Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Kate Carmichael and Me

A Tribute from Ricky Clark

My first encounter with Kate was nearly seven years ago whilst I was a barman in the Kilchoan Hotel. She came to the bar, ordered a drink, and told me to give it to a gentleman in another part of the room. This I did, the gentleman shouted his thanks over the bar, and Kate, as quick as a flash, gave a reply which nearly floored me and had the bar in uproar. I’ll not tell you what she said but ask me when you see me and I will. We spoke in the bar later that evening and this was the start of our friendship. At first Kate was a friend and then, as time moved on, I began to look on her as more of a mother figure. I knew then that I had to look out for her and take care of her, she was so precious.

I visited a couple of times a week at first, doing little jobs around the house, taking her places and getting messages from the shop and such things, but mostly we chatted and kept each other company for an hour or two. Kate was so witty, sharp-minded and funny, her stories of people, of places and of the happenings in her life and those of others were so epic I could listen to her all day. One story was about the time some holiday makers were living in Port Bheag and Kate was in the caravan, and she was invited inside and shown around her own home - yet said nothing to ruin their hospitality. And, another time, when more good-minded holiday makers took her on a trip to Sanna also thinking she was a visitor. Again Kate said nothing to spoil their act of kindness towards her. Or the time on a Glasgow bus when the lady sitting next to her started chatting and asked Kate where she was from. Kate's one word reply ‘Ardnamurchan’ brought the reply ‘Oh it must be very strange for you in this country’ - priceless.

As the years rolled on Kate's health began to fail and my visits took on a more serious role - not that I was the only one looking out for her, as Kate had her family, nurses, home carers and many other friends who visited regularly. But I began to cherish my time with Kate as she was becoming more and more housebound. I tried to make my visits more fun and would have her teaching me Gaelic, much to Mary and Morag's amusement as most of what she was teaching me they would say was ‘nonsense’. But I did learn to sing ‘The Cailich and the Chimelar’ - which I won't torture you with now. We were also all set to get married at Kate's insistence, as word had got out in the village that we were an item but, before the day arrived, Kate wanted it to be first of April any year. Then I found out that she was already married. It seems this took place at Port Bheag in the 80s when she married the DL, the service being carried out by her sisters. Oh was I jealous, so and I changed the date of our pending nuptuals to 31st of February, what a fool.

Kate loved listening to Morag on Radio nan Gael every morning and the Friday requests programme. We would talk about some of the songs that had been played. One day she asked if I had heard a song played by someone named Archie Grant. I hadn't but got my phone out and found it on the web. This amused her greatly and she laughed all the way through Archie Grant singing 'Ta Ra Ra Boom Di A'. From that day on if anybody asked a question we couldn't answer she would say ‘It’ll be on Ricky's phone’.

During my visits we drank copious amounts of tea and ate our way through packets of rich tea biscuits. Kate was very fussy about her tea: it had to be loose tea, one spoonful in the same cup and not just any loose tea but PG Tips which was becoming harder and harder to find. Friends brought her all sorts of loose tea but mostly they just weren't right. I eventually found a supplier on Amazon and managed to keep Kate supplied with her own private stash tucked away in the back of a cupboard.

As time moved on Kate's health began to deteriorate and now my visits became more of the caring type although we still had fun and a good laugh right up to my last visit on the evening of Thursday 19th December. I did all I could to keep her spirits up but she was becoming more and more tired as the days went on, and at times we just sat and drank tea, that was enough for her.

Kate loved her family, cherished her friends, and was compassionate to everyone she met. Kate lived a long, happy and eventful life, my only regret is that I wasn’t part of it for longer, but I will cherish every moment that I knew her.

Kate was a friend to all of us here today, but to me she was more than that. She was, as I had told her, the mother I never had.

Goodbye dear Kate, goodbye.

Ricky gave this moving tribute at Kate's funeral yesterday afternoon.

The End of the Day

After a grey start to the day yesterday, the sun was out by mid-afternoon, creating this intense rainbow above the houses of Pier Road.

It was followed by a fast-changing sunset.  This, and the last photo, were taken within minutes of each other looking along the Ormsaigbeg shore to dark outline of Maol Buidhe.

It seemed a fitting end to the day on which the community said its farewells to Kate Carmichael.

