Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Geological Mystery

As soon as he was back from the Antarctic, Trevor Potts, who runs the Ardnamurchan Campsite, began work on clearing a site for his new house. The groundwork is being done by Hughie MacLachlan of local firm H MacLachlan Contracts.

This shows the slope to the left of the first picture, where Hughie has dug back into layers of Jurassic shale and limestone, but one area, shown to the right of this photo, seems to cut vertically through the sedimentary layers. At first sight it might be an igneous dyke, but it yielded some very strange structures.

These balls, a bit bigger than a golf ball, are embedded in the rock - the one on the left is still stuck in to a chunk of it. When broken open, they don't seem to have any structure.

It's difficult to tell whether they are of igneous origin or not. In many ways, they resemble the concretions that can be found in shales, such as the famous ones at Whitby and Robin Hood's Bay in Yorkshire - but these won't be found in a dyke.

To add to the mystery, an elongated tube-like structure of uniform cross-section runs up at an angle through the dyke. It, too, has these 'balls' embedded in it.

If anyone has any idea what these may be, we would be very interested to hear. Trevor has preserved the exposure, which will be at the back of his house, as well as a number of the 'balls' and sections of the 'tube'.

Trevor runs the Ardnamurchan Campsite, website here.

Monday, 30 January 2012

A Second Beached Whale?

'The Raptor' was scrambling over the rocks between Sanna and Portuairk yesterday when he came across these remains fairly high up on the shore.

They may be the carcass of the whale beached at Sanna towards the end of December (Diary entry here) but, if they are, something has made short work of the flesh which was on the beast then.

'The Raptor' describes these remains as being 'about ten foot long' and with the head missing. This certainly seems the sort of size that pilot whale would have been but it could also be a second one.

Whether it's a new or the same one, can anyone explain what may have happened to the flesh?

Many thanks to 'The Raptor' for the pictures.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Cobbles - 2

The Diary's identification of rock types is very much a hit-and-miss affair, so it was good to have Rob Gill, who runs GEOSEC Slides, a small business based in Achnaha, write in with a couple of photographs to show how rock identification should be done.

Rob says, "I found this cobble at Ormsaigbeg a couple of years ago. As it was obviously different from most others I took it to Achnaha and made a section from a bit of it. It is a garnet amphibolite (or possibly granulite) most probably Lewisian. I cannot prove that, though it is difficult to think where else it could have come from. The spots are garnets surrounded by a rim of feldspar, a depletion zone as the garnets grew at the expense of the amphibole.

"I do not know its source, but is quite distinctive, so it might be possible to trace it."

This picture shows Rob's thin section, with the distinctive pink of the garnets surrounded by paler felspar, set in a matrix of finer crystals.

Metamorphic rocks such as this are fascinating to study. It may have started as something like a mudstone, which was deeply buried in the core of a mountain chain, and heated and squeezed so a totally new set of minerals grew. During this process, however, some minerals may have grown and been absorbed again, changing into others.

It's also interesting to grapple with the idea that, if it is Lewisian in age, it's over a billion years old.

Rob's website, which is here, is well worth a visit to see the beautiful rock thin sections he produces.


Sunrise yesterday.

Many thanks to 'Kilchoan Early Bird'

Saturday, 28 January 2012

A Kilchoan Publisher - 2

From Jenny Chapman

Nigel was a senior lecturer in Computer Science at University College London, when we decided to move back to Scotland in 1994 so I could study at Edinburgh College of Art - we had lived and worked in St. Andrews. Nigel had already been commissioned to write a book on programming for a major publisher so, instead of seeking another academic post, he decided to write full time.

In summer 1999 we visited West Ardnamurchan for the first time. We chose West Ardnamurchan for that holiday, from the Highlands in general, by sticking a pin in a map - this is literally true. We had not visited the peninsula before. By then we were working on our first jointly-authored college textbook, "Digital Multimedia", commissioned by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. We were living near Edinburgh in the Borders and took a short working holiday, staying in Achosnich, working in the little garden there on student exercises and projects for the book.

