Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Sunrise this Morning


Intrepid Winter Ascent of Ben Hiant

Exclusive Report

Following blizzard conditions on the mountains of remote Ardnamurchan, a brief window of opportunity opened up on Sunday afternoon between the crucial lie-in and the early afternoon sunset for an epic climb to the summit of Ben Hiant’s snow-covered peak. The party of two daring adventurers – Rachael Haylett from the towering seacliffs of Ormsaigbeg, and Ben McKeown from the misty mountains of Snowdonia – said what might be their last goodbyes to family and friends before setting off from the road up the eastern flanks of the mountain – only to discover they’d been beaten by a lone climber in red, making his descent. Attempting to discourage the young pair, he told tales of hurricane-force winds at the final 100m push to the summit.

But they were not to be discouraged. They tightened up their scarves and pulled on their mitts and plodded on through the deep snow. As they emerged on top of the ridge, their faces were blasted by the sharp, icy wind from the north-east. Pushing ever higher towards the snow and rock roof of Ardnamurchan, still stronger blasts knocked Rachael to her knees. Ben tried to encourage her on, offering to pull her up the steep slope, but Rachael declined, hiding from the wind in a snow cave with a chocolate digestive to keep up her energy levels.

Ben continued on against the wind to reach the summit, where he fought his way to the cairn and briefly admired the frozen forests and lochs below, before making a careful descent down through the drifts to meet Rachael and enjoy the easier descent down. Accompanying them were two golden eagles, which appeared around the hill and soared overhead before disappearing into the blue.

Safely down the mountain, the two adventurers went back for a much deserved cup of tea, and put their frost-bitten toes in front of the warmth of an afternoon film.

From Trevor and Pete

Owing the the very cold weather we are currently experiencing the fruit tree planting has been postponed for one week. Assuming the weather gets a little milder we will have the theory and practice session at 10 am on Wednesday 8th December in the poly tunnel, followed by a practical session outside. During this session we hope to plant most of the fruit trees. You will be glad to know that the holes have already been dug ready for the trees.
There will still be a session taking place this Wednesday 1st December in the poly tunnel when help is still required to prepare the beds. Some help also required on cladding the shed.
Weather permitting Trevor and Pete may have an attempt to plant some of the trees on Saturday afternoon during the market at the Sonachan all helpers very welcome.
Please come along and help support the community garden, everyone is welcome.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Irish Traffic

While it's been a quiet month for shipping passing up and down the Sound, there was some excitement at the beginning of the month when this ship, the Red Duchess, lost power to the north of us, close to Rhum. She was towed off the island by the Mallaig lifeboat - spectacular video footage from the RNLI here - and then taken in tow by the Anglian Prince, the Coastguard tug the Government is currently planning to axe. Please join the Diary in writing to our MP, Charles Kennedy, who is actively opposing this short-sighted cut.

The main feature in the Sound has been the number of Irish fishing boats that have been passing through. This is the Eilean Croine S238, whose home port is Castletownbere in County Cork. She's a herring fisher, the 'S' in her registration standing for her registration port, Skibbereen.

This is Sparkling Star, D437, a Dublin-registered trawler fishing for herring and mackerel.

And this neat red trawler, seen here passing the Tobermory creel boat Jacobite, is the Dillon Owen, S24. She's relatively new, having been built in 2007, and is 23m long and registered 224 tonnes. There are better pictures of her here.

Finally, on the 15th the Diary took this photo by the slipway. A couple of days later, Arctic Tern had had a blue cover fitted. Soon afterwards she disappeared. Nice boat.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

A Winter Walk above Kilchoan

Last night saw air temperatures tumble to -5C, the lowest in the five years we've been keeping records at this house. Since the gritter hasn't made it up to this end of the village and the road is an ice-rink we took to the hills behind Ormsaigbeg and Kilchoan for our Sunday morning walk. The steep path which takes us up to the common grazings follows the banks of a small stream, the combination of algae and icicles making a spectacular picture.

Is it the Diary's imagination or does water at near zero temperatures seem to run slower, more sluggishly across the stones?

