Sunday, 31 July 2016

Jogging Along Ormsaigbeg

After it leaves the shop, the Ormsaigbeg road rises steadily until, just before it ends near the Twin's House, there's a final steep section. For those who enjoy jogging as a way of keeping fit, this is particularly hard work, but there's is a bench at the top on which they can rest, recover, and enjoy the view.

For those who have a little more energy, it's worth running past the Twin's House and through the gate into the Ormsaigbeg common grazings. The path tends to be lost in bracken, and has a steep drop below it, but for those who persist they'll be rewarded with an even finer view, down into a secluded bay which is perfect for swimming, and across the Sound towards Morvern and Mull.

Many thanks to Rachael, who ran up there this afternoon, for the picture.

Stranded at Sanna

Something about sea conditions in the last couple of days has brought a mass of floating beasties ashore on Sanna's lovely sands, and Rachael was there to see them. Her finds included this, the by-the-wind sailor, Velella velella, a relative of the Portuguese man-'o-war and, like it, a carnivorous cnidarian which lives by catching plankton using long, stinging tentacles.

It was low tide when Rachael was there, and most were floating just beyond the breakers with some washed up onto the sand yet, when we walked at Sanna on Wednesday, there wasn't a single one.

We've seen by-the-wind sailors before, but Rachael also found something quite new. This is the rather beautifully named bluefire jellyfish, Cyanea lamarckii, which is confined to waters off the west coast of Scotland and the North and Irish Seas. This specimen was just under a foot across, a little smaller than....

....its relative, the lion's mane jellyfish, Cyanea capillata, which was washed up nearby. We've seen these often enough - too often, and some have been far bigger - and have a healthy respect for them, particularly when we're swimming or out in the kayaks, as their sting can be extremely painful.

Also washed up along the strand line were these much gentler beasts, a group of goose barnacles clinging to what looks like a broad bean pod - but perhaps it's something a bit more exotic as the currents can bring flotsam here from as far away as the Caribbean.

Many thanks to Rachael for the pictures.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Regatta 2016

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words - which is definitely true of these photos which show the effort, the grit, and the steely determination of the many competitors in the thirty-third West Ardnamurchan Regatta. This is the canoes junior mixed doubles, and....

....this is the canoes junior girls' doubles.

As can be seen from the blue, sparkling water and light seas, it was a perfect day for the inshore races.

On of the highlights this year was the many young people taking part, youngsters who, judging by this determined competitor, will soon be taking on, and beating, the older generations.

The youngsters may have been out, but it was good to see some of the old hands showing how a race should be.... not quite won. This is Nan MacLachlan and Rosie Curtis heading for second place in a fiercely-fought ladies rowing doubles.

There was some discussion amongst the spectators as to the advantage conferred on competitors by the boat they're using, and the need either for a handicap system or for Kilchoan to have a standard set of rowing boats. Certainly, this aluminium boat seemed to come home in winning position several times during the day. The men's doubles was another close-run race, but....

....perhaps some of the fiercest competition was in the adult canoe races. This is the mixed doubles, while....

....there were moments in the ladies' doubles when a clash of paddles seemed inevitable.

It was very good to welcome some strong outside competition, in particular from members of the Chelsea Kayaking Club which is developing close ties with West Ardnamurchan.

As well as the effort, Regatta is all about the thrills and spills of the race, as when the competitors in the rowing junior mixed doubles clashed, or when.... of the entries in the family raft race suddenly sank, throwing its two-man crew into the water. Fortunately, the rescue boat was close at hand, and the raft was later pulled from the water.

Each year there's a group photograph of all the winners with their hardware, and every year the success of the day is reflected in their smiling faces. Well done to the winners, but well done too to all those that took part and to the many who turned up to watch.

None of this would be possible without the well-oiled organisation behind the Regatta, led by Alastair MacColl. His committee, assisted by many others, organise everything from retrieving, engraving and cleaning the silverware to ensuring that the lobster turns up so people can guess its weight.

Friday, 29 July 2016

A Morning at Sea

Yesterday was the first day of the world-renowned West Ardnamurchan Regatta, a day when the first sailing races, and the windsurfing race take place.  In some ways the day started badly, with the elegant Sea Cloud II passing down the Sound on her motors, an indication that conditions might not be too favourable for a sailing race.

There were no competitors for the windsurfing event - which was just as well in view of an almost dead calm - and only three skippers reported for the sailing briefing, ably presented by Commodore Alastair MacColl - from left to right, Tom Colville, Alex Hester and David Syme.

Despite a small technical hitch with Alex's Laser (right) - a bung had become detached so it was briefly in danger of sinking - the  boats were soon jockeying for position at the start - the signal flags can just be seen between Tom's green-hulled Dracombe Coaster and Alex's boat, with David's Drascombe Dabber to the left.

