Thursday, 28 February 2013

High Pressure Weather

The atmospheric pressure here today has unusually high, at 1,043 millibars.  Such high pressure brought light winds and a typical west coast overcast - low cloud, mist and and occasional light drizzle - which only cleared towards evening.

This picture shows the top of Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse at around midday.  In the old days the foghorn would have been booming out, but today the point was silent and deserted, except for two people cleaning the copper and brass fitments on the three old diesel machines which used to pump the air which powered the foghorn.

Different Perspectives

The Diary is thrilled when people send in photographs of West Ardnamurchan which will give its readers pleasure.  These three come from Anne Jackson, whom we encountered at the top of Ben Hiant on Sunday.  She was out walking in the early morning yesterday when she took these pictures, the first a sea-level view looking across the Sound of Mull to Mull itself.

This one was taken from Ormsaigbeg at the moment of sunrise, and looks across the roof of Shore Cottage to Kilchoan Bay and the distant mountains of Morvern.

And this one is a view of the houses at the end of Ormsaigbeg, taken in the early morning as the full moon was setting.  As Anne put it, "This is what the other side of the world looks like".

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

An Unintended Summit - 2

We hadn't intended to climb Ben Hiant on Sunday (see earlier post here) but found ourselves working our way towards the top, encouraged by the brilliant weather.  Despite someone already occupying the summit, we walked up to it, to find that another Kilchoan resident, Anne Jackson, had beaten us to the top.  Anne is a keen walker and a member of the local Coastguard cliff rescue team.

She pointed out the summit of Ben Nevis, Scotland and the UK's highest mountain, away to the east of us.  It's the peak peeping up almost in the middle of this picture, with the heavy capping of snow.  The darker peak to the right is Ben Resipole.

To the north we looked down on Loch Mudle, and away across the sea to the snow-covered Cuillin Hills on Skye....

....and, a little further round to the east, Lochan a' Mhadhaid Riabhaich with the hills of Morar and Moidart in the distance.

Finally, turning to the west, we looked down on Kilchoan.  A small pond to the left, on the top of a nearby hill, was still frozen, and had snow on its icy surface, probably from a few minutes' drizzle the previous day, yet the temperature must have been well above zero. The island visible in the distance is Coll.

It had taken us three hours to reach the summit by our circuitous route, but we were able to use a far more direct route to come down the mountain.

This is the first time we have climbed Ben Hiant from the west side.  While it isn't as easy an approach as the eastern one, and longer, it's much more exciting.

An interactive map of the area is here.

An End of the Sunshine

It's not often that one can photograph the moment when the weather changes but this picture of this morning's sunrise shows the arrival of the blanket of cloud which is moving southwards down the west coast of Scotland.  By the time we set off for a walk at 9.00am, the sky was grey.

We've had over a week of almost non-stop fine weather, with sunny days and clear, frosty nights.  The sudden daytime warmth has left us with a legacy of the first spring flowers: this lesser celandine is one of several growing in a south-facing roadside ditch.

Unidentified Warship

A warship came into the Sound of Mull yesterday evening at 6.30, moving very slowly southwards with only her navigation lights showing.  The picture is very blurred, but she looks like one of the Royal Navy's Type 23 Duke Class frigates.  Can anyone confirm this?

Many thanks to Hughie for spotting her.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Dusk and Dawn

Late yesterday afternoon we walked along the edge of Kilchoan Bay at the end of another perfect day.  The flock of greylag geese which had been feeding all day in the Ormsaigbeg fields took off for its evening flight....

 ....before they came back to fly along the shoreline and then settle for the night.  They've been here all winter, though only recently in the Ormsaigbeg fields.  They're fine birds, and it seems mean not to welcome them through the cold weather, but the crofters have a different and very understandable perspective - see the Craigard croft blog here.

At high tide a buzzard sat on a gatepost on the edge of waters stained by a sun dipping below Maol Buidhe.

A few minutes later a full moon rose above Ben Hiant, almost exactly at the point where we stood on Sunday and looked back over the village.  As it rose the land became almost as brightly lit as under the sun.  High spring tides come in the days that follow a full moon.

Dawn came this morning with a red sky, perhaps a warning that the fine weather can't last for ever - but it's been another sparkling day.  When people meet in the village they stand around talking, wondering what we've done to deserve this weather.

