Thursday, 31 December 2015

A Death below Torr na Moine

I passed the Raptor on my way out of the village this morning. He was deeply upset, having just done something with which many, including myself, will deeply empathise. On his walk he had seen three eagles, a golden eagle and a pair of sea eagles, the latter flying over him so low that, as he shot them with his trusty Lumix, he knew the pictures would be quite exceptionally good. They weren't: he had left his camera on the manual focus setting.

I was on my way to Camas nan Geall, so he left me with the thought that, for there to be so many raptors wheeling in the skies over Ben Hiant, there must be something dead somewhere.

I reached Camas nan Geall just as the sun was coming out. My objective for the day was the low headland to the west of the bay. The reef offshore is called Sgeir Fhada, the long skerry, and the headland to its landward is described by Historic Scotland as the site of a prehistoric fort which is of sufficient importance to be scheduled. The easiest way to reach the fort is across the hill, Torr na Moine, which rises behind it, so....

....I drove back along the road and parked the car near the bridge by which the Kilchoan road crosses the Allt Torr na Moine. It's best to keep to the higher land as Torr na Moine, the hill of the moor or bog, is well-named but, once one reaches it, it does offer....

....fine views westwards towards Stellachan Dubha, one of my favourites particularly in sunshine. Hidden in the wide glen between here and Stellachan Dubha is the cleared village of Bourblaige.

As one follows the ridge the views towards the road open to another cleared clachan, Torr na Moine. When this clachan was cleared, along with Bourblaige in 1828, a large sheep fank was built on its site, and this is visible in the centre of this picture, to the right of the ruined house.

The prehistoric fort is just to the right of the bracken-covered hill, and was occupied today by a solitary sheep. The site is hardly worth a visit as there's nothing to be seen there, yet it is a scheduled monument - which is deeply disappointing when it is compared, say, to the fort at Rubha nah-Uamha on the north coast, which isn't.

By this time, with the sun fading, the skies were becoming increasingly busy with crows, which reminded me of what the Raptor had said, so I climbed to the summit of Torr na Moine, found a convenient rock and sat to watch them.

This view looks across to an intriguing area of marsh land which was once worked, and on to the coast of northwest Mull. On this side of the marsh there was a rare sight at this time of year, a small group of people who had left their car at Camas nan Geall and had worked their way round the coast before making for Bourblaige. It's a super walk.

The eagle pictured in the top photo came over, probably saw me, and left again. Soon after, a pair of ravens settled beside a ditch in a boggy area of ground below me and began to feed, while five hooded crows landed not far away to wait their turn.

As usual, the Raptor was right. A sheep had become stuck in the bog and died there. Given the chance, hoodies and ravens have a habit of pecking out the eyes of lambs and sheep as hors-d'oeuvres, so one hopes that this animal had died first.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

After the Storm

Sunset this evening from Ardnamurchan Point.
The island of Coll is visible to the right, and Mull to the left.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the picture. 

Business as Usual

As so often happens, Storm Frank wasn't as bad as predicted, although a gust of 72mph was reported by Dominic Cooper on the more sheltered Swordle side of the peninsula, and one of 71mph by Sue Cheadle at Sanna. On the exposed southern side, although high tides accompanied the storm - picture shows Lochan nan Al by the shop this morning - the main damage seems to have been to polytunnels and to the internet, which has stopped working at several properties.

This place is very accustomed to storms and heavy rain - we had a further 36mm over the last twenty-four hours - so this morning everyone was going about their business very much as usual.

With the worst of the storm over we took a walk at Sanna, where one large shed had been blown on its side. The picture shows some of the houses in Lower Sanna with sheep sheltering from the wind and rain and, in front of them, some ducks enjoying a paddle in a puddle.

With the wind still in the southeast the waves at Sanna weren't spectacular, the main problem being the heavy showers which made taking pictures challenging, and the occasional....

....strong gusts of wind, some towards gale force, which blew stinging rain in one's face.

A unusual number of small waders were gathered along the tideline, mainly ringed plovers but including these two, which I take to be turnstones, one of which, despite the rain, was intent on taking a bath in one of the burns which runs across the beach.

The one group of birds which seem to revel in a storm are the gulls. Perhaps the fierce conditions at sea bring more food in for them, but I think that, being such acrobatic masters of the sky, they just enjoy the fun of a gale.

Many thanks to Sue and Dominic for weather reports.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Yeoman Movements

The Yeoman Bontrup came up the Sound at half past twelve midday today in fleeting sunshine, the AIS sites showing her destination as Gdansk. She had passed down the Sound yesterday, and by 3.00pm was alongside at Glensanda quarry but in this picture she doesn't look as if she's taken much aggregate on board.

