Saturday, 31 January 2015

Broadband Update

For those of us who live within a few kilometres of the Kilchoan telephone exchange, this is a wonderful sight, a man gently feeding our very own super-fast broadband fibre optic cable into the ducting that runs for miles along the road and under the Sound to Mull, and which should give us some really fast browser speeds when it comes into operation next year.

For those who live in the far scattered villages on the end of the peninsula, and for those poor souls who dwell in such technologically benighted places as Glenborrodale, Camas Inas and Laga, this cable is a piece of junk as it'll do them no good at all - not unless they can persuade the people who administer the funds for this multi-million pound project to spend some extra money on them.

Dave Kime has worked incredibly hard to gather the evidence which should make their case, and it's being presented to Sandra Byrne, Community Broadband Scotland Adviser, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, when she attends the West Ardnamurchan Community Council meeting on 2nd February. Sandra is keen to help but needs evidence that the people who will miss out are really worried about it.  So a big turnout to support him would add power to Dave's elbow.  Please be at Kilchoan Community Centre at 8pm this Monday.

Update:  BT are reported to have underspent on the broadband contract by some £92 million - see BBC report here.  Perhaps just a wee bit of that could be channelled into West Ardnamurchan.

The documentary evidence which Dave has is in two papers which can be downloaded from these links - Comments on Broadband and Broadband Update.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Black and White

This morning's sunrise provided one of the few splashes of colour in a day which has been dominated by a cold northerly wind bringing in frequent and, at times, heavy snow showers.

We are always very wary of walking out into the wilderness on days when the weather might cause problems, so we chose a walk which had few steep slopes but which did get us into the higher areas where the snow remained thick on the ground.  So we drove out of Kilchoan to the corner of the Beinn nan Losgann forestry and walked northwest up into the headwaters of the Allt Rath a'Bheulain, one of the tributaries of the Allt Choire Mhuilinn.

Looking back down the wide glen which the burn occupies gave us views of a gaunt Ben Hiant and of the Beinn nan Losgann forestry.  One thing we remarked upon, which the photo faithfully reproduces, was the pitch black of the trees.  On any normal day they're a dark green, but there's something about the light of a grey, snowy day which means they absorb it totally.

As we climbed steadily higher - those are the lower slopes of Beinn an Leathaid on the left - so the clouds gathered until a dark squall front rolled up the glen of the Acheteny Water towards Loch Mudle.

The snow caught us as we reached Lochan Tom Mhic Iain. Soon we were struggling through almost whiteout conditions - this picture was taken as the snow, driven along by a cutting wind, began to ease.

Having climbed Tom Mhic Iain, the knoll behind the lochan, we stood to look across at Ben Hiant.  The snow picks out every structure on a mountainside wonderfully.  One has the impression of looking at something which is alive, crouching, its muscles clearly visible under its skin.

We descended by following the Allt Rath a'Bheulain downstream, at one point looking up at the higher slopes of Beinn nan Losgann where two red deer hinds, the only wildlife we saw all morning, were grazing.  Why they should have chosen such an exposed position is a bit of a mystery.

The burns cut black scars across the landscape.  This little waterfall is one we've visited often before as it has a stone structure, visible on a ledge on the other side of the burn, which was almost certainly some sort of dwelling.  It's a beautiful spot in summer, and even at this time of year it's wonderfully protected from the elements.

As we neared the car the next batch of snow rolled in.  When we arrived in the village it was snowing again, and the forecast for tomorrow is, if anything, worse, as snow looks to continue but blown south from the Arctic on gale force winds.

Thursday, 29 January 2015


It's been snowing on and off for the last twenty-four hours, sometimes quite heavily.  Yesterday, it was blown in by a strong, cold northwesterly, which also brought thunder and lightning and the usual short power breaks, but by this morning the wind had dropped.

Conditions along the road out of Kilchoan became bad last night, and some people who tried to drive out this morning turned back when they saw the state of the road at the cairn and along Loch Mudle, but the Fort William bus managed to leave, and the mail came in.

At lower levels the snow didn't last, particularly along the road by the shop and across the marsh at the back of the bay....

....and even on the hills above Ormsaigbeg the snow cleared quickly, as did the roads after the gritter had been along them.

