Irvine is a town in Ayrshire on the Clyde coast, with a population of 34,130 in 2020. It's post-industrial and is best-known as one of the postwar "New Towns" built across lowland Scotland. A number of regeneration projects have begun and flopped, and Irvine's main role now is as a commuter town for Glasgow. It's given birth to two First Ministers of Scotland, Jack McConnell (in office 2001-2007) and Nicola Sturgeon (from 2014).
This "new town" has been inhabited since the Stone Age and in the 13th century was capital of Scotland. Backed by fertile farmland and a lowland transport corridor through the hills, it was one of a series of ports along the Clyde coast. The river was shallow and prone to silting, but the Clyde at Glasgow was even worse. Industries such as linen developed, and (at a safe distance) explosives - but eventually after a fashion they blew the harbour away. In the 19th century Nitroglycerin and similar inventions of that clever Alfred Nobel made it possible to blast a deep channel up to Glasgow, which then prospered as the downstream ports declined.
In the 1960s Scotland's housing was in a poor state, and the response was to build a series of New Towns across the lowland belt. Four of these were greenfield: Livingstone, East Kilbride, Cumbernauld and Glenrothes. At Irvine the plan was to graft the new onto an existing town, producing an odd mixture of slabby burbs, Victorian provincial town and odd charming Georgian survival. A sixth New Town near Hamilton was never built, and the project was wound up in 1996.
Trains run every 30 min from Glasgow Central via Paisley, Glengarnock (for Kilbirnie) and Kilwinning, taking 40 min to Irvine, and continuing south to Troon, Prestwick Airport and town, and Ayr. The last train leaves Glasgow around 23:30; in 2022 an offpeak single is £8.50. Change at Kilwinning for Ardrossan (for ferries to Isle of Arran), West Kilbride and Largs (for ferries to Great Cumbrae).
1 Irvine railway station is central between the loops of the river. There is a staffed ticket office and machines, toilets and a waiting room.
Stagecoach Bus X34 / X44 runs every couple of hours from Glasgow Buchanan via Kilwinning to Irvine railway station, taking 90 mins. (An occasional X44 continues to Ardrossan.) Late on Saturday nights, X76 is the drunks' bus home from Glasgow via Kilmarnock.
Bus 14 runs hourly from Ayr via Prestwick and Troon to Irvine. Bus 11 runs every 20-30 mins from Kilmarnock to Irvine (30 mins) and continues west to Kilwinning and Ardrossan.
Change at Ayr for the bus for Stranraer and Belfast.
Buses 11 and 14 (see above) ply the main roads through town. Bus 21 makes a circuit of town then runs via Dreghorn village to Dundonald.
- 1 Scottish Maritime Museum, Harbour Rd, Irvine KA12 8BT, ☏ . Daily 10:00-17:00. Well-presented museum with displays of ship-building and shipping along the Clyde coast. There's another branch in Dumbarton. Adult £10.50, conc £8.50, child £6.
- 2 Pilot House is the gaunt structure at the mouth of the river that looks like a fire station tower. Built in 1906, it housed Boyd's automatic tide signalling apparatus - absolutely unique, since no-one else in their right mind ever sought to construct another. The River Irvine was always prone to silting, compounded by the confluence of the River Garnock, and the sand bar at the mouth could trap shipping in or out for weeks on end. Dredging and channeling had some impact but approaching skippers needed to know the water level. A Heath-Robinson arrangement of pulleys, flags and balls signalled this from the tower. The entire harbour fell into disuse in the 1970s, losing its freight though small fishing and leisure craft still moor here. Schemes to redevelop the derelict tower have come to nothing, have they considered flumes?
- Grannie Stane in the river between the shopping centre and Trinity is often made out to be the last survivor of a megalithic stone circle, but it's just a glacial erratic boulder. The Clyde coast is littered with these, and elsewhere (notably in Kilcreggan and Millport) they've been turned into works of art. But this one is barely keeping its nose above water since a weir was built downstream.
- Trinity Church dominates the skyline just east of the shopping centre. It's a Gothic building of 1863, which was the Free Church for a century then closed in the 1960s and degenerated into a huge smelly pigeon-loft. Restoration began in 2009 and is still under way.
- Seagate Castle is a picturesque stump on the east river bank. It was built around the 14th century and abandoned in 1746.
- Glasgow Vennel off High Street is the charming cobbled road that in the 18th century was the main thoroughfare inland from the harbour.
