Sunday, 31 March 2013

An Apology from The Raptor

From The Raptor:

Recently I was asked by my master to dictate a blog for him (here) and after he saw the entry he went mad, he flew in the air, hissed, clawed the settee, and sat with his back to me for most of that evening. I really couldn't see what I had done to make him behave like this, then he began to paw at his collar, which made me have a look at it, and I couldn't believe my eyes.  His tantrum was caused by the fact that in that last blog I had spelt his name HenDry and he was making the point that his name is HENRY, no D in it. So for that he requested extra food and more treats than normal, which I gave to him readily.

So I apologise to all his readers out there in blogger land for the confusion.

PS. He also asked me to publish a photo which made him look high and aloof, so I sat him on a post and took this one.

The Diary wishes to point out that Henry is no ordinary cat: he is reputed to own, as well as The Raptor, a good portion of Ardnamurchan Estate.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Easter Sunshine

The fine weather continues, with daytime highs of 8 to 9C and frosty nights.  This morning when we woke up there wasn't a single cloud in the sky - picture shows Lochan na Crannaig on the road to the Sonachan Hotel and Ardnamurchan Point Lighthouse, with a severely dehydrated Beinn ne h-Imeilte behind it.  Our lack of rainfall is shown in the figures - we've had 45mm in the last 45 days, that's a mean of 1mm per day - probably comparable to the Sahara.

For some of our local wildlife this is heaven.  A slight lack of rainfall doesn't worry the grey seals, but a daily dose of sunshine is just wonderful.  There are places around our coasts where you can always see a seal or two: these are in the wide bay to the north of Sanna, between the headlands Rubha an Duin Bhain and Rubha Carrach.

The cold-blooded fraternity are also beginning to appear.  This is a common lizard, but we're conscious when we're walking that, in the warm parts of the day, the first adders may be out and about.

In this fine weather, the early mornings are a great time to be out with a camera.  This fallow deer was seen near the Ardnamurchan Estate forestry beyond Caim.  She was with her young from last year, who didn't hang around to have a picture taken.

Some wildlife should be leaving us shortly.  Persistent readers with good memories will recall that we had an unusually large invasion of fieldfares and redwings back in October, blog entry here.  Some of the fieldfares and redwings stayed through the winter, and should soon be heading off north again.  The four redwings in this tree seemed sluggish and tired - this one was quite unwilling to move however close he was approached.

We still have a large flock of greylag geese around Ormsaigbeg, but they too should be heading away shortly.  This one was pictured beside the slipway near the Ferry Stores.

Meanwhile,  Yr.No, the best of the online forecasters, is promising us continuing fine weather until next Friday.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Deer Problems

The gamekeeper on Ardnamurchan Estate has appealed to everyone to cause as little disturbance as possible to the deer.  The continuing dry weather has meant that, while not starving, they are under considerable stress.


We walked from Achnaha to Ardnamurchan's north coast this morning in the company of Rob Gill, a local businessman who runs Geosec Slides, a company which cuts rock thin sections for mounting on slides - website here.  While our purpose was to look at some interesting geology in the area around Glendrian Caves, it was simply wonderful to be walking in such exceptional weather.  While the rest of the UK seems to be in the grip of winter, our days are sunny and clear, though the cold nights continue - yesterday midday the air temperature reached 9C, and plunged to -2C overnight, giving us a thick frost.

We walked across the flat land to the north of Achanaha, and then, faced by the line of hills formed by the great eucrite of the Ardnamurchan volcanic ring complex....

....found a gap which gave us out first view of the Lesser Isles - that's Muck and Rum in the distance.  The boulder in the gap may have some significance, as the nearest outcrop of the rock type of which it is formed, tonalite, is a mile or so away.  It may be that it was moved there by a glacier, but it may also have been placed by man as a land marker or to guard the gap.

Once through the hills we looked westwards to the white houses of Lower Sanna, and beyond to the island of Coll....

....and northwest to one of West Ardnamurchan's beautiful secluded beaches.

After completing our geological investigations - about which more in a later post - we retraced our steps, to find our route back to the car cut off by a muirburn.  This one was fully under control - so we were assured by those conducting it - and all the legal requirements had been met.  These controls are far from straightforward: this link gives some idea of the minefield of regulations which have to be obeyed.

In the end we simply walked through the area being burned.  The burn on this land isn't deep - despite the fact that we've had no significant rain for some six weeks, the peat here is sopping wet underfoot.