From the flanks of Druim na Gearr Leacainn we looked across Ormsaigbeg and Kilchoan townships towards Ben Hiant which the younger members of the family had decided to climb, despite a stiff northeaster which, as the morning progressed, became stronger and increasingly bitter.

Both parties saw eagles, probably the same pair, which we took to be golden eagles. They checked out the Ormsaigbeg croft land and the area northwards, towards the Sonachan, before setting off eastwards. The picture, a distant shot, shows one of them flying across the face of Ben Hiant.

Having circled round towards the Kilchoan Fire Station we returned along the old Portuairk road, crossing the fence to take in Greadal Fhinn with its chambered cairns, the stones standing cold and hard against light that was already failing at 1.00pm.

Fruit Tree Planting Event

From Richard van de Peer

Following on from the great composting event last month, we would like to invite everyone to December's informal training. On Wednesday the 1st December, from 10am, Peter Holmes and Trevor Potts will guide us through their thoughts and considerations for choosing fruit trees for this area. We will then look into general tree care including the planting, staking and tying of trees, and the subsequent pruning, mulching and storing of fruit.

After probably an hour or so's chat, tea and cake, we'll proceed to the garden to put the principles into practice by having a go at planting some (or all) of the 40 apple, plum, pear, cherry, damson and greengage trees going into the community orchard.

Please do come along and continue to support the work going on at the garden. We look forward to seeing you on Wednesday.

Picture shows Community Garden with polytunnel and new shed.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Out and About on a Winter's Day

After a morning of snow flurries the sky cleared to give us a fine, if cold afternoon with a light northeaster, so it was good to see this young lady out exercising her horse. Phoebe Cash is the younger daughter of Stella and Dave Cash who run Meall mo Chridhe, a restaurant with rooms, link here. Phoebe has a wonderful hobby for a place like this, where, once away from the village, there are miles of open moorland across which she can ride.

The way the snow is lying, and the low angle of the winter sun, brings out the structure of our nearer hills - as if one can see the muscles beneath their skin. Here, the main peak of Ben Hiant, with the ridge of Beinn na h-Urchrach to the left, are both formed of a hard, intrusive quartz dolerite which sticks out above a surrounding countryside of ancient but softer metamorphic schists and gneisses. The houses of Pier Road are in the foreground, with the Coastguard Station to the right.

Mary Presents a Cheque

Mary MacGillivray (left) is pictured with May Angus, Chairman of Kilchoan Community Centre, when she presented the Centre with a cheque for £140, the proceeds from selling the first 300 copies of her booklet, "Growing up on an Ardnamurchan Croft".

The booklet will be reprinted next spring. In the meanwhile, "Walks around West Ardnamurchan", the second booklet in the series, which describes walks of an historical nature to places like Camas nan Geall, the Ormsaigmore chambered cairn, and Mingary Castle, sold in aid of the Kilchoan Playpark, is still available from all retail outlets in Kilchoan.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Crow Bar

Here's a sad story:

"If anybody in our area is in need of a helping hand then they will always get it from any of our good-natured locals, but yesterday some person we think took a wrong turning at Ockle ended up on the track to Ockle Bay where they got well and truly stuck.

"Round about the same time, a crow bar that was supporting a door at Ockle went missing. Later on that evening it was found chucked to the side of the track where it had been used to lift up some boulders to put under the car, which was then obviously able to reverse back to the road and continue its journey.

"Nobody minds lending out gear but, if you do borrow something even without the owner's consent, please have the good manners to put it back where you found it."

This little story is in such contrast to the Diary post back in August called Working Together.

Early Snow

Snow settling in November is unusual but we've had several falls today, mixed in with sleet - this a view of the hill leading down into Laga Bay on the road to Fort William, where one or two cars had obviously had problems. Surprisingly, the gritters weren't out, probably because the weather forecast wasn't for snow along the west coast - Fort William, when we reached it, was clear - and the gritting lorries are called out from Perth. Last winter our road maintenance teams did a fine job.

