The Ardross-man


April 2017

Ailsa Craig – Paddy’s Milestone

Visitors to the Barony St. John buildings will frequently gaze out to the sea and ask what the small island is in the distance.

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The island is called Ailsa Craig (which comes from the Gaelic, Aillse Creag meaning “fairy rock”) but is known by many as “Paddy’s Milestone” presumably because Ireland is only 179 miles away from it (9.9 miles from the Scottish mainland) and immigrants from Ireland would travel from Belfast to Ardrossan on their way to Glasgow and Edinburgh and see this as the “milestone” marking their near arrival in Scotland.

The island was also a haven for Catholics during the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century and as a prison during the 18th–19th century but today the island, at only 4 km (2.5 miles) in circumference and 338 m (1,109 ft) tall, is uninhabited and is a bird sanctuary for gannets and puffins.

ailsa_craig_from_hms_campbeltown_-_geograph-org-uk_-_988485As this photo by Johnny Durnan, (CC BY-SA 2.0, highlights, it is thought that the island was actually the top of a volcano which erupted sending this plug end flying out and landing here in the sea.

This volcanic activity gave the island rock a rare type of micro-granite known as Ailsite which is used in the making of curling stones and, as of 2004, 60–70% of all curling stones in use were made from granite from the island and the island is one of only two sources for all curling stones in the world (the other being the Trefor Granite Quarry in Wales).

Ailsa Craig produced two types of granite for curling, Blue Hone and Ailsa Craig Common Green.


Blue Hone has very low water absorption, which prevents the action of repeatedly freezing water from eroding the stone. Ailsa Craig Common Green is a lesser quality granite than Blue Hone.

Kays of Scotland has been making curling stones since 1851 and has the exclusive rights to the Ailsa Craig granite, granted by the island’s owner, the Marquess of Ailsa.

The last “harvest” of Ailsa Craig granite by Kays took place in 2013, after a hiatus of 11 years; 2,000 tonnes were harvested, sufficient to fill anticipated orders until at least 2020.1024px-ailsa_craig_clyde_1840s

I came across this beautiful wood carving from 1841 (just 3 years before the Barony St. John was built).

It is by Roger Griffith (Memorials of Clutha. E A Phipps. 1841., Public Domain, and as you can see, has the island shaped a little differently from what it looks like today. An artists impression or erosion over the years? Who knows.

castle_and_lighthouse_ailsa_craigThe only surviving buildings on the island are the lighthouse on its east coast facing the Scottish mainland, a ruined towerhouse castle built in the 16th Century by the Hamilton Clan to protect the area from King Phillip II of Spain and the old quarry manager’s house that is now used by the RSPB (Royal Society of the Protection of Birds).

The castle has two vaulted storeys , shown in this photo by Ron Ireland (CC BY-SA 2.0, and an oven is located in the cellar with evidence of a spiral stairway that once ran to the top of the tower. Three cinquefoils arranged in a ‘V’ shape are carved on the tower, a mark of the Hamilton Clan. There are also indications that an adjoining building may have ran from the castle to the north.

In the Summer time, you can hire a boat to take you from Largs to Ailsa Craig and you can even visit the towerhouse castle – so watch out for some more photos later in the year as I may just pay the island a visit. 😀





Easter Egg Hunt 2017

Well, it’s hard to believe that it was a year ago that I did our first Easter Egg hunt with my kids in the derelict Barony St. John building.

This year, I tried something a little different – coins and a large egg. You hunt for the coins, which were hidden all over the pews. And then you get a clue to the whereabouts of the large egg.


Daniel’s clue was “Arial, Lucinda, Comic Sans, Times New Roman…”

Yes, you’ve guessed it, they’re all types of Fonts…………so his egg was in the church font. 🙂

Gemma’s clue was “Heart, Kidneys, Liver, Lungs…”

They are all types of internal organs…… her egg was in the church organ. 😀

Two happy kids. 😉

Omen 10 – The Haining Omen

From the very beginning there has been something weird drawing me to the Barony St. John buildings in Ardrossan as a base for my charity.

Little coincidences or quirks that I’d refer to as “omens” which seemed to be telling me that this was my destiny.

Yes, I know, this all sounds fanciful and I have detailed all the Omens in previous blog posts – but let me summarise them to date –

Omen 1. The Ardross-Ardrossan – this highlighted the similarity between the name of the village where I lived in the Highlands (Ardross) at the time I bought the buildings and the town where the buildings were (Ardrossan).

Omen 2. The Instructor Omen – not knowing exactly where in North Ayrshire Ardrossan was, I contacted a group I had trained as instructors from North Ayrshire to see if they had heard of the church – and it turned out that the leader and a couple of instructors actually lived in Ardrossan,  giving my charity a supply of ready qualified, local instructors.

