Thursday, 31 March 2016


Sanna, seen from the hills at the back of Portuairk in this morning's sunshine.

Learning Centre News - and an Invitation

From Dale Meegan:
As we come to the end of our autumn and winter programme of courses which have been subsidised by a Highlife Highland grant, we are looking at new ways of providing courses in the future. The reason for this is that with the cuts faced by Highland Council there will no longer be any grants to Learning Centres like ours to subsidise these short courses. However in discussion with members of our local Community Engagement Group, we hope this won’t stop us providing a programme next autumn even if there are some changes to the number of courses and the costs. Our intention is to keep costs as low as possible so as not to exclude anyone from participating.

 In the meantime we are open for applications for College courses for 2016-17. If you are interested in doing a vocational qualification or a degree visit the College website at or call in to the Learning Centre or contact Dale Meegan or Rachael Kidd. There are a huge number of courses and qualifications available and many can be accessed by video conferencing from the Learning Centre.

Plans are also underway for a summer programme building on the success of last year when over 250 people, both locals and visitors, booked onto guided walks, workshops and talks.

Meanwhile, there have been some changes at the Learning Centre. The walls have a display of old photographs from the West Ardnamurchan area, and we're in the early stages of putting together an archive of local documents and artefacts which will be of interest to both residents and visitors.

The Invitation:

The Board and Principal of West Highland College (University of the Highlands and Islands) will be coming to Kilchoan on Tuesday 12th April and would like to meet people from the area. Please come along to the Learning Centre between 2pm and 3.30pm to meet them informally over a cup of tea. It’s a great opportunity to tell them how valuable the Learning Centre is to this community.

For more information about any of the above contact -

Dale Meegan on 01397 874260 or or 01972 510322

Rachael Kidd on 01397 874508 or

Wednesday, 30 March 2016


We visit Fort William, the nearest metropolis, as rarely as possible, about once every six weeks. Today we left home at in the half-light at 6.20, caught the 7.40 ferry at Corran having met only four cars on the single-track road, visited two supermarkets, filled up with petrol, bought some windscreen wiper blades, had a haircut, took a photo of the Hebridean Princess anchored off the town, and arrived home in time for lunch.

Afterwards, a gentle wander up the burn that runs past the house is the ideal way to unwind. It descends steeply in a series of cheerful rapids and waterfalls, each....

....formed where the burn drops over a scarp of dolerite, the outcrop of a cone sheet of the Tertiary volcanic event which created Ardnamurchan's volcano. These outcrops runs roughly parallel to the Ormsaigbeg coast and, because the small scarps are almost south facing, they offer warm, sheltered spots for the....

....early spring flowers. So it's not surprising that it's here that, every year, we find the first violets. It's wonderful to see them, yet in a few weeks' time they'll be everywhere in the garden and we'll be pulling them up as weeds.

Some of the larger lumps of dolerite which have been incorporated into the field walls that surround the crofts offer good places to sit and gaze out across the Sound of Mull. The morning was perfectly still but by afternoon a light westerly was carrying in cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds with some heavy showers, so we sat and watched as the drifted across Mull.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Centre of the Universe

You might imagine that the centre of the universe would be unimaginably hot, a seething inferno of plasma at millions of degrees Kelvin - but you'd be wrong. This was Portuairk this morning, with the sun shining on blue seas.

The island in the middle distance is Muck, with the summits of the mountains on Rum beyond it lost in cloud.

Community Centre Improvements

The Kilchoan Community Centre was one of many built at the millennium, and was a huge improvement on the old hall, a wood-framed corrugated iron structure which used to move underfoot during the more energetic dances. The Centre houses the doctor's surgery, a multipurpose hall with stage, a cafe, a kitchen, toilets and showers, a games room which can be used for group meetings, and a small shop.

But, as with all things bright and new, time has taken its toll. Aware of this, the board which runs the Centre started to collect funds to make some much needed improvements.

Two are being actively pursued. One is a face-lift for the Lemon Tree tea room and, using money already collected, work on this has started - a new door at centre in the picture, which leads to the kitchen, replaces a hatch. The board is anxious to point out that no money collected for this has been moved to the other project, which is to turn the much underused Games Room into what it was always intended to be, the doctor's surgery.  With the costs for this so high, the board has to seek grant aid.

