Thursday, 31 July 2014

Regatta Sailing Race

The first day of Regatta is dominated by two sailing races, one at 11am and one at 2pm, the former being something of a practice for the second race.  As always, the crews were briefed by Alasdair MacColl before....

....going out to their boats.  This is Paul White's Flora, in which the Diary has the privilege of sailing as crew each year.

The first race was bedevilled from the start by light winds and, for long periods, almost complete calm - such a contrast to last year when conditions were.... brisk.  After the race had being going for over an hour, the organisers decided to merge the two races, so the morning's practice suddenly became the real thing - not that this made any difference to the wind.

Lunch was served at about one, when Bert Cameron and Alasdair MacLachlan in the second of the rescue boats came alongside and served freshly caught mackerel cooked in olive oil - delicious.

By this time the boats had drifted, rather than sailed, into the middle of the Sound of Mull, on what was an unusually busy day in the shipping lane.  This is the small cruise ship Lord of the Glens passing the other safety boat piloted by Chris Gane.

By the time we had rounded the buoy on the opposite side of the Sound, it had come on to rain, but the wind then picked up and we had a fast run home to make up for the morning's slow sailing.

Many thanks to the Regatta Committee for the usual impeccable organisation, special thanks to the crews of the rescue boats, and well done to all those who took part.

Archaeology Talk Tonight

On Tuesday, when we visited this tent, set up in a field at Swordle Bay, Professor John Robb of Cambridge University was just beginning to expose the remains of a 3,600 year old body, curled up on its side in a stone 'cist' coffin.  There are rumours that he's unearthed more bodies.

Come and hear the latest news at a talk given by the Ardnamurchan Transitions Team at 7.30 this evening in Kilchoan Community Centre, entrance free.  Then, on Sunday, there's another Open Day at Swordle, 10.00am - 4.00pm.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Regatta Starts Tomorrow

With the main yachting events in this year's West Ardnamurchan Regatta taking place tomorrow - details here - competitors have been honing their skills out in the Sound of Mull.  With such keen competition each year, crews have been pushing their boats to the limit - and a bit beyond.  Fortunately, this skipper is quite used to capsizing - he did it several times in last year's races - so he soon had his boat back on an even keel.

Kilchoan Fives Tournament

Despite the rainy downpours, the Kilchoan men and ladies teams plus our three visitors from Motherwell Ladies and other keen volunteers gathered on Saturday afternoon for a fives tournament. Four well matched teams were created to fight for some wonderful prizes which were kindly donated by Motherwell Ladies FC and their team coach Charlie.

Congratulations to team Orange, who were the overall winners of the tournament. This winning team comprised of local legends Justin Cameron, Calum MacPhail, Rosemary Curtis, Katie Cameron and Peggy May Chapple.

Can anyone who borrowed kit please return it to either Justin Cameron, Rachael Haylett or Kayleigh MacGillvray. We train at 6.30pm on Wednesday evenings at the Community Centre pitch.
Many thanks to those who came along and played, Amanda Gane for taking charge of the scoring, and Kayleigh MacGillvray for her amazing organisation skills. 
Special thanks to Pammy, Linda and Natalie from Motherwell for travelling to Kilchoan for the tournament!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Leslie Anne

The fish farm feed boat, Leslie Anne out of Stornoway, travelling west from Loch Sunart today.  She's operated by Ferguson Shipping, a division of Ferguson Transport.

Picture from Kilchoan Early Bird, with thanks.

Archaeologists at Swordle

The archaeologists who come every year to Swordle on Ardnamurchan's north coast have now been here for more than a week, with many of them camping in the field by Swordle Byre.  The Ardnamurchan Transitions team were the group who found the Viking boat burial here in 2011, the first finds from which were recently displayed at the British Museum.

We went to visit them this morning, to find most of the team working in the field immediately to the east of the burn.  Their first site is on the neolithic chambered cairn called Cladh Aindreis, where they have permission from Historic Scotland to excavate part of the area in the foreground of this picture.  They've worked here in previous seasons.

The cairn has a long 'tail' of rocks which runs away from Cladh Aindreis towards the NNW - this picture is taken from the cairn looking towards their second excavation site.  They have permission to remove the topsoil and expose the structure of the 'tail' in what will be the largest excavation they've carried out in their years of coming here.  They are allowed to move any rocks which are evidently not 'in situ', but they cannot excavate the  structure without further permission from Historic Scotland.  This is a shame as....

....they have already exposed what is probably a small cist - in the foreground of this picture - in which there is a good possibility that there may be a burial.

Just to the west of Cladh Aindreis is another mound which they excavated in 2010 which they called Ricky's Cairn.  They knew it contained a bronze age cist, part of which they have excavated, finding a skull which was dated to 1650BC.  The rest of the cist is being excavated by Professor John Robb of Cambridge University who is an expert on bones - which is just as well as he is currently revealing the bones of the rest of the body, curled up in the foetal poison on his/her side.

