Monday, 31 December 2012

That was 2012

West Ardnamurchan had its fair share of disasters in 2012, including a serious house fire at Sanna, an event which could have been far more costly had not our local fire team reacted swiftly and effectively to the emergency call.  The fire team also attended more than one moor fire.  This one, in April, was the worst, burning land from Portuairk to Lochan na Crannaig.

Gales are an occupational hazard here, as we've seen over the last few days - yesterday's stroms brought with them some 24mm of Kilchoan sunshine, a whole metric inch.  But February's was particularly cruel, destroying the new polytunnel at the Community Garden.  Nothing daunted, the group which runs the garden rebuilt it, though the damage limited their year's production.

This was the year that the community gained a whisky distillery which, after a hard-fought planning enquiry, was finally given the green light by Highland Council.  It promises to bring new jobs to the area and a sense of pride - that we, as a community, will be part-owners of the uisge beatha that comes from these buildings.

The long dispute with NHS Highland and the Scottish Ambulance Service over nursing provision and 999 medical cover came to a climax in February, when a delegation was invited to meet the then-minister of Health, Nicola Sturgeon, at Holyrood.  Many people, both on and off the peninsula, contributed to the success of the campaign.  One outcome was the development of an innovative Emergency Response team, one member of which, Jessie Colquhoun, was honoured in the Queen's 2013 New Year Honours list for her nursing services to the community of West Ardnamurchan.

Not all campaigns were as successful.  There are fears that the battle to keep pigs from over-running Ormsaigbeg will be lost by its residents.  Like fleas, pigs never seem to go away but just keep multiplying.

The community celebrated the Queen's Diamond Jubilee with a beacon and distress flares, though the local Coastguard Station Officer did have the foresight to warn Clyde Coastguard Station in advance, thus preventing the impression that the whole of West Ardnamurchan was sinking beneath the waves.

The community suffered some losses with stout hearts.  So the annual soccer derby against Coll saw the men's team lose, but our ladies' side more than made up for it with a stunning win.

 Some losses were much harder to bear.

The peninsula's wildlife continued to thrive, giving immense pleasure to the many visitors who come to the area.  Sometimes it's the small things that give the greatest pleasure - like this common lizard, spotted out for a stroll on Christmas Eve.

But playing host to predators such as sea eagles and pine martens is often at some cost to the local crofters in lambs and poultry.

This was a year in which the almost unthinkable happened: we had better summer weather than all other parts of the UK, with day after day of wall-to-wall sunshine.  As a result, our wildflowers thrived, with the wild orchid display particularly impressive.

The fine weather brought much pleasure to those lucky enough to be able to spend time wandering in the freedom of Ardnamurchan's hills.  One of the features of this place is the clarity of the air, offering wonderful opportunities to those who enjoy photography.

Our clear skies have turned our attention heavenwards this year.  As we work towards the maximum of the 11-year sunspot cycle, some of us have been out looking for the aurora, the northern lights, with mixed success.  But other pictures have been spectacular, like this one of Jupiter with three of its moons.

Even when the year moved into autumn and winter, the weather continued to provide us with spectacular events.  We had the usual mass of rainbows in October and November, and we've recently been enjoying a run of winter gales.

Many thanks to Stewart Pote for the moor fire picture, Trevor Potts for the Holyrood lobby picture, Anna Wright for the polytunnel picture, Kilchoan Early Bird for the Christmas lizard, The Raptor for planet Jupiter's moons, and Donald Houston for the distillery picture.

The Diary sincerely thanks those who have provided articles and photographs during 2012, and wishes both readers and contributors a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Algy at Sanna

Algy was at Sanna the other day for a filming of his latest adventure - the story told through animated pictures on the website Adventures of Algy.  Algy, like many of us, came to West Ardnamurchan by chance, blown in on a gale, but he's been here for some time now, enjoying the beauty of this place and musing on life, the universe and the sea.

