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Issue 95 - The Village on the Shore

Scotland Magazine Issue 95
October 2017

 

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The Village on the Shore

Keith Fergus visits Ballantrae

The peaceful village of Ballantrae sits at the southern edge of Ayrshire, near to the border with Galloway. It is a scenic spot, with a wonderful view of Ailsa Craig’s conspicuous outline, which sits a few miles off the coast. This little island, famed for the granite that has been used for centuries in the production of curling stones, bestows a fine focal point for those driving along the A77.

Ballantrae translates from Gaelic as ‘the village on the shore’. It developed during the 16th Century, when a castle was built here by the Kennedy family, and for many years it was a fishing port — smuggling was also commonplace along the coastline. Also worth noting is that the author Robert Louis Stevenson used the village as a location for his novel
The Master of Ballantrae (1889).

Ballantrae is also home to the Kennedy Mausoleum. This striking, compact building was built in the 16th Century by Lady Bargany after her husband Gilbert Kennedy (who was Laird of Bargany) was killed by John Kennedy, the 5th Earl of Cassilis, in an infamous incident known as ‘The Maybole Snowballing’.

A beautiful arc of sand travels north from the village and at its far end rise the cliffs of Bennane Head. It is here that the cannibal Sawney Bean and his family reputedly lived in a cave, with local legend stating that they murdered over 1000 people in the 15th or 16th Century. The family managed to keep their whereabouts secret for many years until King James VI and an army of 400 men tracked them down to Bennane Head. Sawney Bean and his relations were all executed without trial in Edinburgh. It is a gruesome tale, one that sits in sharp contrast to the beauty of this wonderful stretch of the Ayrshire coast.