Half an hour later the Yeoman Bank passed us fully loaded and bound for Port of Tyne, having spent some time anchored off Glensanda in company with the Yeoman Bridge.

This map, from the AIS Marine Traffic site, shows that the Bontrup then anchored off the northwest coast of Mull, and it looks very much as if the Bank, whose track is shown, is doing the same. The Bridge remains at anchor off Oban.

While it's wonderful to be able to follow the tracks of the ships which pass us, there's an inevitable element of frustration at not knowing the reasons for their movements. I can only assume that they're anchoring in the lee of Mull with plenty of sea room downwind, as the gales which are coming in later this afternoon and overnight are mainly southeasterlies.

In contrast to the ponderous movements of the bulk carriers, we've noticed a large increase in the number of small fish farm delivery boats busying in the Sound, like the Emma C seen here, presumably bringing food and other supplies in to the farms ahead of the coming bad weather.

It's rare to see so much orange and red on Cameron Beccario's surface winds map. The orange colour starts at about 100kph, and turns red at 120 - these presumably being mean wind speeds rather than maximum gusts. The intense depression to the west of the British Isles has been named Storm Frank.

HM Coastguard have taken the unusual step of issuing a press release in advance of the coming storm. Mark Rodaway, commander with HM Coastguard, says, ‘Our advice to people remains the same. Check the weather and tidal conditions before you set out so you can prepare your vessel accordingly, or even ask yourself whether you should be going out at all. At sea, changes in tidal streams could make conditions worse, particularly if the wind and tide are against each other, but above all, don’t take risks when a storm at sea is involved.’
This sea eagle, seen hurrying west along Ormsaigbeg this morning, is silhouetted against the gathering clouds. The wind speed has been rising since mid-morning and by five this afternoon we should be experiencing a full gale, with winds building until midnight accompanied by more heavy rain to add to the 38mm that fell last night. High tide this evening is at 8.25.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Ships in the Storm

As a nice contrast to yesterday's beautiful day, we've had a gale blowing since late last night, a relatively gentle southeasterly which seems to have kept many of the larger ferries tied up in port - but not our Raasay, which has done the usual day's runs. However, with the Clansman and Lord of the Isles in port, we were surprised to see the Loch Alainn passing us at ten this morning, travelling north. She's a sister ship to the Loch Linnhe which does the Tobermory-Kilchoan run in summer, a boat which the local crew prefer not to use in heavy weather. She was heading for Mallaig, where she has now arrived.

Quite unperturbed by the weather, the Yeoman Bontrup passed at lunchtime going south to Glensanda quarry where she joins both the Yeoman Bridge and the Yeoman Bank which are anchored between Lismore and Oban. That these three ships are together is surprising - ships earn their money while they're carrying cargo.

The forecast for the next few days is dire.  This is this morning's synoptic chart from which shows the densely packed isobars which are driving today's winds, but the next low pressure system, towards bottom left, is described on the chart as 'rapidly intensifying' as it tracks towards us. The BBC is forecasting winds of up to 68mph, force 11, tomorrow night as it passes, fortunately to the west of us on its way up to Iceland. Then we have another gale forecast for Friday night.

Christmas Day Otter

While we were enjoying our Christmas lunch, an otter was visiting the pool by the bay below our house.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

West of Ormsaigbeg

We haven't seen one of these for what seems like weeks but what's even more unusual is that the sun is rising over the hills of southern Mull, not Morvern, and this only happens for a week or two each year around the solstice.

With the promise of the first fine day for a long time we....

....set off from the back of the croft, heading almost due west and following the wide glen of the burn that comes down just along the road from us, by Lag na Lion croft house, with most of the glen still in the shadow of Maol Buidhe.

This brought us to the shoulder of the hill that overlooks the point called Rubhan a' Chall, with views across the northwest entrance of the Sound of Mull to the distant island of Coll.

After yesterday's long walk, we weren't going far, so we turned back, climbing Maol Buidhe to the cairn at its summit, from where there is a fine view of Kilchoan Bay and Ben Hiant and....

....down the Sound of Mull to where the clouds were already gathering. The lighthouse is at Rubha na Gall, the point just beyond it is part of Calve Island in Tobermory Bay, while to the left is Drimnin on Morvern.

We followed the spine of a small ridge down into to Ormsaigbeg, to the left of which lies land that was extensively used when Ormsaigbeg had a much larger population than it has had in crofting times. Stone walls criss-cross the area, and everywhere one walks one of conscious of the ridges and furrows of lazy beds.

These ancient walls are covered with grass or heather, and meander across the landscape. Their builders must have had good reason not to use straight lines, which would have required collecting far fewer rocks.

