Winter walk on the Wirral

2018 Boxing Day Wirral Walk with Matthew and Rachel (6)
The Marine Lake at West Kirby

West Kirby’s Marine Lake is a large artificial coastal lake, surrounded by water on three sides and large enough for various sailing events.  Walking around the lake is a wonderful way to get that out-at-sea feeling without a boat and from land the walkers following the wall look like they are walking on water; it always makes me smile!

On a fine wintry day we set off from Hoylake on the end of the Wirral Peninsular.  When the tide is out, look out towards the Irish Sea here and you are faced with a vast beach.  At low tide a popular excursion is to walk out to the rocky Hilbre Island.  The shore is lined with big houses, each one with a telescope in a picture window for bird watching.  You might see dunlin, knot, bar-tailed godwit, red shank, grey plover or tiny sanderlings along this shore.  On the day we visited the waves were breaking a long way from the shore and the birds were hard to make out, we may have seen knot or dunlin, it was difficult to be sure.  More easy to recognise were the egrets and herons.

Walking around to the Dee Estuary we joined other walkers on the coastal path to West Kirby and its marvellous Marine Lake.  After lunch in one of West Kirby’s many cafes we headed up to the impressive hilltop war memorial.  This powerful monument was built in 1922 and is superbly crafted, with an obelisk and life-size bronze figures, ‘Humanity’ and ‘Soldier on Defence.’  West Kirby’s memorial is a poignant and dramatically set monument that is a fitting tribute to those who died in the First and Second World Wars.  The views from the memorial are panoramic, taking in the north Wales coast and across to Liverpool with the Irish Sea at your feet.  I think this must be a perfect spot to watch the sunset.

We found a path down from the memorial that eventually took us to the cycle route by the railway line and we followed this back to Hoylake.  We walked between six and seven miles; your own distance will depend how much you wander over the sands.  This isn’t a long hike but it is a perfect winter day out, fitting in well to the short days, with plenty of interesting things to see and loads of variety in changing weather and tides.

 

 

A Winter ‘s tale from a campervan

2012 Nov Norfolk and Lincs trip Seals Donna Nook (135)

In our first campervan we only had one winter camping trip.  It was a memorable February weekend of below freezing temperatures that found us shivering under the duvet after the leisure battery lost power and our diesel heater no longer worked.  Moving on to our Devon Sundowner [for some reason] we were keen to try winter camping again and I persuaded my hardy partner to go along with a late November trip that would perhaps quieten the ghost of that cold February weekend.

We chose to go to the coast of North Norfolk and Lincolnshire and the Fens, thinking the south-east of Britain might be warmer and drier; we’d never visited that part of the country before, as our natural compass takes us north from Manchester and we were keen to visit some of the many RSPB and Wildlife Trust reserves in that area to see the migrating geese and other wildfowl.

In the Sundowner our on-board facilities were limited to a toilet, a kitchen sink and a kettle.  I found that campsites open during the winter that hinted at the promise of warm showering facilities were few and far between in the area we were exploring; so although we like to be free spirits, we decided to research, plan and book campsites for each night of the trip.

Friends raised eyebrows when we told them we were taking the ‘van camping at the end of November and their incomprehension only increased when the five-day weather forecast was predicting storms and heavy rain for the weekend we were away.  These storms did arrive and hit Cornwall very hard and we were relieved we had chosen the east side of the country for our holiday, where it was breezy, but no one had to leave their homes because of rising flood water.

Arriving on a campsite in the dark left me in a slightly disconcerted state, I like to orientate myself, check where the sun will come up and what the ground is like and after the first night we vowed to try and arrive before dark in future, although in late November this means arriving by 16.00.  However, my perturbed state didn’t stop us making the 10-minute walk through the village to the cosy Burnham Green pub.

