Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Thank You!

It seems appropriate to start the last post of the Kilchoan Diary with the picture that appeared on the very first post, on 15th October 2009. It showed the Loch Linnhe approaching Mingary Pier at ten to eight in the morning, with an explosive sunrise behind it. The picture was responsible for the creation of the Kilchoan Dairy: having taken it on a new digital camera, it seemed churlish not to find some way of sharing it with others.

This blog has been enriched by the contributions of a number of people, including a large number of people outside Ardnamurchan. Many of them sent accounts and pictures from their holidays here. Others corrected me when I made mistakes - like a wrong identification of a bird. For others, the Diary gave the opportunity simply to connect to this lovely place and, sometimes, to their ancestors. My thanks to all of you.

I have many Ardnamurchan residents to thank for all they have done to help, including those who have contributed - Les Humphreys, Ritchie Dinnes, Richard O'Connor, Justin Cameron, Chris Gane, Geoffrey Campbell, Tony Thain, Out & About, Kilchoan Early Bird, the Raptor and many more. To them, and to others locally who have helped and supported in so many ways over the years - my deepest thanks.

None of this would have been possible without the help, encouragement and patience of Mrs Diary. It isn't only that we have walked miles together across the lands of Ardnamurchan in all weathers and conditions, she has also put up with the frequent stops to take pictures, the mad pursuits after an errant butterfly, and the irritation when the butterfly has moved just as the camera focussed on it. We'll both desperately miss these walks, and the silence, alone-ness, and stunning beauty of this place.

So, to the good people of West Ardnamurchan; to you, the Diary's readers; to the passing ships and the weather, to the auroras and the landscapes and the wildlife, to this beautiful place which has been such a happy home for us for over 21 years - thank you, and farewell.

A Wealth of Wildlife

There was a time when rabbits were much more common here. When we first had the Ferry Stores we used to watch them in the evenings playing on the grass by Shore Cottage but I understand that, years ago, they were much more abundant - Sanna has been described as over-run with them. It may be that their decline....

....is partly to be responsible for the collapse of the Scottish wildcat population, rabbits being one of their main prey. Again, when we first came, we used to see wildcats occasionally, usually on the road at night. It's a long time since we've seen one though they are reported to be still around.

The decline of the wildcat has coincided with the rise in pine marten numbers, and to something we have noticed more and more: pine marten scat miles from the nearest pine, or any other sort of tree. They're beautiful animals but we've always discouraged them: they're not much fun if they set up home in your roof space and, when the cats were alive, they didn't like them.

Mink are an introduced pest. Their numbers seem to fluctuate but even one is too many. They prey on seabirds and their eggs, small mammals, fish, the local poultry and, from the way they look at us, we're also on the menu. Considerable effort has been made locally to eliminate them but this is virtually impossible.

Thank Goodness that, despite competition form mink, otter numbers seem to be holding up. While it's more difficult to see them in summer - they seem to move away from areas where there is increased human activity and, of course, there are more daylight hours in which they can operate - in winter we often see them in the bay below our house. Anyone who has sat and watched them knows what a joy it is.

We have had so many exciting encounters with these magnificent beasts but my abiding memory is of the sound of rutting stags roaring on a dark early-winter night while the aurora played above.

Much less visible are the other species of deer that run wild on Ardnamurchan - fallow, roe and muntjac. The fallow used to be seen in the Beinn nan Losgann forestry but it's now being clear-felled.

For a short time a black adder took up residence in an old drystone wall at the back of our house and was to be found of an evening sunning himself. I missed him when he moved away.

From Ardnamurchan we've enjoyed a wealth of marine life. We've kayaked with basking shark, crept up on seals, and swum with lion's mane jellyfish; we've....

....watched dolphins below our house, seen minke whales sound in the Sound, fished for mackerel off our kayaks, collected periwinkles and cowries, and discovered bluefire and compass jellyfish washed up at Sanna.

We've been very privileged.

Monday, 28 August 2017


We came to West Ardnamurchan in 1996 to run the shop. We didn't know much about retailing, and keeping the shelves well-stocked was always a challenge, but the support from the community as a whole, and the staff in particular, made the experience a pleasure. We never felt we 'owned' the shop, more that we borrowed it from the community for nine years, and like to feel that we left the shop in a better state than when we bought it.

One of the best things I ever did here was to join HM Coastguard. It was fun - particularly things like training to drive the truck off-road, under instruction from our leader, Mr Hughie MacLachlan - but it was also at times deadly serious, for example when we were called out at night and in dreadful weather to find a missing person. The sense of teamwork, the working in sometimes dangerous conditions, the mutual support, offered experiences which I will never forget.

