Saturday, 21 November 2015

Ardnamurchan, Magnificent Seven - 2

From Marc Gerard:

Even before the sun had gone down our diligently set blackcurrant jam bait paid dividends. Did we need to spend hours huddled in a flimsy hide? - Did we have to dress with all available layers of clothing? - Did we end up crippled through having to be perfectly still in uncomfortable positions? - Was silence maintained through fear of spooking anything? - Were we hunched over terrifyingly expensive camera equipment? No, no, no, no and no. Here we were, comfortably sat on a sofa placed across the open french doors, drinking beer and using only glorified point-and-shoot cameras whilst the pine martens did their thing barely six feet away. A wild animal so clearly used to human interaction (and easy food) could be mistaken for being tame and friendly, although any such mistake and one false move could well leave you no longer being able to count to ten on your fingers! Having said that, the more inquisitive of the pine martens which visited did end up taking a morsel of jam-smeared bread direct from the hand. With the pine martens moving on, the roaring stags came in to close the show. Brilliant!

Wednesday: early fog, no doubt brought on by the previous day's warmth. However, the forecast suggested this would lift to give another sunny day. Time for another beach. Off to the singing sands of Camas an Lighe.

The drive along Loch Sunart to Salen produced some fantastic views as the fog lifted with thin wisps over the water being the last to shift. The walk from Arivegaig saw the last of any murk burnt away and the rising temperature drew the heady smells of autumn from soil and undergrowth. Arrival at the beach turned out to be well timed.

Rather like at Sanna the colours were glorious, but whilst Sanna was relatively busy with about a dozen (!) people making the most of the place, less convenient access here meant there were only two other visitors to the increasing expanse of pristine sand left by the ebb tide, and even they moved on not long after our arrival. 

Out towards Eigg and Rum, across an almost mirror-flat sea, the mist was slowly dispersing.

A sheltered spot provided a genuinely warm place for the obligatory feast of sausage and Daddies sandwiches and Jaffa Cakes. The temptation to shout Wilson!...WILSON!! was only just resisted. There was a hope that the calm conditions would present a sighting of something unusual out to sea, but apart from a lone seal and the usual sea birds there was nothing. We were so wrapped up in the place that we forgot to have a try at making the sand sing - although two years' previous visits suggested we would have failed miserably anyway.

Another evening's entertainment was provided by the pine martens, and roaring stags were again plainly very close to the cottage.

Thursday dawned even more foggy than the day before, but it was still due to be dry. Outing options were tricky, hills were off the menu due to the thick clag. One possibility was to revisit Sanna, but we opted to go round to Achateny and maybe Kilmory beaches. This involved another negotiation of the unruly gang of layabout cows near the Fascadale turning.

At Achateny things were just as murky as they had been on the south side with the fog resolutely slumped over the hills behind. What struck us was the spooky stillness and the silence was profound with not even the sound of waves lapping the shore. Whilst making our way out to a suitable perch on rocks as far out as possible our attention was caught by something scurrying about - a brown, furry animal with a pale patch on its chin. Initially it was thought to maybe be a young pine marten, but we couldn't imagine why one would be way out here. A stoat, maybe? Attempts to get close for a photo were frustrating as the thing would repeatedly pop its head up to see what was going on, only for it to duck down just as the shot was framed. It now turns out we were almost certainly watching a mink.

Following a graceful, low flypast by an eagle which briefly had some gulls rather agitated, the time spent on our rocky perch brought nothing more than a solitary seal making its way along the shoreline, and numb bums. However, it was wonderfully atmospheric with the fuzzy outline of Eigg eerily drifting in and out of sight and the calls of oyster catchers and curlews occasionally breaking the silence.

Usual lunchtime feast taken with the sun only just getting to work on the murk, it was decided to return to base.

Things were much brighter back on the southern side with the fog rapidly lifting off Leac an Tuairneir behind the cottage and the late afternoon saw the sky turn clear blue. Dappled sunlight streaming through autumn leaves; the sinking sun slowly bathing Carna in an increasingly golden light; the gentle lapping of waves on the shore below; and the song of finches, tits and robins - I'll simply use the word tranquil again. However, preparing the evening's animal lures we had no idea just how bonkers things would soon get.

We just about managed to rearrange the furniture and grab a drink in time to sit back and watch another evening of pine martens-a-go-go. Even I will admit that this photo looks like it is of two stuffed animals - they were really putting on a show and at one point we feared that the tamer of the two would actually step indoors. However, as darkness started to fall things really kicked off. The pine martens just kept coming back, but they eventually became much more twitchy. Some female red deer and at least one calf had turned up. The fog was now starting to come in again quite quickly so we had these animals stealthily looming out of the darkness sniffing out the carrots and broccoli stalks which we had put out. Then a fox wandered onto the scene and an owl was heard and then seen drifting ghost-like from tree to tree, both just being caught in the outside light's glare despite the ever-thickening fog. Our descent into some sort of weird mash-up of Autumnwatch and Disney film was capped off by the arrival of two stags roaring at each other somewhere on the shoreline just below - although they were so loud it sometimes sounded like they had sneaked in to join us in the sitting room. We were nearly stuck in a rut. Strewth!

And so to Friday: the last full day. The weather was slightly gloomy, but that did not really matter as today was to be a rest day in preparation for tomorrow's long journey home.

One final lap of the bay below the cottage at low tide would be enough, then back to slowly pack up. Another evening of wildlife visits, though not as manic as the previous evening's, had us hoping to round things off with a sighting of otter and wildcat as both had mentions in the cottage's visitors' book, but it was not to be. And that was it, yet another great week on Ardnamurchan was sadly over. All that was left was for a very early start on Saturday, followed by an almost immediate need to brake to a halt as some deer decided to trot across the road right in front of us and provide a pretty effective wake-up call - as did the kamikaze sheep on the approach to the ferry at Ardgour.

After two weeks of travelling around the Highlands, especially Ardnamurchan, the 600 mile drive home is always rather depressing as each hour takes you further into a frantic madness, with the dreaded M25 and the run to East Sussex's coast rounding things off.... badly.

Notwithstanding the powerful draw which Skye and Ardnamurchan have on us, we have decided to take a break from both for 2016's autumn holiday in the Highlands. However, there is very little doubt that, all things being equal, we will not be able to stay away for too long. And the Kilchoan Diary will almost certainly continue to give reasons to make that return sooner rather than later.

Many thanks indeed to Marc for the superb pictures, and for giving so much of his time to describe his holiday on Ardnamurchan.


  1. Was Marc staying at Loch View Cottage Jon? It looks a beautiful and idyllic place for a wildlife holiday...

  2. what a holiday! All those excellent sightings and wonderful pictures. Thank you for sharing them.

  3. Marc tells me stayed at Shoreline Cottages in Glenborrodale. Last year he stayed in “Birch Cottage”, this year he had its sister “Oak Cottage”.

  4. Thanks Jon. We'll bear those in mind next time we're planning a visit to your neck of the woods....