The next morning we woke to faultless blue skies and were immediately sold on winter camping for all time, no matter that the shower cubicles were so cold, only the most hardy would consider baring all in there [apparently there have been renovations since our visit].  I reasoned that we were so wrapped up against the chilly air, no one would ever notice we were grubby and we were just keen to get out on to this bright November coastline.

Titchwell Marsh RSPB reserve is an excellent spot, providing the opportunity to stretch the legs alongside fresh water and salt marshes to the vast stretch of beach.  I am not a natural bird watcher but I like to know the RSPB and other charities are out there managing habitats for birds and I enjoy what I see.  Oystercatchers are my favourite, as they are easy to spot and always so lively and vigorous and I also enjoyed watching the red shanks feeding in the mud, easily spotted with their red legs and the more ponderous godwits and then spotting the different ducks, including Teal and Widgeon.  If you are lucky and patient here you will see a drift of Snow Buntings on the beach, but it was too wintry to stay still for too long.  The reserve staff also feed the birds in the woodland near the visitors centre and I got just as much pleasure watching the garden birds coming and going at the bird tables while we warmed up with a mug of hot chocolate; this reserve certainly has something for everyone in the winter months.

After lunch we drove the few miles along the North Norfolk coast to Wells-Next-The-Sea to walk along the sands, comparing the size of the beach huts that are lined along the beach to the dimensions of our Blue Bus and wondered why no one was using them on this glorious November afternoon.

We succeeded in reaching the camp site on the edges of Swaffham before dark and were pleased to find much warmer facilities where we were prepared to shower and scrub off the accumulated grime of the last couple of days.

Although this trip was focusing on wild life, the next day we made a short pilgrimage to the Burston Strike School.  Whatever your politics, I dare anyone not to find this small building inspirational.  It is the site of the longest strike in British history, starting on 1 April 1914, when two popular and devoted teachers at the village school, Kitty and Tom Higdon, were dismissed by the school committee for lighting a fire to warm the children and dry their wet clothes.  Of the 72 children, 66 marched around the village to protest about their dismissal and refused to attend the school, instead they continued their education with Kitty and Tom in temporary accommodation, supported by trade unions from across the country.  In 1917 sufficient funds were secured to build a new school building and bricks in the walls are carved with the names of the trade unions that had provided financial support; a small museum is now housed in this building.  The Burston strike school continued to be the place of education for the village children until 1939.

Redgrave and Lopham Fen is the largest river valley fen remaining in England, with pools, reeds, scrub and woodland it will be a buzzing and lively place in summer, with butterflies, insects and flowers.  In winter it is sultry and peaceful; the reserve is well laid out with five different marked trails to follow.  We watched a tree creeper flitting up and down a tree trunk and a flock of gold finches and enjoyed the sense of space and stillness this strange landscape offered.

We chose to stop in Thetford Forest to have our lunch, an impressive area of mixed woodland and heath, criss-crossed by roads.  High Lodge is the main visitor centre for the forest, with a cafe, shop, toilets, access to numerous footpaths and cycle tracks, all with a large car park and even in winter it was lively with cyclists and walkers.

We arrived at the small camp site at Littleport in rain that didn’t stop until the next morning; we were catching the tail end of the storm that had hit the West Country and we hunkered down in the van with a bottle of red and never made it to the nearby pub by the Great Ouse.  The site owners let us pitch on the track, as there was no hard standing available, which saved churning up their grass or worse the embarrassment of needing a tow to get out.  Our neighbours, two stalwart fishermen, slept in a tent and were disturbed all night by the wind and rain, we had sleeping bags and duvets and slept soundly until daylight.

The sunshine returned after the storm, although the strong wind stayed with us a little longer and we were feeling blessed for having such good weather for our winter venture.  We now pointed the Blue Bus north towards Lincolnshire, into a fascinating landscape of vast flat fields of vegetables, driving over drainage ditches and through an environment where the sky dominates, rather than the land.

