Visiting Girvan, Ayrshire, Scotland: with fine views of Ailsa Craig
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Contemplating a looming presence
This small town in South Ayrshire is a place that visitors will often typically go through rather than to (and regrettably so). It lies on the main road from the Glasgow area to the ferryports of Stranraer and Cairnryan, with services to Northern Ireland.
The Water of Girvan is a river which rises in Galloway Forest Park and enters the Firth of Clyde at Girvan Harbour. The river is known for its salmon fishing opportunities (1).
The McEachnie Institute in Girvan contains a local history museum and was founded in the late 19th century.
One of Girvan's most visible landmarks is the over 30.48 metre (100 feet) spire of Girvan North Parish Church. Another landmark, known as the Stumpy Tower, was formerly a jail.
But there is also a famous sight which is typically seen from — rather than one which is at — Girvan.
Ailsa Craig, a granite island in the Firth of Clyde, approximately 16 kilometres (10 miles) from Girvan, extends to 99 hectares (240 acres) and rises to 338 metres (1109 feet) is thus a looming presence to shipping. Volcanic in origin, in the 16th century it was a refuge and stronghold for those who sought to use it as a base from which to reimpose Roman Catholicism after the Reformation had taken hold in Scotland.
Today, boat tours around the rock are intermittently organized from Girvan (2), not least for the benefit of birdwatchers seeking to capture photos of the many species of bird which nest there (3). Among the species of bird to be spotted around Ailsa Craig — now designated a bird sanctuary — are puffin, guillemot and gannet. The sea eagle is known formerly to have been spotted on the island.
The island's cliffs can be hazardous for the walker; and a story goes that in the 19th century a young lady fell off the cliffs of Ailsa Craig, but the story had a happy ending: her Victorian-style floppy skirt acted as a parachute, and she thus survived the fall. (One wonders if the story would have ended tragically if the event had occurred especially after approximately 1965.)
A ruined castle on Ailsa Craig dates from the 16th century. Monks are known to have perched in splendid isolation on the island, many centuries ago.
Quarrying was formerly carried out on the island, but this became uneconomic.
A lighthouse was completed on the island in 1886; but after the lighthouse was automated in 1990, Ailsa Craig has remained uninhabited.
Interestingly, Girvan is also a surname, and a Mrs. Girvan once maintained a tea shop on Ailsa Craig, when the island was frequented more often by thirsty workers and visitors.
February 25, 2016
(1) See also: http://www.fisharound.net/location/public/4003/River-Girvan-Water-of-Girvan
(2) See also: http://www.ailsacraig.org.uk/
(3) Regarding birdwatching opportunities around Ailsa Craig, see also: http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/seenature/reserves/guide/a/ailsacraig/about.aspx
Some sourcing: Wikipedia.
Also worth seeing
Culzean Castle (distance: 13.9 kilometres) near Maybole; a striking castle owned by the National Trust for Scotland, and which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. An apartment at the Castle was formerly reserved for US General - later, President - Dwight D. Eisenhower.
How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Glasgow Airport, where car rental is available. Girvan is served by a rail link between Glasgow Central, Paisley and Stranraer. A bus service links Glasgow Bus Station with Girvan. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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