Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016: a Review

January. The repairs to the south facade of 12th century St Comghan's church in Kilchoan and to the boundary wall of its graveyard, the fencing of Cladh Chiarain, the Campbell graveyard at Camas nan Geall, the setting up of the Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association and, through it, obtaining a £9,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to celebrate Ardnamurchan's heritage, were all highlights of a vintage archaeological year, but on a personal note the most exciting thing remains the finding a new structure, particularly if, like this one to the east of Bourblaige, its history and use is a mystery.

February. Watching the passage of and recording the ships that pass in the Sound of Mull has remained one of the great pleasures of living here. Some boats, like the Dawn Treader, a creel boat based in Tobermory which we see almost every day, become old friends, while spotting unusual ships, like HMS Bulwark in April, adds an frisson of excitement to a day.

March. We have the great good fortune to live with some magnificent wild animals, of which the increasingly frequent sightings of sea eagles must rank highly, but few perform as perfect as this juvenile, seen near the lighthouse. Not only did it circle very low over us but, to make the cameraman very happy, it also flew near the moon and beside an aircraft's contrail.

April. We've walked many miles across western Ardnamurchan in the twenty years we've lived here, and increasingly these walks are ones which we have done before. However, the exact route of even the most familiar ramble varies and one still finds things missed on previous occasions. Despite this, there are still so many places which remain to be discovered, as we did when we fought our way through the tangled trees in the northern part of the Beinn nan Losgann forestry to find the mirror-still waters of Lochan Poll an Dubhaidh.

May.  We spent most of the month in the city of Edmonton, Alberta, where we found that one didn't have to live in the depths of the countryside in order to see and enjoy wildlife. We had three encounters with coyotes, this one a few metres from the gate of our son's back yard. As we also know from our visits to Africa, there is a primeval thrill in finding oneself on foot close to an animal which, if the situation is mishandled, is dangerous. Overcoming the fear and steeling oneself to react in such a way that neither party is harmed, provides an indescribable thrill which is largely forgotten in our pampered modern life. Perhaps one day we'll be able to walk with wolves in our hills and forests.

June. On the small bird front, 2016 must be the year of the warbler. It may simply be that we didn't really notice them in previous years, but this year we seemed to hear one in every small wood and thicket. The trouble with warblers is that, being small and shy, they're the devil to photograph, but they are also difficult to identify, though this one may be the most common of them, the willow warbler.

July. We have never encouraged pine martens to come into the garden mainly because, until recently, we had two old cats and feared that they would come out badly in a confrontation with these pretty but savage hunters. So when one appeared in broad daylight on the wall of our front terrace, and paced up and down it - almost as if it was anxious to show off to us - it was a very special event.

August. We see large numbers of red deer, hardly ever walk anywhere across western Ardnamurchan without seeing them, and now have them as neighbours in the woodlands of Ormsaigbeg, but the delicate fallow deer is far harder to find. Unlike the red deer, they do not always flee upon seeing a human, and this one was particularly memorable in that it allowed us to approach to within about twenty metres.

September. It has been a dismal year for butterflies. Experts seem to blame the warm, wet winters and mild wet summers for their demise yet we still see the occasional beauty. Ardnamurchan must be at the limit of the range of the painted lady on its epic migration from north Africa, yet each year we find one or two. This one was still here very late in the year, so cold it couldn't fly - it seemed grateful for a perch on the warmth of a finger. But as we held it we knew it could not survive the winter.

October. Each year sees the sad loss of some of the older and much loved members of the community but the death of Jonathan Ball, the owner of the village shop and a man in his late fifties, after a brave fight against cancer, shocked the community. Through the efforts of Jonathan's brother Chris and sister Cecilia, and the dedication of the staff at the Ferry Stores, the shop has continued to trade, but its future remains uncertain. For a small, remote community which is heavily dependent on its services, this is a worrying time.

November. Sunshine was in short supply through much of the summer but the weather made an effort to compensate in late autumn, a time when this peninsula is at its most colourful. A day at Achateny was memorable for the warmth of the winter sun and for the mirror-calmness of the sea.

December. Auroras continued to play across our night skies through the winter months but viewing them has been blighted by cloud, so the year's most unusual atmospheric effect was the apparent burning of Ben Hiant under a rising column of mist on a warm December morning.

Best wishes to all readers for a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2017.

