Thursday, October 23, 2014

A blizzard of gannets does not deposit snow on the rock ledges of Ailsa Craig!

After Phil had partaken of a solo luncheon while Tony and I explored the industrial archaeology of Ailsa Craig, we set off on a clockwise circumnavigation of the rock in late afternoon.

Top tip: on a visit to Ailsa leave the circumnavigation till last. This means that the sun will be well round on the W and NW breeding cliffs and by going clockwise, the sun will be behind you for best viewing.

As we left lighthouse spit, several large grey seals followed us and indeed passed under us.

 Initially first time visitors wonder what all the fuss is about.

 Yes the cliffs on the SE side are suitably steep but there are not many birds about.

 However, as soon as you pass the foghorn at the south east end of the island...

 ...the cliffs at Trammins rear up in a most impressive manner. pinkish vertical columns of rock are topped by white capped ledges. From a distance it looks like snow but...

 ...once you get a little closer your olfactory system will become so overloaded that you will realize that this is not snow but the finest gannet guano!

High above us squadrons of gannets are flying out from their ledges. There is order in the seeming chaos. Birds on lower ledges fly first and birds on the top ledges fly last.

 The air above us was filled with a blizzard of...

 literally thousands of gannets.

It is therefore advisable to wear a broad brimmed hat on a circumnavigation of Ailsa Craig.  At sea level there is also interest. This isolated rock is known as Little Ailsa.

 Just beyond Stranny Point lies the Water Cave and the main breeding cliffs on the west of the island. Our taste of guano on the south coast had been merely an amuse bouche.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Decay on Ailsa Craig.

While Phil recovered from his crossing to Ailsa Craig, Tony and I took a stroll round  the buildings near the lighthouse. This was the site of the gasworks and this building was the engine room which ...

...once housed the compressors which were powered by the gas and provided compressed air for the fog horns. The gas engines were replaced by oil burning engines in 1911 and the large oil tank was added to the roof. When I first visited Ailsa Craig in the 1970's this building still had a complete corrugated iron roof.

 Next to the buildings are two circular pits that once held the gasometers which stored the coal gas.

  The compressor engines and lots of other rubbish have been dumped in the pits.

This railway line leads from the jetty up to the gasworks and the lighthouse. The winding house has an engine which pulled the wagons loaded with oil up from supply boats.

 In the 19th century this was the Marquis of Ailsa's factor's house. The island's gannets were harvested just like in St Kilda and there is still an iron stake near the summit that estate workers used to lower themselves on ropes to the birds' nesting sites.

 In the 1970's the cottage was still habitable and when we were there, a PhD student from Aberdeen University (who was studying gannets) was in residence.

Now it is in a right mess and state of decay.

Tony, go to your room and don't come out until it's tidy!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Scared the willies out of them on Ailsa.

After the High Speed Catamaran Express passed behind us, we could at last relax on our crossing from Pladda to...

 ...Ailsa Craig. We enjoyed a light but steady tail wind which helped speed...

...the final few kilometres. Perhaps we relaxed too much because we let the now flooding tide...

 ...carry us a kilometre to the east rather than keeping our ferry angle.

After our 22km crossing, we were rather hot and bothered by the time we made landfall at the lighthouse spit. Tony and I went for a quick swim. A couple of large grey seals swam unexpectedly round the corner of the spit. I am not sure who got the willies scared out of them more, us or the seals.

After evacuating the water, Tony and I ate our luncheon and watched a tiny speck grow into Phil who arrived on a solo crossing of the 16km from Girvan on the Ayrshire coast..

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Uneasy moments and movements on the crossing to Ailsa Craig.

When we left Pladda for Ailsa Craig there was no wind but the ebb tide was running in its third hour and the water had an uneasy movement..

 This looking back at Pladda from 1.7km  to the south of the lighthouse. A shallow ridge runs out here from Arran in line with Pladda and kicks up a nasty tide race if there is any wind. The Ardrossan Campbeltown ferry keeps well off Pladda for this reason.

Ahead lay Ailsa Craig and at 08:47 the 07:45 Larne Troon high speed catamaran ferry crossed our path but safely well ahead.

