Islands of the Clyde

The Islands of the Firth of Clyde are the fifth largest of the Scottish island groups after the Inner and Outer Hebrides , Orkney and Shetland . They are situated in the Firth of Clydebetween Ayrshire and Argyll and Bute . There are about forty islands and skerries , of qui only four are inhabited and only nine larger than 40 hectares (99 acres). [Note 1] The largest and most populous are Arran and Bute , and Great Cumbrae and Holy Isleare also served by dedicated ferry routes. [4] [5] The Scottish archipelagos is another example of this.

The geology and geomorphology of the area is complex and the surrounding sea lochs each have distinctive features. The influence of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Atlantic Driftcreates a mild, damp oceanic climate.

The larger islands have been continuously inhabited since Neolithic times, were influenced by the emergence of the kingdom of Dál Riata from 500 AD and then absorbed into the emerging Kingdom of Alba under Kenneth MacAlpin . They experienced Norse incursions during the early Middle Ages and then became part of the Kingdom of Scotland in the 13th century. There is a diversity of wildlife, including three species of rare endemic tree.

Geology and geography

The Highland Boundary Fault runs past Bute and through the northern part of Arran, so from a geological perspective some of the islands are in the Highlands and some in the Central Lowlands . [6] As a result, Arran is sometimes referred to as “Scotland in miniature” and the island is a popular destination for geologists , who comes to see intrusive igneous landforms such as sills and dykes as well as sedimentary and metasedimentary rocks age. [7] Visiting in 1787, the geologist James Hutton found his first example of an unconformityThis is one of the most famous places in the study of geology. [8] [9] A group of weakly metamorphosed rocks that form the Highland Border Complex bound discontinuously along the Highland Boundary Fault. One of the most prominent exhibitions is Loch Fad on Bute. [10] Ailsa Craig , which lies some 25 kilometers south of Arran, has been quarried for a rare type of micro-granite containing riebeckiteknown as “Ailsite” which is used to make curling stones. As of 2004, 60 to 70% of all curling stones in use were made from granite from the island. [11]

In common with the rest of Scotland the Firth of Clyde Was covered by ice sheets During the Pleistocene ice ages and the landscape is much affected by glaciation . [12] Arran’s highest peaks may have been nunataks at this time. [13] After the last retreat of the ice sea level exchange and the isostatic rise of land Makes charting icy post coastlines has complex task purpose behind the resulting clifflines raised beaches are a prominent feature of the Entire coastline. [14] [15]

The soils of the islands reflect the various geology. Bute has the most productive land, and a pattern of deposits that is typical of the southwest of Scotland. There is a mixture of boulder clay and other glacial deposits in the eroded valleys, and raised sea levels elsewhere, especially to the south and west which results in a machair landscape in places, inland from the sandy bays, such as Stravanan. [16] [17]

The Firth of Clyde, in which these islands are connected, are some of the most important aspects of their own right. These include Loch Goil , Loch Long , Gare Loch , Loch Fyne and the estuary of the River Clyde . In places the effect of glaciation on the seabed is pronounced. For example, the Firth is 320 meters (1,050 ft) deep between Arran and Bute, although they are only 8 km (5.0 mi) apart. [18] The islands are all exposed to wind and tide and various lighthouses , Such As Those are Ailsa Craig, Pladda and Davaar act as an aid to navigation.[19]


The Firth of Clyde lies between 55 and 56 degrees north, at the same latitude as Labrador in Canada and north of the Aleutian Islands , but the influence of the North Atlantic Drift -the northern extension of the Gulf Stream -ameliorates the winter weather and the area enjoys a mild, damp oceanic climate. Generally temperatures are cool, averaging about 6 ° C (43 ° F ) in January and 14 ° C (57 ° F) in July at sea level. [20]Snow seldom lies at sea level and is usually less than the mainland. In general, the size of the ocean is 1,300 mm (51 in) per annum on Bute, the Cumbrae and in the south of Arran and 1,900 mm (75 in) per annum in the north of Arran. The arran mountains are wetter still with the summits receiving over 2,550 mm (100 in) annually. May, June and July are the sunniest months, with upwards of 200 hours of bright sunshine being recorded on average, Southern Bute benefiting from a particularly high level of sunny days. [20]



