Thursday, 30 April 2015

'Nahlin' Departs

At the end of a day which, despite the snow lingering on the hills, has seen wall-to-wall sunshine here, Sir James Dyson's yacht Nahlin leaves Tobermory having sailed into the bay last Saturday.

St Comghan's Update

Many, many thanks to these three gentlemen who, busy as they were, gave an hour of their time yesterday to come up to St Comghan's church to give the community some advice on the problem of the cracked stone lintel over the only doorway.  We could hardly ask for better friends: from left, they are Francis Shaw, an architect from Shaw & Jagger who specialises in the renovation of old buildings and whom many will remember from the Grand Design's programme when he renovated Peel Castle, John-Paul Ashley of Ashley Thompson, the builders who worked with Francis on Peel Castle, and Brian Smith, technical director at Arc Engineers, who is a structural engineer. All are currently involved in the restoration of Mingary Castle.

They will come back to us with more detail, but their feeling was that the lintel, while cracked in two places, isn't a serious hazard and could be strengthened relatively easily.  On the other hand, they were much more concerned about the three stone arches over the windows, which desperately need some work before they collapse.

Night Passage

At eleven last night I went out onto the front terrace, as usual, to look up at the stars and check what was happening out on the Sound of Mull - like a cargo ships steaming in our direction at 16 knots with one man on the bridge asleep - and stayed there to watch this fishing boat pass along the Ormsaigbeg shore in the direction of Mingary Pier, probably to offload its catch onto a waiting van.

Not many of the smaller fishing boats carry AIS, so it wasn't possible to identify her.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Winter Loosens its Grip

Life becomes very confusing when the seasons really don't seem to know what they're doing.  After two days of pure winter, with snow, hail, sleet and night-time temperatures below 2C, the sun came out this morning and, despite warnings of hail showers and thunder, remained firmly out all day.

Winter is still visible along the horizon in this picture which looks from Swordle towards Ockle and on to the mountains of Moidart, while....

....this view looks down from the road to Bay Cottage at Swordle.  In this picture, the fields in the foreground are on Ardnamurchan Estate land, where the first lambs are beginning to appear.  They must have had a fairly bitter introduction to life, but the forecast for their next few days is good.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Winter Tightens its Grip

We're back into winter.  This was the view across Kilchoan Bay this morning, after a night in which the temperature, once again, dropped to 2C and saw some blustery hail showers.  These, interspersed with something that might be termed slushy snow, have continued on and off all day today even in relatively mild Ormsaigbeg.

The snow and hail melts quickly enough here but, on the hills on the other side of the Sound of Mull, it's been settling steadily.  Seeing a passing fishing boat at times like this reminds one that the fish we take for granted on our tables is hard won.

Only a week ago we were enjoying blue skies and daytime temperatures over 20C.

Monday, 27 April 2015


After a cold night - at some point the temperature dropped below 2C - the forecast promised a brief improvement in the weather this morning before a rapid deterioration, so we drove out to Sanna, leaving the car half a mile short of the township and climbing the small, un-named peak just to the north of Meall Sanna.  From its summit we had views across the Minches to Eigg and the snow-capped mountains of Skye and Moidart.

Looking southeast into the bowl of land formed by the Tertiary ring dykes, Achnaha was surrounded by green, the grass in the fields at last beginning to grow, though in the hills there is hardly any sign of winter loosening its grip on the vegetation.  Beyond Achnaha lies Creag an Airgid, while to the right of the picture is the dark ridge of Beinn na h-Imeilte.

To the southwest we looked through a gap in the hills to some of the houses of Portuairk.  The peak behind Portuairk is Beinn Bhuidhe, and the island lying along the horizon is Coll.

Finally, we looked straight down onto the township of Sanna, with the more distant houses of Lower Sanna appearing huddled together, while the nearer houses of Upper Sanna are more dispersed.

We scrambled down the gully in the centre of this picture into the machair land of the township, walking past the house at Sanna Bheag to....

....the southernmost of Sanna's many sandy bays.  The tide was low and, looking out to the west, the sky increasingly threatened rain or worse.

Just behind the beach we found a small group of these plants growing in the machair.  At first sight it looks like a straggly dandelion but it's coltsfoot, a plant that's well forward considering the year, already at the stage of scattering its seeds to the winds.  It's a plant that flowers and seeds before it puts out any leaves.