All morning further flurries of snow came in.  This isn't good weather for the crofters' sheep, even for those in the croft fields where they get haylage and salt licks.

Some Kilchoan sheep decided this wasn't the weather for grazing out on the marsh, so they came along to the shop to enjoy the grass on the flat land by the jetty where, in August, the Regatta marquee stands.

 For the sheep in the hills, life is much tougher, and....

....the red deer are having a particularly hard time as they have very little fat on them.  What I can't understand is....

....why, even in this bitter weather, we can't be free of slugs.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the pictures of the hill sheep and the deer.


Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for this picture of a trawler off Ardnamurchan Point yesterday afternoon, taken as the light was going, in stark contrast to....

....this tranquil shot, taken by Out&About, of swans on Lochan na Crannaig, also taken yesterday.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Water Reed

There's a triangle of tall grasses on the corner where the track down to the slipway leaves the road that runs along to the shop.  No-one ever cuts it, and it's too thick for even the most inquisitive small boy to penetrate so, at a place which is one of the busiest in this small community, it's a little piece of undisturbed nature.  In the summer it's full of noisy small birds such as warblers but, at this time of year, it remains silent except for the sound of the wind sighing through the close-packed stalks.

It's been cut back along the side that borders the slipway track to make room for the scattered clutter of the boating fraternity - kayaks, yachts with their halyards rattling against metal masts, dinghies, creels, old rope and buoys - all offering more habitats for the local wildlife.

The third side, which faces Kilchoan Bay, shows that the grass is growing on the peaty land which is part of the salt marsh around the bay, an area cut by water-filled gullies and often inundated by the sea.

The grass may be water reed, at one time a valuable local resource for roofing, but nothing here is thatched any more.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Monkeys' Wedding Day

Just for a few moments yesterday afternoon, the low winter sun found a gap in the clouds above Lochan nan Al and shone through a rain shower.  To me, as a child growing up in Africa, sun and rain together marked a monkeys' wedding day.

Looking up the phrase on Google produces a few references to the phrase - see, for example, this site - enough to prove that it relates to very ancient folk lore - ancient because, although monkey can be replaced by tiger, fox, rat, hyena and many other animals, it is used widely around the world.

The African origins of the phrase, as explained to me years ago, lie in a folk story.  Back in the days when the world was young and all animals lived peacefully together, two monkeys wanted to get married.  Only the lion could perform the ceremony but, being lazy, didn't want to.  However, in answer to their pestering, he promised that, next time the sun came out while it was raining, he would perform the ceremony.  The monkeys, unwilling to wait until the rainy season, which was months away, chose the next bright, sunny day and, while the lion was lying in his den, climbed up and scattered a gourd-full of water in front of its entrance so it looked like rain, obliging the lion to marry them.

It's a lovely story yet it's more than just a story because there's moral hidden in it.

Community Centre Gift

This is a special 'Thank You' to whoever sent this lovely card to the Community Centre with a very kind donation - but no name or address was given. They hope that the generous person is a Diary reader and that they can express their thanks this way.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Today's Weather

Sunny intervals, hail showers, wind going into northwest, maximum temperature 9C. View from Sanna road across the Sound of Mull to Tobermory.

Picture Pairs

Many thanks to Marc Gerard for allowing the Diary to publish some more of his superb pictures from his holiday in September last year.  The pictures are in pairs. The first two are of an enjoyable walk up Ben Hiant. This one has Kilchoan peeping out from between Ben Hiant and Beinn na h-Urchrach....

....while the second is a more northerly view from the hilltop taking in Eigg, distant Skye, Loch Mudle, Lochan a’ Mhadaidh Riabhaich, and the hills of Moidart and Morar.

The next two images come from a walk up Meall nan Con. This one was taken from the adjacent Meall Meadhoin across the caldera in the direction of Sanna

....while the second was taken from behind the beach at Fascadale looking towards Eigg, with the hills of Rum behind and those of Skye further away still.

Lastly, two photographs sum up the fortnight’s holiday in the Highlands. The first week on Skye brought enough clear skies to give grandstand views of the Cuillin....

....and the second week on Ardnamurchan delivered fine days in a slightly gentler, less awesome (in the true sense), more tranquil surroundings.