Monday, 30 December 2013

More News from Antarctica

From Trevor Potts:

We appear to have had an unprecedented spell of good weather in Antarctica with lots of sunshine and not too much wind. Our crossings of the Drake passage (three times each way) have been very easy - long may it continue. Tonight we have a gale forecast about the time we pass Cape Horn. Yesterday we sailed to within a mile and half of Cape Horn (above) in sunny and almost windless conditions.

This photo shows the albatross sculpture on a lower headland next to the Horn.

The penguin chicks appear to be a little late this year, only these Adelie chicks so far. This next trip we will see plenty of Chinstrap and Gentoo chicks.

This gives some idea of the scenery we're enjoying in the Antarctic.

The blue ship in the picture is the Polar Pioneer, seen last week in Penola Strait navigating through the brash ice we had just come through. That ship is a sister ship to the Shokalsky which is stuck in ice near Mawson station south of New Zealand. I spent two Antarctic seasons on the Shokalsky.

Wordie House is named after James Wordie from Shackleton’s Expedition. It was an all-year station in the 1950s.

We walked to it over the sea ice from Vernadsky station which used to be the British Faraday base.

Best wishes to everyone for New Year.

Many thanks to Trevor, who runs the Ardnamurchan Campsite.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

A Walk in the Sun

This morning we had a - sunrise!  It was golden, with plenty of blue sky behind it, and the weather forecast was promising, so as soon as we'd had breakfast we headed out of the village intending to walk on Ardnamurchan Estate land near the forestry beyond Caim.

We were fortunate on our way to meet Niall Rowantree, the Estate's head stalker, who was feeding a group of stags of varying ages.  He had with him two visitors who were being given a tour of the Estate, something that's available through their website, here.

We left our car at the top of the forestry - centre of the picture - and followed the fence down into the valley of the Allt nan Gabhar, the goat burn, before starting to climb what are the lower slopes of Beinn na h-Urchrach, to the right of the picture.

The Allt nan Gabhar is a lovely burn, twisting and winding as it heads down to join the Allt Choire Mhuilinn, which reaches the sea near Mingary Castle.  The big cattle sheds at Caim can be seen to the left of the picture, with Meall an Tarmachain above them.  Beinn an Leathaid is to the right, and Tom Mhic Iain is the mound half way between them.

As we climbed, the view opened so we looked down the valley towards Mingary Castle, sheathed in its scaffolding.  Away to the right is Kilchoan Bay, with the houses of the village scattered beyond it.  We haven't allowed the poor weather to prevent our walking, but it was wonderful to be out in the sun, even though it was hazed by thin, high cloud.

The effect of weeks of rain, including a further 15mm last night, is very apparent.  The ground is sopping, like walking across a sponge, and very slippery, and the flat areas of marshy land are almost impassable.  Many of the burns which we usually cross with ease are rushing torrents, but....

....this does have the positive effect of creating some lovely waterfalls.

As we head towards the new year the weather is forecast to revert to rain, with a near gale promised for tonight and another on hogmanay.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Morag Cameron

Morag Cameron, whom many will remember from the years she worked at the Ferry Stores, died on Christmas Day at the Belford Hospital in Fort William.  Her funeral will take place at 1.00pm on Friday 3rd January, in the Parish Church.

Our deepest sympathies go to Morag's family.


We took a short walk this morning along the beach below our house, where mounds of kelp have been washed up by the recent gales.  We use kelp on our vegetable beds, with wonderful results, but it's often sold, in packaged form, as a health supplement.  It's credited with amazing properties, including helping with weight loss, anti-ageing, hair growth, and as a supplement for iodine, calcium and a mass of other vitamins and minerals.  The sheep that are down from the hill for tupping had obviously heard all this as they were tucking in to the feast, and one does wonder whether the local crofters shouldn't be selling their lambs at a premium as 'kelp-fed Highland lamb'.

The local variety of kelp consists of a 'root', or holdfast, by which it is attached to the rocks, a 'stalk' or stipe, and a number of fronds.  This particular specimen had made the mistake of attaching itself to a rock which was far too light to hold it during the recent storms.

But a few of the kelp stipes had these bulbous, warty structures, some ten centimetres or more across, with a frond coming off the stipe at that point.  They look a bit like flotation bladders, but does anyone know what they are?

