Great Cumbrae Island Things to Do
Any regular readers of my pages will know that I like a drink now and again and one of my greatest travelling delights is seeking out local pubs and bars. Nothing against Frasers close to the harbour, which was delightful, but my recommendation for Millport is going to have to be the Newton which is a wonderful, quite typical Scottish pub. Small and whitewashed, I am sure they are used to visitors and geared up for them, but the welcome did seem genuinely friendly and time passed quickly. So quickly in fact that I very nearly missed my connection on the ferry back to the mainland, so be careful!Related to:
- Beer Tasting
- Wine Tasting
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Being situated in the Firth of Clyde, Great Cumbrae has a history closely associated to the sea and where you have sea you have smugglers and pirates. In this case it is not the Long John Silvers we are interested in but the smugglers and the "Revenue Men" as Customs Officers were then known who did their level best to stop them. If you check your map, you will find that Millport is well situated to control the Firth.
The beautiful building you see was initially created in 1745 to house the Master and officers of the locally based Revenuse ship, "Royal George" although the building looked much different then. Various alterations were mate right up until the early 20th century when it was completely remodelled buy a well known architect of the Arts and Crafts school named Robert Weir Schultz. There is actually some debate as to the exact date of the commission but it was for "Alterations to chapel in stable block; internal alterations to house, extension of upper floor, and refitting of library, terraces and sunken garden; proposed new chapel".
The "new" sunken garden you can see in the third photo afford delightful views back towards the mainland and is a pleasant place to sit.
2001 saw a catastrophic fire in the building and it lay derelict for many years until 2010 when, completely refurbished, it re-opened and it is very much the centre of the island community now. It houses a library, local government offices cafe (excellent coffee) and a small museum of the islands history. It really is a lovely place.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
- Budget Travel
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You may think this is a strange title for this tip but I shall explain shortly. Whilst on the mainland of North Ayrshire and discussing a visit to the island of Great Cumbrae, I was enquiring as to what was good to do and the unanimous verdict was that, if I did nothing else, I should visit the Cathedral of the Isles and I resolved to do just that.
The first problem you have here is actually finding the place. Even in a small place like Millport, it seems to be able to hide itself quite well. I shall take the excellent directions from the equally excellent local website as they are far more comprehensive than anything I could come up with.
"To make your way there, find College Street, which runs at right angles to the seashore, between the Newton Bar and the Garrison grounds. Follow College Street up the gentle hill, past George Street (Church of Our Lady), and a little further on, you will find the entrance to the Cathedral grounds through an elaborate gateway on your right. If you need to bring a vehicle close to the Cathedral, ask directions from one of the shopkeepers. " I love the open invitation to ask shopleepers, it only serves to show what a friendly place this is.
Having found the place, I was a little surprised to see the layout. Most Cathedrals I have seen are "standalone" buildings but this had an L shape with the other leg clearly not part of the Cathedral proper. If you were to remove this second leg, the actual Cathedral would be very small for such a building and it is here that the title becomes apparent for it is claimed to be the smallest Cathedral in the UK if not all Europe.
So, gothic, small, quite isolated, just how did this place come to be. In the 1840s a chap called George Boyle, later to become the 6th Lord Glasgow and an Oxford scholar, determined to promote the Episcopalian Church on the island. This was not such a problem as his family owned the whole place amongst other things. In 1849 he engaged the services of one William Butterfield, a leading light in the Gothic movement of architecture (as you can see) who specialised in ecclesiastical design. By the time of his death in 1900, he had ammassed a vast volume of work including St. Pauls Cathedral, Melbourne Australia, various chapels in Oxford colleges and St. Marks Dundela Belfast which I used to pass regularly as a child.
Initially, the brief was to create a theological college but due to some sort of "mission creep" we have the delightful structure you see today with a college attached to the Cathedral almost like a cloister. The building was finished in 1851 and opened for study. It was not consecrated for worship until 1876 when it took it's present delightful name. Actually, it is odd because the island is in the Diocese of Argyll and there already is a Cathedral in Oban, so the Bishop of Argyll is technically the Provost of this building. A new Provost was installed in early 2011.
Over the years, the non Cathedral portion of the building has been used for a number of purposes including a Centre for an American faith group in the 1970's and 1980's but it is now back in the Scottish Episcopalian Church and is used for retreats and accomodation.
To my great regret, the Cathedral was closed the afternoon I visited so I cannot describe it in any detail to you. The two ancient stones you see depicted were displayed in the foyer. Well, perhaps next time and perhaps you will be luckier if you visit.Related to:
- Religious Travel
- Historical Travel
- Budget Travel
Great Cumbrae Island Transportation
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Unless you are lucky enough to own your own boat or are a phenomenal swimmer the only viable option of getting to Great Cumbrae is the ferry which plys regulary from Largs on the mainland. This is no hardship, as the boat is clean and tidy and the journey short. It is operated by Caledonian MacBrayne who seem to have a monopoly on all ferries in Scotland, and they run a tight ship, if you'll pardon the pun.
Once you arrive on Cumbrae, you have a few choices. You can walk and I believe there is a popular route going right round the island although I did not have the time or the kit to do that. There is a regular bus service into Millport (the main town) with the stop literally feet from the slipway, or you can 'phone for a taxi on +00 44 (0)1475 530344.
There is no need to pre-book tickets on this route. As you can see from one of the photos, even in the height of summer I had the boat fairly well to myself. Be aware that there are different winter and summer schedules so don't get caught out or you will have the night on the island!