Monday, 31 October 2016

October Bows Out

It's as if, having given us days of startling sunshine, October has given up, bowing out with the sort of weather we have to expect through November and the coming winter. The month leaves a legacy of bright colours in the leaves and, in particular, in the bracken, which has taken on a coppery tinge beautiful enough to almost forgive its ongoing invasion of croft land.

There's a restlessness amongst the wildfowl, with small skeins of geese moving across the skies as if looking for a place to settle which will offer them peaceful winter forage, while....

....for the small birds it's a matter of getting used to waiting patiently in the rain for their turn at the bird feeders.

Old Postcards

If they can be found, old postcards form one of the best records of the history of an area, and Ardnamurchan is no exception. However, information to go with them is sometimes more difficult to unearth - neither Carabineer nor Carabruier bring up results on Google - but....

....Les Humphreys, who was kind enough to send me these prints, found a reference to this one in the book "Lochaber and the Road to the Isles". It shows a scene from the marriage of Charles Rudd's daughter to Sir Eldon Gorse, which took place in August 1903, when the celebration, on what was called the 'Strath of Laga', involved 800 guests. This occurred soon after Glenborrodale Castle was completed: Cecil Rhodes attended the house warming in August 1901.

Many thanks to Les for the pictures.

Sunday, 30 October 2016


Somehow it seems quite appropriate that this huge and rapidly growing mound of highly combustible material is located close to the Kilchoan fire station. Details of the community's annual pyrotechnic celebration are here.

The Pleasure of Rock Pools

One of the pleasures of a gentle, Sunday morning scramble along the Ormsaigbeg shoreline to the west of our house is the childlike enjoyment to be found.... investigating the contents of the many rock pools. Some of these are scoured by storm waves, the environment being so extreme that most seaweeds don't seem to survive in them, yet....

....numerous species somehow hang on. One such species, which seems to be quite happy living in the most exposed pools, is the green sea urchin, Psammechinus miliaris, which, because there is so little cover, camouflages itself with debris. It seems to be fussy about which pools it lives in, preferring those....

....which have a calcerous bottom and are the most weed free. They're rare enough along this shore for us to be rather pleased if we find three or four in a pool - and then we find this one which seems to be surrounded by what look like red eggs. Do they belong to this urchin, or are they something it's eating?

The most common sea anemone is a deep brownish-red, but today there seemed far fewer of them than usual and more of these greenish ones, a species we've not seen before and which could be the green sea anemone Actinia prasina.

The sandalled anemone, Actinothoe sphyrodeta, is another one which is uncommon along this coastline - and then one finds half a dozen clustered in one pool.

Just as we were turning for home, one of our party decided that the world might look even better upside down.

Aura's Cargo

In a recent 'Ships in the Sound' feature - here - I wondered what the Aura was carrying when she passed us en route to Belfast. Many thanks to Paul Elletson and Graham Todd who found the answer in an link here - and, yes, they are parts for a huge offshore wind project in Liverpool Bay.

Saturday, 29 October 2016


We walked in the hills above Ormsaigbeg this morning in a return to what might be called 'normal' late autumn weather, with low cloud bringing spells of light rain, a southwesterly blowing, and an overnight low of.... 12C.

Add to this unusually high night-time temperature the recent sunny late October weather, and little wonder that a very confused moth - perhaps Phlogophora meticulosa, the angle shades moth - was out trying to fly....

....and several summer plants, like this campion, were attempting a second flowering of the year.

Livingston Ancestors

From Malcolm Newing:

I'd been promising my brother for ages a trip to Scotland to trace our family roots and to see the places our ancestors lived. In July my wife and a friend packed off to Mallorca so my brother and I set forth for the Highlands and Fort William. My wife had booked our accommodation taking me far too literally when I said not to make it expensive. Our first night was spent in a glamping pod (don't ask) in Lochlevenside but we did get our first taste of Highland scenery as we drove through Glencoe and saw a magnificent stag standing majestically on a rise above the road. 

