Sunday, 31 October 2010

Air Crash - 2

From Mark Sheldon's photographs, here, it was easy for the family to locate the cairn - yet we had walked close to it many times in the past. It stands, half hidden, on a steep slope, and consists of a semicircle of moss-encrusted rocks within which some of the remains of the aircraft have been placed. As the wreckage was very similar to section of corrugated aluminium we had found on the slope of Tom na Moine (see yesterday's Diary entry), we added that piece to the collection.

The cairn nestles below the gaunt north face of the eastern end of Druim na Gearr Leacainn, a spot devoid of direct sunlight except in mid summer. It seems likely that Flight Lieutenant Woodgate, flying blind on a south or southwesterly course from Kentra, must have narrowly missed Stacan Dubha, only to find himself confronted with this dark cliff. When the 'plane hit it, the wreckage would have fallen back down its face, coming to rest on the heather-clad scree slope.

On the cairn itself, someone has fashioned a cross out of two pieces of copper, perhaps from the hurricane's engine. The cairn looks straight across the twin lochans - in which there is said to be more wreckage - to Beinn ne Seilg, on whose middle slope we found the memorial plaque. It was placed so that both Flight Lieutenant Arthur Woodgate's, and Warrant Officer Stephen's crash site on Coll, are visible from it.

The plaque is screwed to a large boulder of gabbro, from which our grand-daughters had fine views down into Kilchoan village and towards Ben Hiant. And perhaps they came away with a better understanding of the terrible toll of war, and of a tragedy which took the lives of two brave young airmen.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Air Crash - 1

Over the fifteen years we've lived in Kilchoan, we've heard talk of a fighter aircraft which crashed on West Ardnamurchan during the Second World War. It's mentioned on page 15 of that splendid little book, The Annals of the Parish, available from Kilchoan Community Centre. Quite where the accident happened has been more difficult to ascertain. In The Annals, it states that "A spitfire flew into into the side of Beinn-na-Seilg, killing the New Zealand pilot," and people who remember the event have said that some of the wreckage ended up in the twin lochans.

Over the years of walking the hills at the back of Ormsaigbeg, the Diary has kept an eye open for wreckage, without result, until last week, when we stumbled upon this piece of corrugated aluminium while negotiating the lower slopes of Tom na Moine. It looked like the battered remains of galvanised dustbin, but the remote location and the unusual riveting suggested a different origin.

Having our two grandchildren to stay, both of whom are good walkers and interested in history, seemed a good reason to pursue the matter further. The internet provided some information. One site, here, has recent photographs taken by Mark Sheldon. One shows a cairn erected on the site of the crash itself, which proved to us that the site could not be on Beinn ne Seilg since the mountain stands in the background, with the twin lochans in front of it. The second, of a plaque in memory of the two pilots killed, provided only one clue, a very distinctive hill slope in the background.

From a Combined Operations site, here, we found a map too vague to help much with our search, but we learned more of the events:

"On the 6th of February 1944 three hurricanes from 516 Squadron took off from RAF Connell for a training exercise in the Kentra Bay area on the NE corner of the Ardnamurchan Peninsular. Their task was to undertake mock, low flying attacks on amphibious landings. Their mission completed they set course for RAF Connell but found themselves enveloped by thick cloud and mist that rolled in from the west at sea level. They split up and tried to reach any base they could. W/O Stephen made for RAF Tiree, Flt Lt Woodgate took a sea level route to RAF Connell.

"It was 3 days later on the 9th of February that police on the island of Coll reported finding Warrant Officer Stephen's crashed Hurricane and the following day that of Fl/Lt Woodgate was found on the side of Beinn na Seilg near Ghleamn Locha Kilchoan Bay on Ardnamurchan. In 1995, at the instigation of Phillip Jones, a plaque dedicated to the memory of the pilots was secured to a granite boulder from which both crash sites were visible. W/O J E Stephen RAF was 24 and Fl/Lt A J Woodgate RNZAF was just 21 years of age when they died."

Top photo: Beinn na Seilg (left) and Stacan Dubh from Kilchoan in winter.

Friday, 29 October 2010

A Wee Mishap....

This is Trevor Potts' grand old Ferguson tractor in the lower field at the campsite today - thankfully, without Trevor underneath it.

