From Stranraer we decided to head straight for the isle of Arran as the weather was worsening, hoping to meet Andrew and kids there two days later at the weekend. We were not disappointed as the route to Arran took us past a small island called Ailsa Craig. On the chart it looked tiny but even 5nm out in the mist it looked like a huge volcano rising out of the sea.
As we approached there were increasing numbers of northern gannets and guillemots flying near the boat. The gannets are huge – distinguishable by their black wingtips and their peach coloured necks. They flew high and kamikaze dive-bombed into the sea, making a huge splash.
As we passed close to the lighthouse on Ailsa Craig we could see a ruined church tower or castle on the hill and a few ruined houses near the remains of a landing strip. We could well have headed straight onto Arran as there was little sign of wild life on this side of the island, but as we were progressing well with the tides we decided to circumnavigate the island. Along the north side were the remains of an old mining railway line, bridges and what looked like a kiln. We read in the pilot book that the island was indeed volcanic and was made of granite – a very fine granite that was used for making curling stones.
As we rounded to the north face of the island we began to see the first of many gannet breeding colonies – then on the west side seals on nearly every rocky outpost. Sometimes they slid into the water as we passed, at other times they did not, preferring to brazenly stare at us.
The north and west sides of the island were vertical sheer cliffs with numerous ledges formed from crystallised granite ideal for breeding birds. There were so many gannets that the cliffs looked snow coloured, the noise was deafening and the smell of iguano strong. For the first time we felt that we were approaching wild places — a taste of things to come next year when we would explore the western islands.
We set sail for our final destination – Arran feeling elated by the Ailsa Craig experience. As we approached Arran the winds moderated and we saw Holy Island emerge from the sea in its full glory shrouded in mist and mystery.