Sunday, 23 July 2017

Modern Crofting

The days of haymaking by hand are long gone - this picture, courtesy Dorothy Parker, was taken at Achateny Farm.

Today the whole job is mechanised. The field is cut and then, after a couple of days in which to dry, the crop is lifted and baled by one machine before....

....being transferred to another which encases the bale in plastic.

Another thing has changed. The crop is no longer hay but haylage, a cross between hay and silage, this the result of changing weather patterns so that the cut grass simply doesn't get the time to dry sufficiently to make hay.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Ships in the Sound

We're at the height of the cruising season now, with some very elegant ships passing, many of which we've seen before. However, some are new to us, like the Aegean Odyssey, pictured working her way through a small flotilla of yachts. A converted ferry carrying some 380 passengers, she is 'Voyages to Antiquity's' only ship, and is described as "perfectly suited for coastal cruising to the small inlets of the Mediterranean that larger ships cannot reach....and.... for navigating rivers, such as Spain’s Guadalquivir River and Gironde River in Bordeaux."

Star Pride passed us twice, the second time travelling down the Sound at dusk. German-built in 1988 for Seabourn Cruise Line she's another small ship, carrying just over 200 passengers, but is now operated by Windstar Cruises, which also has ships like the Wind Surf.

A third cruise ship which is new to us is the Artania, another German-operated ship but much larger, carrying up to 1,260 passengers. Built in Finland and launched in 1984, she was originally named Royal Princess by Diana, Princess of Wales, in a ceremony at Southampton.

It hasn't always been ideal cruising weather. This is the ketch Irene passing Ardmore light in mist. She was built at Bridgwater, Somerset, in 1907 and, after a very varied career, is now available for private charter.

Beluga II is a Greenpeace vessel and is seen here on a voyage which made the headlines. She was looking for plastic and, unsurprisingly, found plenty of it both along Scotland's beaches as well as inside and wrapped around local marine wildlife.

Sometimes it is very difficult to identify a ship, even with the use of the AIS sites. The fine ship to the right is, I think, the sailing smack Betty CK145, built at Brightlingsea in Essex in 1906, CK being Colchester. Her original role as a fishing boat was to dredge for oysters in the shallow estuaries of Essex.

The motor yacht Wabi Sabi passed through the Sound on a voyage from Dublin to Copenhagen. She was recently on the market for $25,000,000. For that, you get a boat which she is capable of sprinting to 24 knots and has a range of over 4,000 nautical miles. There's no question that she is luxurious - see here - but I'm not sure how you'd get your moneys-worth out of her short of living aboard for the whole year.

By comparison, the Voe Jarl is a down-to-earth working boat which has spent several days at Marine Harvest's Maclean's Nose fish farm.

Another working boat seen locally is the Margaret Sinclair, here on her way in to Tobermory with Ben Hiant as a backdrop. She's a general purpose coastal landing craft operated by Inverlussa Marine Services, which also has....

....the Gina Mary, a multi-purpose aquaculture support vessel which the AIS sites call, rather unkindly, a 'tug'.

This fishing boat, at anchor in Kilchoan Bay, showed no registration numbers but one can just distinguish her name above the bridge. She's the Creachan Mor, OB26. The last time we saw her she was painted green - here.

This is one of our local creel boats, Justin Cameron's Harvester, at work off Mingary Castle surrounded by an appreciative flock of gulls.

Lastly, this is Staffa Tours' new boat Angus, a 16-metre catamaran which is seen leaving Mingary Pier for a trip to the Treshnish Islands. Staffa Tours must be doing well as they have yet another new boat, the Elsie, coming in to service shortly. They deserve their success: we thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Staffa and Lunga on board their Islander.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Pine Marten Visit

A pine marten came to breakfast.... Richard O'Connor's house at Achosnich.

Cute as these animals are, we used to discourage such visits - not actively, but in the sense that we didn't put food out for them - because we had heard stories of pine martens tangling with cats, confrontations from which the cats did not come out well.

Now that our cats have gone to a happy mousing ground in the sky, we're not so bothered, as long as the pine martens don't take up residence in the roof.

Fortunately for us, a pine marten is in residence in a neighbour's shed, so we went round the other day to collect some pine marten scat....

....which we scattered round the kale bed which was being visited by what we think is a small rabbit, a beast which has not been deterred by a wire cover - see earlier blog post here.

The damage can be clearly seen in this picture, taken this morning, but we're pleased to report that the rabbit, or whatever it is, hasn't returned.

Many thanks to Richard for the top four pictures.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Choiremhuilinn Wildlife

We walked this morning on Ardnamurchan Estate land, across fields which were once worked by the people of Choiremhuilinn clachan whose houses, foreground, now lie ruined a mile to the east of Mingary Castle, having been cleared of their inhabitants in 1828.

