Monday, 30 September 2013


A couple of weeks ago the small birds were threatening to clean us out of food, but now there's hardly one of them to be seen.  The reason is this sparrowhawk.  He's raiding into our garden every hour or so, shooting down the passageway at the side of the house to surprise them at the bird tables.  The small birds that haven't already been eaten have taken to the hills.

This pied wagtail doesn't seem to be too bothered.  His solution seems to be to do his hunting for insects against a background which provides perfect camouflage.  In any case, he won't be around much longer as the wagtails will be migrating south shortly.

The Ormsaigbeg buzzards have managed to produce one chick this year.  While he spends his time finding vantage points from which to scream to his parents to bring him food, the parents have reached the stage where they now largely ignore him.  But this is the first time we've had our car used as a perch.


Sunrise this morning, 7.35am.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Beinn Bhreac

With the forecast on Yr.No promising wall-to-wall sunshine today, we set off for another assault on Beinn Bhreac, one of the summits at the eastern end of our stamping ground, a bleak peak carved by glaciers out of ancient metamorphic rocks.

This time, we chose to approach it along the coastal track that runs from Ockle to Gorntenfern, a relatively easy walk which offers stunning views north across the Minches to Rum, Eigg, Muck and Skye, as well as glimpses of some of the hidden beaches along Ardnamurchan's north coast - this view looks down on Eilagadale.

Sadly, as this is a good walk to enjoy it, the heather flowering is almost over, the best being spoilt by the recent wet weather, but the dying bracken does its best to make up for it.

We left the track, by now little more than a path, at its highest point, and struck off south....

....climbing steadily into increasingly open and rocky country.  This view, looking back from near Beinn Bhreac's summit, shows a small pool and two lochans, both un-named on the OS map.

There's a triangulation point at the summit as well as a substantial cairn of stones, and three hundred and sixty degrees of magnificent views.  Here we look across the string of beaches that are generally called the Singing Sands to Kentra Bay, with the mountains of Moidart in the distance.

 A close-up of two of the bays....

 .... a bit further round, the little village of Ardtoe....

 ....and, in the hazy distance, Castle Tioram....

....while, to the southwest, we looked across the exposed metamorphic rocks to more familiar territory and Ben Hiant.

The rutting is in full swing and these magnificent beasts are no longer lords of the glens - they're kings of the hilltops, roaring out their mating calls.

From Beinn Bhreac we walked a kilometre south along the bleak ridge, heading for one of the lochans, beside which we stopped to enjoy lunch.  We then turned northwest towards Ockle and gradually descended into softer landscapes.

An interactive version of this map is here.


Sunrise yesterday morning, 7.30am.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Insects' Blue Heaven

We had very little knowledge of gardening when we came to plant up our new plot, so we just stuck shrubs and flowers into the soil and sat back and watched to see if they would survive.  Some did, some didn't, but one of the successes was a Caryopteris, blue spirea, which has had a super late flowering season this year, despite the damp end to the summer.  Its profusion of flowers has attracted myriad insects, more than the buddleia, including this beautiful peacock butterfly.

But its main worshippers have been the local wasps, bees and hoverflies. This looks like a honey bee, perhaps from Trevor Potts' hives along the road at the Ardnamurchan Campsite, but he was joined by....

 ....this smartly striped bumblebee....

....and a number of other bumblebees all of whom wore rather smart furry coats....

....but seemed to vary considerably in colour and patterns, so....

....we really weren't sure whether they were all the same species or several different ones.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Glendrian's Satellite Clachan

One of the joys of living on West Ardnamurchan is that, on our walks across the hills, we are constantly coming across old, abandoned stone structures which were obviously built by man.  This one we stumbled upon while following a path which we've often used before - yet we'd never noticed it.  It's just to the east of the Sanna road, shortly after it dips down to the bridge across the Allt Uamha na Muice - there's a convenient ladder across the Ardnamurchan Estate boundary fence, and the structure is a couple of hundred metres beyond it.

It's circular, about 4 metres in diametre, and a few moments' investigation showed that it consisted....

....of an almost square wall of stones against which was mounded turfs and peats - the scale is in 10cm sections.

The roof is obviously long gone, and it may look small and rude, but this was almost certainly a dwelling house.

We spent some time searching the surrounding area, and found four more structures, of which three were similar to the first.

We were already aware of walls and old fields, with their distinctive striped patterns of lazy beds, in the surrounding area, and of a number of stone cairns which might have been field clearance cairns, but when we looked on Bing's aerial view - which is particularly good as it was taken in winter with the sun low - we were amazed at the amount of agricultural activity.

