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.



21 thoughts on “Imaginary Island – journey through the south west

    • Penny, Thanks for your comment, yes aspects of the islands history evoke a deep poignancy, but there were also aspects which were uplifting and energising. G

    • Hi Luke. Thanks for your positive comments. It was hard to judge the length as I wanted to show you so much more but hopefully it will tempt you to journey across the water too? G

  1. That is an excellent, evocative piece. We went to Girvan decades ago to look at the Silurian rocks, and I recall the wonder we felt when we looked out at Ailsa Craig.

    • Hi Graham. Thanks I am glad you appreciated my piece. Yes not only is Ailsa Craig remarkable but there is also some amazing geology, including fossils, around Girvan which I keep meaning to explore. G

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    • Hi Mary thanks, glad you enjoyed it. I hope you manage to make the trip, its a wonderful experience. I think you have a few hours, perhaps 2, before sailing back – there was certainly enough time to explore to some extent. Look forward to hearing about your Imaginary Island journey …

  4. What a wonderful trip and an equally wonderful post. That isolation and abandoned foghorn made me think of The Lighthouse film of course. Another trip to dream about during cornavirus lockdown.

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