Frampton Marsh is accessible down narrow lanes that take you to the RSPB coastal wetland reserve on the edge of The Wash; once at the modern visitors centre there is a good size car park.  Frampton Marsh has enough brent geese to satisfy anyone and I also saw plenty of acrobatic lapwings, always a cheery sight.  I easily spotted little egrets in the shallow pools, their white plumage bright in the sunshine and watched curlews feeding on the wet grassland areas.  Despite the strong winds, we walked down the lane to the dyke, where we had a clear view across the salt marshes to the North Norfolk coast.

Slightly further north, Gibraltar Point National Nature Reserve is a popular and well known reserve near to Skegness; this area of dunes, salt marsh and beaches is a beautiful wild spot with many walks and managed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust.  As the sun dipped towards the horizon, we had a windswept walk through the dunes to the beach here, before tearing ourselves away and driving through the bright lights of Skegness to our refuge for the night, The Nurseries at Mumby, before dark.  Karl and Dianne have been enthusiastically developing the camp site since they moved to the old nurseries house in 2010 and have created a lovely site.  They are both very welcoming and we were thrilled when Dianne appeared with two chunks of homemade cake to go with our brew.

Karl and Dianne are both also full of information about things to do in the area and while chatting to Karl, he mentioned the nearby seals and pups and we soon had the map out planning a trip to Donna Nook on our way home.  Donna Nook is a long sandy bay which during November and December each year is the place of choice for over 1,000 grey seals to give birth to their pups and mate, ready for next year.  There are two  car parks and they get busy, particularly at weekends but we were surprised how popular it was even on a wet Monday morning.  The beach is managed by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and they ensure visitors get excellent views of the seals while staying safe and avoiding the danger of getting bitten by an angry grey seal.  Photographers will love the opportunity to get so close to adult grey seals and their pups.  The white fluffy pups lie in the sand and cannot help but look cute with their big eyes and whiskers, the male grey seals are large and cumbersome and manage to both flop and be aggressive at the same time.  You can see pups being born, suckled and having their first taste of swimming in the shallow pools; it really is a special wildlife experience that concluded our holiday on an unexpected high.

As we drove back to Salford we reflected on our few nights winter camping; the van had been cosy and warm, the wildlife had been spectacular, the weather had been kind and we had coped with some chilly sanitary facilities with the hardiness of northerners.  This trip was a few years ago and gave us confidence so that today we don’t think twice about getting away whatever the weather.

Hebden Bridge Caravan & Motorhome Club site

The canal between Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge
The Rochdale Canal

Sitting drinking good coffee by the Rochdale Canal in Hebden Bridge, lazily watching the barges chug by is an experience I can recommend.  The Calder valley through West Yorkshire is one of my favourite parts of England and it is a frequent weekend haunt for those of us in Greater Manchester.

We were staying at the Hebden Bridge Caravan & Motorhome Club site; a simple site that is pleasantly surrounded by trees.  The site has electric hook-ups and hard-standing but no sanitary block so will only suit motorhome owners with their own facilities.

The steep-sided Calder valley was transformed by the industrial revolution as home-based weaving developed into water-powered mass production in textile mills.  The distinctive stone terraces of houses were built on the hillside in the 19th century and the canal and railway line crammed in to the narrow valley floor.

The weavers left a legacy of a criss-cross of footpaths around the valley and from the camp site you can walk in almost any direction.  Turn right and you eventually reach the moors and Blackstone Edge, a gritstone escarpment on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border.  To the west a steep path takes you to the top of Stoodley Pike adorned with its Victorian monument.  On this trip we had chosen to turn left out of the site and spend the sunny morning walking the easy six-miles along the canal to Hebden Bridge and back.  Hebden Bridge is a creative and lively town full of independent shops from where you could continue your walk to the wooded valley of Hardcastle Crags or take the steep path up the hill to the atmospheric gritstone village of Heptonstall.

