Monday, 29 May 2017

Mingary Castle's First Year

It's a year now since Mingary Castle, after a three-year restoration programme, opened as an hotel, so yesterday's celebration included....

....a piper who played from the battlements.

There's more about Mingary Castle here, and the castle's Facebook page is here.


The appearances of certain species are like milestones in the passage of the year. This little butterfly, a small heath, is an example. On Friday I saw the first, a lonely beast which didn't look as if it was enjoying the cloudy, cool conditions. In yesterday's sunshine, I counted half a dozen.

Caterpillars are beginning to appear. This is a large one, and seemed to be sunning itself on a rock, so must have been pretty confident that nothing was going to eat it. It's the caterpillar of the drinker moth. We've seen these caterpillars before but never the moth itself.

Here's another first for the year, a small grasshopper which would not stay still long enough for a photograph, not until he'd been chased across half a hillside. I'm fortunate that there are no onlookers at such times - at least, I hope there aren't.

It's often difficult to get a sense of scale from a photograph. This common lizard was small, perhaps 70mm long. Since the young are born in July, this is probably one of last year's brood.

Long suffering readers of this blog will know the Diary's love of orchids, and this is a slightly special one as it's the first orchid found this year in Ormsaigbeg. The earliest this year were along the Coiremhuilinn burn, and then we found some in the Kilchoan common grazings along the Sanna road, both of which were early - so perhaps this is going to be a bumper year for orchids.

This really is early, the first flowers on a bell heather. Again, it would be good if this could be a great year for heather as the last two years haven't been as impressive as they could have been, and the sight of Ardnamurchan's hills covered in a carpet of flowering heather is unforgettable.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Manx Shearwaters

The Raptor was at Ardnamurchan Point Lighthouse today where, he writes, "I saw these huge rafts of Manx shearwaters. They were in the high hundreds or even thousands.

"I'm not sure if it's an abundance of food that's brought them in or maybe they are just passing on their way to breeding grounds on and around the islands."

By way of a bonus, the Raptor adds this picture of what he describes as "a nosy dolphin", pictured just off Mingary Pier. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but this looks like a bottlenose dolphin.

Many thanks to the Raptor for pictures & story.

An Emigrant Family's Voyage

Australian correspondent Robert Curran was interested in the recent Diary post about Scottish immigrants to Alberta, and sends an Australian example, detailed here.

Robert adds, "Anne McPherson died in 1865, whilst Donald McPherson died on 22 November 1876 at Wollert, now an outer northern suburb of Melbourne. Both are buried in nearby Epping Cemetery. Wollert (also known as Darebin Creek) is where the two McPherson sisters and their Cameron husbands lived so it is possible that Donald died at one of his daughters' homes. His death registration gives his age as 98 years. However his age as given when immigrating in 1838 was 48, which suggests that his true age was about 86 years.

"Donald’s will, made on 24 November 1870, shows that he was then a farmer, living at Woodstock, near Wollert, and had property there on the Medland Estate. His sole executor was Alexander Cameron, his son-in-law, a second executor having predeceased him. His property comprised £225 in cash, £5 in furniture and personal effects and 129 acres of land with a 4-roomed weatherboard house, skillion and rough stone stable valued at £1,032.

"Anne and Donald were middle-aged when they emigrated. They didn't find great wealth, but at least they got their own land and their independence."

Many thanks to Robert for this account.
Photo of Donald McPherson's grave courtesy Carol Judkins, who holds copyright.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Technical Problems

The Raptor sent this picture last night along with the comment, "Walking the dog I discovered the CalMac sign at Mingary Pier has been hit by the latest malware attack only affecting the Highlands. It's known locally as blackbagware, and it looks like a pretty bad case. Either that or the CalMac IT lads have came up with a terrific new systems update. Only in the Highlands!"

To add to our woes, a problem at BT's Kilchoan telephone exchange has meant that landlines haven't been working properly. For the last twenty-four hours it's been impossible to dial through to a number starting with a zero, and local calls within the community sometimes work and sometimes don't. The glitch was sorted by midday today but not before local businesses lost large sums of money because card readers didn't work.

Many thanks to the Raptor for picture and story.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Bourblaige Beach

Yesterday's forecast was for wall-to-wall sunshine and the day didn't disappoint, with midday temperatures hitting 25C, so it was good to spend the morning in the company of Helen, Derryck, June and Geoffrey walking down to the beaches below....

