Friday, 30 September 2016


The dipper which seems to live in the lower reaches of the Millburn, just where it empties into Kilchoan Bay, seems to be getting used to my creeping up on him, so allows me closer each time. Today I experimented with video, which gives a good idea of how a dipper feeds in fast-flowing water, my efforts....

....watched by a small group of oystercatchers.

Green Moth

This picture comes from Out-and-About, to whom many thanks. I think it's a green carpet moth but am open to correction.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Storm Passes

The storm passed over without any damage reported, and was followed by calm enough weather for the ships which had been taking shelter to resume their interrupted journeys. This is the Eye of the Wind leaving Tobermory this afternoon, with the hills of Ardnamurchan in the murk beyond,

Cloud has meant that we've missed a series of aurora events over the last few days, as seen in this clip from the AuroraWatch site, but there's a good chance of further activity tonight so, if the sky clears where you are, go out and have a look - the activity should be carrying on all night.


Many thanks to Alasdair Thornton for, once again, bringing something of interest to the Diary's attention - Marilyns, which are suddenly in the news. For those as ignorant as I, a Marilyn is, "a hill of any height with a drop of 150 metres (nearly 500 ft) or more on all sides". So it is a hill which is relatively high compared to the land which immediately surrounds it.

Wikipedia lists 391 Marilyns of which three in the section 'Ardnamurchan to Loch Linnhe' (above, and link here) are on western Ardnamurchan.

Ben Hiant, as our highest hill, may sound an obvious candidate, but a high hill or mountain may not rank high on the Marilyn list if it is connected, for example by a saddle, to a closely neighbouring hill which is also high. So Ben Hiant ranks higher than than three Corbetts (in lilac on the table), while there is one Corbett on Wikipedia's list which isn't a Marilyn.

Our second highest peak, Meall nan Con, is on the list, a hill which always seems remote because just to reach it is a long walk particularly if, as we did on the occasion pictured, one chooses a bitter winter's day to climb it.

Beinn na Seilg, at 344m, is a good example of a Marilyn which isn't particularly high but is cut off from other peaks. It's both very accessible and an easy climb.

All these listings are, I suppose, meant to measure how difficult a hill or mountain is to climb, and that's controlled at least in part by its accessibility. For example, Ben Hiant may be our highest hill but, with relatively good access from the B8007 along a well-worn path, it's much easier to climb than, say, Beinn Bhreac 357m (pictured, but not the one on the Marilyns list). It's to the east of Ockle and I don't know many people who have climbed it despite its fine views.

Many thanks to Alasdair.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Storm Warning

This is a clip taken from the newly-discovered windyty website (many thanks, Ronnie) which gives a graphic idea of how suddenly the winds can increase as a weather system moves in from the Atlantic. The BBC Weather website indicates that the front of these strong winds should arrive any time now, around four, with gusts to gale force, and these gusts will be increasing to over 50mph later in the evening.

Yet before this weather came in we've had relative calm, with ships moving through the murk in the Sound of Mull - that is, except the ferries to the outer isles, which have been cancelled for the day, though the Tobermory ferry has been running. This is the Scot Isle hurrying north, while....

....the Dutch ship Novomar came in to the Sound from the northwest an hour ago and then anchored off Rubha nan Gall lighthouse, a good position in which to ride out what will be strong southwesterlies.

In amongst all the excitement of the beginning of what promises to be some brisk weather, Jim Caldwell has asked for people's support in updating this little directory which, as can be seen, was last printed in 2011.

Jim writes, "There will be notices with blank forms at both the shop and the Community Centre by Thursday in order to allow everyone to log their name, address and phone number as required. Otherwise anyone can contact me by email on"

We find the directory invaluable, so do hope that everyone will support Jim.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Aberdeen & Back

We rarely go away - who needs to when living in a place like this? - but we spent the weekend on our first visit to Aberdeen, and were impressed with the neatness and variety of the city. One highlight was watching the ships moving in and out of the harbour, and seeing....

....some interesting new designs, including this very unusual bow on one of the oil rig tenders. These were tied up, but upward of a dozen more were anchored offshore, testament to the savage downturn in the oil industry's fortunes.

At the other end of the city we enjoyed the mediaeval architecture along the Don and in the university town, with the 13th century Brig o' Balgownie a special favourite.

As if yesterday's post was written in preparation for this, the view across Camas nan Geall on our return gave us fair warning of the weather to come - which included increasing cloud last night which obscured a promising aurora event, and strong westerlies today which are due to gust to gale force as the afternoon continues.

However, this morning saw some fine weather, and one of the crofters moving his sister's sheep along the road in Kilchoan, and driving them....

