Monday, 27 March 2017

Homecoming

Exciting things always seem to happen when one is away - like it's been a beautifully fine weekend, with the temperature soaring almost to 20C, and the Raptor has managed to see the first butterfly of 2017, a peacock which he had great difficulty in picturing.

On our way back along the peninsula we found the Hebridean Princess anchored in warm evening sunlight in Glenmore Bay against the backdrop of Ben Hiant. Her crew was busy ferrying her passengers ashore so they could....

....visit both the Ardnamurchan Distillery and the Glenmore Natural History Centre - though quite a few of them seemed to be concentrating their efforts on taking pictures of Highland cows.

As we came along the banks of Loch Mudle, where the year is still so young that few of the trees are showing any signs of coming in to leaf, we saw....

....a sea eagle wheeling high above its waters. It's the second time we've seen one in this area recently, which may add weight to the suggestion that a pair is nesting somewhere in the forestry on the loch's east bank.

The other side of Ben Hiant was in bright sunshine, this picture taken from near the big cattle sheds at Caim, with a small herd of red deer just visible in the lower ground at centre of the picture.

We arrived home to find the creel boat Atlantia, UL62, off Port na Clachan below our house, the Tobermory ferry, now the Loch Tarbert, on her way across the Sound, and....

....a very angry robin scolding us from the rowan by our gate, wanting to know why he hadn't been fed for the last three days.

Many thanks to the Raptor for his picture.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Deer in Silhouette

We feel very privileged that, when we take our walks across it, we share the wild landscape of western Ardnamurchan with these magnificent beasts. However, the red deer stags won't look quite so handsome as March progresses into April as this is the time when, with their testosterone levels falling, their antlers are shed.

This atmospheric picture of hinds against a leaden sky is courtesy Kilchoan Early Bird.

At this time of year the hinds are largely in groups separate from the stags. In a couple of months' time they'll be giving birth to a single calf after their eight-month gestation.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Ben Hiant's Southwest Shoulder - 2

The well-trodden route up Ben Hiant is from the B8007 a mile or so west of Camas nan Geall, but it doesn't offer the spectacular views found by approaching the ben from the west side.  The whole of the southern coast of the peninsula becomes more and more visible as one climbs....

....into increasingly open, grassy and rolling downland. On our walk on Wednesday - see earlier post here - we weren't aiming for the summit but, at 528m, it was an easy 150 metres above us. Instead, we were looking to cross the southwestern shoulder of the ben so....

....we could look eastwards, up Loch Sunart.

In the centre of this picture is the beautiful bay of Camas nan Geall, and below us a bowl of almost forgotten land which is visited by few.

This is a close-up of Camas nan Geall with, beyond it, the headland of Ardslignish. On the far side of the loch is the island of Oronsay and the entrance to Loch Teacuis, with the hills of Morvern beyond.

Looking south, the hill to the left is Stellachan Dubha, a twin-peaked feature visible from Kilchoan, and the headland on the other side of the loch is....

....Auliston Point on Morvern. The two bens along the horizon are Beinn Tallaidh to the left and Mull's highest point, Ben More to the right.

Many thanks to Sue and Richard for their company on the walk.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Pupils' Visit to St Comghan's Church

Many thanks to Kilchoan Primary School teacher Alison Munro for letting the Diary publish one of the photos she took during the recent visit of the school children to St Comghan's church - see post here. In it, a rather ancient enthusiast is trying to explain the excitement he finds in a stone wall, albeit an even more ancient 12th century wall, with mixed results.

The children were a credit to their school, polite, interested and, mostly, attentive. Alison says they enjoyed the afternoon and are now writing about what they learnt. I too had to do some writing. As a result of the day I was asked to make a few comments because I am now one of the school's 'partners'. I feel very honoured.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

A Busy Garden

We were a bit weary this morning after yesterday's long walk so spent the morning in the front garden weeding in the bright sunshine - and taking a few minutes off every now and again to snap the insects which were enjoying the flowers around us.

