Thursday, 30 June 2016

Annual Events

A reminder that the community has a number of events coming up in July and August. The Kilchoan Regatta is on Thursday 28th and Friday 29th July 2016, with sailing races taking place on the Thursday and the main events on the Friday. Open to all, races include rowing, kayaking, power boats, and a raft race. Dance follows on the Friday evening. A programme, in .docx format, is available for download here.

The West Ardnamurchan Show & Sports is on Friday 22nd July, 2016. Stock judging takes place in the morning, followed by races at 11am and barbecue afterwards. A great day for all the family.

The Kilchoan Pram Race is on Friday 5th August 2016.

The archaeologists of the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project will be working at Swordle again this year from 18th July to the 5th August 2016. There will be open days at the site on Sundays 24th and 31st, and a talk in the Kilchoan Community Centre. Volunteers are welcome on the site.

Photo Chris Gane, with thanks.

Orchid Time

The orchids in flower at the moment are dominated by the heath spotted orchid - above, with a bog asphodel - and the common spotted. The heath spotted is the most abundant at the moment but hasn't had a good year, perhaps because of May's dry weather, with the result that there are fewer than usual and they're smaller.

In this species, the wide lower petal, or lip, is divided into three lobes, with the central one small, like a tooth.

It comes in a variety of colours which are usually fairly pale, and is characterised by pink to purple dots and dashes.

The common spotted tends to be taller, forming a more distinctive pyramid of flowers, but the main difference is that the three lobes on the lower petal are deeply cut. The plant is taller, and the flowers arrive a little later than the heath spotted - so they'll be at their best in the next few weeks.

If only life was simple - but, of course, it isn't. The species within the genus Dactylorhiza, to which both of these belong and which also includes the marsh orchids, hybridise very readily, so all sorts of in-between specimens appear.

There are still plenty of fragrant orchids in flower, but other orchids are beginning to appear, including the lesser butterfly orchid, which is reported to be thriving at Branault. A little later, if we're lucky, we should see the greater butterfly orchids, frog orchids, and Irish lady's tresses which we've found in  previous years, but I'm looking for some I haven't seen before, such as the twayblades, the small white, and the bog orchid, all of which should be present locally.

For those interested in orchid identification, the Natural History Museum does a very good, downloadable guide - here - and the West Highland Flora site is good for local orchids.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Feeding Time

 "Ma! Get me another peanut!"


The young great spotted woodpecker had forty winks after he's fed at Les Humphrey's feeder.

Many thanks to Les Humphreys for woodpecker pictures.

The Joys of Country Living

"Well nourished, antlers growing well, will look good for his new harem. Portrait taken just after he had harvested our three new fruit trees."

Many thanks, and sympathies, to Jim Caldwell, Portuairk.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Satellite Broadband

Until recently, those households within a few kilometres of Kilchoan's BT exchange at the Sanna road junction have had a pretty good broadband service, with download speeds of up to 6.5 Mbps and upload around 0.33. However, in the last few months there have been problems, with huge fluctuations in speeds - so, for example, we can no longer use Skype to communicate with our son in Canada and uploading photographs to Blogger has required patience. The reason - so local gossip has it - is that, in installing some of the new fibre-optic cables, BT workmen damaged the existing telephone cables.

While Kilchoan is promised lightning speeds in September when superfast broadband is finally connected - the cables were installed in January 2015 - those who live on Ardnamurchan scenically beautiful north coast or in the Glenborrodale exchange area live, and will continue to live, in a BT broadband blackout.  Community Broadband Scotland did offer some north coast houses a glimmer of hope through a community-driven link to Arisaig, but this has been held up, apparently by BT.

So Tony Swift has been doing some research, and has come up with a company called EuropaSat. As the name suggests, it's satellite based, which has some inherent disadvantages, but the rates are reasonable, the speeds impressive, and their service, so far, first class. There's more about EuropaSat and its rates here.

Friday's Sunset

Peter Southern writes, "My wife and I spent last week at Fascadale with friends (we normally go in October but have managed a bonus week this year) and I managed to snap the sunset on Friday night. It looked fantastic in real life and I hope I have done justice to it with the camera. The first photo looks out to Egg and Skye while....

"....this was the view towards Muck."

Sadly, we don't see these summer sunsets from Ardnamurchan's southern coast so can't vouch for the sunset itself, but these are great pictures, Peter. Many thanks indeed for letting us see them.

