Thursday, 31 October 2013

An Aurora

There was an aurora last night but, as must be obvious from the picture of this morning's waning crescent moon, I failed to get a photo of it.  We were out in the hours before midnight, following an alert from AuroraWatch, a phone call from Tony Swift at Branault, and a text from Ewan Miles on Mull - to both of whom many thanks.  We took up position on the road just this side of Sanna, where there's a wide view across the Minches to the Inner Isles.

The aurora was there all right, glowing green above a persistent bank of clouds, but not good enough for the limited capabilities of my camera to capture.  In all, it lasted for some seven hours.  Elsewhere in Scotland, people had better luck with the conditions: see the AuroraWatch Flickr Group pictures here.

There's plenty of sunspot activity at the moment, and some indications that there may be a better display during the next 24 hours.

Ewan Miles' blog is here.

Community Garden Feast

 These pictures from Anna Wright are a testament to the success of the West Ardnamurchan Community Garden.  Their current produce includes timely pumpkins....


 ....beans of different varieties....

 ....varieties of lettuce....


....and carrots.

Join Anna and the other gardeners at their annual Community Garden Harvest Feast this Friday at 7.30pm at The Sonachan Hotel. All are welcome, children are free of charge, and adults £15. The evening will include a three course meal made from local produce, a prize draw, disco dancing, local live music and a family friendly quiz. For more information check out the Community Garden facebook page here

Tickets for the event can be purchased at The Ferry Stores, Sonachan Hotel and the Gadren Stall, or email

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Treasure Hunt

We have the Suffolk branch of our family up here at the moment and, every time they visit, we go on a treasure hunt to a secret location to the north of Sanna.  This is serious work: the fact that there was a force 5 blowing, carrying with it raindrops as cold and hard as bullets, did not deter.  Mind you, on the outward journey we did have the wind behind us.

This is the secret destination, a lonely beach at low tide exposing sand which has to be sifted grain by grain for its treasure....

 ....which involves sitting or squatting with ones nose as close to the ground as possible, ignoring the wind which, by this time, had risen to force 6, and the rain which, somehow, seemed even colder, wetter and more beastly.

Job done, fingers frozen, the journey back to the car was even more unpleasant, with the wind now touching force 7 and gusting to gale 8, hurling icy canonballs of rain straight into our teeth.

Even the drive home had its obstacles.  At Achnaha, with the rain pelting down and the windscreen misting up, a Highlander chose to stand in the middle of the road and showed little sign of moving.

The sheep have a simple solution to heavy rain, tucking themselves into the lee of a bank and waiting for the worst to clear.

And here is the reward for one treasure-hunter's labour, twelve beautiful little cowries.  They are all of the genus Trivia, but there are two species in British waters, Trivia arctica and Trivia monacha.  From the descriptions - see the Marine Life Information Network site here - the only major difference is that monacha has spots along the back of its shell.  So it does look as if most of the ones we found today are monacha rather than arctica.

Tobermory Ferry 'Mishap'

All ferries between Tobermory and Kilchoan are cancelled for today and possibly part of tomorrow due to a 'mishap' at Tobermory Pier.

The story is that the digger was supposed to have been unloaded on to the Cal Mac slipway but the whole truck, trailer and digger ended up sliding down the ramp and being launched into the sea. The digger was brand new (5 days old).

The Tobermory lifeboat was involved but there were no casualties - more on the story to follow on the Tobermory RNLI Facebook page, here.

Many thanks to the Cannings for the story and pictures.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Steel Fence Posts

Last Saturday's blog entry, which included a photo of a steel fence post set into rock on the north side of Druim na Gearr Leacainn, attracted a comment which suggested that these posts were raised some time between 1890 and 1940.  We find them all over this end of the peninsula.  This one serves a modern purpose in helping to hold up a more recent fence to the east of Druim an Scriodain.  In the distance is the Isle of Eigg.

The steel post will probably still be standing long after the newer fence has fallen.

Work at Mingary Castle

Mingary Castle is now almost completely sheathed in scaffolding, both outside and in the courtyard.  The construction of this huge frame has been carried out largely by two men, with workmen from the main contractor carrying material to where it's needed.

