Saturday, June 30, 2012

Farewell to Ailsa.

 As we left Ailsa Craig, a light wind helped our progress back to the Ayrshire coast.

 By the time we were half way across the wind had begun to drop and...

 ...we completed the crossing in flat calm conditions. Donald had motored on ahead of us as he faced a long slog up the beach with his boat.

 All too soon we were weaving our way through the Lendalfoot skerries...

...and made landfall at the end of another fantastic voyage to Ailsa Craig.

As we completed our packing, we left Ailsa Craig floating on a dreamy sea, with the cries of the birds still ringing in our ears.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Seaside rock: columns of granite at the Trammins, Ailsa Craig.

We had nearly completed our circumnavigation of Ailsa Craig. We passed under the great rock columns of the cliffs called Trammins and arrived...

...below the South Foghorn.

Soon we were back at the eastern spit...

...on which the lighthouse stands.

A farewell look over our shoulders, then we set off on the 15km crossing back to the mainland.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Exploration of the Water Cave, Kennedy's Nags and Little Ailsa.

 We paddled in wonder under wheeling gannets along the west coast of Ailsa Craig towards Stranny Point...

 ...where we came to the Water Cave, which was guarded by nesting fulmars.

 Rounding Stranny Point we came to the magnificent SW cliffs, which are called Kennedy's Nags.

 Phil decided to paddle in closer but...

 ...both he and...

...Little Ailsa were dwarfed by the scale of the cliffs.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A whirling halo of gannets.

Once we paddled round to the NW side of Ailsa Craig we entered the sunshine of the spring afternoon. The West Craigs are home to thousands of pairs of birds. The air was full of the "kittiwake kittiwake" calls of the kittiwakes and the continuous croaking of the gannets. Fulmars swooped down from their ledges in graceful, stiff winged flight and...

...guilliemots and razorbills flopped onto the water, where they congregated in rafts. It was a delight to see puffins whirring through the air with their rapid wing beats.

I decided to paddle out for 500m to get a better view of the NW side of the Craig. I was followed by a crowd of inquisitive wheeling gannets.
I was rewarded by a stunning view of Ailsa Craig, complete with a whirling halo of gannets. To give a sense of scale...

...Phil can be seen (just) in the middle of this telephoto photograph.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cliffs so vertical that the bottom overhangs.

 We were sorry to leave this glorious spit of sun bleached rocks below the lighthouse at Ailsa Craig.

 The tourists that arrived aboard MFV Glorious soon got bored and she set off again.

As we rounded the north end of Ailsa Craig, we saw the 500 ton STS Stavros Niarchos, a British sail training brig. She carries up to 18 sails on two masts. She was launched in Devon in 2001.

We passed the elevated railway and pipeline that carried granite from the blue one granite quarry and compressed air to the foghorn.

 As we turned the north end, we found ourselves under the dark vertiginous walls of Bare Stack.

 It is so vertical that the bottom overhangs.

This huge cave at the base of the cliffs is called Swine Cave. It is very difficult to get the whole rock face in a photo and to appreciate...

...the huge scale of these granite cliffs. The tiny blip on the shore at the horizon is Ashydoo Kirk, a group of fallen rocks as big as a house.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Gas powered foghorns and a racket on Ailsa Craig.

 It was a relief when Donald wanted to photograph from the summit of Ailsa Craig. I had hurt both knees on the way up and wanted to rest before starting the gruelling, knee jarring descent.

I enjoyed the view over the Firth of Clyde to Pladda with its lighthouse, Arran and Holy Island before we started...

 ...our descent. We followed the same route as the ascent but from above, what had appeared as a pile of stones on the ascent was actually the remains of the summer shieling.

Gradually I descended to sea level. Thank goodness for walking poles. Coming down is always harder on the knees than going up.

 We got a bird's eye view of the old gas works. The coal gas was used to run an engine that compressed the air to drive...

...two giant foghorns that are situated at the north and south of the island.

Then a great noise, worse than any foghorn, disturbed the calm, spring afternoon. It was the MFV Glorious with 12 very loud passengers. Usually Glorious carries birdwatchers, hill walkers and quiet outdoors folk but not on this sunny day...

Once they had landed, the peace was shattered. I hoped the nest and egg (we had carefully avoided) were not trampled underfoot. It was time to leave.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A saltire of colour on the slopes of Ailsa.

The upper slopes of Ailsa Craig were covered with a profusion of bluebells and sea campion.

The dazzling display of blue and white matched the colours of the Saltire, the Scottish flag.

Continuing upwards we came to the source of the castle well. Traditionally, it is called the Garry Loch (though the OS map calls it Garra Loch). It had nearly dried out and was surrounded by a profusion of marsh marigold flowers.

Above the Garry Loch we came to a bluebell covered slope that I found one of the toughest on the ascent. The bluebells hid a maze of rabbit burrows, many of which had collapsed. My walking poles not only provided stability they were excellent probes.

As we perspired our way upwards we emerged onto the upper slopes which were covered with short grass. There were many rabbits which hopped away as we approached. My brother Donald and I had started our mountaineering days together in the 1970's so I was very pleased to accompany him on this return to a small hill after a break of 8 years.

As we ascended the sea fog began to lift revealing a clear view of the south end of Arran and its mountains beyond.                 

 Then at last, the trig point on the summit! I literally clutched it for support and...

...caught my breath enjoying the view of our landing spit some 340m below.

I felt elated at being on the summit.  Although I might not look too happy in the photo, that was because my right knee was by now rather sore. Donald's photo shows me standing with my weight over my "good" leg. I really must try to  improve my posture.

Now we just had to get back down!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bluebells, NSAIDs and guano on Ailsa Craig.

I had brought two walking poles and I was determined to get up to Ailsa Craig castle which is about a third of the way to the summit. After a steep climb the final approach was through this field of bluebells.

The lighthouse and the spit we landed on gradually receded as we gained height (somewhat painfully in my case).

 The temporary spit is a remarkable and beautiful feature of this side of Ailsa Craig.

On reaching the castle I took another couple of NSAIDs for the pain in my bad knees and decided to try and make the summit. I had to give up hillwalking in 2004 but I had spent 5 days a week in the gym during the last winter and was determined not to let all that effort (and the pain of knee surgery) go to waste. Donald gave me a punt up the steeper bits and my shoulders heaved on the poles and took the strain off my quadriceps. Eventually...

 ...we arrived at the well, which...

...supplied water and guano to the castle. The inhabitants might have needed a rather different type of medication than NSAIDs.