Friday, 23 June 2017


The cuckoos have been very active again this year, calling from the woodland along the top of the crofts and also from the open hillside above - but they're difficult birds to photograph.

However, this one stayed put while it was stalked, even though.... also had a small bird - at bottom right - scolding it.

We're fortunate that we still have cuckoos.  Their numbers have dropped drastically in the last 25 years for reasons which aren't understood.

Ardnamurchan's Isolated Farmsteads

Before the farming settlements of Ardnamurchan were reorganised - in some cases, cleared - in the years between 1828  and 1854, most people lived in small, self regulating nucleated settlements called clachans. Achnaha, pictured, is one of the few inhabited settlements today which, although it was reorganised into a crofting township, retains the layout of those old clachans.

Typically, each clachan was home to six to eight families, perhaps thirty people in all, but a few chose to live outside the settlement. The white arrow....

....indicates an area which was within Achnaha's common grazings but which was cleared for arable farming. The people who lived there built themselves a house and outbuildings.

On Tuesday 27th, the Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association is holding its first AGM, in the Learning Centre at 7.00pm. This will be followed by a talk and discussion about Ardnamurchan's isolated farmsteads. Everyone is very welcome to come along.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

A Woodland Walk

Just past the sharp bend at the bottom of the hill beyond Sonachan Hotel and the Community Garden, a path, signposted as a woodland walk, leaves the road and heads southwards. The woodland doesn't last long, which is just as well as I don't enjoy walking without views, so one is soon....

....into more open scenery. The long ridge in the distance is Beinn nan Ord, but in crossing the marshy area to the right....

....we came across the season's first sundews, both the common or round-leaved sundew and.... of the sundews with much longer leaves, either Drosera anglica or D. intermedia.

Beyond the marshy area the land rises to a series of small, rocky ridges from which there are views southeastwards, to Beinn na Seilg....

....southwestwards, across the woodland which on the OS map is called Garbh-dhail and the meandering Allt Garbh-dhail to the long ridge of Beinn nan Ord, and....

....northwestwards, towards Beinn Bhuidhe. We could have walked in any direction - this is one of the great wildernesses of Ardnamurchan - but we followed this ridge, which rose and fell until.... the sun came out, we reached Achosnich. We sat on a rock here and admired yet more views, this one looking across the township to Eigg, Rum and Muck and....

....this one, looking back to Sonachan Hotel and to Ben Hiant in the distance.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Glenborrodale Accident

Many thanks to Geoffrey Campbell for this photo of the accident which occurred late yesterday afternoon on the Glenborrodale side of Dale Cottage.

Geoffrey reports, "The ambulance was heading to Kilchoan to attend an emergency and met a car on the bridge. Fortunately no one was injured but the Mini was shunted backwards through the bridge wall and the ambulance ended up balanced on the other wall in an 'Italian Job' pose.

"Emergency services soon attended including two fire engines, another ambulance and the police; only the coastguard was missing. All was put right with assistance from the Loch Shiel Garage and Ardnamurchan Estate."

With the road blocked for over two hours, the NHS switched rapidly to Plan B - a medivac helicopter appearing over Kilchoan soon afterwards to deal with the original emergency.

West Ardnamurchan in the Press

Sanna's beaches have been awarded Best Scenic Beach by the Times/Sunday Times in an article on Sunday - here.

Meanwhile, the BBC has reported - here - that our Community Council's call to have the speed limits reduced in Kilchoan is shortly to be considered by Highland Council elected members on the Lochaber Committee. It's also hoped that some anomalies will be corrected - like the open speed limit up the Ormsaigbeg road.

The changes are needed in response to an increase in traffic brought about by the changes to ferry fares under the Road Equivalent Tariff scheme. However, of as much, if not more concern is the state of our roads. This picture, of the potholes in Pier Road, one of the areas which is suffering from the increase in traffic, shows Important Resident Henry the cat inspecting the road surface.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

A Busy Bay

Kilchoan Bay was busy with visiting yachts last night, four of them at the West Ardnamurchan Jetty Association's moorings, the other one at anchor.


Sanna's coastline is a series of bays, each with a wide sand beach, together stretching for over a kilometre from this one, the most southerly, Port na Tuine, to Sanna Burn at the north.

It's midsummer. You would expect Sanna's glorious white beaches to be crowded. We arrived today just after nine and in the next three hours met only two people.

At low tide, as it was today, the sands continue on the north side of the burn, running out towards a small headland on the other side of which....

....lies this secluded bay, a place which is ideal for children, where they can swim in shallow, protected waters, scramble over the rocks, and hunt in the rock pools.

