Dalmellington is a moderately large parish in south-east Ayrshire around the small town of Dalmellington but including the hilly plateau and the valley of the Doon river, including Loch Doon. It also contained one of the largest ironworks in Ayrshire.
The ironworks and the coal mines which so worried Lord Cockburn have come and gone. The little town of Dalmellington retains a neglected air but the hills and the valley of the Doon have regained something of their former tranquillity.
An 1837 description of Dalmellington, including a listing of the key personalities of the town, is given in this extract from Pigot's Directory for Ayrshire. The transcript was provided by Keith Muirhead from Queensland.
At Waterside, some 3 miles downstream from Dalmellington, was the site of the largest ironworks in Ayrshire. Founded in 1847 by the Dalmellington Iron Company, extended in 1866 by their successors Bairds & Dalmellington Ltd, and subsequently modernised, it exploited the plentiful iron ore and coal resources of the Doon Valley. The works used an extensive network of rail lines to bring the raw materials and also rough pig iron from hill-top sites to the main ironworks. The railway lines can be still traced on the hills, as can the remains of the isolated hill-top villages of Benquat, Lethanhill, Burnfoothill, Corbie Crags, Craigmark etc. which were created by the owners to house the miners and their families.
The railway lines were often the only means of communication with the outside world. When the iron ore was worked out in the 1930s, the works shifted to brick production, a business which was gradually phased out by the National Coal Board after they took over the nationalised mines in 1947. The Waterside works finished their days as a storage and sorting depot for open-cast coal. The Waterside site has recently been acquired by the Dalmellington and District Conservation Trust with a view to developing it as an interpretative centre for Ayrshire's industrial heritage. The Ayrshire Railway Preservation Trust has developed the old Minnivey Colliery as the Scottish Industrial Railway Centre.
The Macadam family, of tarmacadam fame, lived at Craigengillian Estate which is found on the outskirts of Dalmellington.
To the south-east of the parish is the county boundary with the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright and the Parish of Carsphairn.