Monday, 31 January 2011

Wild Cats

About a month ago The Diary posted an entry called 'Another Village', here, which described a village in Africa which, in so very many ways, is just like Kilchoan. It's a fishing village, the people farm, the children attend a local primary school, they have a restaurant and a church, and they have a thriving tourist industry. But the village differs from ours in one important way.

Their village, as can be seen from this track, has wild cats - as we do - but it has several species, ranging from the genet which came into our Lodge's dining room in the evening and fascinated us with its delicate beauty, through civets, servals and leopards to the owner of these 'pug marks', a full-grown male African lion. We live with our wild cats and they live with theirs. The difference is that, if we bumped into one of ours on a dark night we expect it to run away. Their big ones don't.

One evening at the Lodge we were enjoying a gin before supper when our guide - that's him in the picture, Goodluck by name, looking at the tracks of a lion which visited the Lodge during the night - called to ask if we wanted to see a lion. Of course we did, so we joined him in a drive in the open-topped Land Rover to the point where the beast had been seen - lying beside the path the staff followed, day and night, from the Lodge to their village. And, while our torches held the glowing coals that were the lion's eyes two men on a bicycle stopped and asked what we were doing. "Watching a lion," we said. "Really?" they said, climbed back on their bicycle, and rode off.

So far, none of the good people who live in Saadani National Park in Tanzania have been killed by a lion. The tourists certainly won't be as, when we went for a walk across the park, we were accompanied by Mr Sumaye, the large man carrying a Kalashnikov, and Goodluck. But, on average, forty other villagers in that country are killed each year and many more injured. One lion alone killed thirty-five people before he was despatched. These good people die in the name of conservation, in the interests of Tanzania's precious tourist industry, for the sake of the preservation of a species which, if it ranged across the lands of West Ardnamurchan, we would shoot like vermin.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Laurie Colquhoun

See 'West Ardnamurchan News' - here.


At this time of year, many of the birds are moving around in flocks. Geese are to be seen in large numbers in the fields around Kilchoan at the moment, the size of the flocks and their locations varying from day to day. Their favourite places include the football field next to the Community Centre and the Estate land to the east of Mingary Castle. This picture shows a worried flock in the field below the parish church, with the houses of Pier Road in the background.

We seem to have one big group of starlings, based around The Ferry Stores, seen here in an old rowan tree between the shop and the jetty. For a time they strayed up towards our end of Ormsaigbeg but, to our relief - they're noisy, quarrelsome birds with appalling table manners -the novelty palled and they went away.

Small flocks of ducks have been with us all winter. Mallard tend to be in pairs or small groups, but the widgeon prefer are more gregarious, congregating either in Lochan na Nal, the pond just beyond The Ferry Stores (seen here at evening), or close against the beach along the Ormsaigbeg shore.

We have more curlew that we've seen in many winters, often found feeding in the Ormsaigbeg fields just to the west of the shop. They're usually in a group of ten or more, keeping close together as they work their way across areas of sheep-cropped grass probing for worms with their long bills. They're even more nervous than the geese, keep a good watch, and are off, emitting their plaintive cry, the moment they spot an approach.

The prize for numbers must go to this flotilla of shags working their way along the beach just below the camp site. There are over seventy in the picture, and there were more outside it - perhaps a hundred in all. It's a bit of a mystery what they were doing as few seemed to be actively fishing. Perhaps it was the shags' version of a social event, a ceilidh, or line dancing, shag style.

Saturday, 29 January 2011


We now know that our three little friends were pignapped yesterday evening from their home in Ormsaigmore. The perpetrator, who had been high on our list of suspects, has been identified. The Diary was all for informing the police but the pigs' owner, being of a far sweeter and gentler disposition, begged that he be forgiven.

So we shall shortly be losing our new friends who have, in the meanwhile, been making themselves thoroughly at home.

Pigs Abandoned in Ormsaigbeg!

These three dear little pigs were spotted early this morning huddling together in the corner of a wall in a garden in Ormsaigbeg. From their cold, bedraggled state, they were obviously abandoned at some point early last night, and had survived the bitter cold and rain.

Gathered into loving arms, though still traumatised from their experience, they were quickly named. The largest, on the left, is called Cameron, the one on the right, which The Diary thinks - but isn't quite sure - may be a girl on account of him/her wearing a skirt (though that doesn't mean much around here) - has been named Lachlina, and the small one in the middle is Pinkie Pig.

A nice bed was made for them out of an old curtain, and they were quickly at home - look at that sweet smile on Lachlina's face.

