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Portencross Pier

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Portencross Pier, 2009
Portencross Pier
© Mark Nightingale

Portencross pier is located near Farland Head in North Ayrshire, about 3 km west of Seamill and about 2 km south of Hunterston B nuclear power station.

We received a long collection of facts regarding the pier, but with references cited to back them up, so trust they are all correct.

The pier at Portencross has been described as the second concrete pier to be built in the world. The first was said to have been built further up the north west coast of Scotland, but has not been identified.

The pier was built to facilitate the transport of locally harvested potatoes, which were carried to Glasgow by paddle steamer. This was still the preferred method, as the railways were yet to become established. The pier also served brought day trippers to the area, and collected them at the end of the day for the return journey to Glasgow. However, the pier's exposed location, open to the sea with no sort of breakwater or harbour, meant that its operation was limited by the weather, and the steamers would head for more favourable destination such as Largs, Fairlie, or Wemyss Bay instead.

Portencross Pier concrete inshore, 2007
Portencross Pier concrete inshore
© Dave Hitchborne

Sou'westerly gales often result in the pier being submerged, and it has only survived and been able to remain usable as a consequence of its design and substantial construction. The inshore end was designed with a removable section which allows breakers to pass through the structure, rather than impact against it, and damage the underside of the structure. The wooden boards were once kept in a service shed along with the gangway, all of which were said to have disappeared in the 1980s.

Portencross Pier opening, 2009
Portencross Pier opening
© Heather McD

Later images, as seen on this page, seem to show that the removable section was actually still in use in the 2000's.

David Adams, younger brother of the laird William Adams, was a civil engineer with the French construction company which pioneered techniques used to build some parts of the London underground system. These new methods were developed to deal with sites where the large falls suited concrete pours over the more traditional method of brick construction. The village of Portencross is said to have several concrete structures by David Adams, most notably in the old castle where refurbishment work required the removal of a suspect concrete roof slab. This was found to to have been reinforced with old sections rail, causing the job to be much more difficult that expected.

Prior to World War I, the railway was set to be routed through Portencross, and a village established on the raised beach to the north. However, the resultant casualties of the war, and the subsequent flu pandemic of 1918, substantially reduced the potential population of this village. Combined with the economic downturn of the time, and shortage of steel, the railway was instead rerouted directly to the east, from West Kilbride to Largs via Fairlie.

The last commercial vessel to call at the pier is reported to have been the PS Waverley, in 1995.

On the north side of the pier, evidence of a concrete stairway remain, together with a cargo ramp on the west side. The bollards still remain, however all the original handrails have succumbed to rust and rot, and have been lost. The deck was perforated to allow drainage from rain puddles, and the remains of the oak upstands are still evident.

The pier has been used as a film and TV setting on many occasion, and featured when Gregor Fisher played Para Handy c. 1992, then in a trailer for the BBC Scotland series 'Explorer'.

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