Monday, 29 February 2016

Normal Service

It's as if someone flicked a switch and the weather changed, from the glorious sunshine and light breezes of the past few days to.... normal service.

So when the thud-thud-thud of rotor blades drew us to the window to see the Stornoway Coastguard Search & Rescue helicopter passing over Kilchoan just after 7.45 this morning, it was barely visible in the murk, and things were little better.... three this afternoon when the SD Northern River passed down the Sound on her way to Greenock. She's Serco's largest vessel, and described as a "multi-purpose auxiliary ship" whose duties "involve target towing during naval training exercises, noise ranging and data gathering, as well as serving as a submarine escort." In this, there's little chance of seeing a submarine, even if it was on the surface and waving at us.

All of which doesn't bother the local greylag geese in the least. Their only worries are the occasional passers-by, like us, and some of the local crofters who would rather they didn't eat what little grass remains in the fields.

Goose Barnacles

From Ritchie Dinnes:

The Dinnes/Crosbie gang walked one of our favourite paths yesterday through to the old school at Achosnish and then on, skirting Portuiark, and down to the most southerly beach at Sanna, where....

....we found this piece of driftwood that had been washed up on to the shore, probably during the winter storms. It was encrusted with goose barnacles, which I had never seen before.

Many thanks to Ritchie for pictures and story.

"From my window, north: winter"

Congratulations to Dominic Cooper, who lives at Swordle on Ardnamurchan's beautiful north coast, on the publication by the New Statesman of his poem "From my window, north: winter" - read it here.

Dominic is an award-winning novelist for his "Dead of Winter", and has written other novels including "Men at Axlir" and "The Horn Fellow". His latest novel, "Sunrise", was published in 2015. He is also the peninsula's clock and watch mender.

Dominic points out that the magazine accompanied his poem with a photograph of a goshawk. Peregrines live on Ardnamurchan and we see them fly - but usually too fast for my camera - so this picture is borrowed from Edwin Anderton on Flickr - here - who, as with all the Diary's pictures, allows his photographs to be used under the Creative Commons ShareAlike scheme.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

An Elephant's Tusk?

It's is about 3' long, resembles an elephant's tusk, and was washed up on one of Ardnamurchan's beautiful sandy beaches.

The Raptor, who found it and is fairly sure it isn't part of an elephant, would like to know what it is.

He has his suspicions, and the Diary thinks that, since it was the Raptor who found it, it's bound to be something ornithological. Any suggestions gratefully received.

Many thanks to the Raptor for the pictures.

Beinn Dubh

With another fine day promised, we drove the car to the start of the track which leads from the Portuairk road to the Old School House at Achosnich, pictured, with some of the houses of Achosnich behind it and Beinn Bhuidhe to the right, but then left the track and followed the path that leads over the ridge....

....towards Achnaha, seen here, in the centre of the Tertiary ring dyke complex. At this time of year the vegetation looks as if it has been burnt by a savanna sun, the only green being the grass of the township inbye land and....

....the occasional bit of vegetation, such as this clubmoss.

This picture looks a little more into the north, with the steep cliff of Carraig at centre, Eigg to the left and Skye in the distance.

The hill that forms the summit along this section of ridge is called Beinn Dubh, the black hill, which has an impressive cairn of stones at its summit and, arguably, some of the best views of....

....Sanna and its many beaches.

To return to the car we followed the ridge seen in the foreground of this picture until we came to the all-weather path which leads from the School House to Sanna and Portuairk.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

ACA at Camas nan Geall

A waning moon rose at half past ten last night, lifting through thin cloud over Morvern into a clear sky which, by first light this morning, had brought a hard frost. What followed has been a truly beautiful day, the sort of day which more than makes up for the gales and grey skies, a perfect day....

....for members of ACA, the local archaeological society, to visit Camas nan Geall for an afternoon's work, firstly....

....on the 18th century Campbell graveyard which includes, on its seaward side, a fine bronze age standing stone. We had two jobs that needed doing, firstly to draw a reasonably accurate map of the site to form part of our submission to Historic Environment Scotland to allow us to replace the broken fence, and secondly.... tidy the site before the flags and bracken wake up and smother it. We have to be careful what we do here as it is a Scheduled Monument, and the structure itself mustn't be touched - so, for example, we can't remove the moss which covers the faces of the gravestones.

