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This article is about the Scottish island. For other uses, see Ailsa.
Ailsa Craig
Location
Ailsa Craig is located in South Ayrshire
Ailsa Craig
Ailsa Craig
Ailsa Craig shown within South Ayrshire
OS grid reference NX019997
Names
Gaelic name Creag Ealasaid
Meaning of name Elizabeth's rock or Fairy rock
Area and summit
Area 0.38 sq.mi. (0.99 km²)
Area rank 150=[1]
Highest elevation 1,110 ft (338 m)
(a Marilyn)
Population
Population 0
Groupings
Island group Firth of Clyde
Local Authority South Ayrshire
Flag of Scotland.svg Lymphad3.svg
References [2][3][4][5]

Ailsa Craig (/ˈlsə/; Scottish Gaelic: Creag Ealasaid) is an island of 219.69 acres in the outer Firth of Clyde, 10 miles from mainland Scotland, upon which blue hone granite was quarried to make curling stones. The now uninhabited island is formed from the volcanic plug of an extinct volcano.

The island, colloquially known as "Paddy's milestone",[6] was a haven for Catholics during the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century, but is today a bird sanctuary, providing a home for huge numbers of gannets and an increasing number of puffins.

The island is owned by The 8th Marquess of Ailsa, but since May 2011 has been up for sale. By March 2013 the asking price was for offers over £1,500,000, down from the original asking price of £2,500,000.[6][7][8]

Etymology[edit]

An early reference to the rock is made by Sir Donald Monro, Archdeacon of the Isles who referred to the rock as "Elsay" in the 16th century.[9] The modern name of the island is an anglicisation of the Gaelic, Aillse Creag meaning "fairy rock".[3] An alternative Gaelic name is Creag Ealasaid meaning "Elizabeth's rock".[3][5] The first element, Aillse may represent Allt Shasann, "cliff of the English", mentioned in the Book of Leinster as Aldasain.[10][11]

The island is sometimes known as "Paddy's Milestone",[5][12] being approximately the halfway point of the sea journey from Belfast to Glasgow, a traditional route of emigration for many Irish labourers coming to Scotland to seek work.

As a result of being the most conspicuous landmark in the channel between Ireland and Scotland, the island is known by a number of different names;

  • A' Chreag: "the rock"[5]
  • Creag Alasdair: "Alasdair's rock"[3]
  • Ealasaid a' Chuain: "Elizabeth of the ocean"[5]
  • Alasan[5]
  • Carraig Alasdair: "Alasdair's Rock" (used in the Madness of Sweeney, the tale of a legendary king of Ireland).[3]

The Bass Rock is sometimes nicknamed "the Ailsa Craig of the East",[13] although its prominence in the Firth of Forth is not as great as that of Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde.

Geography and geology[edit]

Map of Ailsa Craig

The island, which is located approximately 10 miles (16 km) west of Girvan, is 2 mi (3.2 km) in circumference and rises to a height of 338 m (1,109 ft).

Geologically Ailsa Craig is the remains of a volcanic plug from an extinct volcano. It stands out because all younger sedimentary rocks covering Southwest Scotland have long since been eroded away. But the island survived erosion because it is composed of much harder igneous rocks from the Palaeogene era (65,000,000 years ago). The plug, which is composed of granite, is all that remains from the massive volcanic activity which accompanied the continental drift that formed the Atlantic Ocean. Dykes of similar age can be found in Scotland through other older rocks such as the extensive Cleveland and Eskdalemuir dykes. Though only a few metres across, these volcanic dykes can be traced all the way from northern England back to an ancient supervolcano on the Isle of Mull.[14]

Research has shown that the granite on Ailsa Craig has an unusual crystalline composition that has a distinctive appearance but a uniform hardness. These properties have made the island's rock a favourite material for curling stones.[15]

The island is part of the administrative district of South Ayrshire, in the ancient parish of Dailly.

Facilities and ownership[edit]

The island has a fresh water spring but no electricity, gas, sewage or telephone connections.[7] The island currently belongs to The 8th Marquess of Ailsa.[6] In May 2011 it was announced that the island was for sale; originally given an asking price of £2,500,000, as of March 2013, the current asking price is for offers over £1,500,000.[6][8][16]

Four cottages, a shed and a small area of adjacent land are in the ownership of the Scottish Indian business tycoon Bobby Sandhu, purchased for £85,000 from the Northern Lighthouse Board. A five-star hotel was to be built however planning regulations prevented this development.[17]

The only surviving buildings on the island are the lighthouse on its east coast facing the Scottish mainland, a ruined towerhouse, that was built by Clan Hamilton to protect the area from King Felipe II of Spain in the 16th century[7] and the old quarry managers house that is used by the RSPB.

