Friday, 31 January 2014

Views Across a Volcano

These pictures were taken during a walk which took us from the Sanna road eastwards into the craggy lands formed by the southern outcrop of the Ardnamurchan volcano's ring dyke.  The first two pictures were taken during a rest on our way up the steep slope, and they look across the natural bowl of land left by the volcano's erosion to the far side.

The village of little white houses visible in the distance is Sanna, with the waves braking across the rocks which protect its sandy beaches.  The hill to the left is Meall Sanna.

This picture joins to the right of the first.  In the centre, to the right of the patch of green, is another village, Glendrian, but the difference between Sanna and Glendrian is that the latter has none of the characteristic white-painted houses of modern Scottish crofting townships which can be seen from afar - simply because Glendrian was abandoned fifty years ago.

The lumpy hill to the right is Sgurr nan Gabhar, the rocky peak of the goat, while the more elongate hill at centre is Meall Clach an Daraich, which means something like the stony hill of the oak.

When we finally reached the top of the spur of rock we were climbing, we found this little pool of water.  Such pools seem almost characteristic of these mountains, as if nature wants to ensure that no-one who has made the effort to reach such a high point should ever be thirsty, least of all while they sit and enjoy the view.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

A House by the Shore

There are walks which we've been doing now for some twenty years.  This one, along the beach to the east of Mingary Castle, is one of our favourites as it's almost always deserted, has more flotsam along the tidelines than anywhere else, and is the haunt of otters, eagles, sea trout, and red deer.

A damp winter's day doesn't make for the best walking.  The rocks are slippery, and even the shingle seems to give way more readily than usual.  That day, the cloud was low and drizzle frequent but, every now and then, a weak sun peered out and transformed the scene.

At this point an rusty-posted deer fence comes down to the shore.  It's easy to cross along the beach as the wires are down, and the deer have exploited several gaps higher up, but it's an interesting point on the walk because it offers another example of how blind one can be.

Near it, not more than a few metres behind the top of the beach, buried in brambles and bracken, and with a small hazel growing in the middle of it, lies a ruin.  We must have passed within spitting distance many times before, and not seen it.

At first glance it resembles the many small stone-walled houses which date back to the early years of the 19th century and beyond, but it's in very good condition, with most walls standing, and its dimensions are unusual.  Because of the undergrowth, we couldn't measure it, but while its width looks to be somewhere around the usual 5m, it's much longer than other houses, at least 10m.

The Raptor knew of it, and it was he who suggested checking the old OS maps.  It's marked on the 1856 OS 1" First Series, and clearly marked - at bottom right - on this clip from the 1872 25".  Two things here are interesting.  Firstly, the map names it as Coiremhuillin, the name of the clachan which once occupied the area in the middle of this map clipping; and, secondly, it's marked in pink, so it was roofed in 1872.  It is roofed on all the later 19th century maps, but from the turn of the century it disappears from the OS's maps.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

More Abouts Cairns

Readers of the Diary may remember an entry in November about the purpose of placing a stone on a cairn, here.  It, and the comment from Matt, has made us more aware of the differences between, and the possible purposes of the many cairns we come across on our walks across this beautiful peninsula.  The one in this photograph is one of a rare kind, in which all the stones are evidently old - in this case, because all are covered in moss.  As can be seen, it's about a kilometre from Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse and, like many of the other old cairns, it occupies no more than a low hill.

Here's another, this one just to the south of Plocaig, with Sanna in the background, and it's so old that most of its lower part is lost under vegetation - and it's sited on no more than a pimple of a hill.

Possibly these cairns are markers, delineating the boundaries between fields or other land possessions, and perhaps some have a greater significance, such as grave markers.

According to local legend, this one is the cairn raised over the Norse chieftain, Mhuchdragain, killed by one of his vassals, Evun Cleireach, in 1266AD.  It lies beneath the shadow of Beinn ne h-Urchrach, close by the old road in to Kilchoan.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Winter Green

The vegetation of Ardnamurchan's hills at this time of year is as dead a brown as one might expect to find on the African dry season savanna but, every now and then, its landscape is electrified a splash of almost neon green.

The brightness is provided by a moss, and it grows on the occasional outcrop of bare rock.  This particular one, not far from Glendrian, happened to catch a ray of warm, early morning sun, and it positively glowed.

The Diary, which has an almost total lack of formal biology - let alone botany - due to attendance at an educational establishment which considered it a girl's subject, tends to fall back on Google to try and find out what a species is, but gave up upon discovering that there appear to be some 800 moss species resident in Scotland.