Trevor explains, "I parked the tractor diagonally across the campsite access road and the parking brake gave out. I did try to leap aboard to stop it going over the embankment but changed my mind at the last second and let it go - probably just as well.

"These amazing machines, built over 50 years ago, are incredibly robust and the engine works perfectly well upside down. I had to go over and shut it off."

Many thanks to Trevor for story & photo.

Sanna Storm

With some fifteen CalMac ferry sailings disrupted along Scotland's west coast this morning - the Kilchoan-Tobermory ferry was intrepidly unaffected - and the Diary's anemometer giving readings of gusts to force 8 shortly after five this morning, we took the family for a brisk walk along the beach at Sanna to admire the waves....

....which, as regular visitors to that lovely place will know, are always at their most spectacular in the most southerly of the various connecting bays that make up the 'beach'. This view looks across to the houses of Portuairk.

The younger members of the family enjoyed the experience immensely.

Recent Views of the Sound of Mull

From Maol Buidhe, at the western end of Ormsaigbeg, looking southeast. Calmac's Lord of the Isles to the right, the Kilchoan-Tobermory Loch Linnhe in the left distance, Tobermory lighthouse centre distance.

An autumn rain shower, back-lit by the sun, crosses the mouth of Bloody Bay.

Dawn across Morvern - click on the photo for better view of the strangely braided cloud.

Layers of mountains across Morvern.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Second Butchery Course

The University of Kilchoan's second butchery course, run by popular demand, took place on Monday and Tuesday. Student Chris Wilkinson has this to say about it:

"I was one of the seven people who attended the two day butchery course at the estate larder. We butchered lamb, venison and pork before making a mountain of sausages. It was very interesting and very hands on. I personally feel confident enough now to attempt some home butchery once I have purchased the implements necessary."

The Diary notes from the above photo that Pat Glenday, the University of Kilchoan's Vice-Principal, was one of the students. One can almost hear her muttering, "Knit one, pearl one, knit...."

The Diary recently received an email from Pat advising that the University of Kilchoan, having already swallowed up Lochaber College, has now also taken over Skye and Wester Ross College to form the new West Highland College - details here.

And it's not too late to sign up for Mower Maintenance on Saturday - run by Richard O'Connor, former head of grounds maintenance at that great English football club, Ipswich Town. Then, coming up, there's Sheep Foot Care, Yoga, and Quilting.

Many thanks to Chris Wilkinson for the photos.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A Poem

Today in Kilchoan

The tide seemed to stand still,
uncomfortable, sullen and swollen.
The bay - an overfed stomach
stretched and sluggish,
all motion confined to the depths...

The indulgence continued -
more rain was imbibed,
clouds slithered into an open mouth.
No-one heard the pleas for relief -
the south winds rushed them away,
over the hills to Sanna.


Tuesday, 26 October 2010

How to Rear Pigs

That top educational institution, the University of Kilchoan, has been at it again - running courses which are relevant, popular and respond to the developing needs of this small community. This time, Vice-Chancellor Pat Glenday organised a course on pig rearing.

Regular Diary readers will already know of the Kilchoan Pig Syndicate which has been so successful, but there are also pigs in several other fields around the peninsula, and there is every sign that more crofters will be rearing them soon. So students found out about the importance of feed, and how small variations in feed affect the porker's growing weight; about the peculiar internal organs of the sow; and how to recognise some nasty-sounding porcine ailments. Students also toured existing local pig operations and inspected the contented clientele.

The course tutor came from Portugal - what has the Diary said before about the national and international pulling-power of our University? - though she currently resides at Resipole. She told course members about the famous black Iberian pigs that eat acorns, which apparently makes the most amazing pork - the sort of distinctive selling point that Kilchoan producers need to think about.

Appropriately, Pat is busy today with another popular course - the second butchery course, the first having been oversubscribed.

Monday, 25 October 2010

House Wanted for Long-Term Rent

HOUSE WANTED in Kilchoan, Ormsaigbeg, Sanna, Achanaha, Achosnich or Portuairk area for long-term rent. One or two bed house/cottage with open fire (back boiler), land and outbuilding(s) would be ideal. The prospective tenant is willing to decorate, improve and develop the property, and will consider any habitable, empty property which has potential.

