Saturday, 31 August 2013

Crofting's Highs and Lows

The west coast of Scotland isn't an easy place to farm, and our local crofters have to work hard to win a living.  What can be done is well illustrated by Sue Cheadle, whose croft at Sanna is now producing.... grapes.  Let's hope that, very soon, we'll be seeing Chateau Sanna on the supermarket shelves.

The job's hard enough without it also being heartbreaking.  This is.... was.... one of this year's ewe lambs, future breeding stock at Ockle, which an uncontrolled dog savaged so badly on Friday that it had to be put down.  Crofters have the right to shoot dogs which are caught attacking their stock but they don't because, like the dog's irresponsible owner, they love their animals.

Antarctic Boat's Next Journey

Back in 1993/94 Trevor Potts, who runs the Ardnamurchan Campsite, sailed from Elephant Island in the Antarctic to follow Ernest Shackelton's epic 800-mile voyage to South Georgia.  Trevor raised the money for the boat he and his three companions used, which he called the Sir Ernest Shackleton.  She is now promised to the Scott Polar Research Institute's Polar Museum in Cambridge, so Trevor is carrying out some maintenance before she leaves.

The trailer on which she has spent recent winters had collapsed under her, so when worked started yesterday afternoon the first job was to remove it and position the boat so she was easily accessible.  Stage one was for Hughie MacLachlan operating a JCB to lift her while Trevor used his van to pull out the old trailer.  Looking at it, it's a miracle the boat has stayed upright.

While Hughie held the boat in position, Rob Bolton set about removing the two keels which Trevor had fitted when the Sir Ernest Shackleton was operating in local waters.

These both gave her better handling and enabled her to sit upright on the mud at low tide.

A plank, supported on four sets of breezeblocks, was then placed under the length of her keel, and the boat lowered so she rested on it.  Four pinewood props were then placed to hold her upright before the strops were removed.

 Hughie's only problem then was getting the JCB out without knocking the boat over.

With the boat stable, The Diary had the privilege of being invited on board.  Trevor and his three companions crossed some of the wildest waters of the world using only sails and oars. They carried no engine, life raft, or emergency radio beacon, and they had no escort craft.

This is a view into the accommodation area. The circular hole in the floor is where the gas stove was fitted. It's certainly an extremely confined space in which four people had to survive during the fourteen days the voyage took them, particularly as they encountered four full gales, one of which was a severe storm force 10.

It's hoped to have the Sir Ernest Shackleton on her way to Cambridge in the new year.


Dawn this morning, 6.45am, with the sun rising over Beinn na h-Urchrach, the ridge that runs just to the north of Ben Hiant.  The seasons are moving on - in a few days it'll be rising over Ben Hiant itself.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Wildlife at Sanna

Can anyone identify this wildflower, which we found growing near the car park at Sanna yesterday?  We think it may be one of the mints but failed to pinch a leaf and smell it when we had the chance.

It was good to see a large flock of these small birds near the Sanna burn.  Being no great expert on birds we consulted The Raptor who thinks they are juvenile twites.

New Ormsaigbeg House

Kenny MacDonald, whose building company S&K MacDonald Homes is based at Mingarry, the other side of Acharacle, is close to handing over the latest new house to be built along the Ormsaigbeg road.  It's a three-bedroom house with open-plan ground floor, but the main difference with this build will be its high energy-efficiency rating.  With ground-source heating, solar hot water and photovoltaic panels, recycling of internal heat and use of rainwater collected from the roof, it promises to be one of the most eco-friendly houses in the Highlands.
Ground was broken at the beginning of September last year.  The site is tucked into a fold in the hillside facing southeast across the Sound of Mull towards Morvern.  Its position means that the house will be protected from the worst of the southwesterly gales while benefitting from its southerly aspect.

This picture was taken a week ago, with the work almost complete.  As with all builds, there's still plenty of snagging to do, but Kenny seems cheerful enough - and, from a recent conversation, is very proud of his house.

This view shows the house from the sea, which is a couple of hundred yards away.  Behind it rises the lower hills of the ridge called Druim na Gearr Leacainn and the Ormsaigbeg common grazings, which stretch for miles without a fence.  So this will be a wonderful home for anyone who enjoys swimming, boating or walking across Ardnamurchan's beautiful hills.

Kenny's company website is here.

Thursday, 29 August 2013


Oh dear!  We did make our new neighbour very welcome, but it was on the understanding that he was alone.  Now we find he has a partner.

We're very proud of our vegetable garden.  All that stands between it and potential disaster are two rather decrepit cats.

Cannonball Found Embedded in Mingary Castle Wall

Stephen Holmes, one of the scaffolders working at Mingary Castle, found a cannonball embedded in the castle walls on Tuesday.  Read about it on the Mingary Castle blog here.

More Training

With the day starting drizzly, and the hilltops again lost in mist, we started at Sanna for the second of Rachael's Nepal training walks, planning to visit the beaches around the abandoned village of Plocaig.  Georgina Smith, one time Greenham Common protester, has her banners out near Sanna car park for everyone to read, a bit of intellectual stimulus before we began the physical slog.

Photo: Rachael Haylett
To get our blood pumping, we started by climbing one of the hills to the north of the village, from where Rachael's sharp eyes spotted something dark moving in the distant sea.  Realising what it was, we ran down to the point at Rubha an Duin Bhain to watch two basking sharks working their way westwards along the coast, one of them....

....coming in quite close to the shore.  It's been some time since we saw any of these magnificent beasts round our side of the peninsula.  If they come close to the bay below our house, we rush down to the kayaks and paddle out to them.

For most of our walk it didn't rain - much - but it came on as we walked through the village of Plocaig, now a home for sheep.  The picture shows the last of the houses to be inhabited and, in the distance, Meall Sanna.

To the northeast of Plocaig there's a wide bay, at the back of which lie a series of fine, sandy beaches, each in its own private bay.  The tide was coming in, so little sand was exposed but.... one place we found the tracks of either an otter or a mink.  The lack of clear sign of the webs between the toes suggest it's most likely to be a mink, but we have seen otters on these beaches in the past.

Along one section of the tracks the animal seems to be jumping, with all four paws hitting the ground together.  The boot gives a scale, so the animal was leaping about 75cm.

We made our way back to the car by heading south towards the Allt Sanna and following it downstream.  This is the old bridge across the burn, just as the stream reaches Sanna township.

A map of the area is here.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Wind Surf in the Sound

Many thanks to Interested Bystander and Kilchoan Early Bird for alerting the Diary to an unusual cruise ship which came along the north coast of Ardnamurchan this evening.  The Wind Surf rounded Ardnamurchan Point before turning into the Sound of Mull - picture shows her as she came into view behind Sron Bheag.

Wind Surf is one of Windstar Cruises' ships - see their website here - carrying 310 passengers in some luxury.  One of her selling points is that she has sails, but none of them was unfurled as she rounded Ardnamurchan Point.  She then headed across the Sound.  Ardmore Point light is at left in this picture, with the telecommunications masts on Glengorm at top right.
To our surprise, she headed straight in to Tobermory Bay.  The cruise ship Discovery had been patiently anchored off the port all day, ferrying her passengers back and forth.  But Wind Surf spent only about half an hour in Tobermory before she came out again, now under sail, heading for Portrush.

A New Neighbour

It's very exciting - we have a new neighbour.  We knew he was considering moving in next door as we saw him looking over the place a few weeks ago, but now it's official.  He introduced himself today.  His name is Warren.

He says the facilities in his new property are superb particularly as, every couple of weeks, Nan MacLachlan comes and mows the lawn, at no cost to himself.  There are occasional irritations through the house being a letting house, like when people park their cars on his breakfast table, and he's not looking forward to one of them bringing a dog with them, but, in general, he's very happy.

An Otter in Port na Luinge

If we only want to kayak a short distance but we're looking for marine life, the area around Port na Luinge, the port of the ship, is an ideal place to go.

But Sunday's trip produced a very special sighting as we rounded the southern tip of Glas Eilean - an otter who seemed not to have seen us even though he had surfaced within five metres of the kayaks.  In fact, he came up twice more before he suddenly realised there was something wrong, and then he did what otters are so adept at doing: he simply disappeared.

