Monday, 26 September 2016

Approaching Kilchoan

We were returning to the village along the B8007 the other day, in none too wonderful weather, when, despite the weather, it occurred to us how fortunate we were in the approach to our community. First, one passes what must be, even in pretty dreadful weather, one of the most perfect bays in the world, Camas nan Geall, after which....

 ....one runs past Loch Mudle, with the first glimpses, even in mucky weather, of the Small Isles, after which, a mile down the road....

....there's this show-stopper of a view, down the wide glen of the Achateny Water to Eigg, Rum and, if you're lucky, Muck and Skye, following which....

....one starts to run downhill towards Kilchoan and, as the forestry of Beinn nan Losgann falls back, there's this panoramic view, even on a grey, damp day, of Mull and the Sound of Mull.

Of course, this post could be rewritten for one of our loveliest days....

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Whisky Distilleries

Yesterday's post was about attending archaeological conferences, and what one can learn from them. Today's describes probably the best moment of those two days, when Forestry Commission Scotland's archaeologist, Matt Ritchie, showed a site at Dog Falls in Glen Affric (link here) which he said was the well-documented remains of a building which had, in the latter 18th or early 19th century, housed an illicit whisky still - and it looked exactly like this building tucked against a bank below a waterfall on the Allt Rath a Bheulain.

There are other, similar buildings on similar sites across western Ardnamurchan. This picture was taken on our walk on Wednesday, and shows another whisky distillery on the Allt na Doire Buidhe. It's in a perfect position - remote, concealed, with a good supply of fresh water which can be ducted into the building from the waterfall, and within easy reach of woodland for fuel.

The building is on Tornamona land and, while it isn't far from the B8007 today, it was much more remote in those days. If you want to see it, it's at NM546647, a couple of hundreds metres south of the road.

Now that we know what we're looking for, we'll find more of western Ardnamurchan's rich whisky-distilling history. We might even find a bottle someone left behind.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Archaeology Conferences

The Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association was represented at two archaeology conferences in the early part of this month, the first in Edinburgh, where we celebrated the tenth anniversary of Archaeology Scotland's Adopt a Monument scheme - picture shows our friends, Phil Richardson (in red, right) and Cara Jonas (in pale blue, left) on one of their visits to Ardnamurchan. Thye have been very supportive of our group, so it was great to be there to ccelebrate with them. The second conference was in Oban, which brought together people living on the west coast. It was great to hear what other amateur groups like ours are doing to preserve the nation's heritage, and to meet like-minded people.

One goes to such conferences in the hope of help, particularly with the identification of features like this. It caused some interest to someone from the Isle of Ling who thought they had a similar feature. We think this very well-made pit in the beach near Swordle may be a kelp pit, while the one on Ling, which is shallower and more extensive, may have been used in flax processing.

It was good to be able to describe the repairs that have been done to St Comghan's which should ensure that the south facade is preserved for years to come. Sadly, we also had to report that our work at this beautiful site would probably never end, as....

....part of the boundary wall has recently come down, allowing the neighbouring sheep and cattle to come in. Since the graveyard is a scheduled monument, we have to get permission from Historic Environment Scotland - a lengthy affair - to carry out the repair as well as finding the money to pay a qualified stonemason to rebuild it.

Meeting people from Lismore gave us some ideas as to what might be done to preserve the two fine Iona grave slabs which lie near the front door of St Comghan's. The Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre has lifted, preserved and put on display the grave slabs from Lismore churchyard - story here.

We were also able to describe some of the many previously unrecorded sites we were finding, particularly those associated with ordinary people - like in the clachan area at Camas nan Geall - circled. Here we are finding buildings which might date back into the centuries after the arrival of the Vikings, though we shared the frustration many people felt at our inability to....

....identify and date buildings such as this one, high on a hillside above Bourblaige.

One of the main aims of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant which AHHA has won is to draw people's attention to the rich archaeological heritage of the Ardnamurchan area, and we certainly came away from both conferences feeling that people who might never have heard of the peninsula now have.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Notices, Notices

Yesterday's post suggested that major changes are happening at the CalMac pier. As well as the re-painting of the waiting lanes for cars, a bollard has appeared at the land end of the pier itself, preventing vehicles from accessing it. This must be a blow to the creel fishermen, both local and from the outer isles, since the vans which take their shellfish to market used to drive along it to make transferring the crates from the boats easy.

Along with such changes, CalMac is suffering a bad dose of notice fever, even worse than Highland Council at Corran. As well as their helpful notices, they now have around twenty warning and prohibitive notices like this one, which seems to make it clear that creel fishermen's boats are no longer welcome. There is a rumour in the community that gates are going across the top of the slipway, so it will no longer be possible to launch boats from there. And, just to check, CalMac has installed CCTV cameras.

I have some sympathy with CalMac. In these litigious days, owners of any sort of property are nervous about being sued by people using it for the wrong purposes, but it does seem a great shame that a facility like the slipway is no longer available for use, even if a fee has to be paid.

Other notices have appeared, such as this one for the Kilchoan Hotel, which is in good taste and helpful, and will, perhaps, help to draw aside some of the many cars which are driving straight through the village without stopping. However....

....what should be the most important and warmly welcoming notice refers to the slightly confusing concept of the "UK mainland". Surely the UK mainland has always been called Great Britain?

The Last Lady

There's hardly been a butterfly on the wing in the last few days, so when, on Wednesday, we climbed into the open, windy area to the northeast of Ben Hiant, we didn't expect to find this clinging to a devil's bit scabious flower.

It's a painted lady, and it was so cold and damp that it seemed to welcome the warmth of a finger.

Its colours already faded. The species doesn't hibernate, and few migrate back south - and certainly not against the stiff southeaster that was blowing - so it's likely that this beauty will soon be dead.