Friday, 30 September 2011

A Thank You from the Easton Cowboys

Thanks for inviting the Cowboys and Cowgirls up for last weekends football.
We all had a great time and were given the best hospitality and welcome.
The football was played in good spirit all day on a superb pitch and with beautiful weather. The
match against Kilchoan was memorable and well balanced and there is no
doubt a repeat fixture would be good! Kilchoan's womens team will
hopefully be inspired to keep playing and a rematch one day can take

Cliff at the Hotel welcomed one and all and there was food and beer all
weekend to keep us going.
Lastly the ceilidh...brilliant and we were chuffed to have been
invited. It was a top night and many of us were there to the end. I
hope our poor standard of ceilidh dancing knowledge did not make any
Kilchoan locals despair...Fay has declared she is going to enrol into
ceilidh classes down here so she can be better prepared for next invite.

From the Easton Cowboys

Thanks to Richard Van de Peer for forwarding the email to the Diary.

Basking Lizard

A Common Lizard takes advantage of some later autumn sunshine.

North Coast Sunset

Sunset over Ardnamurchan's north coast, with Muck in the distance.

Many thanks to Paul Howes for the picture.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Intelligence of Small Birds

At first sight this may seem an unexceptional picture. A yellowhammer is doing what yellowhammers do - feeding on a cereal crop, usually much to the fury of the local farmer.

In this second picture, a female chaffinch is busy on an ear of wheat. Chaffinches are named as 'chaff finches' - birds that eat the farmer's grain, picking it out from amidst the chaff. But.... Nothing is quite as simple as it appears at first sight, for these assumptions aren't quite right. They don't take into account the fact that Ardnamurchan's small birds are exceptionally bright.

This summer, instead of just eating the grain that was put out on the bird table, grain grown by farmers, they made a point of sowing some of it themselves. As a result, we've had wheat, barley, oats and an assortment of alien crops growing in our flower beds.

Sadly there's one thing they still have to learn - the idea of putting some of the crop away for the winter. It would save The Diary a whole heap of money.

Sand Flower

This little flower lives happily in colonies on shell sand in a protected depression at Sanna beach, in an area well above the high-tide mark. It might be Silverweed, but the wild flower book says that Silverweed lives in 'damp, grassy places'.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Match Report - Kilchoan Football Tournament

By Iain MacDonald

Mainland Britain's most westerly football pitch welcomed teams from the Northern and Southern ends of the country over the weekend as Kilchoan hosted it's first ever football tournament. Both visiting teams showed great dedication by traveling the combined total of 741 miles and that was even before a football was kicked.

With three male teams competing for the coveted trophy it was decided to reduce the length of each half to 25 minutes, meaning there were three 50 minute games with a ladies match added to what turned out to be a feast of football, just as the organisers had promised!

The first match was between hosts Kilchoan FC and Thrumster FC who had travelled down from their home village near Wick with a team depleted after some late call-offs. However to their credit they rallied on and fielded a team which may count themselves unlucky to see Kilchoan run out winners with a flattering 5-2 scoreline. Kilchoan, having played their most amount of games in any season so far, dominated most of the game as they adopted a more attacking approach which team captain (and tournament organiser) Richard van de Peer had demanded from his players.

A near record attendance was recorded through the turnstiles on the day and the crowd were soon being entertained by the ladies teams from Kilchoan and the Easton Cowgirls, who along with their Easton Cowboys counterparts had travelled all the way from Bristol. The ladies game started as a very close affair with some terrific football being played from both teams, however the more experienced Cowgirls team eventually started to get the better of their opponents from Kilchoan who were, surprisingly to many spectators, playing in only their first ever match together. But the Cowgirls took a 2 goal lead in the second half before one of their players went down injured late on in what was a very serious injury, leading to the game being cancelled to allow medical attention to be administered to the player.

It should also be noted that along with the injured Cowgirl player, a Kilchoan FC player was also seriously injured in the first game, however such is the excellent medical service which West Ardnamurchan has at the moment (and which the whole community depends on so much) both players were treated immediately by the district nurse who was thankfully on duty in the Community Centre.