Our visit was to cover two strands of the family: the Camerons of Tomacharich, just north of Fort William, and then we would drive to Kilchoan where our Livingston ancestors had lived. At the hotel in Fort William I remarked how beautiful the Highlands were and then not for the last time on the trip received the response, 'Aye as long as it's not raining!' The first afternoon was spent in the Lochaber Archives (which cover Ardnamurchan) in Fort William. I'd promised my brother we would only spend one afternoon peering through ancient records. I needn't have worried, he had the task of reading through the Kirk session minutes which it appeared largely dealt with inappropriate sex and fornication that kept him busy for hours!

The next day we travelled down the east side of Loch Linnhe to the Corran ferry and were able to see across to the actual croft at Trislaig where my great-great-grandfather had worked from 1850 to 1880. His name was Duncan Livingstone and had been born in Glenmore in the early 1800s, Glenmore being one of the crofting settlements in the Kilchoan area. Turning right off the ferry to visit Trislaig, we experienced the standard highway in place across Ardnamurchan which is a single track with frequent passing areas cut into the verge. In addition to the hazards of oncoming traffic we discovered the likelihood of sheep straddling the road was also quite high!

We returned from the croft, passed the ferry at Ardgour, and carried on down the west side of Loch Linnhe, through Inversanda where my GGGF was married, and then we headed into Strontian and alongside the beautiful sea loch Sunnart. The scenery remained spectacular and we stopped at the loch side in the faint hope we might see dolphins which had been reported in the loch a day earlier. For the passenger the views were magnificent; however, for a driver unfamiliar with the roads it was more difficult. I quickly learned that the locals drive a bit quicker than the tourists and it was etiquette therefore to pull in and let them pass if they were behind you.

We stopped in Acharacle at a lovely little coffee shop, more like someone's front room, where they did a lovely range of cakes and other forms of sustenance. I didn't realise en route I had passed a place called Ruig a phollain where members of my family had resided. The challenges of researching Gaelic Scotland can be seen when you learn that on many maps and documents this place is shown as Refollin as the English would pronounce it. The sweep from Acharacle to Kilchoan is breathtaking particularly as you round Ben Hiant, the dominant peak, and, as we learned from Jon the next day, passed through historic crofting areas such as Skinned (above) where my GGGF had been a shepherd. 

Jon had offered in advance to be our guide and this enriched our experience. He showed us the modern day crofting township of Ormsaigbeg (above) where two Livingston brothers, Donald and John, had been born, lived, worked and died. He showed us the ancient croft of Ormsaigmore where my great-grandfather Allan had been born before leaving to work in the Trossachs. He also explained the history of the Clearances in this part of the world. For me it was fascinating and added much substance to my family history. It appears that Duncan's father, John, was a crofter in Glenmore and probably lost his livelihood because the landowner, Sir James Riddell, moved many crofters forcibly off their crofts, either to much poorer land, such as Ormsaigbeg and Portuairk, or in many cases to the countries of New Zealand and Canada. The land was given over to huge sheep farms, so it looks like Duncan was fortunate enough to be employed as a shepherd before finding his croft at Trislaig in the 1850s. Jon was even able to point out the shepherds' houses in which he probably lived.

Jon gave us an informative tour of the old churchyard of St Comghan's which has many generations of Kilchoan residents within it. My brother and I also visited the Ardnamurchan lighthouse which provides spectacular views of the Atlantic coast, and we then experienced this close up at the beautiful beach at Sanna which matched anything I have seen in Spain. Amazingly, throughout all our time the sun shone and it turned out I experienced better weather than my wife in Mallorca! 

The visit to Scotland was over with all too quickly and I was left with a number of abiding memories. Firstly the scenery is spectacular and surpassed my expectations, the cuisine everywhere including the Kilchoan Hotel was excellent, and everyone we met matched the welcome and hospitality we experienced from Jon.

