Sunday, 30 June 2013

Mingary Otter

Otter photographed below Mingary Castle last week.

Moving the Pigs

Hughie came up to Ormsaigbeg this morning to move the pigs.  Fortunately, he brought his son Stuart with him, otherwise heaven knows what would have happened.

The first job was to feed the pigs and, while they were distracted by their food, take down the electric fence and move it nearer the road - because, so Hughie said, people have been complaining to him that they couldn't see the pigs in their old run down the field.

Of course, while Stuart cracked on with laying out the posts, his dad got the electric fencing wire in a terrible tangle.

Then Stuart had to supervise while Hughie knocked in the stobs that hold the four corners of the electric fence....

....and he had to put the battery that they had been using, which was a bit run down, into the pickup....

....and collect the new battery, a much bigger and heavier one which The Diary couldn't lift, and take it to where it needed to be positioned.  While he was doing this he was telling The Diary how he wanted to be a crofter when he grew up, and do it properly.

The pigs didn't seem too bothered about the fact that their best chance of escape in ages was being missed.  Betsy and Bobby only had eyes for each other - which is rather bad news for Hughie as Betsy is supposed to have been in piglet for some months now.

Having sorted the batteries, Stuart had to make sure that Hughie hooked the new one up correctly, and, to be perfectly certain it was working....

....he told his dad to grab hold of the wire.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

A Lost Ormsaigbeg House

Sometimes, a change of season can be a nuisance.  On Ardnamurchan, there's definitely a good season for the amateur archaeologist, and it is NOT early summer, for the bracken is coming up at the pace of about six inches a day, obscuring the one thing which makes archaeology here so rewarding - the fact that so much of the local building was in stone.  In winter, the bracken and grass have died back, and so, so much is revealed.

We've walked the slopes above the boundary fence of the Ormsaigbeg common grazings a hundred times, yet it was only the other day that a variation the the blanket of bracken drew attention to a stony area which we hadn't noticed before - it's arrowed in the picture.  In the photo, the Ormsaigbeg croft lands lie to the left of the fence, and the site's approximate location is marked on the map here.

The pattern of the stones is telling a story, but even close up it's difficult to read.  It took some grubbing around in the bracken to find it.

The stones were once the walls of a house some 10 metres by 4.5, divided into two almost equal-sized rooms.  It sat in a slight platform cut into the slope, close by a little burn that provided its inhabitants with their water supply.  Around it there was a network of drystone walls, though their remains are so obscured it is difficult to see what they enclosed.  But there's enough visible to show, quite clearly, that this was a dwelling house.

The more the site is explored, the more evident it becomes that this was a substantial building.  The wall at the western end (the right in this picture) is upward of a metre thick, and many of the rocks of which it is built have been carefully dressed.  A sad sense of the scale of this photo can be obtained from the newborn, but dead blackface lamb at upper left.

The earliest map we have which shows the farm lands of West Ardnamurchan is Bald's map of 1806.  This isn't from the original but from a copy made in 1856 and now in the care of Donald Houston at Ardnamurchan Estate.  It's a remarkably accurate map for its day, and shows that the area around the house was worked in 1806; but no buildings are marked.  At that time, the land belonged to the Ormsaigbeg clachan whose inhabitants lived in a grouping of small houses some half-mile to the northeast - see the 'History of Ormsaigbeg', here.

This suggest that the house may be earlier than 1806, and may date back to a time when there was a satellite village of the Ormsaigbeg clachan near the site - again, see the 'History'.

This Google satellite image shows how intensively the land was worked two hundred and more years ago - the areas of striping are lazy beds, and old walls criss-cross the area.  The approximate position of the house is marked by the circle; the road to the right is the Ormsaigbeg road.

The only indication that someone has noticed this almost-lost human feature on the landscape is the inclusion, in the Ordnance Survey's 1872 1" map, of two rectangles of land enclosed, presumably, by stone walls.

Ormsaigbeg's crofts were created in the mid 19th century, mostly to accommodate local people evicted from places like Bourblaige.  Look closely at the map and notice how the course of the wall which was built to separate crofts from common grazing is interrupted near the house - the double-ended arrow on the map shows where the wall might have gone.

So the land surrounding this building had something sufficiently special about it that, when the clachan lands of Ormsaigbeg were rearranged into individual crofts, it was excluded.  Fascinating - but any further investigation of the building will have to wait until winter.

Many thanks to Donald Houston for permission to copy the Bald map.
An interactive map of the area is here.

Friday, 28 June 2013

A Dreich Dee

The Scots have a wonderful word, dreich, which perfectly describes the type of weather which is all too common along the west coast.  Look it up on Google, and it translates as anything between wet, dull, gloomy, dismal, dreary, and downright miserable.  Yesterday was dreich, and this morning even more so, and between them they provided us with almost an inch of our unique Kilchoan sunshine.

A trip down to the ferry terminal this morning for the Loch Linnhe's 10.15am crossing to Tobermory provided some very dreich photo opportunities.  From the CalMac slipway, Mingary Castle, about a kilometre away, was almost lost in the mist and drizzle.  Despite the weather, archaeological activity continues there apace - you can follow progress at the Mingary Castle website, here.