See the Ardnamurchan Estate's website - here - for holiday cottages at Fascadale.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Kilchoan's Jurassic Coast

Dorset is justifiably proud of its Jurassic coastline - it is, after all, a world heritage site.  But Kilchoan too has its Jurassic coastline and, while the fossils aren't quite as spectacular as the Dorset ones, they're pretty impressive.

This ammonite isn't quite as big as those to be found in the Portland stone around Portland Bill, some of which are the size of a car wheel, but it comes a close second, and there are nautiloids visible which are the biggest I have seen anywhere in the world.

There are even the fossilised imprints of what look like 130 million-year old bear paws, bears which must have had a tough time taking on Tyrannosaurus rex.

For those interested in learning more about Kilchoan's Jurassic coastline, Trevor Potts, who runs the Ardnamurchan Campsite, does regular walks organised through the Kilchoan Learning Centre. The next one is on 12th July - details here.

Archaeology at Swordle

Members of the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project, the group who found the Viking boat burial, will be back at Swordle this summer from July 18th until August 5th. They will be holding open days on Sundays 24th and 31st July - details to follow nearer the time.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Houses to Rent

For years, West Ardnamurchan Community Council has been pressing for more affordable housing to be made available in the area.  In response, Lochaber Housing Association has now almost completed this terrace of two-bedroom houses just along from the Kilchoan Hotel. LHA is now advertising for tenants - see the notice on the West Ardnamurchan News - here.

Photographing Insects

Yesterday morning the skies cleared, the wind set itself firmly in the north, and Kilchoan looked set for a beautiful day, so we set off to walk along the Ormsaigbeg shoreline. Then, from the bay below the Twin's House, we climbed Maol Buidhe at the southwest end of the township, and finally made our way home along the common grazings fence.

The bright sunshine and temperatures which worked their way upwards into the low 20s Celsius  brought out the insects, including....

....amongst the pebbles and rocks along the shore, these red spider mites. They're tiny, and they don't stand still, so taking a picture involved pushing the camera almost against the rock surface while, at the same time, finding the bug in the viewfinder and trying to keep it in the sun.

The rocks they crawled over were well below the day's high-tide mark so we wondered how the mites survive a twice daily inundation.

There are probably more common blues now than any other butterfly but they don't like being approached, so taking a picture of them has to be from about two metres. It's an irritating distance as it's on the margins of the camera's macro setting.

This beauty is a male. Looking in my photo library, all the common blue pictures are of males, so either the males are far more accommodating when it comes to photography, or there's a local shortage of females.

The small heath's habit of burying itself in the undergrowth and hoping that the warning spot will put off any predator means that it can be photographed from close-up using the macro setting. But it has an irritating habit - it refuses to open its wings when it's on the ground. As a result, I have never managed a picture of the top sides of a small heath's wings.

Having tried, without success, to photograph several meadow browns in the grassland at the top of the croft fields, this one not only sat still until I had approached to within a metre, but also chose a delicate shade of fern leaf as a background.

It was while chasing one of the more unco-operative meadow browns that....

....I stumbled across the first six-spot burnet of the year. It's a little early for this species of day-flying moth - they usually appear in early July - but it wasn't alone, so perhaps 2016 is going to be a good year for them.

The first picture was from several metres away, so I could at least prove that I'd seen one, but this individual allowed me to approach closer and closer and closer - until this shot was taken from about 5cm.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Flying Machines

Early yesterday afternoon, Ormsaigbeg was treated to a fly-past as two of these paramotoring machines came along the coast from west to east. They then....

....went on to land in the Estate field by Pier Road. Soon after.....

....the Lady of Avenel motored past on her way to pick them up from Mingary Pier.

Sonachan Hotel

For anyone with some shrewd business sense and a feeling that they really ought to be trying something new and a bit adventurous, the sale of the Sonachan Hotel, a few miles out of Kilchoan on the lighthouse road, offers a rare opportunity. With a guide price of £265,000, it sits in a magnificent, almost private wilderness, yet has at least 20,000 people passing its doors every summer season - that's the number of visitors at the lighthouse - and always had a steady clientele right through the winter months.

The property is described here on Rightmove.

Friday, 24 June 2016

North Coast Sunset

Sunset yesterday evening, taken from Branault at about 22.15, with Muck along the horizon and the trees at Achateny Steading in the foreground.

Many thanks to Tony Swift for the picture.

Dolphin Display

 On a still and rather sombre morning....

....a pod of dolphins decided to stage a display in the bay in front of the house.

It was difficult to tell how many there were in the pod, perhaps a dozen, but....

