Sunday, 15 January 2017

Fascadale in the Drizzle

On a day of persistent low cloud and blown drizzle, we drove to the north shore of the peninsula, to Achateny, the site of one of Ardnamurchan's clachans which was cleared in the mid-nineteenth century to make way for a sheep farm - the picture shows the farm buildings and the two houses, left, both of which are available to rent from Ardnamurchan Estate. There's a history of Achateny on the new Heritage Ardnamurchan site here.

It not being a day for the hills, we walked along the road which winds its way westwards from Achateny to Fascadale. For most of its distance it runs through birch woodland with, to the right.... extensive area of flat land between it and the sea cliffs, from where a small group of hinds watched us, and....

....the hills to the left, their summits lost in low cloud.

It's a pretty walk even in the rain, with the burns in spate - we've had 25mm of rain in the last twenty-four hours - and plenty to notice, like the witch's broom hanging in the trees.

Fascadale too used to be the site of a clachan and, after it was cleared, the site of a large salmon fishing operation. Today, the place is deserted except for three Estate letting houses - this one, emerging out of the mist, is Fascadale Cottage.

Beyond the cottage is Fascadale bay. We walked to a small headland near the cottage which has an unusually well-built cairn on it, from where one can....

....look into the bay. At the back of the beach is the ice house once used to keep the salmon fresh until they could be transported to market, beyond which are the other two Estate houses. This was as far as we had intended to walk so we were about to turn back when, looking down....

....we saw an otter below us with a large crab in its mouth.

The Ardnamurchan Estate website is here.

Saturday, 14 January 2017


I was phoned this morning by an eminent member of the Portuairk community to inform me that the sun had just risen at the centre of the universe for the first time this year. It was, he admitted, two days late, as it usually first rises there on the day of the old new year, 12th January, but the event had been delayed by low cloud and snow.

I feel that an apology is due as it had been my expressed opinion that the centre of the universe spent several months of its winter in utter darkness, unlike Ormsaigbeg which has the privilege of watching superb sunrises like this morning's on almost every day of the year.

A little later, the Newry fishing boat Havilah N200, as always in the company of the Stephanie M, came up the Sound through the low-angled light, passing the lighthouse at Rubha nan Gall.

We spent part of the morning sitting on the end of the small headland below the house in the hope of seeing otters, sea eagles and dolphins in the still waters of the bay but had to make do with....

....a friendly dunnock and....

....a very chatty house sparrow.

Spotting the unusual is very exciting but there are times when it's good to remind oneself that there is also great beauty in the very ordinary.

Friday, 13 January 2017

A Walk Through the Village

We walked through the village this morning in conditions which varied from snow through to hail and then sunshine, but were very relieved to find that Hughie's pigs were tucked up warmly in a particularly heavy snow shower.

Vehicles from the KN Group were parked by the Sanna turn, we think working on the broadband cables. The company - here - is working with BT on the roll-out of next generation broadband which, we hope, means that we might get our superfast broadband by the new target date, March, the project having slipped from its original date of September of last year.

We walked past the houses in Pier Road with bright sunshine picking out the colours in the landscape, on our way to.....

....the CalMac pier from where there was a fine view of Mingary Castle and Beinn na h-Urchrach behind it.

This picture, courtesy Dave Brown, comes from the other side of the peninsula, looking north from Portuairk towards the snow-covered hills of Rum, with low-lying Muck in the middle distance, Eigg to the right and, along the horizon beyond Eigg, the Cuillins on Skye.

Many thanks to Dave for the photo.

Lysblink Seaways Update

Usually, ships proceeding north up the Sound of Mull have a waypoint near the Red Rocks Buoy where they make a turn to port to exit the northern Sound of Mull. Mid-afternoon yesterday, we had a sudden reminder of the Lysblink Seaways when the Eastern Vanquish failed to make the turn and continued towards Maclean's Nose.

In fact she seems to have been seeking shelter for the night from what has been a fairly strong northerly, and she remains anchored under the lee of Ben Hiant this morning. She's a British general cargo ship, 2,281grt, launched in 2012 and en route to Eikefet in Norway, where she's due today. She's in ballast, so it may be that her master is waiting to round the north of Scotland, where conditions are poor, but it's unusual for a modern ship to waste time like this.