Hurried along the beach by a strengthening southeasterly, we passed few shore birds, those that were around, like this oystercatcher, facing stoically into the wind.

We walked along the beaches as far as the point where the Sanna Burn reaches the sea, and then followed it upstream, finally cutting across the marshy land to the east of Lower Sanna, wending our way between the increasing number of fences which, like a spiders web, criss-cross the area between Sanna and Plociag.  By this time the driving wind was bringing in first hail, then big flakes of slushy snow, finally settling down to a steady, stinging sleet, so we were relieved to reach the car.

It wasn't surprising, as we drove home, to see snow settled on the summit of Beinn na Seilg - Lochan nan Ealachan seen to the left.

Visiting Tobermory

This picture shows M33 HMS Brocklebury passing Burhou I on her way down the Sound of Mull yesterday afternoon at about 3.00pm.  She seemed to hesitate, then turned into Tobermory.  Perhaps the crew had heard that the Mull Festival was in full swing, and felt like some light relief after the hard work of the Joint Warrior exercise.

The cruise ship Astor passed us going down the Sound of Mull just after half past six this morning, and also turned into Tobermory, where....

.....those passengers who went ashore discovered how rapidly the weather here can change.

Built in 1987, Astor is owned and operated by German companies.  There's more about her here.

2015 Show & Sports

From Morven MacLachlan:

Here's a date for your Diary: the West Ardnamurchan Show & Sports is on Friday 24th July 2015.

Come along for a fun family day out and enjoy some of what we have to offer:
  • Sheep showing, Junior/Senior heavy events, kids race, hill race, BBQ 
  • Bouncy castle, ice cream van
  • Baking and craft competitions for all ages
  • Ladies’ & men’s dash!!
There are stalls available to sell any local products you may have @ a cost of £10 per table.  If you're interested, contact: or

The evening show dance is returning this year! We have the fantastic ‘Ceol an Aire’ playing at Kilchoan Community Centre @ 8pm – 1am. There's a licenced bar all day and evening.

Keep up to date with everything on our Facebook page at West Ardnamurchan Show and Sports - please feel free to like and share.

Many thanks to Morven for the words.
Pictures from the Show's Facebook page.

Sunday, 26 April 2015


The Raptor's willingness to brave anything the weather can throw at us, including subjecting Callan Dubh to today's snow showers, 3C temperatures, and a biting northerly wind, does pay off.

For example, yesterday, while walking along the shore near Mingary Castle, he spotted this bird which, to the uninitiated, might look like a curlew, but the Raptor instantly recognised it as....

....a whimbrel, the first he's seen here. The differences are minor, the most obvious being that the curlew is larger, and the whimbrel has two dark lines around and over its eye.

Whimbrels are birds of passage, moving between their winter feeding grounds in southern Africa and their summer breeding grounds to the north of us - they nest on the Isle of Lewis and on the Orkney and Shetland Islands.

Many thanks to the Raptor for the photos.

Joint Warrior Ends

The twice-annual Joint Warrior exercise certainly gives us something to look at as the ships come and go through the Sound of Mull.  Some of the things associated with it are more difficult to see.  For example, on Friday, the last day of the exercise, there was considerable air activity, with the roar of fighters high above us, but most of the 'planes were invisible above the clouds.  However, two of the 'planes in this picture passed over travelling south.

Kilchoan Early Bird, from his vantage point towards the end of the peninsula, probably saw far more of the activity than we did, including this submarine passing Muck, with the snow-covered hills of Rum behind it.

On the subject of the weather, the participants in Joint Warrior had almost perfect conditions, but these have now deteriorated.  Today we have a stiff northwester bringing in heavy showers, some of hail, and the temperature is forecast to drop to -2C tonight.  Ah well, it was a good summer while it lasted.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Problems at St Comghan's

St Comghan's church stands on a low hill above the township of Kilchoan.  It's a very old building, dating back to the 12th or 13th century and, since it was named after an 8th century saint who travelled round the West Highlands establishing churches, is unlikely to be the first church built on the site.  Kilchoan, Cill-chomhain (cill means church or burial ground), is named after the church.

The church was restructured around 1763, but finally abandoned some time before 1831, when the present parish church was opened.

It's a lovely place to sit on a fine day, with good views along the coast to the west towards Ormsaigmore and Ormsaigbeg, and out to sea across the Sound of Mull.  For anyone interested in local history, there are two 14th/15th century MacIain grave slabs in the churchyard - see link here.