We've had close encounters with otters before.  Their eyesight when they're on the surface is poor so, as long as we don't move, they don't seem to see us, however bright the colour of our boats; and, when they dive, we can use the paddles to move, as long as we do it slowly.

There are always grey seals in the bay, sometimes as many as forty or fifty.  On a fine day they're lying on one of the small islets off Port na Luinge, and reluctantly take to the water when we approach.  For as long as we're around two or three of them keep watch on us.

For an hour or so either side of high tide it's possible to kayak between Glas Eilean and the mainland.  On Sunday we found three big lion's mane jellyfish sheltering in the gap but when we returned to take some pictures they had disappeared.  They obviously have some control of where they go, and it may be that they took off after one of them was inadvertently hit by one of the kayaks.

It's a wonderful time of year to be out paddling on a sunny day, with the water like glass and the hills on fire with the flowering of the heather.

An interactive version of the map is here.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013


As soon as we were home from our walk this morning, the sun came out, the temperature soared to 20C, and the butterflies came charging out from their hiding places.  This is a peacock, basking in the sunshine.

Training Day

Our daughter Rachael has been working long hours in the local shop to earn enough for a holiday - two months trekking in Nepal.  With a free morning, and the date of departure approaching, she felt she ought to start getting into training for her assaults on Everest, K1 and Annapurna, so we decided to take a walk.... and the Highland weather, appreciating that she needed something Nepalese, duly obliged.

Rachael loaded her rucksack with unnecessary gear, and we set off up the ridge at the back of the house.  The higher we climbed....

....the thicker the weather became, the more the drizzle turned into even wetter drizzle, and the more the wind rose and blew it into our faces.

Our only companions on the hill were the scattered members of a flock of blackface sheep, who thought we were quite mad....

 ....plenty of fat, black slugs, and....

 ....a happy toad who was enjoying both the weather and the slugs.

Our objective was a rock at the western end of Druim na Gearr Leacainn.  It's a little special as it's formed of granite, a rock that doesn't occur locally, so it's a glacial erratic.  It seemed an appropriate seat for a very wet portrait.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Warm Weather

In yesterday's fine weather this green crab, commonly called a 'shore crab', took his name literally by taking a walk across the grass by the Kilchoan slipway.  Kilchoan Early Bird, who took the picture, suggests that he may in fact have been dropped by a seagull or a child out crabbing.

Near Achnaha, the warm weather - the midday temperature reached 23C - drove these thirteen cows to leave the fields to take a communal dip in a pool of water.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the pictures.

A Damp Walk

No-one can ever accuse the weather here of being monotonous.  After the beautiful, sunny day we had yesterday, we were forecast a cloudy but dry day today - but the 'dry' bit didn't look too likely as we drove up the road out of the village, and looked across the valley towards the lower slopes of Ben Hiant.

We parked near Loch Mudle and walked south, climbing into the open, rolling countryside that rises towards Ben Hiant and Beinn na h-Urchrach. This view looks back towards Loch Mudle and one of the Estate's deer-shooting hides, while....

....this looks in the direction we were heading, at Beinn na h-Urchrach, its summit wreathed in low cloud.  By that time it had started raining, a drizzle so thin that it didn't require a waterproof.

This is usually a good area for inspecting Ardnamurchan Estate's red deer population, but most of them had obviously decided that the best place to spend the day was in the forestry, so the only deer we saw were these two young stags, their antlers still covered in velvet.

But there are always plenty of other things to look at, in this case a small but very smart green caterpillar enjoying a meal on a devil's bit scabeus flower.

We climbed until we were almost into the low cloud, and then turned and walked west along the contour, crossing some of the burns that drain the lower slopes.

There's a good choice of pretty spots for a picnic, but at this time of year picnics are popular with....

....the local midge population.  As long as we kept going they didn't bother us, but they arrived in hoards the minute we stopped.  A warm, still, slightly damp day is their idea of perfect weather.

We were out for a couple of hours.  As we walked back towards the car the two stags reappeared and watched us until we were safely out of their territory.

A map of the area is here.