....the cleared clachan of Bourblaige. While we spent time looking at some of the features of the site, which is a scheduled monument and includes an exceptionally well-preserved corn-drying kiln....

....the main purpose of the walk was to take a look at the two abandoned houses which stand right on the beach. For some time I thought they might have been the dwellings of those members of the Bourblaige community who specialised in fishing but, as is described on the Heritage Ardnamurchan website here, there's probably a better explanation.

This is an excellent place for seeing eagles. In the space of a few minutes three came by, a sea eagle and two golden eagles.

We found a grassy bank near the sea which was home to hundreds of these beetles, variously called bracken or garden chafers, which seem to swarm during a brief period each year.

This is a wonderfully peaceful section of coast, with a series of sweeping bays separated by low, rocky headlands, a place where one can spend a day and not see another human being.

Mouse Invasion

Our Mark III feeders are designed to ensure that small birds have exclusive access to some of the bird seed while plenty is still available for the larger birds - though we do try to exclude the local pheasants which, if given half a chance, will eat everything.

It was with some surprise therefore when, on going out to fill the feeders this morning, I discovered that the Mark IIIs have a design fault: the local field mouse had managed to find a way of climbing the pole and inserting himself in the feeder.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Snail Invasion

The local snails have had a thin time during May's fine weather but now that a few days of light drizzle have come to their aid, they've been out in force. This collection was hiding behind just one slate in the vegetable garden.

Their favourite destination is the sugarsnap pea beds where a good crop has just broken surface. Their attentions would have been devastating had we not....

....resorted to using slug pellets to control them, as few as possible scattered round the outside of the beds.

We don't like using poisons in any part of the garden, though admit to the occasional and sparing use of Roundup. Mostly, we pull weeds out by hand, and have tried in the past to deal with snails by surrounding vulnerable crops with lengths of copper wire, which is supposed to deter them by giving them a mild electric shock, and by using beer traps. Snails like beer, drink it and, in a state of inebriation, fall into their drink and drown - but the traps dilute quickly in our climate.

Our biggest ally is the song thrush population, which seems to manage to find snails wherever they hide through the day. A frequent, and very welcome sound in the garden is the tap-tap-tap of snails being smashed open on a convenient rock.

But we worry that the snails the thrushes find most easily are those which have ingested the pellets, and fear that the thrushes - and particularly their young - may suffer as a result. The instructions on the pellet container warns that the pellets should not be ingested by humans and pets but makes no mention of wildlife.

SFPA Aircraft

The Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency's Reims-Cessna F406 Caravan II, G-SMMA, was flying up and down the Sound of Mull this morning. It's a French twin turboprop, a maritime surveillance version with extra equipment such as a 360 degree radar.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

A Fascadale Holiday

Rod Marks visited Fascadale for a holiday last November, and these pictures are the result. This one looks west to Meall Buidhe Mor, with the sun catching storm shower clouds over the Outer Hebrides.

This photo was taken at 11.40, with frost still heavy on the ground.

Frost isn't common on Ardnamurchan and, when it does happen, the Highland Council gritters take time to get out here - and then they only grit the 'main' roads. So Rod's comment, "I felt honoured as I was the only soul out at Fascadale," is appropriate. The Moidart Hills are in the background.

This picture of Fascadale in winter sun looks north across Fascadale Bay and a flat calm sea to Eigg and Rum, while....

....this one looks west across a winter landscape to Meall an Fair-eoin.

Rod wasn't short of visitors, this time from the RAF, the 'plane heading in the direction of Loch Sunart. Rod writes, "I don't know if the pilot had time to admire the view as it flashed by, but on a day like this, it must have been spectacular."

Rod also enjoyed visits from the local wildlife. He writes, "Driving back to the cottage after visiting the fair at the Community Centre, these two stags were grazing on the rough ground on the right side of the road, about a quarter of a mile from the cottage."

Rod's last picture is of dawn over Moidart across a flat calm sea, as it was throughout the week he spent in what he describes as, "my favourite place in the universe."