This picture shows the Lysblink Seaways as she was towed away to the breakers yard in February 2015. Many thanks to Iain McAllister - website here - for keeping us up-to-date with her continuing sad saga. At present she's being broken up in the Donny Bruce boatyard at Rosneath - picture here - but Iain also reports that last year a young man who shouldn't have been aboard fell into the hold and died from his injuries - report here.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

East of the Millburn

With a much reduced northwester bringing in heavy clouds threatening a day of snow and hail showers, I walked from the road down the east bank of the Millburn - happily without any diesel floating in it - and was thrilled to spot....

....the dipper which always seems to be working this stretch first thing in the morning. I watched it for some time as it dived under the water, then sat a little longer to follow the progress of two sea eagles along the coast, harried by the gulls, which seem to enjoy the fun of it.

We had hail and snow and temperatures as low as 1C overnight, so the hills are white and the roads slippery, but it was much easier walking around the back of Kilchoan Bay. This is an area of sand and shingle when exposed by low tides, a place for shellfish and wading birds, and a safe anchorage for those courageous souls who are still working the wilks at this miserable time of year.

The local flocks of sheep are fed sugar beet pellets throughout the winter, and Hughie was down with his animals. They spend their lives enjoying the grass and seaweed around the bay. Two of his ewes were missing, a blackface which seems to spurn the extra feed, and a prized cheviot cross. We searched the back of the bay for them, the blackface being found quite happily by itself but, sadly, the cheviot was lying dead in some marsh grass with no sign of the reason for its early demise.

As long as the two burns which drain directly into the bay, the Allt Darach and the Abhiann Glac na h-Eaglais, aren't carrying too much water, it's possible to work one's way all round the bay towards Glas Eilean. Kilchoan township's land ends against this 18th century stone wall, the land to the left belonging to Ardnamurchan Estate.

From the far side of the bay there's a panoramic view of the three townships in the village. This is a view of the four houses and three crofts of Orsmaigmore, with Beinn na h-Imeilte behind.

Then the clouds suddenly drew aside and bright sunshine lit the landscape. In the foreground is the small group of Kilchoan township croft houses near the Sanna turn, while....

....this view looks across to Meall mo Chridhe and the 12th century St Comghan's church.

Community Council

The Community Council has been working hard on our behalf and was able to announce two successes since its meeting on Monday evening. Firstly, CalMac Sunday sailings between Tobermory and Kilchoan will now continue for the full duration of the summer timetable, and secondly the speed limit is going to be reduced to 30mph throughout Kilchoan village. For the latter, an order needs to be changed officially, which is in process, so the new signs will not go up until the new financial year.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Northwesterly Storm

As  Kilchoan Early Bird's picture of Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse shows, a gale has been blowing out of the northwest for most of last night and today, a bitter wind which brings heavy hail showers. The power went off shortly after five this morning, came back on briefly around breakfast time, and then went off again until midday.

We noticed by-the-wind sailors on Sanna beach at the weekend but, as Kilchoan Early Bird found, this latest gale has brought more in, and some cuttlefish, but....

....the numbers of by-the-wind sailors runs into thousands. They may be no connection but on the news this morning people on Orkney were reporting hundreds of skate egg cases being washed up there.

Instead of enjoying the beach, we had to drive to Fort William for a flying visit this afternoon, travelling along the sheltered south coast and passing the two local creel boats in Port na Croisg where hardly a ripple troubled the loch's surface.

By the time we came back through Glenborrodale the sun was going down behind Drimnin, back-lighting one of the passing hail storms.

With the light fading and herds of hinds coming down from the high land to graze overnight in the sheltered lands around Camas nan Geall and the Basin, we had to drive cautiously. Deer always find themselves on the wrong side of the road with a passionate determination to cross in front of the car, which they do suddenly and at speed.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Calor Clean-Up

It rapidly became apparent after yesterday's accident in which a Calor tanker left the Sanna road and ended up on its side in the ditch that, while the gas remaining in the tank seemed safe enough, diesel was pouring out of a ruptured fuel tank. The diesel can be seen on the water surface at bottom right of Sue Cheadle's picture.

