Wednesday, 29 May 2013


In 1921 an American engineer called Paul F. Godley accompanied a member of the Marconi company to a site in Ardrossan on the North Ayrshire coast.  Once there the pair set up a receiver station which was to pave the way for the first transatlantic short wave radio transmission from the USA, from Greenwich, Connecticut.  The receiver, a Beverage class, was the first of its kind to be used in the United Kingdom, and the experiment was a complete success.  There is a plaque commemorating the event on the front wall of the Abbotsford Nursing Home, which stands near the chosen site.

Ardrossan is a historic port which grew in importance thanks to its shipbuilding activities during the 18th and 19th centuries, as well as the export of coal and pig iron to Europe and America.  Today's maritime activity is focused on the Clyde Marina, while there is a ferry service linking Ardrossan to Brodick on the Isle of Arran and a new ferry service which started just a few days ago between Ardrossan and Campbeltown on the Kintyre Peninsula.   Cannon Hill, or Castle Hill, is an elevated recreation area and is also the site of Ardrossan Castle, dating as far back as the 12th century.  The neighbouring community of Saltcoats, a former fishing village that was made a burgh in 1528, merges almost seamlessly with Ardrossan.  The name derives from the fact that salt used to be harvested from the sea here.  Shipbuilding also formed part of the local economy.  Recreational activities include golf courtesy of the Auchenharvie Golf Course.

Map of the area. 

File:Ardrossan Shore - - 691981.jpg

  2008 wfmillar, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 26 May 2013


Two years ago the Sun newspaper carried a story about UFO sightings over West Kilbride, claiming that there had been more sightings there than any other place in Britain, earning it the distinction of being the UK's UFO hotspot.  One local resident had seen so many strange objects in the sky that she was convinced that there was some sort of "alien motorway" above the town. Sightings have included a "huge pink and blue triangle", "airborne jellyfish" and yellow spheres flying in groups of up to 25 - although it could be argued that the latter were Chinese lanterns. 

Back to more earthly matters, the name West Kilbride derives from St Brigid of Kildare, a Celtic saint.  However, there is evidence of much earlier settlement in the area in the form of a Neolithic cup and ring marked stone on nearby Blackshaw Hill.  Later on, in Medieval times a simple rectangular castle was erected on Law Hill called LawCastle.  The castle is available for weddings.  Crosbie Castle, or Crosbie Towers on the north west side of the village was rebuilt from a 17th century tower.  The original tower was the home of William Wallace's uncle.  There is a small museum in the Village Hall displaying objects from the village's past.  Fans of arts and crafts may be interested to know that West Kilbride is gaining a reputation as a crafts centre, according it the title Craft Town Scotland.  Meanwhile, walkers will enjoy the woodland walk along Kirktonhall Glen from West Kilbride to Seamill - Kirktonhall itself is a 17th century townhouse.  Like most golf clubs in this part of Scotland, the West Kilbride Golf Club offers wonderful views across the Firth of Clyde.

Map of the area. 

File:Kirktonhall House.jpg

Kirktonhall House
  2007 Dreamer84, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 25 May 2013


Every town and village along this stretch of coast seems to have at least one claim to fame.  In the case of Fairlie, it is the fact that it was Scotland's first Fair Trade village.  In order to qualify for this status a town or village needs to fulfil certain criteria regarding the availability of Fair Trade products in shops, or through the fare on offer in cafes and so on.  The community's Fair Trade status is announced at the entrance to the village on a sign which was unveiled by a mango farmer from Burkina Faso.  During World War II, Fairlie lent its name to a type of mortar, which was developed at an anti-submarine research establishment set up there.  The Royal Navy ASDIC anti-submarine research establishment moved to Fairlie in 1940, taking over the yard of yacht-builder William Fife, and while there developed the Fairlie mortar.  The five mortar tubes installed on the destroyer  HMS Whitehall were given a rather saucy nickname: the "Five Wide Virgins".  The mortar was not very successful, however, and evolved into the much more successful Squid.  Nowadays, Fairlie is a quiet village on the Firth of Clyde with lovely views across to Arran and Great Cumbrae.  Leisure facilities in the village include a Yacht Club dating from the 1960s.

Map of the area. 

