Monday, 31 March 2014

Birds, Bees and a Butterfly

The weather forecast was for a fine day with hazy sun, a brisk south-easterly, and no precipitation of any sort, and that's precisely what we've had, starting with this warm sunrise over Beinn Shianta, the Blessed Mountain.

The first picture of the day was hardly taken before the sound of high-flying geese drew attention back to the mountain.  A skein of geese were passing in front of it, and were caught by the camera just as they passed over the Pier Road houses, flying in front of the long ridge of Beinn na h-Urchrach.

This morning we walked for over three hours along the track beyond Ockle, enjoying the sunshine, the wild countryside, and the loneliness, not seeing a single person.  One of the highlights of the walk was these two birds sitting on a wire.  Without really knowing what they were, we took a photograph.  On the left is what looks like the first wheatear of the season, slightly battered from his migration from Africa, across the Mediterranean and over southern Europe - more about that incredible journey here.  The smaller one on the right is a redpoll.  Redpolls also migrate, but the distances aren't as impressive.  This one probably spent his winter in southern England - more about them here.

The bees have been out on most days recently, but they struggle with the current marginal temperatures.  This one was comatose, but he'd chosen a rather dangerous place to warm up - on a rock well below the high-tide mark, with the tide about to turn.

We saw the first butterfly of the season flitting by about a week ago, but couldn't see what species he was, let along catch him on camera. This peacock was much more obliging, sunning himself on the dead bracken and brambles in a cleared croft field, but not before he'd done something I haven't seen before - he chased a bee all round the garden.  How on earth has this chap survived that miserable, wet winter, and come out so smart and so full of vigour?

Corran Ferry Campaign Starts

The Free Crossing for Corran Campaign kicks off tomorrow, when they're inviting everyone to a demonstration on both sides of the ferry - 09.45 for 10.00 at North Corran, 10.15 for 10.30 at Nether Lochaber. They're describing this as, "The official opening of the deepest ford road in Scotland".

Follow what's happening at the FC Corran Facebook page, here.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

First Cruise Ship

Having spent the day in Tobermory, the cruise ship Discovery passed us this evening heading north, destination Lerwick.  As she came out of Tobermory she passed the Hebridean Princess, which has already resumed her cruising schedule, but Discovery is the first big cruise ship of the season.

As we've mentioned before, she's an old ship, having been launched in 1972, with an interesting history - read it here.

A 'Thank You!' to Gordon

About forty people gathered in the Community Centre yesterday afternoon for a tea party to say 'Thank You!' to Gordon MacKenzie, who has recently swapped the job of driving the daily Shiel bus from Kilchoan to Fort William and back for a post in the new Ardnamurchan Distillery at Glen More.

Gordon drove the bus for over sixteen years.  It wasn't only the passengers who appreciated his care and good humour. He was very good about picking up messages in the Fort and delivering milk and other needs to isolated houses along the route, as well as acting as an agent for some of the delivery drivers who couldn't be bothered to come down the single-track road to West Ardnamurchan.

Many thanks to May McNicol and the other ladies who organised a very enjoyable party.

Picture shows Gordon with his wife Lynda.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Emergency Responders - Vacancies

Would you like to be an Emergency Responder providing a valuable service to a community in a picturesque part of Scotland - the Ardnamurchan peninsula?

You would be joining a small, dedicated group who have pioneered the Emergency Responder model with considerable success. Your training, clinical development and certification to an Intermediate Skill Level qualification will be delivered and supported by the Scottish Ambulance Service and clinicians.

If you are interested and have a medical, nursing or Ambulance Service background, please visit the Scottish Ambulance Service website for details and an application form - link here.

Picture: Emergency Responder Jessie Colquhoun, MBE.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Across the Sound Tonight

This was the sky over the Sound of Mull this evening as the clouds came across at the end of a sunny and warm day, so warm we ate lunch out on the front terrace for the first time this year.

