Imaginary Island – journey through the south west

Ailsa CraigThe final part of my journey through the art, heritage and landscapes of south west Scotland took me to a place which I had yearned to go for half a lifetime.  I have gazed countless times on the striking form of this rock, from the Ayrshire coast, from the Rhins of Galloway, from the Isle of Arran, from Kintyre…

Twilight Island…and still it captures my imagination.  From certain angles, in certain light conditions, I swear I have seen the top of a vast head, with distinct brow ridges revealed, breaking through the water, some giant figure striding across the ocean floor.  At other times, standing on the shore, cloud and mist prevents you seeing the island.   Wondering (a rock so seemingly vast, making it difficult to comprehend how it can disappear completely) : perhaps it slips beneath the sea !

Sinking BeneathWhen I could not see it, I would often find myself lost in reverie (perhaps in an unproductive meeting !), wondering what people in the ancient past had thought about this place.  Was it taboo for them to land on what may have been considered a sacred peak ?  Or did they travel across the waters once a year to light a huge beacon on the top ?  Did they cross seasonally, when time and tide allowed, to gather birds and eggs ?

Distant IslandYears ago, my imagination fired, I began to investigate the possibility of excavating on the island: what secrets would surely be revealed !  I read fascinated about the recovery of burials from Macanall’s cave (when being cleared of guano in the 19th century), the presence of a mysterious keep on the hillside, and the disturbance of an earlier ecclesiastical site during the building of the lighthouse and associated foghorns.

And then of course there are the stones from here which are much coveted across parts of the world (from the 19th century the vast majority of the worlds curling stones were made from rock quarried on the island and still made by Kays of Scotland).  As these stones traveled, so did people in the 19th and 20th centuries, a diaspora some of whom would have traveled from Scottish ports and left with this milestone growing smaller in the distance…

Sea Crossing

So finally I left my imagination on the shore, sailed the twelve kilometers across the sea, climbed the 338 m to the top, and gained a completely different perspective of Ailsa Craig.

Different PerspectiveThe reality of the island, a bizarre blend of cultural dereliction and the teaming joyous energy of the birds, but always the deep pulse of the sea.

Bones and BagsThe top was burrowed and nested, a cycle of life and death, the thin soil mixed with large quantities of feather, bone (fish and bird) and plastics…!

Curling Stone and Seals

Towards the waters edge, on one side is the pile of rock for making curling stones, on the other seals lounge on the gravel spit.

Keep Sailing

The keep has clung perilously, for four hundred years, close to the cliffside…

Keep InsideThe stairs have partially collapsed, but careful navigation, reveals a ruinous upper floor…

Abandoned Belows

At the shore side, in the shattered remains of workshops, abandoned bellows…

Island Pathway

The carefully edged path, runs past the quarries, and leads to one of the foghorns…

FoghornIts door smashed and broken, paint faded, peeling…

DoorlessCloser to the lighthouse is the abandoned gasworks which powered the foghorns.

Abandoned Gasworks

The clean lines and white facade of the lighthouse, automated and unoccupied, however hides a deeper decay…

FacadeLines run through a ruinscape…

Lines in the RuinscapeBeyondOpen doors and smashed windows, collapsed plaster, abandoned rooms…

RevealedIn amongst the gloom, spears of light reveal glimpses of abandoned lives.

American RevolutionVoices of the past now drowned by the clamor of gulls…

Sea CliffsAnd so we depart, past the huge sea cliff, the noisy chat of gannets and guillemots, still resonating in my ears…

Receeding into the imagination

…I stare back,

imagination and reality now entangled…

…reverie will return me to here…


There is so much more which I saw on the short time I spent on Ailsa Craig: I wish I could take you all there and show you. 
The journey to Ailsa Craig was on the wonderful M.F.V. Glorious which sails from Girvan harbour.  I cant recommend enough the adventure of visiting Ailsa Craig and crossing (if the weather is kind) on M.F.V. Glorious, it is a great experience.  Ailsa Craig is also a sensitive location (Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Protection Area) for breeding seabirds (36,000 breeding pairs of gannets, remarkable to watch), so please follow any guidance.   Depending on which way the wind blows it is not always possible to land…but the journey and views of the sea cliff and birds are still amazing.



