Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Memories of a Kilchoan Holiday, 1968

From Mike & Jane Harper:
We first discovered Sanna Bay in May 1967 on a short trip into the western highlands with two friends. At the time we had just become engaged and visited our friends who then were living in Edinburgh. It was the Spring Bank Holiday and we decided to go the Highlands for a couple of days.

On the first day we found a croft that could accommodate us, two men in one room and the two girls in the other. This was near Fort William somewhere near the Caledonian Canal. The next day we set off towards Mallaig. Early afternoon we started searching for a B&B that had two bedrooms - in those days you didn’t share unless you were married.

We could not find anywhere that was not fully booked and subsequently ended up with four of us trying to sleep in a Triumph Herald. By first light we were all wide awake. After a cold wash in a burn we set off towards Glenelg. At about 6am we came up on Sanna Bay.

To the amazement of a bleary eye in a lonely caravan, there were four idiots running around on the beach at six in the morning!

Jane & I married in March 1968 and my friend on the Sanna Bay excursion was my best man. We were so taken with Sanna that on 20th September 1968 we set off from our friend’s new house in Penicuik heading North for a holiday in Kilchoan and Sanna Bay.

We arrived late afternoon in Kilchoan and drove through the village looking for a B&B. By chance we came upon Craigard which still had their sign up. They told us they were about to take it down. Mrs Scott showed me the room and told me they did not have electricity but had oil lamps. I broke this news to Jane and said if it doesn’t suit you can move on tomorrow, thoughI had no idea where. The rest is history: my wife fell in love with the place and we stayed the whole week despite her not being able to use her hair-dryer. I had an electric razor and could not use that either. Jane noted in her diary that it was turning back the pages, old world.

The next priority was to get a drink, for having driven most of the day I was gasping. Granny McPhail said the Hotel closed at 9 or 9.30 and as it was almost closing time so I virtually ran all the way. I rushed into the empty bar and ordered a pint that I drank quickly and ordered another.

We sat wondering when they would call time, enjoying my pint when the door opened and in came some people. There was John McVee the local First World War hero, an accordion player and jolly good sing-song of well loved Scottish songs ensued. Granny McPhail told us their names the next day that it was John McVee, The DL (Daniel Livingston) and their mates, a 'bad lot' she said.

We very quickly adjusted to a life without electricity; however, the talk in evening was often about the Gillespies who had a generator; “just look at that, lights everywhere."

It was interesting to experience life on a croft. Mrs Scott milked the cows by hand and was always busy. She had a dog called Spot who was a slightly mad collie but very friendly. We often wondered how they all fitted into the house and yet managed to give us such wonderful food. We very quickly adjusted to life without electricity. Mrs Scott provided a “high tea” every evening which to us was better than a dinner, and a lovely cooked breakfast.

On the Sunday we drove down to Mingary Pier to see the ferry and found out the times of the crossings to Tobermory. The ferry in those days was passenger only and on a market day, sheep. If you went on those days you swept the deck with the brooms provided or just put up with the mess and accepted a smelly 45 minutes bouncing around in a small boat.

Afterwards we drove to Sanna Bay and spent a lovely sunny day paddling and clambering on the rocks before returning to a sumptuous “high tea”. After tea we ventured out to the lighthouse and saw it flashing its warning light. Then to bed and reading by oil lamp while Jane wrote her diary.

On the Monday we went to Tobermory in what was an exhilarating crossing. We spent the day in the town before walking up to what must have been the Treshnish Lochs where we ate a picnic provided by Mrs Scott. Before catching the ferry we went to the local shop to buy a wet razor… no luck, they had sold them all. As a result every morning Granny McPhail felt my whiskery face to see if they were growing.

Tuesday 24th September we walked over the cliffs to Ockle a funny little place with about only three houses. The sky was cloudless blue, the sea a cornflower blue and the islands looked beautiful across the Minch. After a picnic lunch we drove back to Sanna Bay and spent the day paddling in the warm sea.

The next day was our first wet day. However, that did not stop us from enjoying ourselves. We walked from the jetty to Mingary Castle and had a good look around. We then drove to Sanna Bay and donning our macs and rain-hats and spent several hours walking on the sands and scrambling over the rocks.

When had dried out we drove to the Lighthouse and were shown around by the lighthouse keeper. We were surprised to learn that the light was paraffin lit, as are many lighthouses around Britain, he informed us. After dinner we had a drink in the Kilchoan Hotel with another couple who were staying at Craigard. We again wondered how they fitted us all and themselves into the house.

