Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Otter in the Rain

Sitting at the end of the headland below our house in pouring rain, I watched a pair of otters swimming just off the point. One of them disappeared but the other....

....surfed in on a wave and came ashore just below me. For a few moments it sat amongst the weed, as if thinking, and then....

....ran a short distance along the shore and tucked itself against this rock - presumably to take shelter from the rain.

Monday, 30 January 2017

The Allt Sordail Dun

On Saturday intrepid members of the Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association braved rain, low temperatures and the boggy ground beneath the forestry to the south of Swordle to investigate a hilltop fortress called the Allt Sordail Dun by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland.

The dun occupies a lozenge-shaped area much larger than the RCAHMS described, some 23.5m by 14m. In places the eastern wall of the dun is reasonably well preserved, and is said by the RCAMHS to be up to 2.5m thick. At the northern and southern ends there are inner and outer walls.

Within the walls is a 14m diameter basin-shaped area now filled with bracken.

At the northern end there is a small, roughly 1.5m x 1.5m enclosure and a cairn, both thought to be of much later date than the walls.

The RCAHMS report is unable to give the dun a date, nor does it attempt to explain why a fortification like this lies in such a remote area some two kilometres inland from the coast, though one possibility is that it controlled an ancient trackway running from Swordle to the south coast.


Sunrise over Morvern looking down the Sound of Mull at twenty past nine this morning. We're back in a strong southeasterly wind which is forecast to strengthen through the afternoon, brining gusts to gale force.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

A Special View

The summit of Creag an Airgid is almost exactly in the centre of the western end of Ardnamurchan and we climb it fairly frequently because it offers one of the best views on the peninsula.

It's not a particularly high ben, and its slopes are a steep and slippery slog up from the Sanna road, but it's one of those hills which, as you wind your way higher and higher, offers constantly changing views - this one southwestwards, with Beinn na Seilg's summit lost on cloud and two lochans visible, Ealachan at left and Crannaig towards the right. The ridge in sunlight is Beinn nan Ord.

The BBC weather service had forecast a perfect morning but the cloud persisted, sitting low across the Sound of Mull and, occasionally, bringing us a thin, cold rain, but the visibility, when the clouds cleared, was almost perfect, the clean air....

....ideal for lichen. I have no idea what this particular one is but it seems to be in full 'flower' on the higher slopes at the moment.

This is the view we think is so special. The road snakes away across moorland between, if you look closely, old fields with the characteristic rig-and-furrow striping, evidence that this area was once much more heavily populated. The road passes through the township of Achnaha with its white-painted houses and then bears away to the right on its way to Sanna. The hill that dominates the middle distance is Meall Sanna - so clear we felt we could almost reach out and touch it - and just to its right is one of the houses of Sanna....

....which, as we watched, was picked out by a brief-lived rainbow.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

The Peanut Challenge - 4

The wind dropped steadily overnight and the day turned misty, the temperature rising from a heady 4.9C first thing to 5.1C at midday. At some point, before the clouds lifted, it snowed on the tops, with Ben Hiant, seen here from the glen of the Achateny Water looking past Braehouse Cottage, receiving just a sprinkling while the hills down the Sound are snow-capped.

While we ate lunch we kept watch on a fully charge Derryck Morton peanut machine. We'd already seen a blue tit take a peanut on several occasions but each time far too quickly for a photo, but....

....this time we were lucky as, with one long pull on the matchstick followed....

....by a second sharp tug this one managed....

....to dislodge a peanut.

I'm fairly sure that it was a male, having a largish black bib, but we're not sure if it is the same blue tit each time.

I am so very deeply impressed. Other than the blue tits, no other bird has shown any interest in the peanuts, and it took the blue tits no time to work out how to free the nut. What is it, other than an innate curiosity, which makes the blue tits, whether of Devon or Ardnamurchan, so very, very clever?

Friday, 27 January 2017

Counting Birds

Many thanks to Alasdair Thornton who reminds us that the world's biggest survey of birds starts tomorrow - the Big Garden Birdwatch 2017. Last year, more than 519,000 people all over the UK counted 8,262,662 birds, helping the RSPB to build a picture of garden wildlife across the UK. Interested? You can download your pack here.

We're pleased to see a pair of collared doves in our garden again. For some time we've been without them.

Three Stags

We stopped the car when we saw this stag not twenty metres from the road. Although he was unusually close, he seemed unconcerned by our proximity for, after a few moments studying us, he....

....went back to feeding.

A second stag, slightly closer, didn't move away but stood watching us; and we watched him.

