Welcome to Largs
Largs is situated on the Ayrshire coast, on the Firth of Clyde. The name is derived from the Gaelic "learg" meaning "hillside", which - perhaps unimaginatively - describes the town, which slopes down from the east towards the shore and the horseshoe shaped Largs Bay. This hillside and the bay provide vantages points from which one can look out over the Firth to Great Cumbrae Island, only a mile offshore. Largs is famed as being a quiet seaside resort and the site of a battle which altered the course of Scottish history.
Isle of Arran (view from Largs)
The Largs area has been inhabited for at least 5000 years. In 1772 road builders constructing what became the A78 in the outskirts of Largs took some stones from a cairn and, much to their surprise, uncovered human remains. These were later dated to around 3000 BC. The tomb still sits where it was discovered, in what is now Douglas Park on Irvine Road. In 1906 a Bronze Age grave was discovered nearby. This is believed to have been built by the Beaker People who came to Scotland from the Rhine lands around 5000 years ago. The stones of the cist were taken to Largs' old graveyard, where they can still be visited today.
Largs probably developed as a small fishing and trading settlement as an adjunct of Ayr: Scotland's most important west coast port until the 18th century and the region's capital. Before the 13th century Largs would have existed as a small town (if it could have even been called a town) in a largely Scandinavian dominated zone, on the periphery of the kingdom. In 1098, Kintyre and the Western Isles had been lost to Norway in a treaty between Edgar, King of Scots, and Magnus, King of Norway. Largs would therefore have been vulnerable to Viking influence and Viking raids.
Successive Scottish kings tried to wrest the lands lost in 1098 back from the Norwegians, but with no success. Alexander III, King of Scots, even offered to buy the lands from Haakon IV of Norway. By 1263 it was clear that diplomacy had failed. When Haakon caught wind of Scots' attacks on the Isle of Skye he launched the largest fleet which had ever left Norway, reportedly around two hundred ships filled with soldiers and led by the king himself. En route to battle the blood thirsty war party conducted a terrifying series of raids throughout Loch Lomond. The Viking fleet was anchored off Largs on the 30th of December when a furious storm struck, which devastated much of Haakon's magnificent fleet. Alexander's troops, taking advantage of the Norwegians' disarray, attacked the army as they came ashore. The Scots' onslaught proved too much for Haakon's soldiers and they were forced back onto their galleons, but not before their king had been wounded. What remained of the fleet was harassed by ships from the Western Isles as they retreated north. Haakon himself never reached Norway; he died of his wounds on the Island of Orkney before the year was out.
The Scottish victory was reaffirmed when, in 1266, Haakon's successor, Magnus IV, signed the treaty of Perth recognising the Western Isles and Kintyre as Scottish territory. Excluding the northern isles, which became part of Scotland in the 15th century, Scotland has maintained more or less the same shape ever since. The Pencil Monument, at the south of the promenade, was built in 1912 to commemorate this famous victory. Nonetheless, today the town's connection with the Vikings is celebrated by Largs' Vikingar Centre, which has exhibits, entertainment and activities with a Viking theme.
Today Largs is a peaceful and pretty little town with all the attractions one would expect from a seaside resort. A large proportion of its inhabitants, however, are permanent residents, who give Largs perhaps more of an authentic feel than the word 'resort' might suggest. It is also a ferry terminal, providing, amongst other services, the main link between Great Cumbrae and the rest of Scotland. During the summer months Largs is a stopping off point for 'The Waverly', the world's last sea going paddle steamer, as it carries passengers around the Firth. For some Largs may be a place for a quick pit stop on a tour of the islands, but those who give it more than a second glance will discover that this historic and picturesque town has much more to offer.