A satellite view of the area (from Bing maps, here), in which the old rig and furrow fields are clearly visible, gives a sense of how intensively the hillside was worked but, other than being fairly certain this was not in crofting times, I have no idea when these fields date from.

Rare Moonbow over Ben Hiant

Moonbows are rare but this one formed this morning, just before six thirty, as the waning full moon set in the west and a shower of rain scattered the light so a lunar rainbow formed over Ben Hiant.

To the human eye the moonbow appears white but the camera picks out the spectrum. They're rare because, being so faint, they often pass unnoticed. Formed by sunlight reflected off the moon, this one was surprisingly bright and, moments before this picture was taken, made a complete arc across the eastern sky.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Christmas Walking

The eagles have been active over Christmas. This golden eagle was soaring over Ormsaigbeg when we walked on Christmas morning, and we had fine views of a pair of sea eagles this morning as they circled in front of the house. Perhaps the activity follows the gales of the pre-Christmas period, when these raptors must have considerable problems getting into the air to hunt.

We needed a good walk on Boxing Day so drove back along the road to the point where the track leads up to the wind turbine on Beinn Bhuidhe (see map at bottom of this post), leaving the car there and walking along the top of the steep slope that drops down to the area in this view, called 'The Basin'. Judging by the ditches and occasional ruined houses, this low land was once drained and extensively worked as arable land, but evidence....

....of human habitation of the higher land is more difficult to spot. This picture looks back towards the top of The Basin, and in the foreground can be seen an old stone wall which meandesr across country and once contained an area of what must have been poor arable land. The land is now grazed by Ardnamurchan Estate sheep but is also home.... large herds of red deer, of which we must have seen about a hundred in the course of our walk. This picture shows part of a mixed group of stags and hinds with two of the stags sparring. They hadn't seen us, but when they did it was, as usual, the stags which ran off fastest.

The walk takes one all along the crest of the scarp which looks down onto the road, with Camas nan Geall coming steadily into sight, but looking straight across the road.... has good views of the clachan of Tornamona or Torr na Moine, cleared in 1828 to make way for sheep. In the centre of the picture, on the other side of the glen, is a large sheep enclosure or 'fank' built soon after the clearance. The remains of the houses of Tornamona are more difficult to distinguish - mostly because the rocks of which they were built went into the construction of the fank - but some are visible both to right and left of it.

We walked until we looked straight down into Camas nan Geall, and then on to the end of the scarp where there is another fank which, presumably, was used for those sheep which grazed the area around Beinn Bhuidhe. The view beyond is of Loch Sunart running away to top left, and of the island of Oronsay to the right, with the much smaller Loch Teacuis beyond it.

We walked back over the top of the moorland around Beinn Bhuidhe, passing under the wind turbine and then back to the car along the track, stopping off a moment to look northwest, across Loch Mudle to Eigg. Christmas and Boxing Day have been grey but dry, but the walk was dominated by an unusual easterly which was both brisk and cold, so we were pleased to be back in the car and on our way home to a large bowl of soup.

An interactive version of this map is at Streetmap, here.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Seasons Greetings

Photo of aurora courtesy Ben McKeown. Taken in October, the picture looks westwards along the north coast, across Achateny to Fascadale, with Muck away to the right.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

A Wet Walk to Plocaig

After a wild night, with gusts in the late evening which shook the house, the winds had dropped by this morning, giving us a chance to get out into the hills. We left the car at Sanna and, despite a heavy downpour which included sleet and slushy snow, crossed the footbridge over the Sanna Burn and walked eastwards along the ridge. This picture looks over the abandoned buildings of Plocaig and the bank-full Sanna Burn towards the hills on the far side of the ring dyke, their peaks dusted with snow
Dropping down the north side of the ridge, we looked across the bay to the steep face of Carraig. After the storms of the last few days the sea was surprisingly calm, with a steady swell coming in from the west.

We then walked across the hill to Plocaig, wandering between the buildings and imagining what it must have been like living there in weather like this. In the background is the crofting township of Achnaha.

By this afternoon the wind had risen again, and we have another gale forecast for this evening.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

More, and More Storms

The Raasay is seen arriving at few minutes late at Kilchoan pier on this morning's 11.00am run from Tobermory. According to the CalMac website, every ferry is disrupted except the Mallaig-Lochboisedale.

The cargo ship Wilson Flushing has been anchored just to the northwest of Rubha nan Gall lighthouse since just before three this morning, perhaps waiting for better weather or with some sort of problem.

The strong southwesterly airstream has now started to bring in heavy showers, often of hail, with accompanying thunder and lightning. There were some impressive strikes yesterday afternoon, but we finally lost power some time around three this morning in a lightning strike which destroyed routers and cut telephone links to houses in Glenborrodale.  The power came back on fairly quickly, but more gales are forecast for early evening and overnight.