Scottish Castles Association

Preserving the Past for the Future

Ailsa Castle (Ayr) Past & Present

Ailsa Craig Castle 1904

Ailsa Craig Castle - a well dressed party in 1904

Ailsa Craig Castle

Ailsa Craig Castle today - Douglas Wilcox

Ailsa Castle is perilously situated on a shoulder of rock projecting from the precipitous slopes on the island of Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde. On the seaward side the rocks tower above the water in magnificent precipices. The isle is readily visible from the Ayrshire coast and can be reached (in good weather) by a 10-mile boat hire from the port of Girvan.

Ailsa Craig is a bird sanctuary and the source of the world’s best curling stones but the tower, bye and large, is unknown.

It stands on a ledge about 300 feet above the shore, the only approach to which is by a very steep and narrow footpath. The tower stands upon a vaulted basement to rises 3 storeys to its wall walk. The entrance is on the seaward side and was approached by an external stair. The walls are only 2.5 feet in thickness, which reflects the requirements of the site. Remains of a walled enclosure are evident. Surprisingly, for such an intractable position, there is a spring of water that served the castle’s needs. The castle was in ruins in 1580 but was restored by Thomas Hamilton whose arms are high up on the wall. The remains are in fair condition and suggest a date of the early 16th century.

In 1597, Hew Barclay of Ladyland, a Catholic, hatched a plan to make Ailsa Craig a refuge for those of his faith to hear mass. He also sought to hold the isle in the Spanish interest and that of the Earl of Antrim. How this was to benefit either of these is unclear – it was obviously a madcap plan but it was to cost Barclay his life. The authorities knew of his scheme and an armed party ambushed him as he landed by boat. He bravely fought off his assailants until, in true Hollywood fashion; he was forced over the cliff edge and into the sea.

The 245-acre rock and its little castle were recently on the market at an asking price of £2.5 million.

Added: 29 Sep 2012 Updated: 08 Dec 2014
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