Monday, 27 January 2014

A Sunny Winter's Afternoon at Sanna

Sometimes it's hard to think of Sanna beach being as much a winter destination as a summer one, but I hope these photos from a Saturday afternoon there helps to prove otherwise!

Winter Kiting.

Waves and Foam.

Winter Surf.

Watching the sunset. Thanks to Ben McKeown for the photo.

The sun sets over Ardnamurchan Lighthouse. Photo by Ben McKeown.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Torr na Moine

From the road that skirts the steep hillside above the bay of Camas nan Geall, this view looks southwestward across the valley of the Allt Torr na Moine to the ridge of Torr na Moine itself - torr means heap or hill, and moine means peat.  Lost in the slope facing us are the remains of the clachan of Tornamona; much more visible are the sheep pen and buildings which were constructed after the clachan was cleared in 1828, though these are now also ruined.

A summer walk took us onto the ridge of Torr na Moine, to the southwest of the main settlement, to investigate four structures which are clearly marked on the OS map.  There's something unusual about them, strung out as they are along an exposed ridge line.

While it's difficult to be certain, all appear to be the small, roughly 10m by 5m rounded-cornered stone buildings so typical of local clachan dwellings.  These are the two which are closest to Tornamona, while....

....this one is at the southeast end of the ridge, with a small knoll between it and a fine view down onto Camas nan Geall, and....
....this one is the most westerly, almost at the summit of the hill.

One shouldn't speculate about why these four houses are away from the main village and on top of a bleak, windy ridge - but the temptation is too much.  Perhaps they were occupied at the same time as the clachan but by people who liked to be a little separate from the crowd; or perhaps they were built after the clachan was cleared by families not wanting to be moved, as were most of Tornamona's population, to places like Swordle and Ormsaigbeg.  Perhaps they built these houses in the most exposed position and on the worst land in the hope they would be allowed to stay, but were soon moved on again.  Perhaps....

An interactive map of the area is here.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

A Different Tree

Many trees on West Ardnamurchan, especially those that stand alone in exposed places, are lopsided, like this silver birch near Achosnich.  It's a consequence of living with the gales that burn their up-wind side, either by wind-chill or by depositing salt on their summer leaves.

The position this oak has adopted needs a different explanation.  It is to be found in a narrow, sheltered glen cut by the Allt Nead an Fhir-eoin to the southeast of Glendrian, and looks as if it grew vertically but later flopped over.  Perhaps it's a victim of a process called soil creep but, since this is usually very slow acting, while the lower trunk may be at an angle, the upper part of the tree remains fairly upright.

On the other hand, maybe this tree just wanted to be different, so it became the world's only horizontal tree.

Friday, 24 January 2014

A Resting Place?

In the line of hills which run along the back of the crofting township of Sanna (map here), below the rounded peak of Meall Sanna, there's a small and rather dark hollow.  We've walked near it before, but this time we were moving in a traverse along the hillside so passed right through it, and found....

....a flat, upright stone.  It's unlikely to have arrived here naturally, and it's the perfect size, and the perfect orientation for a grave stone, though there is no remaining inscription upon it.

Such a rough, lonely, and storm-wracked hillside might not seem the obvious place to choose to lay ones mortal remains, until one turns....

....and looks at the view.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

A Nepal Travelling Adventure

After our trek from Jiri to Gokyo and back, we were physically drained. However, it was an amazing experience and challenge, and once over the smug feeling of success, we began to think... what next?

We journeyed back to Kathmandu, and jumped for joy at the comfy bed, a hot shower and a TV in our hotel room. After some sightseeing in the capital, including stunning Swayambhunath (aka The Monkey Temple), with its position on a hill showing an amazing view of the capital's urban sprawl) and historical and mysterious Durbar Square. After a couple of days, we were ready to venture somewhere new. We had met some trekkers who recommended Pokhara, the gateway to the Annapurna Himalaya, positioned on the beautiful Phewa Tal (lake). We booked a "tourist bus" ticket, and were soon winding through the foothills again, listening to vehicle horns and trying not to look at some terrifying overtaking!

Evening light at Swayambhunath, aka the Monkey Temple. 
Pokhara, despite being a city, still had a countryside feel to it. Tourists flock to the Lakeside area, where there are boats to hire, tropical looking bars and restaurants, plenty of shops to wander through and lots of accommodation options.