Monday, 25 February 2013

An Unintended Summit - 1

We look at Ben Hiant almost every day.  It stands across Kilchoan Bay from where we live, and it's a constant presence, even on the occasional days when low mist or cloud obscures it.  Yet there are parts of it we have never visited.  So, yesterday, with the promise of another fine day - it's been fine for over a week now - we decided to walk to the twin peaks to the right of the main mountain - Stellachan Dubha and Sron Mhor -  following a route along the top of the steep cliffs on its southwestern side marked on the photo.

We left the car at the turn just before Caim, and followed the Ardnamurchan Estate track to a gate which allowed out through the deer fence onto the open hill.  As we climbed above the steep cliffs we looked directly down on the beaches we've often walked to the east of Mingary Castle (visible in this photo at the top).

There were plenty of red deer even on these steep slopes.  This small group of stags seemed very bothered by the fact that we were looking down a forty-five degree slope from above them....

...while a group of some thirty-five hinds fled up the slope to our left.

We finally reached the highest point of our planned route, on the ridge to the southwest of the Ben Hiant summit, obscured in this picture by the big lump of rock in the foreground.  A few thin clouds sat above the horizon inland, but otherwise the sky was wonderfully clear.

From here we looked down to Camas nan Geall, with the Ardslignish promontory just beyond it, and across Loch Sunart to the islands of Oronsay, Risga and Carna.  The shadowed hill to the right is Stellachan Dubha, one of our objectives.  But we kept looking to our left, up the slope towards Ben Hiant, until finally the temptation was too much, and we set off for the summit.

This is supposed to be February but, with hardly a breath of wind and the sun warm on our faces, it felt more like July.  Climbing the steeper slopes towards the summit we were reduced to wearing a single layer and carrying our excess clothing.  And the higher we climbed the more the whole world seemed to be laid out at our feet - in this picture, the curvature of the Earth is visible.

We were revelling in the lonely beauty of our surroundings when we rounded a shoulder of the hill and the summit came into sight - and someone was already there!

Tobermory Lifeboat Visits

The RNLI lifeboat based in Tobermory came in to Mingary Pier on Saturday to pick up the Pioner 10 which was washed up near the pier at the end of last year - see Diary post here.  The owner has been located - he lives in Tobermory.

Mingary Castle can be seen behind the lifeboats aerials, and Mingary House is to the left.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the picture

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Tonia Thain

Tonia Thain, who did so much to care for the local hedgehog population and was the subject of many Diary entries, died very suddenly on Saturday morning.

Tonia loved animals - she is seen here on the right being treated by West Ardnamurchan Emergency Responders after being bitten by an unappreciative horse - but she also had many friends in this community.  She worked as a carer for many years, and people will also remember her when she worked in the Ferry Stores.

The world is a much poorer place without her.  Our deepest sympathies go to husband Tony and daughter Selina.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Luck Strikes Twice

Sometimes, just sometimes, luck seems to less to smile on us than grin from ear to ear.  The other day we were making our way up a pretty burn on Ardnamurchan Estate land, well away from the road and from any chance of encountering other humans, when we spotted this fox.  He stood, looking at us as if to say, "What the heck are you doing here disturbing me?" while we stood and looked at him.  Very, very slowly, I got the camera out and snapped his portrait.

Two minutes later, as we climbed towards the top of the glen, we looked up and....

....saw this magnificent beast.  If ever an animal had attitude, this red deer stag had it.  He stared down his nose at us as, once again, hardly daring to move, the camera was retrieved from where it had just been re-stowed and, praying he wouldn't move, I slowly lifted it and added his portrait to that of the fox.  Then we stood and watched him in awe until, with immense dignity, he turned away and disappeared over the brow of the hill....  while we, equally slowly, exhaled a "Wow!" of wonder.

Friday, 22 February 2013

A Concrete Capping

Those of you who are familiar with the last few miles of the B8007 road in to Kilchoan will know this bridge.  It spans the Allt Rath a' Bheulain, a small burn which drains Beinn an Leathaid and Meall nan Con, and is near the corner of the forestry on Ardnamurchan Estate land at NM519658.  It's a concrete structure with a wall of local stone.  We've crossed it many times, but it wasn't until the other day that Dochie Cameron suggested we looked closer at the capping on the wall.

There's nothing particularly special about the capping, except that it seems odd to cap a stone wall with blocks of concrete when there's lots more nice stone lying around.  But behind such oddities there is always a story.