....out onto the marsh. The lambs from these sheep need special marketing because not only are they free range - they seem to get everywhere - but much of their time is spent grazing on seaweed, which should give their meat a huge marketing advantage.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Approaching Kilchoan

We were returning to the village along the B8007 the other day, in none too wonderful weather, when, despite the weather, it occurred to us how fortunate we were in the approach to our community. First, one passes what must be, even in pretty dreadful weather, one of the most perfect bays in the world, Camas nan Geall, after which.... runs past Loch Mudle, with the first glimpses, even in mucky weather, of the Small Isles, after which, a mile down the road....

....there's this show-stopper of a view, down the wide glen of the Achateny Water to Eigg, Rum and, if you're lucky, Muck and Skye, following which.... starts to run downhill towards Kilchoan and, as the forestry of Beinn nan Losgann falls back, there's this panoramic view, even on a grey, damp day, of Mull and the Sound of Mull.

Of course, this post could be rewritten for one of our loveliest days....

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Whisky Distilleries

Yesterday's post was about attending archaeological conferences, and what one can learn from them. Today's describes probably the best moment of those two days, when Forestry Commission Scotland's archaeologist, Matt Ritchie, showed a site at Dog Falls in Glen Affric (link here) which he said was the well-documented remains of a building which had, in the latter 18th or early 19th century, housed an illicit whisky still - and it looked exactly like this building tucked against a bank below a waterfall on the Allt Rath a Bheulain.

There are other, similar buildings on similar sites across western Ardnamurchan. This picture was taken on our walk on Wednesday, and shows another whisky distillery on the Allt na Doire Buidhe. It's in a perfect position - remote, concealed, with a good supply of fresh water which can be ducted into the building from the waterfall, and within easy reach of woodland for fuel.

The building is on Tornamona land and, while it isn't far from the B8007 today, it was much more remote in those days. If you want to see it, it's at NM546647, a couple of hundreds metres south of the road.

Now that we know what we're looking for, we'll find more of western Ardnamurchan's rich whisky-distilling history. We might even find a bottle someone left behind.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Archaeology Conferences

The Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association was represented at two archaeology conferences in the early part of this month, the first in Edinburgh, where we celebrated the tenth anniversary of Archaeology Scotland's Adopt a Monument scheme - picture shows our friends, Phil Richardson (in red, right) and Cara Jonas (in pale blue, left) on one of their visits to Ardnamurchan. Thye have been very supportive of our group, so it was great to be there to ccelebrate with them. The second conference was in Oban, which brought together people living on the west coast. It was great to hear what other amateur groups like ours are doing to preserve the nation's heritage, and to meet like-minded people.

One goes to such conferences in the hope of help, particularly with the identification of features like this. It caused some interest to someone from the Isle of Ling who thought they had a similar feature. We think this very well-made pit in the beach near Swordle may be a kelp pit, while the one on Ling, which is shallower and more extensive, may have been used in flax processing.

It was good to be able to describe the repairs that have been done to St Comghan's which should ensure that the south facade is preserved for years to come. Sadly, we also had to report that our work at this beautiful site would probably never end, as....

....part of the boundary wall has recently come down, allowing the neighbouring sheep and cattle to come in. Since the graveyard is a scheduled monument, we have to get permission from Historic Environment Scotland - a lengthy affair - to carry out the repair as well as finding the money to pay a qualified stonemason to rebuild it.

Meeting people from Lismore gave us some ideas as to what might be done to preserve the two fine Iona grave slabs which lie near the front door of St Comghan's. The Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre has lifted, preserved and put on display the grave slabs from Lismore churchyard - story here.

We were also able to describe some of the many previously unrecorded sites we were finding, particularly those associated with ordinary people - like in the clachan area at Camas nan Geall - circled. Here we are finding buildings which might date back into the centuries after the arrival of the Vikings, though we shared the frustration many people felt at our inability to....

....identify and date buildings such as this one, high on a hillside above Bourblaige.

One of the main aims of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant which AHHA has won is to draw people's attention to the rich archaeological heritage of the Ardnamurchan area, and we certainly came away from both conferences feeling that people who might never have heard of the peninsula now have.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Notices, Notices

Yesterday's post suggested that major changes are happening at the CalMac pier. As well as the re-painting of the waiting lanes for cars, a bollard has appeared at the land end of the pier itself, preventing vehicles from accessing it. This must be a blow to the creel fishermen, both local and from the outer isles, since the vans which take their shellfish to market used to drive along it to make transferring the crates from the boats easy.

Along with such changes, CalMac is suffering a bad dose of notice fever, even worse than Highland Council at Corran. As well as their helpful notices, they now have around twenty warning and prohibitive notices like this one, which seems to make it clear that creel fishermen's boats are no longer welcome. There is a rumour in the community that gates are going across the top of the slipway, so it will no longer be possible to launch boats from there. And, just to check, CalMac has installed CCTV cameras.

I have some sympathy with CalMac. In these litigious days, owners of any sort of property are nervous about being sued by people using it for the wrong purposes, but it does seem a great shame that a facility like the slipway is no longer available for use, even if a fee has to be paid.