Algy is the creation of Jenny Chapman, a partner in MacAvon Media, which she and her husband Nigel run from their house at Achnaha.  At present his adventures are published through the site Tumblr, but Jenny has plans for greater things, including an animated book.

Jenny has a message for a little blonde girl who watched them filming at Sanna.  Jenny says, "She was fascinated by Algy, and mistook him for a real duck!  She was with her family and, as we were very busy setting up a shot, they passed on by politely.  So this particular adventure is for her."


We've had the winds up to gale force several times over the last couple of days, the direction steadily moving round from southwest to west, with squalls coming through accompanied by sleet and hail.

This morning we drove to Sanna for a walk, passing these Achnaha sheep during a particularly vicious shower.  Look carefully, and the hail can be seen coming 'down' almost horizontally.

We started our walk at the north end of the beach, where the Allt Sanna enters the sea, staining the water with its peat.  While the inner part of the bay, protected by Sanna Island, was calm, the full force of the storm can be seen out to sea, with big waves breaking over  Sanna Point.

There are always casualties in a storm, but this little seal pup, washed up on the beach, looks too decayed to have died recently.

Further along, the beach was more exposed, so the the wind brought the breakers straight in, sending the sea hissing up the sand.  It also brought matching waves of dark clouds out of the west, squall fronts which came across quickly, pelting us with hail. There were times when the gusts were so strong it was difficult to stand up.

We climbed the hill at the south end of the beach to look back across Sanna sands to the Isle of Muck. At the time there were two other people on the beach, but other groups came down to enjoy the elemental ferocity of the storm.

Soon after we arrived home CalMac's Clansman came up the Sound, butting into the waves.  It's the first time we've seen her since Friday, so ferry services to the outer isles have been badly disrupted, though the Tobermory ferry seems to have managed to cross regularly.

Some have been rather wiser than us, and stayed at home throughout the bad weather.  That's Bobby on the left, taking up half the bed.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Jessie Colquhoun Honoured

Jessie Colquhoun has been honoured in the Queen's 2013 New Year Honours list for "services to Healthcare in Ardnamurchan, Argyll".  She becomes an MBE.

Jessie was a District Nurse serving West Ardnamurchan for some 36 years.  At one time, part of her duties was to deliver babies, so she was a trained midwife, but her work is probably most remembered for her calm efficiency in emergency situations, when she often had to care for a casualty for several hours before back-up arrived.

Jessie was to be retired in early 2011 - and she was not going to be replaced, leaving West Ardnamurchan without full nursing cover.  She agreed to stay on an extra year while consultations about replacing District Nurses continued, and finally retired at the beginning of this year.  However, shortly afterwards she became a founding member of the Scottish Ambulance Service's first Emergency Responder team - picture shows her in ER uniform.

Congratulations to Jessie on her richly deserved award.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Moon Dog

We're experiencing interestingly changeable weather.  This is the view on Boxing Day, from the hills to the east of Glendrian looking northwards, the landscape dominated by Sgurr na Gabhar, the rocky peak of the goat.  The bright weather was brought by a friendly northerly wind, always our best direction for fine weather.  Not that it was warm - the temperature at the time struggled to climb above 3C.

By yesterday the wind had swung round into the southeast, but the temperature, far from improving, seemed all the more bitter because of the rising wind.  For most of the morning the hills were obscured by low cloud but, with sleet falling at sea level, we were fully expecting to see snow on the hilltops.  The cloud finally lifted after lunch, and occasional breaks of watery sunshine followed.  This view looks across Kilchoan village to the forested slopes of Beinn nan Losgann, the hill of the frog....

....and this looks across the houses of Pier Road to the ridge called Beinn na h-Urchrach, the hill of the chase.

Overnight a moon working its way towards full, shining through ice crystals high in the atmosphere, created a ring sometimes called a moon dog - picture taken at about 11.00pm.  The Diary is still struggling with the wonders of the new camera, so the photo doesn't do justice to the moon dog, and certainly doesn't show the delicate rainbow colours in the halo which surrounded the moon itself.  Few stars were showing, even though the sky was clear of cloud, the only one visible in the photo being Jupiter, still standing in the constellation of Taurus.

