Monday, 21 August 2017

Ships in the Sound

There's almost always a ship or a boat out in the Sound at any time of day or night, and we have spent hours over the years watching them from our house. The Lord of the Glens, a small cruise ship which is more at home in the Caledonian Canal and rarely ventures out beyond the protection of the Sound, came by on Saturday and was determined to get to Eigg whatever the weather.

We've seen innumerable fishing boats but the two which have always impressed us, for how hard their crew work and also for how beautifully they are maintained, are the two Maclean creel boats which work out of Tobermory. This is the Jacobite with some of the houses of Ormsaigmore and Kilchoan behind her.

Every sort of cargo ship has passed us but, perhaps because they are so large and we see them often on their way to and from the Glensanda quarry, their representative in this post is on of the Yeoman ships, the Yeoman Bridge.

Warships also pass us, particularly during the twice-yearly Joint Warrior exercises, and they come from all the NATO countries. While this is one of the Royal Navy's new Daring class destroyers, HMS Dragon, we've also....

....seen some interesting foreign ships, like P965, Grist, a Skjold class patrol boat of the Norwegian Navy.

During the calmer months a variety of cruise ships, large and small, pass through the Sound, some of them stopping in Tobermory so their passengers can enjoy the sights of Mull. This one didn't stop. She's the World, one of the largest cruise ships afloat.

I love these busy little work boats. They're like floating Swiss army knives. This is Coastal Hunter.

The most elegant ships afloat are those under sail, and it has been good to have seen so many over recent years. This is the Dutch ship Oosterschelde.

It's been exciting watching the ships sail past but the most exciting of all was the one that meant to, but didn't sail past - the Lysblink Seaways which, in February 2015 missed her waypoint and came ashore by Mingary Pier. She's seen here late on the morning she struck, with the Tobermory lifeboat in attendance.

Sunday, 20 August 2017


The summits of most of Western Ardnamurchan's hills offer magnificent panoramas, not least because the place is a peninsula so there are always combinations of land, sea and sky. This view is from the western slopes of Ben Hiant looking along the south coast towards Kilchoan. The hill in the distance is Beinn na Seilg.

The view from the east side of Ben Hiant is equally spectacular. In this shot we are looking down to Camas nan Geall with Loch Sunart going away towards the top left and, in the centre, the smaller Loch Teacuis. The picture was taken on a fresh March day, with snow still lying on the shaded hollows and capping the hills of Morvern.

We may be busy packing but we're determined to fit in a few walks before we leave, so we left the house early and headed for the summit of Creag an Airgid. The bell heather has been in flower for some time but the ling is just coming towards its best.  The ben in the background is Beinn na Seilg.

From the summit of Creag an Airgid this view looks towards Meall Sanna. The Kilchoan-Sanna road winds across a landscape which shows ample evidence of rig and furrow working - the so-called 'lazy beds' - which surround the ancient settlement of Achnaha, in the middle distance.

Portuairk, the centre of the universe, is laid out below Bheinn Bhreac, with Sanna in the distance and Eigg lying along the horizon. Families cleared from other settlements in the 1850s were sent to live in  Portuairk, creating crofts on land which had been little-used before. Today, most of the houses are holiday homes.

No selection of pictures of the western end of Ardnamurchan would be complete without a picture of the white sand bays of Sanna. This shot was taken from the summit of Beinn Dubh, the black hill, with Muck along the horizon and, faintly visible beyond it, Rum.

This panorama, taken from the summit of Glas Bheinn, looks down on Kilchoan Bay around which are clustered the houses of the three crofting townships of Kilchoan, Ormsaigmore and Ormsaigbeg. It's special because, at the centre of the picture, is the house we've lived in the last few years and which, very shortly, we'll be leaving.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Mingary Castle Restoration

Mingary Castle had been abandoned for over 150 years when, in 2013, the Mingary Castle Preservation & Restoration Trust was set up to save the castle from imminent collapse and give it a modern purpose.

It was my considerable privilege to be given open access to the castle throughout the three-year project that followed, with the task of writing a blog, from....

....the early stages when, for example, a specialist team came in to pin back the granophyre slabs on which the castle was built. These, like gigantic dominoes, were beginning to fall outwards taking the structure with them.

As time went by, a procession of specialist teams came in. Watching them, talking with them, gaining some small appreciation of their skills, made each visit a pleasure. For some months, the archaeologists had free reign, but before they finished....

....a small team came in and built what must have been the biggest scaffold structure at that time in Scotland.