As Sharon MacLachlan's picture clearly shows, large amounts of diesel was soon visible some distance downstream, in the Millburn near the bridge by the fire station.

Although the Calor Gas office was informed of the accident the fire brigade was not called out. The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency was also informed but stated that, because the spill would not enter the local water supply, and it was rather late in the day, no-one would be despatched to carry out and inspection.

The greatest concern was that various farm animals, and two horses, graze fields which have access to the burn, and one drink of diesel-contaminated water can be fatal.

Fortunately, a local business has all the equipment to deal with an oil spill and the job was completed this morning. All that remains is for Calor to make an estimated £300-worth of repairs to the road and to mend Hughie's fence: well, we can't have his pigs running amok around Kilchoan.

Many thanks to Sue and Sharon for pictures.

First Snowdrops

They're not as impressive as the Raptor's first daffodil on 8th January but we have the first snowdrops in flower in our garden.

Sunday School Teachers Retire

From Gael Cameron:

Bridget Cameron and May Angus have been the Sunday School teachers in Kilchoan for over 25 years but retired just before Christmas. The children presented each of them with flowers, chocolates and a gift voucher.

Bridget and May would like to extend a big 'thank you' for their gifts.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Calor Gas Truck Misadventure

Many thanks to Richard Houston for these pictures of a Calor Gas tanker which left the Sanna road just past the waterworks track this afternoon.

Sue Cheadle reports that, "The driver was obviously shaken assured me he was not injured and was waiting on the recovery truck."

Richard added that a heavy recovery truck passed west through Glenborrodale about 15.40.

This is the second 'misadventure' involving a heavy truck. A fish farm lorry left the road last Thursday after getting lost out at the lighthouse - post here.

Ships in the Sound

The last 'Ships in the Sound' feature was a couple of months ago, the long interval a reflection of the season. The days are short, the number of ships passing is much fewer, particularly over the Christmas and new year period, and even when a ship does pass it's as often as not obscured by the weather. This ship, briefly glimpsed, is the Wilson Humber.

In October I mentioned the variety of bow types that are to be seen. The Crownbreeze, a ship we haven't seen before, has a bluff, rounded bow. She's a Dutch ship, part of a fleet of seven ships managed by a relatively young company, W&R Shipping.

The Arklow Cape has yet another variety of bow, somewhat reminiscent of the ram at the front of a Greek trireme. The ship, a bulk carrier, is almost new, having been launched in October and delivered to the Irish Arlow Shipping company in November. She passed us in late December. Of her bow, the Ship Technology website - here - says, "Her design integrates a bulbless bow design offering superior performance in various loading drafts and wave conditions."

There have been times when the only shipping moving in the Sound has been CalMac's ferries, and they have at times been severely affected by the weather. As well as the Isle of Arran, seen here passing the Forth Guardsman, the ferries passing us on the Oban to Coll, Tiree and Barra runs have included the Clansman, the Lord of the Isles, and the Isle of Lewis, the changes occurring because ferries at this time of year are being withdrawn for their annual service.

Working boats, such as those delivering feed to the numerous fish farms in the area, are a common sight. This is local firm Ferguson Shipping's Harvest Caroline II delivering fish feed from Mallaig to one of the farms in Loch Sunart.

We see fishing boats in the Sound whatever the weather. This is the prawn trawler Girl Alison, OB913, painted in a cheerful colour.

OB5, the Oban-registered creel boat Ceol na Mara, which means music of the sea, is a frequent visitor. She's seen here on an unusually fine day working in Kilchoan Bay.

In late November, the Campbeltown registered dredger Katie Claire CN4 seemed to attract the attention of....

....the Scottish Fisheries Protection ship Minna, which hove-to nearby. Launched in 2003 at Ferguson's Shipyard, Port Glasgow, she has a crew of 15, a top speed of 14 knots and is used mainly for inshore enforcement tasks.

Lastly, the only warship which visibly passed us was the Sandown class mine hunter HMS Grimsby, M108.