Progress on the restoration and refurbishment of the castle, which is likely to take two years to complete, can be followed on the Mingary Castle Preservation & Restoration Trust's website, here.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Last of the Heathers

We walked this morning up onto the hill to the west of Ormsaigbeg, Maol Buidhe - literally, the yellow lump, but 'lump' in the sense of a rounded hill.  Its elongate summit area is covered in heather, mostly ling.

The ling this year should have been spectacular, but September's rain ruined it.  Now most of its flowers are dead, only the occasional clump, like this one, having any colour in it.  When ling flowers die, they all fade into brown together...., contrast to cross-leaved heath where each flower dies in its own time, and....

....bell heather, which does the same.

On Maol Buidhe, cross-leaved heath is found in the lower land, where it's boggy, while bell heather seems to prefer places where it has some protection, like in the lee of a bank.

Most of the other moorland flowers are dead, with the exception of devilsbit scabius, where a few hang on in protected glens.  Walking, as we were, in a chill westerly wind which brought some stinging showers off the Atlantic, the hill might have seemed quite a depressing place, but it wasn't.  The annual cycle of death and rebirth brings an excitement, that the moment will come next spring when we find the first flower in the heather.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Lively Weather

Late yesterday afternoon the weather cleared briefly and a rainbow formed across Kilchoan Bay, but during the night and this morning the wind moved round from the southeast into the south and then southwest....

....and increased, so that by early afternoon it was a good force 6 gusting to gale 8 - giving us a foretaste of what England is forecast over the next 24 hours.  We've had 15mm of rain in the last 24 hours which had topped up burns which were already running high.

During mid-afternoon we were surprised to CalMac's Hebridean Isles come into the Sound from the west, hugging the Mull side which was protected from what was now a westerly.  The Hebridean Isles is standing in for the Lord of the Isles.  CalMac is reporting that the next Oban-Coll-Tiree sailing is cancelled.

For some of us, being out in the wind and fresh air is exhilarating, but for others this miserable weather is the last straw.  Bobby has hardly moved from his house since Betsy was taken away, only venturing forth when Hughie brings his food, but....

....the man's completely lost his appetite.

Achosnich Sparrowhawk

This is the small crofting township of Achosnich, seen on a recent October day of sunshine, sudden, sharp showers, and rainbows.  The picture was taken from the road outside the Sonachan Hotel, right by the Community Garden.

This sparrowhawk was perched on the power lines which serve Achosnich.  Many thanks to the Raptor for the identification, on the basis of his "yellow eyes, very yellow legs and barred tail".

If the sparrowhawk looks less than happy, it's because he was being mobbed by an unruly pack of small birds who were ruining his chances of catching anything.

On the subject of our local raptors, this pair of birds were seen recently wheeling over Ormsaigbeg.  The one on the upper right has the pinion feathers of a raptor.  The picture isn't very clear as the birds were smallish and flying high.  Is anyone willing to hazard an identification?

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Druim na Gearr Leacainn

With the forecast promising us a 'strong breeze' and heavy rain by early afternoon, we set out in good time this morning for a brisk walk around the eastern end of the ridge behind our house, Druim na Gearr Leacainn.  We hadn't been walking for more than a quarter of an hour before it began to rain, with the clouds coming low across Ben Hiant.

The view in this picture looks across Kilchoan Bay, with the village strung out around it, towards the mouth of Loch Sunart and the hills of Morvern.

The hill at the northeast end of the ridge is called Tom na Moine.  As we rounded it and began to climb towards the twin lochans, it stopped raining and a patch of brilliant sunshine drifted across Estate land.

On the saddle at the east end of the bowl of land which the twin lochans occupy is this lonely steel post. It stands on the boundary between the common grazings of the crofting townships of Ormsaigbeg and Ormsaigmore.  Its vertical is set into the bedrock: it would be interesting to know how the hole was drilled.

As the steep cliff which forms the north face of Druim na Gearr Leacainn came into view three red deer hinds broke cover and ran away from us, disturbing a small flock of sheep.  This is the closest we've seen deer to the Ormsaigbeg croft lands: much closer, and they'll be visiting our vegetable gardens at night.

Below the cliff is this semi-circular cairn which commemorates the place where, in February 1944, Flight Lieutenant Arthur Woodgate's hurricane fighter flew into the hill, killing him.  It's a dark, lonely spot, looking out across the lochans to Ben na Seilg.

