Thursday, 17 August 2017


Watching the gannets sweep over the Sound of Mull and then suddenly tip their wings and plunge into the sea will be one of the memories of summer. At times we have seen as many as twenty manoeuvring in the air to attack a shoal of bait fish in the bay just below the house.

The ringed plover will always be, for us, the bird of the beaches at Sanna, allowing us to approach to within a reasonable distance before taking flight. Occasionally they didn't fly, feigning injury, the reason usually being....

....something small and furry and running fast.

Red breasted mergansers aren't difficult to spot in Kilchoan Bay but this pair will remain in my memory for having landed no distance from where I was sitting and seeming quite unpurturbed by my presence.

The curlews gather in flocks in the autumn and then spend their winters probing the soft ground in the croft fields before splitting into pairs in the spring. They're wary birds and difficult to approach, so obtaining a half-good picture has always been a challenge.

However, the birds I will remember from the Ormsaigbeg shore below our house, the birds which seem to represent this place, are the ever-cheerful, ever-sociable, always-smartly-turned-out oystercatchers.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017


It doesn't snow here much but, on the rare occasions on which we have enough for the snow to lie....

....the landscape is transformed.

My impression is that it has snowed much less in recent winters. In the days when we had the shop, I can remember the community being cut off, the main problem being located, as always, at 'the back of the ben'.  This picture was taken in 2009.

As always, it's the play of light - such a feature of this place - that makes a snowy landscape so special. This photo looks across Kilchoan township to the land around the cleared township of Skinnid and, on the left, the forestry on Beinn nan Losgann.

Snow on distant hills is more common but, again, it's the light that makes a picture. This view is across the mouth of Loch Sunart to Auliston Point on Morvern, beyond which is the Sound of Mull and the pyramid shape of Beinn Tallaidh on Mull.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

A Celebration

I bought a digital camera in July 2006. For a long time pictures steadily accumulated in the photo library until there were getting on for 8,000, a number which I tried not to exceed, without success. I now have something like 12,000 pictures of Western Ardnamurchan, so the closing posts of the Diary will be a celebration of this beautiful area using some of those pictures.

This photo, taken in January, shows the view across the Sound of Mull from the gate opposite the entrance to 'Ben Hiant'.

Moving On

Our house is sold and we expect to be moving on at the end of the month.

After 21 years in Kilchoan, and now downsizing to a small flat, we have a huge amount to get rid of. Some we're selling - prices negotiable - like....

APC Battery Back-Ups for power cuts and surges, two, bought August '16 and Feb '15 - £20 each

Single bed, with headboard and drawers under - £35

Inflatable double mattress with electric pump - £8

Bisley 15-drawer metal filing cabinet - £50

Dehumidifier, hardly used - £40

Drain rods and chimney brush - £10

Office chair, good quality, swivel - £25

B&W laser printer - £5

....but we also have plenty of things just looking for a good home, like A4 ring binders, picture frames, glass kitchen storage jars (various sizes), glasses, crockery....

We can be contacted on 293.

Monday, 14 August 2017


We've been away for a very pleasant long weekend in Inverness where we were particularly impressed with the food in the two restaurants we patronised, but it was good to be welcomed as we returned along the road above Camas nan Geall by this magnificent sea eagle wheeling high above.

We're always told that we haven't missed much during any absence but, as usual, it takes a couple of days before one starts to discover the news.

The weather's a bit grey but not too thick to hide the parade of ships that pass us. This is the Nordnes outward bound from the super-quarry at Glensanda. The AIS/MT site gives her destination as Edradour, a place I had never heard of but which sounds suitably foreign - only for Google to tell me that it's a distillery near Pitlochry. I can't imagine what they want with some 20,000 tonnes of aggregate, nor how the Nordnes is going to navigate the Tay.

Local Job Opportunity, Kilchoan

Oxford Abstracts is expanding and we are looking for someone to join our client support team on a part-time basis, ideally around 20 hours per week although this is negotiable. An attractive salary will be paid, based on skills and experience.

Oxford Abstracts was formed in 2001 and we are a market leader in software used by conference organisers to manage research papers, known as abstracts. Our software enables abstracts to be collected, reviewed and selected for presentation at conferences. Our clients are situated all over the world and are mainly professional and academic institutions. More info can be found at

Full details are available for download here.

