Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Archaeologists at Swordle

The Ardnamurchan Transitions Project archaeologists have spent the last two weeks working around the Swordle area.  Usually, it's three weeks, so they've had a busy time, but they have a lot to show for their efforts.

They've concentrated on two sites.  The above picture shows the excavation at Swordle Corrach.  In previous years they concentrated on the long-grass area to the right of the bothy, where they excavated several of mainly early 18th century houses.  This year they've been working along the low ridge beyond.

The dig has centred on a field cairn, a pile of stones thrown into one place as a field is cleared.  These cairns often conceal earlier man-made features, and this was the case here.  At left centre is a stone wall holding back an area, to the left, filled with smaller stones.  In front of archaeologist Ollie Harris (in yellow tabard, talking to Phil Richardson of Archaeology Scotland) is a small room in which it is possible someone lived, its extension to the right being formed of peat walls which may have been a byre for animals.  Living in this damp, cramped space must have been pretty grim, but it probably dates to the 18th century if not earlier - that are hoping to date it if they find artefacts when they excavate the floor tomorrow.

The main dig has been in the centre of the Swordle Huel clachan, concentrating on two sites: to the left is a well-built house, and to the right is a much more difficult to interpret building.

The fine stone walls of the house can be seen in this picture, with archaeologist Helena Gray from CFA Archaeology sitting beside them.  The wall running away from us is the gable end of the house - and it's unusual because there is a door in it.  The house goes away to the right, and to the left of the picture is a well-built stone wall whose purpose isn't clear.

At the opposite end is a well-constructed fireplace which, unlike those excavated last year at Swordle Corrach, has no sign of a metal grate.  To the right, outside the house, is a slightly curving stone wall which may be much older.  It could be the end of a previous house, perhaps the one that the landlord insisted was demolished at the beginning of the 19th century and replaced by an 'improved' building - shortly before he cleared the whole clachan.

The second excavation at Swordle Huel is the most intriguing of all.  It appears to be a long building - the wall at the far end is still covered with turf.  There's a very distinct stone wall to upper left with, perhaps, a curved stone wall at the near end.  But, to the right, a wall diverges at an angle from where one would expect the other wall to run.  The size of the building is also exciting: it's about 50% larger than a typical clachan building.  Hannah Cobb, who kindly gave her time to explaining the site, said that they wanted to concentrate on this next time they are up, which will be for a week in the coming winter.  They are expecting to spend three more seasons at Swordle - and, even then, they'll hardly have scratched the surface of this fascinating area.

The Ardnamurchan Transitions website is here.
Many thanks to the team for the Open Day last Sunday, and the talk on Monday.

Crowds at Sports Day

This picture, taken by Brian Culcheth, gives some idea of the number of people who came to the Kilchoan Show and Sports Day.  It shows the Tobermory ferry disgorging the crowds who had travelled across the Sound of Mull to enjoy a wonderful day out on a sunny July day.

Many thanks to Brian for the picture.
Brian has a letting house in Kilchoan, details here.

Evening Across the Sound

These pictures were taken yesterday evening looking down the Sound of Mull.  The first shows the view at eight o'clock, with storm clouds building and a shower moving across the water off Tobermory....

....while this shows the sky clearing at 9.20pm.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013


"I could have sworn MacColl told me that the Ellan Vannin ended here."

A reminder that Thursday and Friday of this week are West Ardnamurchan Regatta days, with yacht racing on the Thursday and yacht, rowing, kayak, powerboat and raft races on Friday.

The Ellan Vannin to which Richard O'Connor refers is the name of one of the yacht races.  Ellan Vannin is the Manx name for the Isle of Man.  The Mann flag features a three-legged symbol, and the Ellan Vannin race has three legs.

Many thanks to Richard O'Connor for photo and quote.

Flora of an Exposed Coastline

West Ardnamurchan doesn't boast many large, mature trees.  There are some within its townships, such as the sycamores along the drive of Meall mo Chridhe, and there are sycamores at Camas nan Geall, but these were probably planted and tended by humans rather than growing naturally.  Once out of the glens, trees of any sort are rare.

Along the shores around Camas Choire Mhuilinn to the east of Mingary Castle, there are some exceptions.  These fine trees are miles from any human habitation, yet they face almost straight into the prevailing, salt-laden winds, the soil can't be either particularly deep or rich, and they back up against a steep cliff.  But look carefully - there's a very old stone wall running diagonally up from the beach, so perhaps the people who built it had something to do with their nurture.

Just along the shore from them there's a mature oak - the bracken in front of it gives some sense of scale.  It's just as exposed, just as taxed as the other trees, yet it has grown asymmetrically, as if bent over by the winds.  From seeing the effect of local gales, we now know that this asymmetry is caused by the burning and killing of the leaves on the upwind side.