....while some surfaced and dived in stately rhythm, a few performed very similar leaps, coming out of the water on their sides and twisting to fall onto their backs.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Mingary Pier

 The Lady of Avenel was still moored against the CalMac jetty this afternoon. Her passengers caused some interest in the village yesterday evening by coming ashore to indulge in the sport of paramotoring - paragliding but with a motor to lift into the air. The Raptor was very excited - perhaps he mistook them for birds - but a Pier Road resident complained that she hadn't been able to enjoy her usual hours of beauty sleep because of the irritating noise.

Seen at bottom right is a new feature in the bay beside the slipway....

....a fine new pontoon being installed by the Marine Harvest staff at the Maclean's Nose fish farm. At present it has a notice slung across its shore end with the very firm message 'Authorised Marine Harvest Personnel Only'.

No Hiding Place

The local orchids must feel that they are being persecuted. Those that grow too close to the edge of the road are guillotined by Hughie's strimmer, this one, close to the corner of Pier Road, having survived his last attack by a miracle.

This beauty, a little further down the road and opposite Church Cottage, has had the good sense to grow just over a metre from the tarmac, a metre being the extent of Hughie's contract with Highland Council.

This one has sought shelter amongst the boats parked by the Kilchoan slipway.

All of these are probably northern marsh orchids.  Their relatives which are usually to be found in the area immediately to the south of the CalMac pier have either opted not to appear at all this year, or have been eaten by the local sheep.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Surf's Up on Lewis

Having practised at Sanna, Rachael tried surfing on Lewis during her recent tour of the Outer Hebrides.  Next stop Waimea Bay, Hawaii?

Lady of Avenel

The brigantine, Lady of Avenel, has just anchored off Mingary Castle. There's more about her here.

Many thanks to Kilchoan Early Bird for the picture.

The Fruit & Vegetable Garden

When we bought the triangle of land which is now our vegetable garden, it looked something like this. After clearing the land of bracken - without using any poisons - and since I had never built a wall in my life, I set about....

....terracing it with breeze blocks, using the soil from the access paths to deepen the beds. Later, as a certain weariness with blocks and mortar set in, we started building the terraces with wood which, of course, didn't really last, so....

....we're now having to rebuild them, while the blockwork walls remain very serviceable.

Given a few years fertilising, composting and sweat, the thin croft soils soon become very productive. In this picture there are early summer cabbages, potatoes in chimney liners left over from the house build, two courgettes and a bed of strawberries.

It's probably our success with soft fruit which has most surprised us. We never thought that this climate would be so conducive to gooseberries, strawberries and raspberries. This year's strawberry crop is the best ever, perhaps because of the prolonged sunshine of May and early June, but with every soft fruit success....

....come the blackbirds. This year we've tried to thwart them by putting the early ripening fruit into jam jars, but we now have so much fruit coming on that the blackbirds are getting their full share.

Fish boxes, collected from the shore, make excellent small beds. We planted this one early and brought the salad leaves on in the greenhouse, moving the box outside once the weather picked up.

Another free resource is the plastic tubs of mineral salts which the crofters put out for the sheep and cattle. This year we've growing all our tomatoes in them, while the cucumbers continue to thrive in soil.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Community Council

The new Community Council has been up and running for a couple of months now, with Geoffrey Campbell as Chairman and Gayle Cameron as Secretary.

It met last Monday, and covered a wide range of matters which are exercising the minds of local people, including the state of the roads - this is another section of the B8007 which, along with the much more serious section by Ardslignish, is sliding off down the hill. Repairs are now scheduled at Ardslignish and several other local sites.

It also looked at

  • proposals designed to increase the number of people joining our Emergency Responders, who are woefully understaffed
  • the continuing problems with broadband in Kilchoan
  • changes to the timetable of the Kilchoan - Fort William bus
  • the problems arising from the large increase in the number of people and vehicles using the Tobermory ferry following the introduction of RET

....and a number of other matters.

Gayle is now releasing draft minutes as soon as she can, and they will continue to appear regularly on the West Ardnamurchan News. The latest minutes are here.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Community Development Company AGM

West Ardnamurchan's Community Development Company meets tomorrow evening at 8pm in the Learning Centre for its annual general meeting. As the chairman will be reporting, it has been a busy and successful year, and next year promises to see even more progress. The meeting is open to all, but anyone who wishes to stand as a director - and three of the current directors have to stand down - must be resident in West Ardnamurchan and registered as a voter here.