In between the snow flurries the sun came out and the landscape turned magical. This is a view of Camas nan Geall with Maclean's Nose in the right distance. Shortly after taking this picture we spotted two eagles on the beach, too far away to attempt a picture.

With snow still falling at 4pm, but the gritting lorries now out, the local Shiel bus is going to have a difficult journey home. Corran ferry is still not taking heavy vehicles, so Gordon is having to go round the head of Loch Eil and, to give his passengers a reasonable time in the Fort, isn't leaving the Fort until 2pm - with the result he's lucky to get home by 5pm.

The news is that the repairs at Corran are on schedule, so the Nether Lochaber slip should be back in action on December 19th.

Trout and About

From Alasdair MacLachlan

Out on one of my wee strolls through the hills last Sunday, 21st November, with a light northeast wind. It took me by one of Ardnamurchan's trout lochs. After seeing wild duck take flight a small ripple on the loch caught my eye. Two trout of good size were splashing in at the bank and racing up and down.

I've heard of trout spawning in lochs near the banks and this is what was happening. I soon saw more fish in close doing the same thing. This is happening all over our hill lochs.

There were wee scrapes in at the edge of the lochs where they had been spawning previously. Even after scaring one of the trout it still came back as if to guard its nest.

I've fished all the lochs in Ardnamurchan and never seen such a size of trout. The loch's water was dark and it was hard to get a photo. This is a photo of a trout I caught last year of four pounds. They taste of peat so I never know whether to eat them or burn them.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Two Dawns

Dawn this morning, at about 8.40, over the Sound of Mull, with the creel fishing boat Dawn Treader, out of Tobermory, in the foreground.

Lone Swan

From The Raptor

Whilst at work last week I received a call asking me to have a look at an injured swan. I put on my wellies and off I went. Arriving at the site just above Kilchoan I was looking for a lochan, but found a flooded field - 'lochan nam field' - and there on the edge was a lone swan, a beautiful looking thing that was fully alert: as soon as it saw me it moved into the water and began to alarm call.

This let me have a good look at it through the binos, and I was looking at a Whooper swan, a visitor to us at this time of year. I watched the bird move in the water and could see no obvious sign of distress. I moved slightly closer to get a better view and then, with lots of noise - its the noisiest and loudest of our swans - it raised up on its very black legs and began to run across the lochan flapping it huge wings (up to a 235cm span) and then took to the air showing no signs at all of injury. It flew in circles getting higher each time and then disapperared out of view over in the direction of Kilchoan Bay.

It was good to be asked to come and have a look at the bird, it would have been a shame if it had been injured or caught in wire or netting or the such. These beautiful Whoopers visit us each winter from the snowy lands to the north, as the ice encroaches and feeding becomes difficult they move to warmer climes. Around 12,000 come to Britain. We don't usualy have them as residents in any great numbers here in West Ardnamurchan, but they do visit - I was watching 12 in the small bay by Mingary Castle last year.

The small lochan was an ideal place to land and have a rest as this is exactly the type of habitat they adore, wet, boggy, and reedy. All swans are big, the Whooper is the second biggest, the Mute swan winning by just a little. The three swans that visit all look alike at first but I think the best way to tell them apart to to have a good look at their beaks. The mute swan has an orange beak, the Bewicks has a black beak with a smallish rounded yellow area at the head end, the Whooper has a black beak with a large triangular yellow part. Our bird will move further south into the borders, or across to Ireland.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Trouble on the Croft

This ewe isn't, as she appears, contentedly curled up in the back of a trailer having a nap. She's dead, and her end was probably prolonged and agonising.

She was found yesterday morning at the bottom of a field on the shore of Kilchoan Bay, the only evidence for her ordeal being two pairs of neat but bloody puncture marks on either side of her throat. She'd probably been killed by the large fox which has been seen several times recently moving along the banks of the Millburn.

The Diary has to admit to having been totally ignorant of the fact that foxes kill fully grown sheep. They kill lambs, yes, and they might kill a yearling hogg, but this was a large animal. That the foxes are doing this so early in the winter suggests a desperate shortage of food. Perhaps our local fox population had a good breeding season - as have some of their competitors such as the buzzards - and this may be reflected in the sudden disappearance of rabbits from the fields.