The other half of the group cleared a site which is outside Camas nan Geall's two Scheduled Monument areas. It's at the bottom of the steep slope that leads up to the road but within a few metres of the main area of fertile land, the perfect place for a farm house.

It's a stone-walled building which we identified a couple of weeks ago as being unusual in that it is built of some massive rocks and has ends which are rounded. Clearing the tangle of brambles enabled us to draw a sketch map of the structure which might help us to obtain an identification of what it was - one member suggested a church.

The afternoon was so warm that we found a lizard basking in the sunshine amongst the rocks. The temperature must have been marginal as it was almost comatose, and quite happy to enjoy the added warmth of a hand.

As we worked, a pair of golden eagles soared high above us in a mating display, swinging round and round and passing each other again and again, watched against a gloriously blue sky.

The trouble with afternoons in February are that they are short, so by half past three the sun was sinking towards the horizon and we were making our way back to the cars. But we had one further pleasure to enjoy....

....a fine red deer stag near Loch Mudle who watched us watching him until he became bored and stalked away.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Ardnamurchan Point Lighthouse

The lighthouse this evening.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the photo.

Dolphin Stranding

Many thanks to Out&About for this picture of a dead dolphin washed up on the southeast side of Kilchoan Bay. It's about 8' long and at the high tide mark of spring tides. Since Out&About walks this area fairly frequently, he believes it can't have been here long.

The stranding has been reported to the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust.

Viktoria Viking

The well boat Viktoria Viking standing off Kilchoan in the early light this morning before proceeding to the fish farm at Maclean's Nose to collect more top quality salmon, which are landed at Mallaig.

Sunrise was a few minutes before 7.40, when this picture was taken. Each time we have the pleasure of seeing the moment of sunrise it's further into the east. In a week or so it will be coming up over Maclean's Nose, just visible to the left of this picture.

SM-5: Bourblaige

Of all Ardnamurchan's clachans, Bourblaige has the most spectacular site. It lies in a wide bowl of land, with the lower slopes of Ben Hiant rising steeply to the northwest and the glen falling away to the southwest, giving views across the Sound of Mull to Morvern and Mull. A burn, tumbling from the flanks of Ben Hiant, passes through the village, and the land surrounding it is, for Ardnamurchan, reasonably fertile. 

The remains of the houses blend in with the landscape. At one time all would have been thatched, and the smoke from peat fires would have been curling upwards into the still air.

The community was cleared in 1828 and, as far as one can tell, all its residents removed, so what remains reflects, like Pompeii, a way of life frozen in time. Thus the decision by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) to schedule the whole area of this clachan was a good one, the reasons given being that, "The monument is of national importance for its potential contribution to an understanding of the way of life and the architecture of post-Medieval communities in this area of Scotland. Many of the buildings are well preserved and contain complex architectural information."

However, unlike Pompeii, the most visible remains at Bourblaige - its buildings and walls - are deteriorating, particularly through the actions of the very things for which it was cleared, domestic animals such as sheep and cattle.

Bourblaige was one of West Ardnamurchan's larger communities, with a population of 35 in 1737. In his 1807 report to the then Estate owner, Sir James Riddell, Alexander Low described it as, "a very pleasant sheep farm oppressed with too many tenants" This satellite image from Bing Maps gives an idea of its size, and of the extent of the agricultural workings which surround it, while....

....this map from research carried out for Highland Council - link here - gives detail of the field walls and buildings.

According to the HES count, there are about 36 buildings including what may be houses, barns and byres, often associated with small enclosures which may be kail-yards.

Unlike Tornamona, where a sheep fank was built close to the site, no 19th century, post-clearance buildings were constructed in or near Bourblaige, which probably explains why the stone walls of the houses weren't pillaged as they were at both Tornamona and Camas nan Geall.

The buildings which are most evident are almost certainly of 18th to 19th century construction. Some of the more isolated dwellings were probably the homes of cottars, and other structures may include a kiln-barn, byres and other storage barns. The houses were substantially built, had rounded corners, and were probably cruck-framed and hip-roofed.

The author, MEM Donaldson, who lived for many years at Sanna, considered Bourblaige to be the site of Muribulg, where the 'Annals of Tigernach' record a battle between the Picts and Dalriads in 731AD. Certainly, the clachan itself is very old, and both site and surrounding area - much of it outside the scheduled area -  have evidence of many older buildings.

