The Wayfarer - A castle 10 miles offshore

Ailsa Craig by Todor Radic
Ailsa Craig by Todor Radic

Last week I recounted tales of Wigtownshire and I will return there again in the future as it is a pleasure to drive on those well surfaced roads.

But there are other places to visit with tales to tell, one of which is the castle on Ailsa Craig. Thomas Hamilton was appointed keeper of the island and erected the castle in 1597.

So perhaps it is not as old as some thought but then you have to consider that building a castle ten miles off shore was quite an accomplishment even in the sixteenth century, let alone any earlier.

There were all those stones to be shipped from the mainland to be carried up the side of the Craig to build a castle which is still in fairly good condition considering its age and exposure.

Of course there was the old tale that Ailsa Craig was formed by the devil who was upset about something, and in a temper grabbed part of Hadyard Hill and threw it into the Clyde to become Ailsa Craig.

This is perhaps the reason why the rock is considered part of the Dailly Parish. The ground from where the devil grabbed the rock is now the glen in which Penwhapple Reservoir now lies. But having covered that bit of folklore and the fact that it was once considered to be where wayward abbots from Crossraguel Abbey were sent as a penance to collect sea birds eggs etc. it was also considered to have been used by pirates to plunder shipping on the Clyde as there was little on the island to sustain life.

However there were plenty of birds eggs to be found, at one time there were also some Soay sheep and with the Garry Loch at the top filled with fresh water there were most of life’s necessities to hand.

At the time of the Reformation Ailsa Craig was annexed by Hew Barclay of Ladyland for Philip of Spain, but that did not last long, and since 1560 the Kennedy family have owned the island from which their chief the Marquis of Ailsa took his title. In more recent times Ailsa Craig was inhabited by lighthouse keepers and the families of the men quarrying the granite for curling stones.

It was once infested by rats, no doubt from shipwrecks in the area, but they have been eradicated and the puffins and seabirds the rats existed on, have returned to make this a sanctuary for birds once again.

As you can expect an island or rock such as this has a lot of tales to tell and a visit is well recommended. Climbing to the very top is not for all but a visit to the castle a third of the way up is very worthwhile. See you next week.