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 nothing's ever perfect.
Great Cumbrae first appears as a footnote in history books when King Håkon IV of 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.
Originally 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. (Continues below image...)
From the mid 1700s Millport was used as a base for a fast customs cutter, ideally placed to keep track of shipping passing through the Firth of Clyde. The ship's captain built a barracks on the seafront to accommodate the crew, which became known as The Garrison. The Garrison was remodelled in 1819-20 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 Marquess of Bute.
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 the newly-built 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 10 mile circuit of the island from the Cumbrae Slip, or on bikes rented from one of the cycle hire shops in Millport itself.
With the Cathedral of the Isles set back from the sea, the most striking building in any view along or across Millport Bay is Garrison House. This is the name now given to what was previously known as 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. It now provides a range of community facilities including the Museum of the Cumbraes, a library, and a cafe, plus medical services and council offices. It also does much to improve the appearance of the whole of the centre of Millport.
Millport itself is remarkably linear. It extends for the better part of two miles along the shore, yet for much of that length is only one or two streets deep. Garrison House provides a focal point, both geographically and in terms of community activity. But if the town can be said to have a heart, then it can probably be found at the harbour, towards the western end of the main promenade.
Not far away, and worth looking out for, is "The Wedge", which lays claim to being Britain's narrowest house. Rather further around the bay to the east is the "Crocodile Rock", a rock structure on the beach to which someone has painted on teeth and eyes.