Sunday, 31 August 2014

Walking Weather

This was the view at the front of the house just before the earthquake struck this morning, holding all the promise of a fine day.  The weather forecast predicted a bright morning but increasing cloud by mid-afternoon so, shortly after nine....

....we set off for the hills to the east of Achnaha, hoping to see more of this year's wonderful bloom of heather.  But by this time, half past ten, the sky had begun to cloud over and, shortly afterwards.... we passed to the north of the abandoned township of Glendrian, the rain came, blowing in sheets and obscuring what would have been a wonderful view.

After some hesitation, we decided to press on, and, as we walked....

....the rain passed and the sky brightened.  This picture looks across what the OS map labels as Glen Drian, half a kilometre or so the the northeast of the township, with the small burn called the Allt Mhic Cailein running through it, and the summit of Meall an Fhir-eoin beyond.

Upstream, flickers of sun began to move across the landscape, and.... the time we passed Glendrian township again on our way home, a pool of bright sunshine was picking out its green fields.

Approaching the flat land to the northeast of Achnaha, the sun was setting fire to the heather.  This year's display must be one of the best for some time and looks as if it has a few weeks yet to run.

When we arrived home shortly before one, the clouds had cleared and we were back to the perfect day the weather forecast had promised us - and to the news that, in Kilchoan, it had hardly rained at all.


The loudest earthquake we've had here occurred at 8.14 this morning - it sounded like an explosion - and the ground shook.  The British Geological Survey site at Plockton - seismograph record above - showed the event clearly.

The earthquake was later reported to be a magnitude 2.4 event, at a depth of four kilometres below Glenuig, with people reporting tremors as far away as Inverness - see BGS report here.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

An Autumn Feel

With the daylight hours drawing in, a series of cloudy and wet days, and a distinct chill in the air, autumn is fast coming upon us.  There's a good crop of blackberries on the brambles along the road which, as with many things this year, seem to have come early.

The berries on the rowans are their usual brilliant shades, though there is a much smaller crop for the winter birds than last year.  Last year's huge crop attracted masses of Scandinavian fieldfares and redwings to the area.

At this time of year the small mammals are working to build up a good store of winter food.  Most of the cobnuts that were on the hazel trees a week or so ago have disappeared, probably to a mouse's store.  This mouse lives somewhere near our bird feeders, and is probably benefiting from the larger grains, such as wheat, which the small birds don't eat.

The robins have had a good year for producing young.  This is one of several juvenile robins who come into our garden.  Robins will happily share food with other species of bird but, if another robin comes anywhere near, they'll try to see it off.  The puffed-up head and chest feathers in this picture is a sure sign of a confrontation.

This young swallow looks like a nestling from one of the last broods this year.  With the swallows gathering ready for their long journey to Africa, he's likely to have a tough time of it.

Another bird that'll be away in the next month or so is this pied wagtail - who, as an insect eater, shouldn't be enjoying a feed of grain.  They don't go as far as the swallows, spending their winter in England or France.  As a result, they'll be a welcome sight in the spring as they're one of the first birds to return.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Clan MacIain - New Website

The Diary has featured a number of histories, particularly of the small townships which are scattered across West Ardnamurchan - there are links to these in the right-hand column of the blog.  The histories extend back to the 17th century, but researching anything older becomes increasingly difficult.

Despite this, we've set up a website which attempts to dig into a much earlier history, that of Clan MacIain.  Sometimes called the MacDonalds of Ardnamurchan to distinguish them from the MacIains of Glencoe, the MacIains occupied Ardnamurchan from about 1314 until about 1625, with Mingary Castle their clan seat.  In that time, they went from being a minor sept of the MacDonald Lords of the Isles to being one of the most powerful players in the region - and then fell to a point where the clan was little more than a bunch of pirates hiding on Ardnamurchan's north coast.

Although long gone from the peninsula, the MacIains have left evidence of their time here, for example in some geographical names: the lochan in the top photo is Lochan Tom Mhic Iain, Tom Mhic Iain being the low hill to the right in the photo.  These features are just west of the Kilmory turn.

As another example, much of the structure of St Comghan's Church in Kilchoan dates back to MacIain times and perhaps even earlier - and there are MacIain grave slabs in its churchyard.

The website was set up in the knowledge that descendants of the MacIains - McCains, Mackeans, Mackeens, MacIans and others - might have a particular interest, using it as a way of connecting to their ancestral homeland.  We hope that they, in particular, enjoy the site.

The MacIain site is at

Progress at Mingary Castle

The rebuilding work at Mingary Castle is proceeding apace.  The huge job of re-pointing the exterior stonework is now almost complete, the largest of the three buildings within the courtyard, the North Range, has been rebuilt, roofed and now awaits the slaters, and the courtyard itself has been given a temporary roof so work can begin on the other two buildings, whatever the weather.