The Tobermory lifeboat came boiling across the Sound a couple of hours later, called out to a suspicious object in the water close off Ormsaigbeg.  They were joined by the Kilchoan Coastguard team on the shore, and a search carried out, but nothing was found.

Community Garden - New Developments

2014 will see some exciting new developments at the West Ardnamurchan Community Garden as we introduce a new way of working to ensure the sustainability of the Garden and broaden the opportunities for encouraging and supporting locally produced food. 

The Committee responsible for the community garden have decided to hand over responsibility for the production of fruit and vegetables this year, and for operating the commercial aspect of the garden to two Gardeners, Anna and Hanno. This will free up the committee of the Community Garden (now known as the West Ardnamurchan Produce Community Interest Company) to concentrate their efforts on looking, with local residents, at new ways of supporting and encouraging the growing and producing of local food to complement the Community Garden.

This is now our fourth year of commercial production, and building on this experience, the committee are confident that this delegation of responsibility will secure the future of the garden. The new arrangement will mean that the two Gardeners can build on their commitment and hard work to develop and improve the garden and its range of available vegetables and fruit for local people, local businesses and visitors to purchase.

In addition the Committee will continue to work with the Gardeners to provide regular ‘community gardening sessions’ so that people can support the growing of local vegetables and fruit, learn about different aspects of gardening and meet socially with others with an interest in gardening. There continue to be opportunities for local people to have their own dedicated outside ‘raised bed’ or poly-tunnel bed or to cultivate a new piece of land as an allotment, and other local producers might also be interested in having a small outlet at the Garden stall. (More information about these opportunities will be the subject of a further article).

Finally, we would like to invite anyone interested in the community garden and with ideas about other activities to support gardening and other local producers to come along to our annual meeting on May 6th. Suggestions so far have included the possibility of having some community gardening space in the village, hiring out garden machinery, running garden based community events and organising more gardening training.

If you would like more information about any of the above please contact

Ritchie Dinnes (Chair): 01972 510247 or

Dale Meegan (Secretary): 01972 510322 or

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Tom Mhic Iain

The weather remains fine, so we were off in the hills again this morning, with today's objective the small, grassy hilltop on the right of this picture, Tom MacIain, MacIain's Knoll; the lochan below it is called Lochan Tom MacIain.  The MacIains were the clan who held Ardnamurchan and Mingary Castle from some time early in the 14th century until approximately 1633, over 300 years.

This little hill must have been very important to them, as little else locally is named after the clan, but there's no written evidence, and nothing on its rather bald, flat-topped summit to give us a clue as to why it carries their name.  One thing can be said about it: it's a fine defensive position, with a steep slope on all sides and....

....magnificent views all round.  Here we're looking south, across the valley of the Allt Choire Mhuillinn which leads down to the castle.  In the distance lies Mull, with Beinn Talaidh to the left and Beinn Mhor to the right with its summit lost in cloud.  As can be seen, it wasn't all blue skies - the clouds were moving quickly, with a brisk and chilly easterly wind behind them.

This view is to the southeast, looking straight across at Beinn Shianta. The little burn that can be seen both in the middle ground and to top left, where it drains the open glen between Beinn Shianta and Beinn na h-Urchrach, is the Allt nan Gabhar, the stream of the goat.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable walk, made memorable by the appearance of a pair of red grouse.  They didn't fly off immediately, watching warily until they suddenly took off - and it's then that one appreciates why they are so favoured by sportsmen, as they travelled, against the wind, at the speed of two bullets.

As if the grouse weren't enough, in a warm, sheltered corner of a narrow ravine we saw the first wild primroses of the year.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014


The weather forecast promised well for the day, but low clouds still obscured the lower slopes of Ben Hiant at ten o'clock, and the sun was struggling to break through them.

