This is a populous maritime county, on the western coast of the Lowlands; stretching upwards of 70 miles along the shore of the Firth of Clyde, from Kelly-burn on the north of Galloway-burn, which enters Loch Ryan, on the south; its middle part, which is the broadest, extends about 20 miles across. It is bounded on the north and north-east by the county of Renfrew, on the east by the counties of Lanark and Dumfries, on the south-east by the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and on the south by Wigtonshire. In figure the county resembles an elongated crescent, with its concavity presented to the sea. At the two ends the land is diminished almost to a point, being but a few miles in breadth. The superficial extent of the County comprises about 1,050 square miles of land, and six of lakes.
It is divided into three principal or grand districts - CARRICK, CUNNINGHAM, and KYLE. The first lies on the southern side of the river Doon; the second comprehends the whole of the county north of the river Irvine, and Kyle division is situate between the rivers Doon and Irvine. The most fertile part of the shire is the great vale of Cunningham, which is comparatively level; Kyle posses much valuable land towards the coast, but its interior lies high, and is a rough mountainous territory; Carrick is a hilly wild region throughout, and is only of value or interest in its northern angle, betwixt the rivers Doon and Girvan.
In a general sense, the whole district of Ayrshire is shut out, on its eastern boundary, from the adjacent counties, by high ridge land; and, with little variation, the surface inclines either to the sea, or to the rivers which flow in that direction. The sea coast is mostly sandy, and indented with several excellent harbours. Abundance of sea weed is thrown on the shore, from which great of kelp are annually made; worthy the inspection of the curious. To the south of Irvine stands the ancient castle of Dundonald, once a royal residence, and afterwards the family seat of the Cochranes, Earls of Dundonald.
The county was anciently inhabited by the British tribe called the Damnii, a branch of the Celtic nation, who survived the period of the Roman yoke, and were, in the course of time, overrun by and amalgamated with the Scoto-Irish from Kintyre. Ayrshire was the scene of perpetual turmoil during the wars of Bruce and Edward. The son of the first Bruce marrying the Countess of Carrick, became Earl of Carrick in her right; and it was their son who, on the expulsion of Baliol, formed pretensions to the throne, which he obtained by his courage, fortitude and prudence: thus Ayrshire possesses the honour of giving birth to the illustrious restorer of the Scottish monarchy. Some of the valorous exploits of Wallace, in supporting the national independence, were performed in this county.
Produce, Manufactures, Minerals, &.
It was not until about the middle of the 18th century that the inhabitants of Ayrshire began to discover and avail themselves of its capabilities as an agricultural district. The settlement, at this period, of Margaret Countess of Loudon in Lorn castle, may be deemed the epoch of efficient improvement. By her great assiduity, precept and example, agriculture was promoted and encouraged; and in a short time the nobility and gentry of Ayrshire began in earnest to improve their estates upon systematic principles, under the skilful direction of intelligent stewards, to improve their estates upon systematic principles, under the skilful direction of intelligent stewards. Farmers were invited by them from the more southern shires, to instruct the tenantry in the management of land according to the most approved methods of the experienced agriculturist.
Observing the peculiarities of the climate, and ascertaining the nature of the soil, the judicious culture of the various species of grasses became a primary object, and the general adoption of dairy farms was the natural consequence; this system has been preserved in, and the dairies in this district are superior, perhaps, to any others in Scotland. The value of their product in milk and butter is very considerable, and 'Dunlop' cheese is unrivalled throughout the country, finding a ready market wheresoever offered. The breed of cattle has likewise been much improved.
As agriculture thus successfully progressed, excellent roads were formed, and these have recently been followed up by railways for the transmission of coals and heavy goods. From the fostered spirit of industry, and the enhanced value of land, resulted a corresponding exertion for the establishment of manufactures: the abundance of fuel - the plenty and cheapness of the necessaries of life, materials for building, and means of transit to the large towns in the adjacent shires - presented facilities for this purpose which were obvious and encouraging. the manufacture of stockings, carpets, cloths and bonnets extended generally, but Kilmarnock became most noted; at the capital of the county have been established dye-works, large iron-foundries, and steam-engine manufactories; at Catrine, well-known and extensive cotton-works; Cumnock is celebrated for its ingenious and beautiful snuff-boxes, as is Muirkirk for its ponderous ironworks.
Ayrshire posses inexhaustible coal-fields, freestone quarries, and ironstone mines, with several rich ores, particularly those of lead and copper; marble, gypsum and marl have been found, and many petrefactions exist in various parts of the county. In the hills of Carrick are agates, porphyries, and other valuable fossils; and traces of antimony have not escaped the researching eye of the mineralogist.
Rivers, Lakes, Springs, &.
In the ridge of hills which intersect the district of Carrick, almost all the rivers in the south of Scotland originate. The Tweed, the Esk, the Nith, the Annan, the Ayr, and the Lugar, traverse the county, and pour their fruitful streams into the Irish channel. Besides these, the Irvine, and some smaller rivers, water the northern parts of Ayrshire. All these abound with salmon, trout, and other fresh-water fish. In the midst of so many minerals, a number of springs impregnated by their qualities are to be expected; and indeed almost every parish has its mineral water, though none have attained the dignity of spas. There are various inland lakes, particularly in Carrick--the most extensive being Loch Doon, from whence the Doon river flows.
The whole of Ayrshire was formerly comprehended in the bishopric of Glasgow; and it formed three deaneries, corresponding with the three divisions before mentioned. The county comprises 46 parishes, and two royal burghs - Ayr and Irvine. One member is returned to parliament for the shire; the contributory burghs (or those which, in conjunction with others, are represented in the senate), belonging to this county, are Ayr, Irvine, and Kilmarnock.
The principal eminences are, Knock-Dolton, 930; Knock-Nounan, 1,540; Carleton, 1,554; Knock-Dow, 1,554; Cairntable, 1,650; and Knock-Dollian, 2,000 feet above the level of the sea.
This transcript was kindly provided by Keith Muirhead from Queensland.