Tuesday, 31 May 2011


The three-masted barque, Thalassa, registered in Harlingen, Holland, sailed down the Sound this evening en route to Tobermory - she's pictured passing Ardmore Point light at 6.45pm.

She's fifty metres long and carries fourteen sails with a total area of 800 square metres. Built in 1980 as a fishing ship, in 1984 she struck a submerged World War II wreck off the coast of Friesland. Refloated and towed to safety, she was reconstructed and fitted out as a passenger cruiser capable of carrying up to 120 people on a day-trip, or 34 overnight in eighteen cabins.

Royal Navy Sighted

The Royal Navy sailed by yesterday evening - or what's left of it. This is probably all we can afford these days, a mine countermeasures ship built in 1985. She's a Hunt class ship, the second with the name, the first being a World War II destroyer. That HMS Hurworth was launched in 1941 but sunk with the loss of 133 lives off Kalymnos in 1943 during the German invasion of Greece. There's more about the ship and her sinking here.

As if to rub in the fact that we've hardly seen an RN ship in the Sound in months, two Swedish navy mine countermeasures ships sailed down the Sound this morning.

To complete the twenty-four hours of intense military activity, two Tornados flew across the Sound just before lunch today, the first we've seen in some time. Perhaps the recent weather has put them off or, as seems more likely, the ones we used to see are either heading for the scrap heap or being sold off to someone like Robert Mugabe who, having recently stolen a large diamond mine off a British company, can afford to run them.

Kilchoan Pram Race

Catch up on the latest news about the Kilchoan Pram Race, Friday July 29th, over on the West Ardnamurchan News & Information site here.

Monday, 30 May 2011


The strange light that lit the sky around ten last night cast such a glow indoors that it brought us outside thinking there must be something burning. The thundercloud that sat on Ben Hiant, caught by the late sunset behind us, was typical of the weather we now have, with sunny intervals hot enough to give a determined worshipper a healthy tan interspersed with hard showers that always arrive just when one least wants them.

One of the effects of last Monday's storm is visible everywhere - the way the wind and sea spray have burnt the leaves. In places the branches are almost stripped of their foliage....

....and it's not uncommon to find trees which have been singed only on the upwind side. The rowans seem to have suffered worst, though this may be because they are often lone trees standing in the middle of fields.

The tips of large swathes of bracken have died. Plants which were a vigorous green last weekend looking brown and tired - not that most of us are unhappy to see the bracken suffer a bit.

One shrub which seems impervious to ill-treatment is the rhododenron. It's in full flower now, particularly spectacular around Glenborrodale, mostly in this shade of pale purple. Sadly, for all its beauty, it's a plant that takes over the countryside to such an extent that there have been grants available to those who want to rid their grounds of it.

Aurora Alerts

There have been several 'amber' alerts from AuroraWatch in the last few days. AuroraWatch is an organisation, based at the University of Lancaster, which sends emails to subscribers, free, giving warning at times when there is a good chance of aurora activity. The recent alerts have been at amber level, which means that the aurora may be visible in Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland. Sadly there's been little chance of seeing anything here recently because of cloud.

AuroraWatch is here.

Photo by Nick Russill on Flickr, here. His site is well worth a visit.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Stock Judging

Yesterday evening's Stock Judging event, run in aid of Kilchoan Playpark, was a huge success. The judging itself was such fun that The Diary forgot to take any photographs: if anyone has some, they would be gratefully received but, in the meanwhile, here is a good tup for all to enjoy.

As well as the judging, there was a barbeque, raffle, auction and a ceilidh which went on well into the night, all well supported by both locals and a cheerful contingent from Mull who probably enjoyed the ferry ride home this morning as it was fairly bouncy out in the Sound.

