Thursday, 13 June 2013

Shetland 2012

We and the friends with which we have shared many great holidays started talking about
a holiday for 2012 sometime in the summer of 2011.

As we all have a liking for Scotland and between us had visited many areas and islands we decided on somewhere new and Shetland seemed an interesting place.

Fairly quickly we found a cottage to hire and then sorted out the ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick. We had never been on a ferry journey of 12 hours before so it was a bit of an adventure, even though we left on a grey Friday evening

The ferry journey was uneventful other than the ship being followed by fulmars. Perhaps it is easy for them to ride the air from around the ship.

Arriving at about 7am gives an extra day on the island and as we were not due to get to the cottage until 4pm we had plenty of time to explore.

From Lerwick we headed south towards Sumburgh Head. During the summer the cliffs are home to thousands of sea birds – guillemot, razorbills, puffins and many more.

The puffin burrows are at the top of the cliff so the birds are easy to see, often within a few feet of the road.

Sumburgh Head lighthouse is being developed as a visitor centre, due to be completed in Spring 2014.

The limited flat space on the island means Sumburgh Airport occupies all of the available land between two bays, including a small part of the A970 between Lerwick and Sumburgh

Close to the airport is the archaeological site of Jarlshof. The site appears to has been occupied from about 2,500BC to the 17th century and contains remains of Bronze Age, Iron Age wheelhouses, a broch, a Viking long house and a fortified manor house. Although the journey to Jarlshof from many parts of Shetland could be long, it is well worth the effort.


After leaving Jarlshof we made our way to the cottage at Hillswick. The cottage is an excellent converted barn in a wonderful location on the west side of Ura Firth.

The view from the cottage

The following photographs are of a few of the places we visited during our stay. They do not do justice to Shetland which has a huge variety of archaelogical sites, geology and wildlife.

 Gordi stack and the Drongs, from the walk around the Hillswick penisula.

 Gannets around the cliffs on Noss

Thrift growing above one of the geos at Eshaness

The volcanic surface around the Eshaness lighthouse, the last manned lighthouse designed by a member of the Stevenson family - David Stevenson

Hillswick penisula from Ronas Hill

The Shetland Bus memorial at Scalloway

Rainbow over Hillswick

Sunset over Fair Isle

Friday, 2 November 2012

Willow warblers luck

Spring and early summer in north west Scotland was notable for the excellent weather and, in one small area, a large number of willow warblers. There were times when almost the only bird song heard in the garden was from a willow warbler.

By mid June the garden was looking very overgrown and the good weather was a chance to get on with tidying up.

While strimming I almost stepped into a hole created by a fallen tree and for safety I used the dead tree on the left in this photo to mark the place.

Within a few minutes one of the many willow warblers was using this tree as a perch and it was good to be able to get clear views of the bird. After resting on the tree the bird almost always dropped down to the ground very close to the tree stump on the right.

I had a quick look around the area and found this nest with four young. Had I not almost stepped into the hole it is very likely that I would have strimmed the nest. They were so lucky. In future I will have a good look around first.

A few days later I'm pleased to say the four young fledged successfully.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Beinn Eighe Mountain Trail

In late April, May and early June 2012 north west Scotland had a lot fine and very warm weather so one day in May I decided I'd fill a gap in my short walks in the area. 

Sitting in the car park by Loch Maree after I had finished this walk I asked myself, “Why?”

Not, why did I bother but why had I not attempted this before now? It is one of the best short walks I have done.

The Beinn Eighe Visitor Centre and the car park by Loch Maree, where the walk starts, have been familiar sights on the way to Gairloch and the north west coast from many years but I had never tried the walk.

The guide booklet for the trail, apart from providing lots of information about the wildlife and scenery stresses that it is a mountain walk and advises on appropriate equipment and preparation.

The walk is only 6.5km and the height gained is a little over 500m, but all the ascent is in less than 2.5km.

The trail starts by passing under the A832 and climbing gently through the forest of Scots pine by a stream that will be seen again on the way down. Soon the track goes over a bridge. The forest is left behind and below as the path steepens quickly on to open hillside.

The middle section of the ascent is the steepest and most exposed but there is little danger as the track is wide.

                         Shadow on the trees from the steepest section of the path

The steepness does mean height is gained very quickly and the view back towards and across Loch Maree is spectacular. If you want you can check your progress by the cairns at 305m and 460m.

