5th to 6th of November, 2011 – Ailsa Craig

Ailsa Craig is somewhere I have known about for what seems like all my life. Having spent summer days on the beach at Troon looking out towards it as a youngster must have made enough of an impression on me to inquire about boat trips years later, before I got in to paddling. Why bother with a boat trip and the restricted hours ashore that that would incur though when you can get yourself out there and enjoy a bit more freedom? Great things these kayaks!

With that in mind I suggested an overnight trip out to the island to other paddlers and was pleasantly surprised by the level of interest shown.

Starting our journey over to Ailsa Craig

After a poor summer and bad couple of months of windy and grey weekends, we were very lucky to be setting off for Ailsa Craig with blue skies and just a little cloud off in the distance beyond our target. With ten miles of open water between us and Ailsa Craig, it was immediately obvious even from there that it is quite a big place, not just a Bass Rock sized volcanic plug and for about two thirds of the journey the size never seemed to grow much, only in the last hour did we have enough detail come in to view in the lighthouse and castle to give a true sense of the scale of the place.

Getting there!

Getting close enough to pick out detail

Basaltic columns

Winds and sea state very friendly on the paddle out and after three hours paddling, including a couple of re-fueling stops afloat, we passed under Ailsa’s gentler side and the lighthouse then rounded the jetty to land on a pretty slippy bouldery beach.

Tents were soon up and lunch rushed in order to take advantage of our only opportunity to walk the path that follows the base of Ailsa Craig. This is only achievable at low tide apparently due to one section flooding. As it was, the tide was not low enough during our walk, nor next day when paddling round closer to low tide, so perhaps this is only possible on a low Spring tide, we were there closer to Neaps. Anyway, a glorious sunset was enjoyed and we got to see one of the giant foghorns (now disused) up close before lingering by the shore as the rising moon’s reflected light started to dance on the ripples created by nosy seals nearby.

Two of the group paddling round Ailsa at sunset

Southern foghorn at sunset

Back to base for dinner, wood gathering and we soon had a fire to warm us. Bizarrely, as it was Guy Fawkes night, we had silent fireworks going off along Ayrshire’s coast over the night for extra entertainment.

Ailsa Craig lighthouse

Toasty conditions

That bright half-moon was a bonus and was used by a couple of us to ascend to the top of Ailsa Craig without need of torch light except within the confines of the castle part way up. How many islands have their own castle to explore? Views from the top were amazing, as well as the stars being out, there were the lights of settlements in all directions; Ayrshire, Arran, Mull of Kintrye and Northern Ireland and down to Galloway.

If that was not hard enough on the legs, the second ascent just a few hours later before sunrise with others was a bit tougher. We all had a quick look at the castle but were in a hurry to get to the top for the main event, lingering there and watching among other things one of the Navy’s new destroyers on sea trials, zig-zagging about. A more relaxed descent was interrupted with more castle fun and then it was back to the tents for a very pleasant, sun-kissed breakfast.

Lighhouse at dawn

Dawn from the castle

Dawn colours over Ayrshire

Enjoying sunrise at the top

Castle and Lighhouse

Ailsa Craig's Castle

After this, the deteriorating, suspended path on the north coast was followed to the quarry workings and bigger of the two disused fog horns. Lots of buckled and corroded ironwork and concrete makes for a daunting walk at times.  Highlights were the seal pups warming themselves on the shore and lots of granite fragments left behind from the quarried curling stones, quite a unique place.

View of the lighthouse from the workshop

Workshop with the Castle above

Railway and workshop

Beached kayaks with Arran behind

Fun ahead

One of many seal pups lingering on the beach

Granite cuttings left behind from the curling stone quarrying

Not long after we were re-packing and setting off to complete our circumnavigation of the island, this time beneath the steep side and its massive cliffs which in part consist of huge basaltic columns along the way.

The return journey was about four hours and slightly harder than our paddle out due to swell and wind conditions. After a good workout we arrived back at our launch site to be rewarded with a beautiful sunset, this time with Ailsa Craig part of the scene.

Choppier conditions on the return paddle

Back at our starting point with dusk approaching.

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