The views may be restricted, but the green of the countryside at this time of year shines through - this view looks from Kilchoan village across the bay to Ormsaigbeg.  The land really does need some rain as, although it has started a fairly dull summer, total precipitation has been low.  Now, with the first strawberries just starting to ripen, we now need a good dose of sun.

Dull as the day might be, there's always something of interest to watch.  This morning it was this wagtail.  It looks like the young of the pied wagtail - please someone correct this if it's wrong.

Ardnamurchan Transitions Team Returns

The Ardnamurchan Transitions team, a group of archaeologists who have been excavating in the Swordle area since 2006, are returning this summer.  They are at Swordle between the 21st July and 3rd August, and will be running a range of public events including

- an Open Day on Sunday 28th July

- a talk on the team's work on Monday 29th July at 8.00pm in the Kilchoan Community Centre.

There will be other activities for children and adults.  Full details will be published nearer the time.

The team's website is here.

Thursday, 27 June 2013


It might seem that the most stressful time for bird parents are the early days, when the babies open wide, yellow gapes and screech for food every time mum or dad goes anywhere near the nest but, as so many human parents well know, the worst stage may be yet to come.... the teenage.

Teenage birds are just like human ones - except that humans don't have quite the equivalent of sparrowhawks winging around.  This teenage chaffinch simply sat on the wall, in full view of everyone, and waited for dinner to be brought by his two, frantic parents.  They had probably told him over and over again that this was about the most stupid thing he could possibly do but.... well, he's a teenager.

This teenage goldfinch took a slightly different approach to ensuring that a square meal was delivered, alternately sitting, looking cute and helpless, and waiting for parents to reappear, and....

....unashamedly and almost aggressively begging, nodding his head up and down until one of his parents handed him some food - even though there was plenty lying around which he was perfectly capable of eating unaided.

This is a teenage yellowhammer, fluffy, polite, extremely well turned out, very unimaginative, and another of the teenage brigade who believe they don't have to do anything to help themselves.  One can have some sympathy with his moodiness - his dad, at this time of year, is in his full yellow regalia and is very, very smart, while son is.... a little dowdy.

The hazards of teenage life are multiple.  Human parents who remember the agony of son or daughter borrowing the family car for their fist solo outing will have a some sympathy for the parents of this great tit teenager, who let him out of their sight on condition that he took great care, when he promptly flew into a window and concussed himself.

He sat on a branch of the buddleia for about a quarter of an hour to recover, while his anxious parents kept vigil at his bedside.  He recovered quite suddenly, and flew off with his mum and dad in hot pursuit.

Many thanks to Gael Cameron for the picture of the nestlings.


Congratulations to Jane McNicol and Jamie Isaacson  on their Engagement.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

One Million Pageviews

Yesterday evening's sunset, picture taken from the Sanna road below Creag an Airgid looking towards Meall Sanna.

'A Kilchoan Diary' recorded its millionth pageview, helped by a sudden surge of interest from German readers, who made 21,426 pageviews in the last week.  There have been 2,065 posts since the first on 15th October 2009.  Many thanks for everyone's support.

Princess Anne Visits Lighthouse

Princess Anne visited Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse today - she's seen here, at right, at the top of the tower.

Princess Anne, as the Patron of the Northern Lighthouse Board, is travelling around Scotland on a three-day tour which includes visiting lighthouses.  While the Daily Telegraph, here, states that she is trying to fulfill an ambition to visit all of Scotland's 206 lighthouses, she has visited Ardnamurchan before.

The princess was watched by some of Kilchoan Primary school's pupils and accompanied on her tour by, among other officials, Davie Ferguson, who is retained by the NLB to care for the lighthouse.

She is travelling around the west coast aboard the NLB's Pharos, and flew in to the lighthouse aboard the ship's helicopter.

Many thanks to Ritchie Dinnes for the photos.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Ships in the Sound

Every month or so the Diary publishes a personal record of ships which have passed up and down the Sound of Mull.  It's not a busy waterway but we do see some interesting ships.

This is the Bente on her way to Lublin which, I'm sure we all know, is a port in Poland.  She's a 4456dwt cargo ship built in China in 2010 for owners Marlink Schiffahrtkontor of Hamburg, Germany, but she's registered in Malta.  She has more written along her side than any ship we've seen before.  At some point, someone is going to realise the potential of turning the slab-like side of a large cargo ship into an international advertising hoarding.

There's no particular reason for including the Arklow Fern in this month's featured ships except that she, like all Arklow Shipping's boats, always looks as neat and clean as any well-managed ship should be.  She's low in the water, which is good to see, as it means she has a full cargo aboard.

This picture of the Fri Ocean was taken in May 2011, back in happier times.  The Fri Ocean ran aground on Mull, a few miles to the south of Tobermory, early in the morning of 14th June - Diary report and links here - but was floated off that evening and taken to Oban for inspection.