The change came suddenly, so we walked into the hills at the end of Ormsaigbeg, going through the gate at the end of the croft land into the common grazings and climbing the slope in the area which the OS map calls Cuingleum.  It isn't clear whether this is the name of the slope, which is a steep scree slope with a path running diagonally up it, or the name of the place.  The postie always referred to the house here as 'Coilum' - which may be how Cuingleum is pronounced.

From the top there are magnificent views down across the Sound of Mull.  Bloody Bay is on the right, Rubha nan Gall lighthouse to the left, and Beinn Talaidh in the distance.  The ship passing through the Sound is the Dutch registered Nordic Diana, en route to Sodertalje - which Google says is on the Baltic coast of Sweden.

The purpose of the morning was to wander over the area at the top of the hill to carry out a fairly thorough search for any archaeology.  On William Roy's Military map, drawn between 1747 and 1752, he has the Ormsaigbeg clachan marked up here, but there is no sign of any houses, only these little rings of stones, which are probably the bases of shieling huts.  Roy's map is in the National Library of Scotland, here.

The archaeology is interesting, but on a day like this, and after a winter like that one, much of the time was spent basking in the warm sunshine and watching the slow movement of the clouds across Kilchoan Bay.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Type 45

For reasons which are complicated and, probably, incomprehensible to others, I've wanted to see and photograph one of Britain's new Type 45 destroyers.  At last, this evening, just before seven, the opportunity came, but it was raining, the light was terrible, and one could hardly see, let alone photograph the ship.

We spotted her as she passed Rubha nan Gall lighthouse by Tobermory but, as she approached, the light became, if anything, worse.

The best picture - one of about forty shots - was taken just as she was about to pass out of sight.  It shows that she's D33, HMS Dauntless, the second of the Daring Class destroyers to be launched, in 2010.  The reason she's passing us now is that she's just been on a visit to Glasgow, where she was launched.  There's more about her here.

A Skylark Fight

One of the advantages of going anywhere with The Raptor is that the local bird life always seems to perform for him.  So it was on Sunday, when we went to Sanna.

It's a joy at this time of year to see the skylarks back, singing as they rise from the machair into the blue of the sky.  But two of them were intent on what looked like a very serious fight.

As they quarrelled they rose higher.

 Quite how they managed to stay airborne was a mystery.

Finally they fell back to earth, after which one of them seemed to give up, and was chased away by his rival.

Monday, 24 March 2014


There were blue skies across the Sound of Mull today despite a strong southeasterly blowing at about Force 7 - strong enough to cause all sailings from Oban to the Isles to be cancelled.

The sea was a  boiling mess of foam and spume in the corners of the bays along the exposed sections of the Ormsaigbeg coast....

....but much calmer in the protected waters of Kilchoan bay.

Archaeology Course

On Saturday, the Kilchoan Learning Centre hosted a second course run by Archaeology Scotland's Adopt a Monument scheme's Phil Richardson and Cara Jones.  The morning was spent outlining plans for work that could be done at Camas nan Geall, though everything we do there will be tightly controlled by Historic Scotland.  We then looked at photos of some of the 70+ sites on West Ardnamurchan which the Ardnamurchan Community Archaeology group have so far described, with course leaders Phil and Cara helping us to understand what we have found.

This was followed, in the afternoon, by visits to two of the sites.  Top picture shows the group standing in a 9m diameter stone circle near the Caim sheds.  This was identified as a hut circle, the stones forming the low walls of a conical hut, probably of either late bronze or iron age - so it's some 3,000 years old.

The group then moved to an area of half a dozen small stone structures which were probably the small, temporary huts of a pre-clearance shieling - that is, a summer camp to which a village's animals were moved while crops were grown in the inbye land.

One of the things that seemed to be conspicuously missing was a water supply, until a well was found in this marshy area when one of the group nearly fell into it.  The well is a metre in diameter and about 75cm deep, with a gravel bottom.

As we returned to the cars we witnessed one of the largest traffic jams of recent times.  As well as our cars, there were the six minibuses of the Glasgow University geology field trip which comes here every year, and two slightly puzzled cyclists.

