Saturday, 31 October 2015

Broadband Means Business at Silicon Croft

....and a local job opportunity.

From Geoffrey Campbell:

We’ve been following the issues around broadband provision in Ardnamurchan, and thought that Diary readers might like to know how a good, fast internet connection has helped one small business thrive in Kilchoan.

Oxford Abstracts was founded in 2001 to provide the niche but important service of abstract management to academic and scientific institutions around the world. What on earth is an abstract you may well ask? It’s a summary of academic research that will determine whether or not your idea gets a slot at a conference or is published in a journal. This has far reaching implications for funding and your reputation in the academic world.

At Oxford Abstracts we develop the software that allows conference administrators to control the complicated business of collecting and managing abstracts. It all started in the city of Oxford (hence the name) but our customers are spread all over the world and it’s only natural that our offices also be dispersed so, along with our office in Kilchoan, we also have co-workers in Bournemouth, Budapest and Vancouver.

The internet makes all of this possible and we are keenly awaiting the arrival of the promised superfast broadband. But even with the current speeds we can effectively communicate with our customers and conduct online demonstrations. We can share our computer screens with our customers and even, with their permission, take over their computers completely. With the combination of email and Skype telephone calls and online meetings, the traditional office is a thing of the past.

So why has Oxford Abstracts ended up in Kilchoan? I blame my parents who moved here in 1973 -with no mains electricity and a black and white TV. It was a serious culture shock for a young teenager. I moved away in 1980 but the links with Kilchoan remained. And the attraction of village life, access to the great outdoors, and the ability to work in Kilchoan, prompted us to move north in May 2015.

As a wry take on Silicon Valley, we jokingly renamed our business address “Silicon Croft”. Now it’s stuck, and maybe it will be a taste of things to come, because I doubt that we will be the last company to make this transition.

We are looking for someone who wants year round employment to join the team and help look after our expanding customer base. If you have good attention to detail, and you are comfortable on a computer using email and the internet, then have a look at our website at and send me an email - to - for more details. All correspondence will be confidential.

The Vegetable Garden

We're at the stage in the year when the last of the vegetable garden's autumn crops are coming in. The raspberries, whose first crop had a miserable showing in the poor weather early in the year, have more than made up for it through September and October. A good few of the late pickings (above) went into the freezer.

We grew two varieties of potato this year, Maris Piper and Estima. The latter is seen here. It came out of the ground with a rather warty skin, but cropped heavily and produced a good, fluffy potato on the plate.

The last of the tomatoes are coming out of the greenhouse. Despite the weather, they've done well, the autumn sun bringing on the late fruit.

We've been almost self-sufficient in vegetables through most of the latter part of the summer and the autumn, though we have to buy things like aubergines and some sweet peppers to supplement the small crop from the greenhouse. But since we sell a good proportion of our veg, we probably break even through the year.

We're now down to the brassicas and root vegetables including carrots, turnips, parsnips and swede. This is the first year we've planted kale (above) and it has been a great success as well as being very good-looking and resistant to the local caterpillars. The first lot of cabbages are ready, and we have a second planting in for later in the winter, by which time we should also be eating brussels sprouts and broccoli.

All this comes out of the poor soils of croft land, but by terracing the area and adding, over the years, mounds of seaweed and all the compost from both the vegetable garden and the kitchen, the soil is as good as anywhere in the country.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Still Waters

Eamonn Coughlan is Ardnamurchan Estate's Renewables Manager, and commutes around the Estate as part of his business, which puts him in an ideal position to capture some of the best views of the peninsula.

Many readers will recognise the place featured in the first two pictures, but Eamonn's pictures show Camas nan Geall at quieter times of the day, the first at a winter's sunset, with Mull in the distance, and....

....this one, again in winter, with the moon reflected in the bay's still waters.

A mist lying across the water also features in this picture, of one of Kilchoan's two creel fishermen's boats at its moorings in Port na Croisg just to the east of Camas nan Geall.

Many thanks to Eamonn for the pictures.