In autumn 1999 we decided to move here, to work from home in a more peaceful environment. The property market in the Edinburgh/Borders area was okay at the time, so we were able to sell our house there within weeks. We rented Kilmory Cottage for the winter while we looked for a house to buy here.

The 1st edition of "Digital Multimedia" was completed in Kilmory Cottage. As usual, we did the typesetting ourselves, so had to submit the complete files ready for printing. There was no broadband then, so in mid-winter, in the pitch dark and a howling gale, we drove up to the point where the Kilmory road meets the "main" road to post the CD containing the files to the publisher. We put the package in the little postbox at the turn of the road down towards Kilmory. That launched our textbook-writing career. "Digital Multimedia" is now a bestselling college textbook, used in almost all the countries of the world - even in unlikely places such as the Maldives, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.

The 2nd and 3rd editions of "Digital Multimedia" were written in Achnaha, and the chapters on digital images, animation and video used material featuring the local area. The video chapter featured work from the award-winning multimedia short film, "3 Minutes Silence", using footage filmed at Sanna and Castle Tioram.

We also drew on the local area for examples for our practical textbook, "Digital Media Tools", and our third major textbook was "Web Design: A Complete Introduction", published in 2006. Both were written in Achnaha.

As for so many people, everything went well for us till 2007. There were many changes in the publishing industry owing to the global recession. Between 2007 and 2009 our publisher, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, changed a great deal, with much of the responsibility for British publications passing to the parent company in the USA.

By mid-2009, John Wiley Inc. had completely altered Wiley's policy with regard to British authors. We had contracts for new books - they were cancelled. We had agreements to proceed with new editions - they were cancelled too. Our existing textbooks would remain in print, but there would be no new commissions. For years we had been depending on publishing a new book or new edition about every 18 months, in order to earn enough to live on. Suddenly, that stopped. We had to find a way forward on our own.

First, we decided to try to sell PDF versions of the chapters of our existing books. Fortunately, we had been able to retain all the electronic rights for the latest editions. We created the MacAvon Media web site and download store - www.macavonmedia.com - and started publishing electronic (PDF) versions of the existing books, and built a new support structure for lecturers around the world. macavonmedia.com made a little bit of money, but only a little bit.

By early 2011 it was clear that it wouldn't be enough to pay the bills. Times were very tough in publishing generally, and there was little or no chance of new commissions for textbooks. We decided that we would go ahead anyway, and publish new titles ourselves. "Chapman and Chapman" was a well-established "brand", known internationally, so we had a reasonable chance of success.

It's too soon to say whether success will really result, but we are now actively publishing, and just beginning to sell MacAvon Media paperbacks and Kindle editions. Broadband internet connection in this remote area has made it possible to do this work from here. Without it, we could not.

Many thanks to Jenny for the two articles.

Friday, 27 January 2012


Today's sunshine is a reminder of the beauty of Ardnamurchan on a summer's day - as illustrated by this superb shot of the beach at Gortenfern taken by Paul Howes.

Low Tide

Spring tides have come with the new moon and, with them, a change in the weather. We woke to snow on the hills and some slushy remains on sheltered roofs, though it must also have rained a fair amount overnight. During the morning the sky steadily cleared and the sun came out, angling low across the landscape.

We wandered along the Ormsaigbeg beach in the early afternoon when the tide was at its lowest, looking across Kilchoan Bay to the Coastguard shed and the distant, snow-covered hills of Morvern.

This barnacle-encrusted anchor near the end of the jetty is usually covered by the sea. It's neatly placed so that those of us who kayak in to the jetty scrape against it. The trouble with anchors, by their nature, is that they are difficult to move.

Still water and low tide make for good hunting amongst the seaweed for the grey heron who owns this waterfront. They seem to be the most solitary of birds and, when two are seen together, they always seem to be quarrelling. This one never allows us closer than about fifty metres, when he lets out a harsh cry, takes off, and flaps a short distance down the coast, a performance that's repeated several times as we follow him.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Sedan Seaweed Carrier

The strain of transporting seaweed up from the beach using a wheelbarrow (see earlier blog entry here) was too much for us, so The Diary invented and built this machine, using a wicker log basket. The idea came from the old sedan chair, last seen in use in the UK during the 19th century.

