Friday, 31 December 2010

2010 was the Year...

....which arrived in January with a big chill, and went out in December with an even bigger freeze: water pipes burst, the mains supply in Kilchoan went off on Christmas Day after the water treatment works blew its valves, the roads became skating rinks, and the waterfalls along the Millburn turned into cascades of ice.

....that saw a wonderful display of wildflowers in April and May, with a particularly good showing of orchids, the best of which were to be found in the fields which surround the ruined village of Bourblaige, cleared almost two hundred years ago to make way for sheep.

....when, happily, after years of disappointing sales, the descendants of those Bourblaige sheep fetched good prices at the annual sales in Oban and Fort William, giving a much-needed boost to our crofting community. which pig-keeping suddenly became popular, with the start of a new pig-rearing syndicate. which a community garden opened near the Sonachan Hotel, growing a wide variety of vegetables and bringing a full-time job into the community.

....when the wildlife seemed more prolific and magnificent than ever, with sea eagles crossing to Ardnamurchan's shores from both Mull and Rhum, with as many as nine basking sharks being spotted off the Lighthouse in a day, with sightings of wild cats, pine martens, dolphins, minke and waxwings, and a strange creature called a 'pistol shrimp' being caught in a fisherman's net. which the bulk carrier Yeoman Bontrup caught fire while loading aggregate at Glensanda quarry, giving The Diary an exclusive picture scoop. Fortunately, no-one was seriously hurt, though the ship had to be towed away for a complete refit.

....when that magnificent educational establishment next to the Community Centre was finally recognised as a fully-fledged university, the University of Kilchoan, offering courses as varied as bee-keeping, maintain your outboard motor, digital photography, butchery, creative writing, lip reading, sheep shearing, jewelry-making, hedge-laying, zumba, quilting and, of course, sausage knitting. which Chrissy MacLachlan, after many years of smiling, devoted and much-appreciated service helping visitors to West Ardnamurchan, retired from the Tourist Information Office.

....when Chrissy's grandson, Iain MacDonald, set up a Flickr group called West Ardnamurchan Vintage Photographs, in which old pictures of the area can be collected, and which will offer a valuable archive for future generations. which wind turbines sprouted at the Kilchoan Community Centre and the Lighthouse, producing between them up to 35Kw of electricity on a windy day. which, at its end, The Diary would like to thank both its readers and its contributors for their support.

....when there was no change whatsoever in one thing: the unfailing beauty of this land, even in the depths of a hard winter.

The Diary Wishes its Readers

a very Happy, Healthy

and Prosperous 2011.

Kayaking on 2nd January

From Geoffrey Campbell

Happy New Year to all and a reminder that we plan to have a New Year Paddle. Meet at midday at the jetty by the Ferry Stores in Kilchoan. Forecast is 6C and light wind with possibility of a shower, perfect for starting the year on the right foot.

When: Sunday, 2nd January 2011 @ 12pm - 2pm
What: A paddle
Where: Kilchoan shop jetty

More information at the Kilchoan Kayak Club's site, here.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Beinn Bhuidhe

Beinn Bhuidhe - the name means the yellow hill - lies just to the west of the small crofting village of Achosnich. It's an easy climb as long as it's not approached from the direction we took, the south. The best approach is from the Portuairk road beyond Achosnich, near where the OS map marks a 'sheepfold', skirting the woodland and coming at the summit from the north.

From the top there's a fine view westwards. In the foreground of this picture is the beautiful farm called Grigadale, with its green fields and flocks of contented sheep. Beyond is the Point of Ardnamurchan, with the Lighthouse and its new wind turbine.

The view to the north is across Sanna Bay to the Island of Eigg and Skye's Cuillin Hills. In the right distance is the high cliffs of Carraig (or Carrach), the Cat's Face. With the sun low, the dunes behind the beach at Sanna are clearly visible. Formed of shell particles blown in from the beaches by the steady westerlies, it's even possible to pick out the barchan shape which is typical of dunes in the great sand seas found in Arabia and the Sahara.