Mytholmroyd station on the Leeds to Manchester Calder Valley Line is just one mile from the camp site and with stations at Hebden Bridge and Sowerby Bridge the line opens up opportunities for linear walks.  This line will also take you further afield to Halifax to see the stunning Piece Hall, built as a sales centre for the woollen weavers in the 18th century and recently renovated.  The National Children’s Museum, Eureka, that is fun for children and the young at heart.

There is so much to do from this site I am already planning our next visit; maybe we will take the train to Todmorden walking back over the moors or we might explore more of the wool industry history by visiting the timber-framed medieval manor house, Shibden Hall in Halifax, or maybe I will end up back in Hebden Bridge lazily drinking coffee.

Hebden Bridge CC site
The campsite

Arran: My first encounter with this lovely island

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The dramatic landscape of Goat Fell on Arran

The internet suggests there are up to 5,000 islands around Great Britain, although the exact number seems to be hard to be sure of and there are certainly plenty of these I have never heard of, let alone visited.  Another source gave a figure of 82 islands that measure more than 5 sq km.  This is still a higher number than I might have guessed at and one that made me ashamed of how few of our islands I have taken the trouble to get to.  It was time to visit an island and an autumn trip to Arran, off the south-west coast of Scotland was planned.

Goodness knows why I have never been before as we found so much that delighted us on Arran.  The craggy mountains around Goat Fell are perfect walking country; Glen Sannox is simply stunning; the stone circles at Machrie Moor are impressive and fascinating; the coastline near Blackwaterfoot  and the walk through boulders to the basalt cliffs of The Doon is stunning and the sheltered bay at Lochranza is picture perfect.  I loved pretty much everything about the island.

Thanks to the Road Equivalent Tariff (RET) on Scottish ferries, getting to Arran is now more affordable and it was just over £45 return for our 5.4 metre long campervan.  We needed to have a frugal holiday due to our expensive year but also like to support campsites and so we stayed on three of the islands campsites [see below] and did a few nights wild camping too.  Wild camping is popular on Arran and some places can get busy at weekends as Arran is a perfect place to visit in a campervan.

We didn’t visit any tea shops, although I am told they are excellent, but we did support the Arran economy and bought excellent local cheese in the cheese shop, local beer at the brewery, good local oatcakes and delicious local bread in the Blackwaterfoot Bakery.  These all went very well together and didn’t last long.

Arran was a great start to my plan to visit more of the islands around Great Britain.  The big question is where to go to next?

Campsites we used on Arran

Lochranza Campsite – a beautifully situated site that is well kept.  The site is grassy with some hard-standing pitches if it is wet and there are open views.

Seal Shore Camping  – this site at Kildonan has lovely views out to sea and clean facilities.  The site is sloping but while we were there they were building some more level pitches.  The site is next door to a bar.

Middleton’s Caravan and Camping Park – This level grassy site at Lamlash is handy for the shops, places to eat and shoreline in Lamlash.  The facilities are clean and it has good hot showers.

 

 

 

A motorhomers friend: William Rees Jeffreys

2011 July on Rees Jeffreys Road Fund car park at Rhaedr y cwm above Llan Festiniog
A gorgeous view from a Welsh Rees Jeffreys rest stop

My introduction to William Rees Jeffreys was quite by accident one sunny Sunday in the summer of 2011.  Travelling back to Manchester after a weekend camping in Dolgellau to walk the Mawddach Trail to Barmouth.  Keen to extend the carefree holiday feeling as long as possible, my partner and I took the country road from Llan Festiniog over the hills.  Spotting a car park with a view, we couldn’t resist stopping for a brew and a stroll.  The splendidly positioned car park had a plaque and always one to check out such things I learnt that the car park had been funded by the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund.  It certainly was an excellent place for a motorhomer to stop; no height barrier, an extensive view, a babbling stream and Rhaedr y cwm waterfall and enough bilberries to fill a pie all within a few 100 metres.

