Ardnamurchan

Loch Sunart from The Seashell
Click to enlarge
© 2018 The Boon Companion

May’s always a good time to visit the west coast of Scotland. This time, we had a pleasantly sunny stay on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, north of Mull. The main road in Ardnamurchan is the B8007, a classification that pretty much says it all—it’s a winding single-track with passing places, which sticks largely to the shore of Loch Sunart to the south. Occasional unclassified ribbons of pot-holed tarmac branch off to serve communities on the north side of the peninsula. (The TripAdvisor posters who describe the North Coast 500 route as “demanding driving” would have a nervous breakdown if confronted by a few miles of “Ardnamurchan unclassified”.)

Rum and Eigg from Ardnamurchan
Click to enlarge
Looking north towards Rum and Eigg, © 2018 The Boon Companion

Ardnamurchan is supposedly good pine marten country, and the Boon Companion came equipped with pine marten bait—strawberry jam and raisins. She smeared this confection on one of the stones outside our cottage, and I set up a motion-detector camera trap to photograph whatever came by. No pine martens eventuated, but something came and ate the bait during the night, after I’d taken in the camera. There then ensued a three-way tussle between me, the camera software, and the phantom jam-eater. I’ll show you the final result (obtained on our last night) at the end of this piece.

Ardnamurchan is also good Sea Eagle territory, and we had a little more success with those than with the pine martens. The first sighting was at Castle Tioram, on Loch Moidart.

Tioram Castle, Ardnamurchan
Click to enlarge
© 2018 The Boon Companion

While others admired the castle, I noticed something that looked like an improbably airborne barn door circling overhead. The silhouette alone was convincing, but a quick look with the binoculars confirmed the white tail. Later, we spotted another during a boat trip near Mull, and the Boon Companion managed to capture a telephoto view after it had landed.

Sea Eagle, Mull
Click to enlarge
© 2018 The Boon Companion

We also finally managed to make it to the Ardnamurchan lighthouse, which we’ve sailed past on several occasions, but never visited. It’s quite a striking granite object, supposedly built “in the Egyptian style”—certainly a change from the usual bland, white-painted column.

Ardnamurchan lighthouse
Click to enlarge
© 2018 The Boon Companion

One day, we joined a small tour boat at Kilchoan, which took us around the west coast of Mull, to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles.

Staffa is famous for its basalt columns and Fingal’s Cave, the strange acoustics of which supposedly inspired Felix Mendelssohn’s Hebrides overture.

South end of Staffa
Click to enlarge
© 2018 The Boon Companion

The Boon Companion and I have distinct memories of landing on Staffa by clambering over the side of a small boat, stepping directly on to the basalt—so we were publicly disappointed (and secretly pleased) to discover that Staffa now boasts its own jetty.

Staffa jetty
Click to enlarge
© 2018 The Boon Companion

The grassy plateau of Staffa was positively teeming with visitors who’d made the journey over from Fionnphort on Mull, so we were glad to find a bit of peace and quiet at our next landing place—the island of Lunga in the Treshnish Isles. No jetty there—our boat attached itself to a floating pontoon, which it then rammed firmly up the sloping rocky beach so that everyone could disembark.

The Boon Companion immediately settled down to photograph Lunga’s 3000 puffins, which were strolling around on the cliff edge, bill-tapping and excavating their burrows, apparently completely oblivious to their human visitors:

Puffins
Click to enlarge
© 2018 The Boon Companion

Puffins make a marvellous little self-satisfied musical croak once they’re safely settled into their burrows, and we found ourselves surrounded by these pleasant murmurings. Here’s a sample from xeno-canto. (The call is heard a few seconds from the start of the recording below. There’s no point in listening after that, because it isn’t repeated.)

After a while, I trotted off to stretch my legs by climbing to Lunga’s 103m highest point, Cruachan, which (despite its humble height) gives spectacular views along the length of the Treshnish archipelago. This view looks southwest towards Bac Mor, which is more commonly known as the Dutchman’s Cap, for reasons that will be evident if you enlarge the image:

Bac Mor from Lunga, the Treshnish Isles
Click to enlarge
© 2018 The Oikofuge

Finally, the pesky jam-eater. On my first nocturnal attempt to photograph it, using an infra-red flash, I got nothing. On the second attempt, the flash also lit up a wall immediately behind the bait, and all I got was a completely overexposed white image. On the third (and final) night, I managed to get a bright silhouette against a darker background. One more night and I could have got the flash geometry a little better, and offered you a properly exposed image. But it’s still easy enough to see what’s going on:

Badger caught by camera trap
Click to enlarge

And a couple of hours later (after the badger had moved the camera), the clean-up squad arrived:

Mouse caught by camera trap
Click to enlarge

4 thoughts on “Ardnamurchan”

  1. Sounds a lovely little trip. I’d have enjoyed being along. I always enlarge the Boon Companion’s photos to get the details. I didn’t guess that the mysterious jam and raisin eater was Brock the Badger, though it had to be a nocturnal mammal.
    Thanks for the super card. 3/4 century isn’t old if one doesn’t feel old , eh ?

    1. Yes, the Boon Companion’s images are always worth enlarging.
      In contrast to mine – I see I managed to get a finger-tip into the bottom left of frame of my Lunga photo. I’ve never really managed to master using a phone camera, and I hadn’t thought to bring along the little compact camera I use for my hill-walking.

  2. Another nice article. I especially liked the photo “Looking north towards Rum and Eigg” – with the contrast between land, sea & sky. You looked to have had some lovely weather for you trip – though I did notice that people are still well rugged up,

    On another forum that I am a member of, travel related, a couple of the other contributors were in Scotland in mid -April and while they had some nice weather there was also a lot of not so nice days. I guess local knowledge does help to choose the right time of year.

    1. Yes, the Rum and Eigg view is nice, isn’t it? (I get to say that because I didn’t take the photo.)
      Local knowledge says that May is the best time to visit the west coast of Scotland – we often get good weather, it’s before the full-on tourist season, and the midges haven’t hatched yet (usually).
      But you can get three or four changes of weather on any given day – guarantees are not issued when you live in a Temperate Maritime climate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.