The Ferry Stores and Kilchoan Post Office

Revised Opening Times Monday to Saturday

Due to recent changes in staff availability and continued staff shortages we have decided to make some changes to the opening times of the Ferry Stores, which we hope will remain in place for the foreseeable future. These changes will enable us to maintain services, deal with weekly deliveries and allow the current staff adequate time off.

The Ferry Stores will close for two half days each week on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.

The Post Office will be closed all day Monday and for half days on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. We hope to commence staff training shortly that will allow us to re-open the Post Office on Mondays.

For full details of opening times please see the notices posted at the Ferry Stores.

If you are interested in working in the Ferry Stores then please speak to Helen in the Store as soon as possible.

Chris Ball

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Six Townships

A walk from the turn onto the Achosnich school house track just past Sonachan Hotel to the summit of Meall Sanna offered views of six of western Ardnamurchan's crofting townships. This picture shows the first, Achosnich, with, in the foreground, the school which once served the children of all six townships.

The old school house track running northeast passes through the narrow gap called Bealach Ruadh on its way to the second township, Achnaha. It was also through this gap that the schoolchildren walked who lived at the much more distant township of....

....Glendrian, almost on the far side of the bowl of land formed by the outcrop of the Ardnamurchan volcanic intrusion.

Achosnich, Achnaha and Glendrian have in common that they are very ancient settlements dating back in the written record to the early 17th century but probably far further back in history.

Portuairk, by comparison, is a relatively new invention, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century and the time of the clearances, when it was developed by families who had been removed from villages to the east. It seems to have been an overspill settlement....

....when Sanna filled up. Sanna differs in that it did have a single recorded building in 1806 before the clearances started.

This is the youngest settlement, Plocaig, built some time around 1850, also as a destination for families cleared from places like the Swordles.

While Achosnich, Achnaha, Portuairk and Sanna survived as crofting townships and, more and more today, holiday home resorts, Glendrian and Plocaig died and are today deserted except for the cause of the clearances: sheep.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Shelly Beach

It has a Gaelic name, and I'm sure it had a Viking name and a Pictish name before the Gaels arrived, but we've always know this as the shelly beach. It lies on the coast to the north of Sanna, the crag beyond it being Dun Bhain. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland describe the dun as a promontory fort of an 'unassigned period', though we are quite sure it is Norse.

The sand has a different texture to the sands at Sanna, being rather more coarse, but it's special in that it hosts a huge range of sea shells which, every time we come near the place and whatever the weather and however old or young we may be, we spend time searching through.

So there are cones and periwinkles - called 'wilks' locally - limpets and oysters and bits of sea urchins and turrets and dried algae bits of sea glass and many more we can't identify, but the shells we most enjoy finding....

....are the tiny cowries, Trivia arctica.

My affection for cowries goes back to the time I was a small boy living on the coast of East Africa, where it was possible to swim out from the coral sand beaches and, amongst the waving sea grass, pick up leopard cowries - this one is about 3" long.

On our recent visit Mrs Diary found something rather special - a delicate, natural sculpture which consisted of a variety of seaweeds growing on top of a calcified limpet shell.

Friday, 11 August 2017

North Coast Walk

When there has been heavy rain, and it isn't a day for the hills, we'll walk along one of the more remote roads. So a few days ago we left the car where the Kilmory/Ockle road crosses the Achateny Water and continued along the road, going through Branault and....

....passing the turn down to Kilmory, along which a flock of recently-shorn sheep was making its way.

We stopped off at the Kilmory graveyard to pay our respects to two people we'd known who are buried there, and to stand silent for a few moments at the two war graves, at left, both of unknown merchant navy personnel washed up on the coasts of Ardnamurchan, one in August and the other in December 1940.

This view is from the east of Kilmory, looking across the township's houses to Fascadale and Meall Bhuidhe Mor, with patches of sunlight scampering across the landscape.

Further on, we came to the steep hill down to Swordle, where the white teeth of breakers were eating at the rocky coastline. On this side of the wall that runs across the foreground is the site of the clachan of Swordle Chorrach, cleared of its people in 1853 to make way for a sheep farm.