Overnight it rained heavily, some 17mm in all, and the wind continued to work its way round and rise until, by morning, it was blowing a near gale from the southwest.  The forecast is for the wind to continue to build and swing westerly until, around midnight, we're expected to be enjoying a full gale.  We have a bit of a lull tomorrow lunchtime, after which the wind is working itself up into another full gale on Sunday.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Garden Birds

Along with other people in Kilchoan, who have reported the same, we seem to have had more small birds in our garden this autumn and winter than ever before.  The local sparrowhawk and the ravages of the weather have steadily reduced the number, but our cats, who used to prey on them even though they're already grossly overfed, have given up harrying them....

....until, a couple of evenings ago, the younger cat disgraced herself by killing one of our precious blue tits.

Counting the numbers of each species visiting us is very difficult, but we know that we have at least five blue tits left as we've seen that number all at the same time.  Yet, when they've finished at the peanut feeders, they seem to fly away to great distances so, despite their diminutive size, there must be blue tits coming in from miles around.

The stars of our bird population at present are the coal tits.  In previous winters, having just one around was cause for excitement, but this winter we have at least four.  They particularly favour the new sunflower seed dispenser - see earlier post here.  They're even smaller than the blue tits, who bully them, for example by chasing them off the feeders.

As always, we're not short of chaffinches: at last count there were over twenty-five at once, feeding on seed.  They're pushy and quarrelsome, but they're also far from bright, the males being even less intellectually gifted than the females.  If the character in this picture looks a bit dazed, he was: he'd just flown into a window and almost brained himself.

Sadly, some of our rarer visitors are missing.  In previous years we've always seen a few siskins, but this winter we haven't seen one.  Perhaps they've been put off by the number of birds milling around in the garden, and will come back when Nature has reduced the numbers further.

All the small birds give us great pleasure, but my favourite remains this one, the dunnock.  They're unassuming birds, minding their own business, and never quarrelling about anything.  They often feed off the bits that the others drop, so they're to be found busying around under the shrubs below the bird feeders.  They're also the friendliest birds, queuing up in an orderly fashion when seed is put out in the half-light of early morning.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Mountain: A Poem & Pictures for Christmas

Sitting on top of the mountain
monochrome sunbeams light the loch and distant hills
far below red deer roam
high above an eagle soars on the air
the raindrops wash my face
the wind speaks to my ears
one man listening to the heartbeat of the world

Poem & pictures from The Raptor, with many thanks.

Christmas Showers

The weather at early morning on Christmas Day set the pattern for the day - occasional sunshine with showers moving across us on a westerly breeze.

Looking across the Sound we could see sheets of rain marching across Morvern, some of them caught in the low-angled sunlight.  We walked down to the pub just before midday and, inevitably, it rained on us.

The weather has been warmer than it's been recently, which brought this small hedgehog out of hibernation - not a good idea as, although the temperatures during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were up around 8C, they plunged overnight last night, so that.... this morning the sky had cleared and the thermometer was showing 2C.  With the day starting much brighter, we walked to the village of Glendrian.  This picture looks across the township from the hills to its east.  The house in the foreground was the last to be abandoned, in about 1940.  The houses of Sanna can be seen in the distance and, to their left, the bulk of the hill called Meall Sanna.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Working Christmas

At 3.30 this afternoon, while we were doing battle with the Christmas turkey, the fish farm well boat  Ronja Skye, above, came up the Sound; and, about an hour later, in fading light, the Kingdom of Fife went down the Sound.  Seeing them in an otherwise empty sea reminded us that, for some, Christmas Day is a working day like any other.

So, a special Christmas greeting to all of you out there, wherever you are in the world, who have had to work this Christmas Day.

Happy Christmas!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Ships in the Sound

While we're incredibly lucky to live in a house that has a magnificent view across the Sound of Mull, enabling us to watch a steady parade of passing ships, it's always better to see them close-up.  Amazingly, one recent crossing at Corran - a mere three minutes - coincided with two ships passing.