Everyone was invited to take part in the judging. There were six classes - for example, black face ewes - each with four sheep in a pen. The animals were identified by colour - green, red, yellow and blue - usually by electrical tape wound round a horn or, with the lambs, tightly round their tails. The competitors had to order them in a neat little printed booklet. The entries were then collated by Pat MacPhail and Tony Swift using a clever little computer program which Tony has developed over the years.

First prize in the judging went to the eyes of experience, with Alasdair 'Pinkie' Connell and Ian Ramon tying for the honour. The Diary won second prize, a large silver cup - something which The Diary has never won in all its life before, so it was very happy and has placed it in central position on the sitting room mantlepiece. This success is a mystery to all, as The Diary knowledge of sheep could be written in bold letters across the back of a 20p postage stamp. Put it down to a statistical anomaly. As is proper in all good competitions, the ladies were ranked separately, with first prize going to Nan MacLachlan.

Many thanks to the organisers for a great evening and for the cup, which will be treasured.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Lochan Glacan Lochain

The Diary enjoys a walk far more if there is an objective, and more still if the objective leads on to something unexpected. So we set out one weekend before the gale came with no greater intention than to find a lochan perched high on the ridge along which Meall Sanna is the highest point - see map here. The lochan was unremarkable except that the OS 1:25,000 map shows streams flowing downhill from each end of it.

The lochan lies in the valley at the left hand end of the above picture, which looks at the ridge from our starting point, the small township of Achnaha. The going, across thick grass and heather, is hard, particularly if the ground is sodden after heavy rain.

Scrambling up the narrow valley, one comes upon Lochan Glacan Lochain suddenly, its surface at head height. Glacan means small valley, and lochan and lochain have the same meaning, a small lake. Even our resident Gaelic expert couldn't explain the apparent repetition in the name.

What is unexpected is the skyline at the far end of the lochan, very like the edges of the 'infinity pools' of which many tropical hotels are so proud. But this is no tropical paradise. This is a place of bare, grey rocks rounded by the great ice sheet that ground its way across the area over 12,000 years ago. The grass, dead brown in colour and whipped by Atlantic winds which funnel through the gap, barely survives. In this bleak environment, we saw no life except a pippit which chirruped at us for disturbing its loneliness.

It's immediately obvious, from the carefully arranged blocks of rock which form it, that the western, Achnaha end of the lochan is dammed, the outlet once controlled by a blue sluice gate.

The eastern, 'infinity' end has a more substantial dam, so both exits to the lochan are man-made. It's difficult to tell whether there was originally a natural lochan here but, from the lie of the land and the depth of the water, it seems quite likely there was.

But the highlight of this walk came when we approached the far end of the lochan, where the narrow valley plunges downwards toward the sands of Sanna: the valley leads straight to Sanna Beagh, the home built for herself by M. E. M. Donaldson in 1926. Not only did the lochan provided the water supply for the house, it also drove a small turbine to provide electricity.

Friday, 27 May 2011

A Sad, Sad Sight

One of the few serious casualties of last Monday's storm was this yacht, thrown onto the rocks near Camas Innes, some miles to the east of Kilchoan along Loch Sunart.

All boats, be they anything from a model yacht through a rigid inflatable to a ferry or an ocean liner, have personality. Some, like this one, have elegance, some, like the working ships we see passing in the Sound, are functional, some are brutally ugly. Whatever role boats have in the lives of the humans who surround them, all have soul.

This is a particularly lovely yacht, and one has only to look closely at the condition she is in, at the neatly furled sails, the saltire at her cross-trees and the smart paintwork, to know that she is much loved. To make her agony worse, her distress is on full display, for she sits right next to the road bewteen Kilchoan and the Corran Ferry.

Let's hope that the damage done to her isn't serious, and that her owner is able to float her free on the next high tide.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

College Buys Workshops

From Pat Glenday:

West Highland College - the new College formed as a result of the merger between Lochaber College and Skye and Wester Ross College - has recently purchased both the workshop units beside the Community Centre. This is good for the Learning Centre because it means the annual cost of running the Centre will reduce as I will no longer have to find the rent, which will help to keep the Centre viable and ensure a continued College, and UHI, presence in Kilchoan.