   Path above the 305m cairn looking towards the head of Loch Maree

   Loch Maree and Slioch

Fairly soon the highest point is reached and from the summit cairn the views are well worth the effort, particularly the northern side of Beinn Eighe. Close to the cairn there is a small stone construction that looks as if it could be used as a shelter at night.

   Beinn Eighe from the summit cairn

   Slioch from the summit

   Kinlochewe and Glen Docherty

The path turns north west towards Meall a' Ghiubhais and passes two lochs before going downhill just after the Lunar loch. Some parts of the descent are steep and at one point steps have been cut into the rock to help in bad weather.

   The return path

The gorge of the Allt na h-Airighe (the stream that was seen at the start of the walk) comes into view. All of the gorge cannot be seen but it is still impressive with a waterfall and many pine trees clinging to the vertical sides.

   The gorge

The trail descends away from the gorge to join the Woodland Trail and returns to the car park.

Although the guide book in not essential as the path is clear I think it is essential for the information on flora, fauna, geology – just the right amount and accurately linked to what you can see.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Northampton and Bedfordshire

Spent a few days staying in Northampton at the end of March. It may sound an unlikely place for a short break but the hotel was convenient for us and our friends and the all inclusive deal was good.

The excellent weather helped us to enjoy our days out but I think we were all surprised by the countryside.

We started off with a bicycle ride around Pitsford Water. Like a lot of other reservoirs it is suffering from the lack of rain but the cycle ride was good and easy – a more or less level surface all the way around

We did two walks in our couple of days stay. The first was around Castle Ashby. The castle is not open to the public but there is access to the gardens and plant house.

Castle Ashby

The Plant House

Harrold-Odell Country Park is just over the county border in Bedfordshire. It is an area of lakes, scrub and woodland and our walk included part of the park and Odell Great Wood.
The warm weather brought out a few early butterflies – peacock, brimstone and orange tip.

Two carvings in the country park

Until visiting here I had not seen an inland breeding colony of cormorants. They seemed to be doing well but also make a mess of the trees. It was also the first time I had seen a heron holding its wings in an odd way, though I have since read it is not uncommon.

My wife's closer view of the heron

We ended our few days away with a short walk in Salcey Forest. We found this twisted tree.

There are photos of it on the 'net but I can't find an explanation for its shape.

The forest also has a elevated walk to above tree top level and a pond with lots of toads.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Need to improve my wildlife skills

Within the last few weeks I had the chance of photographing birds on two occasions. Although I'm interested in birds I do not photograph them very much at all.

The first on here is the shore at the head of Loch Ewe. There are a two curlews in there but they are a little difficult to see and are too small in the frame.

With some cropping I managed to get the following. It is a slightly better view, but the quality is suffering

About a week later I was close to a lake in east London and saw this heron.

Again too far away to be any use and cropping had about the same effect as with the curlews.

Two good indications I need to improve my wildlife skills and get closer to the subject, though for the heron I would have got very wet!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Gairloch February/March 2012

Lucky enough to have been in the north west again for a couple of weeks.

Most of our visits start with a flight to Inverness. EasyJet comes in for a fair bit of criticism and there are no frills, but the flight is short and cheap. However, this time we travelled on the Caledonian Sleeper on a deal which was only slightly more expensive than a flight.

I'd suggest anyone travelling from the south has a look for the deals on the Sleeper. The cabins are small but the whole experience was very good.

Crossing the bridge over the river Findhorn a few miles south of Inverness.

The weather in north west Scotland in late winter can be very rough but also excellent and there were some really sunny days and good sunsets.

Big Sand village from the beach

Sunset over Longa Island

 Beinn Airgh Charr from Loch Tollaidh

 A rock formation at Mellon Udrigle across Gruinard Bay towards Beinn Ghobhlach

The wildlife was also good again; most of it was not rare but it was good to have lots of views of the regulars - curlews, oystercatchers, eiders, hooded crows, buzzards, siskins, coal tits, greenfinches, goldfinches, bullfinches. We were also lucky enough to see a white tailed eagle flying over the house.

The wildlife highlights were the visits from pine martens. Pine martens are fairly common in the area but we were visited every night of our stay. Most of the visits were caught on a trail camera and, while seeing a pine marten can never be guaranteed, with patience (and a regular supply of peanut butter and jam sandwiches) around here the chances of a view are high. The pine marten in this photo was not very concerned when I opened the back door or lay down about six feet away ....

... and the trail camera caught this one night.