If there’s one thing we can’t escape in North Ayrshire, it’s the sea. Not that we’d want to, of course. Being able to look out over stunning coastal views before heading down for a walk on the beach is one of the best things about being here.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that the sea has played a huge part in our region’s history. From Victorian shipbuilders to hidden away submarine bases, Ayrshire’s maritime history is long and impressive. We could write a whole book on the subject (and many people already have), but we think that the best way to find out about Ayrshire’s nautical past is to pay a visit to the Scottish Maritime Museum.
The museum is based in two different sites, one at Irvine and the other in Dumbarton. Each site has a fascinating range of different artefacts on show, from huge historic ships and shipbuilding machinery to smaller personal items that give you a glimpse into the everyday lives of people working in the area and on the ships themselves.
Educating future generations is also incredibly important to the people who run the museum. They’ve put a huge amount of effort into making sure that visitors can explore some of the original buildings and handle the exhibits where possible. We’ve also heard that there’s a dressing up box but we think that’s probably just for the kids.
The main attraction in Irvine is the Linthouse Engine Shop, known as the ‘Cathedral of Engineering’. It’s an original 19th century building which is now Grade A listed. You’ll be able to see Spartan, the last puffer built in Scotland, along with a harbour tug and even a Victorian steam yacht!
The Irvine site also gives you the opportunity to discover what life was like for people living on land and at sea. The museum features a shipyard worker’s tenement flat from the 1920s along with the MV Kyles where you can tour the captain’s cabin, crew quarters and the engine room.
You can then test your own skills by building a model boat and trying it out on the museum’s indoor or outdoor boating ponds.
Of course, we wouldn’t send you anywhere that you couldn’t get something to eat or a cup of tea, so you can take a break at Puffer’s Café when you feel the need.
The Denny Tank at the Dumbarton site was the world’s first commercial ship model experiment tank. It is a 300 foot long tank that was built in 1882 and used by Victorian ship designers William Denny and Brothers, who build the famous Cutty Sark as well as inventing a helicopter and hovercraft. You can also visit William Denny’s restored drawing office and learn more about how to design your own ship before heading to the workshops to discover how those plans were turned into working vessels.
There are plenty of hands on exhibits here too. You can carve your own wax hull model and try out different hull designs in the mini experiment tank, which has its own wave machine.
We might not build ships in North Ayrshire any more, but we still sail them. If you’re a sailor yourself or would like to give it a try, we’d suggest heading to Largs Yacht Haven. They have everything from sailing lessons to private catamaran tours. If you’re an experienced sailor you can charter your own vessel here too.
North Ayrshire’s maritime history has played a big part in making us who we are today. We hope we’ve inspired you to discover more.