Monday, 31 October 2011

Thought for Today

"Wish I was a duck."

Vital Supplies Arrive

On Saturday morning a very important delivery arrived - the annual consignment of beet pulp. It comes up all the way from East Anglia, and is the solid remains from the crushing of sugar beet, formed into pellets.

A typical crofter will take about four or five tons - each of the pallet loads in the picture is 1.5 tons. While the consignment is bought communally, the ordering being done each year by Pat MacPhail, it's the responsibility of each crofter to be on hand to help offload.

The beneficiaries of all this hard work are the townships' sheep, in this case the animals in Kilchoan, Ormsaigmore and Ormsaigbeg. Another load is on it's way later this week for the crofters on the north coast.

With a hard winter forecast, it's a good job done for another year.

Many thanks to Pat MacPhail for the photos.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Waipu, New Zealand

From Rachael Haylett

An hour or so north of Auckland, in New Zealand's North Island, is the town of Waipu, which Ben and I discovered has a very Scottish History.

We were headed north on our little trip around Northland, when on a sunny afternoon we stopped for a break in Waipu.

Waipu was settled by about 940 Scots in 1853. They had travelled there from Nova Scotia, which had become their home for three decades before they followed Reverend Norman McLeod to this sub-tropical climate. They built their own boats and adventured into stormy seas in search for a better, and certainly a warmer, life. When they settled in Waipu, they worked hard in agriculture, gumdigging and bush felling. Some also continued in the shipbuilding industry.

Today, about 10% of Waipu's population has Scottish decent. Yet the town is very proud of its history, with monuments and a lovely museum. Furthermore, many of the street names use Scottish places, such as "Braemar Lane", and the tourist industry benefits from places such as "The Clansman Motel." It also hosts a Highland Games every summer, on the 1st January. No distance away is Waipu Cove, which has a beautiful sandy beach for the population to enjoy, whether it be through walking, swimming or surfing.

Today, Waipu has a three-way twinning with St Ann's/Baddeck in Nova Scotia, and Clachtoll in Scotland.

South of the Sonachan

Just beyond the Sonachan Hotel on the way to Portuairk, the road plunges into a deep valley which runs away southwards. The purpose of our walk this morning was to explore this valley and the area between the Sonachan and the rugged crags of Beinn na Seilg. A start can be made along a marked path which dives into dense woodland, but this veers away westwards, so we left it and struck up hill. After the recent rain it was rough walking across heather, bracken and tufted grasses, all of which hid deep pools of peaty water.

The valley, which is called Garb-dhail, is well-wooded, most of the trees being birch, and there are plenty of signs of field workings and peat cutting. This view looks across the valley towards the distant village of Achosnich and the peaks of Beinn Bhuidhe with, to its left, Sgurr nam Meann.

The valley is formed by the small stream called Allt Garbh dhalach, the stream of the rough level field by the river, which runs from the western slopes of Beinn na Seilg to Loch Grigadale. It descends the early part of its course through several small waterfalls.

This picture, taken at the furthest point of our walk, looks northwest across the valley to Loch Grigadale, with Sgurr nam Meann to its right. By that time the sun was making a feeble attempt to shine across the damp landscape, but it gave up shortly afterwards and the rain recommenced.

Aurora Pictures

Try the link here for some spectacular photos of the recent aurora activity. Okay, so The Diary knows these were taken in America, where everything's always bigger and better, but we can live in hope.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Kilchoan Fire & Rescue Team

This is the team at Kilchoan Fire & Rescue station - one other was on leave, and a recruit is in training. We all rest easier in our beds knowing that they are 'on call' day and night, not only to attend fires but, as their title suggests, for any rescue duties, such as vehicle accidents.

This may be a team at a remote village on the far west coast of Scotland, but they are trained to as high standards as any other fire team anywhere in the UK. They can enter a house using breathing apparatus, they can cut a casualty out of a smashed car. These standards come at a price - every member has to attend weekly training at Kilchoan Station, but they also have to go over to Inverness for much longer sessions, for example on the use of breathing apparatus.

This is a 'retained' team - that is, they receive a basic annual salary and are paid, in addition, for attendance at training and 'call outs'. The Diary doubts whether any of them does the job for the money so much as out of a sense of service to the community.