Meanwhile, the fire near Strontian continues to burn.  Kilchoan fire team were fighting it again yesterday afternoon, arriving home about 9.30pm, but they're been given today off.  Two helicopters have been brought in the bomb the worst areas with water.  Meanwhile fires have been raging at Arisaig and on the Sleat peninsula on the south side of Skye, that fire easily visible from the north coast.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Allt Fascadale - 1

We drove to Fascadale yesterday in beautifully sunny weather, with the intention of doing the walk along the coast from Fascadale westwards towards Sanna.  On our way we passed Achateny Cottage, one of Ardnamurchan Estate's letting houses.  The island of Eigg is seen behind it, while the distant snow-covered mountains are the Cullins on Skye.

The hinds seem to have disappeared from many of the places where they're most often to be found, such as in the upper valley of the Achateny Water below the Kilmory crossroads.  Many of them seem to have moved onto the flat land formed by the raised wave-cut platform between Achateny and Fascadale.  As can be seen, we were to have a day of wonderful views of the Lesser Isles.

Along the winding road that leads to Fascadale we found this little chap who seemed quite happy to sit on a strand of rusty barbed wire while he had his portrait taken out of the car window.  When he flew off he behaved just like a skylark, singing and flying with that species' characteristic, quivering, wings-half-outstretched flight, but in other ways he didn't resemble one.  Just look at the length of his toenails!

Fascadale was in bright sunshine and, protected from the chill southeasterly wind, surprisingly warm.  With a blue sky and calm blue sea, this could be a picture of the Greek islands in summer, one difference - other than the temperature - being that, except for an Estate worker returning in a tractor from feeding the cows, we didn't see a soul for the next three hours.

We left the car in the small car park at Fascadale, crossed the Allt Fascadale dry-shod - there's been so little rain that there's hardly any water in any of the local burns - and set off westwards.... except.... except....  one of the walks we'd never done was to follow the Allt Fascadale upstream, where it cuts a steep valley between the two northwest-southeast trending ridges of Meall nan Con and Cathair Mhic Dhiarmaid.

So we turned up the valley, walking at first along its upper shoulder but constantly stopping to look back across an azure sea to the islands of Eigg, Rum (along the horizon in this picture), Canna, Muck and the very distant Outer Hebrides.

An interactive map of the area is here.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Smokey Sunset

This evening's sunset, seen through smoke from the fire burning near Strontian.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the photograph.

Fire Risk High

We were walking at Fascadale today in bright, clear weather, and commenting on the tinder-dryness of the grass and heather - the colours and crunchy-brittleness of the vegetation reminded us of Africa in the dry season.  Only yesterday Hughie MacLachlan, a member of the Kilchoan fire team, was saying that the chances of a moor fire were extremely high.

The Kilchoan fire engine has just left the village with its siren wailing, and there's a pall of smoke across the sky to the east of us, beyond Ben Hiant.

Plover Heaven

From The Raptor:

I took a wee walk through Sanna on Sunday in a lessening but just as biting northeasterly wind.  The area was very quiet in the afternoon and the waves were peacefully lapping at the shore, not another human in sight.  I walked through Lower Sanna and onto the shore and the first Plover I came across was this wee beauty, the Ringed Plover.  There were a few of them in pairs readying themselves for the start of the mating season.

On the way back I took to the track at the far end of Upper Sanna and not to far from the car park I heard this strange call.  I knew it was a bird, I thought a Lapwing at first, but the call was not quite as excitable as the Lapwings.  Then, when I spotted the bird, I thought I was looking at quite large Thrushes at first, but a quick look with the binos told me it wasn't a Lapwing nor was it a large Thrush, but my first guess was that it was some sort of Plover.  The camera then took over and I managed to snap a couple of decent pics.

On returing home and checking the guides I came to the conclusion I had been looking at Golden Plovers, six males, all quite young or adults just coming into full summer plumage. This bird is resident around our coastal areas especially those with upland moors and peat bogs, although even though it is a wading bird it doesn't like getting its feet wet and usually stays on dry ground.  Our resident birds are joined in the latter part of the year by birds from Iceland and other northern areas who all move back north for the breeding season.  Some of our resident birds move further south for the breeding season then back here for the winter.  Scotland holds about 80% of the 15,000 breeding pairs which, according to the RSPB handbook (where most of my information came from), are an amber status bird.  I have never seen a Golden Plover here before so it would be good to know if they stay here during the breeding season - or were the birds I saw just some of those moving either North or South?