The specialists came and went but the core team from main contractor Ashley Thompson stayed on, month after month with few, very short breaks, working sometimes in appalling conditions and living on site in caravans. They worked hard, they persisted, they won my admiration, and they completed the job.... that today the castle is a successful hotel catering for a steady stream of very satisfied visitors - see the website here, where the hotel has a 9.5/10 rating.

The Mingary Castle blog is here.

West Ardnamurchan Community Action Plan Report

From Dale Meegan:

The West Ardnamurchan Community Development Company and Community Council have received the final report following the Lottery funded community consultation which was held earlier this summer, and with it sixty recommendations. To view a copy of the report (2.4MB) click here, and/or for its summary document (1MB) click here.

James Hilder of An Roth Associates Ltd who led the Lottery funded community consultation said they had been “....struck by the strength of feeling towards West Ardnamurchan, and that it somehow works differently to other local areas. For a population of approximately 281 there is strong ‘social capital’ generated by some 9 Committees, 5 Grazings Committees, 3 service teams & 20 or so clubs or societies or informal activity groups. In addition, the area boasts over 80 businesses or employing organisations…. (The report) is offered to all West Ardnamurchan groups to prompt further thought and discussion and hopefully, stimulate action."

A Community Meeting will be held on Wednesday 20th September at 7pm in Kilchoan Community Centre to present the findings of the consultation exercise and also to hear from various community organisations about their current plans or developments. There will also be an opportunity to discuss how we take things forward collectively.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Dark Skies

Ardnamurchan's small and scattered population has meant that there are relatively few artificial lights at night. This gives it a night sky, when it's clear and the moon is new, which is genuinely dark. As a result, we've seen the moons of Jupiter and....

....spectacular meteorite showers - the one at top left is the best I have managed - as well as....

....moon dogs and....


We've seen dark skies in the day too, when we watched a total eclipse in March 2015.

We've enjoyed all those things but nothing, nothing is as exciting as an aurora. The best - sadly before I had a digital camera - was so spectacular it was awe-inspiring, but we've witnessed numerous events with flowing colours that take one's breath away.

My camera skills are limited, so a better idea of this great natural phenomenon comes from the pictures of Ben McKeown (above, of the iconic phone box at Kilmory) and....

....Ewan Miles. Ewan's picture was taken from Mull and looks across to the Ardnamurchan peninsula. The lights of Kilchoan are to the right and the flash of Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse can be seen to the left.

Many thanks to Ben and Ewan for allowing me to use their pictures.

Thank You!

Thank you for all the very generous comments and good wishes which have appeared on recent posts. I wish I had time to respond individually but our days are filled with the wearying task of packing up our possessions and making sure we leave the house in reasonable order.

It has been a great pleasure writing this blog, the more so when I have known that there are people 'out there' who have enjoyed it. It is truly sad to close it, but it will continue, all being well, until the 29th.

Thursday, 17 August 2017


Watching the gannets sweep over the Sound of Mull and then suddenly tip their wings and plunge into the sea will be one of the memories of summer. At times we have seen as many as twenty manoeuvring in the air to attack a shoal of bait fish in the bay just below the house.

The ringed plover will always be, for us, the bird of the beaches at Sanna, allowing us to approach to within a reasonable distance before taking flight. Occasionally they didn't fly, feigning injury, the reason usually being....

....something small and furry and running fast.

Red breasted mergansers aren't difficult to spot in Kilchoan Bay but this pair will remain in my memory for having landed no distance from where I was sitting and seeming quite unpurturbed by my presence.

The curlews gather in flocks in the autumn and then spend their winters probing the soft ground in the croft fields before splitting into pairs in the spring. They're wary birds and difficult to approach, so obtaining a half-good picture has always been a challenge.

However, the birds I will remember from the Ormsaigbeg shore below our house, the birds which seem to represent this place, are the ever-cheerful, ever-sociable, always-smartly-turned-out oystercatchers.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017


It doesn't snow here much but, on the rare occasions on which we have enough for the snow to lie....

....the landscape is transformed.

My impression is that it has snowed much less in recent winters. In the days when we had the shop, I can remember the community being cut off, the main problem being located, as always, at 'the back of the ben'.  This picture was taken in 2009.

As always, it's the play of light - such a feature of this place - that makes a snowy landscape so special. This photo looks across Kilchoan township to the land around the cleared township of Skinnid and, on the left, the forestry on Beinn nan Losgann.

Snow on distant hills is more common but, again, it's the light that makes a picture. This view is across the mouth of Loch Sunart to Auliston Point on Morvern, beyond which is the Sound of Mull and the pyramid shape of Beinn Tallaidh on Mull.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

A Celebration

I bought a digital camera in July 2006. For a long time pictures steadily accumulated in the photo library until there were getting on for 8,000, a number which I tried not to exceed, without success. I now have something like 12,000 pictures of Western Ardnamurchan, so the closing posts of the Diary will be a celebration of this beautiful area using some of those pictures.

This photo, taken in January, shows the view across the Sound of Mull from the gate opposite the entrance to 'Ben Hiant'.

Moving On

Our house is sold and we expect to be moving on at the end of the month.

After 21 years in Kilchoan, and now downsizing to a small flat, we have a huge amount to get rid of. Some we're selling - prices negotiable - like....

APC Battery Back-Ups for power cuts and surges, two, bought August '16 and Feb '15 - £20 each

Single bed, with headboard and drawers under - £35

Inflatable double mattress with electric pump - £8

Bisley 15-drawer metal filing cabinet - £50

Dehumidifier, hardly used - £40

Drain rods and chimney brush - £10

Office chair, good quality, swivel - £25

B&W laser printer - £5

....but we also have plenty of things just looking for a good home, like A4 ring binders, picture frames, glass kitchen storage jars (various sizes), glasses, crockery....

We can be contacted on 293.

Monday, 14 August 2017


We've been away for a very pleasant long weekend in Inverness where we were particularly impressed with the food in the two restaurants we patronised, but it was good to be welcomed as we returned along the road above Camas nan Geall by this magnificent sea eagle wheeling high above.

We're always told that we haven't missed much during any absence but, as usual, it takes a couple of days before one starts to discover the news.

The weather's a bit grey but not too thick to hide the parade of ships that pass us. This is the Nordnes outward bound from the super-quarry at Glensanda. The AIS/MT site gives her destination as Edradour, a place I had never heard of but which sounds suitably foreign - only for Google to tell me that it's a distillery near Pitlochry. I can't imagine what they want with some 20,000 tonnes of aggregate, nor how the Nordnes is going to navigate the Tay.

Local Job Opportunity, Kilchoan

Oxford Abstracts is expanding and we are looking for someone to join our client support team on a part-time basis, ideally around 20 hours per week although this is negotiable. An attractive salary will be paid, based on skills and experience.

Oxford Abstracts was formed in 2001 and we are a market leader in software used by conference organisers to manage research papers, known as abstracts. Our software enables abstracts to be collected, reviewed and selected for presentation at conferences. Our clients are situated all over the world and are mainly professional and academic institutions. More info can be found at

Full details are available for download here.

The Ferry Stores and Kilchoan Post Office

Revised Opening Times Monday to Saturday

Due to recent changes in staff availability and continued staff shortages we have decided to make some changes to the opening times of the Ferry Stores, which we hope will remain in place for the foreseeable future. These changes will enable us to maintain services, deal with weekly deliveries and allow the current staff adequate time off.

The Ferry Stores will close for two half days each week on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.

The Post Office will be closed all day Monday and for half days on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. We hope to commence staff training shortly that will allow us to re-open the Post Office on Mondays.

For full details of opening times please see the notices posted at the Ferry Stores.

If you are interested in working in the Ferry Stores then please speak to Helen in the Store as soon as possible.

Chris Ball

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Six Townships

A walk from the turn onto the Achosnich school house track just past Sonachan Hotel to the summit of Meall Sanna offered views of six of western Ardnamurchan's crofting townships. This picture shows the first, Achosnich, with, in the foreground, the school which once served the children of all six townships.

The old school house track running northeast passes through the narrow gap called Bealach Ruadh on its way to the second township, Achnaha. It was also through this gap that the schoolchildren walked who lived at the much more distant township of....

....Glendrian, almost on the far side of the bowl of land formed by the outcrop of the Ardnamurchan volcanic intrusion.

Achosnich, Achnaha and Glendrian have in common that they are very ancient settlements dating back in the written record to the early 17th century but probably far further back in history.

Portuairk, by comparison, is a relatively new invention, dating back to the mid-nineteenth century and the time of the clearances, when it was developed by families who had been removed from villages to the east. It seems to have been an overspill settlement....

....when Sanna filled up. Sanna differs in that it did have a single recorded building in 1806 before the clearances started.

This is the youngest settlement, Plocaig, built some time around 1850, also as a destination for families cleared from places like the Swordles.

While Achosnich, Achnaha, Portuairk and Sanna survived as crofting townships and, more and more today, holiday home resorts, Glendrian and Plocaig died and are today deserted except for the cause of the clearances: sheep.