Skip to main page content (AccessKey S)
Millport is a small seaside resort and the only significant settlement on the island of Great Cumbrae, just off the Ayrshire coast. It wraps around the attractive south-facing Millport Bay with beautiful views that include the mountains of Arran, the island of Little Cumbrae, the Eileans, Ailsa Craig, and the hills of Ayrshire. If you look for them the views also include the Hunterston power station and coal terminal on the mainland, but you can't have everything.
Great Cumbrae first appears as a footnote in history books when King Håkon IVof Norway made his headquarters at its northern end in September 1263 before the Battle of Largs. His camp was at Tomont End, not far from the slipway from which the CalMac ferries to Largs now provide Great Cumbrae's link with the mainland. The ferries have connecting bus services to and from Millport.
Until the 1700s the villages of Kames and Kirkton overlooked different ends of the bay that forms most of Great Cumbrae's south coast, but they gradually grew together as Millport.
From 1800 Millport was used as a base for a fast customs cutter, ideally placed to keep track of shipping passing through the Clyde Estuary. The ship's captain built a mansion on the seafront, called The Garrison to reflect its reuse of the site of barracks built here in 1745. The Garrison was extended in 1819 when it became the family home of the island's owner, Lord Glasgow.
In 1833 Lord Glasgow built a pier at Millport and the town rapidly became a regular port of call for Clyde Steamers. It also grew as the island holiday resort of choice for the Victorian chattering classes, though it was a little eclipsed by the later development of Rothesay on Bute.
In 1849 the 6th Lord Glasgow funded the building of a theological college in Millport. The building was completed in 1851, and in 1876 it was consecrated as the Cathedral of the Isles. It remains a must-see part of any visit to the island. Lord Glasgow lost most of his fortune in a banking scandal in 1886 and Great Cumbrae was sold to the then Marquis of Bute, whose descendants still own much of it.
Despite a boycott in 1906 over harbour dues, Millport was an important stopping off point for Clyde steamers until the 1960s: and it remains a regular port of call for the Waverley, the world's last sea going paddle steamer. The town was for many years the terminus for a direct passenger ferry link to Largs and Wemyss Bay, but this ceased with the advent of the roll-on roll-off services to Cumbrae Slip in 1972.
Today's Millport retains its sandy beaches and slightly old-world resort feel. It is also home to University Marine Biological Station Millport, associated with the marine biologist Sheina Marshall. And along with the rest of Great Cumbrae, it is especially popular with cyclists, most doing the 11 mile circuit of the island from the Cumbrae Slip.
With the Cathedral of the Isles set back from the sea, the most striking building in any view along or across Millport Bay is The Garrison. Until 1997 this was used as council offices, but it was then abandoned due to its poor condition. A fire in 2001 did little to improve matters. Thankfully a major restoration has since been completed, resulting in a rebirth of this magnificent building as well as doing much for the town more widely.