My thanks to Chris Gane for taking me to sea in the rescue boat. We were inevitably bothered by various tourist boats which kept getting in the way of our serious rescuing business, this one with Hughie MacLachlan aboard. I understand that they may have been acting as a back-up rescue boat, but they seem to have spent most of their time sunbathing, mackerel fishing or stealing prawns off....

....a much more serious fisherman, Alasdair MacLachlan, in his neat little creel boat Poppy.

The three competitors passed close along the Ormsaigbeg shore but, because of the light winds, the leg across to Ardmore Point was omitted. The racers rounded a buoy below the Twin's House before heading across Kilchoan Bay to a buoy off Glas Elieann and then back to the start line.

It was glorious if gentle sailing, with the sun coming in and out and occasional seals and dolphins surfacing to watch.

A second sailing race took place in the afternoon, and a further sailing race follows at 10.00am this morning, the rowing, kayaking, raft and power boat races then starting at 10.30.

Thursday, 28 July 2016


Tuesday's visit to the archaeologists at Swordle produced an unexpected and very welcome bonus. The fields along the banks of the Swordle burn were rich with orchids.

This is a common spotted. None of my observations are particularly systematic, but it does seem that the common spotted are flowering later this year, but that, judging by their size, they are enjoying the damp weather.

The heath spotted is closely related. Elsewhere, the heath spotted have largely finished flowering, and those that did flower were small, but this was one of several specimens at Swordle all of which were doing very well.

Three or four of these were also found in the field. This looks like one of the marsh orchids, perhaps a northern marsh, and these too have also finished elsewhere.

It makes one wonder what it is in local environments which controls the times at which some orchid species flower.

We made a trip to Sanna yesterday to see if the frog orchids have come out on time or whether they, like several other species, are either running very late or have given up on the year. In previous years they've been in full bloom by early July.

We were very pleased and relieved to see that some, at least, were out, though once again those that were flowering were all in one spot, while the place where we usually find the most specimens hasn't a single stem showing.

Like many of the orchids here, there's huge variety in the frog orchids, from those that are almost green through to those which have a slightly coppery tinge, and from those that are tall and weedy through to others which are shorter and more robust.

We'll be back at Sanna in the next week or so to see how the frog orchids progress.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016


This year, the archaeologists from the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project team have split themselves between two sites. One group is continuing previous years' work on the ridge called Dun Mhurchaidh just to the east of Kilmory, while the other group, above, is working in the area between Swordle Byre and the coast. When we visited them yesterday they are digging test pits along the west bank of the Swordle burn on a 10m grid.

Each pit is 50cm by 50cm, and is excavated and recorded layer by layer.  This pit, which was very close to the burn, went down through topsoil into a sandy layer and then almost immediately into a layer of river-worn cobbles and gravel. Once the data from all the pits is collated, a picture of past environments can be built up.

Last night, Ollie Harris of Leicester University, one of the team leaders, gave an excellent talk in the Learning Centre on their successes over the last few years. On Sunday, starting at 10.00am, they have their second public Open Day - follow the signs at Swordle.

Annual Show & Sports

Last Friday saw the annual West Ardnamurchan Show and Sports which commenced early with the sheep judging. Hughie MacLachlan won Best in Show with his blackface, and judge Iain MacKay of Torloisk said, "Overall the quality and presentation of the sheep has been very good indeed."

There were more entries than usual in the baking, craft, gardening and children’s competitions, which were judged by Penny Horner and Sine Ferguson.

A visitor from Mull said: “I don’t know how they do it over here in Kilchoan – but the sun always seems to shine on their show!” 

For the first time this year the show included a display of Highland Dancing by Connie MacLennan.... well as piping by members of the Tobermory High School Pipe Band.

Rosie Curtis, chair of the show committee, said: “We want to make sure that everybody is welcome at our show, with plenty for everyone to see and do. The committee did a fantastic job, so I want to say a big thank you to them as well as to all the local businesses and individuals who were kind enough to donate prizes. It’s everyone working together that makes our annual show such a success.”

Many thanks to Ricky Clark for the photos and Pat Glenday for the report.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

McColl's Grave

According to the excellent booklet The Annals of the Parish, the grave surrounded by railings to the left of St Comghan's entrance is that of a Mr McColl, an Ardnamurchan Estate tacksman during the mid-nineteenth century. The Annals tells how the proprietor, Mr Dalgleish, refused to renew the lease of a tenant farmer in Ormsaigmore and ordered his eviction.

Mr McColl found the task difficult and, probably, very distasteful, and had to send to Oban for soldiers and a court officer to carry it out. As the farmer's bedridden wife was being carried from the house she cursed the tacksman, saying that when he died no grass would grow on his grave, only dockens and nettles.