There are so many exciting things going on at Swordle at the moment that the RAF sent a plane to investigate - which twice came in very low across the site.  Fortunately for us, access to the site is easy, with an Open Day this Sunday and plenty of opportunity to join the excavation.  There's also a talk about the site in the Kilchoan Community Centre at 7.30 on Thursday evening - full details here.

The Ardnamurchan Transitions Project's website is here.

Show's Missing Prizewinner

The Kilchoan Show and Sports Day took place last Friday in perfect conditions, with large crowds attending and a good day had by all, particularly the children.

However, a little girl, aged between 4 and 5, called Molly Smeed, came first equal in the competition for most sports points awarded on the day. Sadly she had left by the time the winners were announced and prizes awarded. Pat Glenday has an envelope with £7.50 in it, which she won.

Pat has tried to trace Molly, without success, but is very anxious to ensure that Molly receives her prize.  Pat can be contacted at

With one big event behind us, we're looking forward to the next, the West Ardnamurchan Regatta which takes place on Thursday and Friday of this week.  Last year, many of the events were called off when we had exceptionally high winds, which produced challenging conditions for the yachtsmen.  The forecast for this year is quite the opposite - light winds and rain later in the day.

The full programme is available on the West Ardnamurchan News site, here.

Many thanks to Gael Cameron for the Show photos.

Glenbeg: A Different View

From Tom Colville:

The beautiful pictures taken at Glenbeg on Friday recorded a unique and proud moment for so many. They also signalled the commencement of a new and repetitive risk to the wider economy of this peninsular.

Last Monday around midday, along the tortuous single track road from Salen, the sole vital access for doctors, emergency services, care workers, first responders, ambulance services as well as for small local deliveries, postal services, bus route and much more besides, visitors and residents who enjoy this unspoilt place will have met a huge bulk tipper, a returning delivery wagon. Of a size and type seldom seen along our narrow, blind, twisting haphazardly graded peninsular road - however common along motorways and the A9 - this six-axle bulk tipper had presumably just discharged malting grain at Glenbeg.

Far be it for anyone local to Ardnamurchan to be seen as ‘raining on yesterday’s parade’, but now the plant is open a reality check for local people seems timely.

One miracle has happened already: somehow this distillery has been built without life changing incident along the roads that lead to it from the A82.

This slow operation industry will attract a steady flow of heavier traffic which must now become commonplace. The law of averages dictates that West Ardnamurchan’s residents and visitors will too often discover they really do live on an island. Councillors and local planners, perhaps blinded by wealth, and by the prospect of local spend and local jobs all powered so greenly, must have discounted this potential for hiatus. Without their vote the distillery proposal for a place with such restricted access to very heavy LGVs could never have passed planning.

A fully loaded bulk tipper truck of the type spotted on Monday will weigh upwards of thirty five tons. It might weigh 44 tons, but ‘pray’ don’t let’s even go there. The nearest mobile crane capable of lifting a wagon of this sort will be stationed near Glasgow or Inverness, 4-5 hours distant on a good day. With poor foundations and limited hard standing space for stabilising jacks, positioning any crane along many parts of the B8007 will be risky enough. The work to recover an articulated lorry of this size, once it has overbalanced and its bulk cargo has shifted, may well require the malting grain to be fully discharged first, perhaps introducing fresh spores to this pristine area of prevailing salty westerly winds?

Should just one loaded wheel on just one of these trucks be misplaced or slip by a few centimetres? Or - heaven forbid - when winter water, frost and dark take a toll once more, should the road edge crumble and suddenly disintegrate?

Our ancient lifeline peninsular road was never designed for this. Is it only a few older highlanders and those with experience as professional transport drivers that can understand what may occur? Surely they were consulted?  Did anyone listen?

Was planning for this uncalled-for development not conditional?  What became of the notion that this malting grain should arrive by sea?

Editor's note: the trucks shown are illustrative; they are not the one described in the text.

Monday, 28 July 2014

New Wild Orchid

Many thanks to the little butterfly I was chasing which led me to this wildflower.  Identifying it has been difficult, but we think it's Irish Lady's Tresses, Spiranthes romanzoffiana.  If it is, it's a first for us on West Ardnamurchan, and this patch of grassland becomes, according to Plantlife Scotland - page here - the twelfth site in Britain in which this rare and endangered orchid is growing.

We found just two of them, growing closely together.  Since we've not seen them anywhere else and, according to this site, their main Scottish stronghold is on Barra and Benbecula, we wonder how on earth they arrived here.

This is a rather poor picture of the leaves, but it can be seen that they are long and thin and lacking in spots; and the stem is very long.

If anyone can confirm the identification, we'd be very grateful.

Dead Calm at the Jetty

These pictures were taken just before eight this morning at the jetty - or slipway - below the Ferry Stores.  This view looks southwest along the Ormsaigbeg shore.

Two yachts were moored to the West Ardnamurchan Jetty Association's buoys, with the telecommunications masts at Glengorm in the background.

A duck, disturbed while feeding close to the jetty, swam in to Kilchoan Bay, while.... the back of the bay, the small gaggle of greylag geese who seem to be permanent residents here, took to the water after feeding along the beach.