The concrete blocks, so Dochie tells, are enjoying a second life after once being part of.... a floating church.  Now there are many things in this world which float, but in general two things don't: churches and concrete.  Yet Dochie's story is true.

When, after 1843, the newly-established Free Church began to attract a congregation in Strontian, those good people went to their laird, Sir James Riddell, and asked him for some land on which they might build their church.  As a member of the Church of Scotland, he resisted, so they came up with an ingenious solution to their problem.  You've got it - they built a floating church out of concrete, which they anchored off Strontian.

A website giving the full remarkable story is here, but it goes on to tell how Sir James Riddell's mind was changed.  What it does not tell is the story of what happened to the remains of the floating church, which Highland Council used to on various structures along the B8007.

Sue and Dochie Cameron run Ockle Holidays.
Click here for details of their three letting houses.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Blue Skies

Since the weather broke on Sunday we've been plagued by a strong southeasterly which, with temperatures as low as zero this morning, is trying, but the air is so clear and fresh it's intoxicating, particularly for anyone who takes any pleasure in a camera.  The best day was Tuesday when the wind almost dropped away.  We walked in the hills to the northwest of Ben Hiant, wandering up the pretty glens which the burns have carved into the landscape, stopping to look back at the big sheds at Caim and the peak of Meall an Tarmachain.  Some people, it's rumoured, went to Sanna and swam.

After a perfect day the sunset colours were caught by the dead brown vegetation on Ben Hiant's slopes to turn the mountain into an ingot of copper.  It's noticeable that the winds fall away first thing in the morning and in the evening.  Walking back into the house from taking the picture.... idle shot of the gibbous moon came out remarkably well.  It's the best phase of the moon for seeing the craters which are emphasised by their shadows, while the bright side of the moon isn't so swamped with light that it drowns the dark mares, the lunar seas.

The wind was much fiercer again this morning, gusting across Lochan na Cannaig.  The crannog - if it is such - is under the area of darker bushes on the far side of the lochan.  A crannog is an island which was inhabited, perhaps fortified, and has been a feature of the Scottish scenery for many thousands of years.  There is no evidence that this really is a crannog: it's an example of another historic feature which is waiting to be investigated.

The Diary was out at the Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse this morning to assist in a project which should see the three big diesel pumps which once powered the foghorn returned to their former glory.  This view looks across to Bay McNeil and the bulk of Sgurr nam Meann.  As can be seen in all the photographs of the land, by this time of year the grass has died back to expose its rocky bones.

As we were leaving the SD Moorfowl rounded the point on her way to Oban.  The Isle of Muck is behind her and the mountains in the distant haze are on Rum.  Look carefully at the picture: there's one, just one very small cloud.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Breakfast for Wilfred

From Tony Thain:

In my last epistle to the Diary, I reported that we had gained the support of natural pest control in the form of Wilfred the Weasel. We really expected that he would have a session clearing the mice in the workshop and the hedgehog dormatory [aka the wash-up] and then move on, Not a bit of it! Wilfred seems to have decided that this is a good area to set down roots and he is a regular sight in and around the buildings. He has done such a good job that there appear to be no mice eating the hedgehogs' food.

For some considerable time I have had hoards of mice getting into my classic Ford Capri and as can be seen in the photo, the interior of the car has had mouse traps as an optional extra. Unfortunately, mice can do untold damage to the wiring of a car and in extreme cases can short the battery causing a fire; not good for the roast mouse but worse for the car; and before someone points it out the battery is disconnected!

A few days ago, during my morning check, I found a deceased mouse in a trap and was about to dispose of it when Wilfred was spotted under his favorite grating, getting quite excited. He was told to wait there while I placed the mouse right by the exit, close to Wilfred patiently waiting a few inches away. As I backed away Wilfred waited until he was told that he could have his breakfast and the mouse duly vanished with a very pleased Wilfred attached.

Wilfred now waits either in the Wash-up or under his grill for Tonia to sort out and clean the hedgehog's pens and any left over food is then given to him; he then waits until he is told that it is his! Very little food is eaten during the night, which is telling us that mice are rare in the buildings and that Wilfred will not touch the hedgehogs' food off his own bat. OK, so we are imbuing a wild animal with human traits; but it makes a good story!