There will be some refurbishment of the empty unit over the summer, to turn it into what I hope will be a nice big, uncluttered room for courses, training, talks and that sort of thing. The computers and office equipment, plus the UHI video conferencing kit, will stay where it is now, but with two rooms available the university students should get a bit more peace and quiet for their studies, and I won't need to worry about double bookings of the room any more.

All in all it's a great move forward for the Learning Centre in Kilchoan, which demonstrates the College's confidence in what we have achieved so far in terms of both the number and range of courses, and the number of students and participants. And that, of course, is all down to the excellent level of support the Centre has received from local people, and increasingly now, regular visitors to the area. Thank you to everyone. Long may it continue.

The Diary comments: Many thanks to you, Pat, for all the brilliant work you've done for this community. That WHC is prepared to spend what must have been a considerable sum on buying the two properties indicates their confidence in what you are doing here.

Stock Judging

Remember the Stock Judging, Ceilidh and BBQ this Saturday, 5pm at the Community Centre - details here.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

A Damp Day

The day started grey, with a stiff southeaster and a miserable forecast. By ten, these lumpy clouds were heaving up over the Sound and the rain had started, no more than spit in the wind at first, then increasingly heavy. We've had a damp May, which is usually one of our finest months, and there's no sign of much improvement, according to XCWeather, until the start of June.

Everyone is out-of-sorts, including this pine marten who came foraging around our front yard shortly after 2pm. We don't normally see them during the day, the most common time for them being early evening.

To add to our misery, the power went off again at midday, the worst sort of break for electrical equipment as it flicked on and off a couple of times before finally dying. It was restored before five, so well done again to our overworked Hydro Electric engineers.

Here's a harassed man. Mr Blackbird, introduced in this post on 4th May, when he was obviously feeding young in the nest, came round to show off the two adolescents he is now coping with. Those of us who have children of a similar age know how demanding they can be, and these two simply wouldn't leave the poor chap alone for a moment. They couldn't be bothered to feed directly off the seed that was laid out on top of the wall, insisting that Dad picked it up and popped it in their mouths.

Children, who'd have children?

District Nurses - Latest News

Please see the West Ardnamurchan News & Information site, here.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Houdini Pig

Three times, Hughie MacLachlan has been summoned up to Ormsaigbeg to deal with a pig out of its enclosure and on the rampage down this salubrious end of the village. Each time, when he's arrived - and The Diary isn't complaining about how promptly he responds - the pig is back inside the electric fence.

Houdini can't help it. Tamworths have a history of daring escapes. Two young Tamworth boars escaped from an English slaughterhouse back in January 1998 and became front-page news. For anyone who has forgotten the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Pig, there's a brief account here.

Hughie's problem isn't going to last much longer. Unless a national newspaper rescues the Kilchoan pigs - as one did the two slaughterhouse Tamworths - this lot are going to be bacon within a week. Sadly, a new lot of piglets are already here.

A May Storm

Yesterday, in late May, we experienced the worst gale of the 2010/11 winter, with gusts of 90kph, force 10, and an average wind speed in the early afternoon of force 6/7, measured in our front garden which is relatively protected. Conditions at the much more exposed Ardnamurchan lighthouse were described as 'dangerous', and the visitors' centre had to be closed: it was almost impossible to stand up in the top car park. Shortly after 12.30pm, the power failed, but was back on by 9 in the evening, thanks to the heroic efforts of a team of engineers from Scottish Hydro, who worked on despite the appalling conditions.

The highest winds came at just after 2pm. While they were accompanied by stinging showers, they also chased patches of sun across the sea - the view above looks south across the Sound of Mull at the height of the storm, the breaking waves being whipped away by the gale and blowing in sheets of spindrift.

