Friday, 29 May 2015

Flag time again!

The flags are out again at our house, dancing in a stiff northerly wind.  Our son arrived home today after a year in Australia followed by a month wending his way back via Hawai'i, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Maryland.  I can't begin to tell you how happy we are to see him!

The temperature drop is something he's going to have to get used to.  I took the shot below when we arrived in the car park at Edinburgh airport.  Clouds like that anvil-headed beauty have been passing over all day.  On the way to the airport we drove through an onslaught not just of hail, but of chunks of ice.

Airport welcomes home always make me emotional.  We had lots of hugs today, and a few tears.  And on the subject of tears, I defy anyone to watch the T-Mobile 'welcome back' video and not shed a tear.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Skyline changes

It's not often that we have changes to the skyline right in the centre of Edinburgh, unlike Glasgow which seems to be in perpetual motion.  Overall it's a fairly low-rise city.   There are some tower blocks of social housing on the periphery, but the Unesco World Heritage status of the Old Town (which is fairly old, at 16th & 17th century), and the New Town (which is still quite old, being 18th century) keeps things in check.

It's surprising therefore to see cranes at work just off Princes Street.  I thought they made an interesting counterpoint to the Gothic spire of the Scott Monument.  A Victorian building and a 1960's building have been demolished on the corner of St Andrew Square, and a new glass boxy thing is going up.  I admit that I don't have a very good architectural eye, but I get a bit depressed by the standard stuff that is going up in our cities.  Am I being too retro, surrounded as I am by medieval/Georgian/Victorian character?  Can anyone help me to see the beauty in a glass box?


Saturday, 9 May 2015

Another walk, another loch

We returned to Edinburgh by the twisting inland route through Braemar and Glenshee, which gave us the chance to fit in another walk before returning to the city.  I will write more soon about my Edinburgh gloom, but for just now let's have another sunny day out in the hills.  The road south from Braemar passes the starting point of the walk to Loch Callater, another easy walk on the flat of about 7 miles.

The path is part of a track known as 'Jock's Road', which refers to a key episode in the history of Scottish land access when in the late nineteenth century the owner of the estate in this area tried to ban all access to the estate.  John Winter ('Jock') fought for the right to walk this route, which followed the track of an old cattle drove road used to drive cattle to markets in the south.  Legal action in the case went as far as the House of Lords.  The case led to the passing of the Scottish Rights of Way Act.  Recently in 2005 the Scottish Land Reform Act gave further rights to walkers. 

Some sections of the bank beside the burn were planted with native trees, in a similar conservation effort to the one we'd seen at Loch Muick.  It all looked very bare and contrived, and I'd love to return in a few years to see the trees looking more natural in the landscape.

At the approach to the loch is Callater Loch Lodge.  The building with the green shutters is used for shooting and deer-stalking parties from the estate.   To the right are the former stables, now used as a bothy for overnight shelter by walkers. We had a chat with an estate worker who was doing work on the interior of the lodge.  He was accompanied by a huge Rhodesian Ridgeback dog, who turned out to be a real softie.  I was glad all the same that we were introduced to him as friends.

It turned out that the man we were talking to had built the cairn standing on a hillock just beyond the lodge, in celebration of the Queen's diamond jubilee.  He told us all about how he'd built it, sourcing a stone from every farm on the estate.  After such a build-up we felt we had no option but to climb up and take a respectful look at it.

Here it is from the other side, all solemn and loyal in its lonely setting.

We had lunch beside the loch, listening to the wind and the cry of a curlew, and watching a diver out on the water.

Behind us, pools in the heather teemed with yet more frogs.  Here's one adopting 'classic frog sunbathing posture'.

You've maybe noticed that everything is still wintry-brown.  Spring comes late in the hills here.  There were some startling patches of colour however from mosses in the boggier sections near the burn.

The twisted black stems are burnt heather branches; the aftermath of the practice of muir-burn.

Back in the car and heading south, we passed Glenshee, one of Scotland's ski areas.

Just downhill from the ski area we came across large heather fires.  

