Wednesday, 29 February 2012


A River Walk - 2

From The Raptor

This continues The Raptors walk along a section of river
on Ardnamurchan Estate land.

At one point on my walk the river widened a bit and the ground flattened out allowing a more even flow. It was then that I was buzzed by a fast low flying bird following the twists of the river just as expertly as an RAF pilot flying through the glens. I took a second or two to work out what it was. Well it had to be a dipper. Time to go a bit more quietly, and soon enough, after a few yards, there ahead of me bobbing its head up and down on a rock in the middle of the river was the said bird.

I sat and watched the busy and brave bird turning and looking up and down the river, bobbing in the classic fashion, gauging when to make a dive into the biting cold water and, using its strong wings, swim under the water picking up any insects or tiny fish as it goes, before reappearing and effortlessly leaving the water to alight on another rock, eat its catch and start again.

It then flew past me moving further upstream before landing again. When I located it there were actually two of them, I suppose a pair. They do gather in small flocks of up to nine but here we don't have that many and, as it is now nearly March, we are into their breeding season which goes on until July. There is no marked difference between the sexes, only the young look different being much paler than the beautifully marked adult with its dark upper body and chestnut bib and bright white chest, making it a very distinctive bird to spot.

This river, with it steep gorges, is the perfect environment for the dippers to nest in. They seem to like the daredevil life and build nests under ledges above usually the fastest flowing water available, but this means safety from predators and prying eyes like mine. But it makes fledging for the young an bit of an endevour.

A few moments later and both were gone, flying back up the river in the direction that I had just came from.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

First it was Pigs.... it's - read all about it on the Craigard Croft blog, here.

A River Walk - 1

From The Raptor

On a bleak grey Sunday morning I thought I'd take a walk along a river bank. I set off by slopping through the fields frequented by the Estate cows which made a very muddy sticky start, but the river was not far away. I decided to walk in a southerly direction heading towards Loch Sunart (although I wasn't going all the way to the loch). The river was quite swollen with all the rain we have had and was running fast in places and you could see how much higher it had been by the flattened grass along the banks. Spring must be nearing as there are some wild primrose clinging to the banks above the river.

Picking my way carefully I crossed from one bank to another making sure I had good foot holds to ensure I didn't take an early bath. Just a wee bit further along I picked up a bit of a pong on the air and soon found the cause, the remains of a young deer which had either fallen from the not too high rock it lay beneath or had just given up to the inclement weather we have been having. Either way as you can see it has been making good eating for other wildlife, helping sustain the chain of natural life which goes on in the wild. This also made me aware of how many bones I was seeing in the river, I suppose from many types of animal.

I soon came to an area of high banks and twists and bends allowing trees to grow in the relative shelter provided by the high banks, it was there that I spotted a small flock of fieldfares and one redwing making the best of what's left of the autumn berries. A robin was chattering away in the trees making sure I kept moving along.

Soon the river widened a bit and the ground flattened out allowing a more even flow.

It was then that I moved on and then came across this tenacious tree clinging to the vertical rock wall, amazing considering I had already walked past fallen trees in much more sheltered areas that had given way to all the severe storms that we have had this winter.

Good luck to it.

Soon the river began to make a bit more noise as the banks closed in and the ground began to fall away allowing the river to pick up speed as the first waterfalls neared. I had to leave the rivers shore as the first of the steep sided gorges came into view. The river was lost to sight below and flowed onwards towards the loch about a mile or so ahead.

Just before I go does anyone know what this bright orange fungus is?

Part 2 of The Raptor's walk follows tomorrow.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Walking past Meall mo Chridhe

The splendid weather continues, much to the joy of the geese at Maell mo Chridhe who have taken possession of a muddy puddle right beside the road, and become quite unfriendly when passers-by threaten to climb into it with them.

The horse who shares their field wears his macintosh with an air of weary resignation. He used to be white but seems to be increasingly muddy. Perhaps he should come to some sort of arrangement with the geese so he can share their puddle.

