Wednesday, 31 August 2011

In Search of a Battlefield - 1

The most significant battle fought on West Ardnamurchan was in 1519, a battle which was a disaster for the MacIains, with their chief, John, and two of his sons being killed. The Diary, keen to locate the battlefield, has done some research on the internet for clues to its exact location.

According to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland, 'the battle was fought on the low-lying land at the base of Craig an Airgid (NM 47 66) 3 miles from Kilchoan, between the MacIans of Ardnamurchan and the Macdonalds of Lochalsh, assisted by the MacLeods of Lewis, MacLeods of Raasay, and Macdonalds of Dunnyveg, the former being heavily defeated. Though unable to find them, M E M Donaldson (1930) states that cairns commemorating the battle lie somewhere in a hollow between two lines of hills on the right hand side of the road (travelling from Kilchoan) beyond the second bridge before Craig an Airgid is reached.'

A map, here, shows the grid square NM4766, and a marker - which isn't helpful as it is simply at the point where easting 47 crosses northing 66 - but this square does include the 'low-lying land at the base of Creag an Airgid', near the rock on which stones are placed to bring good luck (Diary posting here).

Other sources, including 'The Annals of the Parish', state that the chief's cairn is 'near the old march dyke between Kilchoan and Glendrian farm'. The Diary is uncertain of the meaning of 'march', and dyke can be a ditch or a wall, but takes it as the boundary between the two farms. Today, very roughly, this is followed by the Ardnamurchan Estate fence, which is shown on the 1:25,000 OS map.

Donald MacDiarmid, in his 'Ardnamurchan Place Names', says that the site of the cairn 'can yet be identified on a knoll close under the south-west side of Creag an Airgid', and that the followers' grave is 'at a place which can also be pointed out'.

Armed with this information, The Diary and wife set out to find the cairn.

Both the pictures on this posting show knolls to the southwest of Creag an Airgid and on the right hand side of the road. The top one shows the most obvious knoll, with Creag an Airgid rising directly behind it. The second knoll is rather more to the south of the hill.

Both knolls were thoroughly searched, as were the valleys between them, but nothing was found that might be a cairn.

A map of the area is here.

Low Tide

Another very low tide today, with Kilchoan Bay looking as if it has been drained.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Low Tide

With a new moon last night, today saw a 4m spring tide, so much of the foreshore, and features like Bogha Caol Aird (pictured) were exposed shortly after midday. Bogha Caol Aird is a skerry, a line of rocks running parallel to the land, joined to the beach by a low shingle bank.

Trevor Potts' Ardnamurchan Campsite stands immediately above it. Despite yesterday's Bank Holiday, the number of visitors has fallen off, as can be seen from the lone tent pitched in a field which has, at times this summer, been crowded.

We took a walk along the rocks, looking for nothing in particular but finding a surprising number of spiders stringing their webs across the rocks close to the sea. Given the high tide that's due tonight, and a bit of wind to create some waves, which isn't forecast, this chap would be unlikely to survive.

Poking around in the rock pools we found these creatures, each about three or four centimetres across, some resembling green olives and others green toadstools. Our rather inadequate guide to the seashore contains nothing resembling them. Does anyone know what they are?

The last fading thrift are still in flower. They look worn out, as if they know their year is ending and they face the long rigours of winter - wind, rain, and a constant battering by the sea.


A grey morning, this morning, as a grey-sailed trimeran, which had spent last night moored in Kilchoan Bay, sailed up the Sound close to the Ormsaigbeg shore.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Pigs at Home

The pig juveniles currently in residence at the eastern end of Ormsaigbeg have a house. It's of steel construction - which is bad news, as it suggests that this pig rearing is a long-term project - it has a front door and, judging by the chimney on the top, hot, running water and full central heating.

Certainly, the pigs are extremely comfortable in it, even though it's a bit of a squash when all seven are in residence.

Even more worrying news is currently 'at home' in a field near The Ferry Stores. The larger beast on the right is a sow and the smaller, pink thing is a boar - and Hughie MacLachlan is planning to breed off them.