Mrs Margaret Girvan ran a tearoom[18] in a wooden building that stood next to the tacksman's cottage,[19] famed for its pristine white table cloths and fresh scones. Mrs Girvan kept goats in stone-built goat rees or pens on the good grazing near Garry Loch. The feral billy goats were wont to interfere with these nanny goats and this was another reason for their demise.[18]

History[edit]

Ailsa Craig in the 1840s.
Ailsa Craig in the background with Dunure in 1840.

In 1590 the shipping of the Clyde was disrupted by pirates who were said to be Highlanders, quha lyis about Ailsay.[20]

In 1831, The 12th Earl of Cassilis became first Marquess of Ailsa, taking the title from the Craig, which was his property.

An annual hunt of the solan geese or gannets took place in the days of Robert Burns as the flesh was considered a delicacy.[21] Robert Burns' maternal uncle, Samuel Burns was involved in the solan goose trade.[21]

Ailsa Castle[edit]

The 40 ft/12m high castle which stands on the eastern side of the island was built in the late 1500s by the Hamilton Family to protect the island from King Felipe II of Spain.[7] The island was used as a prison during the 18th–19th century. The castle has two vaulted storeys and an oven is located in a cellar with evidence of a spiral stairway that once ran to the top of the tower. Three cinquefoils arranged in a 'V' shape are carved on the tower and indicate that the Hamilton family were linked with the structure. There are indications of an adjoining building that ran to the north.[22]

Spanish Invasion[edit]

Ailsa Craig was a haven for Roman Catholics during the Scottish Reformation. In 1597 the Catholic supporter Hugh Barclay of Ladyland took possession of Ailsa Craig, which he was intent on using as a provisioning and stopping off point for a Spanish invasion which would re-establish the Catholic faith in Scotland. He was discovered by The Rev. Andrew Knox, a Protestant minister (who later became both Lord Bishop of the Isles and Lord Bishop of Raphoe). Barclay thereafter deliberately drowned himself in the sea[23] or did so accidentally whilst trying to escape.[24]

Smuggling[edit]

Beneath the Main Craig at the southern end of the island and 40 ft (12m) above sea level is located a cave named after the supposed smuggler MacNall. When the cave was being cleared of guano many years ago two stone coffins were found and both contained human bones. The Rev. Roderick Lawson (1831-1907) thought that one of the internments might be MacNall himself however no details of this individual have yet come to light. Ailsa Craig would have been an ideal place for the temporary hiding of contraband groups.[25]

The Chapels[edit]

The island had two chapels and Thomas Pennant who visited Ailsa Craig in the 1772 recorded that the ruins of a small chapel were located near the landing place[26] and that another chapel (which he did not visit) was located on the summit of the island and was probably used by seaman to pray for safe voyages and returns.[27] When the lighthouse was being constructed four stone coffins were found that may well have been associated with the first mentioned chapel. The monks of Crossraguel Abbey once held the island and 'places of prayer' are therefore to be expected especially with a garrisoned castle nearby; it is to be noted that even the diminutive Lady Isle off Troon once had a chapel.

The Lighthouse, Foghorns and Gas Works[edit]

The Lighthouse was built between 1883 and 1886 by Thomas Stevenson; it is owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board.[7]

The lighthouse was automated in 1990 and converted to solar electric power in 2001; the island has been uninhabited since automation in 1990.[7][28] Ailsa Craig and its lighthouse feature extensively in Peter Hill's book Stargazing: Memoirs of a Young Lighthouse Keeper.

