No visit to Scotland would be complete without spending some time in the historic city of Ayr. The rich history of this beautiful town dates back to 1205 and the days of King William the Lion. Be transported back in time as you view ancient castles, walk down quaint city streets and spend time at what used to be one of the most important ports in Scotland. History comes alive in Ayr, from William Wallace to Robert the Bruce and beyond. Be sure that Ayr is on your itinerary if you plan to be in or near Ayrshire. Even better, make Ayr your home base for exploring the entire county and the lower portion of Scotland’s West Coast. There is so much to see and do – you are sure to enjoy your time in Ayr.
History of Ayr
The year was 1205 AD when King William the Lion officially established Ayr as a burgh; it was also known as Inverair and Inverayr in those early days, due to its location at the mouth of the River Ayr. Almost immediately after its establishment Ayr became an important town for trade, and home to upwards of 1,500 residents.
Scotland’s most famous warrior, Robert the Bruce, was born in the county now known as Ayrshire in 1274. He would go on to lead Scotland during the Scottish Wars of Independence at the turn of the 14th century. Despite Ayr being held by the British between 1301 and 1312, Robert the Bruce made sure that the first Parliament of Scotland convened at St Ayr’s Tower in Ayr in 1315.
During the centuries following the Scottish Wars of Independence, Ayr was gradually transformed into a military stronghold viewed as crucial to maintaining Scottish control of the West Coast. Today you can see images of that not-so-distant past in some of Scotland’s most glorious military installations, including Brodick and Greenan castles.
A Growing Port
By the late 15th century, the fighting in Scotland gave way to cultural and economic expansion. Ayr benefited from a more peaceful atmosphere to transform itself into an important port town. The annual fairs that had been taking place in the town centre since 1261 continued to grow, with regional craftsmen and farmers coming from all over to be part of it.
During much of the 16th century, Ayr was heavily involved in the export of fish, animal hides, and wool, increasing its reputation as one of Scotland’s more significant economic centres. Hundreds of ships visited the local port every day at its peak. Eventually, exports gave way to strong textiles and cobbling industries through the 17th and 18th centuries.
A casual stroll through the streets of modern Ayr reveals an architectural timeline mapping the progression of the town as an economic centre. Different styles of architecture and the materials used clearly show Ayr gradually becoming wealthier commensurate with its influence as an economic and cultural hub.
The Ayr of today is a quiet county town with a population of roughly 60,000. Much of its rich history remains intact by way of architecture, cultural events, cuisine, and local tradition. Interestingly enough, local residents have been able to hold onto much of the past because the Industrial Revolution never came to Ayr. While other parts of Scotland, and most of England and Wales, embraced manufacturing and heavy industry, Ayr was content to continue as a town known for its small shops, skilled tradesmen and small-scale industry.
Ayr eventually developed into a holiday town through the early to mid-20th century. That is how we know the town today. Tourists come from all over the world to see one of Scotland’s oldest and most important settlements, preserved over time through war, plague, and economic hardship.
We invite you to experience Ayr for yourself. Come and see our spectacular historic castles, and learn about the history of Scotland’s fight for independence. Stroll along the waterfront and let your imagination experience what life must have been like when hundreds of ships visited the port each week. Ayr is one of Scotland’s best-kept secrets for tourists – and a town you should definitely visit.