We took this walk in mid-December, just before the snow arrived. Walking conditions were ideal, with the ground firm underfoot and the stands of bracken, which so often hinder progress and obscure interesting features such as old stone walls, long dead. And the weather...? Beautiful!

A map of the area is here.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Campaign Update, Day 23

The campaign to keep our District Nurses on 24-hour emergency cover continues, with tremendous support from our friends and almost total silence from NHS Highland.
  • An anonymous supporter has promised to bankroll our campaign. Only Rosie Curtis knows who they are but, from all of us, a huge and heartfelt "Thank You!"
  • On December 23rd, The Herald carried a half-page spread about our fight, and obtained a comment from Nicola Sturgeon that she was 'seeking assurances' from NHS Highland.
  • This was followed by a further Herald report on the 28th about our anonymous donor.
  • The Herald has carried letters from Ian McKee MSP, Ritchie Dinnes, Pat Glenday and Richard O'Connor.
  • Ian McKee, as a member of the Scottish Parliament's Health and Sport Committee, has written to the Chief Executive of NHS Highland questioning whether proper consultation has taken place.
  • We have now featured on the front page of The Oban Times for three weeks running.
  • The Press and Journal has carried three reports on the story.
  • We are very grateful to the local and national newspapers who have given us such support. We ask our supporters to help by writing letters to the editors of these papers.
  • Our MP, Charles Kennedy, and the MSPs who have taken up our cause, await responses from NHS Highland.
  • A big "Thank You!" to our four Highland Councillors who continue to work actively for us.
  • We are aware that hundreds of letters have been received by NHS Highland, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. Thank you to everyone who wrote, and we urge anyone who has not but would like to support us to write. The information you need is in the right-hand column for download.
  • A petition is doing the rounds of West Ardnamurchan. The Scottish Parliament e-petition has run into difficulties which we are urgently trying to resolve.
  • Iain MacDonald has produced a superb design for our campaign, which will be unveiled shortly. Many thanks to Iain for giving up so much of his holiday to help us.
  • Looking ahead, the Action Committee is planning to ask Ms Ligema to come down early in the New Year to answer questions at an open meeting.
  • Newsletter 1 has been circulated in West Ardnamurchan to those people who don't have easy internet access. It's available for download in the column on the right.
  • Meanwhile, our two much-valued nurses have been covering the holiday season in the usual way. We hope, not least for their sakes, that the uncertainty about their future will soon be over.

A Wee Stroll

These three stunning pictures were taken by Ardnamurchan resident 'The Raptor' during a 30 minute walk one Sunday....

....while snow was on the ground.

As he put it, "Not bad for a wee stroll."

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Lucky Winner of 'jolomo' Print

From Gael Cameron

John Lowrie Morrison (jolomo) has painted the west coast of Scotland since the 1960s and is one of our best loved contemporary artists. He has painted many beautiful scenes from Ardnamurchan, and a few months ago donated a stunning signed print of Sanna Bay to raise money for the Kilchoan Playpark fund.

The winning number was drawn last night at the Kilchoan House Hotel and the lucky recipient was Helen Tait from Strontian. The event raised a further £360 for the fund. Thank you to everyone who bought a square and a huge 'Thank You!' to Jolomo for his very generous donation.

Another Village

This is a village five thousand miles away from here. In many ways, it doesn't matter where it is, because village life is so similar wherever one goes in the world. This village, like ours, is remote, at the end of a single-track road, with a population of some 200+ whose houses are strung out along a wide, sand-fringed bay.

It has its church, a mosque, a school to which these children walk every morning along a beach which acts as the main road, a bar/restaurant (which doesn't serve alcohol), a meeting hall, a couple of shops, and a community council which runs its affairs.

