With Ardnamurchan's stunning coastline offering endless opportunities for sea kayaking, it wasn't surprising that over thirty people crowded into the small classroom at Trevor Potts' Ardnamurchan Campsite last night to listen to a talk on sea kayaking by Simon Willis. With all chairs taken, some stood and others had to sit on the floor.
Simon, who lives in Strontian, is an ex-BBC cameraman who is now busy making DVDs with Gordon Brown, one of Scotland's top sea kayakers. For some of us, for whom upside-down in a kayak means a long swim, what we saw in clips from Simon's forthcoming DVD, the second with Gordon, was both a revelation and a spur to improve our seagoing skills.
Many thanks to Geoff Campbell of Kilchoan Kayak Club for organising the event, at which the refreshments were a little stronger than the usual cup of tea.
An idea of what we enjoyed last night can be obtained from the video clip, here, while Simon Willis' blog is here - from which there are several interesting links, and where you can buy the first DVD.
In this part of the world, the danger of going away and leaving a nice property vacant for a few weeks is that it may well be taken over by a squatter. The same happens in towns and cities, where the new inhabitants may be human or something even more unpleasant, but in this case the owners came back to find....
....a not unfriendly pine marten living in their shed and watching them from amongst the planks of wood stored across the rafters.
Some further investigation revealed that the pine marten had built a bed in an old cardboard box on a shelf right next to the window so he (or she - it's difficult to sex a pine marten short of catching it and taking an intimate look) had a fine view out across the neighbouring countryside. In it was a plastic bag which he had probably used to go down to The Ferry Stores to collect his shopping - pine martens are quite frequent visitors to the shop, where they're known to like mince pies.
The new resident was a squatter in more than one sense of the word. He had laid out his scat neatly across an old worktop. It was almost as if the pine marten was proud of each job, and had numbered them for future reference, perhaps with time, date and what he had recently eaten.
There was no sign of any urine, for which he may have had a different use such as marking out his territory. Perhaps because of this, the room didn't small too bad - one pine marten expert describes their scat as 'sweet smelling, almost like parma violets'. In fact, the assemblage looked so artistic it seemed a shame to disurb it - until someone came up with the bright idea that the whole thing should be entered for next year's Turner Prize.
As The Diary departed, the owners of the shed were carefully sawing through the worktop, taking great care not to disturb a single scat.
Tracey Emin, Damien Hurst and the London and New York art worlds - watch out.
Cliff Isherwood at the Kilchoan House Hotel has reported hearing a corncrake. These birds were once common across the British Isles but their numbers have declined drastically, to the extent that they are now extinct in England and are best seen in the west of Scotland and the outer isles.
Cliff says, "It was a sound I've never heard before, quite odd, and moving. The sound passed by the hotel and over the field in the direction of Mingary Castle. I checked out the bird's call on the RSPB's website and it was unmistakeably a corncrake - the first I've ever heard."
The RSPB page with the corncrake's call is here, and there's more about corncrakes here.
Many thanks to Rachel Davies on Flickr, here, for the photograph.
For the fishermen, the good news is that the mackerel are running in the Sound. Their arrival is unusually early: we don't normally expect them until well into May. The first catch of the year was landed by Bert Cameron, Hughie MacLachlan and Stewart Pote - he's the man with the smile holding the fish - and they came in with a bucketfull.
Many thanks to Morven and Titch for the picture.
The local children had a super day on Sunday, with an Easter Egg hunt at Glenborrodale Castle followed by an Easter Egg Rolling 'event' down the slope at Camas nan Geall.
The bracken is beginning to sprout, and it is with some dismay that The Diary reports that these shoots were found in the field from which the pigs were recently moved. The good news is that there are amazingly few coming up - well done the pigs!
Perhaps it's the fine weather we've had recently, but the wildflowers in the fields and across the hills are excelling themselves this year.
The picture above is of a lady's smock or cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis), which has timed its flowering perfectly, as it coincided with the arrival of the first cuckoo. Although it's now beginning to appear elsewhere, we noticed the earliest blooms along the road verge by Cruachan croft.
In a muddy puddle by the side of the road we found this lovely specimen of a marsh marigold Caltha palustris. Perhaps it's thriving as a result of the runoff from the Kilchoan pigs, who live immediately above it.
This fir clubmoss was found on the flanks of Meall Sanna over the weekend. It has two synonymous latin names, Lycopodium selag and Huperzia selago, and is known to grow on mountains in Scotland, Wales & northern England, but only rarely in lowland areas. The spores are produced in small structures in the leaf axils and ripen in June/August.