Whatever the reason, this ewe's death does not bode well for our crofters. The depredations of foxes is something else for them to contend with through what may be a long, cold winter.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Local Skills

From Pat Glenday at the University of Kilchoan

Our latest course, Quilting, was very successful. Twelve folk came and learnt to make an "Ohio Star". The teacher was Davina Heasman who is the mother of my colleague, Maria Townsend. Maria does the same job as me in Acharacle and Strontian, and her mum was teaching a class in Acharacle on the previous day.

It's amazing the talents that are tied up in this small community. My partner taught an art class, and my ex husband is running a creative writing course. Plenty of local folk have helped me out too, including Richard O'Connor with mower maintenance, Leslie Hind with car maintenance, Tom Bryson on keeping hens and polytunnel gardening.... I could go on and on

If anybody has a skill they would like to pass on, or a friend or a relative who visits and who might like to take a one-off class/workshop in something, then I'd love to hear from them. The College does pay its tutors (not a great deal but at least it's something) and some of them have opted to give their fees to charity, so everybody benefits!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Purchasing Beet Pulp

From Pat MacPhail

Many years ago West Ardnamurchan's crofters formed a syndicate to purchase beet pulp in bulk in order to get a better price. The late Alan MacLachlan organised it, then in 1997 I took over from him.

Once we get a price from our supplier I notify each crofter - there are 20 this year - and collate all the orders. We are usually the first to get our order in so as to get the best price offered. One week after I placed our order this year the price went up by £15.00 per ton! I then work out a collection schedule from each lorry, which arrives at 8am on consecutive Saturdays, and everyone arrives with various means of transport and it is all hands on deck until the lorry is empty.

Diary readers may find it interesting to note the price fluctuations over the last 10 years. It gives some idea of the difficulties of balancing a croft budget.

YEAR PRICE 2001 as 100%

2001 £ 119.00 100
2002 £ 110.00 92
2003 £ 118.00 99
2004 £ 132.00 111
2005 £ 130.00 109
2006 £ 144.00 121
2007 £ 186.00 156
2008 £ 215.00 181
2009 £ 160.00 134
2010 £ 202.00 170

This is the team last Saturday morning transferring the year's second delivery from the lorry to one of our trailers. Thank goodness for modern farm machinery! It was not so long ago that a 27 ton load was literally unloaded bag by bag, and in those days there could be 3 or 4 loads - not fun! It is always a great relief to me when everyone gets their correct order and I get their relevant cheques to send to the supplier.

The sheep aren't too worried about prices - they're just so pleased to have the supplement to help them through the winter.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sue & Dochie

Congratulations Sue and Dochie

Congratulations to Sue and Dochie Cameron on their Ruby wedding anniversary - the above photo taken exactly 40 years ago today.

Sue says, "We were married at St Mary's church Eastham, Wirral, Cheshire which is where I was brought up and sang in the church choir. We honeymooned in The Cotswolds. As it was a long way for Kilchoan friends and family to go down to Cheshire we had a really great homecoming in the old Kilchoan Village Hall. I remember there was a bread strike on at the time so all the way back up to Kilchoan we stopped of at as many supermarkets as possible to buy bread for the sandwiches."

These days they don't holiday in the Cotswolds as this photo, taken a few days ago in Tunisia, shows.

And this is Sheik Dochie bin Cameron in the Tunisian Sahara. Now that's the way to spend your retirement!

Sue and Dochie run Ockle Holidays, which has three letting cottages on
Ardnamurchan's beautiful north coast.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Winter Sun

This view from Ormsaigbeg across the bay to Pier Road, with the bulk of Ben Hiant in the background, picture taken at half past two this afternoon, gives some idea of what a beautiful day it's been, and so calm - in such contrast to the winds and rain of the last week or so.

People were gathering around the front of the shop for a chat and an opportunity to exchange news. It was good to see some visitors too, and some who have houses up here who are just up for the weekend.