Dave Curtis is team leader. The service has changed almost out of recognition in the last few years, with modern technology deployed not only in the station but in the team's fire appliance (or 'engine' as it used to be called).

Dave is responsible for the team, for training and recruitment, for the station and appliance, and for an essential part of a modern fire service - Home Fire Safety checks. All houses on West Ardnamurchan are checked for safety standards, for example to ensure that smoke alarms are fitted in appropriate places and are working. Perhaps as a result of the efficiency with which this duty has been carried out, the area hasn't experienced a house fire in many years.

Kilchoan Fire & Rescue's station is just out of the village on the Portuairk road. Almost invariably, a wrecked car stands in the yard, sacrificed so the team can train on their cutting equipment.

For more details, visit the station's website here.

The Diary would like to thank the team for their welcome on Thursday evening.


Harvester, Justin Cameron's creel boat, passes Maclean's Nose heading for the western fishing grounds. Justin is one of two fishermen who work out of Kilchoan.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the picture.

Friday, 28 October 2011

In the Air

An eagle, probably a golden eagle, soars over the ridge at the back of Ormsaigbeg. We've seen them several times following the same route recently, moving from east to west along the spine of the peninsula.

One of the most impressive things about watching eagles is their ability to travel huge distances, often very fast, without flapping their wings. We watched this particular one for several minutes, and the only movement his wings made were slight flexings, as if he was feeling the air, testing it so he could judge how best to use the power that was in it.

Eagle activity always seems to pick up with the onset of winter. Perhaps it is that young birds are looking for a territory; perhaps it's adults searching more widely for sources of food.

The skeins of geese continue to come over. This flock was flying almost due east, along the coast, flying very low, with a following wind hurrying them along. As they came over they were calling, as if encouraging each other on.

Meanwhile, closer to the ground, the small birds are settling in to the daily task of survival through the winter. Our population at the bird table and on the nut feeders has dwindled alarmingly in the last few weeks, probably largely as a result of sparrowhawk deprivations.

At the moment the range of species is limited. The goldfinches are still flocked together out in the fields, feeding off the thistle seeds. There's no sign of siskins or coal tits: hopefully, they'll return as the colder weather sets in.

Nurses Dispute

For a personal comment, see West Ardnamurchan News, here.

Bonfire Night

Okay, so this is the firework display in Wellington, New Zealand, but Kilchoan does its best every year to emulate best practice. We do struggle under a number of constraints. For example, it's quite difficult to produce an inspiring display when the wind is force 8 and the rockets have a disconcerting habit of travelling horizontally rather then vertically. And rain isn't only a damper on human spirits.

With bonfire night only a week away, appeals are going out for firewood. If anyone has any, please take it along to the site next to the Community Centre, or contact Gael on 07920 752 742 to arrange collection.

The event is at 6.30 on 5th November - food, fireworks and fun guaranteed.

Many thanks to Dean Pemberton on Flickr, here, for the photo.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

October Rainbow

A rainbow burns across the sky above Kilchoan village.

Unexpected Visitors

Activity at the Achanha Hedgehog First Aid Centre seems suddenly to have switched to raptors. As Tony Thain informed The Diary on Sunday:

Yesterday, Tonia was cleaning out the hedgehogs in our "Wash-up" building when she was surprised to have a feral pigeon fly in through the open door. She was even more surprised when it was followed very closely by "Boadicea", a hunting Goshawk, who proceeded to catch the pigeon and have a punch-up with it in the pens that she had just cleaned and tidied. The pigeon escaped, to be followed by a very fed up Goshawk, leaving a bemused Tonia to clean up the pens again and remove all the pigeon feathers scattered over the floor.

Then, this morning, Tony emailed to say:

Following The Diary's insistence that photos were needed to go with reports, I talked to all the wildlife in our garden and told them that they could only do spectacular things when I had my camera handy! Obviously the request was passed around as Boadicea the Goshawk sent Attila the Sparrowhawk to put things right.

We were quietly sat in our lounge, having a lunchtime sandwich and cup of tea, watching the news, when much to our surprise a Sparrowhawk flew in through the open back door and perched on the windowsill. Tonia caught it, and I went for the camera.

As the hawk had hit the lounge window quite hard Tonia gave it a quick medical to make sure that there was no damage. I chose not to use flash with the camera as I did not want to stress the hawk out any further or to damage its eyesight, hence the quality of the photo is not quite up to standard.

