The area is home to a number of annual traditions and celebrations, that bring the stories and heritage of each place to life for today’s communities. The Irvine Carters, constituted in 1753, are still active and are instrumental in keeping alive a popular historic annual festival in Irvine called Marymass, originally an August celebration of the Virgin Mary. In a similar way, Beith has strong links to Saint Innan, who is said to have spent time there during the 800s. He is still celebrated through today’s annual Saint Innan’s Gala Day.
Meanwhile, Kilwinning is home to the oldest archery practice still active today. The Ancient Society of Kilwinning Archers is believed to originate back to 1483. An annual papingo shoot takes place in the Abbey grounds, where a small wooden bird is hung from the Abbey Clock Tower as a target for the shooters.
Fading sunset looking over Kilbirnie Loch
The coastline has long been a destination for visitors. Since the arrival of railways in the 19th century, Saltcoats has been a popular ‘doon the water’ destination for holidaymakers and daytrippers; earning it a cultural reputation with many in the west of Scotland. As the town’s industry waned its coast began to offer attractions to visitors that have evolved to changing trends. The old salt pans became an outdoor bathing pool in 1932 which remained popular for many decades and a total of 6 cinemas were constructed on the seafront and town centre. One of these (Regal Cinema on Hamilton Street) became the Metro nightclub opened in 1988 and became synonymous with the growth in popularity of dance music in the 1990s.
Beyond tourism, the changing climate due to global warming will put more demand on the area to adapt its economic activity. In a region dominated by the presence of water, climate change is predicted to bring more rainfall and rising sea levels, increasing local flooding. Changes have already begun throughout North Ayrshire to mitigate the effects of climate change, in particular with investment in renewable energies that sustainably harness the power of water through hydroelectric schemes. Similarly wind farms have become a contemporary feature across the uplands, and a solar farm is situated outside Kilwinning.
Eglinton Basin was once at the heart of thriving commercial docks, today it hosts a marina for up to 280 vessels.
There are several informative and engaging heritage attractions in the area for both local people and visitors. Irvine hosts the Scottish Maritime Museum, home to nationally significant collections, and Irvine Townhouse Heritage Centre is home to extensive local genealogy records. In Kilwinning, the Abbey Tower and Heritage Centre, Eglinton Country Park and Dalgarven Mill are all popular, high quality destinations for heritage and recreation.
There are a wide variety of active interest groups in the area working with nature and heritage.
Kilwinning Heritage organises public talks and runs Kilwinning Abbey Tower and Heritage Centre. Barrmill Conservation Trust organises weekly working parties to conserve their local natural heritage. In Dalry, Bypass Art has been running numerous projects recording oral histories and installing heritage interpretation throughout the town. In Kilbirnie, both the Radio City Association and Stoneyholm Mill Trust have been working to reactivate important heritage buildings, from the Mill itself to the former Radio City Cinema and the Knox Institute. Ardrossan Castle Heritage Group continues to preserve and engage local people in the story of the castle through archeological digs and celebrations. Stevenston Conservation Group preserves and enhances local nature reserves for community benefit. The Harbour Association in Saltcoats are working to bring the history of the harbour to life through community events, celebrating stories such as the life of Betsy Millar, the world’s first female Sea Captain, who sailed from the harbour in the mid-1800s.
Artwork at Dalry railway station showcasing the nature of the town and district by artist Leo du Feu
Throughout the landscape there are miles of footpaths, maintained by local people, North Ayrshire Council and national stakeholders. The long-distance Ayrshire Coastal Path is one of Scotland’s Great Trails, linking places along the coastline. Local trails such as those at Lynn Glen are excellent opportunities to engage with geology, history, nature and local stories. Two of the National Cycle Network routes pass through the area, which include many miles of traffic-free cycle paths, particularly between Castle Semple Country Park and Kilbirnie or Irvine and Kilwinning.
Path leading to Eglinton Country Park