Readers of The Diary may be becoming seriously worried about the author's sanity but should be reassured. This is nothing new, and probably derives from spending thirty years working in an impoverished national education system, where resources were less provided than invented - and, incidentally, teaching some history.

The important thing is that the sedan seaweed carrier works. The trouble is that the seaweed, having lain on the beaches since the last storm, is so slimy it is quite disgusting to handle.

What we need now is another thumping good storm.

Aurora Group

With the sun becoming more active, we're putting together an Aurora Group on West Ardnamurchan, drawing together the sort of people who are prepared to get up at any hour of the night to see an aurora display.

If you live on West Ardnamurchan and would like to participate by agreeing

- to be contacted by another member of the group at any time to see an event

- to phone other people if you see an event.

....contact The Diary.

Many thanks to The-Dan on Flickr for the picture, more here.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Local Businesses

Over the next few weeks, The Diary has invited local businessmen and women to write about their businesses. So far, three have agreed to, but if there are any other businesses who would like to submit entries, they would be very much welcomed.

The first business is MacAvon Media, based in Achnaha.

A Kilchoan Publisher - 1

From Jenny Chapman

When I was young, I used to read the place of publication on books' copyright pages. Exotic cities fired my imagination: London, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Sydney..., and now, Kilchoan.

Kilchoan's the official record in all the cataloguing for printed books published by MacAvon Media, a company run by Nigel and I. We started publishing in print in November 2011 under the imprint "MacAvon Media". Although our first book only reached booksellers in December, we have already sold copies in the USA and Europe as well as the UK.

In the past two months we have published two small books in a series of four - the "Web Security Topics" series - see new Web site here, and look inside the book here. The remaining two in the series will be published in March and May 2012. There are several other titles scheduled for 2012: a complete new textbook "Web Security: A Complete Introduction" to be published in early summer 2012, a substantial practical textbook on Photoshop in the spring, and a complete introduction to HTML5 and CSS3 in early autumn.

Although all will be published in paperback, most MacAvon Media books will also be published as Kindle e-books. We also provide PDF versions, and are running a free PDF offer for purchasers of MacAvon Media paperbacks.

We do every part of the work ourselves, not only writing the content, but copy editing, proof reading, illustrating, typesetting, complete book design (interior and cover), publication, promotion, "Search Inside" files for Amazon, publicity - and all the Web design and development work to promote, support and sell the books.

MacAvon Media produces and publishes technical books, college textbooks and related digital content. In November 2011 we started publishing our own work in print for the first time. Until then all our titles were published in print by major international publishers, and MacAvon Media only published electronic versions for sale from macavonmedia.com.

Our book "Digital Multimedia" is a bestselling textbook, currently in its 3rd edition. It is the standard course text on the subject, used in colleges and universities all around the world, from China to Saudi Arabia, from Finland to Greece, from Canada to Brazil, from Korea to Australia, and in very many more countries. It is also the standard course text in the UK, and popular in Scottish colleges and universities.

www.macavonmedia.com operates as a downloads store, from which students and other readers can buy and download chapters of our books and supporting material. Through our sire, MacAvon Media also provides an extensive range of free support services for college lecturers all round the world who use Chapman and Chapman textbooks - free PDF evaluation copies of our books, complete lectures slides in a range of formats, facilities to create course bundles of cheap PDF chapters for students, etc. Lecturers and instructors apply for free accounts, which then give them access to all this material to download when they need it.

Through our large companion Web sites for our big textbooks - sites such as www.webdesignbook.org - we provide a range of free support material for students. All of the design and development for all our Web sites has been done entirely by us.

We work 7 days a week. Our books are used in almost every country of the world. In many countries, what we think of here as Sunday is a full working day. So, for example, the first thing I had to do when I got up this Sunday was approve an application for a MacAvon Media Lecturer's Account from a lecturer in Jordan, who needed lecture slides for "Digital Multimedia" immediately.