In the middle of this the Tobermory lifeboat was called out to a yacht adrift off the town, with one man aboard. The lifeboat effected a rescue but was damaged in the process - not at all surprising considering the conditions. The sea was heavy even in Kilchoan Bay, where three boats remained despite the accurate weather warnings. In the event, the owners' confidence in their moorings was fully justified, though a yacht further up Loch Sunart broke away and was wrecked on the rocks.

The CalMac sailings from Oban to the Hebridean isles were all cancelled from the beginning of the day, but the local Kilchoan-Tobermory ferry managed a couple of sailings before it gave up - which was just as well as conditions by the CalMac pier (above) were horrendous. At the height of the storm, a cruise ship travelled south down the Sound but its AIS wasn't working so it has been impossible to identify her. She was followed by a cargo ship, the Lystind, which was rolling impressively.

There appears to have been very little damage in the village. The trees are in full leaf, so they suffered, not only from having branches ripped off but also from the wind and salt spray burning their leaves. Despite it all, the small birds in our garden kept going - most have young to feed so they didn't have much choice. At one point, with the wind tearing at the trees, a cuckoo could be heard calling.

Monday, 23 May 2011

A Walk Through the Village

The weather picked up yesterday afternoon - if not enough for these lambs to feel they could play out in the open - but the sun came out between showers so, despite a brisk wind, we walked through the village, meeting a number of other people who were also out taking exercise.

The sighting of this house martin caused us considerable excitement, hence the poor quality of the picture. It's the first we've seen in the village, the only other ones being at Ardslignish, where there is a lonely pair nesting where ten or twenty used to. Our one was in the company of a swarm of sand martins - there seem to be more than ever of them this year - and some swallows, all of which were swooping and diving around the trees on Cruachan croft.

House martin numbers crashed last summer, with none nesting in their usual places along Ormsaigbeg. We had hoped to see them back this year, but they haven't come.

We passed the owner of the old manse putting up what he described as an anemometer, though we suspect it is a new sign advertising his business. Either way, The Diary expressed its surprise at finding at the owner of a manse engaged in hard manual work on a Sunday. Dave and Stella Cash run Meall mo Chridh, a restaurant with rooms - more details here.

With the sun out, and their daughter, Phoebe's horse decorating the field, Meall mo Chridh looked lovely, though The Diary couldn't help noticing that there were no house martins feeding across this field - it used to be one of their favourite places.

Some further excitement came from finding the first orchid of the year in Kilchoan, in the grass verge opposite the Kilchoan House Hotel. We found heaps of them flowering amidst the heather to the south of Grigadale two weeks ago, so either they were early or Kilchoan is late. However, this was a much more brightly coloured specimen than anything we saw around Grigadale.

Roddy & Bobby Macleod

Roddy and Bobby Macleod, who owned Fascadale Fisheries from the late 60s to the early 80s, both passed away over the weekend, Roddy on Friday and Bobby on Sunday.

The funeral is in Dumfries on June 1st.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Weather

Yes, groan, sorry, but The Diary can't help talking about THE WEATHER again. In mitigation, the weather is being a bit.... unusual.

The forecast for tomorrow is dreadful, with promises of winds up over 60mph when a small but deep depression spins in from the Atlantic during the afternoon. If you're reading this today, it's well worth looking at the MagicSeaweed animated forecast to watch it coming in. Some creatures, like these geese, seem to know it's imminent, so have moved out.

Please note that yesterday's blog entry about the best weather forecast site has been updated, with another site added on the recommendation of one of The Diary's readers - for which many thanks. It's particularly useful for outdoor sports enthusiasts.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Best Weather Forecast

With so much Kilchoan sunshine around at the moment, it seems an appropriate time to review the weather forecasts available on the net.

A clear, straightforward one is XC Weather. The main criticism of this is that it is limited, and that some of the colours used are confusing rather than helpful. It does, however, seem to produce a reasonably accurate forecast.