Many thanks, Marc!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

In Search of a Battlefield - 7

A fortnight ago, on an equally dismal day, we discovered the point where the original Sanna track diverged from the present road, at point 'C' - see post here.  Assuming the MacDonald/MacLeod forces approached Mingary after landing on the beaches of Sanna, they would have followed this track but in the opposite direction.

We parked the car at 'C' and walked north-northwest (red arrows) following....

...what was clearly the trackway.  According to the map, the track then descended into a small glen and then climbed to cross the ridge of Sithean Mor through the gap visible in the centre distance of this photograph.

When we dropped into the first glen, low cloud was rolling across the heights of Beinn na h-Imeilte.  The glen showed some signs of previous agricultural use - bracken is usually a sign of soils that were once worked.

Once we'd climbed to it, from the gap in Sithean Mor we looked down into the wide valley of the Allt Uamha na Muice, with the Sanna road running along the far side.  By this time, although we knew we were still following the line of the track, there was no clear sign of it.

We turned to look southeast across what I have always assumed, perhaps wrongly, was the site of the battle, an area of low land with Creag an Airgid behind it.  The present Sanna road runs along the bottom of the hill.

Descending from Sithean Mor with Achnaha visible to our left front, we approached the Allt Uamha na Muice.  The present road crosses the burn upstream via a fairly substantial bridge so we had assumed we might not be able to cross it here, but it turned out to be running in a deep but confined bed, so even two seventy-year olds hopped across it without difficulty.  It would not, therefore, have offered any barrier to an advancing clan army.

Having followed the track almost as far as its meeting point with the road, we turned up the burn - route marked with orange arrows.  Despite the grey day, this was a lovely walk up a spectacular little burn which descends quite steeply in a series of waterfalls and rapids.

The finest of the waterfalls is this one, formed where it crosses a vertical barrier which acts like a natural dam, the top of which is almost a natural bridge: while we weren't prepare to try crossing it, someone a little more sprightly would have had no difficulty.

We returned to the car along the road, with the rain building.  All along the way we had kept a sharp eye open for any sign of the cairns raised after the battle.  While we found a cairn on Sithean Mor, it was alone and beside a field that had been worked, so was probably a field clearance cairn.  Our next exploration will be along the old Glendrian road.

Phone Found

Anyone recognise this phone as theirs?  Contact the Diary.

Saturday, 24 January 2015


At low tide, a crofter picks wilks amongst the seaweed along the foreshore.

Winter Food

For several years now Mrs Diary has insisted on attempting to grow sweet peppers, and for years the Diary has been irritated at how.... paltry the results have been.  Not that this has put the lady off, and this summer she grew two pepper plants in our glass-fronted vestibule.  They produced, by the standards of Scottish peppers, a quite magnificent crop, but Mrs Diary refuses to harvest it.  Each time the Diary passes them, he wonders why.

The brassicas that normally keep us in green vegetables through the winter have done very badly.  Weeks of grey skies and heavy rain haven't helped, but the real killer has been the salt-laden wind.  Several of the plants have been blown over, and many have burnt leaves.  We had a few brussel sprouts at Christmas, and the first crop of cabbages, which we ate before the December storms, were okay, but the other day we were reduced to tinned tomatoes at supper.

We felt pretty rotten, then, when we unearthed this little winter food store as we were moving logs from the wood pile at the back into the house.  The store looks like the bulbs of bluebells, of which there are plenty around here, but we do wonder what buried them so carefully amongst our logs.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Pig Situation Deteriorates

This is Dusty.  Along with two other young sows and a boar, she lives on one of our neighbouring crofts. Last Sunday, Dusty produced....

 ....a fine litter of seven piglets, two of which are jet black.  So that's ten pigs on one side, and Hughie's sow and seven piglets on the other, and Angus-John has pigs just up the road.  In fact, there are now probably more pigs in Ormsaigbeg than there are sheep.

Dusty has a very modern house, the sort you'll find on those huge pig farms in East Anglia, complete with decking at the front, feeding facilities to one side, and a large run.  Large, but not as large as....

 ....the one Hughie has recently been fencing right next to our house.  He hotly denies that it's for his pigs, saying it's a building plot, but since....

....he did admit, when I found him lurking in a lay-by this morning, that he had plans for pigs on yet another piece of ground near our house, I have my doubts.