Ten things you probably thought you never needed to know about Ailsa Craig

Ailsa Craig is an island 10 miles off the coast of mainland Scotland. The modern name of the island is an anglicisation of the Gaelic, Aillse Creag, meaning “fairy rock”.

Ailsa-Craig-map1. Geologically Ailsa Craig is the remains of the plug from an extinct volcano, composed of igneous rocks dating back to the Palaeogene era (65,000,000 years ago).

2. The castle which stands on the eastern side of the island was built in the late 1500s by the Hamilton Family to protect the island from King Philip II of Spain.

3. Ailsa Craig was a haven for Roman Catholics during the Scottish Reformation (1560).

4. In 1597 the Catholic supporter Hugh Barclay of Ladyland took possession of Ailsa Craig, which he wanted to use as a provisioning and stopping off point for a Spanish invasion which would re-establish the Catholic faith in Scotland.

5. The island was used as a prison during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Ailsa-Craig6. From the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, the island was quarried for its rare type of micro-granite with riebeckite (known as “Ailsite”) which is used to make curling stones. The granite has an unusual crystalline composition with a distinctive appearance and a uniform hardness. Curling aficionados throughout the world (“curlers”?) know this fact.

7. A lighthouse was built between 1883 and 1886 by Thomas Stevenson (in whose family lighthouses were endemic); it was automated in 1990 and converted to solar electric power in 2001.

Puffin8. In 2004 for the first time in nearly a half century, puffins returned to the island having been wiped out by an infestation of rats introduced by quarry workers in the 19th century.

9. The island has a fresh water spring, but no electricity, gas, sewage or telephone connections.

10. The island currently belongs to the 8th Marquess of Ailsa and is for sale with offers of over £1,500,000 being seriously considered (allegedly).

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One comment on “Ten things you probably thought you never needed to know about Ailsa Craig

  1. Peter Horsfield says:

    My Friday evening has been greatly illuminated. I particularly like number 2 – building a castle of rock to defend a piece of rock. They should’ve just sat on the top and bowled them over with curling stones as they climbed the hill. Or else made a deal to swap holidays on Gibraltar.

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