde as the summit area is reached. A trig point marks the highest point and the earthworks of the Iron Age fort which was once built here are still readily apparent. The day was clear and views excellent but as it was cold on top so we dropped down a little to have our packed lunches.

Brisbane Glen

Brisbane Glen is named after Thomas Brisbane who also gave his name to the city and river of Brisbane in Australia. Thomas was a keen astronomer building his own observatory near Largs and establishing another near Sydney while he was Governor General of New South Wales. Also named after him are a planetarium in Brisbane and a crater on the moon! On our approach to Knock Hill by the Ayrshire Coastal Path, we walked alongside Brisbane Glen which is a very pleasant green and wooded valley. On previous outings I have walked up Brisbane Glen to the hills beyond where there is a radio mast on top. Brisbane Glen is also known by the rather quaint name Noddsdale Glen.

Lord Kelvin

William Thomson, who would become Sir William and then Lord Kelvin, was the leading scientist of the 19th century. He was famous for devising the absolute temperature scale, now called the ‘Kelvin scale’, formulating the second law of thermodynamics and working to install telegraph cables under the Atlantic. He is best remembered for his talent for theoretical mathematics, but he also had a practical ability for solving problems. Thanks to his persistence and ingenuity, the first telegraph cable was successfully installed under the Atlantic Ocean. He died at his Scottish residence in Largs and is buried in Westminster Cathedral in London.

A great day out in Largs and Knock Hill full of history and wonderful views.
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