Author Archives: David

About David

beekeeper, lumberjack, canoeist, fisherman, firestarter

B8007 – the road to everywhere

The B8007 is the sinuous single track road linking the villages of Salen and Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. This 19 mile, often tortuous, tarmac strip does a lot to protect the remoteness and largely unspoiled environment of the peninsula. Particularly at the eastern end, the combination of the encroaching oakwoods and numerous switchback corners discourages undue haste.

B8007 from Salen to Kilchoan

B8007 from Salen to Kilchoan

By day the scenery along the B8007 changes from the slightly claustrophobic mossy, verdant oakwoods clinging to the shore of Loch Sunart via windswept open moorland around Ben Hiant to panoramic, yacht-studded seascapes towards Mull or Eigg and Rum.

Or vice versa if you’re driving from west to east.

The straightest piece of road between Salen and Ardslingnish

The straightest piece of road between Salen and Ardslingnish

At night you drive down a narrow monochrome cone of light with the reflections from road-edge marker posts and passing places stretching off into the gloom. If you’re lucky you’ll see large stags down off the hill serenely melting away into the shadows as you pass.

If you’re unlucky you might hit one.

The A861 aperitif

Even before reaching Salen, visitors approaching from the Corran ferry will have already completed about 8 miles of single track A861 from Strontian. This starts almost immediately you get to the cattle grid at the eastern boundary of Strontian, and is a marked contrast to the long, fast straights of the two-lane A861 stretching across Ardgour.

These 8 miles generally have pretty good sightlines, ample passing places – more on these later – and are a reasonably gentle introduction to the main course. This is the loch-hugging stretch between Salen and Ardslingnish.

Salen to Ardslingnish

This part of the B8007 has some poor surfaces (though there’s worse to look forward to above Loch Mudle), the tightest bends, the narrowest corners and often non-existent sightlines.

Going east to west there’s trees, rocks and hills on your right and – in places – a low wall and water on you left. Here and there are gaps in the wall. Some of these are disconcertingly car-sized. The road stays close to the loch, sometimes at sea level and other times rising above it as it negotiates the contours.

After passing the Natural History centre at Glenmore the road rises to Ardslingnish and the views open out. There is a good place to park above Camas nan Gaell with great views across to Ben Hiant and Mull. This is a dependable place to spot eagles from, both golden and sea, either on the hill in front or the western ridges of Beinn Bhuidhe (“Behind you” as they say in panto).

B8007 and Beinn an Leathaid

B8007 and Beinn an Leathaid

After Ardslingnish the road remains single track, but it’s less tortuous and – with very few trees – you can see what’s coming and prepare accordingly.

Single track with passing places

As the title of this post states, the B8007 is the road to everywhere. It’s the only road.

Therefore the ~300 residents of Ardnamurchan, the estate workers, farmers, foresters and others lucky enough to live on the peninsula are, year round, the primary users. Then there are the delivery drivers, the builders, the telecoms engineers and dozens of others who are regular visitors. Finally, there is the influx of holidaymakers, the slow adventurers, the solitude-seekers and the sightseers.

Permit overtaking

Permit overtaking

At times the road can get quite busy. Fortunately the road has hundreds of passing places and it’s relatively rare for vehicles to have to reverse.

As long as you are travelling at an appropriate speed for the road – which might mean 15mph on a couple of corners – there’s usually time to see an approaching vehicle and for one or the other to pull in.

Etiquette and priorities

Which brings me to the thorny question of who has priority? Who should pull over?

Is it the vehicle closest to the passing place? Is it the car travelling less fast? Perhaps the visitor should let the local through unimpeded? Is it the gleaming Bentley or the mud-spattered Toyota Hilux?

Tricky.

Having driven the road many times it’s clear there is a hierarchy amongst the majority of the users.

For two vehicles travelling in opposite directions size appears to be the primary consideration. A car gives way to a lorry which gives way to a tractor and trailer.

However, there are some nuances to these interactions and it involves all sorts of near-instantaneous judgements being made. Locals tend to be driving faster and so often get priority even if they’re driving a Smart car (like the Sanna Spice deliveries).

Everyone – at least everyone with any sense – gives way to the mud-spattered Toyota Hilux travelling at 50mph as the driver simultaneously talks to his dog in the passenger seat, tunes the radio and phones ahead to say he’s late … 😉

Rear view mirror

Who has priority when two vehicles are travelling in the same direction?