The aubretia is coming in to flower and is popular with the honey bees from the neighbouring Ardnamurchan Campsite as is....

....the flowering currant.

However, most of the bees are in the heather, along with two common lizards. Not that they are hunting the bees - one almost landed on this lizard's nose, and he brushed it off hurriedly - they're after....

....the various types of fly.

Someone needs to tell the lizards that the flies aren't that keen on the heather, that there are far more of them on the vibernum, not only the more common bluebottle type but also....

....some more exotic fly species.

While most of the bees are honey bees, we're also seeing many more bumblebees, like this one which was enjoying the berberis, one of the shrubs that's much less popular with the honey bees. This is one of our favourite shrubs as it does very well in our maritime climate, and puts on a spectacular show of vibrant colour in the early spring.

Look closely at the bumblebee. It seems very early in the year, but he's already ....

....heavily infested with mites.

It doesn't look very pleasant but the good news is that they're not feeding on the bee itself. Having wintered in the bee's nest, feeding on wax, pollen and other debris, at this time of year they're hitching a lift on their host. In due course they'll drop off onto one of the flowers the bee visits, and then grab hold of the next passing bee.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Ben Hiant's Southwest Shoulder - 1

Yesterday we enjoyed snow, hail, sleet and everything in between. Today dawned as it intended to continue, perfect conditions in which to climb into the hills to the southwest of Ben Hiant.

We walked down to the mouth of the Choiremhuilinn burn, crossed it by the footbridge, and then climbed up onto the grassy area in the centre of this picture, the site of the clachan of Choirehmuilinn, cleared in 1828. The snowy summit of Ben Hiant is visible and, slightly to its right, the notch which was our objective for the day.

With the air so clear, the higher we climbed the more superb the views became. This is the first time in some weeks that we've had a day like this, so it was wonderful to be high in the hills to enjoy it.

In this picture, we looked across Mingary Castle towards the hill called Maol Buidhe and the steep cliffs of Sron Bheag at the far end of Ormsaigbeg. The low outline of the island of Coll lies along the horizon.

The Ben Hiant ridge ends steeply, falling away into the sea just by....

....the Maclean's Nose fish farm, visible at bottom right of this picture. This view looks down the Sound of Mull, with Tobermory Bay on Mull at right, the entrance to Loch Sunart at left and, in the distance, the snowy peaks of Beinn Tallaidh (towards the left) and Ben More (towrds the right).

Throughout the walk we were watched by herds of red deer. This one was made up almost entirely of stags, most of which still had their antlers, though we found one antler which had already been shed.

As we climbed, the patches of snow became more extensive and deeper. Lying snow isn't a common commodity here, and this patch was up to 6" deep in places, exactly the sort of place....

....one expects to find common lizards. We saw four in all, and they had obviously emerged from their winter hibernation to find a sheltered spot in which to bask in the sun but, when disturbed, tried to dash away across the snow - where they suffered sudden and rather catastrophic drops in temperature.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Winter Greets First Day of Spring

With today's equinox, we move into spring. In the circumstances, it would have been good to have taken a picture of a brilliant sunrise but there was no chance of that. Since the early hours we've had wave after wave of wintery showers blown in on a steady westerly, their products ranging from snow through hail to sleet. This picture looks past the war memorial in Kilchoan to the houses of Ormsaigbeg, with the peak of Beinn na Seilg just visible.

In the few brighter moments the scenery has been spectacular. A light dusting of snow like this seems to pick out the bones of the land, exaggerating every cliff, fold and lump of rock, and muting the colours. Here we're looking across Kilchoan Bay to the houses in Pier Road, and to the peaks of Ben Hiant, right, and Beinn na h-Urchrach, left.

A sudden cold snap like this does the spring flowers no good, and isn't....

....too great for Nan MacLachlan's early lambs. Her flock has now produced seven, all of them warmly accommodated in barns or horse boxes.