Lastly, this is a bilberry, perhaps the mountain bilberry. Again, we found it on our walk along the flanks of Meall Sanna at the weekend. The beautifully delicate flowers remind The Diary of heather bells.
Many thanks to Hilary Hizzard for helping to identify the plants.
This was the view yesterday midday from the ridge at the back of Sanna, of which Meall Sanna is the highest point, looking northwest, with the Isle of Muck in the distance. Although the day had started grey, with some drizzle, it simply got better and better, and today, Easter Monday, promises to be warm and sunny.
The Sanna road, as one would expect on an Easter Sunday, was severely crowded: we passed three cars between Kilchoan and Achnaha. Worse, while walking, we actually met another pair of walkers, something quite unheard of around here.
There were far more wheatears than humans. These little birds have just arrived back from their winter holiday in Central Africa, and they're busy sorting out territories ready for mating. The name, so Wikipedia says, has nothing to do with 'wheat' but derives from 'white' and 'arse', a reference to the white rump that's prominent when the bird flies.
With the changing seasons there's more traffic in the Sound of Mull - much of it related to human summer visitors. This is the Ullin of Staffa, one of the many sightseeing boats that take visitors out to places such as Staffa. She takes trippers out from Fiannphort and Oban and isn't frequently seen around here.
A much better known boat is the Waverley, the world's last seagoing paddle steamer, which tours the coasts of Britain during the summer. This picture was taken on Saturday when she was completing a day trip north from Oban. The Waverley's website is here.
All the following photographs were taken by Alasdair MacLachlan, who is one of the two full-time fisherman who work out of Kilchoan - his boat, the Sylvia-T, is moored in the bay throughout the summer, though, just at present, she's hauled up on the slipway undergoing repairs to her propeller shaft.
Alasdair may be a fisherman earning a hard living from the sea, but that doesn't prevent him taking a keen interest in the amazing variety of life that he hauls up in his creels. This picture is of a hermit crab which has made its home in a sponge rather than the usual cast-off mollusc shell.
This is a tiny shrimp, very similar to the pistol shrimp which featured in an earlier post, here, but without the one, unusual claw. This is the only animal in these pictures Alasdair can't identify - has anyone any idea what it is?
Amongst the hundreds of prawns he lands, Alasdair spotted that this one has a deformed claw....
....while this picture illustrates the great variety of life he comes upon each day.
Langoustines, Dublin Bay prawns or, to give them their scientific name,Nephrops norvegicus, are an important catch - though, as the picture shows, they don't all come up the same colour. Packed in the container seen in the photo, they go away by van from Kilchoan to the fine-food restaurants of London and the near continent.
Many thanks to Alasdair and Morven for the pictures.
The Diary sat down last night to enjoy the Landward programme under the misapprehension that this was to be the moment in which the Kilchoan pigs would be projected to stardom but, although they featured - briefly - it was Hughie MacLachlan who stole the show.
Hughie was a natural on television, clearly explaining the purpose of the Kilchoan Pig Club, and describing the sterling work the pigs do in removing bracken from West Ardnamurchan's fields. So good, in fact, that, had The Diary been the presenter of the show, it would have been quite worried for its job.
Some of the highlights of the show included a sequence in which the presenter enjoyed his cut of roast pork, with apple sauce, at the Sonachan Hotel, with a lingering shot of the last morsel on his plate, and this brief clip of the members of the Pig Club.
For anyone who inadvertently missed this great piece of television, it's repeated at 11.00am on Wednesday 27th April.
On Saturday 19th March, Jacqui and John Chapple and a whole host of helpers organised a Fund Raising Dinner at Glenborrodale Castle in aid of The Kilchoan Play Park. Many people contributed food, drink and prizes for the lucky dip, raffle and auction.
The venue for the evening, at Glenborrodale Castle, was very kindly donated by Mr Donald Houston. With everyone's generosity combined it was certain to be a fantastic night.
The evening kicked off with all the guests being greeted with a glass of red or white wine. The atmosphere warmed up quickly as people mingled and chatted, waiting patiently for the buffet to be announced.
The layout inside the castle was exceptional and charming. A proper formal dining room had tables beautifully set and the large lounge had a more casual setting where you could relax by the huge log fire and enjoy your meal. The food was wonderful, with choices of soups, salads, hot meat dishes, a vegetarian selection and some divine desserts.
The evening moved on once the buffet was polished off as people took the 'Bring your own Bottle' on the advert to mean Bring Your Own Bottles (and lots of them).