Mesolithic humans arrived in the Firth of the Clyde during the fourth millennium BC, probably from Ireland . This was followed by a wave of Neolithic peoples using the same route as the Firth of Clyde was a significant route through which Scotland was colonized at this time. [21] A particular style of megalithic structure developed in Argyll, the Clyde estuary and elsewhere in western Scotland that is known to the Clyde cairn. They are rectangular or trapezoidal in shape with a small enclosing chamber with large slabs of stone and some subdivided into smaller compartments. A forecourt area may have been used for displays or rituals associated with the interment of the dead, who were placed inside the chambers. [22] They are concentrated in Arran, Bute and Kintyre and it is likely that the Clydes were the earliest forms of Neolithic monument made by radiocarbon dating . An example at Monamore on Arran has been dated to 3160 BC, although it was almost certainly more than that, possibly c. 4000BC. [22] [23] [24] [25]There are aussi Numerous standing stones dating from prehistoric times, Including six stone circles are Machrie Moor, Arran and Great Cumbrae are other examples and Bute. [26] [27]

Bronze Age settlers also constructed megaliths at various sites, many of them dating from the second millennium BC, though the chambered cairns were replaced by burial cists , found on for example, Inchmarnock. Settlement evidence, especially from the early part of this era is however poor. [27] [28] The Queen of the Inch necklace is an item of jewelery made of jet found there Bute That dates from circa 2000 BC. During the early Iron Age Brythonic culture held sway, there being no evidence that the Roman occupation of southern Scotland extended to these islands. [23] [29]

Early Scots rule

During the 2nd century, ADI was established in the 6th century AD . Unlike the P-Celtic speaking Brythons, these Gaels spoke a form of Gaelic that still survives in the Hebrides . Through the efforts of Saint Ninian and others Christianity slowly supplanted Druidism . Dál Riata flourished from the time of Fergus Mór in the late fifth century until the Viking incursions that began in the late eighth century. [30] Islands close to the shores of Ayrshire would have remained part of theKingdom of Strathclyde during this period, while the main islands became part of the emerging Kingdom of Alba, founded by Kenneth MacAlpin (Cináed mac Ailpín).

Viking influence

The Islands of the Clyde historically formed the border zone between Norse Suðreyjar and Scotland. As such many of these islands fell under Norse hegemony between the 9th and 13th centuries.

The islands of the Clyde can be formed from the last half of the 12th century by Somhairle mac Giolla Brighde and his descendants . At about this time period, the authority of the United States of America seems to be encroached into the region; and there is reason to suspect that, by the turn of the 13th century, the islands were consumed by the expanding Stewart lordship. [31] The western extension of Scottish authority appears to be one of the factors behind a Norwegian invasion of the region in 1230, in which the Rothesay Castle invaders seized . [32]

In 1263 Norwegian troops commanded by Haakon Haakonarson repeated the feat of the ensuing Battle of the Scots and Norwegian forces, which took place on the shores of the Firth of Clyde, was inconclusive as a military contest. [33] [34] This marked ably terminal weakening of Norwegian power in Scotland. Haakon retreated to Orkney , where he died in December 1263, entertained on his death by recitations of the sagas. Following this ill-fated expedition, all rights that the Norwegian Crown “had of old therein” in relation to the islands were yielded to the Kingdom of Scotland as a result of the 1266 Treaty of Perth . [35] [36] [37]

Modern Scotland

From the mid thirteenth century to the present day all of the islands of the Clyde have remained part of Scotland.

From the beginning of the early medieval period until 1387 all of these are part of the Diocese of Sodor and Man , based at Peel , on the Isle of Man . Thereafter, the seat of the Bishopric of the Isles was relocated to the north, firstly to Snizort on Skye and then Iona , [38] a state of affairs which continued until the 16th century Scottish Reformation .