Sanna is a place of peace, a silent place except....

....when the RAF, which only seems to practise its low flying when the weather is fine, comes by.

We spent most of the morning wandering across the land to the north of the Sanna Burn, where....'s wildlife highlights included this sandpiper, not in the sea as one might expect but on a rock in the middle of the burn, and....

....this grayling butterfly. They're usually well camouflaged on the rocks which are their preferred resting place but this one chose some lichen to sit on.

There are plenty of orchids still in bloom, including northern marsh, heath spotted, common spotted and, just coming out, the fragrant orchids. This is the last of this season's lesser butterfly orchids.

Monday, 19 June 2017

The Insects of Druim na Gearr Leacainn

This part of Scotland hasn't been enjoying the warm, sunny weather of the rest of the country so the sun's appearance this afternoon was very welcome - and we took advantage of it to walk up the back of the house, through the croft land and the gate at the top onto Ormsaigbeg's common grazings.

Druim na Gearr Leacainn, the ridge that runs along the back of the township, is cut by a number of steep, narrow glens which provided shelter for insects from the cool northwesterly breeze. There we found....

....the first common blue of the year, a male, and....

....the first ever orange underwing moth.

We also found a small pearl-bordered fritillary basking in the sun while it enjoyed sipping from a tormentil flower. It's a pretty butterfly but....

 ....spectacular when it closes its wings. The closed wings also show it's a male - the female has the paler patterning all over the underside of her wing.

Small heaths were by far the most common butterflies, this one - appropriately - choosing a spotted heath orchid to rest on.

Butterflies are beautiful but so is this shy beast, a large toad perhaps looking for a butterfly meal.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Other People's Children

It's very easy to be critical of the behaviour of other people's young, and it's as easy to apply one's prejudices to the avian world. By far the worst behaved seem to be the goldfinch's children, who make a most frightful noise, with a pack of them chasing their poor parents all over the place, squabbling and flapping their wings and screaming for food.

By comparison, this young house sparrow is a surprising model of good behaviour, though this may partly be due to the fact that there appeared to be only one child attached to this cock sparrow.

The great tit's child is demanding but less noisy, and is much more discreet about it, hiding in the foliage while mum or dad goes out to collect food from the communal feeders.

Still quieter is the yellowhammer's young, who crouches on the ground with its beak open and looks plaintive, but says not a word. One almost wonders whether it's suffering from neglect.

The chaffinch's child seems very unwilling to leave home even though it's perfectly capable of looking after itself. Each time dad flew off to get more food, this young one took a quick snack from the grain in front of it.

By comparison, this young robin seems to have passed through the stage of troubling its parents in no time, and has quickly learned to be self-sufficient - and to be cheeky enough to stand its ground against all comers when the grain's brought out so it can be first at the new food.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Historic Monument Removed

This photo comes from Around&About, who writes, "Not sure how this sits with the local Heritage Association but unfortunately this local monument has been removed. I know the whole village will be as sad as me to see it go, but it was good that Rob Bolton had the decency to fuel it before it left."

With all the old vehicles gone, and following the tidying that has been going on, the front of the shop is now almost unrecognisable.

Many thanks to Around&About for picture and comment.

Environmental Coring

Today's weather wasn't ideal for members of the Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association to spend a day at Swordle, at the invitation of Archaeology Scotland, to learn about environmental coring.

The site chosen was just to the east of the Viking boat burial, now marked with stones - see the Ardnamurchan Transition Project's website here - in a....

....tussocky field, where Becca Barclay and Phil Richardson of Archaeology Scotland showed us how a Dutch gouge, a type of auger, is assembled and then pushed down into the underlying peat.

When pulled up, the last metre or so contains a sample of the peat which can then be....

....analysed for content. This is a sample from the upper section which is largely well-preserved vegetation very similar to what is growing today.

Becca, who has experience of this sort of work from time spent in Iceland, showed us how to classify sections of the sample according to their contents, using the Troels-Smith system used for organic-rich sediments.

Once below about a metre, the sediment became darker and contained increasing amounts of woody material, suggesting that the area had been wooded some time in the past. The exact date can only be found by studying the pollen, but an exceedingly rough rule-of-thumb for western Scotland is that a foot of peat collects in about a hundred yards - so this wood might be four hundred years old.

Bark on the woody material suggested it might have been birch, but the highlight of the day was finding pieces of an almost perfectly preserved hazelnut shell at a depth of 1.58m - so it might have been about 500 years old. The auger hit bedrock at just over 2m depth.

Many thanks indeed to Becca and Phil for an informative, enjoyable, if damp expedition.