Contact the Diary at

Photo looking across from Ormsaigbeg to Mull, weather clearing after rain.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

More Astute

The fun appears to be over with Astute, with the media reporting that she's making her way south under her own power, and the small flotilla of Auxiliary craft which attended her, including SD Nimble, above....

and SD Dexterous - both Royal Maritime Auxiliary tugs - making their way down the Sound of Mull in the last couple of hours.

A quick look at the AIS map for Skye at 13.20, here, shows a small fleet of ships, including SD Ayton Cross, the tug Kestrel (photo here), and the large tug Toisa Daring (photo here), all moving together, with Toisa Daring's destination given as Greenock. The Diary wonders if this is the escort in case Astute doesn't quite make it home.

Many thanks to Sue Cameron for keeping an eye on activity in the Sound


A Hunter's Moon in Celtic mythology is an October full moon, traditionally the sign that the harvest is over and the hunting season starts. This is the Hunter's Moon rising last night across Ardnamurchan estate land, where deer stalking started some weeks ago with the stags, but has only been extended to the hinds in the last few days.

Another hunter showed his face last night for the first time this year: the constellation Orion the Hunter. His right shoulder, formed by the red giant Betelgeuse, had lifted above Ben Hiant by about 11pm, when the Diary went out for the usual last look-around before bed, and would have been well up in the sky before dawn.

And a beautiful dawn it was, heralding another sunny day with a stiff and slightly chilly northeasterly breeze, the sort of day when urgent autumn jobs in the garden are put aside in favour of a walk in the hills to the north of the village.

We chose Tom na Moine as an objective, an unassuming hill immediately to the west of Kilchoan whose name means the hillock of the peat moor, which has a fine view down into the village.

From there we climbed higher to the eastern end of the ridge called Druim na Gearr Leacainn, to look across the twin lochans to Beinn na Seilg - appropriately, the hill of hunts.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Astutely Embarrassing

Quite rightly, there's a hell of a row going on about HMS Astute, the new, £1.2 billion, high-tech submarine which the Diary photographed belting down the Sound back in July, and which found itself stuck on a sandbank off Skye yesterday. But the Diary has a nasty feeling that most of the noise is going to miss the point.

Astute hasn't done anything new or particularly surprising. Ships have accidents, whether because there's a technical fault, incompetent or drunk crew, an unexpected current, an unusually severe storm, or because someone makes a genuine mistake. New ships - look at the Titanic - often have problems. The row ought to be about how well-prepared we were, but very soon won't be.

The Diary is writing, of course, about the ship which was quickly on the scene of the incident and which featured in all the news footage, HM Coastguard tug Anglian Prince, which is based at Stornoway ready for just such an emergency. The Government plans to discontinue this service - there are four Coastguard tugs permanently on duty round Britain's coastline.

A sharp-eyed Kilchoan resident, Sue Cameron, saw the Navy's response sailing up the Sound towards Skye yesterday evening, in the form of the sd Solmore and sd Solmaid, Fleet Auxiliaries on their way from the Clyde - by which time the Prince had towed Astute off the sand.

Removing the Coastguard tugs is a foolish, short-sighted decision, and Astute's embarrassment gives the Government a chance to rethink. And we, here on the West Highlands, supported by our local MPs, ought to be sitting up and taking notice - because Astute's problem might have occurred on that filthy evening back in July, when the submarine wasn't off Skye but in the Sound of Mull, and when a technical failure might have seen her beached on Ardnamurchan's south shore.

Tobermory Ferry Timetable

The Tobermory ferry goes on to its winter schedule as from Monday. The Loch Linnhe, above, has already been replaced by the much smaller Raasay. The new timetable is here, and in the right-hand column of the Diary.

Friday, 22 October 2010


It rained for most of yesterday, clearing briefly when the Northern Lighthouse Board's Pharos came down the Sound shortly after 2pm. She anchored off Mingary and spent the night there - in the usual blaze of light. The Diary suspects that as a Lighthouse ship, she feels the need to be seen for miles around during the hours of darkness.

It was still raining this morning, It's no good pretending this is 'Kilchoan Sunshine' - this is real rain, some 28mm of it in the last 24 hours. How much we've had is, as usual, reflected in the sudden streams that appear, plunging in white froth down the hillsides - here, running down Glas Bheinn, with Grianan, in Ormsaigmore, in the foreground.