Is it the visitor enjoying the scenery? The local returning from the Co-op in Mallaig? The Shiel bus on the way to the ferry?

By rights it’s the vehicle travelling fastest, irrespective of whether it’s a local or a visitor. This applies whatever the sizes of the vehicles.

This of course means that the mud-spattered Toyota Hilux, local driver plus dog takes priority over almost everything travelling in the same direction.

The only thing that trumps the Hilux is an ageing motorhome with three bikes obscuring the rear window, a canoe on the roof and a bumper sticker bearing the words Adventure before dementia.

Drivers of vehicles like these seem to spend their entire journey (understandably) gawping at the scenery, they never use their mirrors, have little spatial awareness and are seemingly totally deaf.

Don’t ask me how I know but my dog will back me up 😉


Notes

The road to nowhere

The road to nowhere

The title of this post is a bastardisation of “The Road to Nowhere”, a track on the 1985 Talking Heads album Little Creatures. David Byrne wrote the song and directed the video that accompanied its release.

The Road to Nowhere is also the name given to a number of incomplete highways in the US. These include Lakeview Drive on the north shore of Fontana Lake in North Carolina and the $25M Gravina Island Highway to the non-existent Gravina Island Bridge in Alaska.

Triffids

Ardnamurchan has an unwanted squatter, an evergreen cancer spreading inexorably along the shores of Loch Sunart and – triffid-like – extending its tentacles up the steep, narrow valleys leading up onto the hills.

The invasion is particularly bad around Glenborrodale, the northern bulge of Morvern and the Salen area across the loch, Resipole, Ardery and – further North – Kinlochmoidart and the area to the east of Castle Tioram.

Forestry Commission rhododendron control areas

Forestry Commission rhododendron control areas

I am, of course, talking about rhododendron. More specifically – as there are many varieties of rhododendron – I’m talking about Rhododendron ponticum.

Rhododendron invasion

Rhododendron is not a native plant to the UK, at least not since the last ice age. Its natural range includes Spain and Portugal, Bulgaria, Turkey and a large swathe of central Asia (Himalayas, Afghanistan, Northern Pakistan, India and Kashmir). Genetic evidence indicates that the plants in the UK originated from the Iberian peninsula. 

The specific name, ponticum, refers to the Pontus area south of the Black Sea where it was first identified by the botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort at the beginning of the 18th Century. It was introduced to Britain in 1763 via Gibraltar as an ornamental shrub and was popular in Victorian country estates.

Glenborrodale Castle

Glenborrodale Castle

How and where it first appeared on Ardnamurchan is unclear. It is well established in the Glenborrodale area, particularly around the castle, so it may have been introduced when Glenborrodale Castle was built and the grounds landscaped (1898-1902). Its spread east along the loch would have then been aided by prevailing westerly winds.

What does rhododendron do?

Rhododendron is highly invasive and spreads widely by seeds and suckering, thriving in the damp conditions of Ardnamurchan as well as other areas of western Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

It forms evergreen spreading bushes 2-8m high that quickly outcompete other flora by casting dense shade under the long, dark green, glossy leaves. In Spring it bears lilac, light or dark purple flowers that can appear very dramatic when it covers entire hillsides.

But don’t be seduced by this brief spectacle. Where rhododendron is out of control – as it is on Ardnamurchan – it has dramatic and damaging effects on habitat structure and native biodiversity.

This includes eliminating native plants that are unable to compete for light and the consequent loss of native animals.

The CABI Invasive Species Compendium states that “where R. ponticum is introduced in an area all plant species are threatened”.

One thing rhododendron does not do is ‘poison the soil’ as is often reported. There is no good evidence that rhododendron is allelopathic. James Merryweather has written a comprehensive article on why this piece of folklore probably became established.

Rhododendron has no natural predators. The leaves, flowers and nectar are toxic due to the presence of diterpines, known as grayanotoxins. Therefore the foliage is unpalatable to herbivores and insects. Honey produced from rhododendron flowers contains grayanotoxins and is known as ‘mad honey’. I’ve recently written about mad honey, the mechanism of toxicity and the symptoms in humans on my beekeeping website, The Apiarist.

Rhododendron control

We’ve got a lot of well-established rhododendron on our land. The evergreen leaves provide a sort of semi-attractive, year-round verdant appearance to the site. However, I can’t ignore the damage they’re doing to the flora and fauna.