File:Fairlie, Ayrshire.jpg

  2009 David Cook, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 23 May 2013


Great Cumbrae is an island which is accessible by ferry from Largs.  The island offers a variety of outdoor activities and a range of wildlife including eagles, polecats, seals, basking sharks and dolphins.  The island's main settlement is Millport, a resort set on a lovely bay.  The town's main claim to fame is that it is home to Britain's smallest cathedral, known as the Cathedral of the Isles, designed by the Gothic Revival architect William Butterfield and completed in 1851.  The miniature theme continues in Stuart Street with a building called The Wedge, which at a mere 47 inches wide has the narrowest street frontage in Britain.  The Garrison House in Millport houses the Museum of the Cumbraes, with fascinating displays of the history of the island through the ages, from coffins found on the island dating back 4,000 years, to smuggling tales from the 18th century and descriptions of life on the island during World War II.  The building itself has a smuggling connection, in that it once housed the crew of an anti-smuggling Revenue sailing ship, the Royal George.  The Robertson Museumand Aquarium showcases the island's marine life and local habitats.  Close to Millport is the National CentreCumbrae, Scotland's premier watersports centre, which offers powerboating, kayaking and windsurfing. About half a mile south of Great Cumbrae is its little brother, Little Cumbrae or the Wee Cumbrae as it is known locally, which itself has a little brother called Castle Island on which a ruined 16th century castle stands.  Little Cumbrae has two lighthouses, the older of which was the second lighthouse to be built in Scotland, dating from 1757.  The "new" lighthouse was built in 1793 by Thomas Smith and Robert Stevenson.

Map of the island 


  2007 Johh McLeish, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 20 May 2013


Largs is a popular holiday resort with a history stretching back to the Vikings.  In fact Largs can lay claim to being the scene of the last Viking invasion to take place in Britain.  The Battle of Largs in 1263 paved the way for the Treaty of Perth three years later, by which Norway ceded its claims to the Western Isles.  The resort makes the most of its Viking past in the form of a festival which takes place in late summer each year.  "Villages" are set up on the seafront populated by re-enactment groups who demonstrate to visitors the Viking way of life.  The climax of the festivities is the burning of a longship and the re-enactment of the 1263 battle.  Those who can't make it to the festival but want to find out about the Viking way of life should head to Vikingar, which incorporates a Viking museum as well as swimming and other facilities.

Aside from Viking shenanigans, Largs has the usual trappings of a seaside resort.  The Barrfields Pavilion, opened in 1930, has recently been revamped into a vibrant arts centre.  Nardini's Ice Cream Parlour dominates the promenade and is a Largs institution.  Just to the south of the town is LargsSailing Club.   Skelmorlie Aisle, in the care of Historic Scotland, is the remains of Largs Old Kirk, which is notable for the an elaborately carved stone tomb and a painted ceiling.  Just to the south of Largs is Kelburn Castle, a keep with 17th century additions in the style of a French chateau.  The castle is now looked after by Historic Scotland and incorporates a country centre and estate.  Boat trips are available in the summer months courtesy of the paddle steamer Waverley.  Also, the island of Great Cumbrae is reachable by ferry from Largs.  Largs is the birthplace of the actor John Sessions.

For events in Largs, see here

Map of the area.

File:Largs Churches - - 605899.jpg

  2004 Eddie Dowds, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 16 May 2013


Wemyss Bay owes its popularity as a resort to the arrival of the railway service from Glasgow in 1865, by which time a number of villas had been built there which were owned by wealthy Glasgow merchants, earning the area the name "Little Glasgow".  The magnificent station, built by James Miller in 1903 and restored in the 1990s, stands as a fitting reminder of the railway heyday, with its curved glass and steel roof. Sadly, since the restoration the station has been somewhat neglected, prompting the founding of the Friends Of Wemyss Bay Station whose stated intent is to restore the building to its former glory.  Aside from the train link there are ferries to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, and the station incorporates the ferry terminal.  The main feature of the bay itself is a red sandstone cliff, which incorporates the deep ravine of Kelly Burn.  The Burn acts as a natural boundary between Wemyss Bay and neighbouring Skelmorlie, which has hotels, a golf course and a trout fishery open to visitors.  Skelmorlie Castle, to the south of the village, is a 16th century tower house built over an earlier structure.  

Map of the area. 


  2011 Dave Souza, via Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 14 May 2013


The present-day Inverclyde plays an important role for exports due to its position on the Firth of Clyde,  however the area also used to be a hive of import activity, by no means all of it legal.  During the early 1700s duties were imposed on goods such as tobacco and whisky, a move which inevitably led to a temptation to engage in smuggling.  The bay at Inverkip was a perfect spot for bringing goods ashore, which was how the village came to be a hotbed of smuggling.  Almost everyone had a hand in the activity, even the local priests, and there was a constant game of cat and mouse with the customs officers who kept watch over the coast.  Smuggled goods were hidden in cellars and in caves such as one near Inverkip which is still known as Smugglers Cave.  Local characters implicated in these activities included milkmen Thomas Finnie and Robert Cochrane, who would hide whisky among the milk on their delivery carts.  Another thing Inverkip was infamous for going back even further in time was witchcraft.  During the 1600s the village was a centre of witchcraft and many women accused of witchcraft were burned at the stake there.  Even a local landowner, Alexander Dunrod, was thought to be a practising warlock.
Since the transformation of Inverkip into a resort, thanks to the arrival of the railway, activity in the village has been confined to more legitimate pursuits, most notably at the Kip Marina, the oldest one on the Clyde.  Nearby Ardgowan House with its 400 acre estate is still occupied by the Shaw Stewart family, who were responsible for the building of a much earlier castle during the time that the village was part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde.   Inverkip lies in the Clyde Muirshiel RegionalPark, which includes Cornalees Bridge Visitor Centre offering glen and moorland walks and Lunderston Bay on the other side of the Ardgowan Estate, with a sandy beach and a picnic site.