At Your Service

Always smiling: Marilyn MacGillivray at Kilchoan Post Office.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

A Highland Sunset

These photographs of last night's sunset are Kilchoan Early Bird's, and show how a talented photographer is able to capture images from an event which lasted only a few short minutes.

The sunset was all the more spectacular as it followed a day of low cloud and almost uninterrupted rain.

It's a privilege to have been allowed to post these pictures.

All photographs © Kilchoan Early Bird.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015


We walked to Glendrian today, to a village site which has existed for hundreds if not a thousand years but, a mere seventy years ago, finally died and was abandoned, the victim not of a wicked landlord's clearances but simply because it was too remote from the services people had come to expect.

This picture shows the site of the original clachan, with the head dyke on the right. Two hundred years ago there would have been a huddle of small, thatched houses here, surrounded by fields held in common and, beyond them, miles of common grazings for the settlement's livestock.

We walked up the low hill at the back of the site, from where more of the recently occupied houses are visible, these built after the settlement was reorganised into crofts some time in the mid-nineteenth century, the lands of each croft starting at the head dyke and running in a strip down to the burn.

The site is now a scheduled monument and is preserved because it shows so clearly the development of a clachan into a croft township. The buildings in the left foreground were the last to be abandoned, in 1941.

Leaving Glendrian, we walked southeast into the land which was once its common grazings, now the home of a few Ardnamurchan Estate sheep and the occasional red deer. The rolling hills are dissected by small, rushing burns, this one being the Allt Mam a Ghaill which drains the steep slopes formed by the main ring dykes, visible in the murky distance.

It was a  great pleasure to be accompanied on the walk by Derryck and his sister Tracy, who are on holiday staying at one of the Cameron's cottages at Ockle. It was their first visit to Glendrian, and it seemed such a shame that they had to see it in such dreich conditions.

We were all fairly well dressed for the weather, yet all of us came home damp. Derryck found this caterpillar, perhaps that of the fox moth, Macrothylacia rubi, which seems to have developed a far more efficient way of repelling water.

A history of Glendrian is here.
Ockle Holiday's website is here.

A Short Story

Local author Dominic Cooper's short story Matthew Bowyer is available to read on line at this website. Highly recommended.

There's also an interview with Dominic here.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

The 'Thing'

Kilchoan prawn creel fisherman Justin Cameron brought this 'thing' up when he hauled in a prawn creel which was covered with mud. The blue plastic glove is a standard size 9 for scale.

We have no idea what it is. Can anyone help?

Many thanks to Justin for the video.


Kilchoan Early Bird sends this picture of this morning's sunrise - for which many thanks. Can anyone identify the hills in the picture?

The Early Bird had probably been up and around for hours, but I too was stirring in time to see the sunrise happen - but it was over so quickly! By the time I had run up to the back of the property to get the whole southeastern skyline in the picture, most of the colour had already bled out of the clouds.

As the sun rose, its light coalesced into an angry fireball, an eye that seemed to look down balefully at the early-morning ferry sailing from Tobermory. However, once above the layer of muck, the sun brightened and gave us a beautifully warm late autumn day.

Hopefully, we'll have a clear sky tonight, in time to see some of the Orionid meteor shower which peaked a few days ago.

Tearaway Tamworths

We've been enjoying an unusually long spell in which the local pigs have stayed in their runs, but this came to an end yesterday, just as we were thinking of sitting down to lunch, when one of the Tamworth sows from a neighbouring croft went past our house at speed, heading down the road towards the shop, followed, rather more slowly, by the Tamworth boar.

The sow came back up the road before crofter Angus-John arrived to sort out the situation, and did what she's done before - she went down to the run where Hughie's pigs live. Far from reacting, as has happened on several previous occasions, Hughie's lot behaved impeccably, ignoring any provocation. Perhaps Hughie has had a word with them about fighting with the neighbours.

The arrival of Ritchie in the post van brought the sow hurrying back to the road, obviously to check if she had any post. By this time....

....Angie had arrived and the sow, fearing she might be missing out on a meal, headed back to her field.