We continued in a southerly direction on our long crossing to Ailsa Craig until a rumble of engines from behind...

broke the monotony. The MV Ingunn is a Dutch registered 3000Gt general cargo vessel. Compared with the HSC Express's 40 knots, she was travelling at a leisurely 11 knots. We did not pay her much attention but...

...she kicked up a really dirty, steep breaking wake. I shouted a warning to Tony and we both swung our heavily loaded bouts round to meet the wake. I just got my camera away in time as the wake broke over our bows to chest height and we both had to brace.

 The Ingunn motored on oblivious to her wake and our presence.

A little breeze got up and we hoisted our sails. At last we began to make out detail on Ailsa Craig. Then we heard the roar of HSC Express's engines starting at 11am as she left Troon some 36km away to the NE. We kept looking over our shoulders but...

...fortunately due to our early start, she crossed our path well behind us. We breathed a great sigh of relief as another uneasy moment had passed. At least we had suffered no uneasy involuntary movements.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

At the south end of Pladda "I wonder where they think they are going?"

We set off across the Sound of Pladda at a surprisingly high ferry angle. It was approching 3 hours into the ebb and the tide was running through the shallow sound like a river.

 Pladda jetty is on the sheltered NE side of the island though... the northerly winds of our last visit (on the 23rd of May 2014), it was far from sheltered getting out of the harbour!

On this occasion we did not have time to explore this fascinating island. Unlike several small Scottish islands there are no "No Landing" signs. Pladda was bought by the Morten family over 20 years ago and their faith in human nature seems to have paid off as I have never seen signs of vandalism or littering there. Mind you, Pladda is in a remote location and the Sound of Pladda does form a significant barrier to those of a littering persuasion..

The flat nature of Pladda is due to it being composed largely of a volcanic sill of tertiary basalt. Indeed Pladda is connected to the mainland by a submarine basalt dyke, one of a swarm of dykes that radiate out from the Kildonan shore.

Pladda was one of the first lighthouses to be built by Robert Smith, the founder of the Stevenson dynasty, and the light was first lit in 1790. In those days flashing lanterns had not been developed so to distinguish Pladda from the other Clyde approach lights the lower second tower was built in 1801. The two steady lights shone for over one hundred years until a flashing light was installed in the main tower in the early 20th century. In 1870 Pladda lighthouse was one of the first in the world to be converted to paraffin and the great tanks still stand behind the lighthouse.

At the South end of Pladda we caught sight of a rather distant looking Ailsa Craig.As we left Pladda for the Craig, we passed a local fishing boat. I quite clearly heard one of the fishermen say "I wonder where they think they are going?"

Monday, October 06, 2014

An early start in the Sound of Pladda.

On the early  morning of 17th June 2014, Tony and I broke camp before the Kildonan dog walkers had surfaced. It was a spring tide at low water so...

 ...we carried the gear to the water's edge to lighten the kayaks for the long carry to the water's edge. The basalt dykes pointed straight out to our destination...Ailsa Craig. It was a perfect day for the 22km crossing and we had arranged to meet Phil on the Craig. He was going to cross the 16km from Girvan solo as Ian unfortunately could not get away.

The sea was like a mirror as we sett off at 07:45 across the Sound...

...towards the wonderful little island of Pladda and its lighthouse.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Moonlight over Pladda and Ailsa Craig.

I awoke at 3am to the the sound of lapping as High Water approached. It seemed very close to the tents and I was concerned about the kayaks. There are two groups of sea kayakers. The first carry their kayaks right up to the tents each night and the second (into which we fall) just carry them up above where they expect the night high tide to come.

Fortunately noise carries a long way in a still night and the kayaks were well above the tide. I was glad to have awoken. It was just 4 days after a full moon and there was enough light to see both Pladda and Ailsa Craig. Both the moonlight and the Pladda lighthouse lantern were reflecting on the Pladda Sound as it was calm at slack water. I could just see the lights of a fishing boat off Ailsa Craig and to the right of that (at the edge of the photo) I could see the port navigation light of the Dutch container ship MV Energiser making her way up the Clyde to Greenock.

Satisfied by the beauty of the scene and reassured by the lack of wind, I made my way back to bed. It would be a long paddle to Ailsa Craig in the morning.