A little further on there's a point where the cliff falls back and it's possible to scramble up to the ridge line.  By this time the wind had risen, bouncing over the hill and coming down vertically onto the lochans, forming catspaws which chased each other across the water.

As we came onto the south side of the ridge and looked across the Sound of Mull, searchlights of sunlight were moving across the sea.  Only one ship moved, the Tobermory-Kilchoan ferry, the Raasay, a speck in the immensity of sea and sky.

A map of the area is here.

Friday, 25 October 2013


Portuairk, early yesterday afternoon, with a falling tide, during one of the sunny intervals.  Today's weather has seen a deterioration, with grey skies all day and rainfall increasing through the afternoon.

Ed Cole's Photographs

Every year, thousands of visitors come along the Ardamurchan peninsula - something like 18,000 of them visit the lighthouse visitors' centre - and many of them take photographs of this beautiful place.  It's always a pleasure when the Diary has the opportunity to publish some of these pictures, particularly when, as in this instance, the photographer is a professional.

Ed Cole is a freelance photographer and videographer who has recently spent a week in Kilchoan. Although he has visited Ardnamurchan several times over the last fourteen years, this time, as well as being a holiday, was his first visit as a professional photographer.

He has now posted a selection of his pictures on his website, here.  He has put together a "video portrait" of western Ardnamurchan, combining timelapse and video shots, which can be found here.

He also took a timelapse of a rainstorm seemingly overwhelming Kilchoan. It's well worth checking out here.

Many thanks to Ed Cole for permission to publish his photograph.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Portuairk Archaeology

We're enjoying typical October weather today.  There's a gentle breeze from the west bringing air that's as clear and intoxicating as the very finest whisky, but also the occasional very black cloud with a sharp shower beneath it.

We drove over early to Portuairk, passing Lochan na Crannaig in which the ridge of Beinn na h-Imeilte was perfectly mirrored.

This view looks from the top of the hill above the township towards the northwest, with Muck, Rum and Canna along the horizon.  At this time of year there are already parts of Portuairk which, because of the hill behind it, hardly see the low winter sun.

The archaelogical site lies on the easternmost of Portuairk's crofts, which belongs to Jim and Jackie Caldwell.  The north end of their croft is adjacent to this beautiful little bay, into which the small burn which runs down their land empties.

The structures we were surveying lie on the burn's steep valley side, and seem to consist of a byre or dwelling house surrounded by a stone-walled enclosure, with a possible second enclose uphill of it.  This is the first time we've attempted a proper mapping exercise, which was done using a 30m tape and magnetic compass, all measurements being taken from the yellow post in the centre of the structure.

Just behind the ruined building, within the enclosure, is this semi-circular stone structure which is just under 2m in diameter.  We have no idea what it may be: suggestions would be very welcome.

The OS 6" 1st Edition of the area clearly shows two buildings in exactly the right place.  These have disappeared in later maps.  Since Portuairk wasn't settled until 1843 - see Portuairk history here - this suggests that one explanation for these buildings is that they may have been houses built by the settlers when they were first allocated crofts in Portuairk, before they built houses on their new land.

As we worked, a shower blew in from the west creating an intense double rainbow.  As it developed, it became a quadruple rainbow, as each of the two bows....

....seemed to duplicate itself, with a very faint rainbow growing below the main one.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Bird News

Life for the Ormsaigbeg buzzard parents and their one child is never easy.  Judging from the scarcity of dead mice brought in the back yard by our cats, the rodent population is down, and when the parents are out hunting....

....the local crows won't leave them alone.

To make matters worse, the skies are increasingly crowded, with hundreds of fieldfares arriving to gorge on the bumper crop of berries.  They join....

....the starlings which seem, from the rows of them along the power lines at the back of the Ferry Stores, to have had another good breeding year.

They look black and nondescript from a distance but, get up close when they're sitting in the sunshine, and their feathers can be seen to have a metallic, purple through to green sheen.

Meanwhile, down at the water's edge, the resident curlews are being joined by small groups of incoming ducks.  Here, a curlew shares the rich pickings amongst the seaweed of low tide with a pair of wigeon.