Meall mo Chridh's highlanders in the adjacent field seem quite unfazed by the weather. It is, after all, what they were designed for. They're not quite like the geese, inasfar as the rain doesn't run off them, but it's at times like this that the hair over their eyes really comes into its own.

Meall mo Chridhe is a restaurant with rooms, website here.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A Frustrating Walk

With the mist low across the hills and a thin drizzle alternating with moments of watery sunshine, we chose what seemed like a straightforward objective for our walk today, a dun just to the south of Ockle.

A dun is an Iron Age fort, usually very small, but this one is interesting because it lies inland and seems to dominate nothing - unless there was a regularly-used trackway between Swordle and Camas nan Geall, which would have passed close by it.

We left the car near the entrance to Swordle Farm and followed the Allt Dochan a' Churra - the top picture looks back down its valley towards the farm buildings.

After crossing two fences and negotiating several quagmires, we plunged into a coniferous plantation, following a path which ran southeastwards along a pronounced ridge. We don't like walking in woodland as its so enclosed, even less on damp days, and to find this in a place where the OS had indicated open moorland was disconcerting.

The only feature that remotely resembled a dun was this area of moss-covered stones, but since none of the stones were visible, the shape of the structure was completely buried, and any surrounding features which might have enabled us to pinpoint our location were invisible, we couldn't be certain that we had found our objective .

Retreating towards the road, feeling dejected and with the rain increasing, we came across this rock formed of a wonderfully contorted mica schist. It almost made the walk worthwhile - until we returned home and checked the dun's location on Google Maps: we had been nowhere near it.

A map of the area is here.

In Need of a Haircut?

A chaffinch in a following wind.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Has Spring Sprung?

A week ago it was snowing, but since then we have had 69mm of pure Kilchoan sunshine, of which 27mm arrived in one 24-hour period. But with the rain have come soaring temperatures, nothing like what's being experienced in the south of England, but unusual enough for here. So daytime maxima of 10C, and overnight minima of 7C haven't been uncommon, compared with -1C a week ago.

The snowdrops were out before the snow came, and since then the other spring garden flowers have been following quickly. There are daffodils in many people's gardens, but these ones were growing in a field in amongst some brambles; they'd obviously been thrown over the fence from the neighbouring garden, and taken root.

These crocuses are trying to grow in the verge of the road, where they're frequently spattered with mud from passing lorries - which, of course, is washed off quickly enough.

With the first feelings of spring, the local humans have also sprung into action. There are two building sites in operation down our road, one at the camp site where Trevor Potts is building his house, and one further down opposite Cruachan. With heavy vehicles such as this pre-mix cement lorry going up and down it, the road is rapidly falling apart.

It has been an unusually wet and mild winter, with only five light ground frosts since the beginning of the new year. But to talk of winter being already behind us would be very premature. It may well be that the coldest part is yet to come.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Ships in the Sound

We seem to see many fewer ships passing through the Sound at this time of year, but that may be explained in part a least by the long nights and murky days. Over the last month or so, most passing ships are ferries, cargo ships, fish-farm supply vessels or fishing boats.

This smart trawler is the Stefani, N265, registered in Newry. She's equipped with pelagic pair trawl nets, and her main catch is either herring or mackerel. Pair trawling, as the name suggests, involves the use of two boats to tow a large net, one of the advantages of the system being that the disturbance caused by the two ships helps to herd the fish into the net. There's more about the system here.

It's good to see local boats working off our shores, and particularly good to see one with a Gaelic name. Reul a Chuain means star of the sea. She's an Oban boat, her registration number OB915. She got into difficulties in Mallaig harbour in August 2010 when gale-force winds threatened to push her onto the shore. Mallaig lifeboat was launched but the crew got her back under control.

This is the Dutch ship Flinterhunze, a 3,300 tonne cargo boat carrying what look like the towers of wind turbines, passing us on yet another mucky day. Painted in an almost naval grey, she's well camouflaged in the weather.