Map of the area. 

File:Catching the breeze off Inverkip - - 653056.jpg

  2008 Thomas Nugent, via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, 12 May 2013


Gourock is located around Kempock Point, although the outskirts of the town stretch along to Cloch Point, where the Firth of Clyde suddenly veers to the south.  It has a pleasant lawned esplanade and a ferry terminal offering services to Kilcreggan, Helensburgh and Dunoon, although recent reports suggest that the latter service has been causing a lot of trouble to the good folk of Dunoon due to its unreliability, and that it is the subject of a feasibility study. There is also a rail link to Glasgow, in fact the town owes its rise in popularity as a resort to the arrival of the railway.  Prior to this, it was mainly a fishing community. The town of Gourock is dominated by Tower Hill, named after the tower built there as a folly in 1847 by the local laird.  It is worth making the effort to climb up to the tower for the magnificent views of the Firth.  Meanwhile, golfers can also enjoy the views from the elevated position occupied by the Golf Club.  There is also a Yacht Club, which hosts races in the summer off West Bay.  Cloch Point is home to an attractive whitewash lighthouse, built by James Clarkson in 1797.

Map of the area. 

File:Gourock from west with ferry.JPG

©  2006 Greenockman, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 11 May 2013


The area around the Clyde estuary seems to be full of places associated with pioneering and invention.  In the case of Greenock, it could be said that it was the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, since Greenock was the birthplace in 1736 of James Watt, who perfected the steam engine.  Watt's father was in shipbuilding, which in those days was already an important part of the economy, but as is the case elsewhere this activity has since declined.  The British Pathe website has a number of archive videos from Greenock's shipbuilding days.  Those who want to find out more about James Watt and Greenock's past can head to the McLean Art Gallery and MuseumThe Custom House, designed in 1818 by William Burn, is a magnificent building which was captured in a painting by Robert Salmon and which is housed in the McLean Museum.  As well as housing customs offices, there was a customs and excise museum on the premises.  Sadly, as part of a rationalisation exercise on the part of HMRC, and in spite of fierce opposition by staff, unions and local politicians, the building ceased to be used in 2010 and now lies empty.  However, there have since been renewed signs of life on Customhouse Quay, which is home to a new arts centre called the Beacon Arts Centre, with performance spaces and a bistro/bar.  One of Greenock's most prominent landmarks is Victoria Tower, which is 75 metres tall and was completed in 1886.  The tower forms part of the Italianate Municipal Buildings. The Old West Kirk on the Esplanade has fine stained glass by artists including Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  Greenock's wartime contributions included the Clyde Torpedo Factory, which opened in 1910.  Later, during the Second World War, Greenock suffered badly, most notably in May 1941 when the town experienced its own "blitz".  TV buffs may be interested to know that since 2012 Greenock has been the setting for the BBC drama Waterloo Road, with filming taking place at the Greenock Academy.

Map of the area. 

© 2009 John Ferguson, via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


Port Glasgow, on the south bank of the River Clyde, was originally a village called Newark.  Ships used to arrive from France and the Low Countries bringing goods for Glasgow, and they were unloaded here and the cargo taken up the Clyde.  The present-day port dates from the 17th century, when port facilities and a grid-iron street pattern were established, and the Clyde was deepened.  In the 19th century the port became a major centre for shipbuilding, which was the principal source of employment in the area.  The first ship to be built and launched from there was the Comet steamship designed by Henry Bell (see the Helensburgh post).  Sadly, there is now only one shipyard left, Ferguson Shipbuilders.  In an attempt to reverse the inevitable resulting decline, work began in the 1990s to regenerate the waterfront.

Near Port Glasgow is Newark Castle, which was built in the 15th century by George Maxwell, and was later expanded by Patrick Maxwell, who added a 3-storey Renaissance mansion in the Scottish baronial style.  The castle has some fine Jacobean features on its exterior.  The area of foreshore called Parklea has a National Trust of Scotland wood, and is home to a bird sanctuary.  The Inverclyde Coastal Path takes in this area.  Another worthwhile place to visit is Finlaystone Country Estate, which has 10 acres of beautiful gardens with views over the Clyde as well as woodland walks and picnic areas.

