Thursday, 31 May 2012

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse
  We took time off the island to visit the lighthouse at the tip of the Ardnamurchan peninsular with some friends on a visit to the Hebrides from their home in Sweden. After the very hot weather of the past week it was almost a pleasure for the day to be overcast but warm as we set out. We had two choices of route. Either across the Sound of Mull on the short ferry trip to Lochaline, and then a single-track road across Morven skirting Loch Sunart and driving along the length of the peninsular, a trip of about sixty miles but a very scenic one. Alternately we could drive to Tobermory catch the Calmac Ferry to Kilchoan and make the short drive of ten miles out to the lighthouse. Although it is expensive to take the land rover on the Kilchoan ferry it seemed an easier option than the drive round with the bonus that the ferry would pass close to another lighthouse, Rubha nan Gall just north of Tobermory.
The now redundant fog signal trumpet
On board the ferry one of the crew members said on the previous trip they had stopped the ferry to let a school of dolphins swim clear, but no such luck for us! We think all the wild life on Mull are playing hide and seek with us though last week we did see an otter swimming past our local beach!

Alan Stevenson built the lighthouse between 1845 and 1849. It stands on flat rock about twenty metres above the sea on an otherwise mountainous peninsular at the most westerly point of mainland Britain. The granite that the thirty-six metre high tower was built from came by boat from the southern end of Mull and was landed on a temporary pier. The large lens, one of the first hyperadial ones, is now in the visitor centre as it was replaced in recent years by sealed beam units. The keepers were also replaced by automated equipment and the careful husbandry of the keepers and their families notable by its absence as the lighthouse now has a neglected appearance that belies its efficient service to passing mariners in a area noted for bad weather and fast flowing tidal streams. A wildlife watcher with his large ‘scope reported plenty of birds to be seen but not a single porpoise, dolphin or whale in sight. Maybe better luck on the way home!!

The only ferry passengers!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Sula Beag
Rubha nan Gall Lighthouse
 One of our Christmas presents was a voucher for a wildlife cruise! No, not on a fancy cruise ship to an exotic place but a trip nearer to our home and hearts. We joined the MV Sula Beag, a well appointed passenger launch for a four hour trip from Tobermory round the north coast of our island. We were hoping to see bottle nosed dolphins, minke whales, porpoises, maybe a basking shark, seals, otters and seabirds.
Plankton  trawl results
The cetaceans were, however, taking the day off so no sightings of them. We saw many species of seabirds, stunning scenery, Glengorm castle from seaward and a number of lighthouses. Rubha nan Gall just shortly after sailing is a conventional tower lighthouse dating from 1857, whilst its neighbour just along the coast is, by contrast, a modern “tin” box erected by the Northern Lighthouse Board in 2003. Ardnamurchan light which we saw to the north of us sits on the most westerly point of the British mainland and will be the subject of a future blog. The light was just right for photography with plenty of subjects waiting to be recorded. The weather was clear enough to see the neighbouring island of Coll and even the smoky outline of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. The ever-changing light on the Cuillins of Skye to the northward gave them alternately a dark sombre look and a joyous green as the sun broke through the clouds over them.
Lunch was a picnic on deck in the sunshine whilst the launch was slowly drifting in the entrance to Loch A’ Chumhainn off the hamlet of Croig. Here we looked for otters but none spied though we did see some seals on the rocks. Croig was the landing place years ago for the cattle from the outer isles that were being taken for sale as far away as Smithfield market in London. After being landed they were driven across Mull to Grasspoint, taken by boat to Oban and then walked the five hundred miles or so to the south if buyers could not be found nearer home.

Friday, 11 May 2012


“O where and O where does your highland laddie dwell;

He dwells in merry Scotland where the blue bells sweetly smell,”

In spite of the cold wind; the sunshine and showers over the last few days have turned the view from our kitchen window from a mass of green into a mass of azure blue. Yes, the bluebells in the traditional air, have at last shown themselves in abundance, in fact they are popping up in all sorts of places. Until this time last year when the builders were “landscaping” the grounds of our new house it was untouched grassland that had many years ago been the glebeland of the church manse. Top soil on the island is an interesting mixture, we are on volcanic raised beach which means stones and pebbles loosely held together with a fertile brown soil.
The builders had graded, added imported pebbles, oops I meant to write top soil, and generally stirrred the “soil” with a large JCB digger. Notwithstanding all this treatment the bluebell bulbs somehow survived and are now flowering successfully in unplanned places. The view from the window that I wrote about at the start of the blog, however, is a sort of planned area in that it is under trees where machines could not go, so an old and natural area loved not only by us but by a wide range of nesting birds, the odd rabbit or two but I hasten to add no highland laddie, yet!

Sunday, 6 May 2012


Before the midge season starts in earnest it is pleasant sitting on the patio in the early evening sunshine enjoying the garden after a day landscaping and planting out. And what better than to sup a glass of wine, or a thirst quenching glass or two of homemade lemonade whilst doing so. The lemonade recipe that I follow was first used in the Crimea War. The French chef Alexis Soyer who lived and worked in London formulated it. He was chef to “high society” and used his influence in high places to improve the standards of Army cooking, even inventing a very efficient cooking stove, so good that it was in use in the British Army until the 1930s.

I digress, however, so back to making lemonade!

Take two good sized lemons, cut in half, and over a jug containing two level tablespoons of sugar, turn them “inside out” to release the juice and the fruit pulp. Scrape the lemon skins to add the zest. Take two limes, cut them in half, but before turning them “inside out”, cut two slices from the middle and drop them in the lemon juice. Add a cup full of boiling water, stirring vigorously as you do so. When all the sugar has dissolved top up with cold water, place in the fridge and serve chilled. It will keep fresh as long as refrigerated but as it tends to be popular with visitors I tend to have to make it fresh most days. Home made lemonade is not only tasty, full of vitamin C, it contains no preservatives, colorants or other chemicals beloved of the soft drink makers. A bonus is the use of spring or sparkling water!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Waterfalls, Sheep and a Bull

 On a beautiful sunny day we played at being tourists on our own island and packed a picnic. Our destination was Torloisk on the north west coast along our favourite road on the northern shores of the lochs Na Keal and Tuath.
The first stop was to explore the Eas Fors waterfalls. The burn that generates the waterfalls drops down the mountainside with some force. Rock strewn cataracts break the flow at two levels, one above the road bridge and one below. The final spectacular drop in over the cliff edge to the beach about a hundred feet below! It is a frustrating falls to photograph, as there is no access to the beach for an upward looking shot. Then we decided to stretch our legs and walked along the road to Kilbrennan watched by inquisitive ewes with their new lambs, and a number of deer happily grazing in the sunlit fields.

For our picnic we decided to drive on a short way, leave the Land Rover in an old quarry and walk to a secluded beach known at Traigh na Cille. This was a good idea, as on the way we found strawberry plants for sale at a roadside stand complete with honesty box. So we put our money in the box and the plants in the Land Rover.

Our plan to walk to the beach was changed by a large black highland bull guarding the track to the beach! Now we both know that Highland bulls are not normally aggressive but discretion was deemed to be better than valour, so we retreated carefully and found a sunlit wooded glade at the start of the track for our picnic.
As we finished our food there was a rustling sound just above us. Lo and behold one inquisitive black bull, he had decided that if we did not want to see him
he would come to us!