WEEK THIRTY-NINE – Ailsa Craig/Bass Rock

>> Ailsa Craig

Bass Rock <<

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It might seem an extraordinary coincidence that the outer reaches of Scotland’s two lowland estuaries both boast dramatic, stand-alone sheer rock islands. But when we consider the violent volcanic past that gave rise to our geology, it is perhaps not so strange. Both Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde and the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth are the remaining plugs of extinct volcanoes whose outer slopes were eroded during the Ice Age. The former was long a source of blue hone and common green granite which was quarried to make curling stones. Colloquially known as “Paddy’s milestone” from its proximity to the Irish sea routes, it is now better known as a bird sanctuary. Smaller but more precipitous, the Bass Rock performs the same function being the world’s largest colony of northern gannets. Like its western equivalent, it has been inhabited by lighthouse workers in the past and boasts the ruins of a castle. In the case of the Bass, this was used as prison for many centuries reaching its notorious apogee during the 17th century. For millennia seafarers travelling to and from the two great firths would have measured the progress of their voyages by these awe-inspiring sea-girt rocks.

Craig of the Water
by Andrew Sclater

Craig of the water
and Craig of the weeper,
Craig of great Atlas
whose rockfalls fall steeper,
Craig of great darkness
and Craig of delight,
the Craig is a breast
obscuring the light,
Craig as a glyph
that represents cliff,
or Craig of the bells,
or Craig of the shags,
Craig of the lighthouse
and polyethylene bags
no matter how vague
or what whisky you drink
your words will all end here
washed up in the stink
with sea wrack
half landed half sunk.


The Bass Rock
by Gordon Meade

Towards the end
of the breeding season,
the rock, like the young gannets
themselves, turns piebald,

there being fewer
pure white wings available
to provide its light dusting of Summer
snow. The adults birds

are still feeding their
offspring, pushing further
out from the rock with every passing
day, the local fish stocks

having already had
their annual hammering.
Soon, the entire colony will set off
for the shores of Africa,

safe in the knowledge
that the rock will be able
to withstand another Scottish Winter,
in anticipation of their return.



andrew-sclaterAndrew Sclater has held New Writers Awards from the Scottish Book Trust and New Writing North. In 2011, he was shortlisted for the Picador Poetry Prize. His family originate in Orkney and Galloway, and he now lives in Edinburgh. His work has appeared in The Dark HorseMagmaNew Writing ScotlandThe Istanbul Review and Shearsman. His pamphlet comes out in December via HappenStance.



gordon-meadeGordon Meade lives in Fife. His most recent collection, Les Animots: A Human Bestiary, a collaboration with the artist Douglas Robertson, was published in 2015 by Cultured Llama Publishing. His next collection, The Year of the Crab, will be available in 2018.


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