A hill and island experience with a personal connection

Route: Ailsa Craig - the ascent

Sub 2000s: Ailsa Craig

Date walked: 24/07/2019

Time taken: 2 hours

Distance: 3.3km

Ascent: 370m

Since this site recently changed the name of the "Hills" drop down menu to "Bagging" and at the same time introduced an "Islands Bagging" feature, there has been a lot of discussion about perceived negative connotations of the B word (for once I am not referring to Brexit when I say that! :lol: ) and what it really means to "do" a hill, let alone an island. Relevant arguments on both sides and all of this was at the back of my mind on this particular day.

When I came home from the recent Ratagan WH meet, I discovered that my wife had booked 4 nights in a lodge at Brunston Castle holiday park just outside Dailly in South Ayrshire. We were taking our 12 year old niece Mhairi as well as Ailsa, so with the two girls in tow, we needed to find some things to do in the local area that would keep them suitably entertained and amused. We had a day at the beach at Ayr, a day at Culzean Castle and a day split between Dumfries House and the fabulous new outdoor swimming pool at New Cumnock, where the weather was such that if I closed my eyes, it was possible to believe we were back in Mallorca! :lol:

That left one day for a boat trip to Ailsa Craig. This would be the highlight of our stay in Ayrshire and something that both Debbie and I have long wanted to do. We named our daughter Ailsa when she was born in March 2011. There were a few names in the mix but no matter how much we tried to think about the other options, we kept coming back to Ailsa. We liked the name but it also had some personal resonance for both of us. When she was growing up, Debbie's grandparents had lived in Glenluce and she regularly saw Ailsa Craig out of rain smeared car windows on the way past to visit them from her home near Helensburgh. My parents come from Ayrshire, my mum having grown up in Muirkirk on the East Ayrshire moors. I was a regular visitor to the summit of Cairn Table while on childhood holidays at my grandparents and on the occasional good clear day that my Papa and I got up there, Ailsa Craig would be visible out in the Firth of Clyde to the west. My dad grew up in Ayrshire too, in New Cumnock, Auchinleck and Ayr itself and when his parents were still alive, we used to visit them in Ayr and look out to Ailsa Craig from the beach while eating ice creams. When we were expecting Ailsa, we had a weekend in a cottage just outside Girvan while attending a family event nearby, with a superb view across to the Craig. And then there was the fact that Ailsa's due date had been 17th March, St. Patrick's Day, and Ailsa Craig is also often referred to as Paddy's Milestone for its position midway between Glasgow and Belfast. So I did a quick online search and fired off a few calls and texts and eventually got booked on the Tuesday sailing with seafishingchartersscotland.com from Girvan.

Ailsa herself was, needless to say, very excited about the prospect of visiting an island called Ailsa and therefore she was crestfallen when I got a call just as we were leaving Brunston to say that the skipper had called off due to the weather. Too much white water showing apparently. Fortunately though, we were able to get places the next day after a cancellation and so set off on the Wednesday for a day out on Ailsa's Island 8) .

The boat sailed at 12 o'clock from Girvan Harbour with 12 passengers on board. It was certainly less windy than the previous day but not much more could be said about the weather in a positive sense than that. Ailsa and Debbie had chosen their seats poorly as they were copping a bit of spray whereas Mhairi and I seemed to have chosen more wisely. :lol:

A very excited little girl leaving Girvan

Ailsa Craig was resolutely keeping her hat on as we approached Foreland Point after a surprisingly long journey. Barry the skipper told us that we would circumnavigate round the rock in a clockwise direction before coming round to the jetty where we could get off and have a couple of hours on land while he and his pal headed off to do some fishing and pull up their crab and lobster pots.

Approaching the rock - seals on the shore at Foreland Point

Southern fog horn

Birds galore

Rounding Stranny Point

It's a big lump of granite right enough!

The Swine Cave and the northern fog horn

The girls watching Barry prepare for disembarkation

Once ashore, we found a spot on the beach to have lunch under the beady gaze of a gang of gulls before we set off to explore the castle ruins.

Looking for a lunch spot

Starting the ascent

An islander

It was a tough ascent on a path that was in places heavily overgrown by bracken and in other places quite exposed to the drop below. Certainly Mhairi, who is not as accustomed to such surroundings as Ailsa, was finding it a bit of a challenge and her state of mind was not helped by the thought of snakes and other creatures lurking in the undergrowth! :shock:

Foreland Point from the castle ruins

View from the castle

Apparently I am a dirty wee rascal!

I knew that there was no way that we would make the summit and be back at the jetty in time if we carried on as a group of 4. Fortunately the 3 girls decided that they wanted to go back down and explore on the shore around the lighthouse so I carried on solo, at pace. It wasn't easy in places and I was regretting my decision to wear shorts and forego my usual long legged walking trousers.

A slight dip before another rough section

Death on the rock

I had told myself that I really needed to be at the summit for 3 o'clock or very soon after that if I was to comfortably make it back without being marked down as late (and no doubt getting a terrible doing as well! :lol: ). I wasn't entirely sure how much further I had to go in distance and height but at around 2.50 I pulled up onto the long summit plateau complete with trig point and small broken down cairn. I think it might be this very site that describes the summit of Ailsa Craig as being "like a table floating above the sea" and on a day like today, with the summit having lost the low cloud that was clinging to it earlier, that seemed quite an accurate description. :D

Selfie at the summit

Foreland Point from the summit

I would gladly have sat up there on my floating table for a few hours and savoured the experience but this was a hill day with a definite deadline so I hit the trail back down. I was glad that I had some extra time to play with because I would certainly not have fancied having to run down here in a race against the clock. Too much in the way of potential leg break terrain for that kind of thing.

All back aboard

Ailsa C and Ailsa D

Leaving the rock in our wake

On the journey back the guys gave us a wee preview of their haul - buckets full of mackerel, crab and lobster - and allowed the kids a wee shot at the wheel. :roll:

Skipper Ailsa - what could possibly go wrong!!?? :shock:

Ailsa Craig receding into the distance

Pulling back into Girvan harbour

So, was this a gratuitous and fairly expensive (£100 for the four of us) bagging trip against the clock? Or was it a chance to savour an island experience as opposed to simply turn up, take a selfie and consider it bagged? I guess Ailsa Craig is by its very nature a different sort of island to Skye, Arran, Mull e.t.c. There's one not entirely reliable way on and off and apart from birds and their sh*t, there's not a lot to see or do there. But it's a historic and iconic piece of island and for me, one that has particular resonance and a place in my heart. I guess I bagged it and experienced it and I certainly loved it. 8)

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Graeme D

User avatar
Location: Perth
Occupation: Teacher
Pub: Moulin Inn
Mountain: Too tough to answer
Gear: Paramo gilet/Scarpa boots
Member: MCofS
Ideal day out: No such thing as a bad day out on or amongst the hills - only degrees of goodness.
Ambition: 2b sent home on full pay!

Munros: 215
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Grahams: 64
Donalds: 22
Wainwrights: 27
Hewitts: 36
Sub 2000: 56
Islands: 6
Long Distance routes: West Highland Way   

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Joined: Oct 17, 2008
Last visited: Oct 11, 2019
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