While it's a farming community, growing maize, vegetables, fruits and nuts, and keeping cattle and goats, its main income is from fishing and, like our local fishermen, the men set out every morning and return late afternoon. One difference is that their boats, as ours were many years ago, are locally hand-made, using materials from the trees which surround the village - mango, mahogany, bamboo and sisal. They're fast, maneuverable, and very elegant, and they're called ngalowas.

Some of the fishermen are creel-fishermen, the creels woven from coconut leaves and laid from an ngalowa along the many reefs that fringe this coastline. These creels are designed to catch fish, such as snapper, and the occasional lobster.

As it is here in Kilchoan, the most valuable catch is prawns - except their prawns make ours look like tiddlers. Some are caught direct from the beach by men wading out with a long net, encircling an area of water, and then drawing the net to shore. Others are caught in a similar way from a large ngalowa, the men swimming with the net to position it round shoals of prawns. Either way, prawns are good money, most being sold to the local hotels to be served as 'jumbo prawns'.

Tourism is becoming a major source of employment but most tourists only meet the locals when they serve at table or keep the bar. This particular village made a point of inviting tourists to visit it, though, sadly, few seemed to take up the opportunity. How sad! Imagine our visitors not wanting to talk to us!

Monday, 27 December 2010

Lochan na Nal

Lochan na Nal stands on the foreshore just beyond the shop, below the road that leads to Alasdair Cameron's croft. It's unusual as a lochan as, although it has small streams flowing into it, it is also flooded by the sea, through a narrow gap, but only at high spring tides. In summer - picture above - the sea rarely breaks in, so freshwater plants such as pond weed grow luxuriantly....

....much to the benefit of this mallard family. In spring and autumn the lochan is a favoured resting place for migrating wildfowl, and some birds overwinter on it. Because it's shallow, it's a good spot to watch one of our local herons at work, though we have also seen otters in it, including a mother with three cubs.

By autumn, the high tides of the equinox, often pushed on by southwesterly gales, have broken in and cleaned out the weed, so the waters remain clear through the winter - until this year. We had been told by several of the older residents that the lochan used to freeze over in winter, when it had been a popular spot for skating, something we often quoted as local evidence of global warming, but we had never witnessed it....

....until this year when, during the very cold weather of the last few weeks, it almost froze over, but not enough for anyone to venture out on it.

Water Supply Problems

The water is off again in much of Kilchoan. There appears to be a problem up at the water treatment works which has caused the plant to shut down.

The engineers are, once again, on their way. Robert, who is in charge, has been down every day over the holiday trying to sort out our problems, so he deserves our grateful thanks - also for driving round distributing bottled water last night.

Further supplies of bottled water have been left at the Ferry Stores, and more is on its way from Fort William.

Sunday, 26 December 2010


The Christmas bird was, of course, a waxwing (or spotvogel - see Comment on yesterday's entry), a winter visitor to the UK whose numbers have been swelled this year by a good breeding season followed by many days of northerly winds which have blown them down from their native Scandinavia.

I'm told, by those who have been there, that they are as common as sparrows in Russia, flying round in large flocks to eat their favourite food, berries such as rowan, hawthorn and cotoneaster. They do this in Britain too, often being seen in supermarket or office car parks which have berried shrubs in their flowerbeds.

They've been seen before in Kilchoan, up near Mingary, but this was the first one the Diary has ever seen - hence its excitement. Unusually, our bird was alone. He appeared to have no fear of humans, allowing us to approach to within a few feet to take his photograph, for which he obligingly posed, offering first one view an then another of his magnificent plumage.

Their name comes from the small red feathers on their wings - visible in this picture - which resemble sealing wax.

Waxwings like apples, so please put cores into the trees where they can get to them. With a bit of patience, they can be persuaded to come onto a hand.

Water Problems

Kilchoan has water problems along, it seems, with many other places in Scotland. The water went off late on Christmas Eve but the Scottish Water engineers got it back again for most of Christmas Day. Last night it went off again around midnight and hasn't come back on, though the engineers are looking for the problem. Lower-lying areas like Pier Road have a trickle, higher places, like this end of Ormsaigbeg and Glebe Hill, have none.