Two days of walking in the spring sun left us with the classic Scottish walkers' suntan, which stops abruptly at mid neck and wrists. Still, I would rather have that than the lying on a beach sort.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Loch Muick spring visit

Our first visit to Loch Muick (pronounced 'mick') was in late summer of 2013.  Yes, mid-August in Scotland is late summer.  The heather was coming into bloom and the light was soft and hazy.  This year we spent a few days on Deeside just after Easter, and made a return visit on a day of hard, bright sun and a thin wind. 

There were still patches of snow on the hills, although none at the lower level of our walk.

The circuit of the loch is an easy 8 miles.  On the north side there's a broad track, which feels a bit like cheating, but was fine for me to get going again after being under par with the wretched pleurisy.  

We came across a fenced section, and stopped to read the lengthy notice.

Love the email address!

We saw no evidence of the browsing deer.  Apart from some birds of prey, our encounters with wildlife were of the miniature variety:  all along the side of the track on the uphill side were large pools of water full of frogspawn.  Pools below a certain size had no frogspawn - evidently the frog brain had calculated that they risked drying out too soon.

And every pool also had its sunbathing frog.  I couldn't decide if they were smug because of their large output of frogs-to-be (although the mortality rate must be huge), or smiling because they were basking in the sun after a very long winter. 

Overhead we kept seeing two planes flying in parallel, very high up.
They criss-crossed the sky from north to south and back again several times.  We put it down to a NATO exercise that we had heard about, but when I checked later I found that it wasn't due to start until the following week.  Rather spooky.

Here's a good solid holiday cottage - at least if you're Queen Victoria.  Called Glas-allt Shiel, it was her retreat from Balmoral Castle.

Towards the head of the loch there's a tantalizing route into the more remote Dubh Loch and its waterfalls.  We didn't have time to branch off, but we'll definitely explore further on a return visit.

Easter Island-like boulders litter the hillside.

A rare sighting of me on my blog, looking extremely happy to be outside and out of the city.  

What more perfect end to the day than a deep, candle-lit bath?

For my husband, who likes the stuff, some port.

And a comfortable four-poster bed with a view of red squirrels in the trees outside the window.

We stayed again at Glendavan House, which was just as lovely as before.  I think we're hooked - perhaps an autumn visit next time?

Friday, 17 April 2015


The University of St Andrews has a lively array of traditions, from Raisin Monday (can't possibly explain in a few words) to May Dip (students run in to the freezing North Sea at dawn on May Day).  Courtesy of a resident source,  here's another tradition - the Kate Kennedy procession. Students in the procession portray characters from the University's 600 year history, including Robert the Bruce, John Cleese, Mary Queen of Scots and Rudyard Kipling.  Kate Kennedy herself was apparently the niece of Bishop Kennedy, the founder of the University's St Salvator's College.  The character of Kate is played each year by a first year male student. 

It was the end of a long working week during which I had written goodness knows how many thousand words when I wrote this post, and my brain rather ran out of words at this point.  So this paragraph is an update to the original, to mention that the university's Kate Kennedy Club, which stages the procession, originally only accepted male members.  The club is a mixture of charitable good works and highly selective entry processes.  Prince William was a member when he was at St Andrews.  When the first female Principal of the university, Louise Richardson, arrived in 2009, she withdrew university support for the club because it excluded students on gender grounds.  By 2012 the club had abandoned its men-only policy.  The Principal has been involved in another gender issue: the university's Principal is traditionally made an honorary member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews.  However because she is a woman the Club refused to extend membership to Professor Richardson. Recently the Club voted to admit female members, but Professor Richardson was not among the first 15 women admitted. Small minds.  Gie them laldie, Louise! 

Back to the now calmer waters of the procession.  Horses are involved.


As are bishops.

I wish I could tell you who these characters are.  A rich mixture.

And of course when there are horses involved there is always the moment when someone doesn't look where they're stepping.

Monday, 6 April 2015

A proper walk

As promised, some photos from a 'proper' walk, involving a hill of a decent height.  They're from my daughter's recent trip to Skye with her university hillwalking club.  For once they had decent weather - they seem to have spent the autumn and winter walking inside a cloud - but on this occasion the clouds fled and she actually got sunburnt.  