There's never a dull moment in Ormsaigbeg.

Monday, 26 October 2015

The Beach East of Choiremhuilinn

The poor forecast had suggested we take a gentle walk along the sands at Sanna yesterday but, for the first time, we changed the route to a potentially more exposed and muddy one on the basis of what rain we could see coming towards Ardnamurchan on NetWeather's radar forecast, here, which suggested a break in the rain between about nine and midday.

The rain was, on schedule, thinning as we left the car at the first turn out of Kilchoan, near the silage rolls, and walked out onto Estate land. Picture looks across the Allt Choire Mhuilinn northwestwards to the peaks of Glas Bheinn, left, and Meall an Tarmachain, lost in low cloud.

Almost immediately we spotted a small group of red deer, which we took to be a bachelor herd of young stags who were patiently waiting out the rut. Although they were well aware of our presence, they seemed in no hurry to move.

Reaching the sea near the site of the old mill at the cleared clachan of Choiremhuilinn, we turned east along the rock and shingle beaches which form a series of small bays in the direction of Maclean's Nose. By this time the rain, as predicted, had cleared, but the rocks remained slippery and progress slow.

It's a little-visited beach: the only person we've ever met walking along it was the Raptor, though we did once meet two Dutch kayakers who were landing to spend a night on the shore. There's plenty washed up along its tide line, including a fair amount of plastic rubbish much of which seems to have been blown across from Tobermory.

One thing that remains on the beach, despite our having reported it to HM Coastguard, is several lengths of the floating oil boom which was laid around the Lysblink Seaways.

Finding it coincided with an email from Jim McQuarrie attaching pictures of the Lysblink Seaways under tow again en route to Rosneath where, finally, she is being scrapped. Many thanks to Jim for the picture.

There's a point where the shingle runs out and the remaining section of shore is covered with very broken rock, so we stopped there, sheltering from an increasingly strong southerly wind while we looked back towards Mingary Castle, now much more visible in this sort of mucky weather because of the light mortar used in the re-pointing process. Rising behind the castle is Beinn ne Seilg and the ridge of Druim na Gearr Leacainn at the back of Ormsaigbeg.

We arrived back at the car after a walk of over two hours to find that some cattle had been using it as a scratching post, fortunately doing no more damage than knocking back one of the wing mirrors.

Tanzania Talk

The WAGS talk tonight is about Tanzania, in the Community Centre, 7.30pm. All welcome, non-members £2.00.

Glengorm Castle

Looking across the Sound of Mull to Glengorm Castle on Saturday evening as a squall approached on a brisk westerly wind.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Swan Migration

This has been a great day for photographs being sent in to the Diary. This is the third to be posted, and it comes from Kilchoan Early Bird, who reports some 120 or more swans on Lochan nan Ealachan which lies between the Sanna and Portuairk roads. Appropriately, the lochan's name means the lochan of the swans, and it does seem to attract them every year during their migrations.

Kilchoan Early Bird also reports geese coming through all day, though he says that they keep going and don't stop.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for picture and report.

Dolphins in the Sound of Mull

Many thanks to Kirsty Shirra for sending this picture. Kirsty writes, "The attached picture is from yesterday morning's 10.15 crossing to Tobermory. Fantastic viewing for all aboard of a large pod surrounding and coming right alongside the ferry, including some young ones. As Tom said, not most folk's usual experience on the way to their local Co-op!"

A Flight over Ardnamurchan

Many thanks to Gary Robinson for sending me this link to a YouTube video which shows a flight over Iona, Mull and Ardnamurchan. The latter part of the flight follows the little-known southwest corner of Ardnamurchan, and it ends at the lighthouse. It's well worth watching.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Showers & Sunny Spells

Last night brought some heavy rain, a total of 32mm, after which the winds dropped and the skies cleared enough to give us fleeting patches of sunshine which conjured some beautiful colours in the hills.

The silhouettes of ships passing in the Sound - this is the Burhou I - seemed to float across a sea of beaten silver, while the showers brought out a layering in the hills.  Had I been quicker with the camera, there would have been pictures of a small pod of dolphins which passed us around mid-morning.