Like many brief encounters, I didn’t give Mr Rees Jeffreys another thought until twelve months later I had another chance meeting with this enigmatic fellow.  Once again on the lookout for a good place to pull up in the Blue Bus and have a brew, although without the good weather, we pulled off the M6 at Tebay (Junction 38) and followed the road towards Kendal.  Spotting a lay-by with a view across the M6 and the railway line to the Howgill Fells we pulled in and realised we were parking next to a familiar plaque.  The kettle went on and I climbed out, despite the drizzle, to read that the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund had also funded the construction of this road side parking.  Over a brew I starting wondering what the story was behind this man, why he felt the need to pay for car parks as far apart as Wales and Cumbria and why he deserved a plaque.

Back home, an internet search revealed some information about William Rees Jeffreys.  He was born in 1872, before Karl Benz had patented his internal combustion engine for a Motorwagen in 1886.  William Rees Jeffreys was a keen cyclist and was initially motivated in his campaigning to improve roads for cyclist.  As cars became more widespread, William Rees Jeffreys held positions with the Road Board (the precursor of the Department of Transport), the RAC, the Roads Improvement Association and the Institute of Automobile Engineers.  From 1919 he was a leading light in the classification and numbering of the roads in Britain to help drivers navigate.  The road classification project was complete in 1926.

Following his death in 1954, William Rees Jeffreys generously wanted to continue improving facilities for road users and his estate provided the endowment for the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund.  This gives financial support every year for education and research related to road transport and also for physical road transport projects, hence all the lovely road side parking areas.

Motorhomers always need car parks and lay-bys and those next to roads often suit our purpose of a rest stop on a trip, giving a chance for a brew and a quick stretch of the legs without going out of our way and here was an organisation providing just the facilities the motorhoming community needs.  So, interesting as the Rees Jeffreys website was, it lacked a list of the road side rest areas the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund had supported and I wanted to know more.  An email to the Secretary quickly led to the arrival of a Rees Jeffreys Road Fund roadside rests list in the post a few days later.  This typed list showed 68 rest stops they had supported, from Wester Ross in Scotland to Cornwall.  With the list, I was now able to plan holiday routes to include a Rees Jeffreys Road Fund road side rest areas.

My next opportunity to meet my double-barrelled friend was on an early March trip to Pembrokeshire.  The delight of a quest like this is that you never know exactly where it will take you.  We had the small Cardigan Caravan and Camping site to ourselves and after star-gazing in the clear night sky; we woke to sunshine, white frosty fields and a frozen tap at the outside washing up facilities.   A warming breakfast slowly got us going and we drove the short distance to the small parking area on the B4582 for the Crugiau Cemmaes barrow.  The parking did not really merit the title car park but it had the usual Rees Jeffreys Road Fund plaque and did mean that we visited the round barrow, thought to be Bronze Age, and enjoyed the clear views over the Welsh countryside.

It is evident from the typed list that some local authorities have cottoned on to the availability of funding from the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund better than others and Pembrokeshire is clearly one of those, with six rest stops on the list, only matched by the Isle of Wight.  However, it soon also became clear that the list had some limitations; with no grid references or even road numbers, some were tricky to find.  Even with the help of online maps with street view, I never found the rest stop located at St David’s Road, Haverfordwest.

Not a person to give up on a friendship easily, the exploration continued further south with a couple of nights near Saundersfoot.  The generously sized lay-by at Wood near Newgale on the A487 was easier to find, although the extreme slope meant that even walking up and down the van was challenging.  Ditching the idea of brewing we enjoyed the wide view over Newgale Sands and St Brides Bay with fruit juice!

Heading north back through Wales, I sought out the only roadside rest listed in Powys.  Pont Marteg on the A470 north of Rhayader in the stunning river Wye or Afon Gwy valley was easy enough to find.  The beautifully sited car park had room for the Blue Bus and provided the opportunity I sought to stretch my legs and watch the Red Kites circling above.  It looked like a Rees Jeffreys Road Fund road side rest but a thorough search didn’t reveal the familiar plaque, so I couldn’t be sure.

