Sunday, 31 May 2015

Cruise Ship Parade

The small cruise ship Silver Explorer passed down the Sound early this afternoon, to be followed, an hour or so later.... a similarly sized ship, the Island Sky.  Both of them must have spent some time in Tobermory before....

....setting out northwards on the next stage of their cruises, Island Sky to Inverewe, Silver Explorer to Armadale.

The weather forecast for the day was dismal but, as can be seen from the white horses, we've had a brisk westerly breeze and plenty of sunshine, accompanied by the occasional shower, some of hail.  Our main complaint remains that, with May just leaving us, it's been unusually cold for the time of year.  Not that this has deterred the weeds: we spent the sunny intervals in the garden dealing with them.

Those Ticks Again....

Malcolm Appleby writes, "I saw your interesting article on ticks and their dangers prior to my visit to Kilchoan in May. Whilst walking, we were always mindful of your advice to check for any unwanted 'hitch-hikers' on our return.  The photos show that on one occasion I found a tick at the back of my knee.

"Although it looks like it has not been attached long it did have quite a firm hold but was easy to remove. There were no marks left or signs of infection in the following days, so many thanks for your advice - otherwise checks would not have been carried out and it may have stayed for some considerable time."

Meanwhile, Ginny Jones at Foxfire Marine Consulting, West Tisbury, Massachusetts, writes, "Over here the deer ticks tend to be the Lyme carriers while the larger, dog ticks carry other nasty diseases. Frankly I've lost track of how many diseases they carry but there are something like eight or so, and some are lethal. I've had the bullseye rash and fever at least three times (but didn't find any tick) and have been bitten so many times that I'm probably a walking vector myself. I'm sure that the Lyme is why I'm so arthritic.

"I actually didn't know that May was tick disease month over here - we have ticks around 365 days a year. We were hoping that the extreme cold temperatures on occasion this past winter would wipe the little buggers out but unfortunately there was enough snow to insulate them a bit. Still, a lot of deer perished. Skunks, raccoons, and birds also carry ticks, as do rabbits. A lot of folks around here augment their food budget with venison which we are allowed to kill in season but not sell. A lot of deer get hit on the roads and folks gather up the road kill. Frankly, however, I can't bring myself to eat it or rabbit and that's because of the tick borne diseases."

Ginny's description makes Ardnamurchan ticks sound positively tame!

Many thanks to Malcolm and Ginny for writing,
and Malcolm for the photos.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Graveyard Recording at St Comghan's

Members of Ardnamurchan Community Archaeology spent some time this morning continuing their recording of the gravestones in 13th century St Comghan's churchyard.  This view looks towards the church from the northwest and shows how St Comghan, when he came here in the eighth century, chose a slight knoll with fine views all round for his original church.

A first survey of the site has now been completed.  While the older part of the churchyard includes two very good MacIain grave slabs from the 15th century, most of the monuments date from the 19th century.  A map showing the locations of all the grave stones is being created, and this will be accompanied by a database recording information about each.

Some of the inscriptions are very moving.  While most are of local families, this one marks the grave of a John McRoberts.  Because many of the stones are encrusted with lichens which, because this is a national historic monument, we cannot disturb, some of the writing is difficult to decipher.  However, we're getting better at it, and....

....we now know that the full inscription reads, 'In memory of John McRoberts a native of Gatehouse who died at Ardnamurchan lighthouse works January XXVI (26th) MDCCCXLIV (1844)* aged LX years (60)'.

A number of the gravestones are covered with this lichen, which I have not noticed on the local rocks.  I know nothing about lichens but have tentatively identified it as Lecanora chlarotera.

* My thanks to those who pointed out that I mis-translated the date as 1894.
The lighthouse was completed in 1849, but I don't know when the work was started: perhaps 1844?

Friday, 29 May 2015

A Disappointing May

A kind word to describe the weather through the month of May might be 'disappointing'.  May is usually one of the best months here, with plenty of sunshine and the place green with the new shoots appearing on the trees, but there always has to be an exception.

Despite the unseasonal weather, there's been rapid progress with the work at Mingary Castle, with the huge scaffolding structure which has surrounded it finally beginning to come down.  Read more about  the project, which is due for completion by the end of August, at the Mingary Castle website, here.