Many thanks to Rod Marks for pictures and story,
with sincere apologies from the Diary that it took so long to post them.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Memories of a Kilchoan Holiday, 1968

From Mike & Jane Harper:
We first discovered Sanna Bay in May 1967 on a short trip into the western highlands with two friends. At the time we had just become engaged and visited our friends who then were living in Edinburgh. It was the Spring Bank Holiday and we decided to go the Highlands for a couple of days.

On the first day we found a croft that could accommodate us, two men in one room and the two girls in the other. This was near Fort William somewhere near the Caledonian Canal. The next day we set off towards Mallaig. Early afternoon we started searching for a B&B that had two bedrooms - in those days you didn’t share unless you were married.

We could not find anywhere that was not fully booked and subsequently ended up with four of us trying to sleep in a Triumph Herald. By first light we were all wide awake. After a cold wash in a burn we set off towards Glenelg. At about 6am we came up on Sanna Bay.

To the amazement of a bleary eye in a lonely caravan, there were four idiots running around on the beach at six in the morning!

Jane & I married in March 1968 and my friend on the Sanna Bay excursion was my best man. We were so taken with Sanna that on 20th September 1968 we set off from our friend’s new house in Penicuik heading North for a holiday in Kilchoan and Sanna Bay.

We arrived late afternoon in Kilchoan and drove through the village looking for a B&B. By chance we came upon Craigard which still had their sign up. They told us they were about to take it down. Mrs Scott showed me the room and told me they did not have electricity but had oil lamps. I broke this news to Jane and said if it doesn’t suit you can move on tomorrow, thoughI had no idea where. The rest is history: my wife fell in love with the place and we stayed the whole week despite her not being able to use her hair-dryer. I had an electric razor and could not use that either. Jane noted in her diary that it was turning back the pages, old world.

The next priority was to get a drink, for having driven most of the day I was gasping. Granny McPhail said the Hotel closed at 9 or 9.30 and as it was almost closing time so I virtually ran all the way. I rushed into the empty bar and ordered a pint that I drank quickly and ordered another.

We sat wondering when they would call time, enjoying my pint when the door opened and in came some people. There was John McVee the local First World War hero, an accordion player and jolly good sing-song of well loved Scottish songs ensued. Granny McPhail told us their names the next day that it was John McVee, The DL (Daniel Livingston) and their mates, a 'bad lot' she said.

We very quickly adjusted to a life without electricity; however, the talk in evening was often about the Gillespies who had a generator; “just look at that, lights everywhere."

It was interesting to experience life on a croft. Mrs Scott milked the cows by hand and was always busy. She had a dog called Spot who was a slightly mad collie but very friendly. We often wondered how they all fitted into the house and yet managed to give us such wonderful food. We very quickly adjusted to life without electricity. Mrs Scott provided a “high tea” every evening which to us was better than a dinner, and a lovely cooked breakfast.

On the Sunday we drove down to Mingary Pier to see the ferry and found out the times of the crossings to Tobermory. The ferry in those days was passenger only and on a market day, sheep. If you went on those days you swept the deck with the brooms provided or just put up with the mess and accepted a smelly 45 minutes bouncing around in a small boat.

Afterwards we drove to Sanna Bay and spent a lovely sunny day paddling and clambering on the rocks before returning to a sumptuous “high tea”. After tea we ventured out to the lighthouse and saw it flashing its warning light. Then to bed and reading by oil lamp while Jane wrote her diary.

On the Monday we went to Tobermory in what was an exhilarating crossing. We spent the day in the town before walking up to what must have been the Treshnish Lochs where we ate a picnic provided by Mrs Scott. Before catching the ferry we went to the local shop to buy a wet razor… no luck, they had sold them all. As a result every morning Granny McPhail felt my whiskery face to see if they were growing.

Tuesday 24th September we walked over the cliffs to Ockle a funny little place with about only three houses. The sky was cloudless blue, the sea a cornflower blue and the islands looked beautiful across the Minch. After a picnic lunch we drove back to Sanna Bay and spent the day paddling in the warm sea.

The next day was our first wet day. However, that did not stop us from enjoying ourselves. We walked from the jetty to Mingary Castle and had a good look around. We then drove to Sanna Bay and donning our macs and rain-hats and spent several hours walking on the sands and scrambling over the rocks.

When had dried out we drove to the Lighthouse and were shown around by the lighthouse keeper. We were surprised to learn that the light was paraffin lit, as are many lighthouses around Britain, he informed us. After dinner we had a drink in the Kilchoan Hotel with another couple who were staying at Craigard. We again wondered how they fitted us all and themselves into the house.