The next problem was food. We tried all sorts of things - porridge, oatcakes, mashed tatties with lashings of butter, even haggis - to no effect. It was quite by chance that we found a solution, when Pinkie Pig....

....trotted over and shared Bandit's breakfast.

Of course we would like their real owner to come and claim them but, should that person not have the courage to approach us, we intend to adopt them legally. The Diary has to point out that these are a totally different class of pig from those down the road and, therefore, quite appropriate citizens for this, west end of the village. For a start, Lachlina can talk. She can count to ten, and says nice things like, "I'm a pig and I like rolling in muddy puddles".

Friday, 28 January 2011

Winter Sunlight

One of the joys of the Ardnamurchan countryside during winter is the variety in the sunlight, and the effect it has on the scenery. This January scene shows the eastern end of Ormsaigbeg, with the copper of the bracken on the lower slopes of Druim na Gearr Leacainn glowing in the early morning sunlight, the reed beds paler in the foreground.

The light is quite different in this picture taken a few days ago shortly after midday looking from the hills above Portuairk across Sanna Bay to Sanna, with the hills of Moidart in the distance. Despite the time of day, the light seems thinner, more translucent.

This was taken during the heavy snow and cold weather of late November, early December, with one of the two 6,000-year old burial chambers of Greadal Fhinn, Ormsaigmore, in the foreground, and Ben Hiant behind. Again, this was taken about midday, with the sun low in the south throwing long shadows.

A scattering of sheep is picked out against the grass and heather of Kilmory on Ardnamurchan's north shore. In the distance, some fifty kilometres away, stand Skye's snow-covered Black Cuillins . This air is like crystal, utterly transparent, breathless. Minutes before we had stood and watched a juvenile sea eagle wheel above the township.

Not a breath of wind stirs the waters of Kilchoan Bay as a lobster fisherman brings in his catch on Christmas Eve. It's mid-afternoon but the sun is already setting, the tide low, the kelp dark against the snow. In the distance, beyond the entrance of Loch Sunart, the last rays touch the tops of the snow-covered mountains of Morvern.

Yet there is the misconception that this Scottish west coast is grey and bleak through the winter.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

A Mum's Walk

From Gael Cameron

On Saturday 22nd January, the Kilchoan Mums took to their heels for their annual New Year's walk. Last year we walked from Ockle to Arivegaig in the pouring rain and ended up at the Salen Hotel for a heat at the fire. This year we kept it slightly closer to home as we set off from the local Church of Scotland with Ardnamurchan Lighthouse in our sights.

The morning was extremely foggy and we were predicting the weather to turn as miserable as last year but by the time we had reached the junction at Achosnich the sun had broken through. There wasn't much wildlife to see on our travels except for the Highland cows who think they are hamsters with their giant wheel.

We made it to the lighthouse in good time - approx 2 hours - and enjoyed a wee coffee and a mulled wine beside the cafe. On our way back we stopped at the Sonachan Hotel where Helen had prepared us a beautiful buffet lunch.

We were met by the Dads and all our children. They had also been busy that morning moving the elusive unkempt new residents to Ormsaigbeg (the pigs). When we headed on the last stretch back to Kilchoan, the children all joined us as we ventured back into the fog which had apparently not lifted from Kilchoan all day.

Well done to everyone who did the walk, and thanks to Helen, Caitlin and Sine for our lovely lunch.

Pigs in Ormsaigbeg

Now they've started throwing large stones - rocks even - across the road....

...and, exactly as predicted, they're escaping and getting into all sorts of mischief: two out yesterday, this one at lunch-time today.

See earlier post about pig problems here.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Antarctic Travels

Trevor Potts, who runs the much-praised camp site in Ormsaigbeg, details here, is currently in the southern hemisphere enjoying an Antarctic summer. He's on a cruise ship, the Clelia II, where he's a guide and lecturer. Here is his latest report:

Picture shows Clelia II in Neko Harbour

"Had great weather last trip with calm conditions and lots of sun. The full moon over the snow-clad mountains as we approached the Seven Sisters Range was memorable as were the great sunsets. With an all-Japanese passenger list there was a language problem but they did have interpreters.

Orca in Gerlache Strait

"We had to leave a day early as there was a big storm brewing, but we still got hammered by a gale off Cape Horn. Arriving back early we all had the day off which is very unusual. In 67 trips to Antarctica in the last 10 years this was only the second time I have crossed the Antarctic circle. We do not usually go that far south as the landing sites are usually blocked with ice and the further south you go the more you lose the best wildlife sites.

"We sail tomorrow night with all-USA guests."