Some plants manage to grow, and even thrive, in the most unlikely of places.  This skullcap, Scutellaria galericulata, wasn't alone in growing in amongst the cobbles at the top of the beach.  It's usually found in marshy, damp places, but in this part of the Highlands it's common along beaches.

This plant should be in someone's garden rather than on a marshy section of beach, just above the high-tide mark.  It's sea aster, Aster tripolium, and it thrives on Scotland's beaches and salt marshes.

Bell heather is a tough plant, growing on some of the rocky headlands that cut up this section of coast.  This picture looks across the bay called Camas nan Clacha' Mora to Maclean's Nose.

All these pictures were taken along the section of shoreline to the east of Mingary Castle in July.  There's a map of the area here.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Bobby's Piggish Behaviour

Bobby and Betsy always used to share a trough quite happily.  Hughie came along Ormsaigbeg each morning to feed them - and quite a feast it is - and the two pigs would spend the next half-hour or so munching away contentedly together.  Then something happened....

 ....which cause Bobby to turn quite nasty at mealtimes.  For the last week or so, every time Betsy has come along to share the trough, he snorts at her and pushes her away, very unpleasantly.

Poor Betsy hangs around disconsolately, watching as Bobby eats all the best parts of the menu.  He does let her in for a minute or two when he's finished, but then he comes back, chases her away and, although he's obviously bursting at the seams, tries to eat what's left.

What must be so horrible for Betsy is that Bobby is quite happy to share his meal with a wagtail (arrowed), which comes along each morning and sits on the edge of the trough, jumping in to pick the choicest morsels.

The only possible explanation for this uncouth behaviour is that Bobby is getting far too fat and, the fatter he gets, the hungrier he gets.  Yet Betsy's the one that needs the nourishment - she's eating for twelve or more.

When this piggish behaviour was pointed out to pig breeder Hughie MacLachlan, he was genuinely shocked.  Because, you see, Bobby really was quite clever: he never chased Betsy away until after Hughie had left.

So Hughie stayed on for a few minutes and Bobby, unable to control his base instincts, chased Betsy away.  Now Betsy gets her meal separately, but Bobby pushes her off whichever meal is the better.

They really ought to be separated, but pigs pine if they're lonely, so Betsy, like so many wives, puts up with her husband's churlishness.

Iron Arrowhead Found at Mingary Castle

For full story of this exciting find, go to the Mingary Castle blog, here.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

A Danger Below the Surface

For a moment as we paddled past it looked like seaweed floating just beneath the surface, but a second glance told us it was a jellyfish, one of the largest we've seen in some time.  We circled back warily, looking for it amongst the reflections of a calm sea, watching that we didn't pick up any of its tentacles on a paddle - people have been stung when the movement of the paddle slides the stinging tendrils down onto their hands.

It was one of the largest Lion's Mane jellyfish we'd seen in some time, some 18" across the bell, and with a mass of orange-brown arms below.  Below the arms were the thin and much lighter-coloured tentacles, which disappeared away into the depths - these can be several feet long.

Our family swims regularly off the beaches along Ormsaigbeg, and seeing this monster won't change that - but it does make us more aware that we need to look out for them, and be ready in case someone is stung.  The NHS (here) advises, You can treat most jellyfish stings yourself. However, dial 999 to request an ambulance if there are severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, chest pain or if a large or sensitive area of the body (face, genitals) has been stung.

If someone has been stung by a jellyfish, remove any remaining tentacles with tweezers or a clean stick (wear gloves if they are available).

The affected area should be soaked in vinegar for between 15 to 30 minutes to prevent further toxins from being released. If vinegar is not available, rinse the area with alcohol or seawater (not fresh cold or hot water). Do not rub the area or apply ice. You should also ignore any advice that you may have heard about using urine because it is unlikely to help and in most cases it may make the situation worse.

Apply shaving cream to the affected area and use a razor blade or credit card to remove any nematocysts (small poisonous sacs) that are stuck to the skin.

On the matter of emergency treatment, the Diary would like to draw attention to a very warm "Thank You!" from Sheila Goodall addressed to those who helped her when she fell on the Ormsaigbeg shore last Thursday - read it here.

Kilchoan FC v Mull Thistle FC

Match Report from Louis MacKenzie

In yesterday's game, Kilchoan were hoping to win a victory against Mull Thistle to help them get over the disappointment of losing 2-1 to Coll.  They started well, winning some dangerous free kicks, but could not take advantage.  In the seventh minute Mull could have taken the lead but a good save by Kilchoan keeper Justin kept the score level.

