Situated at the southern end of Maidenhead Bay just north of Turnberry and just south of Culzean Castle, Maidens village boasts a rich fishing and ship building history. The focal point of this and the village is Maidens Harbour. The village name came from the rock formation that shelters the harbour, a harbour that has been in place since the mid 19th century. The village retains an old world air of peace and tranquillity and is a favourite spot for artists and camera enthusiasts.
Before the harbour was built, Maidens had grown from a small fishing community. Small boats were launched from the beach to fish for haddock, whiting and plaice in the winter, and in the summer cod, skate and turbot. The 3rd Marquess of Ailsa, Archibald Kennedy, whose family built Culzean and many other stately properties in the area, learned to sail with the fishermen of Maidens and he grew up to be arguably the most accomplished yachtsman of his era. He became commodore of the Royal Southampton Yacht Club by Royal Appointment.
It was only when the 3rd Marquess of Ailsa built a harbour wall out to the Maidenhead rocks, originally to provide safe shelter for the fishermen that the village began to change. In addition to this, ring nets had been introduced which meant herring became the main catch for the Maidens fishermen and the main source of income for the village. During the first part of the 20th century, the Maidens fishing fleet along with the other fleets of Ballantrae and Dunure became generally acknowledged as the most skilful proponents of ring net fishing in Scotland. Their harbours became central to this and also to the centre of community activity.
The Marquess’s wife, Evelyn Stuart, also assisted in developing the village. Evelyn helped to establish the local church as well as a number of fishermen’s cottages.
The Marquess went on to establish the Culzean Steam Launch and Yacht Works, though the company eventually moved to Troon to become the Ailsa Shipbuilding & Engineering Company.
Of the 60 yachts built at Maidens, probably two of the most notable were Sir Thomas Lipton’s Shamrock challengers for the America Cup. Another of the Maidens built cutters, The Vagrant, returned to the harbour in June 1994 having been sailed from Dublin by its owner. The slender 23-footer was the oldest racer in the world using her original rig.
In 1953, the fishermen of Maidens and the then Ayrshire County Council jointly funded substantial improvements which allowed the harbour to provide accommodation for larger craft and a more sheltered anchorage. The fishermen raised the money by levying 1 penny per basket of fish landed from every Maidens boat from the end of the War. The harbour at that time had been handed over to the Local Authority by Culzean Estate.
The harbour continued as a hive of activity until the early 1970's, when a combination of changes in the fishing industry and a poor maintenance regime led to a decline in its commercial use.
In 1988, Strathclyde Regional Council sold the harbour to Maidens Harbour Trust for a cost of £100. The trust consisted of 4 fishermen who along with the rest of the community were worried that the harbour could have been sold to a private concern and turned into a large marina. This could mean fishing boats and the associated commercial activity could be excluded, as had happened in some other locations. They wished to try to control and push forward any developments.
The harbour’s local significance lies not only in its position as the heart of the local community but also in its ability to attract and service tourists. Maidens is also the safest harbour on this part of the coast and if opened would offer a safe haven for boats to run for in bad weather.
Robert the Bruce
Maidens was the site where one of the most famous Scottish figures, King Robert the Bruce chose to make his landing in 1307. Upon returning from exile in Ireland, the Bruce chose this spot just north of his childhood home at Turnberry to start his advance back into Scotland and begin the “War of Independence”.
He landed his small army of 300 at the south end of Maidens bay, exactly where the harbour is now located. Although he was expecting further men to join him a mistake and mix-up left the exiled king sitting on a stone and declaring at the spot “this is a weary, weary neuk” a name that still appears on the cottage opposite the bowling green. Undaunted Bruce went on to win The Battle of Loudoun Hill and conquer Scotland ruling for the next 23 years until he died.
Robert the Bruce was not the only historic Scottish figure that came to Maidens; Scotland’s National Baird also visited on occasion. It was well known that Robert Burns used to drink locally at ‘The Cellars.’ Also known as the oldest house in the village, it had a reputation as a favourite haunt for smugglers working the coast. In addition, the character depicted in Burns famous poem Tam o’Shanter lived on Shanter Farm which lies just north of the village.
Top: Shipbuilding at Maidens
© The National Trust for Scotland
Bottom: The 3rd Marquess of Ailsa
© The National Trust for Scotland