Archaeoprint : a hidden landscape

ArchaeoprintARCHAEOPRINT a hidden landscape by Paul Musgrove will be showing at Gallery Ten in Edinburgh next month:

Utilising complex archaeological and mapping data to create images of the hidden landscape this presentation forms a creative view of both archaeological data and ancient artefact in a contemporary artistic context. The data is combined using studio applications and traditional print techniques to create a visual response to the material, resulting in a unique set of prints.


Making Apples from Guns

Orchard Sign Swords to ploughshares, but now we may have to think of from guns to apples.  Comrie Community Orchard is a great example of the imaginative reuse of a heritage site.  The remains of an assault course and firing range have been incorporated into the plans for the future.

Obstacles for Growth

Obstacles are being used to train fruit trees.

Assault CourseCompost bins are situated along the side of the firing range.

Compost Bins

And a wonderful wooden Shepherd’s Hut has been made by a local crafts person and situated in the growing orchard.

The Shepherd's Hut

I love the mix of the reuse of the old with new introductions such as The Shepherd’s Hut.  As the orchard matures this will become a distinctive and peaceful place.  Even better in due course, for those who help tend the orchard, it will provide food to sustain and share….


Comrie Community Orchard is located at Cultybraggan Camp, Perthshire, which was subject to a community buy out in 2007 through Comrie Development Trust (CDT).  Watch out for another post about the other elements of Cultybraggan Camp in the next few weeks. 

Poetry of Sculpture – journey through the south west

HushBefore I visited Cairnsmore of Fleet, National Nature Reserve, I probably anticipated my experience would be dominated by the ‘natural’ and that I would encounter a wild landscape.  However, even as I arrived it became rapidly apparent that the landscape was significantly marked by cultural activity.  Not only is much of it dominated by significant areas of coniferous plantations but the Big Water of Fleet Viaduct was a striking cultural relict (apparently featuring in the 1935 film version of John Buchan’s 39 Steps).

Forests and Viaduct

In fairness I was drawn to the site because I knew there was an artwork by artist Matt Baker and poet Mary Smith: a collection of five sculptures and poems (Scene Shifters, Ocean, Hush, Heart and Erratic) which responded to the landscape of Cairnsmore.  In amongst the buildings of the working farm is a small (but excellent) visitor center with interpretation about the landscape and the art works.

Cairnsmore InterpretationIt was there that I collected five posts cards which were to guide me on my journey of discovery.  To discover the sculptures at Cairnsmore there are five clues, one on each of the post cards, which lead you consecutively to the sculptures.  The first to Ocean reads –

from the visitor centre before the river is bridged, don’t get your feet wet !

I am not going to show you all the sculptures (sorry, but they are wonderful), as I want you all to have your own journey of discovery at Cairnsmore…..

Over the next four hours or so, I followed the clues and was surprised and delighted by what I discovered.  The individual pieces are beautifully sculpted, all imaginatively and sensitively located in their landscape, evoking many cultural and natural references, but it was the way in which they were blended into a journey of discovery which was most joyous to experience.

Parts in a SceneGuiding PostcardsDiscover SculptureFound it

Landscape today is not an end result,

but only a single frame

in a long-running, slow motion movie.

How well will we act our parts in the next scene?

(From Scene Shifters by Mary Smith)


I did not want to give too much away in this post (as I would encourage those who are lucky enough to visit Cairnsmore of Fleet to undertake the journey of discovery which these artists have so elegantly staged for the visitor) but I hope I can give you a flavour of why I found this to be such a great artwork. I was left reflecting on what our landscapes would be like if every one was subject to a similar process of artistic exploration. 
Not least that these artists also produced a Cairnsmore Poems ‘passport’ for the two gateway communities at Creetown and Gatehouse which were distributed at opendays, workshops and talks:
Cairnsmore Poems‘The idea was to give the poems to local people and offer them the chance to find the sculptures in the landscape in the hope that knowledge of the artworks would grow outwards from within the two communities’