The small birds have to endure whatever the weather throws at them. This is one of several robins in our garden and we were concerned that we hadn't seen the one with the broken leg....

....until lunch time today, when he turned up on the wall of the terrace to grab a hasty meal before one of the others saw him and chased him off.

A Community Action Plan

West Ardnamurchan Community Development Company and West Ardnamurchan Community Council, working together and with other local groups, are seeking to develop an Action Plan which will identify the challenges that the area faces and the ideas which will help make West Ardnamurchan an even more attractive place in which to live and work into the future. It will also help us attract new funding and ensure that developments are in tune with the needs and wishes of those affected.

The process starts with survey, available both on-line and in printed form, and the public meetings will follow - see poster above for details.

The survey is here.

Monday, 20 March 2017

A Stormy Weekend

We've been away for a long weekend and, on our return, stopped as usual at Camas nan Geall, the point where we feel we are finally 'home', to take a photograph of a sleety squall rattling in across the bay and Ben Hiant behind it.

Judging by Kilchoan Early Bird's photograph, taken earlier this morning, it's been fairly stormy during our absence. His picture shows the Lord of the Isles rounding Ardnamurchan Point. We noted on our return to the house that over 40mm of rain and other forms of precipitation had fallen since Friday morning.

Despite the weather, the RNLI have been busy over the weekend in a major training exercise. The Raptor's picture shows the Tobermory lifeboat with the Coastguard helicopter in the Sound of Mull - details on the Tobermory RNLI Facebook site here.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird and the Raptor for their pictures.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

A Three Lochan Walk

If you're looking for a short but interesting walk which starts from Kilchoan, this one passes three picturesque lochans and explores part of Kilchoan Township's common grazings. It starts from the bottle bank. Cross the bridge over the Millburn and turn off the road to the right beyond the green container, following the sheep track along the edge of the woodland along a small tributary burn.

The sides of the glen are steep and filled with birch and hazel, but one of western Ardnamurchan's finest waterfalls is visible from the sheep track, as is Hughie's apportionment, a section of the common grazings which he has, by agreement with the other crofters, been allowed to fence. In it, there is a good chance of seeing.... piglets.

The view opens as one approaches Lochan na Ealachan, the lochan of the swan, appropriately named as, during the annual wildfowl migrations, this lochan is often used as a resting place for large flocks of swans. Keep along the higher ground until....

 ....Lochan na Crannaig comes into view. One can stick to the higher and drier ground, and return to the road, but if you're prepared to cross a small burn and risk the boggy lower land round the lochan, one can visito the 'island' which was once used as a pulpit and or may not have been a crannog - see earlier post here.

Cross the road and head into the hills at the back of Sonachan Hotel, to find the third and last lochan, Lochan an Aodainn. Aodann means 'face' in Gaelic, and was the name of a small settlement in the area where Sonachan now stands.

The easy way back is along the road, but if you're a strong walker, head south towards Beinn na Seilg and then turn east to skirt the glassy area in Lag a' Choire - you might find the remains of the illicit whisky still that's supposed to be sited there.

Map courtesy Streetmap.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

A Badger Sett

The badgers on western Ardnamurchan are nomadic, moving across large tracts of the peninsula, so they've been active at various times near Bourblaige, at Portuairk, and at the back of Ormsaigbeg.

Not far from where the road passes the Kilchoan Recycling Centre - the dump as it was called - there's a small hill which, over the years, has shown signs of badger visits but....

....there's now evidence that their activity has been recent. Four holes have been excavated. The earth the badgers have thrown out looks very fresh but....

....the content of the nearby badgers' latrine is weathered, suggesting that the group may already have moved on.

About a hundred metres further round the hill there are four more holes, undoubtably excavated by badgers, but the bracken stalks blocking the entrances confirm that they haven't been used in several months. However, as can be seen at bottom left of the picture, there are what look like badger tracks, so they've been back to look at their old homes.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for drawing my attention to the recent activity.