Map of the area. 

© 2009 Thomas Nugent, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 6 May 2013


Much has been written about Hadrian's Wall, which separated England and Scotland in Roman times and much of which still survives to this day.  Much less well known is the Antonine Wall, the fortification built by the Romans which connected the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde.  The wall was relatively short-lived, the occupants retrreating to Hadrian's Wall in 162 after just 20 years.  The wall marks the northernmost territory that the Romans were able to conqueur, and its western extremity is near Old Kirkpatrick, a small town on the north bank of the River Clyde near the Erskine Bridge.  Roman remains were discovered here in 1790, when the Forth and Clyde Canal was being dug.  Old Kilpatrick is reputed to be the birthplace of St Patrick, hence the name.  An area called The Saltings has been bestowed with Local Nature Reserve status, quite rightly given the site is home to Swans, Grey Herons, Cormorant, Oyster Catcher and Curlew as well as unusual butterflies.  The Reserve also enjoys wonderful views of the River Clyde and Dumbarton Rock.

Map of the area.

File:Old Kilpatrick 1109.jpg
Photo by Dave Souza, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, 4 May 2013


Dumbarton, founded in the fifth century, was the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Strathclyde, although the town's strategic importance dates from the Iron Age when Dumbarton Castle was built on a plug of volcanic rock known as Dumbarton Rock.  The castle has the longest recorded history of any fortification in Britain.  Nowadays, the mainly 18th century fortifications are accessible by pathways and steps up the Rock, which offers wonderful views of the Firth of Clyde.  Dumbarton is mainly a commuter town for Glasgow, but once upon a time it had a trio of thriving industries: shipbuilding, whisky and glassmaking.  These are now gone, but there is a reminder of the shipbuilding industry in the Scottish Maritime Museum, which gives pride of place to Denny's Ship Model Experiment Tank, Denny being the founder of William Denny and Brothers, a Victorian shipbuilding company.

Down on the foreshore there are redshanks, shelduck and buntings, while a launching ramp is the only reminder of a wartime flying-boat factory which once stood here.  Overlooking the town is Overtoun House, built in 1862, which as well as being an impressive building in its own right, lies in grounds offering wildlife, gardens and picnic areas.  The House has accommodation and a tea room and bills itself as a "Centre for Hope and Healing".  Dumbarton has a prominent Football Club dating from 1872, which regained its place in Divison One in 2012.  Another claim to fame for the town is that it was the birthplace of  musician David Byrne of Talking Heads, who was born there in 1952.  One of the main events in Dumbarton's calendar is the annual Royal Scottish Pipe Band Championships.  Dumbarton offers easy access to the only-just-landlocked Loch Lomond, which is reached by a short 5-mile drive along the A82.

Map of the area. 

© 2007 Thomas Nugent, via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 2 May 2013


It could be said that Helensburgh is the birthplace of television, because it was here in 1888 than a certain John Logie Baird was born.  Baird, the son of a clergyman, got off to an early start with his inventiveness, when as a lad he rigged up a telephone exchange which provided a link between his bedroom and those of his friends across the road.  It was after a move to the south of England that he finally succeeded in creating a television image, which he demonstrated in London in 1926.  There is a memorial window to Baird in the West Kirk and a display on his life and achievements in the library, which also has an art exhibition courtesy of the Anderson Trust.  Another pioneer who is commemorated in Helensburgh is Henry Bell, who designed the first seagoing paddle-steamer, the Comet, launched in 1812.  Bell and his wife moved to Helensburgh in 1807, where they superintended the public baths and ran an inn.  Perhaps as a nod to the latter, there is a branch of Wetherspoons in Helensburgh named the Henry Bell, and there is a monument to him on the seafront, erected in 1872. 

Helensburgh was laid out as a seaside resort to the east of an earlier spa, its tree-lined streets in a grid pattern in the style of Edinburgh New Town.  The Helen of the name was the wife of the town's creator Sir James Colquhoun of Luss.  There is a promenade and a sailing club, where the yachts and other small vessels share the water's edge with birds such a oystercatchers and redshanks.  In summer, boat trips can be arranged to Gare Loch and Holy Loch.  The Hermitage Park on Sinclair Street has tennis, bowling and skateboarding facilities, as well as walkways around Glennan Burn.  High above the town, overlooking the Clyde, is The Hill House, created by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, run by the National Trust of Scotland.  To the east of Helensburgh is Ardmore Point, where walkers are rewarded with excellent opportunities for birdwatching.  

Map of the area. 

© 2007 Stephen McKay, via Wikimedia Commons