Curling Stones from Ailsa Craig
Team GB are doing well at the Pyongchang Winter Olympics today (good luck team Muirhead!) and we were inspired to write a few things about a few lesser known facts about the curling stones!
The raw stone comes from an island south of Arran to the west of the Ayrshire coastline in the Clyde called Ailsa Craig. The island is the remains of a volcanic plug from a fiery past of our geological history and has a special type of granite which makes the best properties for the curling stone slipping along the ice. There used to be a full time quarry on the island and of course this wasn’t all for curling stones, but many other applications such as roading or construction. The island is uninhabited now with all remaining working of the stone done on the mainland by Kays Curling. They were founded in 1851 and it’s said they have enough stone to last them till 2020, so maybe they will need to head out again soon! Along with the stone, the island has all sorts of other interesting history such as being involved in the religious reformation, smuggling, along with having two ruined chapels. It’s a stunning place to sail around on the boat with all basalt columns, caves, cliffs and also wildlife!
As much as the geological and human history of the island is interesting, our main reason for visiting is basking sharks of course! We have visited the island during our basking shark surveys over the last few years during Autumn. This is the time of the southerly basking shark migration from Scottish waters and we have a project to study this part of their travels! Although there has been plenty basking shark sightings near Ailsa Craig over the years, we haven’t found any there during our surveys, only further north in the Clyde. We have sighted porpoises, minke whales and numerous seals during our travels, along with the numerous seabirds that live there. In fact Ailsa Craig has a very noteworthy breeding colony of northern gannet. The last survey shows a count of over 33,000 back in 2015 and it is one of the most significant colonies in the world for this species!