So that people know what's happening on some of West Ardnamurchan's various committees, two - the Community Council and the Community Development Company - are now publishing their minutes as soon as possible after the meeting - both are on the West Ardnamurchan News. This does have the disadvantage that the minutes are unconfirmed, that is, they are the minuting secretary's best efforts. At the recent WACDC meeting, a statement was minuted that money collected for the Tea Room had been transferred to the new Surgery fund. This is incorrect.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Surf & Snow

Sunday brought what one might expect of an early Easter - a fierce westerly gale overnight on Saturday, followed by a day of hail, sleet, rain, the occasional sunny moment, and enough of a surf for Rachael to feel she could hone her skills on the sets at Sanna.

By this morning the wind had dropped to dead calm and there were enough breaks in the cloud to see that Beinn Talaidh on Mull had collected a fresh cap of snow, along with....

....some of the other hills on southern Mull. The more distant ship is the Hebridean Princess heading south on her cruise, the nearer is the Loch Linnhe, the local Kilchoan-Tobermory ferry on her first run of the day. The ferries are now on a summer timetable which many more sailings each day, though there are none on Sunday yet.

The red breasted merganser male was paddling around the obstacles at the end of the slipway at nine this morning, looking a bit lonely. A week ago he was with his mate, so either she has deserted him for someone even more handsome or she's on their nest.

The bay was beautifully peaceful in the early morning calm, the only sounds being the occasional suck of a wave and the call of the sea birds. Not that there were many - a few gulls, a small group of mallard, three greylag geese, and the usual excitable oystercatchers.

Occasional watery patches of sunlight moved across the hills, this one lighting some of the houses in Pier Road. In the background are the twin peaks of Stallachan Dubha, with the shoulder of Ben Hiant rising to the left.

Many thanks to Ben and Rachael for the top photo.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Ships in the Sound

This month's Ships in the Sound begins with a special 'thank you' to those who send me information about the ships which feature on this regular post. For example, Iain McAllister was kind enough to send me a story about this little ship, the Burhou I, pictured some time ago passing Corran. She was in trouble in Belfast recently - report here. She's a ship I like, an old-style coaster often seen passing through the Sound, a ship which my father might have called a 'tramp' as she doesn't have a regular route, instead carry a variety of cargoes from anywhere to anywhere.

She's an old ship, launched in 1978, and named after an island in the Channel Islands although she's now operated by the Great Glen Shipping Company, website here. Her name, Burhou I, has caused confusion; at least one AIS site calls her Burhoui.

Here's another old friend, the Lysblink Seaways, a close acquaintance from February last year when she stayed with us for a few days. Many thanks to Ivor Lloyd who sent this picture of her. There are reports that the yard at Roseneath bought her for £1million, yet there is still little sign of her being broken up.

It may be a mistaken impression, but it seems that fewer cargo ships are using the Sound than a year ago, though whether this has anything to do with the Lysblink Seaways incident is a moot point.

This is the beautifully named Skog, a ship which, like the Lysblink Seaways, has also been in difficulties recently, in her case in a gale off Orkney back in November - BBC report here. At least she survived the experience to sail another day.

If we're seeing fewer cargo ships, we're definitely seeing more of the sort of vessel I loosely call a work boat. The Northern River is a multi-purpose support ship to the Royal Navy operated by Serco, the type of ship which in the old days would have been a Royal Navy fleet auxiliary. She didn't seem to have anywhere to go in a hurry when she passed here, moving very slowly up the Sound on a calm day.

This is another work boat, the Vortex, seen passing one of the MacLean's creel boats on her way north out of the Sound on her way to Haugesund in Norway. Launched in 2010, she's a British-registered tug owned by Solent Towage and described as, "designed for both escort operations and harbour work, as well as ocean towage. With equipment for oil recovery, FiFi 1 and salvage in open waters onboard she is ready for any kind of operation." 'FiFi 1' refers to her firefighting capacity.

Solent Towage is a subsidiary of a Norwegian firm Østensjø. One of Solent's regular jobs is providing  towage for tankers at Southampton's Fawley oil refinery.

Garblach Mor, the ridge to the south of the lighthouse, is an ideal place to sit and watch ships on a fine day.   In the short time we were there a couple of weeks ago we watched several pass below us. This is Ferguson Transport's Leslie Anne, the fourth of the versatile landing-craft type ships they operate. More about her here.

The well-kept creel boat Eilean Ban, OB998, was another we watched pass by. She's registered in Oban but is reported to work out of Tobermory, though we haven't seen her there.

Another boat we watched was one of Seafari Adventures' RIBs, which operate out of Easedale, near Oban, and Skye. As well as wildlife trips, they take visitors to see the large whirlpool in the Gulf of Corryvreckan.

In the distance is the CalMac ferry Clansman passing the lighthouse on Suil Ghorm to the northeast of Coll on her way to Oban.