There are no bullfinches on West Ardnamurchan.  The Raptor has, on several occasions, maintained that he's seen them, and even produced a couple of photos of bullfinches which, one suspected, were probably taken on one of his trips to the eastern side of Scotland.

So the Diary was left having to eat some very humble pie when, yesterday evening, a very big, very smart male bullfinch landed on a rowan tree not fifty metres away.  It didn't look very settled, flying away quickly, so it may well be an east Scottish bullfinch which had lost his way and is, at this moment, hurrying back home.  But no longer can it be maintained that bullfinches can't be seen on West Ardnamurchan.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Grey Skies

The long spell of fine weather we've enjoyed this last week broke yesterday, with ten millimetres of rain falling in a couple of hours during the afternoon and a total of eighteen over the 24 hour period.  For those of us with gardens, the rain was welcome, and it didn't spoil the Kilchoan ladies' football match - report to follow - though the midges, which don't like warm, dry weather, did their best to murder the spectators.

This morning dawned mucky, with the Bessie Ellen hardly finding the wind to give her any way - more details about her here.

Also in the Sound this morning was yet another RN patrol boat, P292, HMS Charger.  This is the fourth of her class we've seen over the last couple of weeks.

By this afternoon the weather was clearing, if not the midges, who have a lot of ground to make up.

Loch Caorach

After we'd reached the lochan to the south of the lighthouse road the other day - see post here - and had rested, we walked on towards Loch Caorach, the sheep's loch, crossing first a straight little glen which framed the view of Grigadale Farm.

As we started to climb the flank of Beinn nan Ord we looked through the gap in the hills at Achosnich towards Sanna Bay, with Eigg and Rum in the distance.

Beinn nan Ord forms a long ridge and we crossed the northern end of it.  From the top, away to the south lay Lochain Dubha, the black lochans.  Just beyond them is the lost settlement of Reidh-dhail, and in the distance the Sound of Mull and Mull itself.

By this time the high cloud was beginning to clear, giving the sun a chance to come out.  This picture shows Loch Caorach, the lighthouse, Grigadale, the lump of Sgurr nam Mean in the right distance, and Muck and Rum beyond it.

Last time we looked down on Loch Caorach it was winter and pouring with rain, and we haven't visited it since, so hadn't appreciated what a beautiful loch it is.  With a watery sun now out, we sat down for a picnic lunch and enjoyed the view.

Having walked round the west side of the loch, we turned east, heading directly towards the Sonachan Hotel in order to avoid the large area of boggy ground which separated us from the lighthouse road.  This picture of the Sonachan, which is currently for sale, shows the rugged land in which it lies.

This shows the walk we enjoyed that day.  Perhaps the satellite, rather than the map view, gives a better idea of the countryside we traversed.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

An Ancient Wall

On Monday we set out to walk from the lighthouse road to the lochan just to the west of the Garbh-dhail woods.  It's a lochan we've visited before, but....

....the area we set out to cross was new for us, alternating between low, heather-covered hills which formed a ridge to flat, tussocky and sometimes boggy lower land.  This picture looks south, with Beinn na Seilg in the left distance and the slopes of Beinn nan Ord to the right.

This tree caught our eye.  It's unusual in that it's a lone aspen, a tree which usually propagates these days through suckers rather than by seed - see website here.  Aspens are widely distributed across the world - one particularly thinks of them as a tree of the Rockies - but are only common in Britain in the north and west of Scotland.

This picture shows the northern of the Garbh-dhail woodlands, with Beinn na Seilg in the distance and the burn, the Allt Garbh-dhalach, in the foreground....

...and it was as we were passing near the woodland that we disturbed this red deer hind.  The first time we saw her she had young at heel, but when we saw her again she's left it in hiding.  She kept running away, then stopping and barking at us.  We moved away from her a quickly as possible.

Approaching the lochan we came across this wall, picked out by the vegetation on the slope in front of us.

It's remarkable in that it's obviously old but it's straight - old walls tend to wander, following the topography and convenient large boulders.

It's clearly visible on this satellite photograph, running for some distance across the landscape but appearing to end at the lochan.

Walls like this take a huge amount of hard work to construct, so they were obviously built with an important purpose.  One is therefore left wondering what it was.

A little research produced the answer: it forms part of the long boundary between Ormsaigmore common grazings and those of Grigadale.  This isn't likely to be a wall that was built during crofting times, so it probably dates back to the time when these lands were clachan lands.  It may be several hundreds of years old.
The lochan is best described as being in a shallow bowl of land at the top of a low hill.  It's a wonderfully peaceful spot, somewhere to sit for hours and enjoy the sunshine.  To make it seem even more peaceful, at the nearer, northern end....

....there were water lilies in flower.

A Guest

We enjoyed a glass of chilled white wine on the upper terrace yesterday evening after a day when temperatures once again soared, to 30C in the shade around lunchtime.  We were joined by the young robin who declined a drink but enjoyed some oatcake crumbs.