Bigger streams, such as the Mill Burn, are in full flood, masses of peaty water rushing to meet the sea. In the right background are the houses of Ormsaigbeg, with The Ferry Stores at far right.

For some, like this otter feeding on small shellfish off the slipway below the shop, even a deluge of rain makes little difference. We haven't seen an otter in Kilchoan Bay for some time. They're shy creatures, so a busy summer of boats and people discourages them. Now that it's quiet, they're back.

But for others, the rain is a misery - though this fine animal in the field below Meall mo Chridhe has a remarkably philosophical expression on his face.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Rare Shrimp Landed in Kilchoan

Titch MacLachlan, one of Kilchoan's creel fishermen, has landed this unusual specimen, a pistol shrimp. Caught in Loch Sunart last year, it wasn't until recently that he was able to identify the animal, and appreciate its amazing capabilities.

This innocent-looking shrimp's left claw - which can be seen to be bigger than the right - has developed a mechanism that resembles the hammer on a 45 revolver. If prey is spotted, it cocks the claw. When fired, it generates a cavitation bubble that reaches 4,700C - the temperature on the surface of the sun. The collapsing bubble then creates a sound wave which stuns its prey.

It occurs to the Diary that someone ought to be studying this incredible animal. Temperatures of 4,700C are nuclear. Could the animal's claw mechanism be used for generating electricity? And what about applications in Defence, for example, in taking out enemy submarines? And... Could this be an alternative to the police taser?

An article about this little shrimp is here, and a brief video here.

Many thanks to Morven and Titch for the photo & link.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

October Walk

After a still dawn, the wind picked up into the northwest promising a day of sunshine and wintery showers, so we walked up the steep face of Druim na Gearr Leacainn at the back of Ormsaigbeg, disturbing nothing but a few sheep. The air was crisp and wonderfully clear, offering us views of well over 25 miles in all directions.

From the summit of the ridge we looked southeast down a monochrome Sound of Mull. At left is the tip of Auliston Point on Drimnin, the rounded height of Ben Talla lies in the distance at centre, and Bloody Bay enjoys a back-lit shower of rain at right. A sea eagle, his white rump clearly visible as he was well below us, came from Maol Buidhe on our right and drifted slowly across the mouth of Kilchoan Bay in the direction of MacLean's Nose.

To north and east the hills of Skye and Knoydart carried the first dusting of snow, with the forecast promising more tonight.

This is a wonderful time of year for walking, not only because the views are so spectacular, but also because the bracken has died back and progress is much easier; and, with visitors inexplicably scarce, we have the hills to ourselves. The Diary risks boring its readers by repeating that this is one of the best times of year in this part of Scotland, particularly for those who enjoy exploring its wild places.

As we descended we watched the 11.45am ferry depart for Tobermory, with MacLean's Nose at left, the entrance to Loch Sunart behind and, just visible at top right, the mouth of Loch Teacuis. At the end of the month, with the Scottish and English school holidays at an end, the ferry will revert to its winter timetable and the village will go into hibernation.

A map is here.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

McColl's Grave

The old church of Kilchoan, St Congan's, is perched on the hill overlooking the bay. It has a wonderful site, protected from a north wind by a line of trees and looking out across the Sound and along the western shore across Ormsaigmore and Ormsaigbeg. Behind stands the bulk of Glasbheinn, clothed in the golden brown of dead bracken.

The Annals of the Parish, a super booklet available from Kilchoan Community Centre, tells us that St Congan's was built in the years immediately after 1761, during the ministry of Kenneth MacCauley. By 1827 it was a ruin, and was replaced by the new church in the following two years, though burials continued in the old churchyard until recently. Today it is an ancient monument.

Immediately in front of the main entrance stands this fenced burial plot. It contains a slab, too encrusted with moss and lichen for any inscription to be visible, which covers the remains of one of Ardnamurchan Estate's tacksmen, McColl by name, who is reputed to have been responsible for some of the more brutal evictions that occurred in this area. It is said that a bedridden woman who was carried out of her house in Ormsaigbeg cursed him, so that no grass would ever grow on his grave.