Friday, 30 December 2016

The Eilagadale Mill

Derryck Morton was intrigued by the neat rectangular hole seen in this picture of one of the abandoned houses at Eilagadale - see post here - and wondered whether it might be the place where a mill shaft passed into the building, so....

....he spent a few minutes recreating it. Derryck writes, "I had a bit of fun cutting and pasting an impression of what the mill might have looked like with a long-reach shaft. It would allow for the fall of the land to naturally facilitate a wheel without the need for a wheel pit (difficult to dig into the rocky hill). Wooden posts would leave little evidence and the tail race would grow over pretty quickly after abandonment."

Many thanks, Derryck. Looks like we'll have to take a look at Eilagadale!

The Raasay's Sister Ships

From Richard Houston:
I write following your pictures of the Raasay on yesterday's blog. This summer we sailed round Ireland during June/July and saw some of her former sister ships in the Island Class. Three of these operate on the 15 min crossing between Burtonport and Arranmore off the Donegal coast. The Rhum and Coll are run by Arranmore Ferries in red livery and the Morvern by Arranmore Fasrferries in blue livery. We saw the Rhum (pictured) and Morvern while we were anchored at Arranmore. The Morvern is a little shorter than the Raasay which was a later build. The Morvern could only take 4 cars.

There is another, the MV Kilbrannan, which is the Clare Island ferry but we did not see her as we sailed past on the Atlantic side. The Canna still sails in Calmac colours serving Rathlin from Ballycastle.

Perhaps some of the fans of "Ships in the Sound" may be interested in these five small ships which are still earning their keep as ferries.

Many thanks to Richard for picture & story.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Just Another Gull

My apologies to Kilchoan Early Bird who sent me this picture on Christmas Eve. I wrote it off as 'just another gull' but it isn't - it's a rare glaucous gull, of which the RSPB says there are only 170 individuals in British waters, and then only in winter.

It's a large gull, the second largest in the world, and it breeds in Arctic regions in the summer, migrating south for the winter.

The Morning Ferry

The sun made a considerable effort to pierce the cloud this morning to give us a warm sunrise but soon gave up, leaving behind a horizon-to-horizon blanket of very grey stratus.

The 10.15 ferry to Tobermory was busy, with three cars and upward of a dozen passengers. The larger Loch Linnhe has been on duty recently but today's service saw the usual winter ferry, the Raasay, doing the honours. The cars which appear in the picture to be arriving are in fact departing: they have to back down onto the Raasay.

The passenger were in for a fairly bumpy ride across the Sound, with a stiff but warm southerly blowing.  Mrs Diary was on her way across to visit the dentist, but I walked home through the village, pausing.... record the daily eagle fly-past - this is a sea eagle, perhaps the same one as came over our house a couple of days ago. All the gulls and crows got up and made a fuss, but not with as much noise.... when a helicopter came low across the village. I think we've seen this machine before, checking the power lines for problems, but it continued straight down the Sound.

As the wind went round the overcast thickened enough for the land to grow dark, while the cloud itself seemed to be pouring in from the southwest in such quantity that, like a slipping carpet that meets an obstruction, it was folding up on itself. The croft house in the picture is Ben Hiant.

The gnarled hawthorn below Meall mo Chridhe had one decoration on it a few days ago, now it's festooned with tinsel - like an old lady dressed in her youthful finery.

Just before the turn to the lighthouse, Portuairk and Sanna a dead rabbit lies by the side of the road. It's unusual enough to merit a picture. At one time, so those who remember the area several decades ago say, rabbits were plentiful, particularly at Sanna, and twenty years ago we used to see families of them playing on the grass opposite the Ferry Stores. Now they're uncommon, and their demise, whatever the reason, may go some way towards explaining the decline in wildcat numbers.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The Raptor's Ramblings

The Raptor was out at the lighthouse on Boxing Day watching Storm Conor and writes, "These were some of the biggest rollers I've seen, with great deep troughs between them. The tide was out yet wave after wave broke over the top of the rocks."

On a gentler note, yesterday he was at Sanna where the storm had quite different effects. The rise and fall of the tide causes the level of water in the burn that runs down to the beach near Sanna Bheag to fluctuate, leaving these sculptures in its canyon-like course.

The storm had different effects elsewhere on the same beach. "There must be at least four feet of sand missing from the northern corner of the beach," the Raptor writes, "and the geology that it has uncovered is very interesting and well worth a visit before it's all covered over again."