We have always felt very much part of the community and, as such, became involved in many of its activities. This is a fragile community, a long way from the seats of power and therefore easily forgotten and neglected, so there were times when it has had to fight to maintain services - like when the NHS chose to withdraw the district nursing cover without proper consultation. This is a battle which has yet to be fully won.

As time went on I became increasingly fascinated by the communities which existed here a long time before today's. The history of western Ardnamurchan is an ancient one, spanning the last 6,000 years, and the evidence was little recorded. The Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association has begun to rectify this. It has identified over a hundred sites not previously recorded, maintained sites, such as the Campbell graveyard at Camas nan Geall, and....

....it has obtained a number of grants. One was to repair the beautiful church of St Comghan's in Kilchoan township, where the three arches and the doorway were in imminent danger of collapse. The other, from the Heritage Lottery Fund, was, among other things, to publish a number of booklets for sale, to introduce the Kilchoan Primary School children to some of the sites, to create a website - Heritage Ardnamurchan -  and to erect interpretative signs at five of the sites.

In 21 years we have come to know people very well, and to respect them and their way of life. It isn't easy living out here, conditions can be harsh, prices for basic commodities are high, travelling long distances is normal, holding down several jobs to make ends meet is normal. Such constraints make for a community which looks after its members, is supportive and inclusive. It also produces people who are warm and caring and have a wonderful sense of humour. It has been a privilege to have known and worked with them.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Something Special

One of the things I have learnt in the last few years is that photographs often don't come out the way one expects them to. With such limited knowledge of digital photography, I simply point the camera, press the button, and then hope that the settings were right - and occasionally, very occasionally the picture comes out far better than one could have hoped.

This is particularly true of wildlife photography where the opportunity for a good shot can be momentary. Picture shows two greylag geese.

The same can be equally true of landscapes. This picture was taken early on a grey, nondescript March morning and looks across the entrance to Loch Sunart to the hills of Morvern. It was only when it was on the computer that I realised that it captured something like eight layers of landscape.

This is another picture which came out far better than hoped - but for a different reason. We needed a cover for the new edition of the Annals of the Parish, and wanted one similar to the original, which was taken from the lower slopes of Glas Bheinn. To have set out on a bitter March day, with heavy hail showers battering in on a strong wind across the Sound, and come back with such an atmospheric shot, was truly remarkable.

This picture is of one of the crags high above Bourblaige with, far below, the B8007 winding its way across the Basin. The light was all wrong, with the distant slopes of the Basin in the sun and the crag in the shade, but the picture works - partly because of the small things, like the tree clinging to the vertical rock face, and the droplets of water frozen in the waterfall.

This is the most unexpectedly special landscape photograph. We were walking along the beach to the east of Mingary Castle, below the abandoned clachan of Choiremhuilinn, when what had been thick mist suddenly lifted and allowed just a hint of sunlight to catch the beach. At the time I wasn't particularly interested so only bothered to take one shot.

Saturday, 26 August 2017


The buzzard may be the most common of the local raptors but it doesn't make this bird any less impressive. It's only when one sees one up close - usually perched on a post and approached in a car - that one realises how large they are.

They have a hard life. There isn't a bird, large or small, that doesn't find pleasure in harassing them, even though they don't hunt birds, and they are persecuted unmercifully by the local crows.

Occasionally we see much rarer raptors. This merlin was captured by the Raptor at Sanna, while we also have visits from hobbies and hen harriers. At one time we used to see peregrines over Ormsaigbeg.

Kestrels seem to come and go. Sometimes we have one around almost every day. Sometimes we don't see one in weeks. This one spent time hunting in the grass in front of our house, giving us plenty to watch while we ate our lunch.

Sparrowhawks do a good job of clearing out the mass of house sparrows and chaffinches that clutter our bird feeders at this time of year. Watching one hunting is a pleasure: they fly low and fast, perhaps along a hedge or wall before suddenly angling over it to catch their prey unawares.

The golden eagle may be losing its battle to dominate the skies over Ardnamurchan. This pair was flying high above Ormsaigbeg but it's much more usual now to see....

....these birds, the monarchs of the raptors, the sea eagles. We've been seeing more each year, and there are reports that one pair has, for the first time, nested this summer on western Ardnamurchan.

They can be very inquisitive birds. This is a juvenile which flew low, in long circles above us, until we began to think that we might end up as its lunch.

This magnificent adult pair hung above the Ardnamurchan Campsite for some minutes, giving those campers who had their eyes open a rare treat.

A very special 'thank you' to this juvenile sea eagle which took some trouble to position itself so I could take a picture of it soaring against a waning moon.

Many thanks to the Raptor for the use of his picture.


Sunrise, just before half past six this morning, promised well for the day so we set off for a walk early....

....noting, as we passed along the edge of Kilchoan Bay, that some of the Kilchoan sheep had managed to get themselves marooned by the rising tide, something which happens not infrequently.

We left the car at the side of the road at the bottom of the Basin and walked down towards the abandoned clachan of Bourblaige.

On the way we saw no fewer than five herds of deer, one numbering around 80, the others smaller. Four of the herds, like this one, were mixtures of stags and hinds, one was exclusively stags.

Bourblaige was cleared of its inhabitants in 1828. Before that, at any one time it was typically inhabited by six to eight families, each living in a farmstead including one or more dwellings, byres, store rooms and kale yards but....

....some of the buildings seem more isolated. The small dwelling near the bottom of the settlement, which has a yard round it but no other buildings, has been identified as a cottar's cottage.

It's still summer. The last of the foxgloves are in flower but there's more than a hint of coming autumn....

....in the fungi. The small, four-petalled flower is the lovely tormentil, and the fungus is one of the waxcaps.

We walked on through the settlement and down to the beach. This is one of the best places....

....for spotting golden eagles, and one duly obliged, soaring over of the crags high above us, ignored by the sheep. Soon after, two sea eagles came from the direction of Camas nan Geall, flying fast and low, passing us too quickly for a photograph.

We wanted to spend some time, on this still, peaceful morning and on what will probably be our last long walk on Ardnamurchan, on the lonely beach below Bourblaige. We've lost count of the number of times we've sat next to one of the two abandoned dwellings right on the shingle. We now know that these are post-clearance, perhaps built by two families which, unlike all the others, were allowed to stay on Bourblaige land as long as they were well away from the old clachan site. They didn't stay there long - see the entry describing post-clearance farmsteads on AHHA's website here.


Comar's 'Face' tour is at Kilchoan Community Centre on Saturday 16th September - more details here.

We're still trying to clear our house. The following are available, prices negotiable:

Apple iMac, several years old but in very good condition, running Snow Leopard. Free to a good home.

Office Chairs, choice of two, good quality, swivel - £20

B&W laser printer - £5

Silver & Bone Fish Knife & Fork Set, vintage - £5

RISK Board Game - £5

Hand-held Circular Saw - £10

Wrought Iron Companion Set for Woodburner - £5

Soapstone Chess Set with Board - £15

Shepherd's crooks, hand made locally - £5 each

Breadmaker, Russel Hobbs - £5

Microwave oven, Samsung - £5

Sheepskin Coats, men's large, ladies medium, good condition - £5 each.

Contact us on 510 293.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Extreme Weather

The Raptor's superb picture graphically describes the winds that batter Ardnamurchan Point and scour the peninsula. One day, during a particularly vicious storm, we stood outside our house at the Ferry Stores and watched a near-hurricane strip slates off the roof and send them bowling down the road. The next morning, this end of the peninsula was cut off in no fewer than six places along the road back to 'civilisation'.

More recently, we've looked across the Sound to Mull and seen the water of the waterfalls that tumble down the cliffs opposite being picked up and hurled back inland and....

....we've sat snug in our home and watched the ships fight their way into a full force eight gale.

We've lost count of the number of times lightning has blacked out the community, sometimes sending surges along the lines which have blown up computers and game boxes and telephones and, of course, knocked out our fragile broadband connections. What is noticeable is that these thunderstorms are mainly features of winter, not summer.

This is hardly a case of extreme weather but it is one of the strangest weather phenomena we have witnessed here, the whole of the summit of Ben Hiant appearing to be on fire. It wasn't: the sun had heated damp vegetation to the point where it 'steamed'. On a calm day the column of steam rose until it met an inversion, which caused it to spread out.

It hasn't happened for some years but there was a time when the burns froze in winter creating what our young daughter referred to as 'icefalls'. This one was on the Millburn, just upstream from the telephone exchange.

Many thanks to the Raptor for the use of his picture.

A Community Event - Ardnamurchan Style

Thank you, thank you so very, very much, to everyone for yesterday afternoon's party in the Community Centre which gave us an opportunity to say our goodbyes. Particular thanks to those who organised it, who cooked for and cleared up after it, who spoke so very kindly of us, who chauffeured us around, who came to the church to meet us and make sure we walked the last few hundred yards - in the rain and to a favourite Bob Dylan track - to the children of Kilchoan Primary School and their teacher who sang us two moving Gaelic songs, to those who organised the projection of some of the Diary's photographs, to those who organised the collection for, and to everyone who donated to such generous leaving gifts, to those who gave us cards and gifts, and to all who came along - both to the Community Centre and, afterwards, to the pub.

Those who were there will have seen at first hand how desperately sad we are to be leaving, and how very much we will miss the wonderful people of West Ardnamurchan.

Many thanks to Ritchie Dinnes for the picture.