In the warm sunshine between the showers the insects come out, including this large fly feeding on the remnants of the michaelmas daisies in the front garden. We also saw two red admirals, both small specimens, and both flying rather drunkenly, as if they were functioning at the lowest limit of their flight temperature range.

The refurbishment of Mingary Castle is moving towards an end. From the CalMac pier one can now see the upper windows of north range, restored to how it would have appeared around 1720. While work continues fitting out the rooms in the three ranges, most of the exterior work is now completed except for the reinforcement of the dolerite sill below the castle. The steel framework for this 'sea wall' to defend the castle from being undermined by the waves can be seen in this picture, below the west curtain wall.

Follow the Mingary Castle blog - here - for more detailed information.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Cheaper Fares on Tobermory Route

The winter timetable comes into effect on the Kilchoan-Tobermory ferry on Monday and, with it, a substantial reduction in fares. This is because the fares, along with several other CalMac routes, will now be calculated on the road equivalent tariff formula, which is a combination of a fixed element and a rate per mile.

For example, the current single pedestrian crossing of £5.40 will drop to £2.65, while the cost of taking a car across will fall from £28.00 to £8.40

Talking to people travelling on the ferry today, while everyone welcomed the drop in fares, there were concerns that traffic across the Sound during the summer peak times would increase to such an extent that there would be problems in getting across, and we would see both pedestrians and cars being left behind on some sailings.

St Comghan's Meeting

At the meeting on Tuesday evening, attended by over twenty people, it was agreed that, while we would apply to Historic Environment Scotland for permission  to carry out works in the five areas recommend by structural engineer Brian Smith....
  1. Stabilise the stone lintel over the entrance within the South gable 
  2. Repair the three stone arches within the South gable
  3. Repair the overhanging stonework within the West gable wall (inner elevation)
  4. Repair the stonework in the North East corner of the North gable
  5. Repair the stonework in the East gable (inner elevation)
....we would only proceed immediately with 1. and 2., these being the ones which Brian was most anxious about.

By stabilising the stone lintel, we will enable access through the entrance which Highland Council, as owners of the site, has blocked off as unsafe, and by repairing the stone arches we ensure that they do not fall down in the near future. 

It was agreed that no further work would be carried out until there is agreement within the community about the future of St Comghan's.

West Ardnamurchan Community Development Company and the Ardnamurchan Archaeology group  thank all those who came along on a very wet night for a full, frank and very constructive discussion.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Rough Seas

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for this picture of the Scot Venture rounding Ardnamurchan Point at about 7.30 this morning in pretty horrific conditions following last night's storm. Bear in mind that by that time the seas had begun to settle as the main part of the storm came through in the hours around midnight.

By half past ten things had calmed down in the Sound, but nothing seems to stop the local Kilchoan-Tobermory ferry from operating, even when 22 out of CalMac's 25 routes were disrupted. The Raasay did have to follow a slightly altered course, heading up towards Bloody Bay in order to keep the worst of the seas on her starboard beam before turning and running down the Mull lee shore to Tobermory.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

First Winter Gale

Saturday's glorious sunshine, seen here lighting Kilchoan, with the old church, St Comghan's, at left, seems worlds away today, with some 23mm of rain in the last twenty-four hours and a grim forecast for tonight.

Southwesterly gales of up to 52mph are forecast for the hours around midnight as a deep depression moves in from a very unsettled Atlantic - this picture is from Cameron Baccario's superb website here.

Kilchoan's two prawn fishermen's boats, Harvester and Emma Maria, are safely tucked into Port na Croisg up Loch Sunart, with their prospects of any fishing in the next few days being pretty low.

This was the view over Camas nan Geall around 4.30 this afternoon, with the cloud already down over a brisk westerly wind which was bringing in occasional flurries of light rain. It's a great shame the weather has broken as the colours in the leaves along Glenborrodale are spectacular, as they are in the hills, with heather and bracken now turning into golds and rich browns.