Sunday, 20 July 2014
Light and heavy stones at Ailsa Craig
As we finished our second breakfast MFV Glorious re-embarked her passengers and headed off for a tour around Ailsa Craig. We intended to do the same circumnavigation, but Douglas suggested we do it later in the day when the light would be better on the south-west facing cliffs. Meanwhile, we had plenty of time to explore.
A feature of the area around the quarry and boulder beach near the lighthouse buildings and pier are the shaped offcuts of granite lying around. They are the clue to Ailsa Craig's world-renowned status as the origin for most of the world's Curling stones.
Curling has a long tradition in Scotland and the Netherlands, and when taken abroad by emigrant Scots became a major sport in Canada. Known as "the roaring game" from the noise of the stones rumbling down the ice "sheet", it is still a popular pastime with indoor rinks and also (like in my home village of Alford) outdoor rinks used in winter.
The granite stones have to be of a prescribed weight between 38 to 44 lbs (17 and 20kg) and with a maximum circumference of 36 inches (910 mm). The two principal sources of stones ar Ailsa Craig and Trefor quarry in Wales. The preferred stone is made from a particular type of microgranite known as Blue Hone from just one area on the island, its characteristic fine grain and hardness resist water absorption and makes long-lasting and true running stones. Quarrying ceased for a time between 2002 and 2013 because of the bird reserve status of Ailsa Craig, but in 2013 Kays of Scotland, who have exclusive quarrying rights graned by the island's owner the Marquess of Ailsa, quarried 2000 tons of rock - enough to fill anticpated orders until 2020.
Adjacent to the lighthouse building is the narrow guage tramway which ran from the quarry to the pier to transport the quarried rock. Remarkably, the points on the tramway still function.
We like lighthouses a lot - and Ailsa Craig is a fine example of a Stevenson light built for the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners. The buildings and surrounding area are in separate ownership to the rest of the island, there was a plan to turn the keeper's cottages and storerooms into holiday accommodation but nothing seems to have come of it. Some of the buildings are open and are showing the signs of neglect and exposure to the elements.
The best view of the lighthouse is from a little distance away. Completed in 1886 under the supervision of Thomas and David Stevenson, the light is 18 metres above sea level, flashes white once every 4 seconds and is visible for 17 nautical miles. Prior to the installation of wireless telephone equipment in 1935, the keepers relied upon pigeons to carry messages ashore to a loft at Girvan on the Ayrshire coast. Ailsa Craig was automated in 1990 and converted from gas to solar-electric power in 2001.
We had seen such a lot during our short exploration around the landing area - it was time to get a bit of a higher view!