We knew that the land on which the structures stood was part of the old Glendrian clachan's lands, so we checked Bald's map of 1806, which shows all the worked land of West Ardnamurchan's various clachans.

Bald's map, which has Glendrian's fields in yellow, shows that there was no activity in the area in 1806, so what we had found must be 18th century or earlier.

This map summarises what we found, but also shows that the worked land associated with these structures extended to the west, possibly as far as the boundary with the neighbouring Achnaha clachan's lands, if not across it.

What we appear to have discovered is shown on this sketch map of a typical clachan.  The main settlement area is marked '1', surrounded by intensively worked infield land and, outside it, the less intensively used outfields.  However, at times of population increase, additional areas could be pressed into service for settlement.  These were most likely to be at '3', close to the main clachan, but might be further afield, at '4', an area which, in the past, might previously have been used as a summer shieling.  We think we have found an example of '4', an area of worked land quite separate from the main Glendrian settlement.

But there is more.  One of the structures, 4/012, is much larger than the other four and shows a completely different layout.  It's on a slight rise, circular, some 8m in diametre, and it appears to have a square structure within it.

This very rough sketch map gives some idea of what it looks like.  One possible explanation is that an early round building was later reoccupied by people who built a smaller, square building, much like the other four, inside it.  If this is correct, then the round building may be very old indeed.

Aerial views from Bing Maps.
Bald's map of Glendrian courtesy Donald Houston at Ardnamurchan Estate.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Archaeology Group

If anyone is interested in joining an archaeology group which is being set up in Kilchoan, please contact the Diary.

Win Cash - A Tribute

This is the text of the tribute Win's son David delivered at her recent memorial service:

One of the special aspects of living in a remote place like Kilchoan is that everyone gets to know everyone else. This was an important factor in Win’s decision to move here in 2003. Over the decade she spent here Win became well known and well respected, with the result that, in this congregation, I know, and my Mom would have known, everyone.

For at least the last third of her life, Win suffered both from osteoporosis, and from a significant hearing loss. These, together with other issues, meant that she became quite well known to the local Nursing team – Jessie and Carolyn. A huge thank you to you both.

While of very solid spirit, Win needed a progressively increasing amount of help to allow her to continue her independent life at Skippers Cottage. The girls from Care at Home have been brilliant - Mairi Irvine, Lynda McKenzie, and Mairi McFarlane. It wasn’t just what they did, it was how they did it, that made their care so special.

May McNicol and Anne Jackson similarly provided both help and support. Mom became great friends with all five helpers, and this friendship was reciprocated. Thank you from Win and myself.

Win had become progressively frail over recent times. Her osteoporosis played a large part in this, and in its turn the osteoporosis took its toll on the rest of Mom’s body – what we could see and what we couldn’t.

During the last weekend of Win’s life, she became seriously ill. On the Monday, we were forced to put her through the uncomfortable journey – which she always hated - to travel up to the Belford - to “find out what was going on.”

It turned out that part of her lower gut had become twisted around itself. An operation was the only answer and on the Tuesday a decision was made. The surgeon was not optimistic, but the operation was necessary - to give Win a “fighting chance”. Win wanted to have this operation. The operation was a success, but the toll on her frail body was too much.

When Mom died in the Belford she was 92. I was with her - and she died painlessly and with dignity. The team at the Belford were exceptional.

At the time of her death, I learned that Win had yet another skill. She knew – exactly – the right time to get off the bus taking her on the journey of life. I have taken great comfort from this. We all should.

Mom’s wish was that she should have her ashes scattered with my father’s in Yeovil, Dorset. This will happen in due course.

Win spent her the final decade of her life in Kilchoan. This is just 11% of her long and fascinating life – a little of which I am going to tell you about in the next few minutes.

Win was born in 1921, just after the First World War. Times were hard, and she was the youngest of four children born to Joseph Thomas Shakespeare and Elizabeth Shakespeare. The family lived in Staffordshire in an area known as the Potteries. Predictably, the industry carried on there concerned ceramics, from ornate Doulton dinner ware to functional Twyfords lavatory pans!

Her older siblings were Joseph – Jo, Emily – Emmie, and Harry – Our ‘Arry. Despite the hard times, their childhood resulted in many a happy story including being forced to admire Jo’s latest electronic “invention”, trying to cover up after Harry's mischiefs, and making the home comfortable with Emmie. Win’s birth certificate tells us that her father was a potter’s saggar maker. Google tells us that a saggar is a ceramic, boxlike container used in the firing of pottery to enclose or protect ware in kilns - from open flame, smoke, gases and kiln debris.