Then yesterday on a short visit to Achateny on work business I spied a group of eight Lapwings feeding in the silage field.  Lapwings are another sort of Plover, often called Peewits, but they're all the same family.  So, in the space of two days, I saw three returning Plover species arriving on the shores of Ardnamurchan.

Many thanks to The Raptor for words and pictures.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Air Activity

The skies have been busy over West Ardnamurchan today.  First we had an RAF Hercules C130 transport fly very low across Kilchoan.  It came up the Sound of Mull and then through the gap between Glas Bheinn and Druim na Gearr Leacainn.

Soon after we had three Eurofighter Typhoons chasing each other northwards.  Now that they're to be permanently based at RAF Lossiemouth, we can expect to see more of them, but this is at the expense of the new American F-35. The Ministry of Defence announced yesterday that the RAF's fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters will be operated from the Royal Air Force's Marham base in Norfolk, not Lossiemouth as promised.

Then, at lunchtime, a helicopter came over.  Other than that it seemed exceptionally noisy, there was nothing special about it....

....except that the miracles of computer enhancement enabled the picture to be 'blown-up' so that we could identify the helicopter from its number - G-PDGK.  It's an Aerospatiale AS-365N-2 Dauphin 2 belonging to PDG Helicopters, operating out of Inverness - more here.

To those readers living in cities such as London, where there's a flight passing over to land at Heathrow every minute, our fixation with the occasional stray aeroplane must seem strange.  But here, in the silence, they're so much more noticeable.

Loading a Coach onto a Ferry

The coach that came down to Kilchoan has aroused memories of a previous attempt to load a coach onto the small Tobermory ferry.

The ferry had to back away because the tide was going out.

Many thanks to Tony Swift for the pictures.

Pigs' Fame Spreads

Now we know why the coach came all the way out to Kilchoan.
Expect many more.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Unusual Traffic

Coaches are sufficiently unusual on our roads for The Diary to take this picture of one just after 11.00am this morning, turning into Pier Road.  The little Raasay was on the 11.35am ferry run to Tobermory.  Did they squeeze the coach aboard?

An Historic Wreck Site

A few hundred metres from Mingary Castle, just off the headland called Rubh' a' Mhile, lies a sunken 17th century ship.  Scottish Ministers now propose to designate the area, including part of the headland, as the 'Mingary Historic Marine Protection Area'.   The site of the wreck itself was discovered in 1999 and investigated by Wessex Archaeology - story here.  It was investigated in a TV 'Wreck Detectives' episode in 2003, and in 2007 it was designated under section 1 of the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.

A consultation paper has now been issued.  It describes the site's importance thus -

"The wrecked vessel is believed to relate to a wrecking incident that is recorded to have occurred during a siege of Mingary Castle by Archibald Campbell, 8th Earl of Argyll, in 1644. The remains of the vessel lie wrecked on or in the seabed at a depth of 8-11m below chart datum on the SE side of the rocky peninsular of Rubh’ a ‘Mhile, approximately 700m to the SE of Mingary Castle, Ardnamurchan.

"Relatively few wreck sites have survived in Scottish waters prior to the early 19th century, and well-preserved examples that have been investigated systematically by archaeologists are particularly rare across the UK. Survey work on the wreck off Mingary Castle has identified survival of a wide range of artefact types and as this site remains substantially undisturbed, it retains an inherent potential to make a very significant addition to our understanding of the past. In particular, this site is likely to preserve important information about the design and use of vessels during the 17th century. Our understanding of the significance of this site is further enhanced by its connections with important events in Scottish history, in particular conflicts between the anti-Campbell Highland clans and the Covenanters during the 1640s. In addition, the location of this site, close to Mingary Castle, the object of Argyll’s attack, and two other 17th-century historic wrecks, adds significantly to our understanding of the coastal landscape bordering the historically significant sea-route through the Sound of Mull, and the growing vulnerability of coastal castles to attack by seaborne artillery during the 17th century.

"As this marine historic asset is located within an area that is very popular for recreation and tourism (in particular sport diving), it is expected that designation will also help to promote the heritage value of the site, foster its understanding and enjoyment, and encourage responsible behaviour by divers and others."

The site which it is proposed to designate is in the area shown on this Google satellite image.  The boat is almost exactly above the wreck.  The wreck is already protected, so it is illegal to dive on it without prior permission.  HM Coastguard Kilchoan keep a watch on the site, and have reported divers to the police.