For graphic maps of the upcoming weather, MagicSeaweed is the best. Watching a depression heaving in from the Atlantic is fascinating - like the one we have heading our way on Monday, with 60+ mph winds forecast for the afternoon. It's a surfer's site, so it has useful features like swell and water temperature. It also displays both full Atlantic and World maps - the links to these are at the bottom of the page - so one can watch some even worse weather, like another big hurricane heading for New Orleans, and appreciate how lucky we are not to suffer such extremes.

A new one to The Diary is yr.no, a Norwegian site. This seems to give the best combination of animated graphics and solid, detailed facts, though some understanding of standard symbols, such as those for wind speed and direction, is needed. There are also, an the top left margin, a number of useful options, such as the 'Hour by Hour' one: if this isn't detailed enough, try clicking on 'Detailed' under this option. The Diary is informed that this is also a fairly accurate site.

Plodding behind all these is BBC Weather, with a clunky website and dated graphics. This site doesn't even offer Kilchoan as a location - the link here is to Tobermory - whereas the Norwegian site not only knows where Kilchoan is, but also offers an alternative link to Kilchoan Bay. The only thing good about the BBC site is that it hasn't - yet - promised Kilchoan a barbeque summer.

A recommended site for those taking to the great outdoors is the Mountain Weather Information Service. The link given here is for the West Highlands. Unfortunately, the area information can only be either downloaded and viewed or printed, or accessed by mobile phone. However, the site links in to some good Met Office maps - select 'Animated Synoptic Charts' in the left column - which seem only to be available from the Met Office direct if you register with them.

There are plenty of other sites, but most of the ones The Diary has found are even more dismal than the BBC. Most seem to worry less about the weather than cluttering up the page with simplistic data, or devoting as much space as possible to adverts. A good example of this limited forecasting is WeatherOnLine, where the options for locations are also severely limited - this link is for A'murchan, which is identifiable as Ardnamurchan because the weather is about right.

For most Kilchoan people, the weather directly affects their lives. Our two commercial fishermen lives depend on a good forecast, the fish-farm workers need to know what the weather is going to do, our crofters are heavily weather-dependent, and a poor long-term forecast is likely to affect the number of visitors coming here.

The Diary would be very grateful to its readers for links to other clear, accurate forecast sites, and for their views on the accuracy of sites.

Many thanks to Tom Miller, Ben McKeown and Richard Houston
for advising me on the best sites.

Friday, 20 May 2011

All in One Bank

The Diary walks this stretch of road every day. It's typical of the single-track roads in the district except that it has fewer vehicle passing places, which often leads to some entertainment. It passes through crofting land; to the left, the hill runs up to the common grazings, while to the right it drops to the shore.

It's a great road for wildlife, and many of the pictures in this diary come from it. But, too often, we walk looking around and above. Rarely do we look at our feet. Yet, in amongst the bluebells and bracken along a two-metre stretch of sandy bank to the left of the picture, below the mudpatch where the pigs live, we recently found no less than six exquisite small wildflowers in full bloom. Noticing one led to the next, and so on.

The one above is tormentil, with its characteristic four petals. A member of the cinquefoil family, it's a common flower of moors and grassy places.

This delicate beauty is common field speedwell, described in our reference book as 'a weed of cultivated land' which has migrated into the country from western Asia. It's a beautifully delicate little flower, so The Diary would rather call it a cinderella of our cultivated landscape.

Birdsfoot trefoil is having a bumper year, as it did last year, carpeting parts of the ground with its rich yellow flowers. It's commonly known as 'eggs and bacon' because the buds are a bacony red.

This retiring little flower is heath milkwort, Polygala serpyllifolia, a more uncommon plant in the area. It also occurs with pale pink flowers or, occasionally, white.

This violet is flowering late. Violets are one of the earliest to appear and are one of the first welcome signs of spring, so most are dying back by now. Click on the photo to enjoy the sheer beauty of its structure and colouring.