The Valentin Pikul - now there's a lovely name - is registered in Malta. Valentin Pikul was the name of a Soviet historical novelist who, amongst other things, wrote about the convoys, such as PQ-17, which left Scottish ports for northern Russia during the second world war. More details of him here, and there's a much better picture of the ship here.

There are so few ships around that it's almost an event - worth rushing out and taking a picture of - when two of them pass each other in front of us. On the left is Isis. The Diary complains a great deal about ship's names, and at least this one is feminine, but a search on produces a list of about fifty vessels of the name. Femininity and originality are essential. Isis is small, at 670gwt, and she's British flagged.

The ship on the right is the Fri Skein. To add to the variety of flags represented this month, she's registered in Gibraltar.

Lastly, pictured from the steep hills to the west of Ormsaigbeg, this is the Kanutta, the smallest of this month's ships at 457dwt, and the oldest, having been built in 1958. She's interesting because she's registered in Togo. Togo? The Togolese Republic is a slither of Africa located on its west coast. Why is a small, old ship like this one, which seems to spend a lot of its time on our coast, registered there - unless their registration requirements are laxer than, say, the UK? Her only claim to fame is that she was the first ship through the Caledonian Canal in 2010, in a scheme to reopen that waterway to commercial traffic, story here.

Thursday, 23 February 2012


When groups such as communities are faced with major change brought about by the actions of government or business, they should be consulted. The trouble is that there is an art to running a consultation exercise: it takes both the right personalities to conduct it, and training.

The consultation exercise with West Ardnamurchan carried out by NHS Highland and the Scottish Ambulance Service failed miserably to achieve its end - to institute change with the support of the community. The people who ran it made a mess of it.

This failure was acknowledged yesterday by the person who is ultimately responsible for Scotland's NHS - Nicola Sturgeon, Cabinet Secretary for Health & Wellbeing. It was a generous apology (see notes from the meeting, here), and will go a long way towards restoring West Ardnamurchan's confidence in a service in which, until the consultation turned into a dispute, the community had great faith.

The structures which NHS Highland, the SAS and our local doctors' practice will now start to put in place won't be anything like what we had. They will be new, untried, and are bound to have faults. It is for us as a community to put behind us the problems of the last fourteen months and work with NHS officials to achieve a result which is as good, if not better, than what we had before.

The great thing about the community of West Ardnamurchan is that it fights a mean fight when it knows it has been wronged, but it is also famous for working together once it has a goal to achieve - the point Davie Ferguson made in his presentation, when he used the examples of the ferry and the lighthouse as major projects which the community delivered.

We have many people to thank for helping us to see Ms Sturgeon: our MSPs, particularly Mary Scanlon, our friends in the press, and our many friends across this country, the UK, and overseas who wrote and emailed their support. It won't be possible to thank all of them in person - but they know who they are.

One thing is very important - Nicola Sturgeon's promise that she will be watching what happens here, and will come down, in due course, to talk to us and make sure we're happy.

Photos thanks to Trevor Potts. Top: Rosie, Jac and May McNicol with whisky and prawns. Second, our representatives who met Ms Sturgeon: Jac, Rosie, Davie & Jessie. Third: yesterday's demonstration outside the Scottish Parliament. Bottom: John Chapple.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Day in Edinburgh

Follow the news from Edinburgh on the West Ardnamurchan News site, here.

House for Sale

Property for sale is rare at this end of the peninsula, but a house in Kilchoan is about to come on to the market. Strictly, it's in the crofting township of Ormsaigbeg, a few steps along the cul-de-sac that branches left at The Ferry Stores. In this picture it's at bottom left. It looks out across a small tidal pond and Kilchoan Bay to the Sound of Mull, Tobermory and Ben Talla, some 25 miles away.

In the above picture, which shows most of the village of Kilchoan, it's marked with a red arrow towards the bottom right.

The house is the bungalow in the centre of the picture, seen from the foreshore. The building on the left, originally a boat store, has recently been used as a garage and store room. One of the features is a picture window in the sitting room, which gives superb views.