What's happening at the castle can be followed on the Mingary Castle website blog, here.

Thursday, 28 August 2014


It's the season when we're beginning to take stock of the success of this year's garden produce.  We've just harvested the first bed of carrots - minus the ones we've been taking out on a daily basis - and these have now had their green tops removed and have been buried in boxes of damp sand, in the hope they'll keep us in carrots at least until Christmas.  Last year we had a disaster with the carrots, when a whole box of them came out rotten.

The potato crop has now been lifted and is drying in racks in the back yard before being stored in an old gunny sack.  The variety we've grown this year has again been Anya, and very good potatoes they are.  The experiment of growing them in terracotta chimney liners has been a huge success.  We'll use them again next year, but it means removing the 'used' soil and replacing it with fresh.

Our greenhouse has produced tomatoes and cucumbers which, along with the outdoor salad leaves and rocket, have been more than enough to keep us in salad through the summer.

Meanwhile, we're also picking a good second batch of fruit from our raspberry canes, enjoying a constant supply of courgettes, and struggling to keep up with the best harvest of broad beans ever.  There have been disappointments.  The peas didn't produce much, and we now know why: a cock pheasant was getting to them in the early morning before we were up.

Black Darter

These pictures were taken beside a muddy little pond on the track between Achnaha and Plocaig, and they show a dragonfly called a black darter.  They're fairly common at this time of year - we'd seen them along the Ockle-Gortenfern track a couple of days previously - and very well-behaved when it comes to having their pictures taken.

The male is black and dark brown, and has the species' characteristic dark markings on his wings.  The colours in his eyes seem to vary - in the top picture they're black, while in this one they show some washed-out blue.

The female is yellow-brown with startling red eyes.  The local colour seems to vary from the picture on Chris Brooks' excellent site for dragon- and damselfly identification, here.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Ravens' Outing

The present run of superlative weather continues, with clear blue skies all day and a 'trade wind' southeaster blowing.  We really could be living on the Mediterranean coast at the moment - Mrs Diary even went in for a swim.

Picture looks from Kilchoan across Kilchoan Bay to the end of Ormsaigbeg, with Coll visible in the distance.

The humans aren't the only ones making the most of the weather.  While at Achnaha yesterday we watched a group of noisy ravens doing aerobatics above Meall Sanna.  There were at least fifteen of them, and it seemed as if this might be the local ravens' annual outing and get-together, which they were thoroughly enjoying.

Archaeological Discoveries

Members of Ardnamurchan Community Archaeology were out in the area to the north of Achnaha yesterday looking at a cairn which had been spotted on a previous expedition.  It's located in the gap in the hills marked with an arrow.

The cairn is unusual in that it's about 6m long, about 1.5m wide, and .5m high, and is aligned facing down the little glen on the Achnaha side.  The view from it is superb, looking across the wide area of land called Glendrian Moss to the hills on the opposite side of the volcanic ring complex - just the sort of place someone who lived locally might have wanted to be buried.

On our way to the site we stumbled across the remains of a small settlement - we've passed the spot many times before and failed to notice it.  It's on a platform of land right beside the ford on the track that runs from Achnaha to Plocaig, and....

....consists of the remains of three buildings, two of which must have been fairly substantially made of stone.  This could be an example of an isolated farmstead, though dating it will be difficult.  It's not marked on William Bald's map of 1806, yet the corners of the buildings are square, which suggests a more recent date.

A Mobile Coal Mine?

Yesterday evening,  Kilchoan Early Bird sent this tantalising picture which, at first glance, suggested that a coal mine had been opened at the end of the Ardnamurchan peninsula.

It turned out to be the Forth Jouster, which was heading to round Ardnamurchan Point into the Sound of Mull - which she did, very slowly, so that by the time she arrived off Ormsaigbeg it was a little late for a picture.  She's one of Briggs Marine's ships, designed to do a range of tasks such as anchor and towing hose handling, dredger services, and offshore supply.  There's more about her here

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the pictures.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Photogrammetric Survey Results

The photogrammetric survey of the Bronze Age standing stone at Camas nan Geall is beginning to bear fruit.  Jim Caldwell has now processed the scores of photos that were taken a fortnight ago when members of Ardnamurchan Community Archaeology met with people from the ACCORD project - see story here.

This video, created by Jim, shows how the stone can be manipulated so it can be viewed from any angle.  With further work, and the full software package, the level of detail will be hugely improved, and it's possible that carvings which at present can't be seen will become visible.

Winter Constellations

The constellations which are high in the sky at midnight on a clear winter's night are just beginning to lift above the horizon before dawn.  This picture, taken at four this morning, shows the constellation of Orion, the hunter, with his belt of three stars, low on the horizon while, directly above him, the bright stars at the top of the picture are part of Taurus, the bull.  Ben Hiant is visible at bottom left against what may be the first shades of dawn, with the lights of Pier Road in front of it, while the lights at bottom right are buoys in the Sound of Mull.

