An article from

'The Topographical, Statistical, and Historical Gazetteer of Scotland'

Published by A.Fullarton and Co. - 1848

West Kilbride

KILBRIDE (West), a parish on the coast of the district of Cunningham, Ayrshire; bounded on the north by Largs; on the east by Dalry ; on the south-east by Ardrossan; and on all other sides by the frith of Clyde. It occupies the angle formed by the recession of the coast-line on the opening or commencement of the expansive bay of Ayr on the north; and presenting one side to that bay, another to the strait or sound between the coast and the Cumbrays, and a third to the interior, is nearly of a triangular figure. Its extreme length from north to south is about 6 miles; and its extreme breadth from the promontory of Portincross eastward is about 3 miles. The island of Little Cumbray is attached to the parish; but, having been separately noticed in the article Cumbraes, it needs not here be kept in view. A continuation of the rolling surface of hill and upland which commences at Greenock, and forms a sea-screen down the coast of Renfrewshire, comes boldly in upon the parish, especially on its eastern verge, and undulates over its whole area, softening in character as it approaches the south. Along the eastern frontier, the hills run so regularly and loftily in a ridge as to form a natural boundary, and send up one summit—that of Kame—nearly 1,000 feet above sea-level. In the interior, as they deflect to the west, they are in some instances concatenated, and in others insulated; and, in general, they decline in height as they approach the frith. The hills are, in many instances, green to their summits; and, regarded as a field of heights, are ploughed by various romantic little vales, bringing down their watery tributes to the sea, and are occasionally made the screen or protecting framework of luxuriantly tinted haughs. From the summits of many of them views are obtained, in peculiarly advantageous grouping, of that magnificent landscape of far-stretching lowland-coast, luscious in the beauties of cultivation, and long expanse of bright blue sea, romantic in its islands and its land-locking boundaries, and background scenery of Highland heights, of soaring and pinnacled mountain elevations, which is descried from great multitudes of the rising grounds of Ayrshire, and the stirring and arousing appeals of which might have been expected to produce more than one 'Ayrshire bard,' and to have provoked that one to the breathing of more warmth of colouring over his efforts at description. "At one view," says the sufficiently unexcited writer in the Old Statistical Account, "the eye takes in the broken land and small sounds formed by the islands of Arran, Bute, the two Cumbrays, and the coasts of Cowal and Cantire; the extensive coast of Carrick, from Ayr to Ballentrae; a wide expanded frith, with the rock of Ailsa rising majestic in its very bosom; the stupendous rocks and peak of Goatfield in Arran; while the distant cliffs of Jura are seen just peeping over the whole, in the back ground. Such a landscape is exceedingly rare, and has always been particularly pleasing to strangers." Five rills or burns, with their tiny tributaries, all begin and end their course within the limits of the parish, and are the only streams by which it is watered, but, in rainy weather, they sometimes come down in a bulk of volume and power of current which invest them with importance. Kilbride - burn, the largest of them, rises on the west side of Glenton-hill, flows past the village of West Kilbride, and enters the frith at Sea-Mill. South Annan-burn, near the northern boundary, pursues its course through a romantic glen, and forms a series of beautiful cataracts, diminishing in depth of leap as the brook approaches the sea. At the highest and principal fall, the burn, emerging with a rapid current from between two high hills, leaps right over a rocky precipice 50 feet in height, into a deep and awful chasm, the bottom of which is a capacious sphere, smooth and regular as if hollowed out with the chisel. Over the abyss project the beetling and menacing rocks of the precipice; and around it are a zone and tuftings of natural wood, in which the oak, the hazel, and the birch vie for the pre-eminence of shade and verdure. The coast-line of the parish, owing to the advantage gained by peninsularity of form, is about 7 miles in extent. At the angle, or south-west extremity, projects the promontory of Portincross, terminating in a perpendicular wall of rock 300 feet high, called Ardneil bank, or Goldberry-head, separated from the margin of the sea only by a very narrow belt of verdant land, and extending in a straight line of about a mile in length. Natural wood, consisting of oak, hazel, ash, and hawthorn, runs in thick tuftings along the base of the precipice, and ivy, with gray and golden coloured lichens, impresses a beautiful tracery of tint and of aspect athwart its bold front. To approach the terrific summit makes even a man of firm nerve giddy; but to view it from below is to enjoy a rich feasting of the taste and the fancy. Everywhere, except at this remarkable headland, the coast of the parish is low and shelving. From the northern boundary to a point about two miles south, stretch the sands of South Annan, of half-moon form, sheltered by a curving recess in the land, measuring at their centre, when the tide is out, about a mile in breadth, rich in their beds of mussels, cockles, and other shell-fish, and offering a favourite retreat to vast flocks of various kinds of wild fowl. Limestone occurs at Ardneil, and in some other localities, but too scantily and of too poor a quality to be profitably worked. On a conspicuous hill, called the Law, are quarried millstones of a coarse sort of granite. The soil over nearly four-fifths of the whole area, or up the sides and over the summits of its almost incessant heights, is poor, mossy, and moorland, on a subsoil of coarse till, yet admitting, around the bases and on the lower sides of the heights, not a few patches of loamy and calcareous land of kindly and fertile character. About two-thirds, or a little more, of the entire area is regularly or occasionally subjected to the plough; and nearly one-third is naturally and exclusively pastoral. The district is characteristically devoted to the dairy, the arable pastures being used and esteemed for their produce in Dunlop cheese. The parish is, in general, sufficiently enclosed; but, with some small exceptions, it is destitute of plantation, and has a naked and chilled appearance. At Portincross is a small quay, offering accommodation at high water to vessels of 40 or 50 tons burden, and used in making shipments for the Clyde. The road from Greenock to Ardrossan runs along the parish, and, along with subordinate roads, gives it an aggregate length of 22 miles broad, — preserved in good repair, and suitably provided with bridges. Population, in 1801, 795; in 1831, 1,685. Houses 215. Assessed property, in 1815, £7,006.

