Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Chimney Fire

Kilchoan Fire Brigade were called out this morning at about 10.15 to attend a chimney fire at a cottage in the centre of the village. On arrival at the scene, their first task was to attach hoses to the nearest fire hydrant.

By this time the fire had a firm hold, and the chimney stack was radiating heat...., as soon as the water was on, the outside of the chimney was cooled.

Then ladders were erected to gain direct access to the chimney itself.... that water could be sprayed down it to quench the fire.

Dave Curtis, the senior fire officer at Kilchoan station, is seen here briefing his team.

By eleven o'clock the fire was under control, but it was estimated the brigade would have to continue to attend the scene for at least another half-hour.


Congratulations to Gael and Bert Cameron on the birth yesterday of Ryan John, at a hospital in Livingstone. Ryan weighed in at 8lb 10oz.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

"Back of the Ben"

The phrase "Back of the Ben" refers to the section of road which runs from Caim round the north of the high land that includes Ben Hiant, and down to the Basin and Camas nan Geall (see map link at bottom of this post). The term is most often used in winter in reference to terrible driving conditions along this stretch of the B8007; the road is exposed to the northerly winds which bring snow, it's shadowed by the high land so frost collects and persists, and the wind adds to the fun as it's channelled down the valley in which Loch Mudle lies.

Visitors know it, as one of its lay bys offers a superlative view down the valley of the Achateny Water to the inner islands. Not today. Today, when The Diary had the pleasure of having to drive to Acharacle, we are enjoying truly Scottish weather: rain, mists, and a pervasive dampness, as a nice change from rain, mists and gales.

The burns that run off the high land are full to overflowing: this is the Allt Choire Mhuilinn which runs down past Caim....

....and small burns which hardly show in normal weather form spectacular waterfalls as they plunge off the plateau to the north Camas nan Geall into the Basin.

But these were interesting things to watch which made the journey worthwhile, like this eagle which was being harried by a couple of buzzards and a crow.

For some, of course, it's business as usual, though one could not be envious of John Macfaddyen and one of his colleagues who were repairing the ditches all along the side of the road, a thankless task but much appreciated by the community.

And they weren't the only one busy with another day's work. It's still tupping time.

A map of the area is here.

A Memory of Summer

Sun, a gentle breeze, blue sky, cumulus clouds.
Sanna Point with Muck and the high hills of Rhum behind.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Small Bird Report

The Diary isn't the only Ormsaigbeg resident with an interest in small small birds who has noticed that matters are not normal at the feeders. Numbers, in general, are down, this being reflected in the amount of food that's going out each day.

With some species, populations seem much as usual for the time of year: the occasional song thrush visits us, we have a pair of blackbirds who own the place and therefore expend a lot of energy seeing off intruders, and we have robins and dunnocks - the dunnock pictured, who has a white nose and a white feather in his tail, is particularly friendly. The numbers of great and blue tits also seems normal.

Needless to say, we 'enjoy' the usual plethora of chaffinches, but the house sparrows, which seemed to be doing so well in the summer, have suffered, so we're left with a hardy few squabbling with the chaffinches for a chance at the seed.

By late autumn there were plenty of goldfinches in the fields feeding at the thistle seeds, but these have largely disappeared - yet none have switched their attention, as they usually do, to the peanut feeders. Greenfinches also seemed to be doing better this summer, but we now only see them occasionally.

But there are some serious absences. We haven't seen a siskin in ages and, while we saw one very briefly, we've lost our coal tits. The only addition we have to our menagerie is a pair of collared doves, who aren't too welcome as they have a huge appetite compare, say, to a humble dunnock.