Other notices have appeared, such as this one for the Kilchoan Hotel, which is in good taste and helpful, and will, perhaps, help to draw aside some of the many cars which are driving straight through the village without stopping. However....

....what should be the most important and warmly welcoming notice refers to the slightly confusing concept of the "UK mainland". Surely the UK mainland has always been called Great Britain?

The Last Lady

There's hardly been a butterfly on the wing in the last few days, so when, on Wednesday, we climbed into the open, windy area to the northeast of Ben Hiant, we didn't expect to find this clinging to a devil's bit scabious flower.

It's a painted lady, and it was so cold and damp that it seemed to welcome the warmth of a finger.

Its colours already faded. The species doesn't hibernate, and few migrate back south - and certainly not against the stiff southeaster that was blowing - so it's likely that this beauty will soon be dead.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

A Wander Through the Village

As so often happens here, some of the best weather of the year is kept for autumn. For anyone taking photographs, this is a wonderful time of year, with clear air and clouds adding interest to the skies. This was sunset at Ardnamurchan Point yesterday evening, picture taken by Kilchoan Early Bird - to whom, once again, many thanks - and....

....this was dawn this morning, a day after the equinox, with the sun breaking the horizon, as seen from our house, over the conical hill just to the south of Ben Hiant called Stellachan Dubha.

It seemed a perfect day to be outdoors, so I set off to walk to the CalMac pier in the full knowledge that it would take time: one of the good things about walking the lanes is that local drivers stop for a chat, though all but one has given up offering a lift.

A group of about twenty swallows were swooping round the roofs of the houses by the shop - this picture is of the Ferry House. These must be migrants from the north, taking a break to replenish their reserves on the insects being blown in on the southeasterly breeze. By the time I returned they had all departed for Africa.

Wrens are supposed to be shy birds but this one, seeking out insects in the crevices of a hawthorn by Ben Hiant croft, seemed only too happy to stay around for a picture - but hadn't learnt the first rule of modelling: stay still for a moment!

This blog carried a picture of the old manse, Meall mo Chridhe, only the other day but, with its warm colour and the way it nestles within its park of trees, here's another.

The leaves on almost all the trees are showing signs of decay, helped by almost continuous southerly breezes over the last few days. On some of the oaks the leaves are shrivelled and look ready to fall.

From Pier Road the whole of Ormsaigbeg is visible, but these are the houses at the township's eastern end, with the shop one of the central building along the waterline. All trace of the heather flowering has gone, but the dying bracken now gives the hillside a rich, coppery colour. The peak at upper right is Beinn na Seilg and the ridge to the left Druim na Gearr Leacainn.

At Mingary Pier the second Tobermory ferry of the day was just arriving. Our usual ferry, the Loch Linnhe, is away, so today's service was provided by her sister ship, the Loch Riddon.

CalMac are making plenty of changes at the ferry terminal, one of which has been to re-mark the lanes for the cars waiting to board: they now read, from left to right, "Fill Lane 1", "Then Lane 2" and "Then Lane 3". That should be clear enough.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Another Weather Site

Close readers of this Diary will know what a huge fan I am of Cameron Beccario's map of the world's winds, but I'm very grateful to Ronnie Barker for sending me a rival for my affections, windyty

The Allt na Doire Buidhe

We woke to cloud, a stiff southeasterly wind, shafts of golden sunlight passing across the entrance to Loch Sunart, and to a forecast which promised that rain would not arrive until around midday, so....

....we drove out along the B8007 to a point just south of Loch Mudle.

This is a rare photograph, taken by Mrs Diary, of that wonderful moment when the boots are being laced and one knows that, for the next few hours, we'll be alone in magnificent scenery.

We had chosen to follow the Allt na Doire Buidhe, the burn of the yellow thicket, upstream from the road....

....into the area to the northeast of Ben Hiant. The glen is choked at its lower levels with shrubs and small trees. There are those that say that, if the sheep and deer were taken away, the upper levels....

....would be as forested, but a far more likely reason is that the trees survive in the glens because they are sheltered from the wind.

There's a point where the land opens up into rolling hills, one of our favourite areas, dominated by the peak of Ben Hiant, centre. We followed the burn across this bowl of soggy land and climbed higher....

....stopping for coffee to look back the way we had come. The burn drains into Loch Mudle, left, the water just visible to the right being Lochan a' Mhadaidh Riabhaich.

One of the pleasures of this area is that there are always red deer to watch, at this time of year small groups of hinds with this year's young.

The burn we'd been following rises close against the lower slopes of the Ben Hiant ridge, and promptly tumbles over a small waterfall into an enclosed, meandering, and classically V-shaped valley before coming out into the more open land. We followed it back downstream, on the left bank....

....passing the circle seen to the right of this shot. It's formed of a coarser, slightly taller grass, but, although I had hoped to find a wall and that it might once have been an animal pen, there's no obvious reason for its existence or shape.

The sun only appeared briefly, once, but the rain held off until we reached the car.