Thursday was another warm and sunny day. We drove to Glenborrodale and tried to find a road inland to the lochs but found it was gated with a notice, private. So we drove back to near Sanna and walked across country to Glendrian cave (left). It was hard walking with bogs, rocks and slippery screeds. We got there and I ventured in. I only got short way when a pigeon took off with a loud crack of its wings. I nearly died of fright and came out much quicker than I went in. We trekked back and on to Sanna Bay and a paddle with a whole beach virtually to ourselves. In the evening we walked along the lane towards the point and watched the light-houses on Mull and those in the distant near Oban sending their message of safety to ships and boats in the sound.

Friday 27th September was our last day at Craigard. Mrs Scott could not accommodate us they were expecting a load of relatives from Glasgow later so we booked into the Sonachan House Hotel for the night.

We waited for the rain to stop which it did most conveniently. We walked and conquered the two mountains (hills) overlooking Sanna Bay. Although it was very windy and a long trek the views were worth the effort. We sat and watched the rough seas breaking against the rocks at Sanna. Our last day we were both sad but had had a wonderful holiday and although not looking to going back to work but were refreshed sufficiently to endure it.

On the Saturday as we left we called at Craigard and said our farewells to Mrs Scott, Granny McPhail and of course Spot. We said how much we had enjoyed our short holiday and agreed we would be back. In 1970 we returned to Kilchoan and stayed again at Craigard. We never visited Kilchoan again until this year when we met Tom Bryson the new owner of Craigard.

We still meet our friends, usually a couple of times a year. The health of Laurie, my best man, is not what it was so we have not been able to visit each other for the last year to avoid putting any strain on him.

Many thanks to Mike & Jane for this account and the pictures.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Long-Term Weather Forecast

Alasdair Thornton writes, "Ever heard the old rhyme 'If the oak before the ash, then we'll only have a splash, if the ash before the oak, then we'll surely have a soak'?

"If it's to be believed we could be in for a pretty dry summer, as these pictures from Ormsaigbeg will attest.

"This ash at Annbank is a couple of weeks behind the....

"....wind-stunted oaks beyond the driveway to Coimh Lionadh a little further along the road."

Many thanks for this, Alasdair. We sincerely hope the old saying is right.

First Sign of Summer

From our Marine Salvage Correspondent:
For some it’s the first swallow, for others it’s the arrival of the midges, but in Kilchoan the first sign that it’s summer is another boat coming off its mooring. And so it was on Friday morning when Justin and Alastair arrived for work in the bay to see a RIB had gone ashore and put the call out for help in recovering it.

 Luckily the hull was not too damaged and so it was stabilised while the tide came in.

A line was attached from Justin’s boat and it was floated off and towed back to the mooring and secured.

For the many people who moor their boat in the bay, whether on a permanent or visitor mooring, it’s good to know that any problems are quickly spotted and help is near at hand.

Many thanks to Chris Gane for pictures & story.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Back into the Hills

We've become accustomed to the relatively gentle walking that the Provincial Parks Service provides in Alberta, which includes cleared trails and excellent provision of facilities, so....

....our first walk back on Ardnamurchan, in gentle Kilchoan sunshine and with a reception committee guarding Kilchoan Township's common grazings, was a bit of a shock.

Much has changed in a fortnight. The heath spotted orchids, in shades from pale pinks and lilacs through to white, are in full flower, and they are joined by a number of other wildflowers which weren't in bloom when we left - tormentil, marsh lousewort, heath milkwort, common butterwort and bird's foot trefoil amongst others.

We walked east from the Sanna road, climbing steadily into the area around Meall an Tarmachain, with views back across the road to Beinn na Seilg, Lochan na Crannaig and Lochan nan Ealachan, and....

....southwards across Lochan Sron nan Sionnach towards Kilchoan Bay and Mull in the misty distance.

Just below Meall an Tarmachain is Lochan a' Choire Chruinn, which is one of the lochans which....

....hosts a population of bogbean, now in full flower.

One change which is very noticeable is how green the landscape has become during our absence, though the fresh grass is like a thin veneer across the rocky soils of these hills. This view looks west, with the hill at centre Beinn na h-Imeilte.

2017 Kilchoan Runathon

From our Athletics Correspondent:
 It was a bumper turnout at 2017’s Kilchoan Runathon with 35 entries spread across the three events of the 5K, 10K and Half Marathon. The weather was not ideal with light rain falling most of the time (which didn’t put off the midges) but everyone set off in high spirits and determined to get to the end.

The 5K entrants all made it to the Community Gardens where Gill and David had laid on tea and cakes to raise money for the minibus and were doing a good trade. The oldest entrant was 81 and the youngest just 5 months.