For this who don't mind the occasional assault of rain and hail, then the sunny intervals are well worthwhile.  This picture, taken early yesterday afternoon, of one of the Ponant luxury cruise ships - I think it's the Soleal - beginning to turn in to Tobermory, shows some wonderful colours in the Sound of Mull.  Trevor Potts at the Ardnamurchan Campsite will be on a couple of the Ponant ships this coming winter on their Antarctic cruises, acting as a tour guide.

Rachael was on the other side of the peninsula yesterday afternoon, walking the dog on the hill above Swordle and looking out across the Minches to where another sharp shower was moving in on the brisk northwesterly wind.

Overnight the temperature in Ormsaigbeg dropped to 5C, and we woke to more of the same showers and sunny intervals - and, of course, to the accompanying rainbows.  This picture shows the Ferry Stores just before eight, with the Shiel bus waiting to leave on the daily service to Acharacle and Fort William.

Many thanks to Rachael for the picture.

Summer Events

The Ardnamurchan Transitions team, the group of archaeologists who found the Viking boat burial at Swordle, are back again this year with the usual variety of activities involving the public.  Their dates are 12th July to 1st August; their Open Days at the Swordle dig will be Sundays 19th and 26th July; they're giving a talk in the Kilchoan Learning Centre on 21st July; they will have a 'stall' at the Kilchoan Show on Friday 24th July when they will display some of the Swordle finds; and there will be other activities, to be announced later. Their website is here.

We also have the annual Summer Show & Sports.  There are full details on this poster - click it to enlarge - but please note that the evening Show Dance is back.

The Regatta is on Thursday 6th and Friday 7th August, and the Pram Race on Friday 31st July.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Gannet Dive

The gannets were active just off Mingary Pier yesterday morning, a group of them spending several minutes plunging into the same small area of sea.  It gave me the opportunity to do something I've tried before and failed - capture a gannet dive.

What's striking about this is how smoothly the bird enters the water, with hardly....

....a splash.  I also like the expression of his friend, who is obviously watching the dive with professional interest.  You can see a group of them holding up their score cards.... 8, 7, 9.

The workers at Mingary Castle have been commenting on how often they've been seeing a small pod of dolphins in this same area between the pier and the castle.

Gannets are beautiful birds, masters of what they do, so it's very good to see many more of them in the Sound of Mull this year compared to last.

Pat's "Thank You!"

From Pat Glenday:
I wanted to say a very big thank you to everybody who came to my “retirement” do yesterday. It was a wonderful way to mark the end of my tenure as Learning Centre Manager in Kilchoan. I also wanted to thank the organisers and all the bakers for the lovely spread, and especially Sue Cameron for my fantastic personalised cake. And what generous presents I received too, so thoughtful and so apt!

I do want to repeat a little of what I said yesterday… The reason the Learning Centre has been so successful, over the last few years, is because of all the help and support I’ve received from local people. All sorts of help: everything from dead lambs for the lambing course, to venues for classes, to dishwashing, right through to teaching and lecturing. Finally, I have to thank all the students who have completed, or are working towards their degrees and HNCs for making my life so interesting, and everybody who has come along to the short courses, classes and talks for filling in all that paperwork! Dale Meegan, who has already started work as my replacement, has great ideas for the future including a summer programme of classes. She’ll be in touch with everybody soon with the details.

It has been a pleasure and a privilege doing my little bit for the wonderful community of West Ardnamurchan.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

A Big "Thank You!" to Pat Glenday

Over sixty people gathered in the Community Centre this afternoon to say a big "Thank You!" to Pat Glenday on her retirement as manager of the Kilchoan Learning Centre.

Trevor Potts, Richard O'Connor and Ricky Clark (above) all paid warm tributes to the many hours of hard work that Pat has put in to making the Centre one of the most successful in Scotland.  While it is the smallest of West Highland College UHI's rural centres, Pat has run twice as many courses as any other, attracting twice as many students - and she has run the college so it has broken even financially.

The emphasis on the many gifts which were presented to Pat - Holly Cameron is seen here with Pat - was on things for the garden, as this is where Pat intends to spend a good proportion of the many hours she now has on her hands.

The centrepiece of the large amounts of food which were donated by those who attended was this magnificent cake, showing Pat relaxing at her computer, made by Sue Cameron.

