Squeezed between the Galloway Hills and the sea, Girvan is the largest town in the district of Carrick and the biggest settlement on the coast between Ayr, 20 miles to its north, and Stranraer, 30 miles to its south. Its harbour, built within the mouth of the Water of Girvan, offers one of the few safe havens along this stretch of coast and helps explain the growth of the town.
Already an important centre, Girvan was given burgh status in 1668. Over the following two hundred years it grew slowly, its wealth coming from shoemaking, weaving and fishing. The town's real period of growth dates back to the arrival of the railway from Glasgow via Maybole in 1860. This placed the town within easy reach of trippers who came to enjoy its beaches and seaside environment.
Tastes have changed over the years, but some of Girvan's attractions are timeless. Simply wandering around its busy harbour is a joy. Here you can watch its still active fishing fleet, and see the evidence of Girvan's importance to those who sail these waters for pleasure rather than business.
Girvan is home to an active boatyard on the banks of the Water of Girvan. Alexander Noble & Sons established their business here in 1946 to service the Firth of Clyde fishing industry.
Girvan's beaches remain a draw for visitors, even in an age when lots of people fly south for the summer. Not many Mediterranean resorts can match Girvan's views north west to the craggy skyline of Arran: or west to the remarkable dome of Ailsa Craig, rising 1114ft out of the Firth of Clyde ten miles away. Girvan is the starting point for trips around or to Ailsa Craig.
Girvan offers other traditional seaside attractions including a boating lake and amusements, but in a way that doesn't intrude on the enjoyment of those who like their resorts uncommercialised.
A hundred yards or so inland from beach and harbour is the main shopping street, formed by the A77 main road as it heads down towards the Irish ferries at Cairnryan. Girvan is home to an interesting mix of architecture. The highlight of the main street is the red stone McKechnie Institute, dating back to 1888. Set back a little to the east of the main through road is Montgomerie Street, home to a number of nice buildings and dominated by the high spire of the North Parish Church, built in 1883.
Perhaps the most striking building in Girvan is Auld Stumpy. This attractive clock tower was erected near the town's main junction between Knockcushan Street and Dalrymple Street over the period 1825-7. It later formed part of the McMaster Hall, built in 1911. The hall burned down in 1939, leaving Auld Stumpy as you see it now.
Today's Girvan has diversified from its traditional industries. Perhaps the most striking example was the purchase in 1963 of a Second World War munitions factory to the north of the town by William Grant & Sons. Here they built a grain distillery capable of producing 70 million litres of spirit each year. The Ladyburn Lowland Malt distillery they also built here in the 1960s closed in 1975 to allow expansion of the grain distillery. More recently this has diversified further into the production of Richard Branson's Virgin Vodka.
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