At the far end of our walk we came across this small gaggle of geese, who eyed us with irritation before finally flying off to land in the water a few hundred metres away, presumably to wait for us to leave before they returned to their foraging along the shingle.

The dismal weather continues.  The wind has moved into the west and continues to bring in heavy showers: last night we had a further 20mm of rain, making a 36-hour total of 47mm.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Sanna in the Rain

We had yet another gale last night, the barometer again fell off the bottom of its scale, and a further 27mm of pure Kilchoan sunshine were added to 219mm we've already had in December.  Little wonder that, when we drove to Sanna this morning for a brisk walk, water was pouring from every pore in the hills - this little waterfall was just before Achnaha, and it was adding....

....to the already bank-full Allt Uamha na Muice.  This burn becomes the Allt Sanna beyond Achnaha, and....

....it too was running at full flood: a little more, and it would have been across the road.

From the low hill just beyond the bridge there's a view of Plocaig, with the Sanna burn meandering away to its right and, in the distance, more rain obscuring the outline of Eigg.

Unsurprisingly, the car park at Sanna was deserted and, although it wasn't raining, the sky held promise of plenty more to come.

We saw no-one except one resident, who was standing outside her front door in a lull in the weather while her small dog made use of the garden.  At this time of year only four of the houses are occupied, the rest shut for the winter. The place had the feel of a forgotten sponge that had just bobbed up for air.

The Allt Sanna was in flood as it passed below the footbridge.  It's usually a gentle little burn, but today it seemed angry, chewing at its banks until some parts, as on the right of this picture, collapsed into the water.

The tides are at neaps but the persistent westerlies have been pushing high water right up the beach, further damaging the precious machair.  Most of the beaches have been swept clean of flotsam except that Sanna, like so many places, has one section, near the mouth of the burn, where seaweed and rubbish collects - and, as always, most of the rubbish is plastic.

We walked the length of the beach, and then back again, alone except for the sea birds.  It rained, mostly a drizzle but occasionally something heavier, but, in the few moments when it cleared, the air had a crystal clarity, and the muted colours seemed to glow.

Merrie Mudmas

"No, since you ask, we didn't get anything special for Christmas.  It just rained."

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Boxing Day Walk

It seemed a good idea, over yesterday's superb Christmas dinner, that we should all work it off on a long walk over the hills on Boxing Day, and that we would go whatever the weather.  To start with, the outlook seemed uncertain - we'd had a heavy hail shower first thing - but by the time we had climbed to the top of Maol Buidhe and stopped to look across a Sound of Mull which was calmer than it has been in weeks, the sky was clearing....

....although the threat of a shower never seemed far away.

From Maol Buidhe we turned north, dropping down into a valley and then climbing the southeastern face of Druim na Gearr Leacainn, from where we could look across the northwest entrance of the Sound.

It was the sort of walk where we had to stop frequently, not because of the after-effects of Christmas, but because, with the sun out and the air crystal clear....

....the views were stunning, both to the north side of the ridge, where Stacan Dubh was perfectly reflected in the mirror waters of one of the twin lochans....

....and away to the southeast across Kilchoan Bay to Ben Hiant and the entrance to Loch Sunart.

We almost.... almost made it home dry, but a sharp hail shower caught us just before we reached the front door.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Storm Pictures

Kilchoan Early Bird has been around the peninsula this morning, and sends us these pictures of the storm.  The first shows spume being blown across the road at the entrance to Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse.

In Kilchoan, the storm seemed to reach its peak at around 1.00pm, and then the clouds cleared briefly, allowing the sun came out.  It didn't last long.

Spume is blown ashore on the beach to the north of the lighthouse.  Dominic Cooper writes from further along the north coast to say, "My barometer reading this morning is 946.4mb. I've never seen it so low. The weatherman on the BBC said that by the time the low pressure area left the north of Scotland they were expecting it to be 930mb."  Although the storm is now abating, the Diary's barometer is still firmly stuck at 956mb.

Kilchoan Early Bird's creel boat, Emma Maria, right, and Justin Cameron's Harvester are anchored in a small bay called Port na Croisg to the east of Camas nan Geall, well up Loch Sunart - but the storm's effects were even felt there.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the photos,
and to Dominic for the barometer reading.

Kilchoan School Christmas Song

Kilchoan School have a Christmas Song for you to listen to.  It's available for download here.