The property, which is on the right, includes a garden stocked with a fine collection of shrubs. Inside, there's a generous sitting room, separate dining room, three bedrooms and two en-suite bathrooms, kitchen and conservatory. At one time it was used as a bed-and-breakfast.

The property will be put in the hands of an agent but if anyone would like further details, please email Georgia Baker.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Nurses - News

Follow the latest news on the meetings in Fort William and Edinburgh on the West Ardnamurchan News, here.

Fox Hunt

The boys were out in the hills over the weekend hunting foxes. By Sunday, when they checked Sanna, they were satisfied that not a fox existed west of the Ardnamurchan Estate fence.

The Diary has news for them. When we walked up the hill at the back of Ormsaigbeg on Sunday morning, the snow was pitted with the tracks of foxes - see picture. They criss-crossed the hill, they seemed to go in circles, they moved back and forth.

Perhaps the foxes had inside intelligence of what was about to happen. Perhaps they knew they'd be safe in Ormsaigbeg. Perhaps the fox population was all here for a Saturday night party, dancing... the foxtrot?

Monday, 20 February 2012

Ardnamurchan's Whisky Distilleries

There's nothing new about a whisky distillery on West Ardnamurchan - the local people have been distilling the stuff for generations. We know this from word-of-mouth, but there's also evidence in place names.

The field shown in this picture, taken in yesterday's snow, is to the left of the road from Kilchoan to Portuairk, just after one passes the Fire Station. It lies in a wide hollow called Lag a Choire, the Still in the Corrie. It was a good place to have a clandestine still, as it was both secluded and offered a good lookout point for the Excise men.

With the temperature hovering just above zero and badly in need of a wee dram, we were checking it out yesterday and, sadly, there was no sign that of an illegal still.

Meanwhile, back in the modern world, the arguments over whether we should have a distillery at Glen Beg continue. I have been asked by proponents on both sides to air their views through The Diary so, in fairness, I'm carrying something from each. The first is an email from an Adelphi consultant to Michael MacGregor which straightens out the question of whether there are alternative sites for a distillery on West Ardnamurchan:

Dear Michael,

As consultant to the Adelphi Distillery Company, I was both surprised and concerned to read in the press your assertion that a consultant to Adephi (preumably myself, following our telephone conversations recently) had claimed that Glenbeg was not the preferred site for the distillery. I am sure that you will recall I mentioned that several possible locations had
been examined, both on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula and Morven, adjacent to
Loch Sunart. Of these only Liddesdale would have been considered over the
Glenbeg site EXCEPT that a strategically important part of the site, i.e. the land occupied by Liddesdale House adjacent to the loch, was not in the ownership of Laudale Estates, which consequently excluded it from further consideration.

Therefore, my view, as clearly expressed to you, is that of all the potential locations earmarked for further detailed investigation only the Glenbeg site was suitable.

Yours truly, Ian Lambart

The second is a document from Maurice Hardy of Ultimate PR Ltd, which not only tackles the problems of siting a distillery at Glen Beg but also the whole way that this end of the peninsula could project itself. It's a long document, so it's offered as a download, which can be found by clicking here.

The public consultation closes tomorrow - not helped by the fact that Highland Council's website wasn't working yesterday afternoon.


What's the connection between these newly-hatched ducklings and a fine sponge cake?

Crofter Tom Bryson, who runs Craigard Croft in Ormsaigbeg, has the answer. Follow the Craigard website here.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Our Nurses: One Last Appeal for Help

We need one more push before our representatives see Nicola Sturgeon, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday at 5.15pm.