Ormsaigbeg's only hope is that the boar is as frightened of the sow as The Diary is - she's a big, aggressive beast with appalling table manners and a very assertive snort. Horrors - she might escape on day and go on a westerly rampage!


The tiny township of Achnaha seen from the Sanna Burn,
with Creag an Airgid, the Silver Crag, in the distance.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

A Forgotten Tradition

The Diary has attempted to avoid repetition in its posts but, having stopped briefly the other day to add another stone to the pile already on top of this great rock, was reminded that a previous post, in December 2009, had asked whether anyone knew the reason for the stones.

The rock stands right beside the road between Kilchoan and Sanna - the map at the bottom of the page shows its exact location. One possibility is that there is a tradition of placing stones on the rock in memory of those who lost their lives in the 1518 battle between the Ardnamurchan MacIains and the MacDonalds and their allies, the Macleods - details in that original post here.

This picture looks across the rock to the site of the battle. The MacIains would have emerged through the gap in the hills to the left. Their opponents, having landed at Sanna and walked up the track which passed through Achnaha and crossed the small burn called Allt Uamha na Muice near where the road bridge now crosses it, would have come up from the valley to the right.

Battles in those days were bloody affairs. Not only did the victors show little mercy to their wounded opponents lying on the field, but they would also have hurried over the hill southwards to enjoy the spoils of the MacIain villages abandoned by their inhabitants when news came that the battle was lost.

There were no comments left on the original post. If anyone knows anything about this particular rock, or has come across a similar tradition elsewhere, The Diary would like to know, either through a comment or - if, like others, you have had problems with working Google 'Comments' - by email to

A map of the area is here.

A Change in the Weather

The weather has gone from warm and sunny - this picture shows Kilchoan Bay on Friday evening - to cold and cloudy, with a stiff northerly wind, and the temperature struggling to rise over 11C.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

An Early Autumn

There's a heavy dew on the grass on clear mornings, even a hint of ice on the metalwork of cars. The nights are drawing in, the early mornings dark, with the sun not showing his face over Ben Hiant until well after six in the morning, and dropping below Druim na Gearr Leacainn, the ridge that runs along the back of Ormsaigbeg, soon after 6.30 in the evening. It's almost a month until the equinox, but it feels as if autumn has already arrived.

The swallows sense it. They're lining up along the power lines near the junction of Pier Road, twittering excitedly while they preen their feathers. They'll be gone shortly. There are still a few sand martins swooping over the fields and lochans, but most have already begun their long migration to Africa. Our house martins never came to Ormsaigbeg this year. They didn't come last year. All we can hope is that, next year, some new ones will move in.

The other day, the first skein of geese passed south down the valley which the Portuairk-Kilchoan road follows, calling as they came. After flying across the face of Ben Hiant, they settled noisily in the fields near Mingary for a few hours before continuing their journey.

The crofters are hastening to get the last of the hay harvest in. It's been a very uncertain summer, cool, with few long periods of hot sunshine, yet, judging by the number of bales of silage lining the fields, the harvest has been a good one.

It's been a strange summer for the deciduous trees, blasted as they were by the gale in May which stripped many of them of their leaves. Some recovered, putting out a completely new batch of foliage, others did less well. Look carefully at the trees at the top of the field below Meall mo Chridhe, and some of the trees show a brown tinge. They haven't recovered, and it will be interesting to see how they fare through this coming winter.

There are other effects of that gale. Some of the rowans have a normal crop of berries but many have few if any. There are no hazel nuts along the Ormsaigbeg hedgerows, so the mice will be going hungry, and the row of damson trees along the road from us have produced only a single fruit.

For many of us, as the countryside slips towards winter, the coming weeks are the best of the year.

Patterns on the Sea

The Sound of Mull first thing this morning, with the Kilchoan ferry approaching Tobermory.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Picture of the Day

Common Sorrel.
Common it may be, but its colour, and the structure of its leaves and flowers, are miracles of nature.