Play resumed soon after and this time it was Thrumser FC up against the Easton Cowboys in which was yet another fantastic game. Both teams created chance after chance but it was the Cowboys who were more ruthless in goals and ran out 5-1 winners which meant that they would only need to draw against Kilchoan in the final game to claim the trophy.

Kilchoan decided to adopt a more defensive 4-5-1 formation for this match as they recognised the threat posed by their opponents from Bristol. Despite this, Kilchoan conceding the first goal and looked in trouble, but the locals showed great fighting spirit to equalise just before half-time which set up an exciting second half. The crowd were in raptures soon after the break when Kilchoan, who needed the win to be crowned champions, took the lead after after a fantastic move which involved nearly all the players. But it just wasn't to be for the lads as the Cowboys managed to grab a late goal which turned out to be the last goal of a fantastic tournament which we hope to continue next year. The Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls were rightfully named as champions but the other teams can be thrilled with their display considering the small communities which they represent.

Prize-givings, celebrations and a few refreshments were enjoyed by all afterwards in the Kilchoan House Hotel with Cliff and Debbie yet again kindly providing a curry for everyone. Those who still had energy left later at night headed to the Community Centre to help celebrate the 21st Birthday of the Captain of the Kilchoan Ladies, Kayleigh MacGillivray. Thanks to everyone who organised, played, watched or helped make the day such a fantastic success.

Many thanks to Morvern for the photographs


The township of Achanaha,
from the summit of Beinn na h-Imeilte.

Extensive field working are visible in the flat land beyond the village.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Summit of Beinn na h-Imeilte

The first time we climbed Beinn na h-Imeilte, the hill of many streams, in March 2010 (Diary entry here), we didn't make it to the summit - the lying snow didn't make ideal conditions for scrambling up the mountain's slippery slopes. So we tried again, this time in late August.

It's a grim-looking hill, with a northeast-facing slope that is almost sheer rock and seems constantly in shadow. Despite this, the approach from the Kilchoan-Sanna road, starting at NM472662, is relatively easy.

We worked our way steadily upwards, following the line of the Ardnamurchan volcano's ring dyke. Along the steadily rising ridge we came across several erratics, boulders moved and dumped by the ice during the last ice age. Why they were left along the ridge-line, balanced on outcrops of bare rock, is a bit of a mystery.

This picture shows the summit cairn, surrounded by heather in flower, with Ben Hiant in the distance. We sat down for a picnic but were immediately attacked by midges. Granted, the day was still, and the sun reluctant to come out, but we do not expect Highland Scotland's favourite insect to operate on the tops of mountains!

The climb, and even the midges, could not detract from the superb views, many shown in recent 'Picture of the Day' entries in The Diary. There are almost vertical views down onto the Sonachan Hotel, and onto the townships of Achosnich and Achnaha, and distant views of the centre of the universe, Portuairk. This picture, with the sky clearing, looks along the ring dyke and across the Minch to Eigg, Muck and Rhum.

A map of the area is here.

A Pool with a View

A pool of peaty water fills a rock hollow close to the summit of a knoll near Creag an Airgid.
Muck, Rhum and Canna in the distance.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Prostrate Juniper

On West Ardnamurchan, in exposed places high in the hills, Juniper grows flat against the great rounded boulders. This is Prostrate Juniper, Juniperus communis nana, a subspecies of the common Juniper. Perhaps, as well as protecting itself from the wind and weather, it benefits when the rock warms in the sunshine.

It doesn't seem to grow anywhere away from rock, and often the rocks it chooses are on or near the summits of very exposed hills. One wonders whether this is connected to how it's propagated, whether the birds that eat the berries are large birds which perch on the summits, such as the crow family.

Juniper had many uses, in making medicines, in ritual, and in cooking, but it's best-known role is in the making of alcohol. As well as the collecting of berries for flavouring gin, juniper wood was a preferred fuel for the fires in distilling illegal whisky - it burns with little smoke.

Walking across the hills this autumn we've seen few Juniper bushes with berries. The plant in the picture above was on the summit of a small knoll near Creag an Airgid, but even it didn't have more than twenty berries in all. Perhaps it's the cooler summer we've had.

More about Juniper in mythology and folklore is here.

