Archaeological evidence suggests that humans have inhabited the area since prehistory. For example Dreghorn (in Irvine) dates back to at least the mesolithic period, and Lochwinnoch to the neolithic period. Signs of Iron Age hill forts and ancient remains have been unearthed throughout the whole Irvine area. Large amounts of flint arrowheads and other artefacts have been recorded on Stevenston Beach. Several thousands of weapon fragments, implements, ornaments, fragments of fictile ware, have been found on Ardeer Sands.
North of Dalry, the remains of an ancient fort can be found and to its south west is Cleeves Cove (or Blair’s Cove), an incredible 150 metre long cave network through the heart of the natural bedrock—where further prehistoric evidence has been discovered. The area near Kilbirnie has been inhabited since at least the Bronze Age according to remains of a crannog (artificial islands used as dwellings) and 4 logboats (dugout canoe) which were discovered in the loch and believed to be from between 3000BCE and 700BCE.
Kilwinning Abbey was constructed between 1162 and 1187 by Tironesian monks of Kelso Abbey. For four centuries it flourished becoming one of the wealthiest and grandest abbeys in Scotland through its enterprise across the region until the reformation in 1560. The Abbey owned land, farms and industries throughout the region, such as a mill at Dalgarven and grange farms in the Parish of Beith. In 1200s monks of Kilwinning Abbey discovered coastal coal deposits at Saltcoats, this led to the development of the famous salt panning industry in the 1500s, funded by King James V. From at least the 7th century pilgrims en route to Whithorn from Glasgow would have passed through the area (and taken shelter at religious sites en route), a practice that continued until the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century.
The site of Kilwinning Abbey as viewed from the top of the Abbey clocktower (part of the Heritage Centre)
In the 12th century, Irvine was the military capital of the Lord High Constable of Scotland, the town was conferred royal burgh status in 1372. Ardrossan Castle is one of the most interesting medieval sites in the area, and through its story a microcosm of Scottish history can be told. The construction of Ardrossan Castle on Castle Hill (‘Cannon Hill’), dates back to around 1140. The Castle connects Ardrossan with key periods in Scotish history such as the Wars of Independence and Cromwellian invasions.
In 1357 Ardrossan Castle and estate came into the control of the Eglinton family who played a major role in shaping the architectural and industrial development of the town. An important heritage asset to this day, full of its own history, myths and legends such as the story of the ‘De'il of Ardrossan’, a Baron who challenged the devil to make a rope from sand, failing at this task the devil is said to have left his mark on the castle by kicking it in frustration.
Archaeology dig work taking place in the grounds of Ardrossan Castle