Welcome to Girvan
Girvan is an interesting town on the south Ayrshire coast, 30 miles north of the ferry terminal at Stranraer and 20 miles south of Ayr, set to the backdrop of the Galloway Hills. These hills afford views out across the North Channel to the coast of Northern Ireland. Looking out to sea from Girvan, one's eye is immediately drawn to the sheer cliffs of Ailsa Craig; an awe inspiring rocky island best seen in the bright sunlight after a downpour when it glistens like a pyramid of glass. To the northeast lies the famed Mull of Kintyre and the peaks of Arran. While Girvan may be most famous for its white sand beach and its proximity to Ailsa Craig, for which Girvan is the base for the only operator licensed to land on this protected nature reserve, its many lesser known charms offer a great deal to the visitor.
People first came to this coast as hunter gatherers over 8000 years ago. Some have suggested there was a settlement at Girvan as early as 5000 BC and there are records of burial cists, now long destroyed, from around 2000 BC. In terms of what remains of Girvan's prehistoric human settlement, the discovery of a number of urns and cremated remains at the east of the town establish that there were people living here from around 1000 BC. Some of these artefacts are now held by the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow. On the coast to the north and south of Girvan there are the remains of a number of forts, or duns, such as at Dinvin, of similarly ancient origins.
The fact that no such remains have been found at Girvan is probably the result of the town's later success and development. Certainly it is recorded that a moot hill, an artificial mound used as an open air court, once existed on the town side of the river above the harbour. Moot hills, such as still exist at Tynwald on the Isle of Man or Scone (near Perth), appear in parts of the British Isles which were effected by Norse or Scandinavian influence. The implication is that the Vikings had a settlement at Girvan. In any case, after the Vikings were vanquished in the Battle of Largs in 1263 such open air courts continued to be used for many centuries. King Robert I, also known as Robert the Bruce, visited the site of the hill in 1328 where he is said to have held court. A plaque commemorates the event.
Robert I was likely in Girvan while en route to, or from, St Ninian's Church in Whithorn, regarded as being the site of the earliest Christian community in Scotland. Girvan benefited from its position on the pilgrimage trail along the Ayrshire Coast throughout the middle ages and is one of the reasons for its early growth.
Nonetheless, Girvan's subsequent growth had more to do with its position as a centre of industry and as the location of sheltered port. Fishing, shoemaking and weaving were all important parts of the local economy when, in 1688, Charles II granted Girvan a charter as Burgh of Barony in recognition of its growing status. As a result of the charter Thomas Boyd the Younger was authorised to construct a harbour and fort and organise weekly markets and yearly fairs. By 1792 vessels operating out of the harbour were employed in such activities as herring fishing, transporting salt from Ireland and, to no small degree, smuggling. Prompted by Glasgow manufacturers, 100 looms were in operation around the town for the weaving of cotton cloth, evidence of the early stages of industrialisation.
It is from around this time that Girvan owes its most distinctive building: a clock tower, affectionately known as Auld Stumpy. Originally built as part of a town house, the tower was moved to this spot, at the junction of Dalrymple and Knockcushan Streets, and incorporated into the 1911 built McMaster Hall. Ever since the hall was destroyed by fire in 1939 Auld Stumpy has stood as a distinctive solitary tower.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the most dramatic period in Girvan's growth. From its harbour ships left and returned from elsewhere in the British Isles, the continent and the Americas with holds filled with such goods as grain, coal and lime. Meanwhile, the main local industry remained the production of cotton-cloth. At the same time the construction of the railway and advent of paddle steamers brought the first day-trippers who came, in large part from Glasgow, to enjoy the beach and the growing number of amusements made available. The harbour, though, remains the main focus of the town; where fishing vessels tie up beside an increasing number of pleasure craft as well as the many lifeboats sent here from all over Scotland for repair. Such activity is representative of the town, whose beauty and bustle continues to attract visitors, seemingly from further afield every year.