Picture of the play, Holy Joe, performed by the Kilchoan Primary Players, courtesy Gael Cameron

Christmas Eve Gale

A gale has been blowing since first light this morning.  We walked down to the shop at nine as usual, and made it in about five minutes instead of the usual fifteen - all we had to do was jump in the air and the wind did the rest.  Walking home took half an hour.  The worst thing is the sleety rain pitting ones face.

There seems to be some disagreement between weather sites as to when the worst will come, in the next hour or so or around lunchtime.  At least, for the moment, the power is still on.

What's unusual about this gale as compared to the other recent half-dozen is that the barometer has fallen off the bottom of the scale - it's currently stuck on 958.  The red card shows the last very low reading, in 2005, at 969.

Feeling very sorry for those hoping to use the ferries to get home to the isles for Christmas.  Many are cancelled.

1950s Ardnamurchan Film

Between 1949 and 1950, Iain Dunnachie made a 16-minute film about Ardnamurchan, a copy of which lay in the vaults of the Scottish Screen Archive.  For some years, Alasdair Thornton and other members of the local community have been pressing the Archive to digitalise it so it could be more widely available.  They have now done this, and the link to the film 'Ardnamurchan' is here.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Why is the Weather so Stormy?

After the first four gales went through, we've become so used to brisk winds that they're almost becoming normal.  We've hardly had a day recently when the wind has been less than a 'strong breeze', and we've hardly seen the sun - the Diary was so excited by this break in the clouds yesterday, which proved that, somewhere above them, a blue sky still existed, that it rushed out and took a picture.

The rain, sleet, hail and snow, accompanied by occasional lightning, just keep coming - picture shows deer prints after a hailstorm.  The total precipitation over the last month hasn't been exceptional - 205mm, as compared to 146mm for the same period last year.  It's the almost constant parade of high winds which seems unusual.

The NOAA's 'Global Analysis' for November 2013 may offer an explanation.  It includes this map of the Earth's surface which shows the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces during November 2013.  The NOAA says that the average temperature was, "record highest for November in the 134-year period of record, at 0.78°C (1.40°F) above the 20th century average. This surpasses the previous record set in 2004 by 0.03°C (0.05°F) and is also the sixth highest monthly departure from average among all months on record."

Since our prevailing winds come in from the southwest, across a section of the North Atlantic which is 'warmer' to 'much warmer' than average, it's not surprising that they're damp and, therefore, dumping their dampness on us; and the warm North Atlantic is the obvious source of the energy that been driving them.

Map courtesy NOAA National Climate Data Center - article here.
The NOAA's map featured on the excellent science website, EarthSky

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Solstice Sunset

It being the solstice yesterday, it seemed a good idea to the Raptor to visit a stone circle, so we walked along the coast to the west of the Calmac pier, to a cairn which is marked on the OS map and which, according to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, is both large and well-preserved.

Shortly after leaving the pier car park we put up a flock of greylag geese which flew away westwards.

The cairn, arrowed, is about 600m from the pier, and was easy to find, sitting on top of a low hill just inland from a small bay.  It's about 16m across and over 2m high, built almost entirely of cobbles taken from the beach.  Part of the top and northern sides have been dug away, suggesting that, at some point, robbers have tried to see what treasures they could find within.

The cairn is probably Neolithic, so it's likely to be a good 4,000 years old.

The cairn stands just back from this small bay, Port na Luinge, the port of the ship.  One wonders whether there's any connection between the name and the cairn.

On the other side of the bay is a small island which is cut off at low tide but, the tide being out, we decided to investigate it.  It's called Glas Eilean, the grey island, an appropriate name on a day which was becoming darker and stormier by the moment.  It's easily accessed, across a narrow, shingle-bottomed channel through which we have often kayaked at high tide.

From the island there are views back around the bay to the ferry terminal at Rubha Aird an Iasgaich, with Ben Hiant in the distance to the right, the houses of Pier Road at centre, and Glas Bheinn to the left.

The view westwards is across Kilchoan Bay to Sron Beag, with the ridge of Druim na Gearr Leacainn running behind the houses of Ormsaigbeg.  By this time we had endured a couple of fairly fierce hail showers so, with what little light there had been dying, we decided to head back.  But the day hadn't finished with us.

As we passed the cairn the clouds cleared along the horizon and we had a brief glimpse of the solstice sun setting over Mull.