Because of its national importance, St Comghan's is a listed building, and church and churchyard are an historic monument.  As such, they come within the care of Historic Scotland, but the upkeep of the site, such as the grass cutting and health and safety within it, is in the hands of Highland Council.  During a recent visit by Council officials, they noticed two cracks in the lintel over the doorway. At their request, the Community Council has closed the doorway.

This picture shows the two cracks.  To be honest, it's quite likely that they've been there for years, but the Council is absolutely correct in assuming that the worst might happen, and taking the necessary action.

The sad state of the doorway - the only entrance into the building - is evident when it's seen from inside.  One, and possibly two lintel stones have already fallen, taking part of the wall with them.

While it is the responsibility of Historic Scotland to maintain this building, they are desperately underfunded and have hundreds of other sites equally deserving of their money and attention.  If anything is to be done about the doorway, the initiative has to come from within the community.

There's more about St Comghan's on the MacIain site, here.


Many thanks to neighbour Tony Kidd for this picture of a male bullfinch taken in his front garden.  For a long time we believed that bullfinches only existed at the Raptor's end of the village, but we spotted a pair in our garden last year, and hope very much to see this man in his magnificent plumage.


The yacht Nahlin sailed into the Sound this morning just before seven, and proceeded into Tobermory Bay.

According to Wikipedia, she was built for Lady Annie Henrietta Yule, heiress of Sir David Yule, an Edinburgh businessman. Launched in 1930, she is now owned by Sir James Dyson of vacuum fame. Her name comes from a Native American word meaning "fleet of foot", and the yacht has a figurehead depicting a Native American wearing a feathered headdress.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Spring - Part Two

As the day-length drew out and the weather started to warm, there was an almost indecent rush into bloom by the first spring flowers, led by celandine and primrose, and followed by violet and dandelion, many of them hurrying before the bracken shot up to shade them out.  There then seems to be a slight pause before the second group begin a much more sedate flowering.  We've seen the first bluebells, and...., this plant with its beautiful red leaves growing close to a water-filled ditch.  It may be bugle - but can someone correct me?

Much more difficult to find, because its leaves are only a centimetre across, is round-leaved sundew, not in flower yet, though the bright colours of its leaves might be mistaken for flowers, particularly by an unwary insect.

Another sign of spring is the reappearance of the common lizards, sunning themselves in the stone wall which runs along the side of the house, with their varieties of patterns and colours.

Well done to the Raptor for being the first to land a picture of this year's cuckoos, taken along the road by the Caim forestry block, with its attendant small birds wishing it would go away....

....and many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for this picture of a bird that's surprisingly rare here.

And finally, here's a testament to the Raptor's cat's hunting prowess.  Henry who, as everyone knows, owns Ardnamurchan Estate, was responsible for the demise of this weasel, which is quite capable of  killing a rabbit or a chicken.

Many thanks to the Raptor and Kilchoan Early Bird for their pictures.

A Talented Artist

The local artist who created these eerie pictures of trees and....

....woodland with open glades between the buttressed roots....

....was the water of the falling tide as it slipped out across the sandy beach at Fascadale.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Blue Skies & Haar

During yesterday's beautifully sunny weather, we saw as much Joint Warrior action in the air as out to sea.  This RN helicopter came over just after 2.30pm, flying north.  It looks as if it might be one of the newly-introduced Merlin Mark 2s.

Shortly after four, this smart dark blue jet flew in the opposite direction. It was travelling unusually low for a civilian aircraft, and an internet search identifies G-FRAI as a Dassault Falcon 20 of Cobham Leasing used by the Royal Navy in their Fleet Replenishment and Direction Unit. These planes also jam ships' radar enabling fighter aircraft to attack.

As the afternoon wore on and a light northwesterly wind rose, so banks of haar started to roll into the northern end of the Sound of Mull, and we began to hear the moan of ships' foghorns away to the northwest.  Out of this appeared an old friend, M108 HMS Grimsby.  We saw her going north on 13th April.

Shortly afterwards, M39 HMS Hurworth, a Hunt class mine hunter, followed Grimsby down the Sound, with the haar thickening around her.

A few of us looked out after dark last night - which is now pretty late as it isn't fully dark until after 11.00pm - in the hope of seeing some of the Lyrid meteor shower, but by that time the mist had clamped down on us, and....

....we woke to a grey, damp morning with beads of dew catching onto sheep's wool and....

....onto any cobwebs strung across the heather.