The truth behind this story, as with so many that came out of that bitter period of Scottish history, is lost in time, but McColl or those who loved him certainly feared that ill would come of his resting place, as they covered the body with a massive stone slab and surrounded it with an eight-foot cast iron railing which has no entrance. But the curse must have worked for, while the rest of the graveyard is remarkable for the richness of the grass that covers it, not a blade of grass grows on McColl's grave.

The Annals suggests that no grass grows because of the size of the slab that covers McColl, but plenty of other plants do, including a rich crop of blackberries.

St Congan's is reached by walking up the drive past the old rectory, now Meall mo Chridhe, a restaurant with rooms.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Ships in the Sound - 6 - Naval & Others

The last post in this series covers some of the 'official' ships we see off West Ardnamurchan.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution's Elizabeth Fairlie Ramsay, based in Tobermory, covers emergencies in the Sound of Mull, while a second lifeboat in Mallaig is usually first to reach casualties on Ardnamurchan's north shore. Both are Severn class, all-weather, self-righting boats, with a top speed of 25 knots and a range of 250 miles. The Tobermory boat is often to be seen in the Sound on a Tuesday evening, when the crew have their weekly practice. More here.

For those of the Diary's readers who are not acquainted with the UK's system of sea rescue, it is not funded by the Government. The RNLI is a charity dependent on public collections, subscriptions and bequests, and is, for obvious reasons, strongly supported by most West Ardnamurchan residents. However, RNLI boats can only be called out to attend an emergency by an official body, Her Majesty's Coastguard, contacted on 999.

The Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency is tasked with overseeing commercial fishing, and runs a small fleet of ships including this one, the Norna. She is 2,200grt, has a top speed of 18 knots, and was launched in 1987. A smaller ship, the Minna, is also seen in our waters. They can be distinguished from naval ships by their paintwork, a slightly bluer shade of grey, and the diagonal stripe near the bow. More about the Norna here.

We also seem to see a fair bit of these ships. They used to be called Customs Cutters, and their main task was searching for contraband and drugs. However, recently, they have had the words 'Border Agency' painted along their superstructure above the word 'Customs', so we assume they are now primarily searching for illegal immigrants. They irritate the Diary because they don't carry any form of visible identification, and, for obvious reasons, don't appear on the AIS website. More detail about them here.

Naval ships are occasional visitors to the Sound, but we see everything from small fast patrol boats and minesweepers to HMS Bulwark, the Albion class assault ship, but the one pictured here excited some interest. She's the brand new, not-yet-in-service hunter-killer submarine Astute, butting her way southwards through a force 6 southeaster. The Diary's reporting of her passage was something of a scoop, here. More about Astute here.

If submarines like Astute demonstrate our capacity to build formidable modern war machines, the British do still launch some very good-looking surface ships. HMS Sutherland, F81, a Type 23 frigate, visited us briefly in January 2010. She came down the Sound at ten on a cold, calm morning, slowed, swung through 180 degrees, and accelerated back the way she had come. Further information about Sutherland here. And the Diary is very much looking forward to seeing the new Daring class destroyers.

Sunday, 17 October 2010


A number of people spotted these contrails above Kilchoan at about 5.20 yesterday afternoon, not because we are unused to such phenomena - the main air route from Glasgow to Canada passes right over Ardnamurchan, we know as we've been up there, looking down - but because....

...they weren't two trails but one.

Julie Allcock, who kindly sent the Diary these pictures, hoped the reason for the sudden change in course was that the pilot had forgotten his sandwiches rather than anything more serious, though the direction the 'plane was taking suggested an Irish origin.

This marvel of nature turned up in the catch of one of our local fishermen, Justin Cameron. It was nine inches long, and he found it in one of his creels off Laga Bay. While he had his own imaginative explanation of what it is, we think it might be a sea anemone like Peachia or Edwardsia, one of the more unusual varieties which set themselves into mud and sand rather than cling to rocks.

Anyone any ideas?

Saturday, 16 October 2010

A Summer's Day

Couldn't believe the activity out on the water today. With a warm sun and calm sea, it might have been August 16th instead of October 16th.

This paddler set out from Ormsaigbeg and disappeared westwards with a determination that would easily take him to America....

....but even more surprising was to see a flotilla of large yachts coming up the Sound around 4pm - a few stragglers from the summer's West Highland Regatta?