For those of you interested in disasters at sea, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's Press Office blog here is always worth a visit.  The other day, under the title "FIVE FOREIGN FLAGGED SHIPS UNDER DETENTION IN UK DURING MAY 2013" it had this to report -

"Vessel Name: - YEOMAN BANK (Bulk Carrier)
Flag: - Liberia
Company: - V Ships UK Ltd
Classification Society: - Det Norske Veritas (DNV)
Recognised Organisation: - Det Norske Veritas (DNV)
Recognised Organisation for ISM: - Lloyds Register (LR)
Summary: - four deficiencies including two grounds for detention

"The vessel was detained in Portbury as the emergency generator was not starting or running correctly.
Other deficiencies identified were during enclosed space entry, no SCBA at entry as required by procedure - additional training to be made; three fire mans outfits (suits) had been worn out; Insufficient cutting boards (coloured) in the galley."  The spelling and punctuation is the MCA's.

Most of this isn't too much of a worry, but the failed generator is.  Those of us who watch this huge vessel which frequently works its way through the narrow seaway of the Sound of Mull are grateful for the efforts of the MCA, but would like to remind Her Majesty's Government that they recently removed the on-duty emergency towing tug from our area.

The government is, of course, extremely lucky to have an organisation like the Royal National Lifeboat Institute which runs all rescues at sea in British waters at no cost to the taxpayer.  The RNLI did a sterling job with the Fri Ocean which, fortunately, didn't leak any oil or other noxious chemicals, but wouldn't be able to cope with the 70,000 tonne Yeoman Bank.

The picture shows the Mallaig lifeboat 17-26, the Henry Alston Hewat, which has operated out of Mallaig since 2001, passing up the Sound on the 17th June.

The amount of cruise ship activity has fallen in the last month.  One that did pass our way was Noble Caledonia's Island Sky - website here - but....

....instead we were treated to a view of one of those cruising ships.... sorry, yachts.... designed for the super rich, the Big Eagle - website here.  Readers who follow the 'Ships in the Sound' blogs will know that the Diary has prejudices about ships' names, preferring to stick with the old tradition of giving them girls' names.  Big Eagle is a terrible name for a ship since, although this one is obviously very fast, it certainly doesn't fly and, compared to the Yeoman Bank, is very, very small, so Little Sparrow might be more appropriate.  Perhaps the situation is saved by the fact that the captain is a lady, Ms Christiana Virgilio.

This, in contrast, is a real yacht.  She's the Ocean Youth Trust Scotland's Alba Endeavour, a Challenge 72 boat which is quite capable of taking her crew round the world - see website here.  Although she's crewed by volunteers she came past us on the 20th in fine style, tacking into a brisk southeaster to make her way south down the Sound.

This is the only warship that's passed through the Sound this month.  M106 is an old friend, HMS Penzance, a Sandown-class minehunter built by Vosper Thornycroft in 1998.  Vosper Thornycroft is an historic name in British warship building, having launched some of the great destroyers of World War II, but it, like so many independent British shipbuilders, doesn't exist any more - see a history here.

The Diary continues to live in hope of seeing one of the Royal Navy's new Type-45 destroyers some of which, like the Daring, above, have taken the name of destroyers built by Vosper Thornycroft which saw service in the war.  Photo courtesy Defence Images on Flickr, here.

Monday, 24 June 2013

An Evening on the Top of Britain

From Rachael Haylett:

Glen Nevis and Loch Linnhe from the zig-zag track.
Considering that I spent six years of my life based in Fort William for my High School education, I have always felt guilty that during this time I never walked to the summit of Ben Nevis. I would marvel at the big lump of a mountain every clear evening out of my hostel window, but left school with the climb still on my to-do list.

Last week, while I was in Fort William, my old geography teacher Neil Adams decided to sort this issue out. A last minute decision on Monday afternoon led to Neil, Harry the Physics teacher (who had also never been up the Ben) and I setting off at quarter to six on a sunny evening to conquer the Ben.

Glen Nevis and the Mamores.
It was hot going under the evening sun, but there was a breeze which helped to keep us from boiling and kept the midgies away. We powered on past "heart-attack hill", enjoyed the flatter walk past the half-way lochan, and continued our zig-zagging climb up. Green grass faded away to the moonscape scree for which the Ben is so well known.

Harry and I's summit photo.
As we neared the top of the Ben, dark cloud swept over. Yet this was not so disappointing, as at the top the cloud would clear in patches....

Cloud clearing over the North Face, looking down towards the CIC Hut.
....revealing stunning, deep yellow evening light and giving us sudden views of the surrounding mountains.

The cloud also allowed for something very special. I had never before heard of a "Brocken Spectre", so I saw my first one on the top of Ben Nevis! They occur when you have sunlight behind you, and mist in front of you, and what I saw was my shadow encircled by a rainbow. A little information on Brocken Spectres can be found here.

My Brocken Spectre.
We spent a lot of time enjoying the different views from the summit before heading back down. As we began our descent, the mist mixed with the sunset allowing another good photo opportunity.

Heading back down to Fort William.
It really was a fantastic walk, and my thanks go to Neil Adams for taking Harry and I up that evening.

Many thanks to Rachael for story & pictures.

Young Red Deer

A young red deer seen at the roadside near Loch Mudle this morning.  It was with its mother, three other hinds and one other fawn of about the same age.