Cruise Ship Lights

The cruise ship Aidacara passing up the Sound of Mull yesterday evening just before ten o'clock.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Independence Debate

A Big Vote event will be held at Kilchoan Community Centre on Monday 8th September at 7.00pm - for full details see the West Ardnamurchan News - here.

Heather Display East of Ockle

We walked to the east of Ockle yesterday, along the path to Gortenfern.  These pictures were all taken within half a mile of Ockle, and they show the magnificent display on the north side of the road, in this case looking across to Eigg and Rum.

In places, the landscape is a rolling sea of colour and, in the present sunny weather, it seems to burn. It's a wonderful, if short-lived display, well worth a few minutes' walk from the little car part in Ockle.

The heather - most of the display at the moment is ling - doesn't grow everywhere.  There are places where there appears to be no heather, and it certainly doesn't survive where the bracken has taken over.  But, given the chance, it'll even grow in profusion along the centre of the trackway.

For those who want to stay at Ockle, Ockle Holidays has holiday cottages to let.


6.28am this morning, and the first sunrise we've seen on this side of the peninsula since the spring.  The sunrise will now move steadily further south, so on a clear morning we'll soon be seeing the sun come up across Beinn na h-Urchrach next, and then Ben Hiant.

On the subject of weather, many thanks to Jim Caldwell who has sent me a link to a site which shows the current surface winds.  For a start it's interesting, because it shows how the wind here changed from yesterday, when it was in the northwest, to this morning, when it's firmly in the southeast - click on the word 'Earth' at bottom left to change hour and day.  Secondly, it's rather pretty. It's here.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

A Good, Clear Day

Kilchoan Early Bird's picture, taken yesterday, shows the weather we're enjoying, bright sunshine, fair-weather clouds, and a brisk northerly breeze.  The view looks north across the Minch to Muck, in the foreground, and Rum.

On the other side of the peninsula, the clouds gathered around evening and, although we didn't have any rain, anyone sailing up the Sound of Mull certainly did.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for his picture.

An Ormsaigbeg Meadow - 6

The meadow is beginning to show signs of autumn.  Where the bracken has started to encroach onto the thinner soil round its edges, the plants haven't done well and are dying early, their leaves often turning into rich shades as they fade.

Another, deeper shade is provided by this plant, which an internet search says is Hypericum androsaemum, commonly called tutsan, a name that's new to me. The big berries are interesting because it was these that the female blackcap was eating when we saw her in the garden the other day.

Bog asphodel is a pretty flower, if disliked by the crofters for the effect it can have on their sheep, but this year its seed heads are providing another splash of late colour.

The meadow is divided in two by a small burn that forms waterfalls over the scarps of dolerite that run parallel to the contours.  A honeysuckle grows above one of the plunge pools and blooms each year, but these are the last of this year's flowers.

On a steep slope above the same waterfall the mass of bell heather flowers attracted a red admiral.  While this butterfly isn't common around here, and is most often spotted when it settles on the buddleia in our garden, this is the only one we've seen so far this year.

The pair of bullfinches seem to have settled down very well into their new home in Ormsaigbeg.  We saw the male in our vegetable garden again the other day, and the female sat very patiently on a branch on the edge of the meadow while she had her picture taken.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Night Shift

It's evening, and the night shift takes over from the sparrows, tits, chaffinches and other small birds on the peanut feeders.  These are two wood mice, which we don't mind as long as they stay outside. We're not the only people in the village who've noticed that the recent wet and cool weather has brought the mice indoors early this year - we've caught two in the attic space in the last few days.

The Heather Flowers in the Sun

We've moved into a spell of fine weather, albeit cool in the brisk wind northerly airstream.  The days are drawing in, to the point where, very shortly, we'll be seeing the sun rise through the gap between Beinn na h-Urchrach and Glas Bheinn.

The fine weather has arrived just in time for the full flowering of the heather.  This view looks from the top of the hill where the road runs down into Kilchoan and across the slipway and shop to the ridge along the back of Ormsaigbeg, Druim na Gearr Leacainn, while....

....this is the view in almost the opposite direction, from Druim na Gearr Leacainn across Kilchoan Bay to Ben Hiant.

Tucked into the small, southeast-trending glens that run down the side of the ridge, where one is out of the wind, the air is warm and filled with the insects that are feeding off the heather nectar, mainly bees, hoverflies and flies.  Butterflies are noticeably scarce at present, but in this particular glen there were three peacocks, all working their way upwind and up the glen.

All three of the heathers - bell, ling and cross-leaved heath - are in flower, though the bell heather flowers are beginning to turn brown.  The same little glen was home to some bell heather which was more pink in shade than normal.

The colours along this hillside are breathtaking, and when one walks it's like wading through a sea of lilacs, purples and pinks.