The following century 1750 was time of significant change. New forms of transport, industry and agriculture brought sweeping changes, and an end to traditional ways of life. The aftermath of the Battle of Culloden marked the beginning of the end of the clan system, and was reported in these standards. [39] In the early 19th century Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton (1767-1852) embarked on a program of clearances that had a devastating effect on Arran’s population. Whole villages were removed and the Gaelic culture of the island dealt with a terminal blow. A memorial to this early form ofethnic cleansing has been constructed on the shore at Lamlash , Canada, descendant of the emigrants. [40] [41] [42] [43]

From the 1850s to the late 20th century the Clyde Puffer , made famous by the Vital Spark , was the workhorse of the islands, carrying all kinds of produce and products to and from the islands. The Caledonian Steam Packet Company (PSC) Was FORMED in May 1889 to operate steamer services to and from Gourock for the Caledonian Railway and soon expanded by Taking Over rival steamer operators. [44] David MacBrayne Ltd. operated the Glasgow to Ardrishaig steamer service, as part of the “Royal Route” to Oban. [45]During the 20th century many of the islands were developed as tourist resorts for Glaswegians who went “Doon the Watter”, in parallel to mainland resorts such as Largs and Troon . [46] [47] In 1973 CSP and commenced MacBraynes joined Clyde and West Highland operations under the new name of Caledonian MacBrayne . [48] A publicly owned company, they serve Great Cumbrae, Arran and Bute as well as mainland-to-mainland ferries across the firth. [4] [49] Private companies operate services from Arran to Holy Isle [5] and from McInroy’s Point (Gourock) to Hunter’s Quay on the Cowal Peninsula. [50]

The majority of the islands at one time made up the traditional County of Bute . Today the islands are split more or less Equally entre les modern unitary authorities of Argyll and Bute and North Ayrshire with only Ailsa Craig and Lady Isle in South Ayrshire falling outwith thesis two council areas .


The following table gives a list of the islands of the Firth of Clyde with an area greater than 40 hectares (approximately 100 acres) more adjacent smaller uninhabited islets, tidal islets only separated at higher stages of the tide, and skerries which are only exposed at lower stages of the tide.

Six islands were inhabited in 2001, including Davaar and Sanda with 2 and 1 residents respectively. [51] By the time of the 2011 census . [52]

Island Gaelic Name [53] leasing Area ( ha) [54] Population[52] Last Inhabited Highest point [55] Height (m)[Note 2] Surrounding islets [56]
Ailsa Craig Creag Ealasaid South Ayrshire 99 0 1980s [57] The Cairn 338 None
Arran Arainn Arran 43201 4629 Goat Fell 874 Eilean na h-Aire de Bàine, Hamilton Isle, Pladda
Bute boid Bute 12217 6498 Windy Hill 278 The Burnt Islands : Eilean Mòr, Eilean Fraoich and Eilean Buidhe, Eilean Dearg , Eilean Dubh ,Sgat Beag and Sgat Mòr
Davaar Eilean Dà Bhàrr Kintyre 52 [51] 0 115 None
Great Cumbrae Cumaradh Mòr Bute 1168 1376 The Glaidstane 127 The Clach, The Eileans , The Leug, The Spoig
Holy Isle Eilean Mo Laise Arran 253 31 Mullach Mòr 314 None
Inchmarnock Innis Mheàrnaig Bute 253 0 1980s [58] 60 None
Little Cumbrae Cumaradh Beag Bute 313 0 1990s [59] Lighthouse Hill 123 The Broad Islands, Island Castle , Trail Island
Sanda Abhainn Kintyre 127 0 123 Glunimore Island , Scart Rocks, Henrietta Reef, Paterson’s Rock, Sheep Island

Outlying islands

Loch station is a small loch which hosts the Faslane Naval Base , the home of the UK Trident nuclear submarines . At its southern end, the loch opens in the Firth of Clyde , via the Rhunarrows. [62] It contains two islets: Green Island and Perch Rock.

The Kilbrannan Sound , which lies between Arran and the Kintyre peninsula, contains several islets: An Struthlag, Courtyard Island, Eilean Carrach ( Carradale ), Eilean Carrach ( Skipness), Eilean Grianain, Eilean Sunadale, Gull Isle, Ross Island and Thorn Isle. In the late 11th century Magnus Barefoot , King of Norway , made an arrangement with King Malcolm III of Scotlandthat he could take possession of the land. He Had His longship dragged across the 1.5 km (0.93 mi) long isthmus in the north of Kintyre entre East Loch Tarbert andWest Loch Tarbert as part of a campaign to increase his possessions. Magnus proclaimed that Kintyre had “better land than the best of the Hebrides “, and that it was able to travel to the island of the sea. than a dozen years ago a result. [63] [64] [65] [66] [Note 3]

Loch Fyne, which extends 65 kilometers (40 mi) from the Sound of Bute is the longest of Scotland’s sea lochs and contains several islets and skerries. [68] These are Duncuan Island, Eilean Ardgaddan, Eilean a ‘Bhuic, Eilean Aoghainn, Eilean a’ Chomhraig, Eilean an Dunain, Eilean Buidhe (Ardmarnock), Eilean Buidhe ( Portavadie ), Eilean Fraoch, Eilean Math-ghamhna, Eilean Mór , Glas Eilean, Heather Island, Inverneil Island, Kilbride Island and Liath Eilean.