It seems that as well as making saggars Win’s father did a “wee trade” in “near perfect seconds” and as a result the family ate well, and he seemed to drink well – stories came along, such of him arriving home after a “bit of a sesh” with a large whole cod under his arm.

When she was able to leave school her father took Win to the pottery factory to introduce her to the various jobs on offer. Win simply said that she didn’t want to work there, to which her father replied, "You'd better find something else and quick!" This she did. Win responded to an advert requesting help to look after a baby. She got the job, and it transpires that the baby’s father was a doctor, which brought her in contact with “well to do” folk. She was offered a job by a friend of the doctor’s family when her services were no longer needed, becoming a clerk in a Co-Op. She pursued this career working in various places until the Second World War.

She was 18 when war broke out and in due course she joined the ATS - The Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women's branch of the British Army.

Win was posted all over the country and attained the rank of sergeant. There are stories of operating powerful searchlights to allow the gunners to see their targets – German aeroplanes – and of working in radar rooms monitoring the skies to give information on incoming air attacks. She was known as “Shakey”, from her surname. There is no doubt that she enjoyed this period in her life, along with her siblings who were involved with the war effort. It enabled them to see further than their family past in the Potteries. She will have had a whale of a time.

Soon after the war, and while on a walking holiday with a girl friend, my father and mother met. Initially a few words were exchanged, and my father followed this up – literally – by following the coach in which my mother was travelling on a motorbike. They became friends, they shared common interests.

Win and Dennis were married in 1951. Win moved from the Potteries to Handsworth, Birmingham. Mom had numerous clerical posts and Dad taught maths and carpentry.

Numerous phases passed in the years following , including the birth of their only child – a son!

I was blessed with fantastic parents, diligent, loving, attentive. Family was important.

I remember – after moving to Sutton Coldfield at about the age of four – a life of Sunday school, lawn mowing, cooking with Mom, rose beds, and happiness. One incident I recall was a measure of Win’s "spirit”. I had done something wrong, I will never know what. I was about nine. To avoid a telling off, I ran from my Mom. I remember, running to the end of the garden, through the gate, along the track, thinking “she will never catch me now” – to soon be overtaken and confronted!

Mom and Dad moved to Dorset in 1975 to carry on a more rural way of life and to enable my father to work for Westland Helicopters. This was another happy phase, and both parents worked until retirement. Early years of retirement were happy, but Dad was unfortunate enough to succumb to a dementia condition called PSP.

Dad couldn’t have been married to a better person. Win cared for him for many years at home – in challenging circumstances – until the doctor told Mom that either my father would have be taken into care or she would end up in hospital herself – with exhaustion. Her sense of duty was clear: she had to look after Dennis. While he was in care, she travelled a round trip of about twenty miles to visit him, at least daily, until he died in 2001. He spent considerably less than a year in a care home.

Mom spent a few more years in Dorset , before moving to be close to her family in Kilchoan.

In this last decade in Kilchoan Win has gained many friends, become an active member of many clubs, been the inspiration behind the local gardening club (the WAGS), had her gall bladder removed, and recovered from a broken hip.

As I said at Win's 90th, in the Community Centre: “She is pretty wonderful and generally a hell of an inspiration to us all!”

We are all sad that she is no longer with us, but we really do have cause to celebrate her life.

Stella, Phoebe, and I have had an enormous number of cards and notes of condolence in the past few days. Thanks for this comfort.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Katie & Graeme's Wedding

From Katie Stafford:

Arriving on Flynn
Graeme and I would like to thank all of those who came together to help us celebrate our wedding day last Saturday. We are proud to be part of such a fabulous community and grateful for all your help and support.

Proud Dad
In particular, we'd like to thank Aija Chapple for trusting us to take over the Community Centre for the weekend, Lynne and Tony Prewett for feeding the five thousand, the marquee team for putting up and taking down our venue, Anna for beautiful kale bouquets and button holes....

The Happy Couple
 ....'The Lads' for lending us the muscle power to shift the weights machines on and off stage, and the team of helpful souls who turned up on Sunday morning to assist in the clean up. I've no doubt there are people I've forgotten, but this thanks goes out to you too!

Peatbog Faeries
Kilchoan.... you know how to party.... so let's not leave it too long before we all do it again!