Not that Pat has completely finished with the Learning Centre.  She will be working with Dale Meagan, who has recently taken over from Pat as Kilchoan's Rural Learning Manager, as a facilitator, helping with some of the courses.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Siskins are Back

The siskin are back, appearing at the bird feeders every day.  There's himself, who is extremely partial to the peanuts on offer, and....

....herself, a much more dainty eater, who prefers to enjoy her food from an upside down position.

They're lovely little birds, very smart at this time of year, and very devoted.  Better still, they're less timid than many of the other garden birds, with the exception of 'our' robin, allowing one to approach quite close before darting off.

House for Sale in Kilchoan

It's a rare event when a house comes up for sale in Kilchoan, and the latest offering on the property market is special - just as its name suggests.  'Water's Edge' is right on the edge of the sea just beyond the Ferry Stores, with wonderful views across a small lochan, the haunt of a wide variety of birds as well as otters and other passing creatures, and across Kilchoan Bay to the Sound of Mull and Mull itself.

There are plenty of pictures of the interior of the house on the Agent's website, but none give an idea of the superb setting of this house.  And, no, this isn't an ideal picture in one way, in that you can't actually see the house - it's behind the fir tree under the arrow - but that, again, says something about its seclusion.

Full details on emoov's website - here.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Lyme Disease - Local Experience

The man we know who has recently contracted Lyme disease (see recent blog entry here) has been kind enough to allow the Diary to publish these photographs of his bite and the classic target-shaped rash which developed.  A couple of days later I was talking to local resident Katie Stafford, who said she had had Lyme disease, and offered to describe her experience.

Katie writes, "I was bitten by tick whilst camping for a weekend in Dornie in May 2011, but didn't see the bite as it was behind my arm. In the weeks up to the end of July I felt fluey, fatigued, and anxious. I finally noticed the bulls-eye as it travelled around the cuff of my arm but didn't click it might be Lyme disease.

"In August, while driving back to the Highlands, I was struck with acute arthritis in my feet - so much so that literally, within hours, I couldn't drive the car. I just made it home.

"A GP's initially diagnosis was gout but, as might be expected, there was no response to the gout treatments. A week later and nearly three months after the original bite, bloods were taken and Lyme disease confirmed.

"I took two courses of VERY strong oral antibiotics, a total of 54 days in all. That in itself made me feel very unwell. Arthritis flared in both feet, knees and hands to the point where I couldn't walk without assistance for at least a month. I used a stick and at times had to be carried.

"When a blood test after the antibiotics showed I was STILL positive for Lymes, I made the very personal decision not to take the IV antibiotic course offered, which involved in-patient treatment at Raigmore. There is much division in the medical community. Some doctors have a good knowledge of Lymes, others very little, and there's lots of bureaucratic arguing about whether or not my symptoms were as a result of untreated Lymes or a separate condition.

"I took matters into my own hands and followed a strict diet recommended for 'inflammatory conditions'. I used herbal tinctures and homeopathic medicine as an alternative form of antibiotic treatment. The tinctures used were Echinacea and Goldenseal, taken internally to cleanse blood and support my immune function. I followed lots of 'physical therapy' - swimming got me walking again, starting with baby steps, initially just floating in a pool and moving my limbs, until eventually I was back to swimming full strokes comfortably.

"All in all, it took be about a year to recover my health, but there have been long-term consequences. I still suffer with flares of acute arthritis - some GPs still refer to it as Lyme-related. Meanwhile, Raigmore hospital continues to test me for rheumatoid arthritis as a separate condition.

"I suffer from Reynauds Phenomenon  a circulatory condition causing the extremities to become white and deprived of blood due to vascular constriction. I do not use conventional medicines to treat it as all I am offered are VERY strong anti-inflammatories with terrible side-effects, and some types of heart-drugs.

"In general, though, I am enjoying very good health. The symptoms only strike if I am particularly tired or run down."

Katie recommends the following:

As a preventative, after carefully removing the tick, I use undiluted Lavender and Tea Tree oil on the bite. Both of these essential oils contain potent antibiotic/antiseptic compounds.

Fort William GP Dr Jim Douglas is working to map occurrence of the disease and to raise awareness - see Lochaber News article here.

