Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Scotland by Rail - Garelochhead - 5 destroyers, 35 birds

(My first post under Abellio's ScotRail. Many thanks for continuing support of my ongoing Scotland by Rail work.)

from Garelochhead shore

The village:
A regular spot of mine is Garelochhead, where my soon-to-be-in-laws are. It's only an hour from Glasgow yet feels very west coast, very Highland - refreshing rains, beautifully rich sunlight, carpets of green mosses, lichens dripping from birches. And midgies in summer...

From Garelochhead station walk down the steep road (there's no other way) passing various characterful stone homes until you're in the heart of the village. There's a little shop to buy supplies, or a three minute walk in the direction of Helensburgh gets you to the excellent Café Craft.

Walks & police & plastic:
You can walk as far as you want along the east shore road towards Helensburgh, or the west shore road down the Rosneath Peninsula. Be especially careful on the Rosneath route, the road is ropey - narrow and pathless in many or perhaps most sections. Views are beautiful whichever side you choose. On the Rosneath side you have the interest of looking across to Faslane, and don't be worried if a police car stops to ask, "How are you?".

I was through primarily to carry out count no.1 of my twice-annual BTO BBS bird count. For those less birdy that's the British Trust for Ornithology's Breeding Bird Survey. Volunteer counters are allocated a 1km square and twice during the spring/summer breeding season count the species they see on their patch, following various rules to ensure continuity of results year after year. My BBS square is in the hills between Garelochhead and Loch Lomond.

Unfortunately the forecast was wind, rain and poor visibility so I had to postpone my count. Instead I made short walks around the shore and cleared one full bin-bag of plastic from the garden. The amount of plastic that blows and flows to the head of the Gare Loch is quite incredible. When you look at the high tide line it can be hard to spot much that's natural -weed or driftwood- among the mounds of brightly coloured pieces. Plastic bottles and, for some reason, little plastic sticks like those of cotton buds, seem especially in evidence.

It doesn't put off the birdlife though. During two hours I counted 35 species:
Black Guillemot
Blue Tit
Carrion Crow
Coal Tit
Common Gull
Feral Pigeon
Great Black-backed Gull
Great Tit
Greylag Goose (domestic)
House Sparrow
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Hooded Crow
Canada Goose
Collared Dove
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Grey Heron
Herring Gull
Long-tailed Tit
Red-breasted Merganser
Song Thrush

And my first frogspawn of the year, in puddlepools by the cyclepath. I've seen it there every year.

Naval goings-on:
This was an especially interesting weekend to be on the shore. An operation of some sort was basing itself around Faslane and over two days we watched a Trident submarine, five huge destroyers, a chunky red-cream helicopter and a whole flotilla of smaller naval and police boats.

More walks:
Although I didn't make use of the following fact on this particular occasion, Garelochhead isn't just about the shore. It's a gateway to smaller hillwalks on the Rosneath peninsula and to longer taller ones in the hills where I do my bird count. The Three Lochs Way winds from Garelochhead north to Arrochar & Tarbert and eventually to Inveruglas, towards the northerly end of Loch Lomond; and south to Helensburgh and eventually to Balloch, at Loch Lomond's base.

ScotRail - adopting old station buildings:
I can't talk about Adopt-a-Station when it comes to Garelochhead because no station building there has yet been adopted. There's a lovely signalbox currently derelict on the platform if anyone's interested...

N.B. Although no building has been adopted, in September 2014 the Helensburgh and Lomond Artisans Association volunteers began gardening at the station. Bulbs should be blooming soon and a barrel train planter is timetabled to chuff its way down from Lower Cabrach in Aberdeenshire shortly.

warships and crow, pencil in sketchbook

"please adopt me"

from platform to Garelochhead

views around the town

views around the town (2)

trying to i.d. a goldeneye


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.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Scotland by Rail (and bus) - Rosslyn Chapel & Roslin Glen

sketch spot above the River North Esk

Scotland by Rail (and bus), thanks to ScotRail.
Rosslyn Chapel & Roslin Glen, Roslin

The village of Roslin lies a couple of miles south of Edinburgh and a couple east of the Pentland Hills. Roslin Glen skirts around its edge, a beautiful tree-filled valley, cut deeply into the land by the River North Esk. World-famous Rosslyn Chapel (The Da Vinci Code, as if you didn't know) nestles above the glen, only a minute from the village.

Lothian Buses no.15 service (Prestonpans to Penicuik) runs half hourly from city centre to village - along Princes Street passing Waverley Station, up Lothian Road, through Tollcross, Morningside, past Craiglockhart Hill, crosses the Edinburgh City Bypass, into the shadow of the Pentlands passing the entrance to Hillend Ski Centre, calling at University of Edinburgh's Easter Bush Campus, eventually reaching Roslin. A really interesting journey. Beyond Roslin, Penicuik is where the bus turns to run its journey in reverse.

I caught the no.15 from Home Street, just beyond Tollcross - a fifteen minute walk from Haymarket station. Half an hour later I was in Roslin village.

First, to the chapel for a meeting and tour in prior to a sketching course I'm soon to run there. The whole place is great - the chapel obviously, intricate and ornate carvings adorning every surface available. The visitor centre too, with information panels, activities, touch-screens and a nice shop. And the cafe (!) with beautiful views across the valley.

Roslin village and Pentlands

A short walk downhill from the chapel is Rosslyn Castle (originally 14th Century, now ruined apart from a 17th century section open as rather special holiday accommodation). My path followed the tight curve of the River North Esk as it wove a meander around the castle. I chose a spot over the river and settled to paint. While I sat I had coal tits, great tits, blue tits foraging the trees around me. Nuthatches too, but heard rather than seen other than once or twice a brief silhouette. Their call - variations on a slightly metallic 'chriping' whistle - Dippers were back and fore on the water often.

