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Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary


Postby DonnyW » Sat May 26, 2012 12:45 pm

Route description: Ailsa Craig - the ascent

Sub 2000' hills included on this walk: Ailsa Craig

Date walked: 24/05/2012

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During the settled spell of weather we have all enjoyed this week.. I set of on a sea journey to Ailsa Craig which lies ten miles off the coast of Ayrshire. Its not an undertaking for the inexperienced boaters so I dont recommend anyone trying it for themselves unless they know what they are doing.

My three companions went by Kayak as I went in a small 12 ft boat powered by an outboard engine. The kayaks were my rescue back up and not the other way around. If the wind blew up, they are far more seaworthy than my boat which can fill with water in breaking wave and swamp. The kayaks cannot fill with water and the paddlers can all roll back up if knocked over.

ailsa0.jpg


It takes approx three hours to paddle the ten miles to the island which is now a bird sanctuary. We were going to watch the wildlife, go round the island, land and then climb to the top. The day was perfect for our journey.

There are around 40,000 pairs of gannets nesting on the island and is the third largest gannet colony in the world. These are like huge streamlined seagulls that dive into the water, by folding their wings and dropping from a great height to catch fish deep under water.

ailsa3.jpg


The gannets nest of the south west facing cliffs which are almost 1000ft high. To give some scale to the cliffs at Eagle's Nest point.. you can just make out one of the kayaks on the sea just off these cliffs.

ailsa2.jpg


Photographs and words cannot describe the sight , sound and smell of so many gannets in the one place, you have to be there to experience it.

ailsa5.jpg


Every so often, a gannet will take off and head over the ocean.. followed by a couple of hundred of his relations.

ailsa6.jpg


Of course..its not only gannets that live there. Puffins are now returning to the island. They had all but left it a few years back, because rats were eating their eggs as soon as they were laid. Following a successful extermination of all the rats.. they are now returning and there are parhaps a couple of hundred nesting pairs now.

ailsa1.jpg


There are numerous gullemots, razor bills, kittiwakes and various gulls too. Here the gullimots and razor bills dance on the sea in front of a huge cave. To the left of the cave at water line is another of the kayaks to give some scale to the scene. The cliffs above the kayak have a nesting gannet on every square foot of rock ledge.

ailsa4.jpg


An journey to Ailsa Craig under your own steam is a true dream of an adventure.

Ailsa-Craig-00.jpg


If there is interest in the Ailsa Craig ... I can also post here, some of the background to the island which is very interesting, with its huge abandoned fog horns, railway line, gass works and granite quarry. The climb to the summit cairn is also a very worthy journey but steep and at parts.. quite exposed ..but well worth the effort. 8)
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby Caberfeidh » Sat May 26, 2012 1:46 pm

DonnyW wrote:If there is interest in the Ailsa Craig ... I can also post here, some of the background to the island


Yes pliz, I was there last year on the charter boat from Girvan; it was a fascinating place, wish I had longer to explore.
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby JTweedie » Sat May 26, 2012 3:44 pm

Caberfeidh wrote:Yes pliz, I was there last year on the charter boat from Girvan; it was a fascinating place, wish I had longer to explore.


I've been on the same boat trip as yourself, and wished we would have had longer on the island. It was quite easy to get parts of the island to yourself, even on a boat load of about 20-30 people, and despite the paths only going part way round the island. It was very tranquil, although I found myself constantly looking at my watch so I didn't miss the boat departing.

I saw my first (and to date, only) slow worm there. I would also love to walk up to the top as well.

If anyone else makes this trip to the island, I would suggest you be careful and watch where you're stepping when walking along the paths as the gulls nest directly on them, you need to be careful not to tread on any eggs or young birds.

I was surprised by the nesting areas on the south and west facing sides of the island, I don't think many people who look at at Ailsa Craig from the Ayrshire coast will be aware of just how populous it is with seabirds.
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby DonnyW » Sat May 26, 2012 4:15 pm

Thanks guys ..I dont need much encouragement to continue :D

My only thoughts were where to post it as its not a walk report nor the normal wild life sighting ..its a mini adventure which is wild life heavy. Paul..if its in the wrong place..feel free to move it :wink:

There is a lot to the report too..so I wont be posting it all at once, so look back for updates if you are interested.