Boats at Phewa Tal, Lakeside, Pokhara.
My week in Pokhara was overshadowed a little by stomach issues, but I came to accept that it's the norm when travelling in Nepal. Despite that, we enjoyed a relaxing time of short walks, boating on the lake, and, the highlight for me, seeing the morning mountain view from Sarangkot, a hill just outside the city. The Annapurnas rise steeply and suddenly from the Pokhara valley, and the view was just incredible.

The view from Sarangkot, near Pokhara.
After our time in Pokhara, we still had a few weeks to play with. The thought of seeing elephants, rhinos and Bengal tigers in Chitwan National Park became too much to ignore, and we set off on yet another tourist bus to the Terai region, close to the Indian border.

The village of Sauhara, in the buffer zone of the Park, was lovely. The town was small, the area green and fertile with lots of trees, and we enjoyed walks along the Rapti river, and visiting the government elephants in the evening. We organised two days of adventuring: the first involving a dug-out canoe trip down the Rapti river, followed by a trek through the jungle with two guides to the village of Ghatgain, and the second a trek through the buffer zone back to Sauhara and an elephant ride in the afternoon.

Morning mist on the Rapti River, Chitwan.
The canoe trip was incredible, although the boat felt a little tippy for my liking, especially as the river was home to two types of crocodile! We saw few long-snouted Gharial crocodile, who feed on fish, and many meat-eating Mugger crocodiles. They are very lazy, spending most of their time sleeping on the beaches. We also saw huge varieties of birds, from Kingfishers to Egrets, but the most amazing sighting was a male single-horned rhino lurking in the long grass. We beached, and slowly climbed the bank. We could see birds sitting on him, and he began to move. This became quite frightening, as we couldn't see him very well because of the vegetation, so we quickly moved back towards the boat and set off again.

Uh oh...
During the jungle trek we were fortunate enough to see a wild elephant, monkeys, white-spotted deer and wild boar. But no tiger. Plenty of tiger poo and tiger footprints, but the king of the jungle remained hidden. During the night we heard jackals cackling, which really made me feel like I was deep in the jungle!

The sunset over Chitwan National Park.
The highlight of Chitwan for me was the elephant ride. I couldn't believe it when we saw a female rhino and her baby - and so close! My photographs were awful because my hands were shaking so much, but rhinos don't seem bothered by elephants. They almost don't look real, they're such obscure looking animals.

After a week of enjoying jungle life it was time to head back to Kathmandu, do our Christmas shopping and bid farewell to Nepal. It was an amazing adventure. The people are kind, the scenery incredible and surprisingly varied. I highly recommend Nepal as a travel destination.

Ben's photos can be viewed on his website here.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

In Search of a Battlefield - 5

Readers of the Diary will recall that one of our enduring searches is for the cairns which were raised over the bodies of those that fell at the Battle of Creag an Airgid in 1519.  The best evidence for their location, one raised over the bodies of the chief of the MacIain and his two sons, and a separate one over his followers, is on the Canmore site: "Though unable to find them, Donaldson (1930) states that cairns commemorating the battle lie somewhere in a hollow between two lines of hills on the right hand side of the road (travelling from Kilchoan to Sanna) beyond the second bridge before Craig an Airgid is reached."  'The Annals of the Parish' state that the chief's cairn is "near the old march dyke between Kilchoan and Glendrian farm." The Diary takes the word 'march' in the sense it is used in England, as a boundary between two areas.  Finally, Donald MacDiarmid, in his 'Ardnamurchan Place Names', says that the site of the cairn 'can yet be identified on a knoll close under the south-west side of Creag an Airgid', and that the followers' grave is 'at a place which can also be pointed out'.

In our searches we have made a fundamental mistake - assuming that the Sanna road followed the same route in MEM MacDonald's day as it does today.  It doesn't.

This clipping is taken from the 1872 OS 6" map, to be found on the NLS site here. 1 is the Sonachan and Portuairk road, passing to the west of Lochan na Crannaig.  2 is the Sanna road - but it branches.  3 is the route the road follows today, passing close below Creag an Airgid and proceeding to Glendrian.  4 is the route of the old Sanna road, considerably to the west of the present road.  5 is a straightened section of the Allt Criche, while 6 is an old wall, possibly the 'march dyke' referred to by MEM Donaldson.  While the OS map doesn't show any bridges, the road will have crossed the Millburn to the south of the map, so the crossing of the Allt nan Doireacheann Beaga on the map would have been the second.