There was only one of this plant on the bank, and a search all along the bank nearby produced no further specimens. It's bush vetch, Vicia sepium, though if you look this species up on the internet, it's surprising the variety of flowers which it seems to have, from pale blue through to this purple.

Many thanks to The Diary's botanical expert, Hilary Hizzard,
for identifying the more difficult plants.
Any errors are The Diary's.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A Winter Gale

The skies over The Ferry Stores may have been grey yesterday, and it did rain a bit, but having listened to a friend up from the southeast of England, where it hasn't rained in months, I think we'd rather have this. That we have such generous rain may even become a tourist attraction, with people coming here to see what real rain looks like.

The Ferry Stores is the only shop for miles around, so it carries a wealth of goods. It's also a petrol station, you can buy gas, coal and wood there, it's a post office, and it sells newspapers. Look carefully at the picture and you'll see that it also spoils the local dogs.

The main feature of yesterday's weather was the wind. During the day it swung from the southwest round to the northwest. As a result, the anemometer in our garden became increasingly sheltered, so the strongest gust, reaching force 8, occurred around 11.30 in the morning.

It was fun, therefore, watching the ships coming up the Sound, particularly the smaller ones. The one above is the sd moorfowl, a Royal Maritime Auxiliary mooring and support vessel. There's a clearer picture of her here.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Camp Birds

This, for the ignorant amongst us, is the skull of a Cuvier's Beaked Whale. It adorns the side of the bothy at Trevor Potts' highly-rated Ardnamurchan Campsite. But.... look closely, because sitting proudly on top of the skull is a blue tit.

Now, this isn't any old blue tit, this is a blue tit who has STYLE. He and his missus have turned the brain case of this great, deceased cetacean into a comfy nest for their brood, which are now almost fledged. It's in rather busy spot, right next to Trevor's office, the showers and the washing machine hut, but - hey - such minor inconveniences don't get in the way of tits who want to make a style statement.

And here's a bird with bling. The latest fashion amongst trendy Kilchoan birds is metal bracelets - but not any old bracelet. The ones that are really IN aren't that easy to obtain. The birds have to go through an inititation where they're netted, poked, prodded, weighed, measured and only then fitted with a wrist band. And every bracelet is part of a numbered, limited edition. Wow!

But then, whoever said you don't have to suffer for style?

Many thanks to Trevor for the pictures.
Ardnamurchan Campsite's website is here.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Ships in the Sound

A little earlier in the month, when the weather was kinder, the Yeoman Bridge went down the Sound on her way to the huge Glensanda aggregates quarry, passing - and dwarfing - one of the fish farm boats, the Ronja Skye, which has a characteristic red hull.

This is the Deo Volente, a heavy lift cargo ship of 2,981 tonnes gr, 3550 dwt, which belongs to Hartman SeaTrade of Urk in the Netherlands. One of the things she carries is completed parts for the huge wind turbines which are currently being built, though she appears to be in ballast in this picture. To get an idea of her carrying capacity, go to this site.

There's much more yachting activity in the Sound as the summer approaches. In recent days, despite the weather, we've seen some magnificent yachts, one of which was Alba Venturer - in the centre of this picture - which belongs to the Ocean Youth Trust Scotland, website here. The OYT takes 12 to 24-year olds to sea on what the Trust calls 'development residentials', and was one of the charities to benefit from Kate & William's Royal Wedding Charitable Gift Fund.

The Glen Tarsan belongs to the Majestic Line. Launched in 2007 and purpose-built for cruising the west coast of Scotland, she is 85' long and is designed to be able to manoeuvre close inshore. She has six cabins and sails out of Oban or Holy Loch. She came out of Loch Sunart this morning and headed northwest out of the Sound.

There are times when the Sound appears quite crowded. Here, Cal Mac's Clansman passes a small landing craft and a yacht. Behind them is the Ardmore Point light.