With the designation of the Sound of Mull and Loch Sunart as Marine Protected Areas, the Scottish Fisheries Protection vessels have been in much evidence. The Minna has been around, as has this ship, the Jura.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

White Hart

This striking young fallow deer stag is to be seen on West Ardnamurchan, if you're lucky.

SM-8: Ben Hiant House Cairn

The Ben Hiant House cairn - the green mound in this picture - lies about a kilometre to the northwest of Mingary Pier - see map at bottom of post - and it's from there that it's most easily accessed.  As seen from this approach, the circular cairn, about 15m in diametre and 2m high and built of medium sized rocks, is sited on a small knoll, but....

....on its southwest side the land drops steeply to a narrow bay, Port na Luinge, the port of the ship.

The Historic Environment Scotland report, here, states that some larger rocks can be found on the southwestern margins of the cairn, suggesting this is a kerb cairn. However, the HES report makes no attempt to age it, describing it simply as "prehistoric". The report states that the monument is of national importance, "for its potential contribution to an understanding of prehistoric burial practices and ritual beliefs."

Evidence from the top of the cairn, and from signs of a linear ditch dug into it from the northwest side, suggest that the cairn was robbed some time ago.

The siting of the cairn right next to the 'port of the ship' yet away from any good agricultural land, suggests that there's a close connection between whoever is buried under it and the sea; and I haven't been able to find out why it's called 'Ben Hiant House cairn'.

Map courtesy Pastmap, here.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Calm Before the Storm

The forecast hadn't led us to expect calm seas and a sunrise like this one, picture taken seconds before the sun appeared over the shoulder of Ben Hiant.

A few minutes later the first of the year's big cruise ships came into the northern end of the Sound of Mull, her destination for the day being Tobermory. She's the Portuguese Astoria. Launched in 1948 as the Stockholm, she's infamous for ramming and sinking the Andrea Doria off Nantucket in 1956. Nearly seventy years later, under her eleventh name, she's still plying the seas.

We were out early, walking down the wooded glen of the Allt Choire Mhuilinn which reaches the sea just to the east of Mingary Castle. After dropping down a series of waterfalls....

....the burn passes the site of the mill after which it is named. According to the old maps, the mill site is on the flat land just beside the little knoll at left in the picture, some ten metres above the level of the burn - so it's not at all clear how the water turned the mill wheel.

Attracted by the raucous noise of crows, we watched an aerial dogfight between three hooded crows and a buzzard (left) which had something in its talons which, obviously, the crows wanted. As far as we could see, the buzzard escaped with its meal.

Just beside the ruins of the mill we were cursed by a wren, possibly for trespassing too close to its nest site. For a bird of this size, the noise it makes is.... impressive.

After a wander along the beach we climbed into the hills at the back of the Choiremhuilinn clachan site, looking back over Mingary Castle to see the Astoria (in the distance, over the castle) leaving the Sound. She had been waiting off Tobermory but had never entered.

As can be seen from this clipping from Cameron Beccario's site, the gale we were promised for today hasn't gone away but is a little late in arriving, with gusts to gale force forecast for this evening.

Head Teacher Retires

From Ritchie Dinnes:
These photos are from Wednesday's presentation to Lynne Mcluckie on her retirement from Kilchoan school, where she has been head teacher for the past thirteen years. The community thanked her on behalf of the pupils she taught during this time and their parents.

She also received the best wishes of the community in her retirement. Miss Mcluckie thanked the community for their support over the years and declared that she had really enjoyed her time teaching here. Lynne indicated that she intended to continue to live in Kilchoan.

Many thanks to Ritchie for photos and story.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Grey Skies

After ten days without rain, and just in time for the Easter weekend, we've returned to business as usual, with grey skies only occasionally pierced by a ray of sunshine. Not that a little rain has prevented us enjoying the countryside.

Yesterday we walked to the west of the CalMac pier, heading for Glas Eileann, the grey island, on the south side of Kilchoan Bay. This can be a great area for wildlife, including otters, grey seals, dolphins and sea eagles, but yesterday it seemed strangely empty, so we had to content ourselves....

....with some smaller beauties, like this little bird which I take to be a rock pipit, and....

....a group of these uncommonly bright red common periwinkles.

As we reached Glas Eileann we put up a pair of Canada geese, probably the same as were feeding along the shore by the shop on Tuesday, birds which....

....must think they're being persecuted, as they were at Camas nan Geall this morning, enjoying sole rights to the rich feeding in the silage field, when we disturbed them there.

Just below the road a large group of red deer had gathered including....

....a number of young stags, two of which were enjoying some gentle sparring.