There is a remaining problem: MEM Donaldson states that the burial cairns are 'in a hollow' while Donald MacDiarmid states that they are 'on a knoll'.

With all this in mind, the Diary, having apparently been searching too close to Creag an Airgid, set out once again to find the cairns.

The old wall was easily found.

Looking south along the line of the wall it can be seen that, where it reaches the low, marshy land around Lochan nan Ealachan, visible to upper right, it becomes a ditch.

Crossing the wall and moving south between it and the existing Sanna road, we found an area of bracken.... the middle of which there is a mound formed of loose rocks, a cairn in a hollow.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Lighthouse Cairn

Immediately to the east of Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse there's a hill - un-named on the OS map - on the summit of which stands this cairn.  We've noticed it often enough before from the lighthouse side but never thought to climb up and have a look at it until a couple of weeks ago.

It's a very neatly built cairn, most of it formed of stones of roughly the same size.  Like so many other hilltops, there aren't many loose stones lying around the site, so it may well be that this cairn was very deliberately constructed, perhaps by the men of the RAF who manned a nearby lookout point during the Second World War.  A clue might come from someone who can give us an idea of how old the lichens are which are growing on the rocks towards the top of the cairn.

From the cairn there are views towards the lighthouse, with Coll along the left horizon....

....northeastwards towards Bay McNeil (on the right), Sanna Point and the Small Isles....

.....and southwards towards Corrachadh Mor, with Mull and the Treshnish Isles beyond.

On the day we were there, a heavy Atlantic swell rolling in from the west was meeting a stiff southeasterly breeze, with some spectacular results.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Ships in the Sound

While we've always felt ourselves very privileged to have a house which looks out across the northern entrance to the Sound of Mull and, therefore, gives us a good view of the ships moving up and down the waterway, our view pales against the vantage point of Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse, from which the first two pictures were taken.

It's far too long since the last 'Ships in the Sound', so these pictures date back to October.  The cheerful red ship above is one we often see, the Gripfisk.  She was built in 1997 as a well boat and fish farm service boat for Fosnavaag Shipping, a company which also owns the Viktoria Viking and Viktoria Lady.  Try out your Norwegian at the company's website, here.

Another ship seen rounding Ardnamurchan Point northbound back in October was the CalMac ferry Hallaig.  She's not a ferry we've seen before as she's usually on the Skye-Raasay route, and had perhaps been south for a service or refit.  She passed us on a beautiful October day, with the Island of Coll on the horizon behind her.

Hallaig is the first of Calmac's hybrid ferries, built by Ferguson Shipbuilding in Port Glasgow and launched in 2011.  There's much more about the hybrid ferries project here.

The two ferries which provide the Oban to Coll, Tiree, Castlebay and Lochboisdale services are the Clansman and the Lord of the Isles.  Both of them have been away during the last few months, replaced by the Hebridean Isles, above, so we've been seeing plenty of her.

We've had the usual variety of fishing boats passing us, sometimes in very poor weather.  This is the Geertruida, OB 99, a scallop dredger.  While she's registered in Oban, the better pictures of her - there's one here - show her tied up in east coast ports.

In a period which hasn't seen much in the way of exciting traffic in the Sound, we've had the usual selection of cargo boats passing us.  The Fri Porsgrunn, seen here on passage to Wismar with a cargo of timber, is a Norwegian ship registered in Gibraltar and launched in 2000.  She has strengthened holds and hatches to take heavy cargoes.

The Wilson Emms has an unusual design, with her bridge raised on what look like stilts, her funnel set very low behind it, and virtually no superstructure.  There are simple but interesting plans of her here, which show how basic is the design of modern ships; the only thing missing is any indication of where the crew are quartered - or perhaps she doesn't need any.  Despite its name, Wilson Ship Management is a Norwegian company, and the Ems is registered in Barbados.

The nearer ship, the Abis Duisburg, is a large offshore tender capable of carrying heavy loads to, for example, North Sea oil rigs.  Built in 2013 and owned by the Dutch company Abis Shipping, she's registered in Holland.  There are more details of her here.

Passing her going south is the Stephanie M, a trawler registered in Newry, Northern Ireland, one we've seen on several occasions before.

This ship is called the Lysblink Seaways, another ship which labours under a sadly impersonal name.  Long-time readers of 'Ships in the Sound' will know of the Diary's dislike of such names, particularly when they refer to good-looking and workmanlike ships.  She - or perhaps 'it' - is seen passing the fish farm in Bloody Bay.