- 3 Wellwood Burns Centre (Irvine Burns Club), 28 Eglinton St, Irvine KA12 8AS, ☏ . By advance booking only, Apr-Sept W, F Sa 14:00-17:00, Oct-Mar Sa 14:00-17:00. Robert Burns worked for a time in a flax mill on Glasgow Vennel, and made copious use of the town pubs. In 1826 Irvine Burns Club was formed to commemorate his life and works, and remains active. They hold several original manuscripts and other memorabilia, which you can see here. Free.
- Dreghorn two miles east has an unusual octagonal church built in 1780. This village (not to be confused with Dreghorn the army district of Edinburgh) was the birthplace of John Boyd Dunlop, inventor of the pneumatic tyre. It also claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited village in Europe, as when new housing was built in 2003, remains were found dating through medieval times to 3500 BC. These were removed to museums and the houses completed, so there's nothing of ancient Dreghorn to see nowadays.
- 4 Eglinton Country Park: see Kilwinning for this park and shell of a neo-Gothic castle.
- Dundonald Castle: see Troon.
- What's on? Read Irvine Times.
- Harbour Arts Centre put on live events.
- Portal Leisure Centre on High St has a gym, fitness classes and swimming pool.
- Bogside Flats are a wetland bird-watching area and SSSI on the promontory between the rivers Irvine and Garnock. Access via Irvine Golf Club.
- 1 Irvine Golf Club, Bogside KA12 8SN (north of river), ☏ . Links course where gorse and heather await stray shots. White tees 6415 yards, par 71. Day ticket £80.
- Irvine Ravenspark is a separate municipal golf course just east of Irvine GC.
- Dundonald Links south end of town is 6422 yards par 71 off white tees. They also have upscale accommodation.
- Kilmarnock has probably sent out a search party by now, but its golf course turns out to be on the coast just south of Dundonald, see Troon.
- Football: Irvine's two soccer teams Victoria and Meadow and the rugby union team Irvine RFC all play away down in the amateur leagues.
- Cinema is conspicuously lacking in Irvine, head to Kilmarnock, Ardrossan or Troon. And Ping Pong Theatre remains closed.
- You can stroll the riverbank by the former racecourse, which closed in 1963 when the course at Ayr expanded.
- The beach lies south of the river outlet. North of it (accessible by a footbridge) is Saltcoats beach, part of Ardrossan.
- Marymass is a traditional parade, horse festival and funfair. Mary Mass on 15 Aug or nearest Sunday marks the Assumption of the Virgin Mary; the next fair is probably on 19 Aug 2023, tbc.
- Rivergate just east of the railway station is the big retail mall, with an ASDA next door.
- Niche Restaurant, 106 Montgomery St KA12 8PW (next to railway station), ☏ . Su-Th 09:00-23:00, F-Sa 09:00-00:00. Great food, slick friendly staff.
- Si! bar & restaurant at 18 Kilwinning Rd is open M-Th 09:00-23:00, F-Su to 00:00.
- Porthead Tavern & Hamilton's Restaurant on High St is open daily 11:00-00:00.
- Town centre pubs include Harbour Lights and The Ship Inn on Harbour St, The Auld Brig in Rivergate shopping centre, and The Carrick on High St.
- The Auld Brig, Rivergate Shopping Centre (next to railway station), ☏ . Su-Th 08:00-00:00, F Sa 08:00-01:00. This JD Wetherspoon gets very mixed reviews for food and service.
- B&Bs: Harbour Guest House and Irvine Bay Studios are small B&Bs west side of the railway station.
- 1 Gailes Hotel, Marine Drive, Irvine KA11 5AE (A737 Stanes roundabout), ☏ . Smart hotel with golf club and spa south edg of town. B&B double £180.
- 2 Riverside Lodge Hotel, 46 Annick Rd, Irvine KA11 4LD (by A78 / A71 roundabout), ☏ . Good mid-price hotel near bypass, handy for mororists. Pet friendly. B&B double £90.
Irvine and its approach roads have 4G from all UK carriers. As of July 2022, there is 5G in town centre from Three.
- The beach north of the river stretches through Saltcoats to Ardrossan, which has ferries to Arran.
- Troon has a famous golf course, plus Dundonald Castle, which you can reach direct from Irvine by bus.
- Ayr has the principal sites associated with Robert Burns, clustered around his birthplace in Alloway.
- Students of Scottish "New Town" architecture might also admire East Kilbride, Cumbernauld, Livingston and Glenrothes.
|Routes through Irvine|
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