This one is the Dependent.  She's a bit of a mystery.  Go onto the Ship Spotting website, here, and there's a picture of the Dependent, but scroll down and she's called the Fehn Sirius, registered in Antigua and Barbuda and owned and managed by the German Fehn company.  Check the company's website, here, and the Sirius is listed in the 4,000 - 4,500 dwt category - but in her picture she's blue.

The other ship passing that day was the Burhou I, an old friend from the Sound of Mull.

This is the 2,700 gt Kaami, a Norwegian ship registered in the Bahamas, seen from the more usual vantage point of Ormsaigbeg, as she passed Ardmore Point light.  Her design really is for a ship stripped to her bare essentials, functional but hardly an object of beauty.

This creel gear sitting sadly amongst the seaweed and other flotsam near Mingary castle belongs to the Macleans' Jacobite.  One of the 'events' this month in the Sound was the confrontation between the two MacLean boats and the Krossfjord - report here.  The Krossfjord was fishing for sprats but coming dangerously close to the Macleans' creels, to which the masters of the Jacobite and Dawn Treader quite justifiably took exception.

A few days later two other trawlers were in Loch Sunart fishing for sprats using a twin trawl - a trawl net strung between two boats, more information here - and they destroyed creel strings belonging to our two local fishermen.  Picture, taken in difficult light by one of our fishermen, shows the offending boats just before dawn on the 26th November....

 ....and this picture shows one of them as the trawlers hurriedly left the area a few hours later.

OB5 is the Oban-registered Ceol na Mara.  The Diary stands to be corrected, but understands that she was in Kilchoan Bay fishing - with creels - for squat lobster.  Just to her left is the new perch: those good people who spent so much of their time this summer putting it up will be pleased to see that it's still standing and hasn't, yet, been hit by a fishing boat.

The Royal Navy passed us the other day, in the form of M108, the Sandown Class minehunter HMS Grimby.  The Diary yearns to see something a little bigger and more vicious - like one of the new Type 45 destroyers and, in particular, HMS Defender since The Diary's grandfather's last ship was called Defender.  Maybe in 2013.....

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the photo of the spratters.

A Picture....

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Bobby, left, with his new lady.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Clearing Weather

The wind having been in the southeast for several days it made a change to wake up this morning to find that it had swung round into its more customary southwesterly direction.  By 9.30 it had picked up to force 6, obliging CalMac's Clansman to butt into a heavy sea when she came up the Sound.

With the change in wind direction came the rain.  Overnight we had about 15mm, which set all the burns running with water the colour of whisky.

The hills being saturated, this afternoon we walked along the coast below the house.  By this time the rain had stopped and there were signs that the weather might clear.  This view looks across from Ormsaigbeg to the coast of Mull....

 ....while this one looks back across Kilchoan Bay to Ben Hiant, with a moderate sea coming in.

One of the joys of this rocky coast, with its occasional bays backed by shingle beaches, is that there's always something happening along it.  This afternoon we had a passing visit from three otters who were spotted playing in the surf, before....

....they set about some serious crab fishing.  This one not only had to grapple with a very large crab but also had to get it ashore through the surf.  Many thanks to Ben McKeown for the otter pictures.

In one bay we made a discovery which took us back to the earliest days of our time on Ardnamurchan, when our favourite film was Local Hero.  In it, Fulton Mackay portrays Ben, an old man who lives on a remote Scottish beach which provides him with a living.  Unfortunately, an American oil company wants to buy it to build a refinery.  In one scene, Burt Lancaster comes to the beach to negotiate with Ben and is offered an orange which has washed up along the shore.  At last, we've found an orange.  Perhaps it was brought all the way across from the Caribbean by the North Atlantic Drift.

By three this afternoon the weather had cleared enough for the sun to come out behind Maol Buidhe and, although it was still early, paint the western sky in sunset colours.

There are more of Ben McKeown's photos here.