After two prior failed attempts to make it onto the Scottish island of Ailsa Craig it was time for a final roll of the dice. Good weather was due over the weekend making the sail by boat to the uninhabited island possible. Traveling down towards Girvan in Scotland towards the harbour I passed Donald Trumps Turnberry golf course. I wondered if he had perhaps made a visit on his last trip to the area. My last outing had seen be brush shoulders with Kings and Queens, now it was time for a President.
Getting to Ailsa Craig
Reaching the island of Ailsa Craig took longer than I expected. The nearest harbour at Girvan in Scotland is around an hours drive away but well worth the journey. Its a small sea side town offering traditional fish and chip shops, amusement arcades and even a swimming pool. It reminded me of my childhood spent in places like Largs and Millport always popular with people from Glasgow for a ‘trip doon the watter’.
A small fishing boat makes regular sails to the island weather permitting. The cost a reasonable £30 per head included the 90 minute trip each way to the island, a full circumnavigation and plenty of local insight into the history. There was an incredible amount to learn about the past of Ailsa Craig and I’m still finding out new things even after my visit.
Despite the pleasant weather the sea on route had been a little choppy. I can now see why the trip had been cancelled on the other occasions. It was well worth the voyage however as on making landfall I could see there was a huge amount of different parts to the island to explore.
The jetty where we tied up the boat is dominated by the Ailsa Craig lighthouse. Built in the 1800’s it is now fully automated and its recent paint job had it shining to its full potential. It was fantastic to think about the original three lighthouse keepers alone on the island battling the elements to keep all those how sailed by safe. Princess Anne, a lighthouse enthusiast, had visited the island herself to review the restoration work and explore the island.
With only the occasional RSPB officer now resident on Ailsa Craig the buildings had long been abandoned. The history of industry on the island had however left so much to explore. A world famous home for granite rock used in curling stones had resulted in lots of activity. Clues to past were all around from derelict housing complete with bath tub, through to rusted train tracks.
With so few people visiting there were still many functioning pieces of engineering like the railway signals I operate in the video. If you’re someone who enjoys urban exploration Ailsa Craig is certainly worth a visit.
Views on island views
Being a regular munro bagger I couldn’t resist a hill climb to the islands high point. Standing at shy of 400m it isn’t an all out hill day in the mountains but is enough to give new comers a flavour of the great outdoors.
On the way you pass an abandoned Spanish jail that can be investigated. Made of sand stone that isn’t natural on the island it had clearly been shipped over and carried some distance up slope. The builders had done a solid job of putting together a well defended position with panoramic views out across the sea.
The climb to the summit itself took around half an hour and was well worth the effort. 360 degree views extended to reveal Stranraer, Mull of Kintyre and across to Northern Ireland. Visibility during the whole day couldn’t have been more perfect and I was thankful that I was able to see so much. The world really does seem like a small place from high up with other islands almost in touching distance.
With the island abandoned by man, nature soon took over again. The RSPB run Ailsa Craig as a protected home for birds and rare species of wildlife. Its now full of everything from Puffins to Seals and of course rabbits. Rats were wiped out on the land during the 1990’s, left over from having human inhabitants. This has allowed even more specicies to spring up, safely nest and produce young.
As you can see in the video the high cliff tops make the perfect home for sea birds. The surrounding water providing a rich source of food to keep the numbers growing steadily over the years to become the third largest reserve in the UK.
Darker island history
During our sail around the island it was revealed there was a darker history to the island. The natural sea caves made a unique hiding spot and had been used by smugglers over the years.
A central location between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland made for excellent opportunities to make profit. Easy costal access would let smugglers go unnoticed as they moved around in small fishing vessels transporting contraband goods.
Exploration of the sea caves stretching back a few 100 feet had uncovered bodies in the recent past. Smuggling can be a dangerous business it would seem with the chance of the caves filling up with sea water during high tide and becoming impassable.
These dark tales added an even greater layer of mystery to the island and got the mind wandering. An amazing place to use for creative content in future.
Sailing into the sunset
The trip to explore the abandoned Scottish island of Ailsa Craig had been one of my favourites to date. There was a huge sense of isolation and a rich amount of detail to explore. I only wished I could of stayed longer and maybe even wild camped over night. For those looking to film a new horror movie or independent film in Scotland, Ailsa Craig would make a great backdrop location. If you get the chance to make the trip be sure to take it.