Most of Mull's play was coming down their right, but Kilchoan quickly picked up on this.  Even twenty minutes in it was still hard to tell which side would score first, with chances at either end.  But, twenty-two minutes in, Mull took the lead when a Kilchoan defender tried to jockey his opponent away from the ball.  The Mull player managed to cross the ball, which only needed a tap in.

The game continued to flow either way but, just when Kilchoan thought they could get to half time at 0-1, Mull scored again.  A ball came over the top of the Kilchoan defence and their attacker smacked it through the keeper's legs.

Kilchoan kicked off the second half and very nearly got back into the game with a strong attack forcing the Mull keeper to put the ball round the post.  Mull continued to attack, and in the 59th minute it could have been 3-0 but the Mull player mis-timed his run and was flagged offside.

The introduction of Fergus O'Hanlon for Kilchoan was positive; with his strength and pace he nearly scored but the shot went wide.  With 11 minutes to go, and Kilchoan weakened by loss of veterans Gordon MacKenzie and Gus MacLean, Mull scored their third, when a good save by Justin rebounded and was tapped in.  A minute later Mull scored again, and then heaped on more misery when their number 10 outpaced Kilchoan's defence and scored.  So the game ended Kilchoan 0, Mull 5.

Early on the game could have gone either way, and even when 0-2 down Kilchoan could still have got back, but Mull were the fitter and better-organised team, and deserved the result.

Many thanks to David MacGillivray and Shiel Buses for the match ball.
Match reporter Louis is a student at Ardnamurchan High School.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

A Summer's View

The view looking from Kilchoan across Kilchoan Bay to Ormsaigbeg.  The Ferry Stores, Kilchoan's only shop, is to the right of the buildings, with the jetty at centre.  Beyond and to the left are the houses of Ormsaigbeg and, above them, the ridge called Druim na Gearr Leacainn.

Kilchoan Pram Race

This year's Kilchoan Pram Race was split into two sections, Junior and Senior.  The course for the Junior event ran from the Ferry Stores to the Kilchoan Hotel, and there were three entrants.  Alastair Peterson and Isla Ip were the winners....

 ....but Megan Curtis and Holly Cameron's machine stole the show - pictured are Megan and Emma MacLachlan, who lent a hand.

Where the children lead, the parents follow.  Here are Megan and Emma's mums in the Senior race showing what they can do but, as one of them admitted at the finish, "I'm getting too old for this."  She says this every year and never seems to learn.  The big wheels should have given Rosie Curtis and Morven MacLachlan a huge technical advantage but, if they failed to make the medals, they did win 'Best Pram'.

The senior event ran from the top of Ormsaigbeg to the hotel.  It was, once again, a hard-fought contest between a number of extremely fit participants.  Justin Cameron has been running up and down Ben Hiant for weeks to get in training, and certainly looked stripped for action in his very fetching pixie green leggings.  His passenger is Sine Kidd and, together, they won 'Best Fancy Dress'.

Probably the favourites in the field were Claire Burnet and Becca Deboys from the Kilchoan Hotel.  They were supposed to come in first so they could be ready at the bar to serve the other exhausted competitors, but something went badly wrong early in their run, resulting in their coming in seventh in a time of nearly twenty minutes.  At one point they were offered a lift in a motor vehicle, and it is much to their credit that they turned the offer down.

Photo: Ricky Clark
The British army were represented by SAS veterans Nick Taylor and Will Kelly.  Fortunately, their plan to eliminate all other competitors using the missile launcher fitted to the back of their all-terrain vehicle failed when it misfired, meaning they were forced to complete the whole event the hard way, finding the last hill up to the finishing line extremely heavy going.

Some imaginatively constructed vehicles were entered for this year's competition, and full marks to the Gane clan for their two entries.  Lauren and Angus came a well-deserved third in the flower-powered "Mystery Machine"....

 ....while Katie Gane and Grant Cameron came second in their Ferrari-red "WAL1".

Photo: Ricky Clark
The winners of the Senior event were Cheyenne Cameron and Ben White who completed the course in nine minutes exactly.  They received the prestigious Kilchoan Jetty Pram Race shield, a reminder that all proceeds from this charity race go to maintaining the jetty below the Ferry Stores.

Due to a slight logistical hitch, the annual tee shirts arrived late for the event.  The organisers would like to remind participants that they are each entitled to a free shirt, and that others who would like one can purchase them from Dr Tony Kidd for the startlingly small sum of £5.

Many thanks to Ricky Clark for some of the photos.

