Focus On: Firth of Clyde.............................................
This issue we focus on the popular holiday destination ‘doon the watter’
Going “doon the watter” is no modern phenomenon as the Clyde steamer passenger service is over 200 years old. Henry Bell’s Comet began a passenger service between Glasgow and Greenock as far back as 1812, with its maiden voyage taking three-and-a-half hours. Modern vessels such as the Waverley take far less time but the timing is irrelevant. The fact such an enduringly popular service was up and running is far more important. Such was the success of this innovation, other operators sprang up in competition and by 1900 there were more than 300 steamers going “doon the watter”. Up until the early 1960s, this was a boom business but the emergence of cheap flights abroad almost killed the industry off. Early steamer services stretched their destinations as far as Helensburgh, Largs, Campbeltown and Inveraray and a fivepound fine was introduced for services running late. Through these voyages, small villages originally with perhaps only a tiny jetty, became resorts with piers big enough to berth huge steamers. Without this form of tourism, towns like Dunoon and Rothesay might never have sprung into prominence losing what was to become a huge and lucrative injection into the local economy. The Waverley still flies the flag for these grand old days of steamship tourism on the Clyde, but the SS Sir Walter Scott still operates on Loch Katrine while the SS Maid of the Loch waits final restoration before embarking on a regular tourist trade on Loch Lomond.
COME AWA’TAE CUMBRAE! It’s an island of adventure for all ages. Some might think a 10-mile, hour-and-a-half commute would be the ultimate torture but Calum Mcnicol doesn’t mind. He does it by kayak from his home in West Kilbride to his work as a water sports instructor at the Sportscotland National Centre on Cumbrae. Some call Cumbrae the “jewel in the Clyde” while others call it the “island of a thousand bicycles”. Cyclists are a common sight on the island’s roads but there’s just as much to do off-shore than there is on-shore. Calum is at the heart of Cumbrae’s water sports, and finds that there’s nothing quite like the waters of the Firth of Clyde. “It’s as good as you can get, it’s as picturesque as any other place on the west coast. The Kintyre peninsula means the waters are relatively sheltered, so there’s no rolling Atlantic swell to worry about. “I think just being able to get on the water, fairly affordably, and get a unique view of the coastline of Scotland has to offer makes
the west coast of Scotland a world class destination. “The Clyde in general, not just around Cumbrae, is really busy for water-based tourism. It’s a valuable source of income for hotels, pubs, restaurants and shops. There are actually two Cumbraes, Great and Little. The smaller one is privately-owned but the larger is extremely popular with tourists. It’s only a 10-minute ferry crossing from Largs, with a bus service ready to whisk you to the main town of Millport for shops, fun on the beach, a visit to the Cathedral of the Isles or, if you can try out some of the many water sports the centre can offer. Most importantly there’s something for all ages, making it very family-orientated. Starting from the ferry terminal, an anti-clockwise hike takes you through Finntray Bay, round Portachur Point and up to Millport. On a hot day, there are plenty places for refreshment before you head for the ferry back to the mainland. SCOTLAND’S FIRST CRAFT TOWN Scotland’s first accredited craft town, West Kilbride, is perched on the North Ayrshire coastline with unrivalled views over Arran. Taking it’s name from the Celtic saint, Bridge of Kildaire, the prefix of ‘West’ was added to differentiate it from the newer town of East Kilbride. The small rural town offers a wide range of independent retailers including a clockmaker, silversmiths, chocolatier and textile artist to name but a few. The award winning Barony Centre, a converted former church, features craft-based exhibitions and plays host to workshops and talks. The town also won the village category in the Great British High Street Competition in 2016. Local initiaitive groups have introduced a number of popular events to encourage community engagement including a Scarecrow festival, where residents and businesses display comical scarecrow figures, and the Christmas themed evening - Yuletide, which takes place on the first Friday evening of December and sees a procession of residents follow Santa’s sleigh through the village with stalls and fairground rides proving popular attractions. Nearby is Portencross Castle which featured on the television programme, Restoration. In recent years local residents formed a charity called Friends of Portencross and the title for the castle was passed to them. After the period of restoration, the castle is now open to visitors. Other sites of historic interest include Crosbie Castle, home to William Wallace’s uncle, Ranald Craufard which was partly destroyed by fire a number of years ago, and Law Castle which was built as a wedding present for King James III’S sister, Mary. In recent years it has been fully refurbished and is now let for functions.