A Winter Walk at Sanna Beach

These three photos were taken by Julie Allcock at Sanna today.

She says, "I'm getting more adventurous since the photography course. I took these pictures during a gentle stroll round Sanna on this glorious afternoon. I never cease to be amazed about the fantastic colours that we see in this area and often wish I was as artist and could capture them in a picture. Oh well, the camera will have to do for now!"

The Diary doesn't know about the phrase "the camera will have to do" - these are works of art in their own right.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

West Ardnamurchan News

The new West Ardnamurchan News site is now up and running. While it is designed to carry up-to-date news, it also advertises local businesses, displays tourist information, advertises upcoming activities, and passes on information - for example, about the state of the road. It has a list of all local services such as ferries, buses, medical and emergency, with links to websites and timetables. It also has space for small-ads.

Criticism and suggestions welcome.

More Pictures from Win Cash's Party

Win Cash celebrated her 90th birthday last Thursday with a big party in the Community Centre.

Many of the guests at the sit-down meal were regulars with Win at Lunch Club, held every Thursday in the Community Hall.

Among those attending were Annie Wilkinson (right) and Bill Green (leaning forward, left), both of whom are also over 90.

Win cuts her birthday cake watched by her son, Dave, who is co-owner of Meall mo Chridhe, a restaurant with rooms in Kilchoan village.

Many thanks to Dave Cash for the pictures

Monday, 24 January 2011

New Residents in Ormsaigbeg

As everyone knows, the posh end of town is the west end - think of London. Ormsaigbeg (pictured), at the western end of Kilchoan is, therefore, the local equivalent of Chelsea and has, as one would expect, home owners who have the right sort of professional background - three GPs, two ENT surgeons, a policeman, a couple of teachers, at least two gentleman farmers, a number of businessmen, and so on - all with a certain pride in maintaining appearances.

Imagine our considerable distress, therefore, when five of entirely the wrong sort moved into the area on Saturday, the type one would probably find beating up a couple of harmless old ladies who have done nothing more provoking than taken a walk down to the shop to buy their monthly copy of Vogue.

I'm referring, of course, to these young things who've taken up residence on the plot below Bill Green's house. They're kept in by a couple of flimsy strands of wire which, if one is to believe Hughie MacLachlan, have a trickle of electricity passing through them. What, may I ask, if they escape? What sort of mayhem will be wreaked in our precious gardens?

And look at this one! Imagine walking along the road and meeting her on a dark night!

It shouldn't be allowed!

With apologies to the Kilchoan Pig Rearing Syndicate

Sunday, 23 January 2011

A Day's Education

A strange, lowering day yesterday - this picture shows the sun rising and shining momentarily from under the cloud which then obscured it for the rest of the day. Long tendrils of mist wreathed Ben Hiant, and not a breath of wind disturbed the Sound of Mull. Even the wildlife seemed subdued - perhaps they knew an earthquake was on its way.

So.... an appropriate day for some education at that world-renowned institute, the University of Kilchoan, The Diary joining five other students for a course on marine engine maintenance. The Diary knows very little about such things but found the course excellent, supported, as it was, by two DVDs which showed the workings of diesel inboard and petrol outboard motors, using very clear animations, and a good selection of lumps of machinery, including this marine diesel which was developed from a Ford Fiesta engine.

It's always a great pleasure to be taught by someone who has genuine enthusiasm for his subject and a wide background knowledge. Our tutor, Pat MacLean (left), has a lifetime of experience in marine engineering, starting at sea as a deck officer in the merchant navy, followed by years in motor engineering and, latterly, as engineer coxswain of the Oban lifeboat.

Members of the course were, from left, Sue Jackson, Nan MacLachlan, Jordan Cameron, Jamie Santus and Peter Sinclair.


An earthquake hit Glenuig at 0602 this morning, British Geological Survey report here. It was felt by several residents of Kilchoan and over a much wider area, as far as Oban and Inverness. Locals reported both a rumbling sound and movement - the latter enough to shake sleepers awake. Several to whom The Diary have spoken this morning described the sound as similar to a truck moving fast down a cobbled street.

The earthquake's epicentre (the point where rock movement occurred) was almost ten miles below Glenuig (on the road between Acharacle and Mallaig), but this is relatively shallow.

A map to show location of Glenuig is here.

Many thanks to Gillespie and Sue for contacting The Diary.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Achosnich Pictures

Following the Diary's recent post about Achosnich, here, Richard and Joyce, who run Sirius, a house for rent in the village, sent these two beautiful pictures of the countryside around their property. The first looks from the slopes of Beinn Bhuidhe southeastwards, with Achosnich in the valley below and the Sonachan Hotel in the right middle distance. In the left distance can be see the dark slopes of Ben Hiant, while Loch Sunart and Morvern are visible to the right.