Katie & Graeme.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

High Tide and Calm Seas

Strange weather today, still, warm, and cloudy yet bright, conditions perfect for photography - which was fortunate as the Diary was out and around in the village this morning early, on business with Mr Hughie MacLachlan of pig fame.

From the old church of St Congans up on the hill above Meall mo Chridhe, the views back across Ormsaigbeg were stunning.  The grass is still growing so it's brilliant green while, in contrast, the first autumn colours are becoming evident.  The red is mostly from the heavy fruiting of the rowans this year, while the deciduous trees are adding to it with their autumn hues - and one has to admit that, much as one may dislike the invasive character of the plant, the bracken gives a very warm colour to the hills.
The tour round the village coincided with high tide which, as usual, had left a sheep stranded on an island in Kilchoan Bay.  With the harvest moon just past, we've had a series of very high tides, fortunately without any gales to drive them in.

Round at Mingary Pier the coble salmon fishing boat lay at anchor in front of Mingary Castle.  The coble is used by one of the few fishermen who still employs traditional methods to catch wild salmon off the west coast of Scotland.  There are some superb pictures of salmon fishing from a coble at the site here.

Back at the pier an hour or two later, with the cloud cover rather heavier, the CalMac ferry Eigg came in on the 11.00am run from Tobermory.  She's a bit of a surprise as we haven't seen her for several years - our usual winter replacement is the Raasay.  We've had the much bigger Loch Linnhe on this summer, and there are still plenty of visitors crossing the Sound, so we didn't expect her to be replaced by a smaller ferry so early.

Round-Britain Swimmer at Ardnamurchan Point

Many thanks to Pete Holmes for emailing information about this yacht which we saw passing below the house at about 6.00pm last night.

Pete says, "I thought you might be interested in this swimmer we found at Bay MacNeil en route to John o' Groats from Land's End.

"I was on a night paddle with Geoff Campbell and Jacqui last night in and around Ardnamurchan Point and Bay MacNeil. We were intrigued to see a yacht slowly come around the point and into the bay, setting anchor in the dark in quite a swell at gone 8.00pm. We wondered whether this was a boat in trouble or even smugglers, but it turned out to be the support boat for an endurance swimmer heading from Land's End to John o' Groats.

"Sean Conway is raising money for a charity that helps child victims of war. He seemed in good spirits, although disappointed he'd only done ten miles. I think he was hoping to head off early to make the most of the northerly tide - but he may have had to back track the boat to get to wherever he stopped swimming last night.

"See his blog: and look at the blog which gives a sense of what life is like on this mission, and"

If you can't see the swimmer in the photo it's because he's behind the kayaker.

Pete Holmes has his own business, Rural Skills Training - his website is here.  He can be contacted at

Early Morning View

8.30am this morning, looking across Kilchoan Bay to the mouth of Loch Sunart,
with Maclean's Nose at left.

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Torr Lands

We walked today across the high land that lies between Loch Mudle and Beinn Bhuidhe (see map here).  It's open moorland, divided into long hills by meandering burns, and these hills have outcrops along them which resemble the tors of Dartmoor, except they're smaller.

Despite a promising start to the day, the cloud came down and, although it didn't rain much, everything became dark and damp.  We've walked in the area often before, but found that the new wind turbine didn't in any way detract from the grandeur of what is a very different landscape to most of West Ardnamurchan.

But what made the day very special was finding this, the first white bell heather.  We've found white ling, and we're almost used.... finding white cross-leaved heath, which we did again today (this picture), but the white bell heather really is special.

The Diary has written about white heathers before, and no-one has commented, but we'd love to know if other people have found it, particularly the white bell heather, which is obviously the most unusual in this area.

As far as dog's vomit fungus, slime mould or Fuligo septica is concerned, it's the old story of finding something once, and thinking it's unusual, and then finding it by the dozen, which is what we did today.  Many thanks to 'Treshnish' and 'Alistair S' who identified it from an earlier Diary post, here.  It's also been reported now from Portuairk and Sanna.  We're all fervently hoping that it's not spreading to cover the whole area.

The small birds have finished with their nests for the season, and we found two of them like this one, slightly mouldy and blowing across the countryside.  They're beautifully made, all the grass leaves neatly threaded to form a warm and secure bed.

The rutting season has started, and we were watched for one section of our walk by this small group of deer, about a dozen hinds with one stag.  He didn't have a particularly impressive set of antlers so perhaps he's only in temporary charge while the real lord of the glen is hiding safely in the trees.