Friday, 18 July 2014

Ailsa Craig - big rock, small boats

Douglas and I had a plan to do a day's paddle "somewhere in the Firth of Clyde area" - which gives considerable scope! When our available days coincided with a short period of light winds we exchanged texts and a phone call during one afternoon and arranged to meet the following morning....... head out somewhere pretty special.  Our starting point at Lendalfoot is a four hour drive from home for me, but the opportunity to get out to Ailsa Craig seemed well worth the effort.  Having been on my "must do" list for so long but with timings or conditions not having previously worked, it was great to be in position with a good forecast.

If you are a sea kayaker and the name Lendalfoot seems vaguely familiar, it's because this is where Alastair Wilson developed Lendal Paddles.  The brand has been sold on a couple of times and is no longer based in Scotland but Alastair still lives in Lendalfoot.

From the shore, Ailsa Craig looks temptingly close but it's a 14 kilometre open crossing each way, with no guarantee of being able to land on the bouldery shore when you arrive.  Any trip out to the island needs careful planning both to get out and, more importantly, to get back.

We had a great forecast and set out soon after 0900.  There isn't too much in the way of tidal stream (although we experienced some tidal movement on our return leg) so our transit was a little to the left of the rock itself.  At the half way point you start to get a sense of the size of the place and the distance still to paddle.  I've passed Ailsa Craig many times onboard ships, a prominent navigational mark which gained the nickname "Paddy's milestone" from its position on the sea route midway between Belfast and Glasgow but ships steer well clear; in kayaks we were aiming straight for it.

The weather had been pleasant if a little cool when we set off but gradually the cloud drew away to leave a hot and sunny morning with almost no wind, which suited our leisurely outward journey perfectly.

Detail began to emerge as we drew closer.  Ailsa Craig is the remnant plug of an extinct volcano, the rock which once would have formed the magma chamber cooling to form hard micro-granite and columnar basalt.  The cone of the volcano has been eroded away by glaciation and post-glacial processes to leave the distinctive shape we see today.  The micro-granite from Ailsa Craig has some unique characteristics and this has allowed glaciologists to trace the routes taken by the glaciers which flowed down the Firth of Clyde and onwards as far as Wales.

At last we arrived under the lighthouse after two and a half hours steady paddling.  The only landing places on the island are found here, either to the right of the pier or below the lighthouse.  Grey Seals often use the pier area to haul out, but there were none on the beach today so we were happy to land here.

 Either way its a bouldery landing on a steep storm beach, but welcome after the long-ish time in the boats.  We soon had the kayaks and gear moved up to the top of the berm formed by last winter's storms and walked up to the lighhouse wall to enjoy second breakfast.

Our arrival coincided with that of MFV Glorious, the tour boat operating out of Girvan on the Ayrshire coast. Her passengers disembarked to take a walk around the lighthouse buildings with some curious glances at our little boats, no doubt thinking that the "Glorious" was small enough a vessel to venture out here!

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