Community Garden Update

From Richard van de Peer

On Wednesday 10th November around twenty people gathered on a cold but thankfully dry day at the garden for the first of our monthly free training days. The event was held in conjunction with Lochaber Environmental Network and gave participants the opportunity to have a look around the garden and discuss with the LEN visitors issues around composting and best practice. After about an hour we retired to the warmth of the Sonachan for the serious business of eating cakes and drinking tea.

We plan to put on events every month, continuing in December with fruit tree planting on Wednesday 1st. We will also be available every Wednesday from now on at the garden for volunteer days, and hope that people will turn up at any time between 9 and 4 to lend a hand with some of our gardening or building projects. There will always be work to do, come rain or shine, and someone on hand to work alongside. Keep an eye on the notice boards in Kilchoan, Kilmory and at the Community Centre for more information.

Next Wednesday the 24th we will be digging holes for the arrival of the fruit trees, preparing the beds in the poly tunnel, building raised beds outside or putting the final touches to the shed. Pop along and lend a hand, you will be most welcome. We hope to see you then.

Friday, 19 November 2010

A Rollercoaster Ride

Yesterday, with the southeaster still blowing a steady force 6/7 and gusting to force 8, it seemed an appropriate day to take the Coastguard truck for a patrol around the peninsula, something the team is asked to do on a fairly regular basis. It was buffeted if uneventful run until we approached the Coastguard station on our return, when we spotted the Raasay making her way across to Tobermory.

Through all the dreadful weather during the last few weeks, this brave little ship and her crew have hardly missed a run even though she bounces around like a cork and regularly ships waves across her car deck. That she maintains this link is important to West Ardnamurchan, not least because several of the local teenagers would hate to miss a day at school in Tobermory.

Just as we were completing our patrol, this fighter bounced in from the direction of Ben Hiant, almost took the roof off the Coastguard station, rocketed low across the pier, and wobbled out across the water as it hit the full force of the wind before swinging away south over the Sound - by which time the Diary had managed to fall out of the truck, turn the camera on, and take a hurried, distant photo of it departing down Loch Sunart.

The American pilot was either thoroughly enjoying his rollercoaster ride, and didn't seem to be bothered by any low-flying rules, or was close to losing control of his machine. The Diary assumes it's a US F14 Tomcat but the tail arrangement seems different from the pictures on Google, so stands to be corrected.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Pine Marten Moves In

We have a new lodger, a pine marten who has moved into our roof space. We're not sure what proportion of his time he spends there as he is also making his presence known in the roof of the house next door.

The trouble with pine martens as lodgers is that they have slightly different rules from all the rest of the household. For a start, their favourite time to have noisy fun is the middle of the night when everyone else is trying to get some sleep. Toilet etiquette is another. While they do have a toilet in one spot, their version isn't attached to the house plumbing system, so the first the other house occupants know of it is a brown and rather smelly stain spreading across the ceiling.

We enjoy having pine martens around even though, as members of the weasel family, they are a threat to our two cats - if a cat has an argument with one, the cat can be severely injured. Along with wild cats, sea otters, golden and sea eagles, they're part of the wonderful wildlife of this area.

We're not alone in our problem. It seems that many local residents have had martens as visitors, and have interesting tales to tell of how they managed to move them on. The problem we all face is that pine martens are protected by being listed under Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 - full details here. While it's clear that some sections of the Act are waived if the animal is causing a nuisance in a 'dwelling house', there are strict rules governing what we may or may not do.

We've started by trying to block all exterior entrances to the roof. This is a new house, so there aren't many, though we've been warned that a pine marten can slide in through an unbelievably narrow gap. The other night he woke us at 3 in the morning. In an attempt to find out where he's getting in and out we pushed a radio playing Radio 1 at full blast into the roof and rushed round the outside of the house house hoping to see him making a hasty exit. It was a freezing cold night, and a futile search, made memorable by the most magnificent shooting star we've seen in years, which crackled across half the sky leaving a trail of sparks.

Following research on the internet, the next stage is moth balls which, if scattered in a confined space such as an attic, are said to discourage them. They're sold on Amazon, at £2.20 a packet, so they're on order.

