Saturday, 25 July 2015

blog - Scotland by Rail - Livingston North - wooded footpaths





Livingston's paths 

If you've a check-up at St John's or are going to an exhibition or concert or workshop at Howden Park Centre, why not make it an adventure and take the train. The nearest station is Livingston North and then it's about a 25 minute walk along the Alderstone path, and despite being all urban the walk is really nice. Livingston is the fourth of Scotland's post-war new towns and was designed in a way that feels conducive to a pretty pleasant walking (and cycling?) experience. Woodland paths run through and between all the housing estates and keep you largely hidden from the busier roads.


There's a great mix of species in the hedgerows and among the younger trees. Hazel, holly, beech, cherries, privet, rowan, wild rose (dog rose), hawthorn, maple, elder, rhododendron, yew. There must be good foraging through most of the year. I ate ripe red bird cherries, saw fungi sprouting on grass banks, some blackberries ripening, rosehips forming. And conkers starting to grow, for playing in autumn.

Other trees are old, growing there prior to the town being built. Oaks, chestnut, pines, lime, sycamore, beech and more. The wooded paths are owned or in some way affiliated with the Woodland Trust. Undergrowth is left long and natural and is excellent habitat for wildlife.

(all the species in bold have fruit/flowers/nuts that are edible and good to variously nibble on/add to cooking/infuse as tea/turn to jam. Don't use any without reading up to be sure you know what you're trying. Lots of good books and websites are available.)


When you reach Howden Park you find a wide expanse of mown grassland interrupted by small copses of mature trees. In the summer months there are swallows and house martins hawking back and fore across the grass as they chase for insects. There's a walled garden hidden away at the north end of the park and a boggy little valley down below the windows of Howden Park Centre cafe - worth scanning for birds.




 

pines and undergrowth

lots of paths

supported by the Woodland Trust

even the roundabouts are nice! Though some of that grass should ben left long for wildlife

St John's Hospital

Rowan and chimney, beautiful bark

spot the robin

approaching Howden Park

Howden Park

Howden Park

Howden Park (Howden House on the right)

secret sycamore pool


Howden Park
Howden Park Centre hosts many interesting events, including lots of art workshops, sometimes run by me. Sign up to their newsletter at the bottom right of the page here.

St John's
St John's Hospital displays a big selection of top artworks across its corridors. One of my favourite paintings of all is there, a super-wide panoramic seascape with plenty of mystery by Glasgow artist Peter Thomson.

Another walk
Here's a link to another Livingston walk, not the route I took but gives a little snippet about the town's woodlands - my.viewranger.com




How to get there:

Livingston North is on the Edinburgh to Helensburgh line, trains stop there frequently.
Find the Scotrail timetable here.



Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Bridge of Allan to Dunblane - Greenbelt - threatened by housing


Knock Hill bluebells

Bridge of Allan is a small town in central Scotland, one station-stop north of Stirling. It's linked by a beautiful set of landscapes -woodland, river valley, fieldy heathland & ancient hillfort- to Dunblane, the next station town. 


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The Darn Walk:

No, that's its name.

It's a place I've known since childhood, a few times a year we'd walk Dunblane to Bridge of Allan by way of the Darn Walk, a many-generations-old pathway running alongside the Allan Water. We'd stop always at the little cave at grid ref NS 788 989, supposed inspiration for Ben Gunn’s cave in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, and at a great rope swing on the other side of the water. And we'd look apprehensively for the whirlpool in the water, said to be the drowning spot of two girls, the vicar's daughters, centuries ago. At least, that's the story we always told. I don't think we invented it...

Full walk route descriptions here:

And an excellent .pdf map of the whole area here. Click on the map to zoom, takes a while to load.


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Park of Keir, hillfort, woods, birds, bluebells:

More recently my mum (www.susanmcsmith.com) and I have been returning on sketching trips, and with brother Roan to tell us about the trees. A few years ago we discovered the land west and upslope of the Allan Water. From Bridge of Allan station cross the busy A9 and go up the small country road just a few metres to your left (west). You pass a nursery and a few houses that you'll wish you lived in, and then you're at the start of grassland, farmland, Knock Hill, ancient hillfort, Gallow Hill, Park of Keir. Take an O.S. map and a picnic and properly explore.

At the right time of year the grasslands are full of butterlies, the Gallow Hill and Knock Hill woods wear a soft blue carpet of English bluebells, and the hillfort a carpet of wild primrose. There are many mature trees of many native species. There are deer, bats, red squirrels, hares, badgers and apparently signs of pine martin too. On our latest visit I counted 20 types of bird:

Blackbird
Blue Tit
Carrion Crow
Chiffchaff
Collared Dove
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Jay
Nuthatch
Song Thrush
Woodpigeon
Blackcap
Buzzard
Chaffinch
Coal Tit
Goldcrest
Great Tit
Magpie
Robin
Willow Warbler
Wren


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Cafes etc:

After walking the woods you can either return to Bridge of Allan and its shops & cafes or you can continue to Dunblane by crossing the railway bridge at grid ref NS 784 995 to get back down to the Allan Water and its assortment of footpaths. 

In Bridge of Allan we recommend The Hideaway Cafe, & Collective Contemporary Art Gallery and Brown & Co delicatessen. In Dunblane we recommend Choices Delicatessen (the cakes!!!) and The Old Curiosity Shop & Mary's Meals Charity Shop for antiques, collectables, general bargains.


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Threatened by Housing !

Unfortunately the whole of this area (not the Allan Water, but the rest) is under threat of major change thanks to a proposed development for executive housing, tennis centre, golf course, hotel, museum, football pitch.