I will definitely be back as I still haven't proved the holy grail for all Livingstones that David is one of my ancestors! At least so I presume!

Many thanks to Malcolm for this account of his visit.
Visitors researching their family connections in West Ardnamurchan are very welcome to a tour conducted by the Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Early Start

 An early start this morning, so we ate breakfast looking out at an even earlier fishing boat working just off the Ormsaigbeg shore, probably....

....the Tobermory-based Jacobite which had been laying creels here two days ago in choppy conditions.

The reason for an early start was a ferry trip across to Tobermory, the Loch Linnhe leaving in the half light of dawn with only one car and two foot passengers - what a difference when compared to a couple of months ago when it was so busy people were being left behind.

Fire Brigade Recruit

Many thanks to Out&About for this picture, taken at the Kilchoan fire brigade training session last night, which shows their newtest recruit.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Ships in the Sound

With the steady progress into winter, the Sound loses the excitement of cruise ships, square-rigged sailing ships, sail yachts, millionaires' yachts, pleasure boats and paddle steamers but, to compensate, we see more cargo ships which, to be honest, I far prefer. This is partly because they're the unsung work-horses of the ocean, the machines that bring us the bulk of our needs and carry out the goods which have to pay for them, but also because they come in so many shapes and sizes and from so many far-flung places.

This is the Bahamas-registered Swedica Hav with a sheer prow and undercut stern. She's part of Norwegian company Hav Fleet's fleet of modern shallow drafted ships designed for river work as well as deep sea conditions.

If the Swedica Hav's bow has a slightly strange shape, so does the Dutch Warber, but her slightly odd bow is part of her specialism: she's ice-strengthened.

The Donau is seen here on passage from Glensanda to Rostock in Germany. She's another Dutch ship and, like the Swedica Hav, is ice-strengthened. The ship is unusual in that she is the only ship owned and operated by Rederij Wantij B.V. while Hav Fleet, by comparison, own and manage sixteen, and....

.....the Dutch company Wijnne Barends, which owns both the Warber and this ship, the Lady Ariane, has thirty-five. With a few exceptions, the Wijnne Barends' ships are all given female names starting with Lady - which I rather like - and all are ice-strengthened. You can see them all here.

The Marfaam was pictured on her way to Riga, and is seen here passing the small well boat Norholm. She's part of Boomsma Shipping's fleet of eleven cargo ships, a Dutch.... Hang on, this is yet another Dutch company! There are times when one wonders whether the Dutch and Scandinavians are taking over in the cargo shipping world, it being rare these days to find a British-owned ship. And.... Why are so many of these Dutch ships passing up and down the Sound ice strengthened? Do the Dutch know something about global cooling which we don't?

Perhaps someone can tell us what the Aura was carrying when she passed us en route to Belfast. We're becoming accustomed to massive bits of wind turbine destined for offshore farms, but this looks like something quite different. The Aura is a Finnish 'heavy load carrier' owned by the Meriaura Group which, along with general cargo boats, specialises in these deck cargo ships designed for large loads.

In general, the last month has seen plenty of fine weather. This picture shows one of the Irish company Arklow's smart vessels, the Arklow Field, which may not be British-flagged but is a close thing.

A morning spent in Tobermory gave a rare opportunity to see a good number of the fishing boats that regularly work out of that port. OB19 is the Mary Manson, a dredger which sadly lacks....

....the loving care which has been the hallmark of the owners of these two lovely little creel boats, ones which work in all weathers throughout the year yet which always look as if they never move from the harbour.

There are a few cruise ships still around, mostly small ones operating local trips, such a the Majestic Line's new Glen Etive, and....

....the Hebridean Princess, seen here moving through the golden light of early morning.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Sunset & Aurora

Out&About was at the lighthouse this evening and sent this picture of the sunset. It's been a cloudy day, and the forecast for tonight is for a continuation of the same, which is a pity as....

....there was a terrific aurora event last night - none of which was visible from here because of cloud - and there's promise for more tonight.