The North Ayrshire islets of Broad Rock, East Islet, Halftide Rock, High Rock and North Islet are all around Horse Isle . Lady Isle, which lies on the South Ayrshire coast near Troon once housed “ane old chapell with an excellent spring of water”. [69] However, in June 1821 someone set fire to the “turf and pasture”, and permanently destroyed the island’s grazing, with gales blowing much of the island’s soil into the sea. [70]

Neither Loch Goil nor Long Loch, which are fjord- like arms of the firth to the north, contain islands. [56]


The following are places along the shores of the Firth of Clyde that are not islands and have misleading names, eilean being Gaelic for “island”: Eilean na Beithe, Portavadie; Eilean Beag, Cove ; Eilean Dubh, Dalchenna, Loch Fyne; Eilean nan Gabhar, Melldalloch, Kyles of Bute ; Barmore Island, just north of Tarbert , Kintyre; [71] Eilean Aoidh, south of Portavadie; Eilean Leathan, Kilbrannan Sound just south of Torrisdale Bay ; Island Muller, Kilbrannan Sound north of Campbeltown . [72]

Natural history

There are populations of red deer , red squirrel , badger , otter , adder and common lizard . Offshore there are harbor porpoises , basking sharks and various species of dolphin . [73]Davaar is home to a population of wild goats . [74]

Over 200 species of bird have been recorded in the area including black guillemot , eider , peregrine falcon and the golden eagle . [73] In 1981 there were 28 ptarmigan on Arran, but in 2009 it was reported that it was impossible to record any record. [75] Similarly, the red-billed chough no longer breeds on the island. [76]

Arran also has three rare endemic species of trees, the Arran Whitebeams . [77] These are the Scottish or Arran whitebeam , the cut-leaved whitebeam and the Catacol whitebeam , which are among the most endangered species in the world. They are found in a protected national nature reserve , and are monitored by staff of Scottish Natural Heritage . Only 283 Arran whitebeam and 236 cut-leaved whitebeam were recorded as mature trees in 1980. [78] The Catacol whitebeam was discovered in 2007 and has been taken to protect the two known specimens. [79] [80]


The Roman historian Tacitus refers to the Clota meaning the Clyde. The derivation is not certain but probably from the Brythonic Clouta which became Clut in Old Welsh . The name is literally meaning “wash” but probably refers to the idea of ​​a river goddess being “the washer” or “strongly flowing one”. [81] Bute’s derivation is also uncertain. Bót is the Norse name and this is the Old Irish word for “fire”, possibly a reference to signal fires. [82] The etymology of Arran is no longer clear-Haswell-Smith (2004) offers a Brythonic derivation and a meaning of “high place”although Watson (1926) suggests it may be pre-Celtic. [84] [Note 4]

Island Derivation Save Meaning Modern Gaelic name[53] Alternative Derivations
Arran Possibly Aran Brythonic high place [83] Arainn Possibly pre-Celtic
Bute Bót (see above) Norse or Gaelic Possibly “fire isle” Eilean Bhòid orBód Possibly from Brythonic budh for “corn” and previously known as Rothesay meaning “Roderick’s island” [86]
Davaar Eilean Dà Bhàrr Gaelic Barr’s island Eilean Dà Bhàrr
Great Cumbrae Cymri English / Brythonic place of the Brythonic people Cumaradh Mòr Gaelic literally means “place of the Cymric people”. [53] Previously known as Great or Greater Cumray. [59]
Holy Isle English Refers toMolaise of Leighlin Eilean Mo Laise Previously known as ” Lamlash “, the English name was adopted in 1830 when the Arran village took this name. In Gaelic, the island is also known as “An t-Eilean Àrd” (the high island).
Sanda Sandtangegold Havin Old Norse or Danish sandspit or anchorage [87] Abhainn Also known as “Sanda Island” [87]

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