Ardrossan stands on a rocky promontory projecting two thirds of a mile into the Firth of Clyde from the coast of North Ayrshire, defined by North Bay to the north and South Bay to the south east. Ardrossan shares South Bay with its very close neighbour Saltcoats. Modern Ardrossan and Saltcoats are effectively joined, and it it doubtful that the average visitor would be able to tell where one ends and the other begins.
During the first decade of the new millennium Ardrossan has done a huge amount to transform itself for the better: probably as much as, or more than, any other equivalent Scottish town. A visit in 2001 found a town which had very obviously seen better days. Driving through Ardrossan to the terminal for the Arran ferry left an overwhelming impression of abandoned sites and derelict buildings.
At the heart of change has been the development around the Clyde Marina. This existed in 2001, but has since gathered momentum and gained a "critical mass", that means it no longer seems an isolated development on the edge of the real Ardrossan. Surviving older buildings tend to have found new uses, such as the dock building now used as an Italian restaurant.
Meanwhile, the town centre has spruced itself up and now looks fresh and attractive. Even the addition of a new supermarket on an old coastal site has helped open up the town and move it forward. Yes, it is true that there are still occasional derelict buildings such as the old police station beside the road from the town centre to the ferry terminal. The difference is that in 2009 it was necessary to go and look for them: back in 2001 they were the dominant theme that in many ways defined Ardrossan for the passing traveller.
As well as the marina and the attractive new housing that surrounds Ardrossan's large old harbour, travellers using the ferry to the Isle of Arran benefit from a large and bright terminal built by operators Calmac in 2001. Meanwhile the southern end of the town, always the focus of the leisure side of Ardrossan's character and, in 2001, very definitely the upmarket end of town, continues to convey a quiet air of gentility as an attractive backdrop for the many trippers who find the beach at South Bay so irresistible.
The origins of Ardrossan date back to the building in about 1140 of a castle on Castle Hill, which rises above the centre of the promontory on which the town is built. Ardrossan Castle was enlarged and remodelled on a number of occasions, especially in the years after 1449. It fell into disuse in the second half of the 1500s, however, and in 1654 was largely dismantled by troops from Cromwell's army of occupation so the stone could be reused in the building of their citadel at Ayr.
Compared with neighbouring Saltcoats, Ardrossan was a late developer. A school was built at the end of the 1600s, but the town only really took off after baths and other resort facilities were built at the start of the 1800s. By 1820 this was accompanied by a large and growing port. This had been originally intended to serve Glasgow by means of a canal, but this was abandoned after half of it had been built when it became clear that dredging of the River Clyde would allow Glasgow to be much better served by new ports on the river itself.
Harbour development was supported by early rail links, and by the early 1900s the engine sheds at Ardrossan were the base for over 50 locomotives. In the first half of the 1800s the town became a busy port of call for the many steamers which plied the waters of the Firth of Clyde.
Ardrossan also became home to a number of shipyards. From as early as 1848, Barr & Shearer were building vessels here, and this was an industry which continued to operate until relatively recent times. The last operating shipbuilder in Ardrossan was McCrindle Shipbuilding Limited. They started in Ardrossan in 1976, apparently taking over the premises and the "yard number" sequence of the Ardrossan Dockyard, which had operated from 1906 to 1964. We've seen it suggested that shipbuilding in Ardrossan ceased in the 1970s or 1980s. In fact McCrindles finished their last vessel, the Peterhead based trawler Spes Melior V, in 1990.
Among the other ships they completed was the ferry Maid of Glencoul, which from 1976 linked Kylesku and Kylestome until the opening of the Kylesku Bridge in 1984. She then went on to serve as the backup vessel for the Corran Ferry. In 1986 they also completed the Cromarty Rose, which still serves as a seasonal ferry between Cromarty and Nigg. Two other vessels built by McCrindles can also still be used by the ordinary traveller: in 1984 they built the Renfrew Rose and the Yoker Swan to serve on the ferry route across the Clyde between Renfrew and Yoker.