The curse may have worked, as no grass grows on it, but it's now producing a fine crop of raspberries. Perhaps Mr McColl has finally been forgiven because, as the Annals suggests, this Mr McColl could not have been involved, having died in 1847, years before the incident.

The Annals of the Parish, which contains a wealth of information about the area, is available from the shop, the Community Centre, and the church.

Monday, 25 July 2016

On the Road

With Mrs Diary off into town do some shopping this morning, we walked down the Ormsaigbeg road early to catch the 7.50am, once-a-day bus from Kilchoan in to Fort William, which leaves from outside the shop.

Although we walk it almost every day, there's always something of interest to be seen along this road. Slow worms were long thought to be snakes, and I have always wondered whether it was they, rather than the much rarer adders, which gave Ormsaigbeg its name - ormr being a snake or serpent in Norse.

The slow worm seemed frozen to the tarmac, perhaps because he had been caught out in a heavy shower of rather cold rain.

This little bird, along with its brother or sister, was more of a surprise, and was only easily identified once it took off and flew away, when it displayed a very characteristic white rump.

It's a juvenile wheatear, the birds earning their name from their white arse.

Pram Race - An Appeal for Wheels

The world famous Kilchoan Pram Race will be held on Friday 5th August with events kicking off at 12:00 at the pub. As in previous years there will be a junior race to the church and back followed by the main race to the shop and back. The theme this year is "Musicals" and there are posters throughout the village with details of how to enter - pick up an entry form from the pub or email Tony Kidd at We are particularly keen to know what the theme of your pram will be ahead of the day so we can make the start a bit more special for the competitors and spectators, so get your entries in as soon as you can to Tony Kidd, Chris Gane or the pub.

We also have an appeal for wheels - do you have any old prams, bogies, trolleys, spare wheels, old trikes or anything that can be converted into a pram? We are also interested in large cardboard boxes that can be used in the construction. We can collect it from you (call Chris on 07785242444) or you can leave them in front of Shore Cottage (the building by the jetty flying the red ensign). We currently have one spare pram, call Chris Gane for details.

Please come along to cheer on the competitors, have a hotdog, buy a souvenir T-shirt and enjoy the day

Pram Race Committee
Gael Cameron, Richard O'Connor, Tony Kidd, Chris Gane.

"Strange Man"

"Strange Man" is the caption the Raptor appended to his picture of a gentleman who passed through Kilchoan the other day.

Doesn't look strange to me - except that he can survive in the current weather.

Many thanks to the Raptor for the picture.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Bourblaige Circuit

Someone said, the other day, that the weather is always poor for the Glasgow Fair weeks, and this year has been no exception. However, whatever the forecast - and today's was for a day of grey overcast - we seize every opportunity for a walk in this beautiful place.

Today we spent four hours doing a circuit of the cleared village of Bourblaige. We set off to walk down to the coast below the village, passing to the east of it. The picture shows the entrance to Loch Sunart to the left, with Morvern beyond it. To the right is the Sound of Mull, with Mull itself in the distance. At centre foreground and to bottom left are the scattered remains of shieling huts, temporary shelters used by the women and children when they spent weeks during the summer herding the animals away from the main villages.

The bluebells are out - the Scottish variety - and are much appreciated by the local slugs. A flower which is doing very well indeed this year is eyebright, seen to the left of the picture.

At this time of year, with the grass high, it's difficult to distinguish the stone walls of Bourblaige's buildings - in this picture there are no fewer than ten. The village occupies a stunning site, in an open bowl of land which slopes away to the south, and which rises to the west - the direction this picture is looking - to the heights of Ben Hiant.

I always have a couple of things in mind that I want to look for on a walk. Although it is already late in the year, I had hoped to find some of the magnificent orchids which we've found before in this glen. Several burns come together in Bourblaige, and all their water....

....flows out through the glen. It is very steep sided, and reaching the burn and the site of the orchids was a scramble, only to find that not one orchid was still in flower. However....

....we did have the pleasure of meeting this very smart snail. It looks like one of the many colour variations of the common garden snail.

From the lower part of the glen it's a short walk to the shingle beach and a convenient rock outcrop where we sat and enjoyed our coffee - only for the sun to make an appearance, albeit shining for only a few minutes.

We walked west along the beach where, in the increasing warmth, butterflies - mainly whites, meadow browns and a few common blues - had begun to appear. Then we turned inland, climbing the steep hill up to the west side of Bourblaige, stopping to look back down the glen we'd descended - at bottom right. In the middle distance is the entrance to Camas nan Geall, with the headland of Ardslignish beyond, and the hills of Morvern in the distance.

On our way back to the car we passed the first scarlet waxcaps of the year, a reminder that summer is fast running on towards autumn.