On the opposite side of the road from where this picture was taken....

....there's an old lime kiln. The Swordle community was fortunate to have an extensive outcrop of limestone which could be burnt for use both on the fields and for building.

On our way back to the car we noticed, without too much surprise in view of the recent weather, these two large toadstools at the side of the road. They resembled a pair of breadcrust tortoises mating.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Open Landscapes

I love open landscapes, which is one reason why we've lived so happily for over twenty years on western Ardnamurchan.

One of my favourites is this area of rolling grassland bounded on the south side by the long ridge which includes the Ben Hiant summit - pictured - and to the north by....

....the Beinn nan Losgann forestry, seen here with Beinn an Leathaid and Meall nan Con beyond.

If I love walking in open scenery, I equally dislike walking through forestry. There's something dark and sinister, something oppressive about these coniferous woodland. From outside, they're like an invading army marching towards you, swallowing precious open-ness.

To the east the grassland is bounded by the B8007, and to the west by Beinn na h-Urchrach, above.

Although it's so open and relatively easy walking, with wide views to Loch Mudle and the islands to the north of Ardnamurchan, it's not visited by many humans - in fact, I don't think we've ever met anyone in all the times we've spent there - while the track along the Ben Hiant ridge, which looks down on part of the area, is well-used as it's the easiest route to the summit.

However, one never feels lonely because it's home to several herds of red deer. They're inquisitive creatures, very happy to watch as long as one doesn't approach too close or disappear from view.

At this time of year the hinds have young at heel so they're a bit more nervous. We noticed, however, that this was a mixed herd, with some younger stags in velvet.

It's also an area steeped in history. This is Glac na Toiridh, the hollow of the race or pursuit, a small glen which runs around the east end of Beinn na h-Urchrach and was the site of a daring escape - full story here.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Warm, Sunny Intervals

We've been enjoying fine, dry weather for the past couple of days, but with the wind in the north - the direction which brings the best weather - there's a chill in the air even though the temperature in the sunshine has, at times, reached a dizzy 22C.

The buddleia under our bedroom window has been in flower for ten days but it's hardly seen a butterfly until yesterday, when a tortoiseshell appeared. It was soon joined by a couple of....

....very smart red admirals.

When photographing these beautiful animals there's a tendency to concentrate on the brighter upper side of the wings, yet....

....the apparently less showy undersides can be far more spectacular. This is a red admiral but the painted lady, of which we've not seen one yet this year, is an outstanding example.

The buddleia is now a mass of insects though there are some which appear to spurn it. The most common butterfly at present is the green-veined white, yet they don't feed on this plant.

It's high summer but, with that chill in the air, there are the first signs of a changing season. Crane flies are flying erratically around the place before crashing into the undergrowth....

....the cob nuts are swelling on the hazel, and....

....tucked into hollows in the damp soil, puffball toadstools are appearing. With the Scottish schools back next week, summer seems to be slipping away. But.... I prefer autumn.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The Wildlife of a Lonely Beach

When we visit remote beaches like those just to the west of the Cat's Face we spend a great deal of our time....

....immersing ourselves in the peace of the place, listening to the wash of the waves, and wandering around taking pictures. It was Rachael who first saw an otter, just off the beach, and it was she too who noticed.... the furthest bay, the one just below the Cat's Face cliff, the largest flock of shags that we have ever seen. We counted over fifty but, since many of them kept diving, this number is certainly an underestimate.

More were on a low island, at the northern end, and from this photograph it is possible to see that many of the birds are juveniles. So this is some sort of shag nursery, from which....

....the adults kept flying away, presumably to catch fish for their young.

The numbers of shags in the Sound of Mull seems to us to have been falling but this huge collection suggest that they are congregating in places where they are least likely to be disturbed and where the fishing remains reasonably good.

The same island is always a good place for seals and these, too, seemed to be a mixture of young and old. They were at the opposite end of the island from the shags and, from their blubbery fatness, they too seem to be thriving.

In all, we counted over twenty-five of them, all basking in the sun. The colours of the adults seemed to vary considerably. The young are pale.