Ailsa Craig

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Ailsa Craig, a rocky islet in the Firth of Clyde, 10 miles W by N of Girvan, and 12¾ S of Arran. Forming part of Knockgerran barony in Dailly parish, Ayrshire, it belongs to the Earls of Cassillis, and gives them, in the peerage of Great Britain, the titles of Baron (1806) and Marquis (1841). It rises almost murally from the water: attains an altitude of 1114 feet above the mean level of the tides: and figures conspicuously in most views from either the bosom of the Firth or the broad expanses of land which spread away from it to dista1t watersheds. Its base is elliptical, and measures 3300 feet in one direction, 2200 feet in another. Its rock is columnar syenitic trap. Its columns, on a close view, are ill defined: but, seen at a little distance, they look as distinct as those of the basaltic colonnades of Skye. They likewise have great magnitude, ranging from 6 to 9 feet in breadth: and, in one part, they rise without a break to nearly 400 feet in height. ' If Ailsa Craig, ' says Dr Macculloch, ' has not the regularity of Staffa, it exceeds that island as much in grandeur and variety as it does in absolute bulk. There is indeed nothing, even in the columnar scenery of Skye or in the Shiant Isles, superior as these are to Staffa, which exceeds, if it even equals, that of Ailsa. In point of colouring, these cliffs have an infinite advantage, the sobriety of their pale greystone not only harmonising with the subdued tints of green, and with the colours of the sea and the sky, but setting off to advantage all the intricacies of the columnar structure: while, in all the Western Islands where this kind of scenery occurs, the blackness of the rocks is not only often inharmonious and harsh but a frequent source of obscurity and confusion. ' A landing on the Craig is difficult, and can be effected only on the E side, at a small beach formed by fallen fragments of the rock. The ascent, to a height of about 200 feet, is easy, and leads to the ruins there of a square building, which may have been a hermitage, but of which nothing certain is known. The ascent thence is extremely laborious, over fragments of rock, and through a dense tangle of gigantic nettles. Two copious springs are not far from the summit: and a scanty but fine herbage, with somewhat perilous footing for man or even beast, covers the upper parts and the top. Crowds of rabbits burrow in the lower parts: a few goats subsist on the herbage higher up: and countless myriads of sea fowl inhabit all the cliffs. The rabbits are thinned during January usually to the number of from 600 to 1200, and they are of excellent quality, and find a ready market. A tacksman, with assistants, inhabits the rock during the summer months, to gather feathers and to catch fish. A scheme was agitated, a number of years ago, to make the rock a fishing station, in connection with the steamers from Glasgow to Liverpool, and buildings were actually commenced, but never finished. The favourite feat, in pleasure excursions by steamer along the firth, is to sail near the cliffs and to fire a swivel against them, so as to give a sudden and universal alarm to the birds. The scene which follows is wondrously sublime-seeming as if the mountain were resolving itself into great dense clouds of feathered creatures, with an accompaniment of cawing and screaming almost terrific: but, at the same time, it is so very singular, so exceedingly unlike every other kind of sublime scene, that some attempts which spirited writers have made to describe it, though true and graphic enough to persons who have witnessed it, appear bombastic and nonsensical to those who have not. See D. Landsborough's Excursions to Arran and Ailsa Craig (1851: new ed., Lond. 1875).—Ord. Sur., sh. 7,1863.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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