AILSA CRAIG, sometimes called THE PERCH OF CLYDE, a stupendous insulated rock, or rather mountain, in the mouth of the frith of Clyde, between the coasts of Ayrshire and Kintyre; in N. lat. 55° 15′ 13″; W. long. 5° 7′, according to Galbraith, but according to Norie, in N. lat. 55° 17′ 0″; W. long. 5° 8′ 0″. From the islet of Pladda it is distant 10′ 20″ direct south. It is a mass of columnar syenetic trap, shooting up in a conical form, to an altitude of 1,100 feet according to Macculloch, from an elliptical base of 3,300 feet in the major axis, by 2,200 in the minor. Its formation is distinctly columnar, especially on the western side in which the rock rises quite perpendicularly from the sea. Dr Macculloch says, that “if a single pillar be examined near at hand it will be found far less decided in shape than those of Staffa or Skye, while the whole mass appears as if blended together, not as if each column could be separated; but, when viewed in the mass, the general effect of a columnar and regular structure is as perfect as on the north coast of Skye,” while the diameter of the columns far exceed those of Skye, ranging from 6 to 9 feet, and, in one place, attaining an unbroken altitude of nearly 400 feet.1 The only landing-place is on the east side, where there is a small beach formed by fallen fragments of the rock. From this, an easy ascent of 200 feet conducts us to the ruins of a square building of which nothing is known, though Macculloch conjectures it may have been an eremitical establishment dependent on Lamlash in Arran. Beyond this building the ascent is extremely laborious, the visitor having to force his way over fragments of rock, and through a forest of gigantic nettles. Not far from the summit are two copious springs; the summit itself is covered with fine herbage, but affords only a scanty and somewhat perilous footing. The rock is inhabited by a few rabbits and goats, and myriads of solan geese, puffins, cormorants, auks, and gulls. It is the property of the Earl of Cassillis, who draws an annual rent of about £30 for it, and who takes the title of Marquis from it. The aspect of this vast and ‘craggy ocean pyramid’ “from any distance, and in every direction,” says Macculloch, “is very grand, and conveys an idea of a mountain of far greater magnitude; since, as its beautiful cone rises suddenly out of the sea, there is no object with which it can be compared. From its solitary and detached position also, it frequently arrests the flight of the clouds, hence deriving a misty hue which more than doubles its altitude to the imagination; while the cap of cloud which so often covers its summit, helps to produce, by concealing its height, the effect – invariable in such cases – of causing it to appear far higher than it really is; adding that appearance of mystery to which mountains owe so much of their consequence. What Ailsa promises at a distance, it far more than performs on an intimate acquaintance. If it has not the regularity of Staffa, it exceeds that island as much in grandeur and variety as it does in absolute bulk. There is indeed nothing, even in the columnar scenery of Skye or in the Shiant isles, superior as these are to Staffa, which exceeds, if it even equals, that of Ailsa. In point of colouring, these cliffs have an infinite advantage; the sobriety of their pale grey stone, not only harmonizing with the subdued tints of green, and with the colours of the sea and the sky, but setting off to advantage all the intricacies of the columnar structure; while, in all the Western islands where this kind of scenery occurs, the blackness of the rocks is, not only often inharmonious and harsh, but a frequent source of obscurity and confusion. Those who are only desirous of viewing one example of that romantic and wonderful scenery which forms the chief attraction of the more distant islands, will be pleased to know that, within a day’s sail of Greenock, and without trouble, they may see what cannot be eclipsed by Staffa, or Mull, or Skye, if even it can be equalled by any of them.”
1 If this be correct, they are the largest specimens of columnar basalt yet known. Those of the Fairhead, at the Giant’s causeway, measure only 317 feet in altitude, according to the Ordnance trigonometrical Survey.