Ailsa Craig, golf landmark, produces Olympic curling stones
Back in December, we ran a blog post on the Ailsa Craig – that big dome-shaped rock that dominates the Firth of Clyde about 10 miles off the southwestern Scottish coast near Turnberry. The uninhabited island, covering 220 acres and the result of an ancient volcano, is a staple of photographs whenever the British Open is played at Turnberry – on the Ailsa Course at Turnberry, to be precise.
And despite having ''no inhabitants, no electricity, no fresh water and no arable land,'' as The New York Times described it, the Ailsa Craig is making news for not one but two reasons:
--First, it is the source of the distinctive strain of microgranite used to make most of the stones used in the Olympic sport of curling. In fact, all the stones used in every Olympics since 1924 (and including the current 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia) have been made from granite mined on the Ailsa Craig. The Ailsa granite – prized in curling circles because the melting ice can't penetrate it – is transformed into 44-pound curling stones at a factory in Mauchline, about 25 miles away.
Second, the Ailsa Craig was for sale.
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The rock has been controlled by the same landowning family for more than 500 years, but – in true "Downton Abbey" fashion – its owner, the eighth Marquess of Ailsa, has been dealing with dwindling financial resources for several decades. The family actually put the craig up for sale in 2010 with an asking price of $4 million. But nobody has bitten, so the price was reduced to $2.4 million.
Since we posted that original item, a British environmental trust with a special interest in birds has begun the process of purchasing the craig. So, potentially, good news all around.
Ailsa Craig is a Scottish icon – it's been featured on Scottish bank notes (just like Jack Nicklaus), was memorialized in a sonnet by Keats and now serves mainly as a seabird sanctuary. And, the newspaper story explained, ''with Scotland approaching a referendum on independence from Britain next September, it remains an icon in the country's national consciousness, redolent of the rugged, stand-alone character many Scots pride as their birthright.''
The Times story has much more on the craig's colorful history and the efforts to sell it. And The Guardian newspaper has the latest update on the sale.
Finally, here's a video from the BBC on how chunks of granite from craig are converted into those Olympic curling stones: