Tuesday, 31 August 2010


We're into a run of good weather, two beautiful days behind us and the forecast promising sunshine until Saturday. This is the sun rising across the shoulder of Ben Hiant at 6.50 this morning: as the autumn comes, it will progressively rise further and further to the right until it's coming up over Loch Sunart.

With this weather the Millburn Camerons are out making haylage in several of the fields below the road along Ormsaigbeg - and, no, nor had the Diary ever heard of haylage before. Gillespie, our postie, tells me it's grass which has dried beyond silage but not quite as far as hay, that it has to be baled like silage, and that it's very good food for horses. Yesterday's cuttings were being turned this morning, with a buzzard and a small flock of seagulls taking a keen interest.

In many of the fields this is the second grass crop this summer, one cut before we lost our first sunny spell in July, just before the schools broke up, and this one, just after the schools have gone back.

All this opportune haylage-making is possible because the Camerons have invested heavily in efficient, modern farm machinery like this tractor. The dark knoll beyond it is the site of the ruins of Caistel Dubh nan Cliar, earlier post here. In the distance, across a tranquil Sound, stand the telecommunications masts above Glengorm.

An Unwelcome Visitor

There are few greater pleasures than paddling close in to the Ormsaigbeg shore on a warm afternoon with a slight swell to set the kelp waving - which is what the Diary was doing yesterday afternoon when it was confronted at close quarters by this beast.

The trouble with mink is that they are cute and inquisitive and, when they're dressed in black on a sunny afternoon, remarkably good-looking, but these appearances hide a vicious killer, as Titch MacLachlan reported recently, here.

We've had one arrive in the middle of a picnic. He was absolutely determined to join in, and had to be deterred by a volley of well-aimed stones, though he kept coming back. Later we realised it wasn't so much the picnic that interested him as the guts of some mackerel we'd caught and cleaned in the shallows.

This is the first mink we've seen along this coast for some time - we'd been beginning to hope that something had happened to clear them away. He was obviously young, perhaps one of last year's cubs, so, unfortunately, there are probably others around.

Monday, 30 August 2010

A Walk to the West

In bright sunshine yesterday, with a stiff north-northeaster blowing, we set out to walk to the west of Kilchoan in search of a waterfall. High above Rubhan a' Chall, we looked towards Mull's northwest extremity, Calaich Point, where the Sound of Mull opens to the Atlantic.

The feature we were looking for is just a kilometre inland from the south coast of Ardnamurchan, downstream from the 'twin lochans', called Lochain Ghleann Locha on the map, yet the burn that tumbles down it, Allt Garbh dhalach, flows north, into Loch Grigadale and then into the sea near Ardnamurchan Point Lighthouse.

The heather is now coming into full flower, and makes a wonderful contrast to the bleak rock outcrops of the ancient volcano's basaltic ring dykes.

It is a country for hard walking, with only the occasional faint traces of sheep tracks to follow. Despite its remoteness, we stumbled across this valley with its floor showing clear signs of workings, whether for peat or for fields. We could not find any sign of a house or byre, yet someone, at some time, put huge amounts of work into digging ditches to drain the area. The view here is northwestwards, towards a distant sea.

The falls, at NM454637, when we found them, were well worth the effort, though they would be more spectacular still after recent rain.

But the best views were saved until last, as we came back over the ridge called Druim na Gearr Leacainn to a full panorama of Kilchoan Bay, from Ormsaigbeg in the foreground and Kilchoan itself on the left, round to the Coastguard hut and Cal-Mac Pier, with Ben Hiant behind them and the entrance to Loch Sunart away to the right.

A map of the area of the walk is here.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Working Together

It's a yachtsman's nightmare: a one-and-a-half ton keel boat has slipped off her trailer and lies, half on and half off it, just above the high-tide mark.

The accident happened last night at Kilchoan slipway as the yacht was being brought ashore for the winter, damaging the trailer. Following a plea for help, Dochie Cameron and his son Justin turned out at 8.30 on a Sunday morning to solve an intricate engineering problem: how to get the boat back into the sea.

With no crane available, the solution lay in gently sliding the yacht, still wedged on her crippled trailer, back into the water and refloating her. By this time Titch and Hughie MacLachlan, and Gordon MacKenzie had joined the team. With their help, the boat was safely floated off.

That was as much as the worried owner could have hoped for, but it was not enough for this magnificent team. Following a quick, temporary repair to the trailer....

....and a great deal of hauling, the boat was manoeuvred back onto its trailer, pulled up the slipway.....

....and safely towed away.

The owner was left standing by his boat, shaking his head. "I can't believe it," he said, "The way they all turned out and mucked in. I've lived in the village a fair bit, but it wasn't until today that I realised how wonderfully people in this small community work together when someone's in need. I can't thank them enough for their help."

Many thanks to Diary photographer Lynda MacKenzie for taking the pictures.

Saturday, 28 August 2010


There's excitement in the air wherever the swallows are, either sitting on the power lines or swooping around the high deciduous trees in their hunt for insects. They usually set off south for their winter quarters in September but, from the way they're behaving, they may be leaving earlier.

The Diary has been very worried about the lack of house martins this year. Two pairs have been spotted in the field below Meall mo Chridh, and others have been seen around Mingary, but there have been none up the Ormsaigbeg end of the village, and certainly none nesting in their usual places such as the eaves of the Ferry Stores and Water's Edge.

Then, suddenly, on Thursday, a flock of them appeared, chattering as they worked for insects around the sycamore trees near Craigard. This attempt at a photograph of them shows just how fast they move. By yesterday they had all disappeared.

Perhaps one group did make it back to the west coast this spring, but spent the year further north, and this was them on their way south again, feeding as they went, on the start of their long migration to Africa.

Would very much appreciate comments from other people on their sightings of house martins this year. Are we alone in having so few?

Ceilidh Tonight

A reminder to everyone that The Lochaber Fiddlers are playing at a ceilidh at the Community Centre tonight - all proceeds go to the Kilchoan Playpark Fund. Event starts at 7.30.

Friday, 27 August 2010

The Lion's Mane

Seven foot across, with stinging tentacles 120ft long, the largest recorded lion's mane jellyfish was washed up on the coast of Massachusetts in 1870. By comparison, the specimens floating off Adnamurchan are mere tiddlers. This one, which looked quite unpleasant enough at a foot across, was seen off Sron Bheag while the Diary and its family were kayaking recently.

Their nasty looks and fearsome reputation belie the facts: while their sting will bring the average person out in an itchy rash, they are only of any danger to people who have sensitive skin or an allergic reaction. The standard treatment, as described in a recent post from Rachael here, is the gentle application of vinegar.

This year has seen very few jellyfish off the Ardnamurchan coast. The most common are the purple moon jellyfish, which are harmless. The lion's mane may not be as fierce a beast as his reputation paints him, but you have to admit he makes a very pretty picture.

More information on the lion's mane jellyfish here.

On the subject of marine beasties, Hughie MacLachlan, who greets visitors at the top of the tower at Ardnamurchan lighthouse, contacted the Diary yesterday to report that he had just seen a sunfish, only the second he had ever seen, swimming off the Point. Three basking sharks had been around all day, one about 10m long, but the sunfish caused considerable excitement. Sadly, Hughie didn't have a camera with him but there's more about this strange fish, and a picture, here.

RIP Maxie

The baby rabbit, called Maxie by the Cheadles who found him on the Ormsaigbeg road yesterday, has died.

Lost, Lonely & Homeless

Found: one little rabbit found sitting on the road along Ormsaigbeg. He can't be more than a few days old but he had the good fortune to be picked up by Sue Cheadle, who has a croft at Sanna, who has taken him home to try to rear him. She's going to feed him baby formula milk. Any suggestions on the care of a small rabbit with a runny nose would be much appreciated.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Early Morning along Ormsaigbeg

Not a cloud in the sky on this crystalline late summer morning, but the haar, a sea fog, lay heavy across the Sound of Mull. So it seemed incongruous, walking down the road to the shop in bright sunlight, to hear the deep, vibrating boom of fog horns as ships tried to avoid collision a few miles away beyond Tobermory lighthouse.

The haar forms when warmer air moves gently across an area of colder sea. It's a feature of the Sound at this time of year, one that passing yachts, in particular, dread, as they share these waters with ships the size of three football pitches which, even with the helm hard over, take a mile or so to start turning.

We walked past Craigard, a neat little working croft nestling in trees at the bottom of the heather-covered slopes of Druim na Gearr Leacainn (druim, ridge, gearr, short, leacainn, possibly leacann, slope). Close followers of the Diary will be pleased to hear that Tom Bryson's Ixworth hen that was attacked by a dog was happily foraging inside the 2,000 volt protected run with all the others, though she has to hop around on one leg.

Herons always look hunched and grumpy, and this one, sitting in the shallow waters of the small lochan beside the shop, was no exception despite the brightness of the morning. Recent high tides, pouring in through the narrow gap on its sea-side, have begun to scour away some of the weed that covers the lochan through the summer months.

Over the heron's head a battle royal was taking place between two buzzards, with the lighter one, screaming with frustrated anger, attacking the darker. It took a moment or two for the Diary to recognise a typical teenage-parent relationship. The noisy one is the youngster who has, for weeks, sat on a fence post crying out all day to be fed. Obviously he's now taking a more aggressive approach toward parents who are obviously not up to the mark.

Meanwhile, a crane fly sits peacefully on an old fencing stob, his wings irridescent in the low morning sun.

Scott Grier Exhibition

An exhibition of Scott Grier's pictures opens this coming Sunday at the Sonachan Hotel. Scott, who is based at that centre of the known universe, Portuairk, paints the most wonderful canvasses of local scenes, and will have pictures of Kilmory, Sanna, Grigadale, Portuairk and Bay MacNeil for sale, as well as others from places further afield such as Arisaig, Corran, Laga and Glenborrodale. Called "Shorelines", the exhibition opens this Sunday at The Sonachan Hotel, and runs until Saturday 4th September.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Playpark Afternoon

From Jac Crosbie

We are having an open 'afternoon' for the Playpark this Friday (27th) at 3.15pm. The press are coming to cover the handover of the cheque from the West Highland Way walk and we will be releasing the rest of the balloons for the balloon race. This will all be on the playpark site, weather permitting!

We'll have copies of the playpark design for you to look at in the Games room afterwards and will be serving tea/coffee/wine/juice and nibbles.

Everyone in the village is very welcome to come along, so please spread the word.

Magnificent Weather

'Magnificent' is the only word to describe West Ardnamurchan's superb weather at this time of year. One minute, the sky growls with dark, forbidding clouds, the next....

....the sun ambushes them, shining under their bellies to touch droplets of rain and create the most stunning rainbows. This view looks across the Sound of Mull to a Tobermory lighthouse picked out by the rainbow.

Both yesterday and today saw sunny intervals during which the sun, shining through beautifully clear air, became so hot that some of us got sunburnt. Yes, sunburnt - not a word commonly associated with the west coast of Scotland. Sunburnt. Wow!

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

A New Academic Year

With the new academic year heaving into view, the University of Kilchoan has been leafletting the area with a list of courses on offer at its campus during the next few months. The range is stunning, varying from hedge laying, marine engine maintenance, mower maintenance, sheep foot care, and dry stane dyking to street dance, yoga, jewellery making, quilting, manicure, cheese making, and vermin control - and there are grants available to help make sure that people can attend the courses they want.

There's something here for everyone, including several the Diary will be singing up for, yet Pat Glenday, our dynamic vice-chancellor, is still asking for more suggestions. This will shortly be the best-educated, best-skilled and most intelligent rural community in the whole wide world.

Contact Pat at pat.glenday@lochaber.uhi.ac.uk or on 01972 510 354.

The Weather

Interesting day yesterday, with 25mm of pure liquid Kilchoan sunshine, a record since the Diary bought a measuring device. But it proved a bit expensive as the local sparrows and chaffinches descended en masse onto the bird feeders, cleaning them out.

For some people, whatever the weather, work has to continue. This is Dochie Cameron and his son Justin suitably dressed for a trip in the coble to check the salmon net off Ormsaigbeg.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Eric: Caught at Last

From Stewart & Judy Pote

Judy and I were out canoeing around the corner from Ormsaigbeg, had been out for a while and had caught several mackerel. We were on our way back when Judy saw a young seal a few yards in front of the canoe. It disappeared and within the same breath I said I had got something on the line.

The line I was fishing with was a crabline I had purchased that afternoon at the Ferry Stores to which I had attached some feathers. Whatever was on the line was pulling the canoe to one side, I was struggling to pull it in, Judy was helping by pulling the line bit by bit while I wound it onto the reel. There was a lot of line, it was nearly all out. Judy was panicking as she was convinced it was the seal and was sure we ought to cut the line to let it go. At this point we gave it a name ......ERIC .

Tony Kidd has lost big Eric several times, so we were convinced this was him! The fight was soon over. Eventually a large fish passed in front of our eyes. Yes it was Eric ...lol. There was a lot of squealing and panic from Judy as I landed Eric into the canoe. I had to open the splash deck to slide him, none too gracefully, between my legs. And he was a whopper!

Eric was a pollock 24" long, and he weighed a hefty 6 lbs.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Pig Obituary

Hughie MacLachlan has advised the Diary of the sad end of eight little - or, rather, now not so little - pigs, who have gone to see a nice man in Tobermory and will be back in Kilchoan shortly to be interred in eight different freezers. The original story is here.

Kilchoan Kayakers

From Geoff Campbell

Over the last six weeks an enthusiastic group of kayakers, keen to enjoy the beautiful waters around Kilchoan, have got together on a Wednesday evening. Our outings consist of paddling along this stunning coastline, watching seals and seeing Kilchoan from a different perspective. The banter's good too, but for those who want it, there is the opportunity to practise rescues and generally improve kayaking skills. The club has attracted a diverse range of members, aged 16 to 60 plus, locals and visitors alike.

Last Wednesday everything came together for a special voyage. 10 paddlers in 8 kayaks headed west into the setting sun. We cruised past Ormsaigbeg and carried on west along the cliffs of Ardnamurchan displaying their unique igneous geology. We landed on a shingle beach next to a cave with a waterfall at its mouth in a surprisingly challenging swell. There we enjoyed a well earned rest until the sun left the beach and the midges came out in force. We returned to the Kilchoan jetty with a sense of shared achievement.

If you are interested in participating in kayaking around Kilchoan, join our Google group http://groups.google.com/group/kilchoan-kayakers and come get out on the water.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

A Blustery Day

Yesterday's weather very much followed the forecast on that excellent site magicseaweed, with the heaviest rain coming through during the morning followed by increasing wind speeds until, by six in the evening, we were experiencing gusts up to Force 7 from the southwest. As magicseaweed clearly predicted, the worst of the weather passed to the northwest of us, with severe gales in the Outer Hebrides which disrupted ferry sailings.

What we hadn't expected were the frequent but sudden breaks in the cloud which gave us a fine, blustery afternoon with spells of brilliant sunshine....

....which moved quickly across the hills. Here, the sun catches the houses in Pier Road. The Coastguard hut is to their right, and Ben Hiant behind.

Looking across the Sound to the Glengorm telecommunications masts, the water took on wonderful shades of blue and green.

This is the fish farm boat the Ronja Pioneer steaming up the Sound on her way to Mallaig shortly after seven pm, by which time the sun had left the water and the wind was at its fiercest.

She was followed by the Minerva, a cruise ship of some 12,000 gross tonnes built in Russia in 1989 as a research ship before being sold to Swan Hellenic. She had spent the day in Tobermory Bay, presumably to steady her passengers before they re-embarked for a bouncy ride to Kirkwall.

Friday, 20 August 2010

The Beach

The Diary thinks West Ardnamurchan is like a beach, a very old beach, washed by the tides. Sometimes high water brings new people, like flotsam, and deposits them along the shore; at others, the ebb washes them away. The tides run higher in the summer, bringing visitors who stay for a few days or weeks, then leave; and they run slower in the winter, so that a stranger can almost be a curiosity. And then there are those whom the tides never touch, who have lived here all their lives.

Julie Allcock, who took these photos, and her partner Chris Wilkinson, have just been deposited on our shore, having bought Far View Cottage. They must have come on a strong spring tide, because they first saw Kilchoan in April of this year, when they stayed in Trevor Potts' campsite and at the Kilchoan House Hotel, and made the brave decision to buy the house. As Julie says, "We fell in love with Kilchoan. People were so friendly and we loved the peace and ruggedness - quite different from the lovely area where we lived near Stroud, on the fringe of the English Cotswolds. We had only lived there for a couple of years. The people were warm and welcoming, and we made lots of wonderful friends, but we needed a permanent base and hadn't decided exactly where it would be."

Julie and Chris have two dogs - Maggie, a springer, and Jenny, a black lab (pictured at Sanna). They love walking, watching wildlife, and gardening; and they're both avid readers. Chris was born in Old Trafford while Julie originates from Malvern, Worcestershire.

Julie adds, "Everyone has made us so welcome and we remain confident we have made the right move. Sometimes you must just follow your destiny, and we truly feel we were meant to be here as everything fell into place so beautifully."

Welcome to the beach.

Gale Warning

The forecast for the next 24 hours doesn't make happy reading. Heavy rain is expected as the day progresses, with winds southeast veering southwest force 6 to gale 8, possibly severe gale 9 later this evening.

A number of local small boats have been brought ashore and others repositioned in Kilchoan Bay, which faces southwest and is therefore exposed to southwesterly gales.

Photo of Ben Hiant and the entrance to Kilchoan Bay taken at 8am this morning.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Hebridean Princess at Anchor

From Trevor Potts

I took this picture of the Hebridean Princess when she anchored off the campsite a few nights ago. I am sure the Queen will be very disappointed that her holiday is over and she was not on board to enjoy a fine sunset view of Ardnamurchan.

She (the ship, not the Queen) used to be a CalMac car ferry in an earlier life and was converted to a luxury cruise ship plying the west coast of Scotland. She often anchors in the vicinity, either in Bloody Bay off Mull or, if sheltering from a northerly wind, at the foot of Ben Hiant, about 5 km from Ormsaigbeg, where she anchored in beautiful calm weather on Sunday night.

It is difficult to think of anything that could improve the wonderful view across to Mull from Ormsaigbeg but I think the Hebridean Princess probably did. Maybe next time the Queen charters her the captain will bring her here to enjoy and enhance our view.

Trevor runs the acclaimed Ardnamurchan Study Centre & Campsite in Ormsaigbeg. He leads regular local walks, including 'Fossil Hunts', 'Bugs & Beasties', and 'Crabs, Shrimps & Shells'.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Seasonal Colours

The West Ardnamurchan countryside is gearing itself up for what is, in the Diary's view, one of the most spectacular seasons of the year.

The autumn, from mid-August to October, is a time of crystal air, sudden dark clouds bearing heavy showers which clear quickly to give breaks of brilliant sunshine, often accompanied by spectacular rainbows.

In a few weeks' time the heather will be in full flower. There's plenty of it out already, so it should be a vintage year - this shot was taken of the hillside behind Craigard, in Ormsaigbeg. Soon the braes will be clothed in purple. Probably the best place to see this breathtaking display is along Ardnamurchan's north shore, along the path to the east of Ockle.

It also looks like a good year for the rowan's bright berries. We had the same sort of heavy fruiting last year, and it was followed by a cold, dry and sunny winter, so we're hoping for the same again. This year's successful nesting season has produced hundreds of small birds which will benefit from the tree's generosity.

The dog rose, Rosa canina, is another plant that has done well this year, leaving heavy crops of hips along the hedgerows.

In contrast, it hasn't been a good summer for butterflies but, with the recent sunny weather, the peacocks are suddenly out in force, enjoying the nectar offered by a good flowering of buddleia and the smaller, more leggy thistle, or sunning themselves on the basalt outcrops.