One day all this will be under rhododendron

One day all this will be under rhododendron

The bushes above are not yet encroaching on the view of Loch Sunart. However, they’re ‘only’ about 3-4m tall at the moment. They will get bigger.

They have to go.

I’m going to write separately on how to control rhododendron once I’ve worked out a reliable way that works best for me. Essentially methods are either manual or chemical, or the double-whammy of both.

Manual methods include mechanical flailing with a modified tractor, so-called ‘Lever and Mulch’ or simply cutting them down with a machete or chainsaw. Chemical methods usually involve glyphosate or similar weedkillers.

The disadvantage of manual methods is that the roots will reshoot unless they are killed or removed. The disadvantage of many chemical methods is that it involves widespread use of rather indiscriminate weedkillers. The local flora is struggling already … I don’t want to make it worse.

I currently favour the ‘drill and drop’ combination of tightly focused topical application of glyphosate, followed by the tightly focused application of my Trusty Husky chainsaw 😉

Or, of course, ‘drop and drill’ which is exactly the same in reverse.

The Day of the Triffids

Triffids are a fictitious tall, mobile, prolific and highly venomous plant species from John Wyndham’s 1951 novel The Day of the Triffids. Of course, rhododendron are not triffids …

The Day of the Triffids movie poster

The Day of the Triffids movie poster

… or are they.

Rhododendron are tall, they’re mobile 1, they’re highly prolific 2 and – although they’re not venomous – they are toxic.

So perhaps the name is appropriate.

I’ve already described how they damage local flora and fauna, but are they a threat to humans?

Well, probably not, though there are several recent cases where tourists or hill walkers have become trapped in dense rhododendron ‘forest’ in the Republic of Ireland.

I’m off to do battle with this lot … if you hear shouting call the emergency services 😉

Rhododendron jungle

Rhododendron jungle


Notes

A brief but thorough account of the damage that rhododendron do to the environment can be found here.

The Day of the Triffids is the 1951 post-apocalyptic science-fiction novel by John Wyndham, a pseudonym of John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris (1903-1969). The novel was made into a film of the same name in 1962. The story is well known, involving a blinding meteor shower, the eponymous carnivorous plants, survivalist groups, the Isle of White and – of interest to a beekeeper – the disablement of an armoured car by pouring honey into the fuel tank.

Pine marten

The first post on a new website is always a tricky one. After all, almost no-one will ever read it. Traffic (visitors) accumulate as the site gets indexed by search engines and as the volume of posts increases.

No one knows about The Sunart Diaries, so no one will visit. Yet.

Therefore, rather than write something rambling, thoughtful or thought provoking, I’ll simply post this 10 second video.

One of the reasons to visit Ardnamurchan is the wildlife. The geography and the remoteness means that there’s a lot of it. In the loch, in the woods, on the hill and overhead.

Like Africa, Scotland has a ‘big five’ list of animals, originally promoted in 2013 by Visit Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage. The term ‘big five’ is derived from the original African ‘big five game’ which were the most difficult or prestigious game for hunters to bag – the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and Cape buffalo.

Scotland’s ‘big five’ were the golden eagle, red deer, red squirrel, otter and harbour seal. Of these, only red deer are hunted 1. I say ‘were’ as the list was prepared in 2013 to boost the tourist trade. Presumably the list was chosen as being challenging and achievable.

Ardnamurchan’s big five

But the ‘challenging and achievable’ all depends where you are in Scotland.

In Ardnamurchan, four of the five – red deer, golden eagle, common (harbour) seal and otter – are hardly challenging at all and can often be seen on a daily basis. Red squirrel are also present, though the impression I get is that they are rather patchily distributed.

I don’t know what I’d choose instead for Ardnamurchan’s big five. This is a topic previously discussed – again with no conclusion – on the now defunct, but still viewable and recommended, Kilchoan Diary.

Pine marten

However, I’d definitely have pine marten on the ‘big five’ list. They’re not uncommon, but they are reasonably elusive. You sometime see them lolloping 2 across the road, or disappearing into the undergrowth, and there are some people who regularly feed them (digestives with jam is good).

The pine marten above was captured on a trail cam behind the house in early October. We knew they were around as they leave droppings (more correctly termed spraints) in conspicuous locations around the garden.

The pine marten (Martes martes) is a member of the Mustelidae 3 together with stoats, weasels, otters and badgers in the UK … all of which can be seen on Ardnamurchan.

Polly Pullar has written about Ardnamurchan pine martens in her book, A Richness of Martens.