Check-up over, the bird was released out into the garden to terrorise the small bird population.

Some people may think that the bird that Tonia saw hunting the pigeon was a Sparrowhawk and not a Goshawk, but Tonia is adamant that what she saw in the wash-up was quite larger than the one that she was holding and that it had different coloured eyes. It is well known that the two birds are very difficult to tell apart, but we have seen two hawks in the garden, one very much larger than the other. The larger was giving the feral pigeons a hard time, whilst the smaller was specialising in the small birds such as sparrows.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Sunshine, Showers and Rainbows

We're getting back into something that resembles the October weather we love after our recent soaking. The hills have begun to dry out, and the burns have dropped to a more normal level, but the going is still squelchy and slippery underfoot, so walking is hard work.

The clouds and their attendant showers come across in ragged, extended fronts so, looking out to the north of Ardnamurchan, there's a layering of the islands: here, Eigg is under cloud in the foreground, while Rhum basks in bright sunshine beyond. Visible just to the left of Rhum is the flat tabletop of the small island of Canna.

There's a similar effect across the land. This view looks from Kilmory southwards to the summit of Ben Hiant, with the wooded slopes of Beinn nan Losgann (the hill of the frog or toad) caught in sunlight.

This afternoon, despite some sharp showers and a keen southeasterly wind, we took our usual walk up to the ridgeline of Druim na Gearr Leacainn at the back of Ormsaigbeg, and sat in a sheltered spot behind a rock to look across the peninsula. An eagle came over but, before it could come close and much to our disappointment, it was rapidly driven off by two crows. Instead, we were treated to a rainbow over Sgurr nam Meann and, presumably, Grigadale Farm got the pot of gold.


As predicted, an aurora was visible from western Scotland the night before last (see yesterday's post).

On the Outer Isles they were more fortunate - see video clip here.

Many thanks to Greet and an Anonymous commenter for the link.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Kilmory Churchyard

We visited Kilmory churchyard this afternoon. The church itself is long gone, though the outlines of its structure are clearly visible within the walled enclosure, and many of the gravestones are broken or falling, their inscriptions increasingly difficult to read.

But two are still very well maintained, and they are the ones The Diary stands beside each time we go there. They mark the graves of two Merchant Navy seamen washed up on the shores of Ardnamurchan, both in the latter days of 1940.


The Diary is an avid follower of AuroraWatch UK, that splendid site run by Lancaster University which gives watchers of the Northern Lights warning of potential events.

With the sun not behaving in its 11-year solar cycle, and with sunspot activity long overdue, we've had virtually nothing other than the occasional 'amber' warning. Then, last night, as this graph (taken from AuroraWatch's site, here), there was a major event.

Not that The Diary was awake to see either the event or the warning email which AuroraWatch sends to anyone who signs up to their site, but it's exciting as it suggests that the sun is coming to life and that we may have some spectacular events during the winter.

That is, if the clouds clear.

Monday, 24 October 2011


We've had friends from Wales staying this last week. Wales isn't the sunniest of places, but they've been impressed with the amount of rain we have here - 35mm last night alone. It's not really the sort of conditions in which anything can thrive short of fungi.

So this afternoon, in a desperate attempt to prove that we do have some real sunshine here, we took them across the peninsula to Portuairk....

....and the clouds cleared, the sun came out, a bright rainbow stretched itself across the sea from Muck to Sanna, and the shallows of Portuairk Bay glowed with blues and greens.

"What a lovely place," they kept saying. "This is so beautiful."

They're right: Portuairk is a gem of a village, a great place for small children as its bay is shallow and sheltered. At the same time, its anchorages are ideal for keeping boats in which holiday makers and locals alike can venture out into the waters of the Minch.

"It's the centre of the universe," The Diary informed them. "The whole cosmos revolves around this place. Honestly!"

"Yes," they said.

Nurses Meeting Tomorrow

The public meeting with NHS Highland and the Scottish Ambulance Service scheduled for tomorrow evening has been put back from 7.00pm to 8.00pm.