We are not only dependent upon computers, but utterly dependent upon the internet and a broadband connection to it. We communicate with lecturers and students all round the world via email and Web sites. Transactions via the MacAvon Media site, which both sells PDF publications and provides free material for lecturers - all through personal accounts - may require attention at any time. We have to keep connected. Power cuts are therefore a serious problem ... so Kilchoan is not the ideal place for work like this in some ways, though good in others.

Leisure is also a serious problem - we don't have any. Perhaps we live in the outdoor capital of the UK, but we rarely see it. The life is not as people imagine it to be. As we are so confined to our home/place of work, we are also utterly dependent on local services remaining local, and remaining services.

In case anyone wonders, writing and publishing technical books is not a way to get rich quick, or ever. It's a great deal of hard work for very little money. But we are educators, and that's the work we do. Anyone thinking of writing or self-publishing to make money would do very much better to write vampire stories or thrillers.

MacAvon Media is not a web design business and does not do commercial web design or development. In the past we have created a few small sites for local businesses, primarily as a favour. We no longer even have the time for that. Nor can MacAvon Media undertake publishing for any other authors. We are overwhelmed just trying to keep on top of our own work.

MacAvon Media may officially be published in Kilchoan, but the company is run from that hive of business activity, Achnaha

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

That Dratted Man Again....

There's me, minding my own business and doing a bit of fishing near the end of the jetty this afternoon....

....catching a few crabs - something I can't do there in summer with all those people around, messing about in boats and.... the children! Little blighters catch the crabs I like, making a lot of noise about it, so.... well, I can't go anywhere near, can I?

Anyway, I suddenly saw this man again, same one as I almost bumped in to a couple of weeks ago along Ormsaigbeg. Just like the last time, he was standing very still, pointing something at me.

Now, I'm not too fond of humans that close. I don't mind them when they're well away from me but, even then, humans usually means dogs, and dogs are big trouble.

So I'm afraid I didn't hang around, moving off slowly, on the surface, so I could keep an eye on him, and giving the occasional bark to say I wasn't too pleased at the disturbance....

....until I was well away from him, when I dived and headed for deeper water.

See earlier otter post here.


As predicted, the Northern Lights were out over Scotland and the North of England last night - pictures available here. Sadly, here in Kilchoan the clouds were out in force so we saw nothing.

There's a strong chance of the displays continuing. For those who haven't already come across it, what's happening can be followed on AuroraWatch, here. You can ask the site to send you an email when things get interesting.

Monday, 23 January 2012

After the Whelks

All day the wind has been set in the northwest bringing sunny intervals and wintry showers. At ten this morning the thermometer was stuck at 2C which, with the wind chill, probably made the actual temperature closer to zero. With a new moon today, this all made for perfect conditions for going after the whelks.

Of all the activities followed by the crofters to make a living, the whelks are the hardest - and it's an occupation usually pursued by the women. May Angus spent two and a half hours this morning bent double out on the kelp beds as the tide dropped towards low. The first half hour or so, she said, were a bit of a waste of time as the tide wasn't low enough and such whelks as could be found were small. Later, in a slightly different place and the sea further out, she began to pick good, big ones.

Two and a half hours of bitterly cold, back-breaking toil brought two and a half stone - that's about 15 kilograms - of the molluscs. May has no idea what she'll be paid for what she's collecting as prices vary so much. Around Christmas time, when the demand is highest, she might get £100 or more for a bag.

She'll be out on the shoreline after the whelks again tomorrow. A strong onshore wind is about the only weather that will put her off - it keeps the tide high, so the best whelks are inaccessible.

Whelks are the common periwinkle, Littorina littorea, winkles in England. Along with seaweed, fish and other shellfish, they are a traditional crofting crop. The Ormsaigbeg crofts are organised so each croft has a length of shoreline, giving access to beach and sea. These days, the whelks go for export.

Sunday, 22 January 2012


Seaweed, everyone keeps telling us, is by far the best fertiliser for the garden. It's the traditional fertiliser of the croft lands, used on the old lazybeds, and it contains virtually all the nutrients the soil needs. Better still, there's loads of it along the beaches after the winter storms, it has been washed free of salt by the recent rain, and it's free.

