Monday, 21 July 2014

Big air and deep water at Ailsa Craig

Having looked around the lighthouse and the quarry infrastructure, Douglas and I decided to make the most of our day on Ailsa Craig by climbing to the summit of the island.

The start of the path isn't easy to find but Douglas has been up previously and knew exactly where to look behind one of the buildings to find it.  The path is faint and in summer goes through chest high bracken on the lower slopes.  It also climbs at quite an angle, varying from steep through very steep to vertiginous and requires the occasional use of hands. 

After an initial steep pull the angle briefly relents on a shelf of rock.  Ahead is the Castle, a square peel tower built with local stone and dressed on the corners with blocks of sandstone.  The Castle was almost certainly built by the Hamiltons but no record remains of why it was built or how long it was occupied.  It is said to have links with the monks of Crossraguel Abbey and was also briefly held by Catholic forces on behalf of King Philip II of Spain.

Above the Castle the ascent resumes its steep angle.  A small well, more a tiny spring really, sits above the building and may have influenced the siting of the building.  The steep slopes of Ailsa Craig continue underwater as well as above, straight into the deep water of the Firth of Clyde. 

We paused on a level platform just below the final rocky climb to the summit to watch as FPV Minna cruised by below.  At 42 metres long she's not a big vessel and looked even smaller from up here.

One final pull up and we were on the 338 metre/1109 ft summit of Ailsa Craig.  The small summit area is surrounded by ground which drops away to the sea below, the faint noise of thousands of seabirds and the clouds of white specks we knew to be Gannets with two metre wingspans gave a sense of scale; we were truly in "big air". 

And the views!  From the Ayrshire coast round to County Antrim in Northern Ireland to Kintyre, Arran and the mountains of Argyll there is a wonderful 360 degree view with a foreground of blue sea.  Arran looked close and yet is 25 kilometres away.  We picked out Pladda and Benna Head, highlights of our recent journey around the island.

There was almost no breeze on the summit and the afternoon was warm.  We spent some time absorbing the views and then prepared for the descent, the knee-jarring to come would be as tough as the climb - though Douglas' bionic knees can now cope with a remarkable amount!

We were glad of the dry underfoot conditions on our way down.  The angle is such that for most of the way any slip would have serious consequences; in muddy conditions I would think twice about climbing the hill.  Gradually the lighthouse came into view along with our kayaks drawn up on the storm beach.  It's interesting to contrast this image with one taken by Douglas from a similar point in 2012; the curving shingle spit and a huge pile of rock have been completely erased by storms in the intervening period - a really striking change. 

We were hot and tired on the way down and looked forward to completing the "hat trick" at Ailsa Craig by kayaking, hillwalking and swimming.....

On the lower heathery slopes we saw several beautiful Magpie moths (Abraxa grossulariata).  They feed on the leaves of shrubs, so on Ailsa Craig they must favour the only small trees available, Elders (known as Bour trees and so scarce are trees here that they're marked on the map).  Lovely as this small wildlife spectacle was, our wildlife encounters were shortly to get a whole lot more widescreen....

Meantime though there was the pure pleasure of a swim in the cool waters of the Firth of Clyde.  Instantly refreshing and invigorating, our swim was enlivened by the presence of a couple of nearby Grey Seals who were curious about these pale-coloured visitors to their world and stayed around to check us out, quite a privilege


  1. That's some hat trick!!! You guys are having FAR too much fun! The only thing that's keeping us from "extreme and unconscionable" envy is the fact that we're about to load the boats on the roof of the car - and get on the water! Cheers to both. D & J

  2. Haha! Thanks D & J, that's the way to do it!


  3. Wow, great photos and what a beatiful landscape. Would like to go to your place some day.

  4. Thank you Rolf, we are truly blessed with great paddling and hills! If you do come to Scotland, get in touch :o)

    Kind Regards