It would be good to think that the wildlife we saw and photographed today was as enjoyed by them. The bluebells, the Scottish variety, are just coming in to flower and it appears to be a good year for them, as it is....

....for self heal, which seems a richer purple than usual.

In the wetter part of Choiremhuilinn land the first devil's bit scabious is flowering. It has practical applications, for example for treating skin irritations, and one wonders whether the local people knew of its uses.

The butterflies were out along the edges of the woodland that fringes the Allt Choiremhuilinn, the burn which separated Choiremhuilinn land for that of the neighbouring clachan to the west, Mingary. This is a moth-eaten red admiral, perhaps the last of those that survived the winter.

While whites were the most common butterfly, it was good to come across several blues, of which this male common blue was one. Some of these blues are tiny, and friendly enough to allow a camera within a few inches.

A series of shingle beaches stretch to the west of the clachan, curved beaches in wide bays, with Maclean's Nose at the end of them. Several wildflower species manage to survive in the shingle just above the limit of the winter high tide, including....

....this nettle, perhaps common hemp nettle.

While we were walking the beaches we were watched from the clifftops above, by a small herd of red deer whose ancestors would have had an uneasy relationship with the people of Choiremhuilinn.

For more about the history of Choiremhuilinn, go to the Heriatge Ardnamurchan website here.

Corran Ferry Repaired

The MV Corran has been repaired so a full service is now available again at Corran.

Many thanks to Gus MacLennan for the information.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017


The first sunrise we've seen in a long time came at 5.40 this morning, with the sun appearing over the shoulder of Glas Bheinn. It's a reminder, as if we need it, that summer is slipping away.

As the days and weeks go on, the sun will rise over Beinn nan Losgann, then Beinn na h-Urchrach, then Ben Hiant and Stellachan Dubha before, with winter coming on, it moves across to the mountains of Morvern.

The Vegetable Garden

Our efforts in the vegetable garden are very amateurish but sometimes they really pay off. These potatoes, a variety called Estima, were grown from eight miserable little seed potatoes bought for a pound from Poundstretcher in Fort William, yet....

....they produced just over 8kg of potatoes with hardly a blemish on them. The second row, a variety called Charlotte, has done equally well.

The summer weather so far hasn't been ideal for courgettes particularly as we grow them outdoors with no cover, yet the first ones are ready for the plate.

We, along with an unknown pest, possibly a small rabbit, have been eating kale for about two weeks. It's probably one of our most reliable vegetable crops which will keep producing for a couple of months, and we have a second small bed which is coming on well.

Thank goodness for the several berberis bushes, Berberis darwanii, in our front garden. Their purple berries provide a choice for the local blackbirds who would otherwise be gorging on what has been a good crop of raspberries and a not-so-good crop of strawberries, the latter badly affected by the weather.

The slugs and snails also enjoy strawberries, and the damp weather has suited them. They've also eaten so many of the brassica seedlings that we've had to re-plant broccoli and sprouts. However, we have several allies in the battle against slugs and snails, including toads and slow worms.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Three Lochans

Today dawned fine so we drove to the tiny township of Ockle and walked southeast, heading up the glen of the Allt Ockle, stopping every now and then to sit and look back towards the islands of Eigg and Rum.

The west side of the Ockle glen is forestry belonging to the Ardnamurchan Estate, but some of the east side shows signs of having been worked as arable land in the past, with the consequence that, in places, it is now choked with bracken.

As the day went on, so the southeasterly wind rose, which probably explains why we saw relatively few butterflies. One we did see was this small pearl-bordered fritillary which we followed for some minutes, watching as it visited heath spotted and fragrant orchids, cross-leaved heath, and bell heather.

After about three kilometres we left the Ockle glen, turning up one of its tributaries which has cut a deep glen on its descent from the high ground to the east, climbing into....

....bleak moorland underlain by metamorphosed sandstones of the Moine Schists. Glacial erratics, rocks picked up by the glaciers ten thousand years ago and then dumped, often along ridge lines, are common, this one artistically decorated with a small cairn - to which we added a couple of rocks.

We were looking for three small lochans, the first elongate, tucked between folds in the hills, the second....

....much more rounded and shallower, so it was host to....

 ....bogbeans and lilies.

We sat on the shores of the third lochan, overawed by the empty silence of the place, and ate our lunch.

Although it isn't clear on the attached map, none of these three lochans is named on the OS map - the one that is, Lochan Clach na Boiteig, being the larger one slightly to the east. They would all have had names, as this would have been the only way that people in the old days would have been able to describe their location, but these are increasingly likely to be lost as the older generation pass on.

On our way back to Ockle we found this dragonfly. This is a new one to us, a male keeled skimmer.

Map courtesy Bing.