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Ailsa Craig for Sale: Loaded with Rare Granite and Birds

Updated on May 15, 2011

£2.5-2.75 million might seem like a lot to pay for an unpopulated island with little to no commercial prospects. However, this isn’t just any island. It is a legendary place ruled by 40,000 gannets, plus thousands more puffins, razorbills, herring gulls and guillemots. For bird watchers, it’s a kind of paradise.

The island branded as Ailsa Craig from the Gaelic term for ‘fairy rock’ is thought of as iconic part of the Scottish landscape. Its highly unusual steep inclines make the island look like a potato floating in the ocean. For generations it has been appreciated during the scenic route from Belfast to Glasgow, giving it the nickname of Paddy’s Milestone.

Seabirds flying away from the island.
Seabirds flying away from the island.

Half a billion years ago a volcano resided here. The magma it spewed out hardened to form a special type of granite renowned today as the best material to fashion curling stones from. Roughly 70 percent of the world’s curling stones are carved from Ailsa Craig granite. Capitalists may fancy the idea of buying the island to sell curling gear and high-priced granite countertops, but it isn’t meant to be. At one time the stone was quarried but the practice has since been stopped for fear of disrupting the seabird’s way of life. As the quarry was the only commercial enterprise that pulled in substantial profits, finding a buyer may be a fool’s game.

Without any industry to speak of, it will take a rare breed of buyer to take over Ailsa Craig. The only obvious opportunity is in birding tourism, and that isn’t a very bright prospect considering the price tag. Other ideas to commercialise the island have popped up throughout the years but none have materialized. Of course locals and birders are thrilled about this. Cluttering up such a unique island with man-made structures is a waste. As much as humans like to take over every corner of the Earth, this place is the home of the birds. Those steep inclines suit seabirds wonderfully.

Ownership of the island hasn’t changed hands in 600 years. Prior to 1404 it was owned by the monks of Crossraguel Abbey. It was passed on to the Kennedy family in the 16th century who have managed to hold on to it ever since.

The decision to part with the island was a difficult one for the current Marquess. It was starting to become a modern tradition to visit the island along with friends and have a barbecue.

Still, the Marquess and his brother Lord David Kennedy will be able to visit after the sale. Public boat tours are available for the few that choose to venture out to Ailsa Craig. Mark McCrindle’s motorboat, dubbed the Glorious can take a maximum of twelve passengers at a time. Passengers are mostly birders looking to take in the sights and sounds of the land.

The Kennedy’s need not hold their breath. Ailsa Craig is a fantastic place to gander at from afar. However, only a select group of birders are interested in visiting the island and no one wants to inhabit it. Perhaps the deed should belong to the birds.


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