Cumbrays (The), pp.282-283.

[Gazetteer of Scotland Contents]

   CUMBRAYS1 (THE), two islets in the frith of Clyde, distinguished as the Greater and the Less, or the Big and the Little Cumbray. They belong to the county of Bute, and lie between the island of Bute and the coast of Ayrshire. The Greater or Big Cumbray is 4 miles east of the south-east part of Bute, and 2 miles west of Largs in Ayrshire. The Little Cumbray lies to the south of it, being separated from it by a channel of about three-quarters of a mile in breadth. The two Cumbrays are a link in the geological chain which connects Bute with the adjoining mainland. 

   The larger of the two Cumbrays corresponds in geological structure with the middle – old red sandstone – district of Bute, and is chiefly interesting, in a scientific point of view, from the enormous trap-dykes with which it is traversed. The New Statistical Account mentions that the more remarkable of these “are two on the east side of the island, running nearly parallel, and from five to six hundred yards distant from each other. The one to the north-east measures upwards of 40 feet in height, nearly 100 in length, and in mean thickness from ten to twelve feet. The one to the southward is upwards of 200 feet in length, from 12 to 15 in thickness, and from 70 to 80 feet in height; and when viewed in a certain direction, exhibits the distant resemblance of a lion couching, hence it is sometimes called The Lion.” These dykes are of a highly crystalline structure, and have withstood the effects of the atmosphere and of the sea; whilst the red sandstone on both sides of the dyke, being more easily decomposed, has been wasted away. The local name of these dykes is Rippel walls. They reappear in Ayrshire, and traverse that and the whole of the neighbouring county of Galloway. The zoology and botany of this small island are abundant and interesting. It is 3½ miles in length from north-east to south-west, and about 2 miles in breadth. Superficial area 5,100 square acres, of which about 150 are under wood, and about 3,000 are arable. Assessed property, in 1815, £1,569. Valued rent, £1,087 8s. 2d. Scots. It is intersected by a range of hills called the Sheughends, or Shoughends, which run from north to south, and attain near the centre of the island a height of nearly 450 feet. There are two lochlets near this highest point, from which a small stream issues. About two-thirds of the island are the property of the Earl of Glasgow; the other third belongs to the Marquess of Bute. The population, in 1750, was 200; in 1801, 506; in 1831, 912; in 1839, according to the New Statistical Account, 1,075, of whom 932 resided in the thriving village of MILLPORT: which see. The number of houses on the island, in 1831, was 134; and in 1839, 169. – This island, with that of the Little Cumbray, forms a distinct parish in the presbytery of Greenock, and synod of Glasgow and Ayr. Patron, the Earl of Glasgow. Stipend £159 4s. 8d.; glebe £8 10s. The old church, built in 1612, was rebuilt in 1802, at Kirktown, a place about half-a-mile distant from Millport. In 1837, a new and handsome parish-church was erected at Millport. – It would appear from the following curious extract from the minutes of the Privy-council of Scotland, that this island was at one time famous for its breed of hawks: “February 2d, 1609, – Sir William Stewart, capt. of Dumbartane castle, complains ‘That Robert Huntar of Huntarston, and Thomas Boyd, provest of Irwyn, had goile to the Isle of Comra, with convocation of the leidges, and tane away all the hawks thereon.’ The lords of secret council declare, ‘That all the banks quhilk bred on ye said ile do propirly belong to the king, and ocht to be furth cumand to his majeste, and that the capitane of Dumbartane castle intromet tharewith yeirlie, and deliver the same to his majeste, and discharges the said Robert Huntar, and all vtheris, from middling tharewith.’ ” – About the beginning of last century, according to the tradition of the island, there was a family of the name of Montgomery, who then possessed the greater part of the land now belonging to Lord Glasgow, and had a mansion-house at Billikellet. Among the last of this family was Dame Margaret Montgomery, joint-patroness of the kirk, who, being on horseback at the green of the Largs, is said to have been thrown-off amidst a crowd of people; but, being a woman of high spirit, she pursued the horse, and received a stroke of his foot, which proved instantly fatal. “The arms of this family” – it is stated in the Old Statistical Account – “are upon the end of the kirk, and were lately to be seen on a part of the ruins of Billikellet. About a quarter of a mile from Billikellet, there is a large stone set up on end: about 6 feet of it is above the ground. It appears to have been the rude monument of some ancient hero. There is also a place which the inhabitants point out as having been a Danish camp, though no vestiges of it now remain.” 

   The Lesser Cumbray is about a mile in length, and half-a-mile in breadth; and is separated from the mainland of Ayrshire by a sound of about 3 miles in breadth. It lies, like the larger island, in the parallel direction to Bute, from south-west to north-east. The strata of the rock of which it is composed are distinctly marked by nature. When viewed at a distance, they seem to lie nearly horizontal; but, upon a nearer approach, they appear to incline to an angle of some elevation. They begin from the water’s edge, receding backwards from, and rising one above another to the height of 650 feet, like the steps of stairs. Upon the south side are a few dwelling-houses, and an old square tower, which is situated directly opposite to another of the same kind upon the mainland. Concerning the antiquity of this castle, nothing can now be learned; and no date or inscription, from which it might be ascertained, has ever been discovered. It seems to have been a place of some strength, and is surrounded by a rampart and a fosse, over which there has been a drawbridge: it was surprised and burned by the troops of Oliver Cromwell. The island was then in the possession of the family of Eglinton, in which it has continued ever since. There are still the ruins of a very ancient chapel here, which is said to have been dedicated to St. Vey, who lies interred near it: and which was probably a dependency of the celebrated monastery of Icolmkill. – Upon the highest part of this island, a lighthouse was erected, about the year 1750, which proved of great benefit to the trade; but, from its too lofty situation, it was often so involved in clouds as not to be perceptible, or but seen very dimly. The commissioners therefore judged it necessary to erect another, in 1757, upon a lower station, with a reflecting lamp, which is not liable to the inconvenience attending the former, and affords a more certain direction to vessels navigating the frith in the night time. This lighthouse is in N. lat. 55° 43′, and W. long. 4° 55′. The height of the building is 28 feet, and of the lantern 106 feet above high water. It shows a fixed light, to the distance of 15 miles in clear weather. – The population of this island, in 1831, was 17.

1  The name Cumbray, Cambray, Cimbray, or Cimbraes, is said to be derived from the Gaelic, and to imply ‘a Place of shelter,’ or ‘refuge.

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