Many thanks indeed to 'D' for the photos, and to Katie for her account.
Katie Stafford BSC Hom. Med. is a practitioner in homeopathic medicines. Contact her at
There is an NHS link to information about Lyme Disease here.

Azores Incident

The Portuguese cruise ship Azores, having spent most of yesterday anchored off Tobermory while her passengers went ashore on her tenders, set sail around 5.30pm - and can be seen here as she suddenly turned around and returned to Tobermory.  According to Out&About, a member of the crew had fallen ill and was taken ashore by the Tobermory lifeboat.  Story here.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Four Lochans of Coire nam Bothan

With so much to do in the garden recently we've not been in the hills enough so we were determined to enjoy a good walk today.  We left the car in the little car park by Glasbheinn Cottages, crossed the cattle grid by the Mingary turn and headed north into the wilds, walking steadily uphill along the eastern flanks of Glas Bheinn, following the deer fence between Ardnamurchan Estate land and Kilchoan township's common grazings. Picture shows the view across Kilchoan, Kilchoan Bay and the Sound of Mull to Mull itself.

We were watched as we climbed by a large group of red deer stags, their new antlers growing under a covering of velvet.  They gather in this area to be fed a special supplement by the Estate - growing antlers is hard work.

Looking towards Maclean's Nose we could see the cages for the new Marine Harvest fish farm.  Work continues near the Calmac pier to develop the facilities needed to service the cages.

The going was pretty wet underfoot following several days of rain - on Thursday alone we had 24mm, an old inch, and the temperatures haven't been great.  On Thursday night the overnight minimum was 5C, so it isn't surprising that growth in the hills is miles behind.

That said, the first wildflowers are coming into bloom in protected hollows and on the lower slopes.  This is lousewort, and heath milkwort and butterwort are also out.  Perhaps it's the flowers rather than the warmth, but we saw a couple of moths....

....and this little beauty, a green hairstreak, understandably very unwilling to fly far in the chilly breeze.

By this time we were walking along the eastern slopes of Meall an Tarmachain, with the sun trying to come out.  This view looks across Lochan Clach a' Chorrach to Ben Hiant.

We finally reached the peninsula's watershed, and looked down towards the north coast.  By this stage the sun seemed to have given up its efforts, and a thin rain was being driven by a stiff westerly wind.  The lochan here is Lochan na Cloiche.

I like to walk with some sort of objective, and this is one of them, the four lochans in the little glen called Coire nam Bothan.  The name means the corrie of the hut or cottage, suggesting that someone, at some stage, lived in the area, but we've never found any sign of habitation.

Three of the lochans  are unspectacular....

....but the fourth sits right on the watershed and is as close as nature can get to an infinity pool.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

An Ardnamurchan Schoolmaster

 The Diary recently received an email from Lindsay Russell, which read:

"I recently re-read the fascinating piece on the initial survey of St Comghan's cemetery by the archaeology group, and I wondered if this wee story might be of interest. Through researching my family history I have discovered a second cousin in Alberta, in Banff national park no less! He's a self-confessed obsessive about family history and has built up a huge website to record it all. His wife's family come from Iona, Mull and Kilchoan, and when he found I was a regular visitor to West Ardnamurchan, he asked if I could try and find the grave of one of his wife's ancestors whom he thought was probably buried in Kilchoan.

Photo courtesy Lindsay Russell
"It's good to have a project, so I spent a very enjoyable, if wet, afternoon a couple of years ago tramping about St Comghan's churchyard with just some very drookit sheep for company, hunting for the grave, and I found it! Like most of the stones there, it's covered in lichen and is very weathered but there was enough of the inscription visible to be sure it was the right one. He was John McCowan, schoolmaster in Kilchoan between 1843 and 1874. He must have been very well thought of as the community paid for the memorial to be erected, and he even gets a mention in the Annals of the Parish, p52. His wife, Catherine is buried there too.

"Jeff, my relative, was thrilled with the photos I sent him, and he's put them on his website. It is and if you follow the McCowan line, there's a wealth of historical information in there.

"John McCowan's grave is marked by an obelisk and is surrounded by a small fence. I do hope you'll be able to continue with the survey, as so much priceless information gets lost and forgotten over time. It's maybe worth noting that in this particular instance there's a family in Canada who now know their great-great-great-grandparents are buried in a beautiful setting and, who knows, may visit it themselves one day."