Dry Winds

We've had a two-day battering from a strong to gale force southeaster, weather for some to lie down with their backs to the wind....

....while others use it as an excuse for some fine aerobatic displays. It's the sort of wind that seems to worry at everything, that peels plastic off the silage bales and leaves it flapping across the road, that finds the loose sheets of corrugated iron and won't leave them alone, that knocks pedestrians about when they try to walk along the road. It's a constant, tiresome wind.

Despite the wind, which gusted to 70kph around midnight last night, force 8, we've had hardly any rain, in contrast to the beginning of the week when it seemed to rain without ceasing.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Tommy Angus' Marathon

From Gael Cameron

Tommy Angus ran the Loch Ness Marathon on 3rd of October to raise funds for the Kilchoan Playpark.

The Baxters Loch Ness Marathon is recognised as one of the UK's leading marathons. It follows a spectacular point-to-point route through stunning Highland scenery, along the south-eastern shores of Loch Ness, and then crosses the River Ness to finish along the river at Bught Park.

Tommy made a huge effort to travel all the way from Lauder on the borders up to Fort Augustus to compete in the race. He took part along with 2,488 other runners and came in with a fantastic time of 4 hours, 1 minute and 41 seconds, placing him 996th.

Tommy, who has very close connections to Kilchoan, did the run to raise funds for the playpark in memory of Caleb Cameron. Gael, Bert & Holly Cameron along with all the members of the Kilchoan Playpark Committee and everyone else who is supporting this cause would like to extend the Biggest Thank You to Tommy for putting himself through the pain barrier to complete the marathon and raise more than £2,000 for the Playpark.

Thank You also to everyone who sponsored Tommy and encouraged him on his way to having another marathon under his belt.

Donations towards the playpark are still being gratefully received and can be placed online at kilchoanplayparkfund.weebly.com

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Sea Eagle Attack - More

Having checked with Morven, the Diary can now report that Titch saw the sea eagle when he checked his stock at Achnaha before going out for a day's fishing.

The eagle was sitting on the goose having an early breakfast - at Titch's expense.

The Diary is seeing sea eagles frequently at the moment. We watched yesterday as one soared majestically over Ormsaigbeg - but we would enjoy these sightings more knowing that farmers were compensated for their losses.

Portuairk to Bay MacNeil

On Sunday, with an hour or so to spare on a beautiful winter's day, we drove to Portuairk to walk over the hill to Bay MacNeil. Portuairk faces northeast across the bay to Sanna, and has a spur of Beinn Bhuidhe immediately behind it, so much of this lovely crofting village sees little winter sunlight, even at midday in mid-November. It's the village's one disadvantage. In summer, with its safe, sandy beaches and spectacular views, this place is little short of paradise.

Bay MacNeil lies immediately to the west of Portuairk, an easy half-hour's walk away, albeit over soft and boggy ground. Technically - the Diary was once a Geography teacher - the bay offers an excellent example of a 'tombolo', where an island has been joined to the mainland by a sand or shingle deposit. Other than at high tide, when the sea covers the beach, the bay itself is, strictly, a 'cove', since it has a narrow entrance. Coves offer excellent anchorages - this one must once have been used by the residents of the ruined croft house that stands a hundred metres behind the bay.

This photograph, taken from the island looking east, shows the other side of the tombolo, with the bay hidden to the left. The bare, rocky hill is called Sgurr nam Meann (sgurr, appropriately for this hill, means 'rocky peak', meann a 'young deer'). The hard rock which forms this uncompromising peak is the variety of gabbro called eucrite, gabbro being the coarse-grained version of the better-known lava, basalt.

Returning to Portuairk we looked northeast across Sanna Bay to the scattered houses of Sanna village and beyond, to the gaunt cliff commonly called The Cat's Face, whose Gaelic name is Carraig, which means 'promontory'. In the distance stand the snow-covered mountains beyond Knoydart.

We were out for longer than we had planned - it was so beautiful scrambling across the rocks around the bay that we had to drag ourselves away - and in that time saw not a soul outside the village. And the sands of Bay MacNeil were pristine, so no-one had ventured there that day.