No. 1 - The Start - is on the harbour
side of the station bridge, where an information sign is soon to be
Numbers 2-11 correspond to the blue plaques installed in 2013, celebrating some of the key people and places of Irvine's historic harbour.
Click on any number or name on the map, or scroll to the walking route below
Links in the text lead to extra information, each displayed in a new window.
Start: #1 (Montgomery Street; James Montgomery):
The street which links the shopping centre with the station and harbour is named to commemorate James Montgomery (1771-1854), the Irvine-born hymn-writer and social reformer. Several of his hymns are still in the church hymnaries, one being "Angels in the Realms of Glory" (here's the tune). Amongst other endeavours, he campaigned to end the practice of sending small boys up chimneys to clean them. The cottage where he was born was demolished in the 1970s when Irvine became a New Town - being no. 26, it stood about where ASDA is today. His blue plaque is on the Fullarton Church (on the town side of the railway).
This street's original name was the Halfway, from the Scots word 'haaf' meaning the deep sea, so meaning the Way to the Sea. The main railway line here arrived in 1839 and branch lines were soon added to take goods to and from the harbour.
The route: Follow Montgomery Street, passing the entrance to the Scottish Maritime Museum (free admission) and the Puffers cafe. Follow the right-hand railing to your second stop - at the ticket booth on the quayside, where the blue plaque was unveiled by Provost Joan Sturgeon, with Irvine Burns Club President Roger Griffith, in July 2013, the 100th anniversary of the death of lifeboat coxswain David Sinclair.
Plaque #2 (lifeboats; the Maritime Museum):
The Scottish Maritime Museum has ships in the water and many interesting exhibits in the Linthouse Building down Gottries Road on the landward side. Follow the right-hand railing to the ticket booth. On its side is a plaque commemorating David Sinclair, Coxswain of the Irvine lifeboat for 32 years. His crew, all local men and many from his own extended family, saved many lives, the best-known occasion being on 29th December 1894 when they rescued Norwegian sailors, from the ship 'Frey', in mountainous seas. They were rewarded with gallantry medals from the Norwegian Government.
Plaque #3 (the coal trade):
Where you are standing was, before the 1830s, not solid quayside, because at high tide the sea water would come across and reach a large pond behind the current houses. When the pond was drained and the road made better, the harbour master of the time had 'Emerald Bank' built as his home. In the 1800s the harbour was busy with coal exports - coal came down in wagons from all the small pits in the Irvine area. Boats came in from Ireland with ballast to keep them stable. the ballast was emptied, the coal was loaded, and they sailed. One way the ballast was used was to fill this area, so, as it was from Ireland, Alexander McKinlay, harbourmaster, called his home 'Emerald Bank'.
Plaque #4 (shipbuilding; the harbour):
By now, you will be enjoying the mixture of different styles of building, from different periods, on Montgomery Street and Harbour Street, thankfully all sitting pleasantly together.
The plaque on the outside of the Water Sports Club commemorates Irvine shipbuilder David Gilkison. The shipyard was on your right, slightly upstream from the Maritime Museum. His company's biggest ship was the 309-ton 'Montreal' in 1814. Their most famous was the brig 'Jean' of 1819 - it became the first ship of the Allan line. Allan was a relation of Edgar Allan Poe. Shipbuilding continued into the 20th century, peaking in the 1920s, with over 2,000 men employed and ships of up to 7,600 tons being launched. David Gilkison's son William founded Elora in Ontario.
In earliest days, ships sailed upriver to the foot of Seagate in the town centre. When silting made that impractical, in the late 1500s, they tied up where Marress sports fields are today. Then, after short-lived ideas to use Little Cumbrae and Troon as harbours for Irvine, and an unsuccessful plan to cut a canal across the corner from Marress, by about 1677 the first wharves were being constructed at the present harbour.
Plaque #5 (Carters):
This statue of the Carter and his Horse celebrates the contribution of Carters to the success of Irvine in the 1700s and 1800s - these men were the hauliers - the Eddie Stobarts and W H Malcolms of their day, carting goods from the harbour as far as Glasgow, and carting coals down for loading onto the sailing ships. Members of the Carters Society no longer need to be carters, but many have an interest in horses. One, John Johnston, a plumber, commemorated in the blue plaque on the Marina Inn, was in 1925 a key figure in the renewal of the town's medieval Marymass Festival, a major 12-day event in mid-August.
You will see a blue plaque on the Harbour Arts Centre. This building was originally a Mission Hall for the benefit of seafarers, established in 1888 by local patrons. Sir Andrew Duncan, son of the first missionary, became prominent in industry, was President of Irvine Burns Club in 1927, and served for a time as Churchill's Minister of Supply in WWII . Exhibitions in the Harbour Gallery are admission free - pop in to view - and if you stop in its licensed cafe/restaurant, allow time for the rest of this walk!
Plaque #7 (Capt. Richard Brown and the Burns connection):
On the right of the Arts Centre is the Ship Inn, the oldest hostelry in Irvine. The plaque on its wall commemorates the friendship which prompted the 22-year-old Robert Burns to publish his works. At Irvine, Burns met Captain Richard Brown, a slightly older man who enjoyed telling of the places he had been.
The licensee of the Ship Inn in the late 1700s was Charles Hamilton - a go-ahead Provost, the dominant figure of his time. When a great flood in 1769 choked the harbour with silt, he organised repairs and a grant to help pay for them. He also served as Collector of Customs, so his blue plaque is on the wall of the former Customs Office, now incorporated into the Wasp Studios. Any artists who are in their studios as you pass will probably be happy to show you their work. Provost Hamilton did much to maintain the harbour and his son John was a friend of Robert Burns during his stay in our town in 1781-82.
Plaque #9 (industry & science):
William Henderson was a chemical entrepreneur of the 1800s. His chemical factories filled the area between here and the town, producing copper, bichrome for paints and tanning, sulphuric acid, caustic soda, and much else - in a century when raw materials, such as pyrites from Spain, came in by boat, and waste was piled nearby. The grassed mound visible from where you stand is known locally as the Blue Billie - iron oxide residue from his processing works.
To the north, across the river, the Ardeer peninsula was the home of Nobel Explosives - spot the wharf from where explosives were shipped.
The dome is that of the Big Idea - a Millennium project science centre, sadly unable to attract enough visitors. Its bridge bears metal sculpture commemorating famous British inventors.
#10 (Harbour Master; seabirds):
You may have seen broken shells on the paving opposite the side road. This is a popular dining area for our local seagulls - the hard surface provides an excellent chopping-board for shelling mussels.
Plaque #11 (safety for sailors):
This probably unique device - the Automatic Tide Signalling Apparatus - known locally as the Pilot House - was invented by Harbour Master Martin Boyd in 1905. A system of chains and ropes, moved by the rising or falling tide, lowered and raised balls by day and revealed or covered lights by night, to show sailors the depth of available water at the harbour bar. This photo shows it, from the sea (courtesy of Iain Doole), but without the balls showing. An older photo, of it in use, appears on the Pilot House page.
The route: continue right out to the point (if the weather allows!).
End (unless you're swimming):
(the furthest point):
Now, at the end of the trail, there are two final points of interest.
At the Harbour Point is a direction indicator. North and the other points of the compass are correctly angled, but you may find you have to swing your eyes 30 degrees to match the places mentioned with what you're seeing.
The Ayrshire Coastal Path passes here. Developed and promoted by the Rotary Club of Ayr, there is a handy guide book which is usually on sale at Smalltalk Coffee Shop half way along Harbour Street.
The route: Now return to enjoy a refreshment in one of the hostelries or cafes which you passed during the walk.