Many thanks to Out&About for the picture.

A Viking Barbecue Pit

Saturday saw a group from the Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association travel to Swordle to explore the area below the road immediately to the left after crossing the cattle grid onto what was Swordle Corrach land. The structure of particular interest was to be found..... the back of the cobbled beach, well above the high-tide mark, below the cliffs at the western end of the beach - a pit formed in the cobbles which is about five metres long and....

....about two metres deep. The cliff-side of the pit is formed of in situ rock but the rest has been carefully built by someone who knew how to construct drystone walls.

We've sent details of this structure to officers at Highland Council's Historic Environment Record and they have identified it as an unusually well-preserved kelp burning pit. Kelp burning was an industry encouraged during the late 18th and early 19th century as a source of potash for the glass and soap industries but collapsed after the levy was raised on cheap foreign imports.

There's plenty of evidence of burning: this lump of limestone is one of many blackened by heat. However, the shape of the pit is quite unlike anything that's recorded on line - try Googling 'kelp burning pit'. Most of those shown are shallow, circular and saucer shaped in cross section. Although one end of our pit may have been open, giving access to the lower part of the pit, this appears to have been blocked by a large rock. Further, most of the kelp would have come in by boat, and this is a very unfriendly section of coastline.

We're convinced this is a barbecue pit, the ideal shape for cooking a whole ox, and the people who might most have enjoyed this would have been the Vikings.

We then walked along the beach eastwards to St Columba's Cave where we sat and enjoyed the superb views across to Rum, Eigg, Muck and Skye.

One of the stories about this cave is that St Columba used to baptise converts in a pool just inside the entrance, and that this natural font never dried up. We were there after a spell of dry weather and, sure enough, the pool was full.

Some Peaceful Moments

Many thanks indeed to Ross for sending me a link to some aerial footage he took last week with his drone while flying it around West Ardnamurchan. For a few peaceful moments, click here.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Small Bird News

This was dawn this morning, with the sun rising over the hills of Morvern at 8.30 and the chaffinch mob at our bird table lining up for breakfast.

For the first time this year we had a ground frost at the end of Ormsaigbeg, though there were frosts in Kilchoan, which is less warmed by the sea, a couple of weeks ago. These starlings live around the Ferry Stores and are seen here working their way across the saltings by the slipway.

A few weeks ago, all our blackbirds disappeared. They hadn't had a good summer, unlike last year when the resident pair produced a large family of cheeky young birds which pillaged our strawberry and raspberry beds under our noses.

For some time we saw no blackbirds. Then they started to reappear, in increasing numbers, but they were quite different, very shy and wary of the bird feeders. Some of the black ones, presumably the males, have black beaks; some, like this one, have the traditional yellow.

We assume that these are blackbirds from the north, possibly from Scandinavia, which have arrived to take the place of our summer residents who have migrated south. The newcomers are just in time to gorge on the mass of berries which are weighing down the trees - rowans, whitebeam (above), hawthorne and dog rose.

We've been anticipating that this berry feast would draw in other foreign species and, sure enough, the redwings and fieldfares are arriving in increasingly large flocks, again from Scandinavia. The redwings tend to bury themselves in the foliage, exploding outwards if they feel you're coming too close.

Our chaffinches have had an excellent breeding year, and are now by far the most common bird at our bird feeders, followed by yellowhammers, robins, goldfinches, house sparrows, blue tits and great tits. The chaffinch dominance seems to have chased away some species: for example, we haven't seen a siskin in ages.

The robins seem to spend most of their time chasing each other around the garden. We've always assumed that, at this time of year, they're establishing their territories for the winter, and our terrace is prime real estate. The fights can become quite vicious, with the victor pursuing the vanquished, which....

....may have caused this robin to forget to look left and right before crossing our very busy road.

This post is specially for JJC, who tells me that 'Small Bird News'
and 'Ships in the Sound' are his favourite blog features.