Apologies for any inconvenience.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

A Hedgehog Sanctuary

From Tony Thain

For some years, Tonia at the old Dairy at Achnaha has been treating injured, ill and underweight hedgehogs. Very often she has to overwinter the animals as they do not come up to weight [600 gms] in time for them build a hibernation nest before the cold weather sets in. The answer is to let them go in the spring as fully fit animals with no parasites and often at a weight that allows them a fighting chance in the wild.

Although Autumn is the busiest time, animals are brought in throughout the year with injuries or they have been found in daylight hours acting unnaturally. Remember, hedgehogs are nocturnal animals. The intentions are to treat, get up to weight, make well and then release the hedgehogs. Sometimes there are animals who are too injured to survive in the wild; then we look after them throughout their lives.

Tonia started her hobby of looking after hedgehogs in the 1960s when, as a stud groom at a Connemara Pony stud in the Cotswolds, she found a family of hoglets whose mother had been killed. She fed the youngsters, taking them with her to many horse shows as they needed feeding every couple of hours. Eventually the youngsters were weaned and released back into the wild.

Tonia's interest in helping wild life was further expanded when she took up a new job at the Cotswold Wild life Park near Burford, looking after the owners Hunters and Thoroughbred horses. She brought up two Jackdaw chicks that had been abandoned by their mother. It was quite a sight to see 5' 2" of Tonia walking two 16-hand hunters and a Jackdaw flying alongside and, eventually, landing on Tonia's head. The two horses did not seem to be phased by the presence of a wild bird in close proximity.

Tonia's love of hedgehogs came to the fore when we found a juvenile hedgehog in my workshop at the Old Dairy. Peanuts, as he became known , had walked through an oil tray and while cleaning himself off had ingested the oil. In the end he became our first house guest at the Old Dairy as the oil had damaged his stomach. Since Peanuts, Tonia has treated many poorly animals, most found around Achnaha, but many brought to us by like minded local people. Many of the locals have helped Tonia with hay, old newspapers etc. which Tonia is most grateful for as she is not supported financially by any organisation or individuals.

If you are driving through Achnaha at night or during dusk, please drive slowly and carefully as there may be one of Tonia's rescued hedgehogs crossing the road for food as there are always feeding, watering and accommodation stations scattered around our garden for all the local hedgehogs.

Saturday, 22 October 2011


This wonderful picture of a sparrowhawk was sent in by Kilchoan resident David Norrie - for which, many thanks. The bird was in his front garden, sitting right beside the bird table, waiting for breakfast to come along.

There's a lot of sparrowhawk activity at the moment, with the result that the small birds are extremely nervous when they come in to feed. The sparrowhawks may be feasting on the hoards of small birds now but, as they take their toll, so their food source reduces, leaving them with thinner and thinner pickings.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Porcine Disaster

The Diary is considering emigrating.

Hughie MacLachlan's sow, which has been in the field just along from The Ferry Stores and which Hughie thought was 'in pig', WAS in pig and is now no longer in pig because she's produced ten.

They were born between 8.00pm and midnight last night, each arriving, as Hughie put it, 'like a wee rocket'. Mum was very good - she didn't lie on top of any of them - and she's now doing fine, though she is a bit tired.

To make matters worse, two of Dave Cash's sows have recently produced no less than twenty-two piglets between them. That makes 32 piglets in the village which, as they grow up, will probably all be assigned fields in Ormsaigbeg to clear of bracken. It's going to be like a rising tide of pigs, swamping us.

So The Diary is thinking of emigrating. In view of the current weather, which isn't too special, it would have to be somewhere warm. Now there are some nice villages on the Tanzania coast which have no pigs: their inhabitants are Moslems.

Mink Hunt - 3

Hot news from the hunt for the the killer mink is.... that there is no news. The Brigand, either because he'd had a surfeit of prize pedigree chicken and felt like a change of diet, or because he'd seen the veritable arsenal of weapons that was being deployed against him, hasn't been seen or heard from since the last Diary entry, here.

All of which is extremely frustrating for Tom, the aggrieved owner of the murdered chickens, who has gone to great lengths to increase the level of protection for his birds. In his spare moments he's also been calculating the cost of his losses, which comes to well over £1,000 when the full value of replacing the birds and lost egg production - the eggs are sold fertilized through eBay - are taken into account.