While a marauding sparrow hawk may be partly to blame for the situation, the serious fall in numbers seemed to coincide with the prolonged wet weather during the later part of September and the whole of October. Now that we are sitting in a run of westerlies, and with significant rainfall amounts again - yesterday was a pleasant exception - the outlook for our small birds isn't too rosy.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sidhean Mhor

With an uncertain forecast and the ground sodden from recent rain, we decided not to try any of the higher hills today, so we set out to explore Sithean Mhor (the big fairy hill) - Sidhean Mhor, as the OS map marks it. This is a low ridge which runs east-west a kilometre to the south of Achnaha, with the Sanna road skirting round its north side. It has several small peaks, the most westerly being the highest, this picture looking back from the summit along the ridge towards Creag an Airgid, the silver crag.

We approached it from the bridge on the Sanna road where it crosses the Allt Uamha na Muice, the stream which forms the open valley in which the small village of Achnaha lies and which later joins the Sanna Burn. Only a few yards off the road is this huge rock, an erratic dropped by the ice during the last glaciation.

Despite the forecast and a keen northwesterly wind which, at times, almost blew us off our feet, the sun came out as we approached the summit of the ridge, seen here with Meall Sanna in the distance.

Because the ridge is isolated there are good views in all directions except the south, which is blocked by the dark, forbidding bulk of Beinn na h-Imeilte, the aptly named hill of many streams. This picture looks across the abandoned croft lands to Achanaha and the northern hills of the great ring dyke, Sgurr nan Gabhar (the peak of the goat) to the right and Meall Clach an Daraich (the stoney hill of the oak) in the centre. It being tupping time, the villages sheep are seen close in to the houses.

Virtually all of the flat land in the valley of the burn shows signs of being worked in the past, the population growing so high that much less fertile fields had to be pressed into use - on these hillsides below Meall Sanna, the bracken reveals clear signs of the strip cultivation which was used. The small lake, which has straight sides and isn't natural, may have filled land which had been dug out for peat.

As we made our way back to the car it began to rain, a few, almost horizontal droplets chasing us on our way. The forecast for the next few days is pretty grim, yet a friend who is up from Cambridge tells us they are suffering such drought conditions that their water supply may have to be rationed by Christmas.

A map of the area is here.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Another Mass Murder

Horrifying pictures just received from the camera of 'Kilchoan Early Bird' showing the corpses of ten of Hughie MacLachlan's chickens killed last night, possibly by the same mink that was despoiling Tom Bryson's rare breed flock (see previous post here).

The Diary sincerely hopes that this hen wasn't one of those that lost her life last night.

These are the family's chickens, which were always to be seen pecking around the barn. Commiserations to Hughie and Sharon.

Two Parties

From Jacqui Chapple

Last Friday John and Jacqui Chapple hosted an open evening to celebrate the opening of their new Kilchoan gallery.

There were refreshments and nibbles and the opportunity to view and buy some beautiful pieces of art as well as local crafts.

The event saw a steady stream of visitors throughout the day and as well as some smaller items, three paintings were sold – two by local artist, Hazel McLeod.

The gallery, which will now be open every day between 12pm and 3pm, features artwork by a number of local artists including Ron Leckie, Bill Loughray, Stephen French and of course, Hazel. There are also prints and cards by Maureen Minchin and ceramic tiles by Helen Michie. In addition, visitors to the Gallery will find soaps and scented items, crafts, jewellery and homemade preserves – all prefect gifts for Christmas.

The Community Garden Harvest feast took place at the Sonachan on Saturday 12th November. With nearly sixty guests, the night was a huge success and raised a fantastic £775 for the Community Garden. This should help with running costs and repairs over the coming year.

Jacqui Chapple came up with the idea and Saturday morning saw around ten volunteers and a wheelbarrow of freshly dug garden produce appear in the Sonachan kitchen. There followed a very lively and productive day with lots of laughs and banter and before the workers knew it, it was time for the guests to arrive. Whilst the volunteers made themselves beautiful for the evening, Helen, Sheen and Claire got all the food organised and into the hot cupboards ready for service. Bruce Chapple was the 'Fear an Taigh' or ‘Man of the House’ - he lit all the candles, kissed all the ladies as they arrived and ushered the men to the bar. And after the meal, he and Roddy from Tobermory gave the guests a few tunes ......they raised the roof with their Beatles numbers and got a good sing along going. Innes sold raffle tickets throughout the evening and later, Rich took over as DJ for the late night dancing. There were some very interesting dance moves from all ages and we imagine some rather delicate heads on Sunday morning!

