North Ayrshire Heritage and Cultural Services
On this day in 1263 the Battle of Largs was fought along the coast between King Haakon IV of Norway and Alexander III of Scotland.
In the early medieval period, the Cumbraes and Bute were Norwegian-controlled islands. They were part of the Sundrays, Southern Islands (Súðreyjar), contained in the kingdom of Man and the Western Isles. Scotland's young king, Alexander wanted this kingdom to be part of Scotland. He began a series of raids in Skye and other islands to provoke a response.
In the autumn of 1263, King Haakon led an armada of up to 200 ships and 20,000 men to challenge Alexander. Scotland's knights would have watched from Ardrossan as the fleet moved up the Clyde to shelter in Lamlash Bay. Then from Ardneil they watched Haakon sail up to anchor off the Cumbrae Isles.
Battle was engaged on the shores of Kelburn. Due to bad weather the Norwegians couldn't land all their men and were overcome by Alexander's 500 knights and 7,000 foot soldiers.
Haakon withdrew with the intent to return next year after the winter with a larger force but died at Kirkwall in the Orkneys. His son, Magnus IV, was a peacemaker with his neighbours and in 3 years Scotland regained the Western Isles by the Treaty of Perth. There are various nods to the battle throughout Largs – Haco Street is named after King Haakon and Danefield Avenue after the Viking language Danish. There is also the following:
Battle of Largs Monument
This was built at Bowen Craig in 1912 to a design by James Sandford Kay. It was constructed by local builder John Hunter and cost £298 which was raised by public subscription. Soon it became known as the Pencil due to its shape – originally it was meant to look like a broch (an Iron-Age drystone structure.) Some thought this nickname vulgar but it has remained and is how the monument is universally referred as.
Walking out to the Pencil from Largs became very popular and in 1949 Largs Town Council bought the pathway and surrounding land. Over the winter the Parks Department landscaped the area at the Pencil and built the four stone seats and rustic pathway using stone from the shore.
Built in 1995 the Vikingar! leisure centre includes the Viking Experience – an interactive exhibit where storytellers tell Viking tales and myths.
Between August and September the town of Largs remembers the battle with their annual festival. A 13th century Viking Village is created and festival goers get an insight into life in those times.
It would be hard to miss the giant metal statue of Magnus the Viking on Largs promenade. He stands at 16 feet tall (5 metres) and was presented to the town in 2013 by North Ayrshire Council to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the battle. He was created by David Ogilvie Engineering of Kilmarnock.