Fire Brigade Award

Congratulations to Nan MacLachlan, Kilchoan Fire & Rescue's Crew Manager, who is seen here with the Lord Lieutenant of Inverness, Donald Angus Cameron, 27th Locheil, at a ceremony at which Nan was presented with a well-deserved 20-year long-service medal.

West Ardnamurchan is very fortunate to have its own Fire & Rescue station. Other small Scottish communities, particularly those out on the islands, are struggling to recruit enough members - a minimum of six is required. Part of the problem is the training, which is far more rigorous and time-consuming than it used to be, and requires weekends or longer periods spent away at the Fire Brigade's training HQ near Inverness. One big change is that all firemen have to be able to enter a burning building with breathing apparatus, equipment which is heavy and extremely awkward to wear.

Nan is one of a team of nine at Kilchoan Fire & Rescue, all people who are willing to give their time and energies to, and, if the need arises, risk their lives for members of their community.

New Postie

The new postie on West Ardnamurchan is Ritchie Dinnes, who shares the round with Mairi Hunter. Many visitors will recognise Ritchie as the previous owner of the Ardnamurchan Natural History Centre.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Campsite Drama

From Trevor Potts:

Some drama on the campsite this morning when someone stepped out of a car by the toilet block and the handbrake cable snapped. Fortunately no one was in the car when it rolled back and dropped into the camper van pitch onto its side.
Equally fortunately there was no one walking up the drive towards the toilet block at the busiest time of the morning.
Hughie with Bert’s JCB came to the rescue and lifted it back onto four wheels before the recovery truck came to take it away.

The novelty of this was so great that two Golden Eagles showed themselves above the horizon for a quick look, much to the annoyance of the large resident Buzzard who was already hovering overhead.

A Pied Wagtail's Bath

Hmm... A bit small.

That's better!

Nothing like a good splash around in the bath.


Many thanks to Gael Cameron for pictures,
and to Holly's deflated bouncy castle.

Picture of the Day

An adder, pictured on a sunny morning at Brian Culcheth's house, Otter's Holt.

Many thanks to Gordon Mullay for the photo.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

A Path to the Sea

These pictures were taken during a short walk this morning along a path which runs from the Ormsaigbeg road down to the sea. For much of its way it plunges through stands of bracken which, while still thick and impenetrable, aren't as luxuriant as in most years since they were burned by the salt winds of May's storm, but a section of the path runs through open meadow which teems with wild flowers.

Nearest the road there are stands of thistles of at least two types. The Diary is overawed by the variety of thistles shown both in its Scottish wildflower book and in Kilchoan's fields, but thinks that, from its leaves, the top one may be Black Knapweed and the one above, with its spiky leaves, Creeping Thistle. The goldfinches love this time of year, as the seeds which are carried away by the thistle down are one of their favourite foods, and large flocks of them can be seen working their way across the fields.

This is probably Devilsbit Scabeus. The 'scabeus' name comes from its use as a treatment for scabies and other skin sores, including those caused by bubonic plague - a useful piece of information.

The Diary is defeated by this flower, which is very popular with one particular species of local bee. It has an elongate, serrated leaf - visible in the background - which comes straight out from the stalk, and some of the flowers appear where the leaves meet the stalk. An identification would be much appreciated.

Picture of the Day

Rowan berries.

Many thanks to 'Kilchoan Early Bird' for the photo.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Picture of the Day

The Sound of Mull yesterday evening,
with Ferguson Transport's Carhie Anne making her smoky way towards the mouth of Loch Sunart.

A Return

The Diary has been away for a week in South Wales, enjoying the generous hospitality of old friends and visiting some of the local archaeology. There's little that other places do better than Ardnamurchan, but, although we have three similar structures, we certainly can't match this impressive Pembrokeshire burial chamber, called Pentre Ifan.