A truck is bringing bottled water into the village, and should be at the Community Centre some time around midday. The engineers will then turn off parts of the village to see if they can isolate the leaks. There have been many - including the church, a house in Pier Road, and a caravan - and there are likely to be more as the thaw sets in.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Winter Visitor & Happy Christmas

It rained last night, and then it hailed; then, as dawn broke, it rained and hailed again. Later the sun came out and this small world of ours was flooded in light....

....into which this small and quite stunning bird appeared.

The Diary was driving down the road past Craigard when it stepped into the road to stop the car. Once it was quite sure it had our full and undivided attention, it flew into a nearby bush and posed for us, turning first one way, then the other, and allowing us to approach to within feet to take its picture - all with good reason, for this has plumage like no other British bird.

A Very Happy Christmas to

All Our Readers.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Black Ice

We woke to find the air temperature above freezing for the first time in days, accompanied by a thin sleet which, with the ground still well below zero, immediately froze into sheets of black ice. Roads and paths quickly became lethal underfoot.

Since then the day has remained grey, with hardly a breath of wind to disturb the Sound. Minutes before the Dawn Treader (pictured) made her way from Kilchoan across to Bloody Bay on Mull, a pod of dolphins had disturbed the surface, quite a large one judging by the fact that four or five were visible at one time. They were followed by a big otter, closer in to the Ormsaigbeg shore, making his way lazily westwards towards the cliffs of Sron Bheag.

Dawn Treader wasn't the only fishing boat at sea. This is Hughie MacLachlan out in his boat off Bogha Caol Ard catching lobsters. Mission successful, he tells the Diary: he has two nice ones which will form one of the many courses of his Christmas lunch.

There were others working to make our Christmas a safe and enjoyable one, despite the weather. This is one of Highland Council's gritting lorries clearing the Ormsaigbeg road. This morning, the news on Scottish radio mentioned Kilchoan's roads as being some of the worst in the country.

Our two posties have done a wonderful job over the last few weeks, considering the conditions. With the mail arriving late, and a huge backlog at last beginning to come through, Gillespie didn't leave the sorting office until after half past two, so he'll be very late home, delivering the last of the mail at Sanna well after dark.

But for some the Christmas holiday has already started. With the snow re-frozen, conditions are ideal for tobogganing, and what better place than the front lawn?

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Nurses Dispute - News Update

Dawn, a buzzard, and a light mist off Tobermory

There's coverage of the District Nurse story in

- today's Herald, where reporter David Ross has obtained a comment from Nicola Sturgeon that she is "seeking assurances" from NHS Highland that there is "appropriate out-of-hours provision in West Ardnamurchan". Full story here.

- today's Oban Times, which carries the story on the front page for the third week running.

We're incredibly grateful to the two reporters concerned, David Ross of The Herald and Richard Haddock of The Oban Times' Fort William office, both of whom have grasped how important this fight is, not only to us but also to other remote, Scottish communities.

To add icing to the cake (or brandy butter to the Christmas pudding), the Diary, having read with growing joy David Ross's half page article in The Herald, turned the page to discover that The Herald's editor had picked up on the story and written a very supportive editorial.

Ice Burn

With night-time temperatures continuing to drop below -5C, hoar frost is forming - in this case, growing centimetre-long crystals around a sprig of heather.

These pictures were taken yesterday on a walk along the small burn that runs down the valley between the west end of the ridge of Druim na Gearr Leacainn and Maol Buidhe, coming out onto the beach just to the west of Trevor Potts' campsite at Bogha Caol Ard.

In the picture above, water has run down an inclined rock face on the side of the burn, freezing to form features which remind the Diary of some of the blue-white forms of the beautiful silica mineral chalcedony.