So, this morning, with our vegetable beds largely empty of crops and the sun making fleeting appearances, we set off with wheelbarrow and garden fork to collect some from the beach below our house.

Knowing nothing about the subject, we tried to avoid the stems of the kelp, but getting the 'leaves' out from between these rubbery, elastic stalks is far from easy. And the seaweed, as well as being gelatinous and messy, smells. So we loaded the barrow, in the process covering ourselves with brown slime.

The beach is only about 250 metres, in a straight line, from our house. Sadly, the straight line runs straight up a steep, muddy, slippery slope down which yesterday's 20mm of rain is still running. Although we had attached a strop to the front of the barrow, so one of us could pull while the other pushed, it was the devil of a job getting our precious load of fertilizer up the slope.

We were half way up the slope when a sea eagle sailed by, turning to stare down at us before continuing across Kilchoan Bay. Its white tail was picked out by the low winter sunlight, it was flying low and in the typically unhurried fashion of its species, so it would have made a perfect picture. Sadly, The Diary's hands were too covered in slime to use the camera.

We managed four barrowloads before we collapsed. There are probably quantum laws of physics which explain why mass and volume are reduced by transport because, once we'd spread our weed across the beds, it seemed to have shrunk. At this rate it's going to take us weeks to fertilise our vegetable patch.

District Nurses

Many thanks indeed to journalist Tom Peterkin whose balanced article on the imminent loss of our District Nurses was published on Saturday in the Scotsman. The article can be read here.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

It's the Time of Year When...

....a self respecting great tit is enjoying a peanut when a gust of wind almost knocks him tail over toes.

....a wildflower has to try to prove that it isn't midwinter at all, but spring.

....a sheep manages to find a gap in a fence and finds herself in a paradise of succulent, neatly-trimmed grass.

District Nurses - Public Meeting

Please read important notice about a public meeting, here.


Comments are very, very welcome , but The Diary apologises to its readers for some inappropriate comments posted over the last few weeks. As a result, comments are having to be moderated again, which means they don't appear immediately.

A stag grazes near the cairn at the top of the road that leads down to Kilmory and Fascadale.

Friday, 20 January 2012


We may be in for an auroral display this weekend - see website here.

It's pouring with rain in Kilchoan, and the forecast is poor until Sunday, but some readers may be more fortunate.

Cobbles - 1

The image of perfect beaches is of sand and shallow, turquoise water - like those at Sanna. Yet beaches like the one pictured, which runs along part of the Ormsaigbeg shore, have a different fascination: their pebbles. Strictly, most of these aren't pebbles but cobbles, which are defined as between 64 millimetres (2.5 in) and 256 millimetres (10.1 in) in length.

The joy of our local cobbles is that they are of such variety. Most were brought here around 10,000 years ago at the height of the last glaciation, and dumped, along with sand, silt and clay, to form the local soils. The sea rose as the ice melted, and eroded them out of the soil to build a beach.

Some of these cobbles have come from miles away, carried in on the river of ice. This is a granite, possibly the Strontian granite. It is formed of two main, pale-coloured minerals, felspar and quartz, and some dark minerals like biotite mica and hornblende.

This is another granite, but pinker. The colour comes from variations in the felspar, pink felspar often being the variety orthoclase. This cobble may, again, be derived from the Strontian granite but, since the glaciers eroded miles back into the Scottish highlands, it may be from much further afield.

'Granite' is very much a generic name, variations in the mineral content producing a spectrum of granite types. If plagioclase felspar is dominant over orthoclase, the granite may become a granodiorite.

This cobble is a 'granite', but the dark patches tell something of its history. Granites form from magma which wells up from deep within the crust, and then cools underground. As a result, the melt cools slowly, producing large crystals. But this granite, as it rose in the crust, picked up pieces of the surrounding rock, partially absorbing them. The dark patches are known as 'xenoliths', foreign rocks.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Distillery - Planning

Further to Tuesday's Diary entry about the distillery, here, details of the planning application can be found on the Highland Council website. The site can be accessed at http://wam.highland.gov.uk/wam/, the relevant Reference Number being 12/00017/ful

All the Best Birds....