The trouble with going away is all the things we miss, like, for example, there was an earthquake reported locally on Sunday morning, felt by some but not all of West Ardnamurchan's residents. As can be seen from the British Geological Survey website, there were, in fact, eight earthquakes that day, all centred around Lochailort, the biggest of which was the first, at 08:37 GMT, with a magnitude of 2.9. Earthquakes are not uncommon around here, the last big one being the Glenuig event on 23rd January this year. The BGS website is here.

The best news on our return was that, as reported by ace Diary reporter Rachael on Saturday, the Kilchoan Pig Syndicate has moved its beasts eastwards, relocating them on Ivor's croft. Sadly, this is still within the bounds of Orsmaigbeg, but The Diary understands that they don't have much longer before they meat their maker.

Trevor Potts' campsite has been in the news again, with a large spread in last week's Scottish Farmer magazine which describes Trevor as 'a man of two continents' - Trevor whiles away his winter months as a tour guide on cruise ships in the Antarctic. The Diary understands that this has been a very successful year on the campsite, with more visitors than ever. The campsite's web address is here.

The most noticeable change in the countryside is that the heather is now in full bloom. The bell heather has been out for some weeks, but it's been joined by ling, Calluna vulgaris. As The Diary has often said before, we are moving into one of the best times of year to be out and about on our hills. It's good to be home.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Picture of the Day

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse
at the most westerly point on the British mainland.

The Hunt for Kilchoanite - 2

The white crystals which Nick Winter and Rob Gill thought might be Kilchoanite (see previous post, here), were contained in fragments of rock, pictured above, taken from the slopes of Glas Bheinn. These crystals were so tiny that they had to be analysed using using scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy-dispersive X-ray microanalysis (EDX) - and, no, The Diary doesn't understand what this means either.

This work was done by Nick Winter of WHD Microanalysis Consultants Ltd. Nick's company specialises in the microscopic analysis of materials such a cement, but Nick also runs a blog which is well worth a visit: it is, if you like, the human side of cement analysis. A good example of the sort of post he writes involves a famous Lochaber feature, made more famous by Harry Potter, the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which Nick believes is quite unique in a cement sort of way. Read about it here.

This picture shows a microscope view of one of the rock specimens taken from Glas Bheinn, with four minerals marked A - D, from which it might have been possible to identify Kilchoanite.

Each of the four minerals was also analysed chemically to confirm any identification. The X-ray spectrum shown above is for mineral D, which, as can be seen, is made up of potassium, aluminium, sodium and silicon (plus oxygen, not shown) - Nick identifies this as a felspar.

Despite all Nick's hard work, none of the minerals identified so far have been Kilchoanite, but Nick hasn't finished, and has promised that the hunt will go on. In the meanwhile, anyone who would like to read Nick's report on his findings can download it here.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Holiday Homes

West Ardnamurchan offers a treasure-trove of holiday homes to choose from. This little cottage, originally a black house with turf roof and smoke-blackened interior, lies on the edge of Portuairk, with stunning views across the bay to Sanna. It's one of a large number of cottages managed by Steading Holidays.

In the tiny crofting village of Ockle (population one), there are three houses available set along a steep valley cut by a burn, with walks which go for miles along Ardnamurchan's stunning north shore. They are run by Ockle Holidays.

Braehouse Cottage is set in the much more open valley of the Achateny Water. With no other house for miles, and a garden which is frequently visited by red deer, this is an ideal starting point for keen walkers, the hills around being almost devoid of fences. In the background stands the rugged slopes of Ben Hiant. It's available to rent from the Ardnamurchan Estate.

This neat little chalet is situated in the middle of Kilchoan village, on a traditional croft run by Ann MacLachlan. It can be rented by contacting Ann directly on 01972 510 244.

If you want to stay in a croft house, this Kilchoan croft offers a small but beautifully presented apartment which you can view in a video, here, and Pat MacPhail's website is here.

Another property available in Kilchoan, high on a hillside off the main road in development called the Old Golf Course, is Otter's Holt. Sitting on the veranda here you have a view across the Sound of Mull to Mull's coastline and hills.

The property is available to rent from Brian Culcheth.