The shot above is looking towards the bridge linking Skye to the mainland.  Before the bridge was built the crossing was made by small car ferries,  of the turntable sort that still make the crossing at the south end of the island.  We crossed on one of these on a summer visit to Skye a few years ago.

The shot below is looking towards the destination for the day's walking - the Storr and the Old Man of Storr.  The Old Man is the pinnacle you can see halfway down the slope to the right of the shot.  My daughter's group walked to it up along the ridge leading from the left of the shot.

And here's the Old Man from up top.

And one of those 'it was worth it' views.

A glimpse of sunrise, from the hostel the group stayed at.  The sun is rising over the mainland of Scotland. 

And to finish, some deer posing for photos.   

Unfortunately the group's latest walk again encountered clouds, made more challenging by the fact that it was the annual fancy dress walk.  Anyone who encountered bizarrely-clad walkers on a Scottish mountain recently - one of them was mine.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

A bit of a walk

And a bit of an absence from blogging.  I've been ill, annoyingly.  The very Victorian-sounding ailment of pleurisy.  Stupidly I've tried to keep working through it, which hasn't helped.  

This had an impact on a weekend away we'd planned.   The intention had been to climb 'a few Munros'.  This was our daughter's idea - she's a keen hillwalker and decided she would get her parents out of the city and out onto the hills.  For anyone who doesn't realise the significance of the Munros bit, the Munros are Scottish hills over 3000 feet.  The classification dates from 1891, when Sir Hugh Munro published his Munro tables.  There's now a popular of 'Munro bagging', as hillwalkers try to climb all 282 summits. 3000 feet may not sound very high by Alpine standards, but some of them are ferociously difficult, requiring compass navigation - no tracks - and knife-edge ridges.  

With my dodgy breathing a Munro was beyond me, so we settled for a bit of a walk up into the hills above Aberfeldy, in Perthshire (and managed 8.6 miles all the same).  The start of the walk was up through beechwoods, a walk made famous by Robert Burns' poem 'The Birks of Aberfeldy'.  And here's a statue of Burns, enjoying his birks in perpetuity.  He seems to be multi-tasking in the way of today's teenagers, holding a tablet or Kindle while also reading a book.  

We took a look at his paper reading material.  Anyone recognise it?

 We came across prehistoric-looking trees. 

And waterfalls, celebrated by Burns in his poem:

The braes ascend like lofty wa's,
The foaming stream deep-roaring fa's,
O'erhung wi' fragrant spreading shaws-
The birks of Aberfeldy.
The hoary cliffs are crown'd wi' flowers,
White o'er the linns the burnie pours,
And rising, weets wi' misty showers
The birks of Aberfeldy.  


And then it was up onto the open moor.

We saw a huge number of black grouse, which was encouraging given that they're in a category of a globally threatened species.  They don't exactly help themselves by being supremely bad at being unobtrusive, breaking cover at the slightest noise, and making their distinctive harsh call.  I didn't have enough zoom on my camera to get a good shot of this one, but you can hopefully see it perched on the wall, with its red comb standing out against the heather.

As so often now in Scotland, there was a wind farm on the horizon.  I'm very ambivalent about windfarms.  Clean energy is good, but the impact on the landscape is huge.

Even less scenic was this row of dead moles, strung on a fence in a sort of medieval visual deterrent.  I wasn't aware that Mr Mole was considered a pest, but having googled it I discover that if silage is cut in a field with mole hills it cases listeriosis in the livestock that eat it, which can kill them or make them abort.  This puzzles me about this upland thin grass, as it doesn't look too good for silage. 

And we had a spot of spring heather burning - this is done to keep the heather young and vigourous.  The practice is known as 'muirburn', and it's governed by legislation.  The  green shoots of the new heather growth are eaten by grouse, so the burning is part of a larger cycle.

And finally, an unusual sight now in Scotland - a thatched roof.  
This was very near the very lovely bed and breakfast we stayed in.  If you're looking for somewhere to stay in the Aberfeldy area, I'd recommend The Steading.

In my next post, I'll give you a glimpse of the view from a Munro.


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