This wonderful picture, which looks in much the same direction, brings out the wild beauty of the countryside of Ardnamurchan. So much of it is unfenced that one can walk for miles without hinderance, and without seeing another soul.

Many thanks to Richard & Joyce for the pictures

Friday, 21 January 2011


Kilmory is a small, crofting village on the north shore of Ardnamurchan, with a year-round resident population of nine (map here). It had two churches: one is now ruined, the other (at top right in the picture) has been converted into a holiday home. Kilmory also had a post office, housed in a small shed, but this closed when the Post Office brought in computerised accounting. The only public services in the village today are a notice board and an old, red telephone box which no longer takes cash and which BT is doing its best to neglect. There isn't even a public water supply.

Below the village is a shallow bay which forms a fine anchorage for pleasure and fishing boats, and has a beach safe for children. Nearer the road stands a walled graveyard (top picture), a silent, peaceful place with both ancient and modern burials, including two of unknown sailors washed ashore during the 1939-45 war.

In this photograph, Kilmory is arrowed, with Achateny to its left, Branault to its right, the wide waters of the Minch beyond and, in the distance, the hills of Moidart. The picture was taken in winter, looking northeast from the slopes of Cathair Mhic Dhiarmaid (MacDiarmid's Throne).

These photographs show the village as it is today....

....and as it was in the days when it was busier, and many more of its fields and buildings in use.

Kilmory is a wonderfully peaceful place, ideal for a holiday in beautiful scenery with miles of walking around it. Some of the cottages available are here.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Win Cash's 90th Birthday Party

Win Cash, second from left, celebrated her recent 90th birthday with a lunch party at Kilchoan Community Centre attended by some fifty guests, amongst whom were five others aged ninety-plus, from left to right, Bill Green, 91, Win, Noel Wallace, 95, Joey MacKenzie 96, and Maggie MacKinnon, 90; also at the party was Annie Wilkinson.

The guests sat down to a full three-course meal cooked by Win's daughter-in-law Stella who, with son Dave, runs Meall mo Chridhe, a local restaurant, followed by speeches from Win and Dave. A thoroughly good time was had by all.

There are now seven people within West Ardnamurchan who are over ninety, some 2.8% of the local population. This is a remarkable figure when put against the Scottish national average of 0.6%. The credit for the fact that we have so many fit and happy senior citizens out here goes at least in part to the community as a whole, which has traditionally been very caring of its older people, but it is also a reflection of the success of the local policy of keeping people in their homes, supported by a system of trained carers backed up by our District Nurses.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Another School Photo

To go with the recent post about the 1900 photo, here's another gem of a photograph from the annals of Kilchoan School. Dating from the 1985/6 session, it shows the then teacher, Miss Cameron, with, back row from left to right, Justin Cameron, Tristan Fairbairn, Alasdair MacLachlan, Alistair MacDougall, Michael Wheatley, Scott Carmichael, Simon Green, Miss Cameron and Andrew Lutas; and, front row left to right Kirsteen MacDougall, Gemma Wheatley, Helen Carmichael, Shona Cameron, Gael Cameron, Jennifer Cameron, Julie MacColl, Catriona Fairbairn and Catriona MacPhail.

Many thanks to Sue Cameron for the photo.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Glasbheinn Visitor

This pine marten is a regular visitor to John and Marilyn MacGillivray's back garden in Glasbheinn Cottages at the east end of Kilchoan. It's a female about six months old.

These super photos were taken out of their kitchen window. The food they put out attracts a wealth of wildlife, particularly birds. They are very proud of the rare water rail that visits them - The Diary is excited about the prospect of a picture.

Pine martens are fascinating creatures to watch. A member of the weasel family, they were persecuted until they became extinct in Britain except in the remoter areas of Scotland, such as the Ardnamurchan peninsula. They are now a protected species, but sightings here suggest they are becoming increasingly common.

While their main natural food is small mammals, fruit, and birds and their eggs, pine martens are such excellent climbers and jumpers that they can catch squirrels. However, they come willingly to gardens, such as Marilyn and John's, where scraps are left out.

Being mainly nocturnal they can be difficult to spot, so the best way to lure them into view is to put out some of their favourite foods, which include peanut butter, raspberry jam and mince pies, and then to sit very patiently and wait.

Many thanks to Marilyn & John for the pictures