Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 - Thank You!

This blog depends heavily on the photographs it carries, and for these I have to thank the engineers at Panasonic, the makers of the wonderful contraption which, when pointed at something exciting, like these two Ardnamurchan Estate stags sparring in early January morning sunshine, produces the most brilliant pictures.

Catching an exciting picture depends hugely on luck - and having the camera ready to hand.  This sparrowhawk, spotted one February lunchtime through the conservatory window, has spent the year feasting off the plump small birds we so extravagantly feed and whose antics have given us so much enjoyment this year.  I don't begrudge the sparrowhawk his meals: he, like all top predators, has his right to life and we'd be so much the poorer if we lost him.

This photo, taken in brisk March conditions looking from Glas Bheinn across Kilchoan, Ormsaigmore and Ormsaigbeg which, together, make the main settlement of West Ardnamurchan, is a small way of paying tribute to the people who survive year-round in this remote place, often in difficult circumstances. A special message goes to those who give so very generously of their time to manning our emergency services, without whom life here would be impossible. To the volunteers at Kilchoan Fire Brigade, to the dwindling band of Emergency Responders, and to the members of HM Coastguard Kilchoan: thank you.

One of our great pleasures is watching the ships that sail through the Sound of Mull.  Like 'planes, ships are intricate pieces of machinery, the work of many people who design and build them, skills which we once had in abundance in this country but which we have, so sadly, allowed to wither.  At least we still build our warships in the UK: this is the Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon, built with pride on the Clyde and seen passing down the Sound of Mull in April.

Another pleasure, and a privilege, has been watching the transformation of the 13th century Mingary Castle from a ruin that was on the verge of falling into the sea into a building which will, once again, be in everyday use, albeit in a very different role.  My special thanks to Donald Houston for asking me to write a blog about this work, and to all those who have made me so welcome on site, especially builders JP, Mark, and their workmen, all of whom have been particularly kind and helpful.

It has been a great privilege living another year in a part of the world which, while it is, at times, fierce, is never, ever boring, and at most times is stunningly beautiful.  This is Sanna, photographed from Beinn Dubh, the black hill. Beinn Dubh illustrates a problem which it would be wonderful to have the time to tackle in 2015: it is not named on the OS maps, and it was only through the help of Mr Alastair MacColl, who lived here as a boy and knows the area, that I learned its name.

Coming from a background in which, when I was younger, I specialised in maths, physics and chemistry to the total exclusion of the biological sciences, one of the excitements of our wanderings across this peninsula has been the steady discovery of its wonderful plant life.  This little orchid is very special: Irish Lady's Tresses are rare, there being only about a dozen other sites in the UK where it survives, yet in July we found four growing in Ormsaigbeg.

In August we met a neighbour who, very probably, had been living just beyond the back fence of our garden for some time.  Ardnamurchan has its fair share of adders but, until we met this one, they had all been the standard colour.  The black of the black adder may be an adaptation to a more northerly habitat, where the colour absorbs sunlight better, enabling the snake to become active both earlier in the year and earlier on a chill morning.

I don't know how many walks we've taken in the hills and along the coastlines of West Ardnamurchan during 2014, but we must average two good ones a week, and for the fact that our health enables us to continue to do this we should be truly thankful.  Mrs Diary has walked all of them with me, a patient companion since she has to stop every few yards while a picture is taken.  Since it is quite normal to return at the end of a walk with upwards of a hundred pictures, progress can be....  slow. This is the only 'selfie' we've ever taken, sitting on a rock just along from the peak of Creag an Airgid, looking across Ardnamurchan's volcanic centre towards Sanna on a  glorious September day.

One of the growing interests of 2014 has been in the archaeology of this end of the peninsula.  A small group of amateur archaeologists has been active in 2014, learning new skills through the good offices of Archaeology Scotland, recording the many monuments that are scattered across the landscape, and discovering how to log over a hundred of them on the national database.  In October we began our exploration of Branault with a detailed photographic record of the Bronze Age Branault standing stone.

In November, luck gave me this picture while walking home along the Ormsaigbeg road, an eagle wheeling against a daytime moon.  The winter months always seem the best for eagles, but we've had magnificent sightings of both sea and golden eagles throughout the year.

To those of us not directly involved in farming, it's always exciting to see an eagle, but the increasing numbers of sea eagles, in particular, has lead to a rise in the predation of lambs.  Twice in 2014, the Diary published photos of sea eagles carrying away the carcases of lambs.

Finally, the Diary would like to extend a special 'thank you' to those who haven't minded being named in blog posts - Hughie in particular - and to those people, both locals and visitors, who have sent in stories and pictures which have made a pleasant change from the usual ramblings of this writer.  Kilchoan Early Bird has been particularly kind, and there have been many super pictures from many people, but this one stands out, taken across the small bay just south of Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse by the Raptor during a December storm.


  1. Thank you for the many happy memories of time spent in Portuairk.
    Every visit we made there was something new to discover, and so many still not explored.
    Wonderful pictures and the interesting historical information.
    I hope you are both able to continue to enjoy those those walks for many years to come.

  2. Thank you for so many wonderful pictures and information. They keep us going until we return each summer ,now with the third generation.
    Thanks the masons

  3. Many thanks for the wonderful pictures and entertaining repartee especially when describing your friends with snouts over the past year.

  4. Happy new year! Many thanks for the blog which we check daily.

  5. Happy new year to you all, thanks for the daily read it keeps us going until we return each year ,all the best, Carol & terry.

  6. Happy New Year to you and your family. Thanks for the diary, the information and the fabulous pictures from you and others. Your diary gave us so many ideas for our visit last September, can't wait to return, hopefully in 2015.

  7. Happy New Year...and thank you for your most informative diary.

  8. Happy New Year!!! Love your blog. Simply beautiful :)

  9. Happy New Year to you! Thank you for keeping us informed and in touch with this beautiful part of the country. your blog is a daily tonic and keeps us going until our next visit.....

  10. Ditto to all of the above from avid readers of your never boring blog - fascinating always and fabulous photos.

    Besleys, Isle of Wight.

  11. Thank you all for your kind words and good wishes. Jon