As would be expected, the Raptor also turned his camera onto the wildlife. This is a great northern diver in its winter plumage, swimming in one of the bays at Sanna.

Many thanks to the Raptor for story and pictures.

Otters Playing

Sea otters playing in the fresh water pool on the headland to the west of the bay below the house. The trail camera was out throughout the Christmas period and recorded otters coming again and again to the pool, in all weathers, and during both day and night.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Storm Conor

Storm Conor, which passed to the north of us yesterday, still managed to produce gusts of up to 75mph, as measured on Dominic Cooper's weather station at Swordle even though it's in the lee of Dun Mor.

Picture shows Briaghlann, near Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse, at midday yesterday.

Many thanks to Dominic for the weather data.

Back to Normal

With the family on their way home and the storms passed, we've begun to get back to normal. A sea eagle flew low over the house almost as soon as they left and....

....the first ships since Christmas Eve have been passing in the Sound - picture shows CalMac's Lord of the Isles and the well boat Inter Caledonia.

We spent part of the morning in the hills, walking along the southwestern slopes of the ridge of  Beinn na h-Imeilte (pictured), from the Sanna road near Creag an Airgid towards the Portuairk road near the Sonachan.

It's a great walk for its continually changing views. Along the first section one looks out to Lochan nan Ealachan, then Lochan na Crannaig, then Lochan an Aodain and finally across to Loch Grigadale. The picture shows Lochan an Aodain with Beinn na Seilg rising behind it.

Finally, from the northwestern end of the ridge one looks across the Sruthan Bhraigh nan Allt to Achosnich, left, and to the very centre of the universe, Portuairk, right, with Beinn Bhuidhe running behind them.

It was a joy to be out walking again after the overindulgences of Christmas, but towards the end of the walk this raven flew over us and then circled before settling within twenty metres, as if it fully expected, very shortly, that one of us would be on the menu of its next meal.

Monday, 26 December 2016

A Brisk Christmas

The main feature of Christmas was the weather, with gusts up to gale force over most of the holiday accompanied by thunder, lightning, hail, sleet and moments of slushy snow. Not that any of this bothered those members of the family who took their normal Christmas swim in the bay below our house.

We were very proud of the Christmas Eve kale, which was fresh from our garden and evidently organic, though the carefully cooked wildlife did worry the vegan.

If Christmas Day is a time of overindulgence on good wine and food - we enjoyed a Suffolk goose - Boxing Day is a time for walking it off, so with the power knocked out from breakfast time onwards and Storm Conor at its closest we took ourselves to Bay MacNeil to watch the waves break at the lighthouse....

....and the dirty spume blowing around in Bay MacNeil itself. It was painful work: forty-mile an hour hail isn't much fun, and clambering over the rocks to get a good shot was worryingly slippery.

The weather began to show signs of clearing as we set off home, with watery sunshine picking out the colours in the beach and cliff....

....and in the rollers coming in to the shore.

The gulls seem to enjoy the challenge of a good gale and somehow keep flying while being pelted with hail.

The power came on briefly around lunch time and then died again, so we read by candle light as the day faded, the power finally coming back on around four.

Our thanks, as always, to the engineers from Scottish and Southern Energy for their efforts in pretty appalling weather, and to the switchboard operators who are unfailingly helpful and cheerful.

Many thanks to Hebe & Lizzie for some of the pictures.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Saturday, 24 December 2016

A Christmas Treat

Rob Beddall has been holidaying in places around Ardnamurchan for some thirty years and has, in that time, taken some superb photographs of local wildlife. If you'd like a treat over Christmas, have a look at them on Flickr - here.

What I particularly appreciate is that, even though his photographs are of professional quality, he was happy for me to use this one on the blog and they're downloadable from Flickr. Many thanks, Rob.

Seasonal Confusion

We may have minor disturbances like Barbara and Conor passing us, but closer to earth things are not at all normal. This picture shows the last of the tomatoes picked today in our unheated greenhouse, along with some of the carrots which are still growing in a bed in the back garden.

There seems to be some confusion in the front garden too. This little red rose is one of two miniatures flowering, along with ceanothus and fuchsia, while down the road....

....this large ox-eye daisy is in flower, and the way they're behaving....

....some of the local brambles should be in fruit during January.