The 10K runners made use of the water station at the Community Garden before turning for home while the Half Marathon runners went on to round the lighthouse and then back to the Kilchoan Hotel. First across the line in the Half Marathon was Alice Everett in a time of 1hr 40min.

A big thank you to Gill & Dave for the cakes, the Hotel for hosting the event and Sandra for being Race Secretary. Congratulations to all the runners, walkers, joggers and cyclists who made it to the end, and we look forward to 2018’s event.

Many thanks to Chris Gane for pictures & story.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

The Small Things

We're extremely fortunate to have good friends who live in Suffolk who come up to look after the house while we're away, and they do a splendid job of nurturing the year's vegetable seedlings until we return, but then there's a mad scramble to plant them out - cabbage, kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, leeks, carrots, onions, salad leaves, radish, rocket and, in the greenhouse, potting up cucumber and tomato. It's 'work' which we thoroughly enjoy, particularly in this May's continuing fine weather.

However, one of the great joys of being home is catching up with what's new in the small world that surrounds us. So this moth - I have failed to identify it - helped immensely by sitting on the folder which contains our annual records of where we plant vegetables, while....

....these green veined whites were making sure there will be lots of new butterflies to help eat the vegetables once we'd grown them.

There are plenty of bees around to pollinate our fruit bushes but this is a new one to me, a bumblebee which is tiny. To give an idea of how small it is, it was keenest on the flowers of one of our hebe varieties, which are just on 8mm across. It's difficult to identify but may be an early bumblebee, Bombus pratorum.

In the croft fields around us a host of new flowers have appeared including this one, half a dozen of which are tucked into a corner but don't seem to have appeared anywhere else. The best identification I can make of it is star of bethlehem, a species which can be highly invasive.

Then we have to catch up on the latest in small birds visiting our feeders, like this very smart male siskin and a less usual visitor....

....to the seed dispensers, a pied wagtail.

Meanwhile, on a slightly larger scale, noisy warfare continues over our heads as the hooded crows harass the local buzzards.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Lady of Avenel

The Lady of Avenel, seen here as she left Mingary Pier late this afternoon, is a regular visitor to this end of the Sound of Mull, but this year, as last, she brought some paramotors - motorised paragliders - with her, which....

....took advantage of the fine weather to soar above Kilchoan.

Cave at Sgeir Fhada

AHHA member Stewart Connor reports on an investigation he made into a small cave just to the east of the fort above Sgeir Fhada, near Camas nan Geall.

 The entrance to the cave has been walled at some point in time, with some evidence remaining.

The site is a scheduled monument - see AHHA description here - but, without disturbing the site, within the cave Stewart found the sole of an old leather shoe that would have fitted a small foot.

Stewart writes, "I thought this a strange find in a remote spot but recall a number of superstitions the old ones had regarding leaving child’s shoes over doors and chimney lintels of black houses. The cave would just about fit one adult in it or a couple of children and could have been a hiding place.

"I know of a number of these caves and holes in rocks in the Islands where in the late 1700s the young boys of townships were hidden from the British Navy press gangs. This is a strong possibility, given the close proximity to the townships of Bourblaige, Torr na Moine and Camus nan Geall."

Stewart adds, "Nothing can be touched in a scheduled monument so I have left the shoe in situ."

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Cordel, Alberta

This Google satellite image of part of Alberta a two-hour drive to the southeast of Edmonton graphically illustrates the way in which, under the Dominion Lands Act of 1871, much of the prairies of Canada was divided into plots of 160 acres for distribution to settlers for a $10 fee and the requirement that the new owners fenced, cleared, and worked a minimum of 40 acres before being given full title. At a time of land shortage in many European countries, this attracted settlers from, for example, the Ukraine, France, Norway and the UK. Pioneers from each of the countries often bought adjoining plots, and....

....built their own churches. This wooden church, at the intersection of Range Road 154 and Township Road 402, was built by a group who came from the Savoie region of France.

They raised their church in 1915, and abandoned it in 1964, when they built a new one a little to the northeast, but on the opposite side of the intersection they had, and still carefully maintain, the community's graveyard. At its centre is a large block of gneiss (left), an erratic brought down from the north when the glaciers of the last ice age were depositing the material that would create the thick, rich soils that so attracted farmers.

On the gneiss block is this plaque.

Almost all the names on the gravestones are those of the Savoie settlers, names like Cordel, Fetaz and Dion. Perhaps the Cordels were the first to arrive, for the tiny settlement bore their name. However, three headstones bear the names Georgette Maclean and, side by side, Marion and Murdo MacPherson. So at least two Scots men, Maclean and MacPherson, lived in or near Cordel and married the local French girls.