A huge well done and many thanks to all the volunteers, Anna, Kirsty, Katie, Peggy, Sheen, Innes, Claire, Trevor, Bill, Rich, Bruce and Roddy and thanks also to Liz for lovely cheesecake, Joyce for meringues, Janet for her apple cakes and Jamie for his fruit syllabub. Also a very big thank you should go to Helen and everyone at the Sonachan for all their help and use of facilities on the day... and finally a very big thank you to everyone that came along, bought a ticket and supported this wonderful event.

Many thanks to Jacqui for words and pictures.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Questions in Parliament

A full transcript of the questions asked in Parliament yesterday is on the West Ardnamurchan News site, here. Many thanks indeed to our MSPs for raising our case with Nicola Sturgeon.

A House in Portuairk

Portuairk, as everyone knows, is the centre of the universe. For those who don't have the good fortune to actually live there - it has a year-round population of twelve - the next best thing is to take one of the township's letting houses for a week or two.

One enterprising local resident has commissioned a video to give visitors a taste of life in this beautiful, unspoilt place. The cottage concerned is at the right, centre of the photo above - click on the picture and the house is circled. To watch the video, click here.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Questions in Parliament

Great news in the Nurses' campaign on the West Ardnamurchan News website - here.

November Gale

At nine this morning, when we walked down to the shop, a fresh southeaster was already ruffling the surface of the Sound of Mull and throwing waves at the Perch (foreground). The big bulk carrier, the Yeoman Bridge, sailed serenely past on her way to the Glensanda quarry.

By midday the sea had a very different complexion, the waves beginning to pound the Ormsaigbeg coast, chased in by a wind that was gusting to force 8. As we walked back from the shop we came across a hula-hoop lying beside the road. It hadn't been there a few minutes earlier so, there being no children along our road at the moment, the wind must have found it in a back yard and 'repositioned' it.

For some, the outdoor life hardly changes, whatever the weather. Yes, The Diary has promised not to rabbit on too much about the pigs, but couldn't resist sharing this with its readers, entitled 'Breakfast Time'.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Sanna Highlander

A highlander grazes near the mouth of the Sanna Burn.

Squat Lobsters

Squat Lobsters - this one is Galathea stringosa - are really a type of crab. They are caught as a by-catch in our local fishermen's prawn creels. There seem to be two local types. One is the common squat lobster, above, which makes good eating and has a limited market.

The other variety - the shallow water squat lobster - is not fished commercially, but he is rather pretty.

Go to Wikipedia, here, a see the huge number of varieties of this animal.

Many thanks to 'Kilchoan Early Bird' for pictures and information.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

A Short Walk

The Diary apologises if readers have seen a picture very like this somewhere before. The difference is that this one is hot from the digital camera, having been taken during our short walk this afternoon over the hills above the village. Hill walking in the afternoon at this time of year is very limited by the light. We set off shortly after 2.30pm, knowing we would have little more than an hour before we needed to be off the hill.

It has been a perfect day here, with a fresh southwesterly wind but some warm late autumn sunshine. As we climbed the hill we saw an eagle high above Beinn na Seilg, the second eagle we've seen today, a smaller raptor which was very likely a kestrel, and our steps put up a woodcock which flew away with its characteristic fast, low, zig-zag flight.

From high on the hill we looked directly down on the Sound of Mull. This is one of the Northern Lighthouse Board's two repair and servicing ships, the Pole Star, passing close to the Ardmore light. She didn't stop but proceeded down the Sound.

From the eastern end of the hill we looked straight down onto the village and the back of Kilchoan Bay. The colour of the water was almost Caribbean blue, and the dead bracken glowed in the late afternoon sun.

