Ayrshire is roughly crescent-shaped and is a predominantly flat county with areas of low hills; it forms part of the Southern Uplands geographic region of Scotland. The north of the county contains the main towns and bulk of the population. East of Largs can be found the Renfrewshire Heights, which continue south to the hill-country around Blae Loch.
Ayrshire is one of the most agriculturally fertile regions of Scotland. Potatoes are grown in fields near the coast, using seaweed-based fertiliser, and in addition the region produces pork products, other root vegetables, and cattle (see below); and summer berries such as strawberries are grown abundantly.
A notable historic building in Ayrshire is Turnberry Castle, which dates from the 13th century or earlier, and which may have been the birthplace of Robert the Bruce.
The historic shire or sheriffdom of Ayr was divided into three districts or bailieries which later made up the county of Ayrshire. The three districts were:
Carrick in the south. It was situated between the Doon and the wild district of Galloway in the adjoining Stewartries, an area that was little else than a vast tract of hills and mosses.
Kyle in the centre, which included the royal burgh of Ayr, occupied the central district between the River Irvine in the north, and the River Doon in the south and south-west, an area that is quite hilly inland. It was subdivided into "Kyle Stewart", (sometimes called "Stewart Kyle" or "Walter's Kyle") and "King's Kyle," the former embracing the country between the Irvine and the River Ayr; and the latter, the triangular portion between the Ayr and the Doon, which is honoured as the birthplace and youthful home of Robert Burns.
Cunninghame in the north which included the royal burgh of Irvine was that part of the county which lay north of the Irvine water, and was in an area that is generally level and fertile.
The area used to be heavily industrialised, with steel making, coal mining and in Kilmarnock numerous examples of production-line manufacturing, most famously Johnnie Walker whisky. In more recent history, Digital Equipment had a large manufacturing plant near Ayr from about 1976 until the company was taken over by Compaq in 1998. Some supplier companies grew up to service this site and the more distant IBM plant at Greenock in Renfrewshire. Scotland's aviation industry has long been based in and around Prestwick and its international airport, and although aircraft manufacture ceased at the former British Aerospace plant in 1998, a significant number of aviation companies are still based on the Prestwick site. However, unemployment in the region (excluding the more rural South Ayrshire) is above the national average.
Commissioners of Supply were created in 1667 for each shire, and formed the main administrative body for the area until county councils were created in 1890 under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1889. The 1889 act also led to a review of boundaries of many of Scotland's counties; in the case of Ayrshire the two parishes of Beith and Dunlop, which had both straddled Ayrshire and Renfrewshire, were brought entirely within Ayrshire. The burghs of Ayr and Kilmarnock were both excluded from the area controlled by the county council when it was created in 1890, being deemed capable of running their own services.
In 1930 the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929 was implemented. This brought Ayr and Kilmarnock under the control of the county council, and re-designated all burghs as either large burghs or small burghs. Ayr and Kilmarnock were both classed as large burghs, allowing them to retain control of many functions, whilst the county's other burghs were all classed as small burghs, ceding many functions to the county council. The 1929 act also abolished the parish councils. In Ayrshire in excess of 30 parishes were consolidated into ten district councils. The District Councils were Ayr, Cumnock, Dalmellington, Girvan, Irvine, Kilbirnie, Kilmarnock, Maybole, Troon and Saltcoats. Ayrshire County Council was based at County Buildings in Wellington Square in Ayr.
During the whole of the 1708 to 1868 period, and until 1950, the burghs of Ayr and Irvine were parliamentary burghs, represented as components of Ayr Burghs. In 1832 Kilmarnock became a parliamentary burgh, to be represented as a component of Kilmarnock Burghs until 1918. Ayr Burghs and Kilmarnock Burghs were districts of burghs, and quite different in character from later Ayr and Kilmarnock constituencies.
From 1918 to 1983 Ayrshire and Buteshire were treated as if a single area for purposes of parliamentary representation, with their combined area being divided into different constituencies at different times. Scottish local government counties were abolished in 1975, in favour of regions and districts, but the next reform of constituency boundaries was not until 1983.
Constituencies covering Ayrshire may be listed by periods as below, but the story is somewhat more complicated than the lists may imply: until 1918, Ayr Burghs and Kilmarnock Burghs included burghs lying outside both Ayrshire and Buteshire; a particular constituency name may represent different boundaries in different periods; in 1974, there were boundary changes without the creation of any new constituency names.
Glasgow Prestwick International Airport, serving Glasgow and the west of Scotland more generally, is located 32 miles (51 km) away from Glasgow in Ayrshire; it provides various passenger flights to Spain, Portugal, Italy and Poland. The name Glasgow was added in front of Prestwick as per American military airport naming conventions, as the airport was in the past oft-used as a stopover by US military personnel on their way to and from military bases in Germany. Moreover, it is known in rock history as the only place in Britain visited by Elvis Presley, on his way home from army service in Germany in 1960.
^"Farms in Ayrshire - numbers, types and income: FOI release". www.gov.scot. Scottish Government. Retrieved 26 October 2022.
^ abcdDouglas, William Scott (1874). In Ayrshire; a descriptive picture of the County of Ayr, with relative notes on interesting local subjects, chiefly derived during a recent personal tour. Kilmarnock M'Kie & Drennan. p. 2.
^Murray, David (1924). Early burgh organization in Scotland: as illustrated in the history of Glasgow and of some neighbouring burghs. Vol. 2. Maclehose, Jackson & Co.
^Shennan, Hay (1892). Boundaries of counties and parishes in Scotland as settled by the Boundary Commissioners under the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1889. Edinburgh: W. Green. p. 296. Retrieved 30 December 2022.