Ailsa Craig July 2014
Helen Rose Outdoor Diary
I am trying to go round most of the Scottish Islands and Ailsa Craig is one that I have been trying to visit for some years but one way and another I have never made it. There is only one small boat to the island leaving from Girvan which carries a maximum of twelve people and it is very weather dependent for landing. I have several times booked but the weather was against us and the boat was cancelled. However, this year I finally made it and what a treat it was to be there.
Ailsa Craig ( Scottish Gaelic: Creag Ealasaid) is an island in the outer Firth of Clyde, 10 miles from mainland Scotland, upon-which blue hone granite was quarried to make curling stones reputed to be the best quality curling stones in the world. The now uninhabited island is formed from the volcanic plug of an extinct volcano located approximately 10 miles (16 km) west of Girvan, is 2 miles (3.2 km) in circumference and rises to a height of 338 m (1,109 ft). Ailsa Craig stands out because all younger sedimentary rocks covering Southwest Scotland have long since been eroded away. But the island survived erosion because it is composed of much harder igneous rocks from the Palaeogene era (65,000,000 years ago). The plug, which is composed of granite, is all that remains from the massive volcanic activity.
The island, colloquially known as “Paddy’s milestone”, as it is on the route to Ireland was a haven for Catholics during the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century, but is today a bird sanctuary, providing a home for huge numbers, around 300,000, of gannets and an increasing number of puffins. The island is owned by The 8th Marquess of Ailsa, but since May 2011 has been up for sale. By March 2013 the asking price was for offers over £1,500,000, down from the original asking price of £2,500,000 so there is a bargain for you!
The boat journey was over an hour to the island in an open boat so adequate waterproof clothing is essential. It was a reasonably calm day but on the return journey there was a lot of spray from the sea. Before landing, the boat circled the island and it is another world on the west side of the island with sheer cliffs where the gannets nest. We also saw the quarries where the granite was blasted out. Latterly the granite was taken to Mauchline on the mainland to be fashioned into curling stones. We also saw puffins which are comical looking little birds. Twenty years ago there was a rat eradication programme on the island and the puffins left but they are now returning to breed on the island.
The boat dropped us at the pier near the lighthouse which is now fully automated but at one time had a lighthouse keeper. It was sad to see the abandoned light house keepers’ accommodation. At one time, a steamer used to come to the island with day trippers and the quarryman’s family provided afternoon tea for the visitors using milk from the resident herd of goats to make the scones. The University of Glasgow still have a presence on the island to monitor the birdlife and Bernie, their representative acted as guide to visitors!
We climbed the hill on a good steep path to the castle. It is more of a little fort than a castle and was supposedly the lookout post for the Spanish Armada. It is possible to climb to the top of the hill where there is a small lochan of fresh water and very interesting Alpine plants. Unfortunately, I had a sore foot that day and did not climb to the top but I will go back again in the future. We had lunch outside the castle with good views over to the mainland.
When I returned to the shore path, I walked towards the south of the island but my progress was halted by the seagulls nesting on the path. They are very protective of their young and started to dive bomb so I made a hasty retreat. The boat back to Girvan gave amazing views of the island rising out of the sea, a bit like St. Kilda which is on my bucket list to visit. However it would mean four hours each way on a small boat from Skye away out in the Atlantic Ocean. I am bracing myself to do it someday soon.
It was a wonderful day thanks to Fred at Scot-trek www.scot-trek.co.uk/ for arranging it. We were very lucky with the weather to be able to sail around the island and also have time ashore.
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Coming attractions: Trossachs Three Lochs, Arran and Venice.
This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary
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