The consultation document, in .pdf format, is available here.  Comments need to be submitted by 14th June 2014.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Ormsaigbeg Happenings

This is the mucky weather we endured yesterday, with snow across Mull and Morvern but little here, even on top of Ben Hiant, except some flakes blowing in a force 7 wind.  The wind wasn't quite as keen as on Friday, but it was bitterly cold out.  The picture looks out across the Sound of Mull from Ormsaigbeg to Glengorm Castle.

It may be the cold weather driving them further afield to look for food, but we've seen two eagles in the last few days, one a golden eagle and this one, this morning, a mature sea eagle.  It came low across Trevor Potts' Ardnamurchan Campsite and settled on the small headland below our house before taking to the skies again and doing a sweep all along Ormsaigbeg.

The Diary had naively assumed that, since there continued to be two spotted pigs and a ginger one in Angus-John Cameron's enclosure, that it was the same three sows reported upon here.  Not a bit of it.  The ginger Portuairk-type Tamworth sow has gone, to be replaced by an....

....even more wicked-looking boar.  Look - he's got tusks!  The Diary's view is that this is probably a Portuairk-Tamworth-wild boar cross, entirely the wrong sort of animal to be living in a nice housing estate like Ormsaigbeg.  Imagine meeting him on a dark night!

He makes Bobby look positively friendly.

Community Garden's New Shop

From Dale Meegan:

The Community Garden opposite the Sonachan Hotel has a new shop, thanks to garden volunteers Richard and Alistair. Built in all weathers over several weeks, the roof finally went on in February and it is now open with the first produce of the year.

A more substantial structure than the old stall, with amazing views across to Canna, would-be shoppers can now shelter from the elements (or midges) and enjoy the view. Current produce includes leeks, spring greens, parsley, kale, and unusual salad!

For those wanting to grow their own vegetables in the excellent soil we have cultivated, there are outdoor raised beds and indoor beds in the poly-tunnel to rent. We will also shortly be starting up the vegetable bag scheme again: bags include the staple items of potatoes, carrots and onions supplemented with a variety of seasonal produce. Bags cost £10 or £15 and are available weekly or less often if you prefer.

The garden wouldn’t be the success it is without its band of volunteers who meet there every Wednesday afternoon from 2pm . There are plenty of tasks for anyone whatever their ability so come and join us.  For more details about the garden, see here, or for more information contact Ritchie at or Dale at

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Ships in the Sound

The Diary apologises profusely to those faithful followers of the 'Ships in the Sound' entries which are intended to be monthly - the last one went out as long ago as the end of January.  The intervening weeks have, however, been unusually quiet, despite two developments which should be bringing us more traffic.  The first is the opening of the timber loading facility at Fishnish on Mull, which results in our seeing more timber-carrying ships, such as the Fri Langesund, pictured above.

The second is the reopening of the silica sand quarry at Lochaline.  The Kine, shown above, is one ship which went down the Sound in the mucky weather of early February to load there.

The shape of cargo ships has become increasingly mundane as their role has become more specialised - no-one can call a ship which is nothing more than a long box with a point at one end, and a superstructure and propeller aft, beautiful, or even interesting.  The Bahamas-registered Kine seems even to lack the pride of a funnel.

However, the CSL Thames does almost look beautiful passing down the Sound in the bright light of a early March morning on her way to Glensanda quarry.

The Scot Ranger is as good-looking as modern bulk carriers get, although she's not helped by her entry on her owner's website, here, where she is described as a 'Box Shaped Singledecker'.

This is the Trans Dania which, while hardly lovely, is at least interesting.  She's a side-port pallet vessel which means she's loaded with cargo on pallets via two large doors in her side - there's a .pdf file here which has a picture showing how she is worked.

In contrast to so many cargo ships, there's nothing better-looking than a good, solid working boat.  The SD Moorfowl is frequently seen passing in the Sound, but this picture was taken from the vantage of Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse on a beautiful February day.

Fishing boats come in the category of working boats, and this picture of the Nicola Jane, OB 1043, was also taken from the lighthouse.  As recently as September 2011 she was registered in Newry as N5, under the same name.

CT77 is the Spaven Mor, registered in Castletown.  She's a scallop dredger, boats that don't attract a very positive press.  She was involved in an incident with the Port St Mary lifeboat station down in the Isle of Man some years ago, story here.

The Scottish Fisheries Protection ship Jura was in the Sound in early February.  We see one of the SFP's boats every few months, usually moving in a leisurely fashion, and certainly never stopping to check any of the fishing boats in the Sound.  Perhaps her presence is deterrent enough.