Thursday was another warm and sunny day. We drove to Glenborrodale and tried to find a road inland to the lochs but found it was gated with a notice, private. So we drove back to near Sanna and walked across country to Glendrian cave (left). It was hard walking with bogs, rocks and slippery screeds. We got there and I ventured in. I only got short way when a pigeon took off with a loud crack of its wings. I nearly died of fright and came out much quicker than I went in. We trekked back and on to Sanna Bay and a paddle with a whole beach virtually to ourselves. In the evening we walked along the lane towards the point and watched the light-houses on Mull and those in the distant near Oban sending their message of safety to ships and boats in the sound.

Friday 27th September was our last day at Craigard. Mrs Scott could not accommodate us they were expecting a load of relatives from Glasgow later so we booked into the Sonachan House Hotel for the night.

We waited for the rain to stop which it did most conveniently. We walked and conquered the two mountains (hills) overlooking Sanna Bay. Although it was very windy and a long trek the views were worth the effort. We sat and watched the rough seas breaking against the rocks at Sanna. Our last day we were both sad but had had a wonderful holiday and although not looking to going back to work but were refreshed sufficiently to endure it.

On the Saturday as we left we called at Craigard and said our farewells to Mrs Scott, Granny McPhail and of course Spot. We said how much we had enjoyed our short holiday and agreed we would be back. In 1970 we returned to Kilchoan and stayed again at Craigard. We never visited Kilchoan again until this year when we met Tom Bryson the new owner of Craigard.

We still meet our friends, usually a couple of times a year. The health of Laurie, my best man, is not what it was so we have not been able to visit each other for the last year to avoid putting any strain on him.

Many thanks to Mike & Jane for this account and the pictures.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Long-Term Weather Forecast

Alasdair Thornton writes, "Ever heard the old rhyme 'If the oak before the ash, then we'll only have a splash, if the ash before the oak, then we'll surely have a soak'?

"If it's to be believed we could be in for a pretty dry summer, as these pictures from Ormsaigbeg will attest.

"This ash at Annbank is a couple of weeks behind the....

"....wind-stunted oaks beyond the driveway to Coimh Lionadh a little further along the road."

Many thanks for this, Alasdair. We sincerely hope the old saying is right.

First Sign of Summer

From our Marine Salvage Correspondent:
For some it’s the first swallow, for others it’s the arrival of the midges, but in Kilchoan the first sign that it’s summer is another boat coming off its mooring. And so it was on Friday morning when Justin and Alastair arrived for work in the bay to see a RIB had gone ashore and put the call out for help in recovering it.

 Luckily the hull was not too damaged and so it was stabilised while the tide came in.

A line was attached from Justin’s boat and it was floated off and towed back to the mooring and secured.

For the many people who moor their boat in the bay, whether on a permanent or visitor mooring, it’s good to know that any problems are quickly spotted and help is near at hand.

Many thanks to Chris Gane for pictures & story.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Back into the Hills

We've become accustomed to the relatively gentle walking that the Provincial Parks Service provides in Alberta, which includes cleared trails and excellent provision of facilities, so....

....our first walk back on Ardnamurchan, in gentle Kilchoan sunshine and with a reception committee guarding Kilchoan Township's common grazings, was a bit of a shock.

Much has changed in a fortnight. The heath spotted orchids, in shades from pale pinks and lilacs through to white, are in full flower, and they are joined by a number of other wildflowers which weren't in bloom when we left - tormentil, marsh lousewort, heath milkwort, common butterwort and bird's foot trefoil amongst others.

We walked east from the Sanna road, climbing steadily into the area around Meall an Tarmachain, with views back across the road to Beinn na Seilg, Lochan na Crannaig and Lochan nan Ealachan, and....

....southwards across Lochan Sron nan Sionnach towards Kilchoan Bay and Mull in the misty distance.

Just below Meall an Tarmachain is Lochan a' Choire Chruinn, which is one of the lochans which....

....hosts a population of bogbean, now in full flower.

One change which is very noticeable is how green the landscape has become during our absence, though the fresh grass is like a thin veneer across the rocky soils of these hills. This view looks west, with the hill at centre Beinn na h-Imeilte.