Two substantial foghorns with concrete housings were built in 1866, one at the north end of the island near the Swine Cave reached by the 'The Loups' path[29] and the other at East Trammins on the south end, both were powered by compressed air that was piped from the lighthouse where a gas powered compressor was housed until 1911 when oil powered engines were installed.[30] One of the compressed air pipelines can still be seen within 'The Loups' path that was constructed above it. The compressed air cylinders that held the required 'store' of air are still prominent features, especially at the Trammins foghorn. Both foghorns were decommissioned in 1966 and a Tyfon fog signal was used until 1987 when improvements in ship navigation made it also redundant.[30]

The gas works are still a prominent feature on the island and the cable powered tramway was partly built to haul wagons full of coal up to it from the North Port. Two gasometers held the coal gas that powered both the compressed air pump and the lighthouse light, however in 1911 the light was converted to incandescent lighting which was powered by electricity.[31][32] The gas works became redundant at this time.

The Railways of Ailsa Craig[edit]

Remnants of the old mineral railway embankment near Kennedy's Nags
Remnants of the roadstone crusher near the South Foghorn

Ailsa Craig had two quite separate rail transport systems, one dated from 1886 and supplied coal, oil fuel and provisions to the lighthouse and gas works via the North Port and later the New Jetty and the other transported road stone from the quarries at Kennedy's Nags via the stone crusher to the Quarry Pier. The Northern Lighthouse Board's tramway had a section worked via a powered cable way that hauled wagons up from the North Port and later from the New jetty. This well built tram line is largely intact and has a gauge of 3 feet with a junction/points at the gas works and a further set of points that led to a siding that ran down parallel to the gable end of the gas works to presumably collect the coal ash for disposal. The 'main line' runs on down to the lighthouse and its ancillary buildings, taking a right angle bend to run parallel to the southern end of the lighthouse buildings block.[33] This section of the line was worked by hand and at least two wagons remain at the site together with a set of spare wheels at the gas works.

The mineral line was built by the Ailsa Craig Granite Company Ltd. in 1909 and ran from the quarry at Kennedy's Nags via the stone crusher near the South Foghorn to the Quarry Pier.[34] This crudely constructed narrow gauge line was mainly horse drawn although wagons were also moved by hand or hauled up inclines by winding engines. The mineral railway at the quarry end had a least one siding and a mobile steam crane loaded the larger granite blocks into the wagons that were transported to the stone crusher at the Trammins near the south foghorn, smaller stones being loaded and even moved by hand.[34] Wagons or bogies were winched up to the substantial stone crusher and gravity was used to deliver the different grades of road stone to the wagons below that were then hauled by horses to the Quarry Pier via a line that ran in front of the lighthouse buildings and took a tight right angles bend to run up the substantial stone built incline to the storage area in preparation for delivery via sea transport to the mainland.[35]

Photographs taken in the late 19th century show the horse-drawn wagons passing in front of the lighthouse and portray the substantial railway incline and storage area. At times the production outstripped the storage capacity and a photograph shows at least three piles of different grades of road stone stockpiled in front of the lighthouse enclosure. The track at the crusher had a siding that ran to the crusher and a set of points that led to the Quarry Pier 'main line'.[36] The Ailsa Craig Granite Company was never a financially sound business and effectively closed in 1928.[34] The course of the mineral line is still evident near the quarries as a linear embankment that ends below Kennedy's Nag. Various artefacts of the quarry enterprise remain, including concrete blocks at Kennedy's Nag and steel and concrete remnants of the stone crusher near the south foghorn.

Curling stones[edit]

From the mid-19th the island has been quarried for its rare type of micro-granite with riebeckite (known as "Ailsite") which is used to make stones for the sport of curling. As of 2004, 60 to 70% of all curling stones in use were made from granite from the island[37] and is one of only two sources for all stones in the sport, the other being the Trefor Granite Quarry in Wales.[38]

Ailsa Craig produced two types of granite for curling, Blue Hone and Ailsa Craig Common Green. Blue Hone has very low water absorption, which prevents the action of repeatedly freezing water from eroding the stone.[39] Ailsa Craig Common Green is a lesser quality granite than Blue Hone. In the past, most curling stones were made from Blue Hone but the quarry is restricted by environmental conditions that exclude blasting.

Kays of Scotland has been making curling stones since 1851 and has the exclusive rights to the Ailsa Craig granite, granted by the Marquess of Ailsa. The last "harvest" of Ailsa Craig granite by Kays took place in 2013, after a hiatus of 11 years; 2,000 tons were harvested, sufficient to fill anticipated orders through at least 2020.[40]

Natural history[edit]

Pennant and others have noted that the only trees that grow on the island are elders Sambucus nigra or bourtrees in the Scots dialect, that are found as a grove known as 'The Bourtrees' located at the Trammins on the southern end of the island.[41] This visitor also rather quaintly mentions that he was surprised to find three species of 'reptiles' by which he meant molluscs, namely a naked black slug, the garden snail Helix aspersa and one of the common striped snails of the Cepaea genus. He speculated that they had accidentally been brought over from the mainland secreted within vegetables.[42]

Slow worms Anguis fragilis are found on the island.

