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Little Cumbray, Buteshire

Historical Description

CUMBRAY, LITTLE, an island, in the county of BUTE, ecclesiastically annexed to the parish of West Kilbride, in the county of Ayr, and containing 8 inhabitants. This island is situated in the Firth of Clyde, between the island of Bute and the promontory of Portincross, from each of which it is distant aboot two miles and a half. Little Cumbray anciently formed part of the domains of the Stuart family, ancestors of the kings of that line; and, on the erection of the principality of Scotland, by Robert III., in 1404, in favour of his son, was included within its limits. It was for many years retained as a royal preserve, and in 1515 was conferred upon Hew, Earl of Eglinton, whose descendants are its present proprietors. The island is composed entirely of trap-rock, resting on the sandstone formation of the opposite coast; it is about a mile long and half a mile in breadth, and has an elevation of 600 feet above the sea. The surface comprises about 700 acres; but with the exception of a few potato-gardens, it does not appear to have been cultivated. There are a few ash-trees growing near the south-east extremity, but it is otherwise perfectly destitute of wood, and the rocky pasture only affords food for a few sheep and young cattle; the island is, indeed, chiefly a rabbit-warren at present, and about 500 dozens of rabbits are taken annually on the average, and sent for the supply of the neighbouring markets. Nearly in the centre is a circular tower, thirty feet in height, once appropriated as a lighthouse, and still forming a very conspicuous object from all parts of the chanuel; it has long been neglected, and a lighthouse has been built upon the edge of a precipice overhanging the sea, on the west side of the island. This newer building, with the keeper's house and garden, romantically contrasting with the rugged crags among which it is situated, has a truly picturesque appearance: it is twenty-eight feet in height, and shews a clear fixed light to the distance of fifteen miles in fair weather. In the southern extremity of the island are several natural caverns, formed by fissures in the rock; the largest, on the east side, is called the King's Cave.

Near the old lighthouse are the remains of an ancient square fort, the walls of which, six feet in thickness, thirty-five feet in height, and nearly entire, inclose an area twenty-eight feet in length and fifteen feet wide, formed into two apartments, the lower of which has a vaulted stone roof. By whom, or at what time, it was erected is not known; but being in the possession of the Montgomerie family at the period of Cromwell's invasion of Scotland, it was surprised and burnt by his soldiers. To the north of the castle are the remains of an ancient chapel dedicated to St. Vey, who was buried here, in a tomb a little to the north of the chapel. These remains consist chiefly of portions of the walls of the chapel, which appears to have been a dependency of the monastery of Iona; the walls are about three feet in thickness, and rudely built, inclosing an area thirty feet in length and fifteen in width. Of the tomb, which seems to have been comprised within four walls of stone, two square stones only are left, one of which is broken into two pieces; they are ornamented with tracery, but no inscription of any kind is to be discovered. At Shanwilly point, on the north of the island, are several tumuli, some of which were opened a few years before his death by the late Earl of Eglinton, when sepulchral urns and various fragments of weapons were found.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis