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Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

by 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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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby DonnyW » Sun May 27, 2012 7:38 am

JTweedie wrote: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.

On reflection..that makes sense ..they will have a fixed operating cost for the boat that they wont want to drop below or they run at a loss that day. Perhaps the just divide the fixed cost by the number of passengers to arrive at the price for the day ? I guess it is reasonable in real terms, considering it cost me £50 in petrol to drive from my home to Lendalfoot and return..towing the boat.

I also know what you mean about the island being quiet in real terms. I loved the hills forty or so years ago as they offered a unique "wilderness experience" back in those days. There were not many who ventured up them and there was certainly no stone staircases up places like the Buachaille ..or the Cobbler. I dont go near the hills in summer now as there are bus loads on all the tops. Im not knocking the folks who do enjoy them and Im glad they are having fun and getting out into the great outdoors.. Im just sorry they cant see them like they used to be..however.. everyone is different and they may have been too remote for many in those days ?

I started instead exploring our remote coast line during the summer months. It is the last of the real wildernesses left even in Scotland. There are no paths to follow on the sea.. I know I will meet few people.. and there is wildlife by the bucket load. It is however changing..just as quickly as our hills did. There are more and more kayaks and canoes appearing on the roof racks of cars. I guess in ten years time it will be a completely different experience.

Anyhoo..enought reminising about the good / bad old days ..and on with the my wildlife tour of Ailsa Craig :D

But first I will mention some wildlife that may be encountered on such an adventure, although..not so often that it is guaranteed.

There are whales that frequent our waters and can sometimes be seen in the summer months when the water gets a little warmer. The smaller minke whale is about the most common sighting although once in a blue moon you can encounter much larger types. Six or seven years ago we discovered this mamoth whale in the Solway Firth area... just by following our noses. Yup..sadly it beached itself to die and had been there a few days before we came across it.. so it was rather smelly :o

The whale was that big..I had to stand back to get it all in the photo


A sixteen foot long kayak is dwarfed by the big bad blubber boy


A car could easily fit in the mouth of the whale.. my brother is almost overcome by its bad breath smell


Another common sighting is the basking shark and I was hoping to see one on this trip..but they are not here yet..I have heard reports that they are still heading up the warm waters and are around the Anglesay area at present.

The Clyde use to be full of them but sadly they have been slaughtered and there are few left now :( .

Unfortunately a Girvan charter boat..similar to the MV Glorious..around 20 years or so ago was given a license to fish for them. This enterprising businessman fitted a harpoon to his boat and took willing tourists, who paid good money, on trips to see these magnificent creatures harpooned and slaughtered. The carcasses were then sold to the Girvan fish and chip shop where the tourists could then go and buy a "shark Supper". He only stopped harpooning them when there were none left to catch :(

I have seen a few baskers but dont have a decent photo of one yet..so I have borrowed this one off my brother's web site. It was taken further up the west coast of Scotland on an earlier adventure. There is a very exciting and emotional feeling when a 15 ft shark comes to see what you are doing in a 16 ft long kayak. It is of course totally harmless and just ambles about syphoning plankton through its huge open mouth. Here you can just see its top lip near the fron of the kayak.. the dorsel fin in the middle and the tail is still off the rear of the boat. My brother's daughter must have some great photos of it as she is the one in the kayak.


As mentioned..these sightings were not from my trip on Thursday..but they can be seen in the waters around the Ailsa Craig on lucky days :D

I will continue the island tour soon ......
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby Alastair S » Sun May 27, 2012 11:04 am

Fantastic stuff Donny - keep it coming :D :thumbup:
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby DonnyW » Sun May 27, 2012 12:49 pm

Thanks Alastair and Morag..Im glad you are enjoying it :D

The lighthouse is undoubtedly the most prominent building on Ailsa Craig. It was built around 1886 and the lamp was oil burning until 1911 when it was converted to incandescent. At least one lighthouse keeper was in attendance at all times until it was finally automated in 1990. In 2001 the light was converted to solar power. The island is now uninhabited although sometimes the RSPB have a bird warden living in the only cottage left that can be used to stay in. The lighthouse owners sold off the cottages that belonged to the lighthouse keepers to a company who were going to convert them into holiday homes..but the plan fell through and they too are now in a sad state of repair. That is why only the front lighthouse is in pristine white condition in this photo.


The lighthouse complex was built on the only level beach area on the island. The beach consists of granite stones and is called the “Fisherman’s camp” because of the many indentations dug in the rocks.


In days long gone by, fishermen would often land here to ride out the storms, by draping their sails over spars covering the indentations, they forming crude shelters to escape the wind and rain. You can see one of the indentations in this photo.


As if by magic, to add some atmosphere to our exploration of the Fisherman’s camp, a tall ship sailed past on its way to Ireland, but its a modern one built around 2000.


Just round the corner from the lighthouse is the landing jetty. The MV glorious was berthed there when we first landed but it didn’t stay long.. it made two trips that day.


Looking beyond the jetty .. you may just be able to make out the remains of an old railway line..I will tell all about it in the next instalment ....
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby Gythral » Sun May 27, 2012 3:19 pm

Alastair S wrote:Fantastic stuff Donny - keep it coming :D :thumbup:


Much more interesting than the 5mins "Coast" spent on the isle...
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby Caberfeidh » Sun May 27, 2012 4:24 pm

I liked the wee castle. It looks like a 13th Century tower house, similar to Greenan Castle on the Ayrshire coast.
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby DonnyW » Sun May 27, 2012 4:44 pm

Hidden behind the lighthouse is the largest building on the island. It had nothing to do with the granite quarry as many people may think... it was in fact a gas works. It was here that gas was produced from coal which then powered the island’s engine.


The engine was used to compress air which was stored in huge pressurised tanks beside the islands two mighty fog horns. This is the fog horn on the south end of the island and you can clearly see the tanks that held the compressed air to sound the horn which is sticking out the top of that concrete behive. When the compressed air escaped through the "trumpet" a very low pitched and loud note was produced that helped guide the ships in the fog.

Whooooooooh .... Whooooooooh... Whoooooooooh :lol:

It was three blasts for the Ailsa Craig signals.. can anyone else remember hearing them ?


This is the fog horn on the north end of the island which is a duplicate setup of the south fog horn. They were powered by the gas engine / compressed air method until 1911 then converted to oil driven engines / compressed air until 1966 when they were finally abandoned and replaced with a Tyfon type fog horn near the lighthouse which worked until 1987 when all fog horns were switched off permanently. I still miss the sound of the fog horns. They were a comforting sound on a cold misty night and I could hear them from my house on the mainland.


A railway line ran from the north and south fog horns back to the lighthouse area. Im not sure whether it was for lighthouse staff or for quarry staff as the granite was often collected from sites near the fog horns. You can see the route of the railway to the north fog horn in this photograph.


Ailsa Craig granite is world famous as it made 75% of all curling stones used throughout the world. Ailsa Craig was originally a volcanic plug and has a lot of very high quality granite with a very fine grain.. ideal for curling stones

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

Postby Gavin99 » Sun May 27, 2012 6:11 pm

Thanks for putting this together , it really is fascinating reading ,what an amazing place . I was on Ailsa Craig in my youth but didn't have the interest in wildlife and history I have now , I can see how much I missed !
Looking forward to the next chapter .....
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby DonnyW » Sun May 27, 2012 7:43 pm

In its hay day there were around 25-30 people living and working on the island. The ruins of their cottages still remain and there are things like old furniture ... the odd book.. and even a letter .. slowly decaying away. The quarryman’s cottages have been partly dismantled to reclaim the granite blocks. Granite is still taken from the island to the mainland to be made into curling stones ..but there is enough still lying around so there is no quarrying going on now.


This cottage is almost in ruins too, with holes in the roof and walls. It was quite emotional, wandering around and wondering how those people from the past ... lived their lives.


There was certainly plenty of food as they had a choice of menu. Eggs, seabird, rabbit, goat or fish. Rain water provided the drinking water and was collected in a well high on the hillside. I will show it when I do the walk to the top :-D

Watching where I was putting my feet..in case of standing on a nest.. I spotted these two slow worms. I don’t think they are in the throws of eating one another..I suspect its a mating ritual that they were wriggling to. Perhaps these were related to the one JTweedie saw during his visit .


This cottage is the only one left that people sometimes stay in. The RSPB wardens will occupy it when they are on the island and my brother spent a week in it in the 70’s when he was a ranger at Culzean Castle. It was a moving time for him too as he ambled past it recalling memories from old.


Climb the hill a little and you can visit the old castle that Caberfeidh mentioned. It was built around the late 1500’s by the powerful Hamilton family who lived on the mainland, after Phillip of Spain tried to take the island for himself.


To be continued.. with a walk to the top ....
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby gammy leg walker » Sun May 27, 2012 8:23 pm

Loving this Donny W,cant wait for the next instalment.
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby ChrisW » Mon May 28, 2012 5:56 am

This is fantastic Donny, keep it up :clap:
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby walk aboot » Mon May 28, 2012 11:24 am

:thumbup: :D

Can't wait to hear about the walk to the top...
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby DonnyW » Tue May 29, 2012 9:01 pm

Thanks for your interest folks and sorry for the delay..Im working away from internet access at times

The walk to the top of Ailsa Craig starts at the cottage behind the lighthouse and heads steeply up the cliffs towards the old castle. Its exposed at parts too..so care has to be take. In fact, I dont think I would recommend the walk if it was wet and muddy.


However conditions were perfect the day I was there. The Girvan tour boat is seen returning in this photograph. No one from the boat went to the top so I dont think the visitors were much of hill walkers.


You can see the gas works in this photo, the two pits are where the gasometers whould have been when the works were operational.


The climb levels for a short while at the old castle which is around one third on the way to the top.


Then the path steepens again as it heads straight up the hill. The bluebells were magnificent and matched the colour of the sky :-D


Our next rest was at the old well that was built to collect water for the castle. Although I was hot and thirsty..I declined drinking from it.. the thought of 80000 gannets dropping presents from the sky put me off the water.


As mentioned earlier..there are not many birds nesting on this side of the island..but every ledge is covered in a carpet of flowers which really surprised me as I expected it to be mostly rock.


As we continued to climb, the lighthouse got smaller. I could just make out the boat and kayaks on the rocky point off the lighthouse.


There are a few false summits on the way but the climb does ease at places. I loved the scent from the bluebells in this gully. Rabbit holes were everywhere and a few were to be seen running across the cliffs.


The gully lead to another flat area where a couple of pools of rain water had collected..these feed the water well further down the hill and I read that one is around 17 feet deep.


After this point ..the path seems to disappear so we just made a bee line to the top. It took us around an hour to climb the 1100ft of Ailsa Craig before we finally arrived at the summit cairn where we were greeted with views across to Arran, Campbelltown, Ireland and the mainland of Southern Scotland 8)


I hope to continue the report with a sea tour around the island with some photos of the many birds..it may be a day or two before I have internet access again..so thanks for your patience.
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby ChrisW » Tue May 29, 2012 9:57 pm

beautiful photos Donny, that carpet of wild flowers makes every photo spectacular - looks a good steep grunt in the hot sun though :D
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby JTweedie » Wed May 30, 2012 7:55 am

It's great seeing the path up to the top, it must be one of the least walked paths in Scotland I would say.

When I landed from the boat from Girvan, we were only given an hour on the island, so there wasn't enough time to walk up the path, although maybe if they did more than one trip a day they'd allow you to walk up and then get collected when the boat returns.
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Re: Ailsa Craig, Bird Sanctuary

Postby morag1 » Wed May 30, 2012 8:14 am

Great report Donny, dont want this to end

You have triggered a few memories for me as I remember hearing fog horns as a child, dont know where or when but I can remember hearing them blast.

A few years ago a whale became trapped in the Forth, just under the Road Bridge and I was down there with my kids watching as it tried to escape. The lifeboats were out trying to guide it to the North Sea but unfortunately it became stressed and died. Later on they removed the skeleton and put it on display in the Museum of Scotland. We went to see it and could smell it long before we saw it!

I was hoping to visit Culzean Castle this summer but after reading this report I am really tempted to take the boat to Ailsa Craig and climb to the summit. You never know :D

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