Monday, 11 June 2012

Ailsa Craig Adventure Part 5

It was in the 70's and the 80's that I did most of my mountaineering, following in my elder brother's footsteps. He taught me the ropes climbing the crags of Loudon Hill in Ayrshire before moving onto some of the classic scrambles and climbes in Glencoe, Ben Nevis and Skye to name a few places.

I was a heavy smoker in those days so puffed my way up the hills behind him then watched him run down again as fast as he could go. He often mentioned that smoking was unhealthy and that in later years, I might toil to get into the hills that we both loved. Sadly, fate can often have some strange twists and deal cruel blows. I quit smoking seven years ago and still get into the mountains with easy. Unfortunately my brother damaged his knees with the constant pounding of running down the hills with heavy loads in his rucksack.

Around the same time that I quit smoking, he quit walking when his knees started to regularly dislodged themselves. He underwent a very painful operation on the worst leg, where the surgeon cut tendons from the back of his thigh, threaded them through holes in his kneecaps then tied them to screws inserted in his leg bone .. all in an effort to stop the knee dislodging. He was given a 50 to 50 chance that it may work again or it may not. If not, it could mean amputation. He retired from work last year on medical grounds because of his knee problems.

On the Alisa Craig, I was delighted to follow in his footsteps again. Together.. for the first time in years..we were going to attempt to climb a hill again. Although the Ailsa Craig is only 1100ft high, for my brother it was a remarkable achievement. It was his first proper hillwalk since his operation.

Its a steep climb that starts at the lighthouse area and heads diagonally up the cliffs to the ruined castle. My brother used a couple of walking poles to keep as much weight of his knees as he could. I followed behind, hoping his knees would hold together.

We gained height quickly and got great views looking back over the gasworks. I could clearly see the two holes in the ground where the gasometers would have been when it was operational. The tour boat was returning to land at the jetty as we climbed higher.

Although my brother said little .. I could sense his determination .. he was going to the top. It didn't take long to get to the castle which is around a third of the way there.

The path steadly steeped with slippery sloping footholds on the section after the castle. I could now sense the pain as my brother tried to take most of his weight on his arms, but still he moved onwards and upwards

We passed the old well that was built to supply the castle with water. We were both very hot and thirsty, but didn't stop. Too many gulls have dirtied the well water.

The path was steep and exposed. I was surprised to see so many wild flowers flourishing on the rocky ledges.

Far below, I saw the point where the kayaks and boat were parked. I prayed my brother's legs would hold as it was a long way to carry him back down again if they gave way

The path eased a little but walking was still difficult. The ground sometimes gave way because of the many rabbit holes underfoot. We had to watch every step with care.

Then we came to a little colourful hollow with two pools of water. I read that one is almost 17 feet deep and this is where the rainwater collects to feed the well further down the hill.

The path seemed to disappear at this point so it was another steep scramble straigh up the rest of the hill to the top. I was delighted and very proud that my brother made the summit. I never thought that we would ever stand on top of the world together again but we did... and we made it safely back down the hill. My brother did it all under his own steam too.

Well done Douglas ..I hope it is the first of many more hillwalks :-D

To be continued...

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Ailsa Craig Adventure Part 4

Its the old buildings and the island's history that makes the Ailsa Craig so interesting for me.

The lighthouse and attached keeper's cottages are the most obvious buildings and can be seen from the mainland on a clear day. The lighthouse, although still operational, is now unmanned and solar powered. The cottages were sold to a businessman who intended turning them into holiday homes, but the plan fell through and they are now falling into disrepair. The lighthouse itself is painted a brilliant white but the rest was left to fend for itself

There are also two huge foghorns on the island and before they were silenced due to the efficiency of modern radar, they were powered by compressed air which was stored in the metal tanks beside the horns. This one is situated on the south end of the island.

And this one is on the north end of the island. A railway line once served both foghorn's from the lighthouse area and the remains of its tracks can still be seen. It was around about the foghorn areas that the famous Ailsa granite was mined. It is a very fine grained, red granite which was turned and honed into 75% of the worlds curling stones.

The largest building on the island was a gasworks which produced gas from coal to power the engines that compressed the air to sound the fog horns.

There were around 25 people living and working on the island during its hay day but it is now uninhabited. Some of the quarry workers cottages have been partially dismantled to reclaim the granite that they were built from.

Although there is no quarrying going on nowadays, granite is still taken from the island to make the curling stones. There are plenty blocks lying around the shore area. It was quite moving wandering around this old cottage. There is still the remains of some furnature and an old book rotting away where it was left by its owners.

I think it was quite moving for my brother too, as he ambled past the only cottage left that is still habitable. He spent a week living in it back in the late 70's. I often listened with envy to his stories of the island and wished I could see it for myself. Now I was there and following in his footsteps.

Together we were going to climb past the old castle with the view of standing on the very top of the Ailsa Craig :-D

To be continued ...

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Ailsa Craig Adventure Part 3

I am very aware that I have had a few excuses lately for not updating my blog :(

Now I have yet another ... and its not because I have lost interest in updating. Im afraid I sold my soul back to the devil :-o

I have started work again. Its real work and not pooch painting work. My last employer contacted me and asked if I would help out for a while. I agreed and signed the dotted line for a three month contract. I have therefore been very busy taking the dog a walk at 5.30am before heading for the office. When I return home, its dog walk time again then catch up on my outstanding pooch painting orders. However the money will soon top up my savings that I spent during the past six months of living in the "promised land". OK ... Excuses over, its now time to update the Ailsa Craig blog.

No sooner had I stepped on land than I almost got egg in my face by nearly stepping on a bird's nest.
Not surprising really as the island is a bird sanctuary and is the third largest gannet colony in the world.

The nest didn't belong to a gannet..but perhaps it belonged to these two love birds that were debating whether the water was warm enough for swimming.
These are a pair of Eider Ducks.

I had to side step over another nest and all this was within 100 yards of the landing point.

Our plan was to explore the area around the lighthouse, climb to the top of the Ailsa Craig, then do a boat tour round the island before heading for the mainland.

The shore around the lighthouse area is called the "Fisherman's Camp" because of the many indentations dug in the rocky beach. In days gone by, fishermen often landed here to shelter from the storms. They draped sails over spars laid across the indentations to form crude tents to shelter from the wind and rain.

You can clearly see one of the many indentations in this photograph.

As if by magic, just to add to the atmosphere of the landing area.. a real sailing ship passed by the Ailsa Craig.

To be continued..tomorrow ... assuming I can think of no other excuses !! :-D