My journey began at 7am on Thursday 24/5/12. I had arranged to meet my travelling companions at 8.30am at Lendalfoot on the Ayrshire coast. Low tide was at 8.00am so I knew I would have a job getting my 150kg boat into the water, but by using planks and a hand winch, I got it launched in 1.5 hours... just in time for the kayaks to arrive. There was not a breath of wind on the water.

Craig-10.jpg


It only took the kayaks 10 minutes to load and get in the water..and we were off on our adventure.

Craig-11.jpg


The long sleek lines of a sea kayak ensure they move through the water fast and effortlessly. They need to as its a long open sea crossing. The early mist was starting to lift from the hills above Girvan

Craig-12.jpg


My boat is a 12ft displacement craft which means that it is relatively slow and cumbersome but the outboard engine does the hard work. Soon the mainland was disappearing behind us. I always carry two outboards because if one breaks down..Im in deep water on such an open crossing. If the wind rose.. I could very easily find out how cold that deep water was. However I dont have a boat to just sail on ponds :lol:

Craig-13.jpg


My throttle wrist was getting tired by the time we approached Alisa Craig, but the paddlers took it all in their stride. We were heading for the northern shore where the lighthouse is.

Craig-14.jpg


Almost like a pilot ship, a gannet flew out to meet us and guide us to shore.

Craig-15.jpg


It wheeled off to the left towards the cliffs while I turned to the right towards the lighthouse.

Craig-16.jpg


Where my next escort took over ..just to ensure I wasn't up to anything fishy.

Craig-19.jpg


I will have a break for a while..as the post crashed at this point ..so look back later for more tales of the sea 8)
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby DonnyW » Sat May 26, 2012 4:25 pm

JTweedie wrote:
Caberfeidh wrote:If anyone else makes this trip to the island, I would suggest you be careful and watch where you're stepping when walking along the paths as the gulls nest directly on them, you need to be careful not to tread on any eggs or young birds.



Yup..you certainly have to be very carefull not to stand on any nests..we saw many .. however I can confirm that I didnt see one on or near the path to the top..its not a common nesting area although I guess its not impossible to find one there. Care and respect for the wildlife and your own safety is very important in such places.

However ..I did see one or two people get off the tour boat who didnt seem to respect the area .. but I may have been wrong as I kept well clear of them..they were too loud for my liking. :?
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby DonnyW » Sat May 26, 2012 5:55 pm

Touching on the topic of the tour boat..there are daily sailings from Girvan to the Ailsa Craig, weather permitting. Its a good size boat but take waterproofs as you can get very wet in a wave. There is no cover except for the crew. The MV Glorious was tied on the jetty when I rounded the stony point at the lighthouse. She was waiting for the morning tourists to return so she could go back to home port to get another lot.

craig-31.jpg


I got a look of utter amazement and disbelief from the crew when I came into sight. Im used to it though as I often get these kind of looks on my adventures. I decided to land on the beach round the corner rather than get in their road.

craig-30.jpg


It guess such looks are understandable as its such a small boat is a very romote area .. and I possibly look a bit like Indian Jones with the sun hat on to keep the sun glare from burning my face.

I get the same looks on the hills as I often wear jeans and trainers. However I have spent a lifetime in the great outdoors and know its not the type of vessel or kind of boots that maketh the man.. its the head, the heart and years of experience :lol:

This photo was taken by my brother on another adventure ..but you can see why I got those looks :crazy:

craig-32.jpg


To be continued....
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby DonnyW » Sat May 26, 2012 7:21 pm

To say I dropped anchor on the stony beach at the lighthouse is a bit of an understatement ... I dropped three. One off the stern to stop the boat hitting the rocks and two off the front to secure it to the beach.

I didn't want it to break loose while exploring or climbing the Craig. I also couldn't just beach it as the tide was still rising.

Craig-17.jpg


I was pleased to see the seals were willing to watch over it (or should that be under it ?) while I was gone.

Craig-18.jpg


I no sooner started walking along the stones when I saw this fine pair of Eider Ducks debating on whether the water was warm enough for swimming in.

Craig-20.jpg


Nearby was a nest with one egg.. I passed on quickly and carefully so as not to keep the mother off the nest if it was still a live one.

Craig-21.jpg


So as JTweedie mentioned earlier ..anyone on the island must take great care during nesting season .. I saw all this withing a 100 yards of landing :D

Craig-22.jpg


The kayaks were pulled ashore as they are easy to re launch. Incidentally, the rocky prominade we landed on was not there last year. The winter storms from the north west formed it this year by washing the rocks round the point/ Our coastline is in a state of constant change.. unlike our hills that dont change much

To be continued....
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby mrssanta » Sat May 26, 2012 7:24 pm

Can't wait for the next instalment this is fascinating
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby JTweedie » Sat May 26, 2012 7:52 pm

The guys on the tour boat look a bit rough, but they're actually quite nice guys, especially when you hand over your dosh at the end of the trip! :wink:

It's good that not too many boats service the island, it keeps it quieter and less disruptive to the wildlife.
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby DonnyW » Sat May 26, 2012 10:00 pm

[url][/url]
JTweedie wrote:It's good that not too many boats service the island, it keeps it quieter and less disruptive to the wildlife.


It may surprise you just how many boats access the island ? ... its been a very busy month for the birds. :(

We take safety equipment with us on such adventures. On the way across to the island, we heard on the VHF radios that there was a military exercise in progress in the Ailsa Craig area and advised other boats to take care and be aware. Several times we heard loud noises, like bursts of heavy machine gun fire or flack guns ? Then out of the early morning heat haze a destroyer of some kind passed behind the island where more gun fire was heard. Im certain it was only blanks and it wasnt the birds they were firing at ..in fact it was probably at the nuclear submarine that surfaced quickly then disappeared just as quickly.

Yup..there has been a huge naval exercise in the area this last month..including landing craft and personel swarming the beaches of Ailsa Craig.. I do wonder if they took as much care of the wild life as we did :? :shock:

http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/DefenceNews/TrainingAndAdventure/ExerciseJointWarriorConcludes.htm

Although that link said it finished a week or so ago..it was still ongoing on Thursday .. sorry about the poor photo of the destroyer.. it was taken quickly and is a bit blurry.

Craig-100.jpg


Fortunately for the many thousands of birds..most nest in the safety of the inaccessible cliffs on the far side of the island and not where the tourists or army and navy tread ..although im sure some birds do as I just proved.

Thanks to all for your interest in my report .. I will continue the tour tomorrow .. as I have not even scratched the surface of the Craig yet :D

PS ...Had problems inserting the link.. should be there now ?
Last edited by DonnyW on Sat May 26, 2012 10:05 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby walk aboot » Sat May 26, 2012 10:01 pm

Brilliant! More please, DonnyW... :D
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby walk aboot » Sat May 26, 2012 10:05 pm

How much is the boat trip to Ailsa Craig? It doesn't say on their website :think: .

I have my great frandfather's curling stones, made from Ailsa Craig granite :) .
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby DonnyW » Sat May 26, 2012 10:22 pm

walk aboot wrote:How much is the boat trip to Ailsa Craig? It doesn't say on their website :think: .

I have my great frandfather's curling stones, made from Ailsa Craig granite :) .



I may be wrong but I think its about a tenner ? I doubt it will be more that twenty ..or the guys are not a friendly as JTweedie suggested :lol:

I hope to show you where your curling stones came from Walk Aboot ..and also show how the 25 or so inhabitants of the island once lived.. and of couse.. lots more wild life and a climb to the top ..so stay tuned :lol:
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby JTweedie » Sat May 26, 2012 11:00 pm

It was £20 when I did it, but they seemed to make up the price on the spot, that was at least 2-3 years ago.

re. the island not being busy, I guess I was comparing it with places like the Farne Islands where lots of boats visit the islands at the same time - Ailsa Craig was quiet compared to them.
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby morag1 » Sun May 27, 2012 6:51 am

I love this report with its fabulous photos :clap:

Saw a documentary about Ailsa Craig last year, mainly to do with the granite being used to make curling
stones.

Hope you show us some more photos from the top of the rock :D
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