Friday, 26 July 2013

High Tide, Flat Calm

The morning started with a dull drizzle, but we were out on the water at nine to catch the high tide and enjoy a mirror-calm sea.  For the younger member of the party, the launch started at the top of the shingle beach....

....and ended with a slightly disappointing splash, the speed limited by the height of the tide.  It's just as well we have plastic kayaks: as well as giving them this sort of treatment, half the fun of paddling around in flat calm is crunching into rocks.

The main purpose of the expedition was to get some training for next Friday's regatta.  We've been kindly lent a double kayak, so might have a go in the mixed doubles.  This will be quite an occasion as, if it happens, it will be the Diary's first regatta race.

Along the coast we saw a fish box washed up on the beach.  We feel a bit bad about taking them home as they're someone's property, but the bottom of this one was stove in, so had obviously been thrown overboard for this reason.  A quick repair will make it a useful planter for mixed salad leaves.
From the sea we looked up to the new house at the end of Ormsaigbeg which is nearing completion.  It's a big house, but the wood cladding brings it in to proportion.  To the right is the croft house, Lag na Leon.


I'm beautiful.  Definitely.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Emergency Responders 'Permanent'

Some of us remember all too well the fact that, when a group of campaigners travelled to Holyrood back in February 2012 to meet with Nicola Sturgeon, the then Secretary for Health & Wellbeing, we had absolutely no emergency medical cover on West Ardnamurchan.  The nearest help was the Strontian ambulance, over an hour away.

As a result of that lobby, the Scottish Ambulance Service set up our Emergency Responder unit, but on a temporary basis.  Yesterday, David Garbutt, Chairman of the Scottish Ambulance Service, came to Kilchoan to announce that the scheme would now be PERMANENT.  'Permanent' is a strong word, but it's both welcome and logical.  It's welcome because the four good people who have carried the service forward - Jessie, Sam, Maggie and Karen - have worked incredibly hard to make it a resounding success - witness the events on the Ormsaigbeg beach earlier today, and some forty other successful call-outs.  It's logical because the SAS have acknowledged that it is a so good that it should be a template for other remote, rural communities.

Mr Garbutt also announced that the evaluation of the service, something we have been pressing for, will now be both active and ongoing.

As if this weren't enough, he also launched the telehealth pilot in Kilchoan.  The dedicated satellite unit now working in the Kilchoan Learning Centre will, as of 1st August, be used in emergencies to connect the Emergency Responders and their patients to A&E specialists who will be able to advise them.  This is welcome because ongoing evaluation has already shown that some 40% of the casualties sent down the road to the Belford could have been dealt with locally.  The pilot won't deal with children, yet, but, from what our representatives have seen of its capabilities, it looks good, and may have many other uses, for example in general practice medicine.

We have come a long, long way since the low point of February 2012.  David Garbutt acknowledged the fighting spirit of this small community when he met with West Ardnamurchan Community Council chairman Rosie Curtis and secretary Jac Crosbie.  But let us make no mistake: any campaign, particularly one as long and complex as this one, needs leaders, and the people of West Ardnamurchan are fortunate in having two young ladies who's fighting spirit and hard work has led us through some dark, depressing times.   Thank you, Rosie and Jac.

Shoreline Accident

One of the great joys of living in a beautiful place like this is our freedom to walk across miles of moorland and along stunning coastline whenever we feel like it - and that includes in weather that isn't always perfect.  This pleasure is balanced by a healthy awareness that, should we fall, retrieving us wouldn't always be easy, so we walk with a map, first aid kit and mobile phone.  We've been fortunate: in seventeen years of walking West Ardnamurchan we've only suffered two injuries that have required professional attention, and both times the 'wounded' walked back to obtain treatment.

Today a visitor wasn't as lucky.  It had rained during the day so the rocks along the Ormsaigbeg shoreline were slippery, but this wouldn't be cause to deter a walker.  Her injuries were such that she had to call for help, and our local Emergency Responders were with her in minutes, followed by Kilchoan Coastguard and the Strontian ambulance.  While the ambulances had to park on the road, the Coastguard pickup was able to get to within a few metres of her.

She fell on some rocks we've crossed a hundred times, and we are aware that they're nasty, but this is not a dangerous section of beach.  She had gone there because a report was circulating in the campsite that an otter was swimming in the bay.

This picture shows the casualty being transferred to a stretcher before being carried to the ambulance.

I'm sure the visitor feels dreadful about having caused so much trouble - there are seven members of the emergency services in this picture - but she should be assured that not one of them would begrudge her the pleasure of walking along Ardnamurchan's stunning coastlines.  On the contrary, they would argue that they do their jobs with pride, so that people can enjoy themselves knowing that, if an accident does happen, they will be retrieved as quickly and efficiently as possible.