Omen 3. The Star of David Omen – when visiting the buildings for the first time with my brother David, I noticed it had a Star of David (Jewish) symbol in the hall window and in the church window. Strange for a Church of Scotland building but a coincidence since David was here with me.

Omen 4. The Church Omen – After putting a bid in for the hall building, we were informed it had been accepted and we would be getting the church building too.

Omen 5. The SAS Omen – As the Three Towns of Saltcoats, Ardrossan and Stevenston often gets abbreviated to SAS (as in the SAS Explorer Scout Unit) it was a coincidence since SAS was the abbreviation of my organisation prior to it becoming a charity, Security And Safety.

Omen 6. The Owner Omen – how strange to find out that the only other person on the title deeds to the church buildings was Robert Bell in December 1844 and now, exactly 170 years later in December 2014, my name was added – Alan Bell. Only two people on the title deeds, both named Bell.

Omen 7. The Elder Omen – Having found the accounts from 1906 and 1909, I was surprised to see that David Bell was a church elder. The same name as my brother.

Omen 8. The Wolf Omen – Having decided to look at getting the church ceiling painted with a fresco, a local painter had the idea of painting a Celtic horoscope with animals and trees representing the various star signs. Her plan of work showed various animal drawings of a stag, salmon – and a wolf drawing which was identical to the emblem of my children’s Primary School….in Ardross.

Omen 9. The Wallace Omen – A chance meeting with World Karate Champion Bill “Superfoot” Wallace saw him agree to open my Centre…..on the 720th anniversary of the original William Wallace’s taking of Ardrossan castle just behind the church buildings.

And now, one of my new instructors comes up to me having read one of my blog posts regarding (Omen 7. The Elder Omen) and asks me if I noticed her name in the list of church elders.

Daisy Haining is currently our youngest instructor. She is 17yrs old and was actually born in Stevenston (one of the Three Towns) where she lived for the first two years of her life before moving to Ardrossan.

Her father was originally from Stewarton in East Ayrshire (15 – 16 miles away from Ardrossan) so no immediate link with Ardrossan until 15 years ago.

And here’s the thing – Haining is a pretty uncommon name. In fact, Daisy has never met anyone else with the same surname other than her relations!

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But yet, here in the list of church Elders in the New Ardrossan Parish Church annual report of 1906 and 1909 is a Mr D. B. Haining.

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Now, if you look carefully at the list of Elders, you’ll notice there is something really strange about D.B. Haining – it’s the only name abbreviated to initials. All the other names are written in full.

D.B Haining was also the “Representative Elder to Presbytery and Synod” (I had to look up “synod” and apparently its either “an assembly of the clergy and sometimes also the laity in a diocese or other division of a particular Church” or “a Presbyterian ecclesiastical court above the presbyteries and subject to the General Assembly”) and D.B Haining was one of only three Elders who were on the Poor Fund Committee – the other two being James Barbour and David Bell (same name as my brother).

So yes, it is a Mr rather than a Miss. And yes, it is D.B. Haining rather than D. Haining. But there is no denying that this is spookily weird.

I buy the church on behalf of my charity and two of my six instructors have the same surnames as two of the twelve church Elders from over a hundred years ago.

Even spookier, two of the three members of the church’s Poor Fund Committee have the same surname’s as two of my instructors and one has the exact same name….the other is the only person to have their forename as an initial instead of the full name, making this name D. Haining the same as my instructor D. Haining.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I think you will agree that this new revelation does indeed qualify as Omen 10. The Haining Omen 😀

Getting there

Yes, I’ve had a lot of setbacks with this Training Room; the water ingress, the plasterwork, the rotten windows, the wrong size windows, the wrong size glass, etc. etc. but through it all Paul Marchetti, builder extraordinaire, has shone through. He tackles every problem with a shrug and a smile and just gets on with the job. Likewise his partner in crime, Peter.

And so, we are finally getting there. The window glass is ordered and in the meantime, the room has been framed off.

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Next stage was to put in insulation between all the frames leaving a gap between the insulation and the stone wall to allow air flow and prevent a build-up of sand and dirt again.

The room is starting to shape.

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The next stage was to take one of the windows out so that it can be sent to a specialist wooden window making company and exact copies can be made. Paul undid a screw at the top of one of the arched windows…………and the whole thing fell out. :-/

Luckily, Peter was there to catch it and between the two of them they managed to lower it to the ground. The frame was a mess, completely rotten.

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Then came the plastering and the painting of the walls and the building of an internal cupboard.

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A lick of paint and that’s one wall done.

The big job ahead is to do the same to the other three walls, two of which contain the windows – and all of this is only if we find the next lot of funding.

I can’t wait to see the windows boxed off internally with shelves below each of them. 🙂

But then the tea/coffee area needs to get built, everything painted, carpet and floor coverings put down – and even then we need to look for funding for the equipment to go in the room (SMART Board, meeting room tables, chairs, dry wipe board, flipchart, WiFi, breakout sofa area, etc, etc.