A slow worm on the island

The mammals fauna included rabbits and at one time goats whilst pigs were bred here as food for the inhabitants. The billy goats were shot for sport in the 19th century and no longer survive, only a mounted head of one remains at the McKechnie Institute in Girvan.[43] The rabbits and goats may have been originally introduced to supply food for the fishermen and were mention by Pennant in 1772.[18]

The island is now a bird sanctuary, leased by the RSPB until 2050.[44] Huge numbers of gannets nest here.

Rats were probably introduced via shipwrecks and caused great harm to the nesting bird populations with the Puffins proving vulnerable to the extent of extinction as breeding birds. After a long campaign using pioneering techniques the rats were eradicated in 1991 and now puffins are once again raising young on the island with many other benefits accruing to both the fauna and the flora.[45] It is thought that the puffins recolonised Ailsa Craig from Glunimore and Sheep Islands.

It is recorded by the Rev Roderick Lawson that one of the Marquises of Ailsa released badgers and raccoons on the island, the latter certainly have not survived.

In a small glen above Ailsa castle a small freshwater body known as the Garry Loch is located at an altitude of 790 ft / 247m.[46]

Gallery[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands >20ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  2. ^ 2001 UK Census per List of islands of Scotland
  3. ^ a b c d e Haswell-Smith (2004) p.2
  4. ^ "Ordnance Survey". Ordnance Survey. 2012-07-03. Retrieved 2012-08-04. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Mac an Tàilleir (2003) p. 3
  6. ^ a b c d BBC News (21 March 2013). "Ailsa Craig: Asking price reduced in Irish Sea island sale". Retrieved 23 May 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Ailsa Criag". Media.primelocation.com. Retrieved 2012-08-26. 
  8. ^ a b "UK property for sale". Primelocation.co.uk. Retrieved March 1, 2013. 
  9. ^ Monro (1549) no. 2
  10. ^ Clancy (2008) pp. 33–34
  11. ^ Watson (1926) p. 173
  12. ^ PADDY'S MILESTONE 1947 Film. ssa.nls.uk.
  13. ^ "The Bass Rock". History of Leith. Retrieved 20 October 2009. 
  14. ^ "Beyond Plate Tectonics: Plumes, Hotspots, Supervolcanoes and Diamonds". Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Retrieved 14 February 2014. 
  15. ^ Ailsa Craig Retrieved 2007-10-17
  16. ^ "Ailsa Craig island in Firth of Clyde put up for sale". BBC News. Retrieved 1 March 2013.
  17. ^ 'Ailsa Craig, granite jewel of the Firth of Clyde, finally finds a buyer'.
  18. ^ a b c Tait, Page 16
  19. ^ Tait, Page 13
  20. ^ Paterson, Page 14
  21. ^ a b Purdie, Page 22
  22. ^ Tait, Page 37
  23. ^ Pennant, Pages 217–218
  24. ^ Robertson, George (1823). A Genealogical Account of the Principal Families in Ayrshire, more particularly in Cunninghame. Vol.1. Pub. Irvine: Cunninghame press. pp. 72–73.
  25. ^ Taot, Page 66
  26. ^ Pennant, Page 217
  27. ^ Pennant, Page 218
  28. ^ Northern Lighthouse Board - Automation of lighthouse Retrieved on 2008-01-28
  29. ^ Tait, Page 25
  30. ^ a b Tait, Page 26
  31. ^ Tait, Page 19
  32. ^ Tait, Page 24
  33. ^ Tait, Page 14
  34. ^ a b c Tait, Page 28
  35. ^ Tait, Page 9
  36. ^ Tait, Page 30
  37. ^ National Geographic Retrieved on 2009-07-19
  38. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/winter-olympics/26253664 10 things you didn't know about curling
  39. ^ "About Curling/Stones". Anchorage Curling Club. Retrieved 4 August 2012. [dead link]
  40. ^ "News". Kays of Scotland. Retrieved 4 August 2012. 
  41. ^ Tait, Page 27
  42. ^ Pennant, Page 216
  43. ^ Tait, Page 17
  44. ^ "RSPB stress importance of Ailsa Craig, but are not in negotiations to purchase iconic landmark". RSPB. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  45. ^ Tate, Page 76
  46. ^ Tait, Page 38