Near here, the surface of the stream had frozen solid for some metres, the water running fast beneath it carrying bubbles of air which gurgled and sang a strange, plumbic tune as they were dragged downwards.

Where bushes have dipped their twigs into the stream, ice seems to have grown up along the wood.

The most spectacular formations were to be found where small waterfalls splashed water onto surrounding objects, where it froze into fantastic shapes....

....sometimes forming features that resembled underground caverns filled with crystals.

This, one of the larger waterfalls close to the beach, had icicles three or four foot long hanging in the shadows.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Eagles over Ormsaigbeg

A wonderful view of this eagle this morning wheeling over the common grazings at the back of Ormsaigbeg, with another flying much higher above. We thought it was a golden eagle....

....but, as it was attacked by this hooded crow, it turned away. Click on the picture and look closely above the eagle's body: there's a small aerial visible.

The white tail feathers visible in the first picture, the wedge-shape of the tail, and the aerial confirm that this is a young sea eagle, probably across from Mull, one of the eagles which is carrying a tracking device.

This is the second day running we've seen eagles over Ormsaigbeg. Yesterday there were three, two smaller and one larger, over the ridge of Druim na Gearr Leacainn, the larger driving the smaller pair away. Perhaps the smaller were golden eagles.

It's a miserable life for the garden birds at the moment. The Diary is spending a small fortune on grain, peanuts and sunflower seeds to keep them going, but has been sent a timely reminder by an Achnaha resident - please don't forget to put out water for them as well.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Pictures from Midwinter's Day

Two cows hunkered down against the cold near the Coastguard Station, with Ben Hiant in the distance - picture from Julie Allcock.

Sunset in the southwest, midwinter's day, with the bulk carrier Yeoman Bridge entering the Sound of Mull on passage to Glensanda quarry - picture by Julie Allcock.

Midwinter moon rising over Ockle - picture by Sue Cameron.

Many thanks to Sue and Julie for the pictures.

The Cold....

Two electric heaters available in Kilchoan for anyone who needs them. Contact the Diary on 293.

Campaign Update, Day 15, Midwinter

This was the dawn of Midwinter's day, seen across Kilchoan Bay, bringing light and, perhaps, a little warmth to an embattled community. Not only are we fighting NHS Highland's decision to withdraw our nurses from overnight cover for 999 calls, but we've also heard that Fergusson's coal lorry, which hasn't been out for 8 weeks, won't now be coming until the new year. Many people, particularly our old people, are heavily dependent on coal - we are, with our central heating, hot water and cooking all using coal - and we're almost out. There was a day when the coal came regularly, on the first Tuesday of the month.

Last night West Ardnamurchan's Community Council met to discuss progress in our campaign to save our nurses, and made what, in view of today's news, was a good decision - to set up a small subcommittee to fight for the vital services upon which this community depends.

Despite temperatures so low that ice was forming on the inside of windscreens, and some roads which have yet to see a gritter, a big crowd packed WACC's emergency meeting, listening as Chairman Rosie Curtis outlined progress in the campaign. She highlighted our anger that NHS Highland had given us so little warning, at such a difficult time of year, in which to react to a situation which NHS Highland presented as a fait accompli. Yet we already have strong support, from Charles Kennedy, MP, from MSPs Fergus Ewing, Dave Thompson and Mary Scanlon, and from Councillor Michael Foxley. The press, too, has taken our story, with The Oban Times featuring it for two weeks running on its front page, and good coverage in the Press & Journal and Lochaber News.

A number of lines of future action were decided upon. Immediately, a petition, addressed to Nicola Sturgeon, is circulating in the village which we are asking everyone to sign. We are also producing a newsletter so those who don't have access to the internet can be kept informed.

While Rosie was at pains to thank those from both within and without the community who have thrown themselves into our fight, her main message was one of defiance. We may be a small community. We may be stuck out on the end of a remote peninsula. But we are united in fighting for what we consider to be our lives.