Great Cumbrae


A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2022.

It has taken much time and money to make the six-volumes of Groome's text freely accessible. Please help us continue and develop by making a donation. If only one out of every ten people who view this page gave £5 or $10, the project would be self-sustaining. Sadly less than one in thirty-thousand contribute, so please give what you can.

Use the tabs on the right of this page to see other parts of this entry Arrow

Cumbrae, Great, Big, or Meikle, an island of Buteshire in the Firth of Clyde, 2¼ miles E of Bute at the narrowest, and 11/8 mile WSW of Largs in Ayrshire. Resembling a pointed tooth in outline, with Farland and Portachur Points for fangs, and between them the town of Millport on isleted Millport Bay, it has an utmost length of 3¾ miles from NNE to SSW, viz., from Tomont End to Portachur Point; an utmost width, from E to W, of 2 miles; a circumference of 10½ miles; and an area of 3120½ acres. A road has been lately formed right round the island, whose immediate seaboard is a low, flat beach, backed generally by steepish slopes, and, to the SE, by bolder but verdure-clad cliffs that rise to 302 feet within 3 furlongs of the shore, and present in the Lion Rock a quasi-miniature of Arthur's Seat. The interior is hilly, culminating at 417 feet towards the centre of the island, to the W of three little lochs, one of which sends off a rivulet southward to Millport Bay. The principal rock is Old Red sandstone, disrupted and overlaid by various traps. The sandstone is similar to that of the mainland, from which it appears to have been severed by sea erosion; the traps are chiefly greenstone, and in the form of dykes have strangely altered the sandstone strata, fusing and reconsolidating them into a dark quartz -like substance. Many of the dykes, having better withstood the denudating influence of air and water, stand out boldly from the sandstone; and two especially, to the SE, look like Cyclopean walls, 100 and 205 feet long, and 40 and 75 feet high. These are deemed, in the island folklore, to be remains of a huge bridge, reared by witchcraft and devilry to link Cumbrae to the Ayrshire coast. The soil is varied. On the higher parts of the island it is light, gravelly, and thin, bedded on moss, and covered with heath; in some of the valleys is a fertile loam, and produces excellent crops; along the E coast is light and sandy; and in the S abounds in marl. Draining, seaweed manuring, and liming have effected great improvements; and wheat, early potatoes, and turnips are very extensively grown. Most of the farms carry stocks of from 20 to 40 dairy cows. The climate is both healthy and pleasant, less moist than that of Arran or the mainland. Included once in the Hebrides, Cumbrae was held by the Norsemen; and, after its cession to Scotland, belonged for some time to the Stewarts, who later mounted the throne. A cairn on the NE coast and the remains of Billikeilet are the only antiquities, as no traces are left of the camp that Haco is said to have formed on the eve of the battle of Largs. In 1609 we find the captain of Dumbarton Castle complaining that 'Robert Huntar of Huntarston and Thomas Boyd, provost of Irwyn, had gone to the Isle of Comra, and tane away all the hawks thereon,' which hawks, it appears, were a famous breed belonging to the king. The Garrison is the only mansion, and its owner, the Earl of Glasgow, divides the island with the Marquis of Bute; but 7 feuars hold each an annual value of between £100 and £200,30 of from £50 to £100, and 59 of from £20 to £50. By itself Great Cumbrae is a parish in the presbytery of Greenock and synod of Glasgow and Ayr; the living is worth £160. Places of worship are noticed under Millport; and a public school, with accommodation for 300 children, had (1880) an average attendance of 185, and a grant of £156,14s. Valuation (1882) £16,910. Pop. (1801) 506, (1831) 912, (1861) 1236, (1871) 1613, (1881) 1856.—Ord. Sur., sh. 21,1870. See D. Landsborough's Exeursions to Arran and the two Cumbraes (Edinb. 1851), and Arch. M`Neilage, ` On the Agriculture of Buteshire ' in Trans. Highl. and Ag. Soc., 1881.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

If you have found this information useful please consider making
a donation to help maintain and improve this resource. More info...

By using our site you agree to accept cookies, which help us serve you better