Some minutes passed before we noticed a third stag, rather further away. He had been hidden by a small fold in the land but when he saw us he began to move away.

His anxiety seemed to communicate itself to the other two as they all began to move away, very slowly, and with some dignity, the first stag....

....stopping for a moment to look back at us, a look of haughty disdain, before he disappeared down the hill.

Thursday, 26 January 2017


The southeaster continued through the night and into this morning, with Dominic Cooper reporting that it sits between force 6 and force 8, with gusts to force 9 - and he's on the more sheltered north coast. The difference today is that it has brought bright sunshine, so I walked along the Ormsaigbeg shore to enjoy the warmth and the breakers.

In the bay below the house two gulls were playing in the surf. Just like children, they seemed to be daring each other to drift closer and closer inshore into the breakers until....

 ....one of them was almost toppled over. One could almost hear the other one, swooping overhead, laughing at its friend.

In places the usual way along the shore was impassable as waves rushed up along the bedding planes where the Jurassic limestone strata dip towards the sea. At the back of this area....

....tucked into an eroded cliff, this fern-like plant seemed to be thriving despite the winter temperatures and the regular dousing with salt spray.

As the waves continued to smash against the coastline the Campbeltown prawn trawler Freedom II passed along the coast fishing, having probably come into the Sound to seek shelter. In the distance is Glengorm Castle.

The waves were at their most spectacular in the bay below the twin's house, where they were funnelled in between the headland on the west side and the rocky coastline to the east. One of the joys of digital photography is that one can go on firing off picture after picture in the hope of....

....capturing that magic moment when a great blue-green breaker topples over to destroy itself in a welter of foam. This in the bay in which the family goes swimming in the summer months.

Many thanks to Dominic for the statistics.


Sunrise this morning around 9 o'clock, seen from Ardslignish.

Many thanks to May McNicol for the picture.

Ships Off the Point

Kilchoan Early Bird has been recording some of the ships which have rounded Ardnamurchan Point this week....

....some of which have encountered fairly rough weather.

This looks like Jacobite, one of two creel boats working out of Tobermory which seem to go out whatever the weather.

The forecast is for continuing heavy weather through today with the winds freshening further.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the pictures.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Swordle Boat Burial Described

A paper describing the Viking boat burial excavated at Swordle by the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project team has been published in the magazine Antiquity.

There is a link to a BBC article here, and a link to Antiquity magazine here - a .pdf of the article can be downloaded from this page.

Many thanks to Ricky & Joan for drawing this to my attention.

The Peanut Challenge - 3

On first sighting of a new moon, my deeply superstitious mother used to make us bow to it seven times, but there never seemed to be any similar requirement for what is almost certainly the last appearance of an old moon. Today's rose through bands of cloud to the southeast of us only to be....

....absorbed into a swirling sunrise, which gave due warning with its gaudy reds and burnt oranges of....

....a blustery day to come. We're forecast for two days of this, a southeasterly force six or so with gusts up to gale force, quite enough to ensure that, other than our Raasay, there were no ferries passing in the Sound of Mull.

The ridge at the back of Ormsaigbeg is an exhilarating place to walk on such a day, at moments almost blown off one's feet, at others in shelter. I love this walk, alone on the hill to wander amongst the remains of the works of long-forgotten people, like this very substantial wall half way up the brae which seems to start nowhere and end nowhere.

The only company, if it can be called it that, was half a dozen blackface sheet disgruntled at being disturbed.

I couldn't linger as there were important things to be done at home, with a priority given to....

....building a shelter for the peanut machine to protect it from the wind and, because it still seemed to shift around in the eddying gusts, adding pieces of lead to its legs.

It hadn't been out a few minutes before, when my back was turned, one of the peanuts disappeared, and....

....a blue tit continued to show interest, watched by a robin. I sat for some time sipping a hot drink and hoping for a picture but....

....there are another six peanut feeders in the front garden which are much easier to access, so whichever bird is working Derryck's machine is doing it for fun rather than from hunger.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Peanut Challenge - 2

Larger peanuts in the dispenser tubes don't seem to have defeated the blue tit. By mid-afternoon yesterday, some five hours after the contraption was put out, he had discovered how to pull out a match to access a peanut - and this blue tit throws the matches around the place.

We had to take the dispenser in overnight as the local pine martens are very partial to peanuts, but within an hour of it being out again this morning a peanut had gone, and....

....this has continued all day.

Sadly, the blue tit which is doing this - and we assume that it is a blue tit each time - is avoiding us, so only one fleeting opportunity has occurred in which I might have got a picture, but he was too quick.

Many thanks to Derryck for providing us with so much enjoyment - and frustration.