Self Heal

Self Heal is a common summer-flowering plant of the croft lands, occurring in meadows and along roadsides. Its name comes from its medicinal use as a general cure-all. It is supposed to have antibiotic properties and to protect against infectious diseases.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Kilchoan Football Tournament

Here are a few photos from Saturday's Kilchoan Football Tournament. Full match reports to follow soon! Well done to everyone who took part and many thanks to those who went and supported :-)

Many thanks to Morvern for the photos

A Ship with a Secret

The Hebridean Princess is frequently seen passing Kilchoan. She's probably best known these days as the ship the Queen hires in the summer to get away from it all (see BBC report here). Before her purchase by Hebridean Island Cruises, she was a Cal Mac ferry plying the route between Oban and Craignure.

But she had a second, secret use. Read more about it here.

Many thanks to Tom Miller for drawing The Diary's
attention to this.

A Scotch Argus

A butterfly almost unique to Scotland - the only other places it is found is in two locations in Northern England.

In the hills of West Ardnamurchan, it can be very common on a sunny summer's day.

More about the butterfly here.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Hill of Pools - 2

As we approached the summit of Meall an Fhir-eoin, we found that the pool near the summit of the connected, un-named 262m hill we had just climbed wasn't unusual. Scattered across this relatively flat-topped summit were a number of quite large and varied pools. The one above we named Pyramid Pool.

This pool stands above a sheer drop. Meall na Fhir-eoin is formed of the hard, gabbroic rocks of Ardnamurchan's ring dykes, their continuation around to the east being visible in the distance beyond the pool.

Typical of the pools is this one, beside which we sat and ate lunch. Again, beyond its further lip the slope falls precipitately away.

Also scattered across the top were large numbers of pieces of rock - this one is about the size of a football - which are definitely not the local gabbro. They are erratics, lumps of rock brought in when glaciers covered even these high peaks. And it was the movement of the glacial ice which scooped out the hollows in which the pools now lie.

These two lumps of rock form the summit of Meall na Fhir-eoin. Beyond them the ring dyke rocks continue round to form the hills above Sanna, some of whose buildings can just be seen.

A map of the area is here.

Ardnamurchan Wilderness

Sgurr nan Gabhar with the flank of Meall Clachan an Daraich to its right and Meall nan Con, West Ardnamurchan's second highest peak, in the distance.

Friday, 23 September 2011

A Quick Walk on a Cold Day

If we want a brisk walk on a cold day, we head straight up from the back of the house, up the steep slope that leads to the ridge called Druim na Gearr Leacainn. In August and September its slopes vividly demonstrate the battle being waged between the heather - mostly Bell and Ling - and the encroaching tide of bracken.

Not only is the heather losing the battle, it's also suffering from something else which causes, in places, a mass die-back, leaving only the whitening stalks of the dead plant.

Even on a cold day, we sometimes take a picnic lunch. On the day this picture was taken, there was a bitter northerly wind, but this rock not only acted as a windbreak, it also provided a perfect bench seat for two.

Nearby, wild ivy and ling clung to the rock face....

....while, on the way down, we found an erratic, a huge chunk of rock dropped when the glaciers retreated at the end of the last ice age. It was so covered in lichen we couldn't identify the type of rock, so it may have been brought in from near or far.


This is Common Valerian, a wildflower which flowers in summer on long and remarkably strong stalks so it towers above the surrounding plants. It's common in neglected croft fields which have been left to be invaded by wildflowers.

According to one website dedicated to the use of traditional herb remedies, "Valerian is used to reduce tension and anxiety, over-excitability and hysterical states. It is calming without exerting too sedative an effect and is practically non-addictive. It is a valuable treatment for insomnia..."

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Plocaig Reawakens

Plocaig is a village which died. It stands on Ardnamurchan's north coast, to the east of, and about a kilometre from Sanna. It's surrounded by the remains of its people's fields and, below the village, there's a well-protected bay where the men kept their fishing boats.

We know from the wonderful photo in Catriona MacMillan's collection, here, that Plocaig's houses still had the remains of their thatch in 1932, so this was not a classic, 19th century 'clearance' village. It probably faded away because it was so remote, separated from the new road and 'civilisation' by the deep cut of the Sanna Burn.

