Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sun seekers with ants in their pants keep the pot on the boil at Ailsa Craig.

We set up camp on Ailsa Craig  on a grassy ledge next to the lighthouse wall.

 We were by now pretty hungry and soon...

had the pot on the boil.

Unfortunately we discovered a number of ant's nests in the grass. Phil had been sitting cooking his dinner when all of sudden he leapt to his feet. These were biting ants and he had ants in his pants!

At 17:35 the 16:15 Larne to Troon (arr. 18:30) Ferry HSC Express crossed the line between Ailsa Craig lighthouse and Pladda lighthouse. It was 1 hour and 20 minutes out of Larne and was running about 5 minutes late.

This was the view of the Express and Ailsa Craig from the south end of Arran just 24 hours before.

At 18:36 on 17/6/2014, the spit at Ailsa Craig fell into the shade of the great bulk of the island. So what would three sun seeking kayakers do?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ashydoo Kirk and a Victorian Horn House.

The main sea bird breeding colonies on Ailsa Craig are found on the western craigs.

High above the distant Kintyre peninsula, the western sky is full of gannets, guillemots, razorbills, black guillemots, fulmars and kittiewakes.

At this spot known as the Bed of Grass, puffins have re-established themselves after the island's rats were eradicated.

They whirr in and out from the sea on rapidly beating wings.

This guano covered rock is favoured by cormorants and is known as Ashydoo Kirk.

Once past Ashydoo Kirk the vertiginous cliffs rear up even more steeply into the huge rock wall which is known as...

...Bare Stack.

Now wonder we had cricks in our neck after gazing up at such wonders.

At last we reached the north end of Ailsa Craig where the hand of Man again becomes visible... you pass the site of the great Victorian horn horn which has stood here...

...since 1886. A 12 inch diameter cast iron pipe carried compresses air at 75psi from the compressor in the building near the lighthouse which Tony and I had explored just a few hours before. The compressor was powered by a 38hp Crossley ‘Otto’ silent gas engine which was powered by coal gas from the gas works.This arrangement lasted until 1911 when the gas engine was replaced by an oil burning engine. The fog horn was finally abandoned in 1966. At the gas works all the engine and compressor machinery was duplicated to drive the south fog horn.

After the foghorn we passed the rubble which lies below the site of the blue hone granite quarry which produced the finest granite for the curling stone industry.

As it was mid June, the local gulls were nesting on the waste rubble from the quarry.

 We had now arrived back at the spit under the lighthouse. Our crossing to and circumnavigation of Ailsa Craig were completed but the day was not yet over....

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.