Ayrshire Towns and Parishes

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  Great Cumbray 1846

CUMBRAY, GREAT, an island and parish, in the county of Bute, 2 miles (W.) from Largs; including the villages of Millport and Newton, and containing 1413 inhabitants. The name is derived from a Gaelic term signifying a bold or steep coast rising abruptly from the sea, and this description corresponds with the natural appearance of the island, which presents a steep and precipitous coast all round. The island is supposed formerly to have been in the possession of the Norwegians, concerning whose occupancy, however, no particulars are known. They are said to have been dispossessed of the property after many successive encounters with the Scots, by the decisive battle of Largs, when they were completely routed and driven from the coast. A cathedral once stood here, which was dedicated to St. Columba, but no remains of it are now visible. The island was formerly distributed into a number of small baronies, the owners of the principal of which were the families of Hunter, Stuart, and Montgomerie. The barony of Kames, belonging to the Hunters, has given the name to one of the finest bays in the island, and on this property, also, once stood the village of Kames, some vestiges of which may still be traced. The barony of Ballykellet, which appears to have been the most considerable of all, belonged to the Montgomeries, who possessed the patronage of the parish, and part of whose mansion-house was until lately standing, having in it a stone with the family arms sculptured.
The island is of very irregular figure, extending about three and a half miles in length, from north-east to south-west, and about two miles in breadth: its circumference is ten miles, comprehending an area of 5120 acres. It is situated on the Frith of Clyde, and is separated from Little Cumbray, on the south, by a strait three-quarters of a mile in breadth; from Ayrshire, on the east, by Fairley Road, about one mile and a half broad; and from the isle of Bute, on the west, by a part of the Frith, which is about four miles wide. Numerous hills rise, with a gradual ascent, from the extremities of the island to its centre, and merge in one continuous range called the Shough-ends, which runs from north to south nearly throughout the whole length of the island, it attains an elevation of about 500 feet above the sea, and commands in every direction a beautiful view. The shores and bays abound with fish of various kinds, and oysters are found in some parts. A stream of inconsiderable dimensions, taking its rise from two small lochs which communicate with each other, in the highest part of the island, receives the waters of several springs, and at length becomes sufficiently large to form a mill-dam, which the people use for grinding their corn. The soil varies in different places. On the coast it is light and sandy, lying on rock or clay; on the higher grounds it is gravelly and thin, tending to moss, bedded on rock and covered with heath; in some of the valleys it is a deep rich loam, lying on clay, and producing good crops. About 3000 acres are arable; upwards of 1400 are waste, a considerable part of which, however, affords pasture for cattle; 30 acres are common, and 120 are planted. Grain and green crops of all kinds are produced; the cattle are of the pure Ayrshire breed. The rateable annual value of the parish is 1845.
The rocks consist of several varieties of whinstone, of limestone, and sandstone. The limestone is not wrought, on account of the expense of fuel; but the sandstone, which is plentiful, is wrought to a considerable extent, quarries having been for some time open. There is a regular communication with the land by steam-boats, and the island is much resorted to by strangers. The ecclesiastical affairs are subject to the presbytery of Greenock and synod of Glasgow and Ayr; patron, Lord Glasgow. The stipend is 159, and there is a good manse, with a glebe of six acres, valued at 8. 10. per annum. The church, which was built in 1837, to meet the exigencies of a largely augmented population, is situated on rising ground, immediately behind the village of Millport; it is a commodious and elegant structure, ornamented with a handsome tower, and capable of accommodating 750 persons. A place of worship has been erected for Baptists; likewise a Free church. There is also a parochial school, where, in addition to the usual branches, Latin, mensuration, and navigation are taught; the master has the legal accommodations, and a salary of 30, with 15 from fees. A parochial library is supported.

Little Cumbray 1846

CUMBRAY, LITTLE, an island, in the county of Bute, ecclesiastically annexed to the parish of West Kilbride, in the county of Ayr, and containing 8 inhabitants. This island is situated in the Frith of Clyde, between the island of Bute and the promontory of Portincross, from each of which it is distant about two and a half miles. It anciently formed part of the domains of the Stuart family, ancestors of the kings of that line, and, on the erection of the principality of Scotland by Robert III., in 1404, in favour of his son, was concluded within its limits. It was for many years retained as a royal preserve, and in 1515 was conferred upon Hew, Earl of Eglinton, whose descendants are its present proprietors. The island, which is composed entirely of trap-rock, resting on the sandstone formation of the opposite coast, is about a mile long, and half a mile in breadth, and has an elevation of 600 feet above the sea. The surface comprises about 700 acres; but, with the exception of a few potato gardens, it does not appear to have been cultivated. There are a few ash-trees growing near the south-east extremity, but it is otherwise perfectly destitute of wood, and the rocky pasture only affords food for a few sheep and young cattle; the island is, indeed, chiefly a rabbit-warren at present, and about 500 dozens of rabbits are taken annually on the average, and sent for the supply of the neighbouring markets. Nearly in the centre is a circular tower, thirty feet in height, once appropriated as a lighthouse, and still forming a very conspicuous object from all parts of the channel; but it has long been neglected, and a lighthouse has been built upon the edge of a precipice overhanging the sea, on the west side of the island. This building, with the keeper's house and garden, romantically contrasting with the rugged crags among which it is situated, has a truly picturesque appearance. In the southern extremity of the island are several natural caverns, formed by fissures in the rock; the largest, on the east side, is called the King's cave.
Near the old lighthouse are the remains of an ancient square fort, of which the walls, six feet in thickness, thirty-five feet in height, and nearly entire, inclose an area twenty-eight feet in length and fifteen feet wide, formed into two apartments, of which the lower has a vaulted stone roof. By whom, or at what time, it was erected is not known; but being in the possession of the Montgomerie family at the period of Cromwell's invasion of Scotland, it was surprised and burnt by his soldiers. To the north of the castle are the remains of an ancient chapel dedicated to St. Vey, who was buried here, in a tomb a little to the north of the chapel. These remains consist chiefly of portions of the walls of the chapel, which appears to have been a dependency of the monastery of Iona; the walls are about three feet in thickness, and rudely built, inclosing an area of thirty feet in length, and fifteen in width. Of the tomb, which seems to have been comprised within four walls of stone, two square stones only are left, one of which is broken into two pieces; they are ornamented with tracery, but no inscription of any kind is to be discovered. At Shanwilly point, on the north of the island, are several tumuli, some of which were opened a few years before his death by the late Earl of Eglinton, when sepulchral urns and various fragments of weapons were found.


From:   A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland (1846)








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