By the time we dropped down to the road, just before 3.30pm, the sun was behind Maol Buidhe and all of Ormsaigbeg was in shadow, while the far end of the village, particularly along Pier Road, remained in bright sunlight for a further half hour.

The picture shows Cruachan, a recently-renovated croft house.

Nurses - Report on Last Night's Public Meeting

There's a report on last night's public meeting on the West Ardnamurchan News, here.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Roe Deer

One of a group of three roe deer spotted near Swordle Farm yesterday.

Viking Boat Burial - Latest News

A number of videos have been made relating to the discovery during the summer of the Viking boat burial on West Ardnamurchan. Here are some of them:

The Daily Telegraph - here.

STV - here.

Associated Press - here.

...and it even got onto CBS News, briefly, here.

The Ardnamurchan Transitions Project, the grouping of archaeologists and students who have been working on the north coast for the last six summers, has a new website which has lots of information about their projects, including the boat burial. It's here.

Some of the archaeologists are hoping to return to the area in January, and have promised to spend an evening at the Kilchoan Community Centre describing the Viking boat burial in detail. From the start of their work, they have been keen to involve the community in everything they've done, so it will be an opportunity for us to make an input into their plans for the site.

West Ardnamurchan News

The Sound of Mull, 9.17 this morning.

There's a lot happening on the West Ardnamurchan News in the run up to Christmas - carol groups, a new drama group. Check them out here.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

It's Tupping Time

It's the time of year when the tups come into their own as kings of the crofting fields. For some time now they've been gathering: crofters have been borrowing, hiring and buying them, and putting them into the best fields, fattening them up ready for action.

The one above is is a fine Blackface tup, surveying his kingdom from the top of a knoll in Ormsaigbeg. The Blackface is a wonderfully hardy animal, well suited to our sunny local environment. They even have their own Association on the internet - here.

This tup is a newcomer to the area, a Texel/Charollais cross who goes by the name of Big Eddie. Texels seem to be very popular around here as a good cross with the local, hardy Blackface ewes, but the Charollais strain is more unusual. More about Texels here, and more about the Charollais breed here - not to be confused with the Charolais cattle, website here, the only thing in common being that both are white.

Both the ewe, on the left, and the tup here are Cheviots, the tup being a North Country Cheviot. These are big, fine-looking animals which, like all other self-resecting sheep breeds, also have their own website, here.

We also have some more exotic breeds. This small, black tup is a Hebridean, a member of a breed that goes back a long way in Scottish history. His clan website is here.

For anyone who's interested in the huge range of breeds of sheep kept in Britain, the site here offers a real education. The Diary had no idea there were so many!
Croft houses in Kilchoan nestle beneath the slopes of
Beinn na Seilg (top left) and Stacan Dubha (centre)

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Above Camas nan Geall - 3

From our vantage point high above Camas nan Geall (see previous post here), we set off to return along a route across the flatter land further to the east. It made good walking, if a little boggy in places, across a rolling landscape broken by occasional rock outcrops and low hills. The small mound in the foreground of this picture drew our attention. It is almost circular, about 8m across, and stands in a saddle between two hillocks. While, from its size and position, it might be a man-made burial cairn, there are other, much larger natural hills which have a similar structure.

This is the red deer rutting season. We saw a number of stags, some of them in small bachelor groups like this one...,

....but others in proud possession of a harem. They were always well aware of us long before we neared them, standing to watch us for a few moments before moving off. Rightly or wrongly, we are wary of stags at this time of year.

Just before we dropped back down to the road, we had fine views northwestwards, across Loch Mudle to the Isles of Eigg and Rhum.

All our walk was on Ardnamurchan Estate land. The Estate has no problem with walkers who follow the country code, even though this is the stag stalking season and there is some risk that they will disturb a target. Those of us who are keen walkers appreciate their generosity. The Estate offers some beautiful self catering cottages, here.

A map of the area of this walk is here.


This blackbird is waiting each morning when the birds' breakfast grain is put out. He's almost at the point where he'll eat out of our hands.