For example, to the northwest of the clachan's site is this conical hill. Its flanks have evidence of the intensity of farming activities, and, near the summit, there are the remains of a pre-clearance sheep fank, but the area is also recorded as a hill fort, and a further fort lies nearby to the east.

There is a link to HES's Bourblaige site here.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Under Tow

In light breezes off Ardnamurchan Point today, the Tobermory creel boat Dawn Treader overhauls another creel boat which is....

....under tow from the red fishing boat at left of picture.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the pictures.

Kilmory v Kilchoan Football Matches

From Maggie Pridgeon

The Kilmory v Kilchoan football matches took place on the day before the Regatta. I guess that, because we were regulars at Swordle, and had got to know a few of the locals and the other regular visitors, our younger son Tom was invited to play for Kilmory. He scored a goal and helped Kilmory to win 6-2 in 1985. He is actually holding the shield in the photograph - what an honour!

My diary entry for 1986 says the game was played on Kilmory mini-pitch, Kilmory winning 5-3, with Tom scoring two goals. It was all great fun and we loved taking part amongst the locals and other holiday-makers.

Many thanks to Maggie for story & pictures.

Community Garden News

From Dale Meegan:

We are looking forward to welcoming Gill Blease to West Ardnamurchan at the end of the month to take over running the Community Garden. Gill comes to us from North Yorkshire where she has been working in a kitchen garden, but she has had various horticultural roles over the years and is enthusiastic about community gardens.

She has already been here shifting seaweed onto the vegetable beds with her partner David and local volunteers, and has experienced the full range of winter weather. Not deterred she will be here full time from 24 February. She hopes to be producing vegetables in the early summer for sale in the Garden Shop and via vegetable bags.

Gill is also an illustrator and is looking forward to living in this beautiful and inspiring landscape.

The Community Garden now has its own website -

As in previous years, if anyone is interested in renting an outdoor raised bed or a growing bed in the polytunnel, or just coming along to a volunteer session in the spring, please contact Dale Meegan (Secretary) on 01972 510 322 or

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Golden Sunrise

We enjoyed a truly golden sunrise this morning, with the Raasay very conveniently moving through its reflection on its early sailing, and....

....a chaffinch perching for a moment on a twig as he arrived at the bird feeding station for his breakfast.

It rained and sleeted and hailed and snowed overnight, with the temperature plummeting just before dawn so we had a hard ground frost by sunrise. Many of Ardnamurchan's hills had a cap of snow at first light, much of which quickly melted as the sun warmed up, but....

....the snow was much heavier elsewhere, with Acharacle reported to have an inch or so, and a thick coating on some of the hills of Mull - picture shows Beinn Talaidh seen across the Sound.

To our surprise, we found several very early lesser celandines in full flower in the verges along the Ormsaigbeg road, and, even more surprisingly, saw....

....the first bumblebee of the year, a lone buff-tailed bumblebee who was feasting on heather in our front garden which, being a bought plant, seems to enjoy flowering through the latter part of the winter, much to the pleasure of the first insects.

But - look closely at the bee. I think he has a passenger on his shoulder.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016


Sunrise over the Sound is now just before a quarter to eight, with light in the sky from about six onwards, while in the evenings it's still light at six - and what a difference the extended daylight makes to one's general sense of wellbeing. Even better, we've enjoyed two beautiful Highland days, with the temperature at midday soaring to 12C. However, the clear skies have brought a ground frost during the night, last night's sufficiently sharp that it was necessary to break the ice so the birds could have their bath this morning.

Just visible to the right of the reflected sunlight in this picture is Cal Mac's Loch Linnhe on the 7.20am service from Tobermory. Our normal ferry at this time of year is the smaller and more seaworthy Raasay, which reappeared for the one o'clock service.

A Mystery

It was the stone with the luxuriant lichen growth that caught our attention. It lay high on a hill, during the recent cold, damp weather, yet it seemed to be home to such a variety of life forms, including what may be three lichens and a moss, while all around it life was in deep hibernation.

But it is the soft, liver-red material to its right that intrigues us. We sometimes find it, in patches, high in the hills, and often several patches close together and then none for miles. At first we thought it might be the skins from a fruit such as rowan berries which had been collected and then left, or an animal's faeces, but closer inspection make both these seem unlikely. Has anyone any idea of what this might be?