If you have a moment or two, please write to her before Rosie, Jac, Davie and Jessie meet her. The sort of thing to write has been superbly put by Colin Marsh, who is a visitor to Ardnamurchan:

To Nicola Sturgeon, MSP

Dear Nicola,

I understand you are meeting representatives from West Ardnamurchan Community Council on Wednesday 22 February regarding the provision of nurse support to the isolated communities at the end of the long single track road of the Ardnamurchan peninsula. As frequent visitor to the peninsula on holiday, the provision of 24 hour, 7 day a week emergency provision of a nurse is a key attraction to returning. Withdrawing this provision may lead me and others to reconsider whether this is a safe area to stay for prolonged holiday periods. Please support this small community as their service to holiday makers is greatly appreciated and is vital to developing a vibrant Scottish tourist economy. I write as a holiday visitor to the Highlands of Scotland for 40 years.
Your sincerely,
Colin (Revd Colin Marsh)

If you want to send an email, the address is - make clear to whom you are writing.

If you prefer to write by post, the address is:
Cabinet Secretary for Health & Wellbeing
St Andrew’s House
Regent Road
Edinburgh EH1 3DG

To the many of you who have helped us over the last fourteen difficult months - thank you.

Snow on the Hills

We woke this morning to a thin covering of snow, so we were away into the hills as soon as we'd had breakfast. After the snow fell in the early hours the temperature dropped to -1C, so the going was treacherous underfoot - something we bore in mind after our misadventure on Friday.

We saw very little living as we climbed along the flanks of Tom na Moine and Stacan Dubha. We put up two woodcock, who always seem to leave it to the last moment to fly from right beneath our feet, and we found one thicket where three wrens were having a fierce argument.

This is a hard time of year for the sheep that winter on the hills. This ewe appeared to have died very recently having fallen down a bank to come to rest against an old piece of farm machinery.

On our way home we left the common grazing through the land belonging to Grianan croft where, on a low hill, the chambered cairn called Greadal Fhinn stands. The great stone slabs of which it is formed seemed more bleak than ever as they stood stark against the snow. There's more about Greadal Fhinn here.

We arrived home after three hours walking. Going into the back garden we came across this, the first primrose of the year, looking a bit sorry for itself after such a cold night.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Winter Returns

At seven this morning, with an old moon standing over Tobermory lighthouse, the first of today's winter showers was blown in from the northwest.

By late afternoon, after a day of sleet, hail, snow and sunny breaks, the snow had begun to settle across Ben Hiant. Picture shows the houses along Pier Road, with HM Coastguard station to the right.

More on the Geological Mystery

The Diary finds it fascinating to watch scientists at work as they tease out possible answers to the mysteries that Nature sometimes throws up. Our local geologists started off by thinking that the strange golf-balls, bread rolls and coral-like structures found in an Ormsaigbeg excavation might have originated in a warm, shallow sea about 130 million years ago. But, as it became apparent that the structures were formed of silica rather than calcium carbonate, they moved towards a formation during the great Ardnamurchan volcanic eruption some 60 million years ago, and likened the place where they were formed to Yellowstone in the USA - see earlier Diary entry here.

Rob Gill has led this research. Rob runs Geosec Slides, a small, high-tech business based in the crofting township of Achnaha. He believes the structures are 'concretions' formed in hot pools of silica-rich water, where layer upon layer of silica was deposited on a 'core' of a small, gravel-sized chip of rock.

Rob has made microscope slides, and what he has found strongly supports his argument. The green in the middle of the slide is the basalt, the greeny-grey material around it is silica.

This photo shows the structure even more clearly.

Rob writes, "You can see the mass of feldspar laths, which is all that is left of the original mineralogy in the Ormsaigbeg basalt nuclei. This is what I would expect to see as the feldspar is the most stable of the minerals in the basalt, the olivine (large brown areas) has already started to break down, the pyroxene (pink) will be next, and chlorite (green), which is a secondary mineral not originally present when the basalt was erupted, is starting to develop.

"This is strong evidence that the concretions date from the Paleogene (Tertiary) volcanic era, and have nothing to do with the earlier Triassic/Jurassic/Cretaceous sedimentary rocks. I cannot think of any other process other than hydrothermal sinter deposition that could account for what we are seeing. I have also sectioned a 'pipe' from Ormsaigbeg. This does not
show a core nucleus, which surely, is what one would expect."

Many thanks to Rob for slide photos and explanation.
Geosec's website is here.