Rosie invited everyone into the lounge where the raffle was to be held. She gave an update on the Playpark's fundraising situation and presented a bouquet of flowers to Jacqui to thank her and her team for all their efforts with the fundraising dinners. She also presented flowers to Jacs on behalf of the Playpark committee for all the hard work she has put in doing application after application in the hope that funding bodies would see our project as a worthy cause. As the gaining of funds from these sources has proved difficult, all credit goes to our small but very generous community for their support and input.
Anyway back to the evening... Rosie and John then took to the floor to provide one of the funniest double acts I've seen in a long time. The raffle took place first, with many great prizes going to worthy ticket holders, and then came the auction.
As the hilarity between the two MCs continued, it came to the point that people were scared to blink as Rosie saw this as a bid. I'm pretty sure all the participants paid over the odds for their purchases but that's what a charity auction is all about and there was a great laugh into the bargain.
The night raised the fantastic amount of £1,585.
"Thank You" to everyone who Organised, Helped, Attended, Donated and Laughed. Here's hoping we can have many more community nights like this one.
With our family visiting from Suffolk, we walked yesterday across the hills to the village of Bourblaige. Bourblaige is an eerie place, particularly on a grey, overcast day, for all around are the memories of the people who were evicted around 1829, their homes destroyed by the Factor's men to free the land for sheep farming.
Many of the houses, however small, show evidence that their interiors were divided by walls built of stone. The one above seems to have been separated into three rooms. This is very much at odds with descriptions The Diary has read of traditional houses.
While the life for Bourblaige's inhabitants must have been hard, one cannot imagine a more beautiful place to live, for around every corner there are views - this one looking from the village to the entrance of the bay at Camas nan Geall, and on down Loch Sunart to the hills of Morvern.
A small stream which rises on the slopes of Ben Hiant and would have served the people for water, passes through the centre of the village and follows this valley to the sea. Its banks are decorated at this time of year with masses of primroses and the sound of its small waterfalls is ever-present.
Having picnicked in the village we walked down to a mirror-calm sea, and along the beach towards Camas nan Geall. With the tide low, the rocks that form the wave-cut platform were exposed. These are Moinian schists and gneisses, rocks over a billion years old, which show the most wonderful fold structures formed when the area was uplifted as part of a great mountain chain.
For those ladies amongst The Diary's readers who worry about this year's out-door fashion, grand-daughter Hebe is seen here modelling the latest in hill-walking outfits.
This walk, and many others, is described in one of our booklets, Walks Around West Ardnamurchan. For each walk, the booklet suggests a route to be followed and gives a history of the places passed through.
Booklets are available form most retailers on West Ardnamurchan.
The Kilchoan Playpark is now only a 'stones throw' away from being able to get started.
We are looking for stone of any shape or form - small gravel to large boulders and all that comes in between. There is a large amount of soft peat that needs to be removed and replaced with a more solid base to stabilise the ground before any equipment can be put in place.
A very generous local who wishes to remain anonymous (but works on the fish farm and has recently bought a property on Glebe Hill) has donated a large amount of stone to the Playpark. A group of helpful locals turned up on Saturday to help load the stone into the Loader and Dumper to be transported for safe keeping until it's required. Thanks to Ivor for letting us use his Dumper. Thanks to Callum and Kayleigh for the stone.
If you have any stone you would like to get rid of please contact Rosie on 01972 510 754.
The truth behind the rumour of a new dog terrorising the east end of the village can now be revealed. Far from being anything like the rottweiler / pit bull cross which The Diary used to illustrate a blog entry a week ago (here), Missy is a chihuahua / Jack Russell cross.
Missy's proud owners are Marilyn and John MacGillivray. That Missy bites - or, rather, nips - is true, as John knows to his cost.
So the concerns some of you had about walking east out of the village can be allayed - though you might find yourselves hobbling along with a small, furry object attached to your trouser leg. And little wonder that our two Posties now take great care not to put their fingers through a certain letter box when they deliver the mail.
A number of these caterpillars are hanging onto vertical strands of wire along the Ormsaigbeg road. The Diary has tried to identify the species of moth or butterfly, without success. Does anyone know what it is, and can anyone explain why it seems to favour hanging out in full view on pieces of galvanised iron wire?
Photographing small birds in flight is difficult. This is the best The Diary could manage of the mass of sand martins circling above the quarry just above the Sanna turn, near the fire station. There must have been thirty or more of them, all very excited to be back after a long journey home from Africa.
Meanwhile, Ricky Clark at Mingary reports seeing the first house martins and one swallow.
This photograph, taken on a grey Sunday morning looking south towards the telecommunications masts at Glengorm, shows a skein of geese moving north with the changing season.
And, on our visit to Sanna yesterday, we found the first thrift in flower on the rocks just above the high tide mark. From the number of buds on some of the clumps, this might be a vintage year for this amazing small flower.