The Ardnamurchan Community Archeology group was at the graveyard again today, continuing the survey of the graves.  So far, we have created an accurate map of the graveyard and surveyed the 'new' section of the graveyard to the north of the church, and somewhere over half of the memorials in the 'old' section.  One of the memorials we looked at today was John McCowen's.

Although over a hundred years old, the obelisk is in remarkably good condition. Without too much trouble we were able to decipher the inscriptions - there are three in all.  This is the main, south face, and it reads:

Sacred to the memory of John McCowan
Parish Schoolmaster of Ardnamurchan from 1843 - 1874
Died 4 January 1889 aged 80 years
Erected by the people of Ardnamurchan
During his 45 years residence in the parish of Ardnamurchan, he was loved and respected
Buried here also is his wife Catherine McCormick who died on the 25 May 1871 aged 51 years

The east side reads:

Hugh McCowan, their son.
Died 20 November 1880(?) aged 30 years and is interred in Glasgow necropolis
Alexander McCowan, their son
Died at Johannesburg 24 April 1895 aged 39 years

The west side reads:

Catherine McCowan, their daughter
Died 22 March 1902 aged 42 years
Interred in military cemetery Springfontein

So two of the McCowan's children died in South Africa. The reference to Springfontein in South Africa, and the date of Catherine's death, just before the Second Boer War ended in May 1902, interested ACA member Dale Meagan, so she looked it up. She sends this:

A British Military Intelligence report in 1897 described Springfontein as a place of “about 15 houses scattered and of no tactical importance, a small church and a hotel or store. There were two good springs near the church and a dam 600 yds north of the town.”
The town lay on the railway from Bloemfontein to Cape Town as well as a line to East London. At the start of the war in October 1899 Boer commandos moved through the town, splitting here to go either to Orange River bridge at Norvals Pont or the bridge to Bethulie, the idea being to halt the advance of British troops making their way inland along the railway lines.
Following the occupation of Bloemfontein in March 1900, the British decided to occupy Springfontein, to serve as a base for British troops. As a result of the round-up of Boer commandos, the authorities decided, in February 1901, to establish a concentration camp. In addition, a large military hospital under tents was established near “Gibraltar Hill” as well as a remount depot and a veterinary hospital. There is no trace today as to the location of these sites.
Unusually, Springfontein contains graves from both sides of the conflict. There are some 700 graves of which 305 are of those of Imperial forces.
Source - New Zealand War Graves Commission, here.

We speculate that Catherine may have been a nurse working in the military hospital, which would explain why she was buried in a military cemetery. Perhaps the family knows.

Many thanks to Lindsay for writing to me, and for the picture.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Vegetable Gardening

Our vegetable garden lies on what was once croft land. Behind it, the land rises to the common grazings. When we started to create the garden we terraced it, at first really professionally (and expensively) using breeze blocks - simply because I had never built a wall and felt that it was something I ought to try - later using odd pieces of planking. The soil from the paths between each terrace was piled into the beds before pavings were laid, giving us a reasonable depth of soil.  Each year we piled the compost we'd made back into the beds, and added an annual dose of seaweed.

We're total amateurs when it comes to vegetable gardening. Each year we buy our seeds from Lidl or Morrisons, follow the instructions on the packet, take some advice from Hessayon's books, and hope for the best. Some things have been miserable failures: runner beans, parsnips, rhubarb. Others have exceeded our dreams. We now grow raspberries, gooseberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, peas, dwarf beans, broad beans, radishes, lettuces & salad leaves, rocket, leeks, onions, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, spinach and courgettes; and, in the greenhouse, cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers.

We're fortunate that the pests largely leave us alone. We have problems with snails and slugs, the gooseberries, if we don't watch them, get stripped by sawfly larvae, and something is currently eating our new crop of radishes. The cages visible in this photo aren't to keep the birds off. In general, they're so well fed that they haven't room for vegetables - the one exception being that the blackbirds do eat some of the raspberry and strawberry crops. No, the cages are to keep our two cats off newly-sown seeds and seedlings.

Our greatest problem is the weather. The long, wet winter of 2014/15 put everything back by months, so we're still eating the leeks and broccoli that we should have been enjoying in January and February; and this year's new crops are coming on dreadfully slowly, little wonder when yesterday's maximum temperature was 11C.