Tom is, however, using the interlude to study mink habits so he's even better prepared for when the Brigand returns. Amongst other fascinating facts The Diary has gleaned from him, it has learnt that each male mink controls some 5km of coastline and won't let other males trespass, though they are more tolerant of the occasional female. So perhaps our Brigand is off after a nice lady, and may, at any moment, reappear with her with the intention of wooing her with a chicken meal or two.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Community Meeting

A reminder that there is a community meeting with NHS Highland, the Scottish Ambulance Service, the Fire & Rescue Service and others on Tuesday 25th October at 7.00pm in the Community Centre, in which they will come back to us with a response to our proposals for future emergency cover after Jessie Colqhuoun retires in February.

Please attend if you can - it would be good to have a very full turnout at that meeting.

Kilchoan Sunrise

Dawn this morning, 7.55am, with the Kilchoan-Tobermory ferry arriving at the CalMac terminal at the end of Pier Road - a photo very similar to the first posted on A Kilchoan Diary on 15th October 2009, here.

The village has been without its Vodafone signal ever since the lightning strike on Monday evening. As people who have a Blackberry now know, being without mobile signal is serious stuff, but out here there can be some very profound dangers. Since Vodafone were the first to offer a good connection to West Ardnamurchan, most people have stuck with them, including the fishermen - and mobiles are their way of keeping in touch and, in an emergency, summoning help.

Kilchoan Courses

There's a full list of courses available at the Kilchoan Education Centre over the coming months on the West Ardnamurchan News site, here. As always, there is a huge range of courses, something for everyone - many thanks to Pat Glenday for all her hard work.

If you'd like to download a full list along with application form, its available here.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A Viking Boat Burial

A Viking chieftain, lying in his longboat surrounded by his sword, knife, spear and drinking horn, with his cloak held with a pin from Ireland and his shield lying across his chest - it's the sort of discovery archaeologists dream of.

Yet this is what Ardnamurchan Transitions Project archaeologists have recently unearthed on Ardnamurchan Estate land - picture above shows the site, and the stones on which the boat was placed before burial, after which more stones and earth were piled on top. The archaeologists, from the Universities of Manchester and Leicester, CFA Archaeology based in Edinburgh, and Archaeology Scotland, had already been working on Ardnamurchan's north coast for five years when, in July this year, they stumbled across this historic find, the first of its type on the British mainland.

Many local people, particularly workers on the Ardnamurchan Estate, knew of the discovery, yet it has been a well-kept secret until now, allowing the team to clean and conserve their finds, and to obtain confirmation from experts that this was, indeed, a Viking burial dated to about 1000AD. In fact, one Estate employee was responsible for unearthing the sword - x-ray picture shown above.

This sketch shows what the grave would have looked like. Co-Director of the project and archaeology Teaching Fellow Dr Hannah Cobb, from the University of Manchester, said, “This is a very exciting find. Though we have excavated many important artefacts over the years on Ardnamurchan, I think it’s fair to say that this year the archaeology has really exceeded our expectations. A Viking boat burial is an incredible discovery, but in addition to that, the artefacts and preservation make this one of the most important Norse graves ever excavated in Britain."

The Guardian and BBC have already shown interest in the discovery - it was on the Scottish radio news this morning - so expect to hear more about it in the media.

X-ray picture of sword courtesy Pieta Greaves of AOC Archaeology, and sketch of grave courtesy Sarah Paris.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

What Next?

Earlier in the month he was in Jersey buying up Bergerac's old car (post here), now he's checking out steam engines at Logierait Farm Model Railway. What will Dochie Cameron be bringing home next?

The website for the farm is here.

Showers, Hail and Lightning

We're now sitting in a run of northwesterlies which are bringing much colder air and heavy showers. In a few days, we seem to have moved from autumn into a premature winter. The showers are drawn across the view like dark curtains, this one seen passing over Tobermory.

Some of the showers are falling as hail - this picture shows our front yard at 6pm last night during a particularly heavy downpour, after which the temperature dropped to 3C, with the result that the hail lay, like a blanket of snow, through the first part of the night. And the hailstorms come with thunder and lightning. These natural pyrotechnics aren't appreciated. Our power line, which must be fifty years old now, is strung along miles of peninsula and has a nasty habit of failing during electric storms.

Then, suddenly, the sky clears and we have a few minutes respite....

....which give the small birds a chance to come out and sing.

The robins are particularly active - perhaps they're staking out their territories for the long winter ahead.