Both Bridge of Allan and Dunblane Community Councils are against the plan, nearly 800 people have written objections to Stirling Council, and 175 people have signed a Change.org petition in the 5 days since it started.


If you wish to help protect this beautful patch, and the concept of Greenbelt in general, please do so by following all the links below:

petition - www.change.org
the official documents - www.dunblane.info



ominous... (+ spot the Wallace Monument)



orange tip male (see butterfly-conservation.org) on English bluebell

forest folk
 
Knock Hill trig point S4992, 104m


spot the fairy

sketch spot

spot the roe

mum sketching

pen in sketchbook


hillfort on left, Knock Hill on right
 
hillfort (spot the Wallace Monument)

hillfort primroses

*more* hillfort primroses

spot the great spot (ted woodpecker)

beech woods, my favourite

spot the ruins

Allan Water
 
David, this is an Early Thorn, Selenia dentaria?

never nice, spotting a trap


something bizarre to take your mind off that trap
same bizarre, different angle

something beautiful, in case your mind's still on that trap


Getting there:

Bridge of Allan is super-easy to get to by rail, with at least two trains an hour from Edinburgh or Glasgow, and one an hour from Perth. From Stirling journey time is only 4 minutes. 

From every direction the journey's a picturesque one. In fact the Perth to Bridge of Allan stretch is one of my favourite in the country, running alongside the Allan Water for many miles. There's loads of wildlife to be seen every time - deer, hares, waders, ducks, raptors.

Full timetables from ScotRail by clicking here.

crossing the rails, grid ref NS 787 985


An Adopted Station:

Dunblane is one of many Scottish stations to benefit from ScotRail's excellent Adopt a Station programme - on Platform 1 you'll find The Ironing Station. The name tells you what they do...

Adopt a Station enables individuals and businesses and communities to make use of previously disused station buildings, improve station environment, etc.

If you'd like to find out more about volunteering or adopting a station, click here for details.


Bridge of Allan, whisky barrel train. For more info see April 2015 post & click the link just before the photos start.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Your Local Patch (Scotland by Rail - a bit of Garelochhead)


Most of us have our favourite spots in nature - wild places, grand places, peaceful or secluded places, spread across the country or even the world. But there's a huge amount to be said for also getting to know our local 'patches', places near our home or our place of work. They don't have to be nature reserves, they probably normally aren't. Maybe the cycle path behind your office, or the bit of waste ground on the edge of the station car park, or the graveyard by your mum's house. They're places we visit regularly and that we come to know well.

Each time you visit your patch you're excited to see what's new: have any unexpected migrating birds showed up; is the elder in full frothy white flower yet; is the dipper back building its nest under the footpath bridge; are the orchids blooming down by the stream; how are the butterflies after all that rain... The more intimately you get to know your patch, the more interesting it becomes.

One of my patches is in Garelochhead, 8 miles north-west of Helensburgh, in Argyll & Bute. At the west end of the shore is an area of young woodland, meadow-scrub, stream and stream-floodplain. It's small, would take only five minutes to circle if you weren't stopping to look. It's used by lots of dog-walkers and people walking from the shore houses to the village shops. It has a bench and wide views down the Gare Loch to the fascinating comings and goings of Faslane naval base. You might see a seal swimming in close at high tide, or a gannet diving far off, beyond the submarines. It completes the character of the shore - a scattered row of lovely old houses and gardens, all individual, and this little patch of wilder nature.

The woodland is mostly oak with some rowan and birch, all are fairly young. Off-path the grasses are long and filled with wild flowers and insects. In spring the bluebells bloom, many of them our native English bluebell, rather than the problematic Spanish invasives. I see small fish in the stream and often a dipper bob-bobbing on smooth pebbles before bubble walking along the stream bottom.

In winter fieldfares and redwings might be in the trees, and a mistle thrush defending the berries that it claims as its own. Just across the road in more mature woodland I hear tawny owls calling. If you're lucky a raven might fly over, high up. In spring and summer the midgies are bad (bad for humans that is, but invaluable to wildlife) and house martins and swallows swerve and swoop overhead, taking full advantage. 

In the times of worst flood at least a third of the area has been submerged under a mingling of sea-loch and stream water, and a mental mingling of exciting and scary, because you can't hep but think of the homeowners nearby.

This morning I visited, along with the midgies. I saw these birds:
starling
song thrush
chiffchaff singing and feeding young
blackbird feeding young
goldfinch feeding young
house martin
swallow
wren singing lustily
robin
dunnock singing quietly from the gorse
willow warbler - heard only
woodpigeon
collared dove
feral pigeon
magpie
jackdaw
crow (not hooded, though there are hooded crows on the shore)
common, herring & lesser black-backed gulls all flying overhead 

18 species.


There often also pied wagtails, chaffinch, sometimes greenfinch and bullfinch. Every so often a great spotted woodpecker.


Why not visit this patch of mine: get the train to Garelochhead and walk down from the station. Buy a picnic in the local Spar or treat yourself in Cafe Craft. Bring binoculars for the birds and an i.d. book for the flowers.

And then find yourself one.





nice 
common gull, not always common (Amber Listed)

at times all the land in this picture has flooded apart from the much elevated bit at top left

on the top of those fuzzy long leafy things, those two fuzzy light things with fuzzy red bits barely visible - they're goldfinches






the stream

the stream 2







tumbled floodplain oak


floodplain



like Narnia. almost.

nice place for a picnic?



How to get there: 

ScotRail runs regular trains on the West Highland Line from Glasgow to Oban/Mallaig. Garelochead is an hour from Glasgow Queen Street. Timetables here.