On a ledge of rock, close upon the sea, under the bold promontory of Ardneil bank, stand the ruinous yet tolerably complete walls of the very ancient castle of Portincross. The promontory being, with the exception of the Rhinns of Galloway, the extreme western point of the Lowlands of Scotland, and lying conveniently between Edinburgh and Icolmkill, and also between Dundonald and Rothsay, the castle was probably a halting-place of the Scottish kings on embarking either for Bute or for the burying-place of their early ancestors. Some charters of the first and the second Stuarts purport to have received the sign-manual at "Arnele," and may possibly evince this castle—however small and incommodious—to have worn, in a limited degree, similar honours to those of the homogeneous castle of Dundonald: see DUNDONALD. A brief distance seaward from the promontory, at a spot where the depth of water is 10 fathoms, sunk a principal ship of the famous Spanish armada. Of several pieces of ordnance which, about a century ago, were brought up from her by means of a diving machine, one lies in a corroded state on the shore beside the old castle. — The most remarkable of the hills of the parish, especially those called Tarbet-hill, the Law, Auld-hill, and the Comb, or Caimb, or Kaim, were all used as signal-posts, or the arenæ of beacon-fires, during the period of the Danish invasions. On Auld-hill, are remains of a circular building, which probably was occupied as a watch-tower. On the Law, overlooking the village, are the ruinous walls of Law-castle, a stately and very ancient tower, formerly one of the seats of the Earls of Kilmarnock. - Near the fine cascade of South Annan-burn, stand the ruins of a very elegant mansion, formerly the residence of the family of Semple, and now the property of the Earl of Eglinton. The house was built in the reign of James VI. by a Lord Semple, who brought the model of it from Italy. A beautiful green hill, secondary to the Kaim, but attached to it, rises with a bold and sudden swell behind the house. Standing on its summit, a spectator looks down upon the dismantled fabric of the once-elegant mansion, hiding, as it were, the scathings of its beauty among a number of very fine old elms, beeches, and ashes, whose venerable boughs now bending to the earth indicate their age; and over the tops of the trees and the ruin, he looks abroad on an expanded sheet of water which, at full sea, seems to come in contact with them, and on an abundantly charming and finely diversified grouping of that vast and gorgeous landscape, which is seen from most of the heights of the parish, — but nowhere with more advantage of fore-ground and of general effect than from this eminence. Immediately adjoining the ruin of the Semple mansion, stands a neat modern cottage ornée. Near the coast, about 1 or 1½ mile south of Southennan, in a position which originally was a narrow and small peninsula running into a morass, stands the ancient mansion of Hunterston, now occupied as a farm-house, and sending up a square tower of apparently high antiquity. The modern mansion, a handsome new edifice, is nearer the sea. — Dr. Robert Simson, the well-known professor of mathematics in the University of Glasgow a7id the translator and editor of Euclid, and General Robert Boyd, Lieutenant-governor of Gibraltar during the notable siege of that great fort in 1782, were natives of the parish. The village of West Kilbride is situated in a well-sheltered hollow, ¾ of a mile from the sea ; 1¾ mile from Portincross-castle ; 4½ miles north-west from Ardrossan; and 7¼ miles south from Largs. On the streamlet which runs through it are two mills for grinding oats, a flax-mill, a mill for grinding tanners' bark, and a mill for pulverizing charcoal. A tannery employs 8 or 10 persons. The chief employments are weaving and hand-sewing in subordination to the manufacturers of Glasgow and Paisley. In 1838, 85 harness-looms and 5 plain looms were employed on fabrics in all the three departments of cotton, silk, and woollen. The condition of the weavers, as in most other places, is painfully depressed. Near the centre of the village, on a gentle rising ground, stands the parish-church, a long narrow mean-looking edifice, low in the walls and deep-roofed. A meeting-house belonging to the United Secession, is a neat and commodious structure. In the village are three schools, one of them parochial, and the others private, and unendowed; a library, containing upwards of 400 volumes; and three Friendly societies, — one of them of considerably long standing. Population of the village, about 1,020. — West Kilbride is in the presbytery of Irvine, and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. Patron, the Earl of Eglinton. Stipend £202 12s. 7d.; glebe £13 12s. 7d. Unappropriated teinds £383 18s. 2d. Parochial schoolmaster's salary £27 17s. 8d., with £37 6s. 9d. fees. - The saint from whom the parish, like the other Kilbrides of Scotland, has its name, is the well-known Bridget, familiarly called Bride. The church anciently belonged to the monks of Kilwinning, and was served by a vicar. In the parish there were, previous to the Reformation, several chapels. One stood on the coast, 1¼ mile south of the church, at a place to which it gave the name of Chapelton. Another stood at Southennan, in the immediate vicinity of the ancient mansion of the family of Sempell; and was built by John, Lord Sempil, in the reign of James IV., and dedicated to Saint Inan, - reported to have been a confessor at Irvine, and to have died in the year 839. A third, subordinate like the others to the parish-church, was dedicated to Saint Bege or Veg, said to have been a Scottish virgin and confessor, who died in 896, and situated in Little Cumbray. See article CUMBRAYS.




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