Many thanks to Phil and Cara for an excellent course, and to Pat Glenday at the Kilchoan Learning Centre for the usual excellent arrangements.

A Serpent Surprise

Many thanks to Rachael for this picture, taken from just west of Glenborrodale looking up Loch Sunart with the island of Risga in the middle.  This was taken yesterday evening, when the skies had cleared.

The weather has shown a distinct improvement, with some sunshine again this morning, but the first adder of the season is a surprise.

These pictures were taken by Kilchoan Early Bird - for which many thanks.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Yo-yo Weather

The last couple of days have seen a welcome change in the weather.  We've broken out of the long run of westerlies, which brought us nothing but grey skies and rain, into a more turbulent airstream, with huge cumulonimbus clouds looming across bright blue skies - this was the view from our house yesterday afternoon.

By first thing this morning we were back into hail and snow showers, with the snow line much lower on the hills opposite us on Morvern, but by....

....half past ten, when Ricky Clark and I arrived at Sanna, the sun was smiling from a brilliant blue sky.  Picture here shows the fish farm well boat Robris off Sanna.

We were there to take a look at what Ricky suspected might be a shell midden, the rubbish-dump of possibly mesolithic hunter-gatherers which typically includes charcoal from their fire, and the shells and fish remains they were cooking.  There's good evidence this was a midden, albeit a small one, with the remains of a cooking fire, but while we were studying it and taking pictures, it hailed.

The Italian Feast

Some seventy guests sat down to the Paul and Pablette's Traditional Italian Night at the Kilchoan Hotel last night, and they got what they were promised on the menu - a "celebration beyond compare" of Italian food.

Picture shows the antipasti selection which included a piedmontese speciality vitelli tonnato, bruschetta, roasted sundried tomatoes, mozzarella on tomato, roasted artichoke hearts, olives and caper berries.  The main course offered a selection of pizzas, five pasta dishes including our favourite, a salmon and spinach ricotta tortellini, and Paul's speciality, a superb seafood risotto served by him on scallop shells.

There were some at our table who struggled to face the cheese and sweet courses.  The dishes in the neat little containers included tiramisu and panna cotta, but the highlight of the sweets was....

....a chocolate fountain.

The food was great, but it was made all the more special by the pride with which Paul, Pablette, Sarah and their staff presented it.  We thought it was a first class meal but, to test its true quality, I asked two Italian residents of Kilchoan what they thought, and their verdict was a huge smile and "Buono!"

Many thanks to Ben McKeown for the pictures.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Spring Birds

Winter may still be with us, but the small birds which have been around since the autumn - and they've had a pretty torrid time of it - are suddenly appearing in their full mating finery.  We have half-a-dozen resident yellowhammers who have been very tolerant of each, but now the males are chasing each other away from the bird food.

When a recent visitor saw one of these magnificent cock yellowhammers, he exclaimed - "It's a budgerigar!"

The chaffinches have, as usual, survived winter better than any other species.  They're pushy, inquisitive, very tolerant of each other, social, and greedy.  They're a pest, but I can't help liking them - particularly now that, having come through the winter, they too are turning out in their very best finery.

We were woken yesterday morning by a fluttering outside the bedroom window - to see a pied wagtail sitting on the roof of the conservatory.  The first of the wagtail returnees were back with us a few weeks ago, but now there are many more of them.  They're a little ungainly in the blustery winds we're having, which catch them under the tail-feathers and bowl them over.

Having been very sadly siskin-less all winter, we saw the first one last Sunday, but he's back again, looking even smarter, and gorging himself on peanuts - and he's been joined by a female.

As with the siskins, we've hardly seen a greenfinch since least summer, so it was very good to see this one on the feeders yesterday morning.  I think it's a female - the lighter yellow-green stripe on the wing is narrower on females than males.  Whatever the sex, they always look very fierce - and they are, chasing all the other birds away when they arrive for a meal.