The interior of the old church is now too dangerous to enter, but it is good to think of it when it was filled with people celebrating these two marriages.

This is another Google satellite image, with the church at bottom right opposite the green square that is the graveyard. The Cordel area is underlain by rich coal seams which are being strip mined, the coal being burnt in a nearby power station. This mine destroyed Cordel's 'new' church and large swathes of the community's fields.

Living on Ardnamurchan, and knowing that so many families in this area's history left for the new world, many going to Canada, it was interesting to see an example of the sort of place in which they built their new lives. But an average croft here may have eight acres of stony land, so the two Scots may each have exchanged this for 160 acres of rich Alberts soil in a place which today is one of the world's major cereal and beef farming areas.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Hen Harrier

We're just back from a trip to Alberta where one of the many raptors we saw was this northern harrier, soaring over the trees in Big Knife Provincial Park. This is a female, the male having pale grey underparts and throat.

So it was with considerable pleasure that, as we drove back across Ardnamurchan Estate land on our way home to Kilchoan this morning, we spotted the local equivalent, a hen harrier, a bird we haven't seen for some time. This is a male, with his very distinctive grey plumage and black-tipped wings.

He was sitting on the ground some distance from the road which was frustrating as the resulting pictures aren't very good, but....

....even more so because, when he rose to fly away, he was obviously carrying something dark, something so heavy he only managed to stay in the air for a few metres before dropping back to the ground to take a rest.

To make up for the blurred pictures of the hen harrier, here is a picture of the greenfinch which arrived on our terrace wall almost as soon as we put some seed out. We saw one a few weeks ago after a long absence, so we're hoping this one has a nest nearby so we'll be seeing many more greenfinches.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

The Camas nan Geall Neolithic Cairn

Half-hidden under the southernmost of the line of sycamore trees in the field at Camas nan Geall lie the remains of a 6,000 year old Neolithic cairn (arrowed).

Most of the stones of which it was built have been removed, probably to build the walls of the houses which, in their turn, were abandoned by their owners. One house - at left in the picture - was even built on top of the rubble that formed part of the cairn structure.

This diagram of the site, adapted from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland's 'Argyll Vol 3' gives some idea of the site but put this into the hands of a talented artist like Rachael Kidd and....

....she brings the site to life.

Rachael was commissioned to make this drawing by the Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association, for it to be included in the booklet it has produced about Camas nan Geall - but it has had another, unexpected bonus. While the literature describes it as a cairn of the Hebridean type, Rachael's drawing suggests it is more akin to a 'court tomb' of the type found at Tamnyrankin in Northern Ireland - link here.

For a full description of the history of the Camas nan Geall cairn, go to AHHA's Heritage Ardnamurchan website here.

Monday, 15 May 2017

A Favourite Walk

Leave the car at the sharp turn at the southern end of the basin, half a mile short of Camas nan Geall, and cross into Estate land via the five-barred gate. Within a few hundred metres one starts to come across stone-built structures....

....this one being what may be a large shieling hut from which there are fine views down the glen of the Allt Torr na Moine to Camas nan Geall. It may not be part of a shieling, as these are usually some distance from the clachans, and the clachan of Torr na Moine, to the right of the trees, is only a few hundred metres distant.

At the southern end of the low hill called Torr na Moine there's a broken stone wall which is described as being part of an iron age hill fort. The view is across the Sound of Mull to the northwest coast of the island.

From here one drops steeply....

....to the coast, where a series of lonely shingle beaches stretch away almost as far as the point called Maclean's Nose. The lumpy peaks at top centre are Stellachan Dubha.

Even on a warm August day, the chances of meeting anyone are small, but scattered along the beaches, which are some of the best for driftwood, are signs of people who have come here wild camping.

Almost at the end of the beaches are two houses on the edge of the shingle. I had always thought they might be fishermen's houses of the same age as the other houses in Bourblaige, but this is unlikely - see one interpretation for these dwellings on the Heritage Ardnamurchan website, here.

There are several good routes back to the car but the most spectacular is to follow the ridge in the centre distance of this picture....

....which gives good views back down into the open bowl of land that is part of Bourblaige - the two beach-side buildings are at the end of the further curve of shingle.

The view eastwards from the ridge looks across the beaches you've just walked to Ardslignish Point and Loch Sunart, with Morvern to the right while....

....on the other side lie the ruins of the cleared clachan of Bourblaige. Its sad story is told on the Heritage Ardnamurchan website here.

Because so few people visit this stretch of coast, it's very good for wildlife. On the late April day when we last walked the route, a stone chat scolded us for our temerity from the ruined walls of a Bourblaige house.