References[edit]

  • Iain Mac an Tàilleir (2003). "Placenames" (PDF). Pàrlamaid na h-Alba. Archived from the original on 21 August 2010. Retrieved 23 July 2010. 
  • Lawson, Roderick (1888). Ailsa Craig Its History & Natural History. Paisley : J & R Parlane.
  • Monro, Sir Donald (1549) A Description Of The Western Isles of Scotland. Appin Regiment/Appin Historical Society. Retrieved 3 March 2007. First published in 1774.
  • Paterson, James (1863–66). History of the Counties of Ayr and Wigton. V. - I - Kyle. Edinburgh: J. Stillie.
  • Pennant, Thomas (1776). Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides. Chester : John Monk.
  • Purdie, David; McCue Kirsteen and Carruthers, Gerrard. (2013). Maurice Lindsay's The Burns Encyclopaedia. London : Robert Hale. ISBN 978-0-7090-9194-3.
  • Tait, Norman T. (2005). Kirk on the Craig. Pub. Friends of the McKechnie Institute.
  • Watson, W.J., The Celtic Place-Names of Scotland, (Edinburgh, 1926) reprinted, with an Introduction, full Watson bibliography and corrigenda by Simon Taylor (Edinburgh, 2004)
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°15′7″N 5°6′59″W / 55.25194°N 5.11639°W / 55.25194; -5.11639


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82 news items

London Free Press

London Free Press
Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:18:45 -0700

Ailsa Craig's Earl Ross, the first international driver to win a NASCAR Spring Cup race, has died. Ross, a Canadian motorsports legend, was 73. His accomplishments at the NASCAR level bumped him into the rarified air of superstar in Canadian racing.
 
New Zealand Herald
Mon, 22 Sep 2014 09:52:30 -0700

Ailsa Craig, the beguiling island backdrop to Turnberry and Troon, was not visible from the Ayrshire coast on Friday, obscured by a light mist over the Irish Sea. But, after months of uncertainty, the future of Scottish racing was considerably clearer ...

Toronto Sun

Toronto Sun
Mon, 25 Aug 2014 07:06:09 -0700

AILSA CRAIG, Ont. -- Given up for dead in the ashes of a Southwestern Ontario barn fire 37 years ago, a Middlesex County man has suddenly popped up alive and well -- living under a different name in Oklahoma. Ron Stan, 32 at the time, disappeared after ...

Carrick Today

Carrick Today
Sun, 21 Sep 2014 03:52:30 -0700

Some other agenda items included the Ailsa Craig exhibition that was being held in the Church Hall and that the Dailly Gala Committee was now working towards next year's gala. An unused bench is to be moved from one area and relocated at the toll and ...
 
Aberdeen Press and Journal
Fri, 19 Sep 2014 04:03:45 -0700

Another popular home is Port Dearg House, which occupies an outstanding position in the village of Kildonan and benefits from breathtaking views towards the island of Pladda and the rocky outcrop of Ailsa Craig. This home, which sleeps eight, is ...

London Free Press

London Free Press
Fri, 19 Sep 2014 14:22:30 -0700

We are pleased to welcome guest speaker Mark Isaac, with the Ailsa Craig and Area Food Bank. Special music to be provided by The Valleyview Men's Quartet. We invite you to join us for a time of inspiration, followed by fellowship and light refreshment.

Telegraph.co.uk

Telegraph.co.uk
Fri, 19 Sep 2014 12:52:30 -0700

Ailsa Craig, the beguiling island backdrop to Turnberry and Troon, was not visible from the Ayrshire coast on friday, obscured by a light mist over the Irish Sea. But, after months of uncertainty, the future of Scottish racing was considerably clearer ...
 
Carrick Today
Sat, 20 Sep 2014 08:56:15 -0700

Competitions will be a small jar of lemon curd and a photo of Ailsa Craig. Mrs Wyllie welcome five and a half tables to the Pinwherry WRI whist drive. Mrs Tait presented prizes to 1st Ladies: Irene McCrae, 2. B McFadzean. 3rd Anne Robertson ...
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