As far as the hedgehogs go, I am sure that they are on a shift system as there always seem to be at least two awake at any one time, even though we give them a talking to, telling them that hedgehogs are supposed to hibernate. One, Sissie, has not been well and is at the moment enjoying the warmth of the heat lamp in the hedgehog shed, but she is getting better and starting to eat and put on weight.

Although we have not seen any hedgehogs out and about, we have had reports that smaller animals have been spotted looking for food. The slight increase in temperature may have caused last autumn's juveniles to wake up and look to put on more weight before going back to sleep.  So if anyone sees hedgehogs foraging in their gardens, please put out some food and fresh water.

Finally, this epidemic of bandaged fingers seems to be catching; first Tonia was bitten by a pony and now Angie John has been bitten by a vicious man hole cover! Get well soon!

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Suddenly it Might be Summer

Reluctantly, gradually, and then spectacularly, the weather has changed.  Almost as soon as we returned from our tramp up Hill 403 on Sunday, the sun broke through, and since then we've had cloudless days and increasingly cold nights.  This picture shows last night's sunset, seen from Kilchoan, the big lump of a hill on the right being Maol Buidhe at the end of Ormsaigbeg.

This superb picture of Sunday night's sky comes from Stewart Pote at Achnaha, and looks northwards towards the northern rim of the Ardnamurchan volcano, with the highest peaks Meall Clach an Daraich and Sgurr nan Gobhar.  We had a frost both Sunday night and this morning: this morning's left a white rime across the grass and heather, and the thermometer showing a low of -1C.

Both yesterday's and today's sunrises were spectacular.  This picture was taken at exactly 7.47 this morning, with the Raasay, the morning ferry from Tobermory, approaching Mingary Pier.  The wispy clouds soon dispersed, and we haven't see another all day.

Here's a bonus to go with the fine weather - the first goldfinch we've seen in weeks, his colours glowing in the early morning light.  We have plenty of small birds visiting us but a limited range of species.  Other people in the village have the siskins and greenfinches which usually flock around our bird table.

In anticipation of summer, the scallop boat Pegasus, OB216, which is based in Tobermory, was checking the moorings ready for summer.  West Ardnamurchan Jetty Association maintains four buoys in Kilchoan Bay for visitors' use.

Pegasus then moved out into the bay, sailing slowly across Caribbean-blue waters, and dropped her diver to do a bit of scallop collecting.  The diver's head can be seen in the water to the right of the boat.

Many thanks to Stewart Pote for the photograph.

That slime

There have been several suggestions as to the identity of the slime was that we found on our walk on Sunday - see post here.  Since the links are difficult to deal with in the Comments section, here they are:

Many thanks to Sheila, Alan and an anonymous commentator for their research.  While the old names include star jelly, astral jelly, and astromyxin, the favoured theory is that it is caused by cyanobacteria.  Whatever it is, it's very peculiar!

Monday, 18 February 2013

The Runes - a Mystery Solved

Trig point at summit of Beinn Bhreac
The solution to the rune mystery is deeply moving, and the Diary is very grateful to the runes' writer for contacting us after seeing the original blog, here, and agreeing to share what turns out to be a very personal story.  He writes,

"My father died in March 1986. That summer I made four or five trips up to Beinn Bhreac, armed with bolster, hammer and file. I chose a rock face tucked down below the cairn just so that it wouldn’t be immediately noticeable to walkers. I composed the inscription in Icelandic, also so that it would mean nothing to the average passer by.

Himinn og æfilegur steinn
haldi rúna þessa sem reist Dominic
í minningum föður hans Martins
traustur vinur og manna beztur
Kristur og Santa Maria hjálpi sál hans 

And then, to further obfuscate things, I set the whole text in runes, using Einar Haugen’s learned tome 'The Scandinavian Languages' as a guide. The Greek sigma appears to have been an S in a later development of the futhark.  For anyone who wishes to see the full set of characters, they're here.

The English translation is as follows:

May the heavens and eternal stone
protect these runes which Dominic cut
in memory of his father Martin
a loyal friend and the best of men
May Christ and St Mary help his soul."

The writer is the author Dominic Cooper, who lives on Ardnamurchan's beautiful north coast.  One of his book, Men at Axlir, is set in Iceland, and another is Dead of Winter.  Dominic's 'day job' is as a watch and clock maker and repairer. He can be contacted here.