The Rees Jeffreys Road Fund has over £7 million in the bank and uses the interest earned on this investment each year to fund mostly research projects and educational bursaries.  In 2017 no new car parks or road side rests were built but funding was given to encourage wild flowers on road side verges.   In 2016 The Rees Jeffreys Road Fund published a report on the need for a Major Road Network across England.

Having visited Rees Jeffrey Road Fund rest stops in England and Wales, I thought it was time to seek one out in Scotland.  Only twelve locations feature in the list for Scotland, so I wasn’t overwhelmed by the choice but a trip up to Oban and Mull at Easter was coming up and I got the list out and checked the map for possibilities.  I soon spotted that just north of Glasgow a rest stop was listed at Queen’s View on the A809 between Mingavie and Drymen that would work well with our route.  Only 45 minutes from the centre of Glasgow, the car park, funded by my old pal WRJ, enables the locals to park up and enjoy some fresh air and exercise.  From the car park a quick five minute pounding of the legs will take you to the view point where it is said Queen Victoria stopped to take in the view of Loch Lomond, the more energetic can spend two or three hours walking up to the crags of the strangely named hill, the Whangie.

The list of road side rests doesn’t give a year when a particular site was funded but the Queen’s View car park must have been some time ago, as even given the extremes of Scottish weather, the tarmac would benefit from renewing.  On a bank holiday, it was also busy and this spot didn’t provide the peaceful respite from driving I have come to associate with our esteemed friend.

We also visited the Iron Gate car park in Flintshire on foot, as part of a snowy walk over Moel Famau and so now have 62 of the 68 roadside rests funded from the endowment of William Rees Jeffreys left to visit.  The list travels with us in the glove compartment of our campervan and I have no doubt that my acquaintance with William Rees Jeffreys will be maintained and I will continue to be grateful for his generosity to motorhomers and other road users.

 

 

 

 

Noticing local stone in Caithness

2017 July August Scotland (186) Whaligoe Steps.JPG
The abandoned harbour buildings at Whaligoe and the cliffs merge

You might not think about it but you will notice when buildings are made from local stone.  You will sense that these buildings merge with the landscape, they fit in and sit comfortably and harmoniously in their setting.  The example in the photograph is from Caithness but once you start looking you will see buildings created from local stone everywhere you go.  Last summer we climbed the steep descent of Whaligoe steps.  These old steps wind down the cliff to a tiny sheltered harbour that is hidden in a fissure in these sedimentary rocks.  Fishermen once launched their boats from here and when they returned with a catch, women gutted the fish and carried the heavy loads back up the winding 300-plus steps to sell them at market.  The harbour and steps were built from local Caithness flagstones and have been lovingly restored by local volunteers; the sedimentary sandstone splits easily to make excellent building materials.  When these sandstones meet the sea they result in sheer cliffs that create ledges for nesting seabirds.  The sea exploits the cracks in the rock forming fissures, sea stacks and arches and creating a dramatic coastline.

It was Richard Fortey’s wonderful book, The Hidden Landscape that first got me thinking about the place of vernacular buildings in the landscape and their relationship with the underlying rocks.  He writes evocatively about the hidden rocks that shape the personality of a landscape, dictating the soil, the plants and the buildings, describing how slate roofs and thatched cottages can be traced back to the geology of an area.  His book begins with a journey back in time:

‘I travelled to Haverfordwest to get to the past. From Paddington Station a Great Western locomotive took me on a journey westwards from London further and further back into geological time, from the age of mammals to the age of trilobites… Under the River Severn and into Wales, I was back before the time of the dinosaurs, to a time when Wales steamed and sweated with the humid heat of moss-laden and boggy forests in coal-swamps, where dragonflies the size of hawks flitted in the mist; and then on back still further in time, so far back that life had not yet slithered or crawled upon the land from its aqueous nursery.’

