The most southerly village in Carrick, Ballantrae is situated on the picturesque Ayrshire coastline just north of the River Stinchair. It is believed the name Ballantrae came from the Scottish Gaelic ‘Baile na Tràgha’, meaning, ‘the town by the beach’.
It is no surprise from this coastal location, that Ballantrae’s fishing industry was able to prosper greatly in the 18th century and specifically experienced a boom in herring fishing in 19th century. The harbour which was constructed for only £6000, is a basin excavated from solid rock, with a strong pier built upon a rocky ledge.
Ballantrae became the centre of the south-western fishery district, and during 1879 over 25,000 barrels of white herring was caught along with just under 7000 cod, ling, and hake, taken by 569 boats. This booming trade was able to employ 952 fishermen and boys, 78 fish-curers, 49 coopers, and some 800 others, while the total value of boats, nets, and lines was estimated at £11,375, figures that indicate a great advance over preceding years.
Ballantrae’s location helped to make it famous for a second sea based trade that was not as law abiding. A hotbed for smuggling in its not too distant past, Ballantrae was known for the smuggling of tea, tobacco, and brandy; this formed one of the main industries of the village. Large pirate vessels called buckers, carrying 20 or 30 guns, would wait in the bay and unload their loot at Ballantrae. If one of these vessels arrived, smugglers, who were also called lintowers, would head to the shore in large numbers. Using horses, they would collect and carry the contraband goods to local hideouts before transporting them around the country. The old Kirk was a favourite place for hiding the contraband goods. At one time, the village harboured around a hundred lintowers, all of them stalwart fellows, armed with cutlass and pistol ready to fight if they met any resistance.
Fishing and smuggling are not the only things Ballantrae is famous for; Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson helped to put Ballantrae on the map when he used the village as the setting for his novel ‘The Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale.’ Published in 1889 the novel depicts the conflict between two brothers from a noble family who chose separate sides of the Jacobite rising of 1745. The reason for choosing conflicting sides was a bid to keep the family’s noble status and estate in tact no matter which side won.
Master of Ballantrae went on to become a feature film in 1953 with more TV adaptations produced, one was created as recently as 1984.
Known as the Gateway to Carrick, today Ballantrae is quite simply a stunning village that has lots to offer visitors, including; recreational salmon fishing; nearby attractions such as Ardstinchar Castle or many walking trails including The Ayrshire Coastal Path. Selected as one of Scotland’s Great Trails in 2010, The Ayrshire Coastal Path runs 100miles from the South of Carrick all the way to Skelmorlie along one of the finest panoramic coastlines in the British Isles.
When you’re next in Ballantrae make sure to visit the village garden which has just been refurbished by the local community. The striking garden gate, created by members of the village and decorated with herring, salmon and the much-loved ‘Margaret’, was installed in 2013.