Great Cumbrae


Great Cumbrae across the Fairlie Roads
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Great Cumbrae across the Fairlie Roads

Located in the Firth of Clyde, to the east of Bute and a mile (1.8 km) off the North Ayrshire coast, Great Cumbrae (often referred to simply as Cumbrae) is an island with an area of 1168 ha (2886 acres). Following a trend of increasing population; 1638 (1961), 1296 (1971), 1300 (1981), 1393 (1991) to 1434 in 2001, the population fell back to 1376 (2011), but it remains the most densely populated of Scotland's larger islands. The uninhabited Little Cumbrae lies a half-mile (0.8 km) to the south southwest.

The highest point of the island is at Barbay Hill, centrally situated and rising to a height of 127m / 417 feet. Geologically, Great Cumbrae comprises mostly red sandstones and conglomerates, deposited in rivers during the Devonian period, with younger Carboniferous fluvial sediments forming the southwestern section of the island. It is crossed by a number of dolerite dykes, associated with the Tertiary volcanic complex on Mull. One of these forms a prominent feature known as the Lion Rock.

It is claimed that the Viking king, Haakon, used the island and specifically the northern end at Tormont End as a base before the Battle of Largs (1263). The island's principal settlement is Millport located on the southern shore, although early settlement occurred at Kirkton to the west. Once popular as a holiday destination during the heyday of the Clyde coastal resorts, the island still attracts day trippers though in not nearly the same numbers. The Field Studies Council operates an outdoor education centre at the former marine laboratory which was established in the 1890s, and includes the Robertson Museum. A ferry connects Cumbrae Slip, to the northeast of Millport, with Largs.

In 1998, the island gave its name to a glacier in Greenland, thanks to a Scottish Mountaineering Club expedition.

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