But, every now and again, the village reawakens. In early autumn the sheep which still graze its fields as they have done for generations are gathered and held in a fank at the south end of the line of abandoned houses.

Gathering is a hard task in this broken wilderness, and impossible without dogs. This picture shows John Alec Cameron, who has rights on the croft land, at work a mile to the east of Plocaig, driving his sheep along the coast.

The area also comes alive in the summer with visitors who use the land the villagers knew so well for modern, leisure purposes. One of the many things the area offers, along with superb walking, is endless opportunities for rock climbing on the steep outcrops of the ring dykes left after the erosion of the 60-million year old Ardnamurchan volcano.

A map of the area is here.

The Sanna Burn

The Sanna Burn where it cuts through the ring dyke,
looking southeast towards Achanaha.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Hill of Pools - 1

The hill which overlooks Fascadale is a bold feature and is 262m high but, on the 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey map, it has no name. The OS is a little haphazard with its naming of features. Part of the map-makers' problem is that, when they make or revise a map, they have to go around the area asking people about the names, and they probably get no, or conflicting answers. As a result, some of the more prominent features, which must have had their names, remain nameless on the maps, and the memory of the name is then lost. Worse, local names are in Gaelic, and need a translation.

The view in the picture above is from the northwest, and the hill has a tempting shoulder to use as an approach to the summit, but we found that the route was blocked near the top by steep, rocky faces, so we had to move around the western side of the hill as we climbed, and come at the summit from the south.

The climb was well worth it. This picture shows the rock which forms the summit itself, and a dark, silent pool. In the distance can be seen the Isle of Muck.

This view looks down from the summit to Fascadale Bay and the three houses available to let from Ardnamurchan Estate, here. The bay used to be the centre of Ardnamurchan's salmon-fishing industry, and the flat fields to the right of the houses were used in winter to grow ice, which was placed in an ice house on the far side of the bay, enabling salmon to be stored until they were ready to be shipped to London.

The first peak is connected to another immediately to the west by a boulder-strewn saddle, and that one is named: Meall an Fhir-eoin, Eagle Hill. So, having enjoyed the view, the set off to climb it.

A map of the area is here.

Fox Moth Caterpillar

Common Sundew, left, and a Fox Moth caterpillar.

Pigs vs Bracken

Pigs 1 - 0 Bracken

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Kilchoan Football Tournament Reminder

Trainings are reaching their tempo as both the Kilchoan men and ladies teams prepare for the Kilchoan Football Tournament, kicking off at 10.30am at the playing field this Saturday. The men will be playing a couple of matches and the Kilchoan Ladies team have a game where they will show the men how it's done ;-)

It would be great to see a large number of supporters there on Saturday to cheer on all the matches.


Portuairk, with the tide low, from the summit of Beinn na h-Imeilte.

This tiny crofting settlement is held by many to be the centre of the known universe.

Monday, 19 September 2011


The prime interest of geologists who come to Ardnamurchan is usually its volcanoes, yet there are hidden fossil treasures to be found if you know where to look.

At first glance, these white marks on rocks along the Ormsaigbeg shore don't look particularly exciting, yet they are the remains of a mollusk which lived in the seas which covered this area over 100 million years ago.

That animal was a Belemnite, and the photo above shows a reasonably complete specimen. It is, of course, the hard parts only, as the soft parts were lost long ago.

The skeleton consists of an elongate, bullet-shaped calcitic structure with what appears to be a conical hole bored into the wider end. In front of this, but lost in almost all specimens, was a much more fragile, spoon-like structure, also made of calcite.

Although Belemnites are long-extinct, they do have living relatives, one of which is the cuttlefish. This cuttlefish skeleton, or 'bone', is the equivalent of the Belemnite's spoon-shaped structure, the 'bullet' being an extension onto this.

One imagines, therefore, that Belemnites were remarkably similar to cuttlefish, but perhaps a little more elongate. From well-preserved specimens, it's known that they had eyes and tentacles just like these, and that they lived in similar marine environments. Perhaps they also had the cuttlefish's amazing ability to change colours.

Photo of cuttlefish skeleton courtesy of Christine Matthews, here; and photo of living cuttlefish courtesy of the Georgia Aquarium, here.