One step at time though…..we’re getting there. 😀


Well, after the saga of the windows being made to the wrong size (see my What a Pane! post), I kinda hoped it would be plain sailing from here on in with the Training Room windows – but no!

Even although the windows are exact copies of what was in previously, there seemed to be some miscommunication with between the window makers and the glass makers and the builders.

Paul Marchetti and Peter put the glass into the small square windows and got them in okay – even the small opening segment in the middle top was duplicated.


With a new coat of paint, the new windows looked fabulous compared to the old, rotten ones.


Then Paul and Peter put the arched panes of glass into the arched windows – still going well.

But then disaster struck again – the square shaped panes below the arches were too small. 20mm too short to be exact.


So near and yet, so far!

Paul’s having to drive into Glasgow to get the glass especially cut again. Nightmare. :-/

Blind Date

Our fundraising Fashion Show was intended to help raise funds for some much needed renovation and repair work to the Barony St. John buildings but it turned into something much, much more than that.

Over the last year my charity, The Scottish Centre for Personal Safety (ScotCPS), has worked alongside various charities and businesses representing registered blind people as I developed a Big Lottery sponsored personal safety course specifically for the blind and visually impaired. One of these businesses was PrioritEyes, a North Ayrshire business that provides specialist rehabilitation and support for people who have low or no vision – and it was from PrioritEyes that I got some of the “modelling” team for our Fashion Show.


The gathered audience of almost fifty people cheered and clapped as the models, many using long canes to guide them down the catwalk, strutted their stuff. But when I saw Gillian and the rest of the PrioritEyes models come onto the catwalk, I got a lump in my throat.

The woman sat next to me burst into tears and clapped wildly.

It was a very emotional experience and I was so proud to be involved in it.

Gillian Morrow lost her sight about a year ago but then she also found out that she had breast cancer. The subsequent chemotherapy resulted in her losing all her hair but she is a real trooper. Gillian’s own words best describe her feelings;

“I have had a gruelling time with the cancer treatment and at one point I had to move out of my family home to a flat as I couldn’t cope with how it was affecting my family. Although my husband and children are extremely supportive, this Fashion Show was invaluable for me. I know that sounds like an exaggeration but after being bed bound, I was in a wheelchair for some time and I only got my long cane mobility training on Wednesday, so this was the first time I have been able to participate in anything since December. I can’t describe what a positive effect this day has had on me. It’s a massive “one-off” experience that has made me feel like my old self again.”


The visually impaired models, some as young as 11yrs old did us all proud and registered blind founder of PrioritEyes, Norma Bailey, said; “It was fantastic that so many people with low or no vision were involved in this event. Dressing in terrific outfits, walking the catwalk with our long canes and hearing the cheers of the audience, made it an amazing experience for us all and a wonderful day to remember.”  

The Fashion Show raised £615.45 and raffle prizes for the event were donated by various local businesses including M&Co, The Kandy Bar Bakery, Garfields, P&M Property Services, The Saltcot Wetherspoons, Cassandara’s Café, Saltcoats Tescos, Stevenston Morrisons, B&M, The Red Squirrel, A. Lothian Butchers and Belhaven Pubs & Restaurants.

I am extremely grateful to everyone involved in making this day happen from the businesses who donated raffle prizes to M&Co for allowing us to run the event in their store, our trustees and volunteers who helped organise the day, all the people who came to watch and support the event and especially the models. Thank you all for making this such a memorable day.

For more information on the Fashion Show and what the fundraising day has managed to finance, check out my charity’s Facebook page on but in the meantime, here are a few more photos from the event. 😀





A real pane!!

In one of my last posts, What a Pane!, I explained how we found that the windows in what will become the Training Room were rotten and falling out and how this added a substantial amount of money (which we didn’t have) to the overall cost of renovating the room.

Well, after weeks of getting the windows specially made to fulfil our conservation remit, we finally got the small square ones delivered.

Paul Marchetti (our builder extraordinaire) spent two days carefully taking sections out and undercoating them in the best possible weatherproof paint to protect them against the salty wind and rain of the east coast of Scotland.

But on the third day, disaster struck –

On a whim, Paul measured the windows and realised that they were 9cm too small. Somehow the window makers had got the sizes wrong. 😦

Paul had to rush into Glasgow to tell them while calling the glass company to ensure they hadn’t cut the glass yet for each small pane.

Yet another setback!




The Fall of Eve video

As mentioned in a previous post (Fall of Eve), I had a local band in the Barony St. John church building making a video for their latest single, If Even Angels Fall.

Well, here it is – absolutely cracking. It definitely has the Wow Factor. Enjoy. 😀

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