Tales from the Trail: Ardnamurchan Lighthouse
Join us for our weekly blog as we share experiences from sites along the Hebridean Whale Trail - this week Tierney and Milo share some of what has made them fall in love with Ardnamurchan during the month they has been volunteering with us so far.
A month in and we have experienced so much. We tend to explore the Whale Track app to see what others have spotted in the area and bet on what we will see next! The previous fortnight has given us a bit of every kind of weather, more wet than dry but also warmer than previously.
This week falls in the middle of the Sea Watch Foundation’s National Whale and Dolphin Watch (27th July – 4th August) - a week to plan watches with friends and family all along the coast. HWDT share all the data from Whale Track with Sea Watch, and we carry out daily dedicated Sea Watches here at the lighthouse. If you are spotting marine mammals outside the Hebrides, you can still contribute to citizen science, input your data and carry out a watch with the Sea Watch Foundation.
The start of this week gave us luck, the weather improved for a flat, clam sea and just enough wind to keep the midges away! Visibility stretched over 10 kilometres and if there were any individuals out there we would see them from our post. The first day of National Whale and Dolphin Watch gave us harbour porpoise. The third day we were in sighting heaven: porpoise groups were sighted throughout the day from every angle. We watched as they travelled, played and fed. Then to add to our day, minke! Three sightings of minke whales ear Muck and Coll. We were pretty busy with visitors and in all the excitement I lost track of tourist numbers. However, when I got over my excitement we helped people view our cetaceans through our binoculars and scope. There wasn’t enough to go round but we made sure each and every person got a glimpse! Some had never seen whales before so there was a lot of excitement at the fog horn. People on a tour of the lighthouse shouted about seeing something in the distance, more porpoise! A pretty good day.
This week I’d like to venture on a tangent and focus more on Ardnamurchan. Coastal communities are vital to assist in collecting robust data of our marine systems as they are based in their area 365 days a year. This area has been used by people for over 6,000 years and its history is fascinating from the Mesolithic, to Irish saints and Vikings! There is a strong sense of community here and I believe it all ties in together, the past with the present. The first week I arrived there was a Gaelic pronunciation class held in the University of the Highlands and Islands centre teaching people the meaning of the names in Ardnamurchan. This was the first time I really paid attention to place names and realised there is a mash up between the languages of the people who have lived here. Some with Gaelic origin, Norse, Pictish and a mix between them and English! No wonder visitors and locals alike struggle with the original pronunciations.
For hundreds of years whales have been important for people in the Hebrides. Old Gaelic songs point to their significance in locals’ cultures. Marine species were also used to describe places, such as Ardnamurchan: ‘àird nam murchan’, meaning “promontory of the seals”. You can see a strong tie between the sea and the people who live here. Gaelic is very descriptive and I’ve loved learning a bit more about the meanings behind words. Cetacean species in Gaelic are so fitting; Harbour porpoise being the smallest cetacean in our waters is named, ‘Peileag’ meaning “small and lively” or alternatively “little puffing one”. The Gaelic term for whale is ‘Muc-mhara’ meaning, “sea-pig” and one of my favourites is the translation of killer whale (Orca), ‘Madadh-cuain’ meaning “Ocean Wolf”.
Returning back to present day, there is still this close connection to the sea. This week ran the annual Kilchoan regatta where people raced in various vessels: sailing dinghies, rowing boats, kayaks and home-made rafts. All the islands are connected by the sea so sea crossing has always been a major aid in socialising and trade. There was a great turn out to the regatta and a fun atmosphere. I feel there are events every week here in the small village of Kilchoan. A weekly market is run in the community centre every Wednesday, ceilidhs and football matches are organised with surroundings teams. If you are in the area, make sure to check what’s on and get stuck in with this great community!
Tierney & Milo
Effort (total hours watching) - 138 hours
Number of sighting - 40
Number of dogs petted on duty - 107