Three weeks and as many seasons in Scotland

Strathdearn day (2).JPG
A mistle thrush in the snow

Mr BOTRA and I have visited Scotland at Easter most years since 1981 [apologies if I’ve told you this before but it does tell you something about me].  I love going to Scotland and having been so often I am used to the variable Easter weather and the need to pack for every season.  On previous trips we have had both heavy snow and warm sunshine [shorts and t-shirts needed] and every weather in between.  This year’s holiday was no exception.

We used to go to Scotland for a week but now we are retired [yippee] we can go for longer.  An early stopover was the lovely Sunnyside Campsite in Arisaig; we scrambled over the rocky bay in evening sunshine watching an orange sun go down behind the islands of Rum and Eigg.  Only a few days later we reached the top of Fionn Bheinn [933 metres high] in low cloud and snow and getting no outstanding view for our efforts.  This was particularly annoying because walking up the mountain we had been mostly in sunshine and had needed sunglasses to deal with the glare from the snow.  It took a long time to get out of the cloud on the descent but once we had visibility again we relaxed throwing snowballs down the steep slope.  We moved across to the Black Isle and on a dull cloudy day decided on an easy walk up Cnoc Fyrish a small hill [just 453 metres high] with a folly above Alness.  As we climbed up the paths it started to rain and even on this small hill the rain became snow as we got higher.  At the summit [again no view] we were in a winter wonderland and we played in the deep snow and built a snow robot that waved at us as we left the hilltop.  A few more days later we were in shirt sleeves as we walked over the Corrieyairack Pass.  Next a cold snap rolled in and we were wrapped in every layer we owned and still felt the sharp chilly wind as we looked around the impressive Linlithgow Palace on our way south.

We had perfect weather for a stunning short walk from Blair Atholl in to Glen Tilt.  From the car park we followed attractive paths through woodland, stopping to watch agile red squirrels high above our heads.  We emerged at a view point with a panoramic view along the glen.  It was so peaceful and sunny here we kicked off our shoes and practiced our tai chi forms on the soft grass and in the fresh air before walking back down to the village with its splendid white turreted castle.

This year [as a birthday gift for our son] we booked a wildlife guide for a four-hour wildlife watching trip for us and son and daughter-in-law to give us a better chance of confidently spotting golden eagles.  We spent a morning with John from Highland Nature based at Nethybridge and we experienced dramatically changing weather in the four hours we were out.  John proved to be an excellent guide who took us to Strathdearn along the river Findhorn and revealed all manner of wildlife to us.  As we set off it started to snow heavily and there was little visibility as we watched red squirrels scampering up and down the pine trees.  We stopped to see golden plover and other waders by the river before continuing to the head of the valley.  Stopping in the car to watch some sikka deer on the hillside we were entertained by a large horse in the field next to the road that was desperate for some attention.  We wound down the windows to get a better look at the sikka deer and the large working horse insisted on putting its head through the window, blocking our view!  We also spotted red deer on the hillsides and a group of feral goats sheltering in woodland.  The mistle thrush I managed to catch a photograph of [above] was singing on a fence post as we drove down the single-track road.  At the head of the valley John spotted a mountain hare on the hillside and we watched it through the scope quietly nibbling the surrounding grass that was showing through the snow.  The snow shower eventually moved on and the valley was transformed by blue skies and sunshine in to a magnificent landscape blanketed in snow, bright in the sunlight.  We saw a couple of golden eagles [helped by the younger and alert eyes of our daughter-in-law] making their way over the mountains, as well as a red kite, a goshawk and a peregrine falcon.  On the river we watched a dipper marking its territory with song and the common gulls that nest here wheeled overhead.  It was a fascinating and wonderful morning and I learnt so much from someone that is regularly out watching the local wildlife.

Fionn Beinn with Stephen and Jenny (1).JPG
Sunshine on the way up Fionn Bheinn