Kilwinning Heritage Centre

The present clock tower was built in 1816 on the foundations of the original medieval abbey tower. It was designed by David Hamilton and contains the original clock mechanism, built by James Blair, also 1816. It is run as a small museum of local history and heritage. Most of the exhibits are on the ground floor which is the only part of the building accessible to wheelchair users.

The original clock mechanism, built by James Blair.
The original clock mechanism, built by James Blair.

Volunteer guides will accompany you up the winding stone staircase to see the exhibits on the first floor, the original clock mechanism on the second, and the bells on the third. Your reward for climbing the 143 steps in total is to reach the roof, for stunning views of the town and surroundings, the immediate Ayrshire coastline and the islands of Arran and Ailsa Craig.

Clock Tower Bells

A wide variety of items is on display; descriptions of the origins of the Abbey; medieval carved stonework; photographs of old Kilwinning; a model of Eglinton Castle in its heyday; an illustration of the Kilwinning connection with Robert Burns; information about ‘The Bard of the Yukon’, poet Robert Service who spent some of his youth in the town, and much more.

A display of items relating to the Papingo Shoot, held annually by the Ancient Society of Kilwinning Archers, the oldest archery organisation in the world dating back to 1483, includes antique Papingo targets, arrows and bows, one of which is unique in the world. Papingo is the same word as popinjay or pigeon. In this case, and in common with most other European countries, target practice meant using a live bird attached to the end of a pole. Later the live bird was replaced with a wooden model, or ‘papingo’ with detachable wings. On display are antique wooden birds, dated to the late 1800s.

Three shoots are held at the Tower each year, with the Papingo placed at the top of the Tower, and archers shooting at it from below. The overall winner is the first archer to “ding doon the doo”, or knock the pigeon off its perch! It is the only competition of its type in the world. The magnificent Silver Arrow Trophy, dating from 1724, is on permanent display in Kilwinning Library. 

Silver Arrow Trophy

Click here for a video guided tour of the Abbey Tower featuring some of our volunteers. (21mins,) For a video guide to "A Few of Our Favourite Things" click here. (7mins) For "An Introduction to Kilwinning Abbey" click here (25 mins)

Visit the Heritage Centre
Free Entry

Mid-May to mid-September
Friday, Saturday & Sunday 1-3.
Other openings to be arranged. 

Please check our Facebook page for details.
Climb the 143 steps for stunning views from the roof.
Under 16’s must be accompanied by an adult.

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Visitors please note

Alteration to opening times. From Sunday 15 May 2022, the Tower will be open on Saturdays and Sundays ONLY from 1-3pm. Further dates / times to be announced.

Let's Talk History

FREE events. Three of Scotland's top authors of historical fact and fiction come to Kilwinning for one day. Why not come and meet all three?

Highland-based author Philip Paris will use his novels The Italian Chapel and Effie’s War to highlight some of the challenges encountered by writers when trying to separate ‘fact’ from ‘fiction’, as well as the moral dilemma that can arise when uncovering previously secret, highly sensitive information from the past. ‘Writers have a duty of care to people and places,’ says Philip. ‘When you unearth a story that is ‘gold dust’ to the writer yet potentially harmful to someone else, you are faced with very difficult decisions. Always at the back of your mind is that if the story is told … it can never again be a secret.’

Book here 

Margaret Skea was brought up in Ulster during the ‘Troubles’ and she will talk about how that conflict impacted on her perceptions of 16th century Scotland. The Munro Trilogy, set against the backdrop of the turmoil of the closing years of that century, Margaret’s trilogy of books follows the fortunes of a fictional family trapped at the centre of a notorious historic feud. Known as the Ayrshire Vendetta, it began in the 15th century and wasn’t finally resolved until the latter part of the 17th, the Cunninghames and Montgomeries dubbed the ‘Montagues and Capulets’ of Ayrshire. Margaret’s talk will focus both on the difficulties of her research and on her personal background.

Book here

Ayrshire historian and author Dane Love will take a look back at Ayrshire's folklore and customs in Legendary Ayrshire. Dane will talk about the places traditionally associated with early saints, as well as rocks and stones that were perhaps places of pilgrimage and ancient wells and strange caves which can be found all over the county. There are traditional tales of ghosts and hauntings, fairies and witches, as well as the ancient festival of Beltane. Some of the old traditions associated with birth, marriages and death, often unique to this county, are recalled, as well as other customs that took place at different times of the year.

Book here  Authors

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