As Sue Cameron put it when she sent this photo to The Diary, "All the best birds go to Ockle!'

This looks like a tawny owl, the one that has the classic "too-whit, too-whoo" call, though quite what it's doing in Ockle in broad daylight is a bit of a mystery.

If readers would like to look at some more beautiful pictures of tawny owls, they're here.

Many thanks to Sue Cameron for the picture.
Sue runs Ockle Holidays, website here.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Stormy Skies

The wind has gone around into the west and is bringing sharp showers in from the Atlantic. Snow is forecast.

This view looks along Ormsaigbeg to the mountains of Mull in the distance.

Bay to Bay - 2

Walking westwards from Fascadale Bay and approaching our destination of the small inlet called Port Eigin-aig (see earlier post here) we started to come across more and more signs of farm workings. This picture shows a stone wall with, in the background, a field which, in high summer, is probably covered in bracken - a sure sign that the soil is good.

The location is some distance from other settlements: Fascadale, Glendrian and Plocaig, the nearest villages, are all about two miles away over rough going. On the other hand, the fields are only a few hundred metres from Port Eigin-aig.

There are several piles of stones in the field, evidence that a great deal of work went in to clearing the land for cultivation. Search as we did, however, we could not find anything that resembled house or byre walls, so either the farming family lived elsewhere and walked to the field each day, or they built impermanent shelters. If the latter was the case, either they used the field as a summer sheiling or they lived in considerable poverty and deprivation.

Port Eigin-aig is a small, rocky bay with a constantly-shifting shingle beach, across which a small stream carves its way. The place must have been heavily used as a great deal of time was invested in building a rock roadway to the right, enabling carts to access the shore. Almost certainly, the main users of the port were the people of landlocked Glendrian, who collected seaweed for fertilizer and kept their fishing boats there. In the old days, herring, mackerel and other species which teemed in these waters would have been an essential part of their diet.

By this time the sky had clouded over and the southeast wind was keener than ever, so we did not linger, leaving with the thought that, on a fine summer's day, this would be a wonderful place for a swim.

Port Eigin-aig is marked on the map here.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Ardnamurchan Distillery

Adelphi Distillery Ltd has recently submitted detailed plans to Highland Council for the construction of a small, compact whisky distillery here on West Ardnamurchan, a prospect which fills The Diary with joy. For a start, it's a wonderful place to distill whisky surrounded, as it is, with several other fine distilleries, and then there's the prospect of employment in an area which badly needs these sorts of opportunities.

However, as with all major developments in such outstanding scenery, there are worries which have to be allayed. These were dealt with at a recent Community Council meeting (link here) by Donald Houston of Ardnamurchan Estate, who is a Director of Adelphi Distillery. Adelphi, established in 1826, is pumping several millions of pounds into the scheme, which is being developed at Glen More.

The above picture shows that the completed buildings will have a low visual impact. Assurances were also given that the proposed year-round Visitor Centre at the distillery would not take business away from the nearby Nadurra Visitor Centre (seen at left, website here), that, with two places to visit, visitor numbers could increase.

A planning application was submitted to Highland Council early in January, but the Community Council, which is normally consulted on all applications, felt enthusiastic about the project, not least because it will create at least three jobs initially, a number which could rise to nine. An early decision by Highland Council is essential if the scheme is to ahead.

A feature of the distillery is that it will be largely powered by local wood. A chipping facility has already been built on the Estate, and this will provide the heat for the distilling. While there will be some increase in traffic down the B8007, for example to bring in casks and malting barley, everything is being done to keep this to a minimum. The 'draff', the solid residue left after fermentation, will be fed to Estate cattle.

Adelphi, which currently selects fine casks from other distilleries for bottling, currently sells most of its produce abroad, but we are fortunate that, by special arrangement, a selection of its whiskies is available here in West Ardnamurchan, at The Ferry Stores.

An information sheet with more details can be downloaded here.
Adelphi's website is here, and Ardnamurchan Estate's here.