Ailsa is a truly unique island. It is 1,114 feet high, about 2.5 miles (4 kms) around the base and is made of unique, very hard granite. Ailsa granite became the favoured stone of the curler and stones are today still removed to be manufactured into what we see on TV when the curling is played.
The island was historically owned by the Crossraguel monks. In the charter of 1304, King Robert the Third gifted the island to the monks who in turn passed it to the Kennedys and they still own it today.
The “Castle” is more a “Keep” than anything palatial, and probably held fewer than eight persons.
In medieval times fishermen also used the island as a refuge in stormy weather, pulling their sails over depressions in the rocks used as shelters. These depressions are still visible near the Lighthouse.
The island is now managed as an RSPB Nature Reserve by agreement with the Marquess of Ailsa, it is also by Law a SSSI and designated a Special Protection Area.
Following many shipwrecks on Ailsa during the 1800’s, the erection of a lighthouse on the island was thought essential and to this end part of the foreland area was sold to the Northern Lighthouse Board in 1882 to provide ground for the lighthouse to be built. This was duly completed in 1886. It was initially a coal-gas fuelled light, but after a few decades became a paraffin light. It remained that way until March 1990 when it became automated, working on acetylene gas and solar power. Today it works entirely on solar power.
Ailsa is principally a seabird colony and is famous for its Gannets. It is the third largest colony in Britain. The Gannet is the largest breeding seabird and can be seen making spectacular high dives to catch its fish prey. Gannets can live to over 30 years and when they leave Ailsa in winter they travel as far south as West Africa. They breed at four years old and young birds go from a brown speckled plumage gradually becoming whiter to the gleaming yellow-headed adult birds we see breeding on the island.
The following seabirds breed regularly on Ailsa Craig
Lesser Black-backed Gull 200
Herring Gull 300
Great Black-backed Gull 80
Black Guillemot 25
In addition Manx Shearwaters, Storm Petrels and Skuas are seen offshore on a regular basis in summer and autumn.
The Puffin has returned and been proven to breed since the eradication of rats in 1991. Formerly the Puffin was probably the commonest seabird breeding on the island. Rats ate the eggs and young when they got ashore from a shipwreck. When they were finally eradicated in 1991 the seabirds that were lost returned and bred successfully.
The island also has an interesting Flora with over 200 species recorded. Rare plants include the Tree Mallow and White Fumitory. Abundant plants such as the Sea Radish provide food for the caterpillars of many butterflies and the island has several interesting moths and insects.
At see it is possible to sea Seals, both Grey and Common and the Harbour Porpoise. Basking Sharks used to be common in summer but most were killed off, however one or two can still be seen. In recent years a Minke Whale has spent time circling around the island and a Killer Whale once made an appearance.
For prices and details please contact: Mark McCrindle, 7 Harbour Street, Girvan, KA26 9AJ.
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