- Stevenston and Ardeer have richly diverse habitats of national significance
- Important examples of rewilding of post-industrial landscapes
- Places that offer unique industrial stories, from Ardeer ICI Explosive works to Stevenston stone quarrying
- Fantastic access to beautiful and wild coastal environments for recreation
- Interesting historical architectural features across the town
Stevenston & Ardeer’s story
Once an island, Ardeer is now physically connected to Stevenston, and the history of both is deeply intertwined. Stevenston as a town grew through the industrial revolution with the development of significant coal mining and stone quarrying, but takes its name from the 12th century landowner Stephen Lockhart who inhabited Kerelaw Castle. The Castle was built in the 1190s and re-built in 1488, and is the oldest surviving building from this time—now a beautiful intriguing ruin, once inspired by Kilwinning Abbey. The area offers extensive evidence however of the presence of prehistoric people along this coastline, as Ardeer Sands is one of the most abundant sites for flint tools and weapons artefacts.
Following the industrial revolution, Stevenston was known as a coal mining centre and for the quality of its stone (a marble like white sandstone). Both these materials were exported globally, in particular to Ireland. The Parkend Quarry produced a heat resistant stone called 'Osmond Stone' popular for ovens and furnace linings. In 1849 the Stevenston Ironworks was established as an extension of the Glengarnock Iron Company, with five blast furnaces using iron-ore imported through Ardrossan Harbour.
There were several different attempts to improve local transport links for workers and raw materials. The first commercial canal in Scotland—the Stevenston Canal—was built in 1772 so that coal could be taken on barges to the port at Saltcoats while avoiding road tolls. Merry and Cunninghame Ltd. who ran the ironworks attempted to build a quay at Ardeer (now known as the ‘Old Pier’) by dumping slag material into the sea. However its exposure to rough winter storms rendered it unreliable. The Glasgow & South West Railway arrived in Stevenston in 1840, connecting the town to the increasingly important harbour at Ardrossan, and taking away most remnants of the main canal system in the process.
During this time Stevenston and the Ardeer Estate became home to a number of mansions including Kerelaw House, Ardeer House (with its own decorative cave), Seabank, Hullerhirst, Hayocks and Nelson’s Tower. Seabank was likely a replacement for the ancient Auchenharvie Castle. Having spent time in the Netherlands, Ardeer estate owner Patrick Warner drained a number of bogs to create a new ditch watercourse called Master Gott. The Wand House was located near to the Master Gott. Wands are willow rods, and these were used to make the creels in which mined coal was once carried. The South African Pavilion from the Empire Exhibition in Glasgow, 1938 was relocated to the ICI at Ardeer and used as a staff restaurant.
The surviving structure of the South African Pavilion at the ICI Ardeer site • Source: Wikimedia Commons
The most famed local industry however is that of explosives. Taking advantage of the remoteness of the Ardeer Peninsula, the British Dynamite Factory was built in 1871 by Alfred Nobel, later taken on by ICI and becoming the largest explosives factory in the world at one time. It was a global supplier employing thousands of local workers. The factory had its own jetty on the River Garnock in Irvine Harbour, serving ships importing materials for the works or disposing of time expired explosives.
AThe old jetty of ICI Ardeer on the River Garnock as seen from the harbourside in Irvine
The unique landscape characteristics shaped agriculture locally. Salt marshes on the peninsular were used for grazing cattle and the dune systems made ideal warrens for producing a cheap source of protein—rabbit meat.
Following the decline in industry in the 20th century, nature has reclaimed much of the Ardeer Peninsula, Ardeer Quarry and Stevenston Beach. The Ardeer Peninsula itself is a nationally important natural asset: it has the largest area of acid grassland in the UK; it is also home to Scotland’s greatest diversity of bees and wasps, as well as Ayrshire’s largest sand dune system and exceptionally diverse woodlands. The beach is also one of a handful of official naturist beaches in Scotland. Ardeer Quarry and Stevenston Beach are both now designated Local Nature Reserves, rich with wildlife and offering outstandingly beautiful places for people to walk and connect with nature.
- Stevenston Beach is one of the most dynamic, important dune systems in Scotland
- ICI was the biggest and most important dynamite factory in Scotland and at one time the world
- Scotland’s first commercial canal network was constructed in Stevenston to ship coal to Saltcoats Harbour
- The salt marsh and mudflats at the eastern edge of the Ardeer Peninsula are notified as Bogside Flats SSSI, this area is also important in Ayrshire for passage and wintering wildfowl.
- The Ardeer Peninsula is a natural asset of national importance, with the largest area of acid grassland in the UK, home to Scotland’s greatest diversity of bees and wasps, supporting Ayrshires largest sand dune system and one of Ayrshires most diverse woodlands
- Stevenston Stone is a unique high quality marblelike freestone that was quarried and exported to the rest of the UK and Ireland