Rosslyn Castle

below Rosslyn Castle

Rosslyn Castle

Rosslyn Castle

River North Esk, watercolour, 29x24cm

spotted a blue tit

thinking of becoming a wildlife photographer

dipper. spot its white eyelids

3 to 4pm I was back at the chapel taking part in a photoshoot for the Glasgow Herald. It's a treat to sit and sketch in a place like that. Here's the result:

pencil in sketchbook
pencil in sketchbook

pencil in sketchbook

Then two more hours of exploring before the 6pm bus home. I walked back into the valley, past castle, upriver for a mile or so. The Friends of Roslin Glen do a great deal to manage and care for these woods. I saw tens of bird boxes; bat boxes; recently laid native hedging.

below the castle, pencil in sketchbook, 30x21cm

The path continues much further but time and lowering light meant my turnaround had to be around the ruins of the Roslin Gunpowder Mills. These mills provided powder and explosives for mining and quarrying for over 150 years, as well as for the Napoleonic, Crimean and First and Second World Wars.

The return to the bus avoids a nasty stretch of road by climbing the 129 steps of Jacob's Ladder, built by Boy Scouts in 1913. You're then on a lovely footpath, lined high by old beeches, looking across the treetops of Roslin Glen below. A lovely place for a picnic, or to sketch, or to read, or to just look. A green woodpecker laughed down in the valley. At the end of the path is a set of small cemeteries, then Rosslyn Chapel, then you're back in the village.

If you've time before your bus The Original Rosslyn Hotel is a place to wait. It's the little one-storey bit on the right that you want to sit in - cosy and relaxing, real ales, coffee and cakes, hot food.

There are lots of footpaths in the area. I'd recommend you start at the Chapel by buying the Roslin Heritage Society's 'Roslin Rambles' leaflet. It's really good, has a nicely presented and useful map and lots of historical snippets. It's only a pound. Or you might be able to be order a copy in advance by contacting the Society here


How to get there:
ScotRail runs regular trains to Edinburgh from all over the place. Timetables here.

Lothian Buses no.15 (15A on Sundays) runs from the city centre. Timetables here. Route maps here.
N.B. From 29th March 2015 the no.15 service will be replaced by no.37.

Lothian Buses currently cost £1.50 per single journey, £3.50 for a DAYticket, info here.
Or you can ask to add PlusBus to your ScotRail train ticket at time of purchase, info here.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Choirs of Heriot-Watt in St Giles Cathedral

Every year the choirs and orchestra of Heriot-Watt University perform in St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh as part of the St Giles at Six series. Last night it was the turn of the choirs. I sat by the organ, away from the crowd, and made a sketch. Next Sunday the orchestra will be performing Beethoven's Symphony no. 3, Eroica, 6-7pm, admission free.

spot the choir. pencil & pen in sketchbook, 21x29cm

The programme:

Great British Choral Music
Chorale Excelsior
Jackson – O thou that art the light
Mealor - Urbs caritas
Britten – Hymn to the Virgin

Excelsior per cantum
British Folk Songs:
Yarmouth Fair- Norfolk
My sweetheart is like Venus – Welsh
Danny Boy – Irish
Afton Water – Scottish
The Keel Row – Tyneside

Chorale Excelsior
Tavener – The Lamb
Chilcot - Marriage to my Lady Poverty

Previous St Giles sketches:

And Rosslyn Chapel:

The chamber choir, Excelsior per cantum, also performs yearly in Rosslyn Chapel. Sketches here:

Heriot-Watt is extremely musically active under the direction of Steve King (Steve also plays viola with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra).

Heriot-Watt choir and orchestra are both open to students, staff and the local community. Concerts are open to all. Full info here.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Scotland by Rail - Lenzie Moss NNR, kestrel, geese, deer

Scotland by Rail , thanks to ScotRail.

Lenzie Moss NNR (National Nature Reserve), Lenzie

kestrel, spire, pencil, 14.5x19.5cm

 Lenzie station, north side (platform 1). Exit, turn immediately left, walk the length of the station car park - now you're in trees at the start of Lenzie Moss.

Lenzie Moss is small, perhaps only a square kilometre - and that little area is one of the very few raised bog habitats still remaining in central Scotland, internationally significant. It's flat of course, it has patches of woodland on its fringes and a loosely circular and well surfaced footpath ringing the site. The path is level all the way, accessible to mobility scooters and wheelchairs and pushchairs. 
On the Moss you can find the rare and endangered bog rosemary (Andromeda polifolia) and green hairstreak butterfly (Callophrys rubi). There are various orchids, roe deer (the tamest I think I've ever seen), snipe, dragonflies, damselflies, lots of butterfly and moth species. And wonderful sundews. Some photos here on the Friends of Lenzie Moss website - and Facebook.

The very active Friends are working under guidance from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to help the Moss rehydrate to its natural wet state, although the project unfortunately has met with some argument. The improvements to retain the bog's natural water involve installing dams and removing scrub and some mature trees. The majority of the clearing had taken place before I visited.

saving me from having to try to explain it

and it looks like this

and it looks like this (2)

As I passed from station car park to wood I smelled the tangy musky scent of fox. The trees were (/are) predominently birch, white trunks and reddish branch tips glowing golden and crimson in the lowering winter sun. A great or a coal tit sang on repeat, I never can get it clear which of those two sings which song. Trains passed by.

spot the train

Through my binoculars greylag geese fed in a bunch on a field, they flock to this area each winter along with pink-foots. I'd noticed them from the train. Cars rolled past behind them and even further away were the distant tenement-tops of Glasgow.

greylags, car, tenements

I was impressed at how clean the area was - despite seeing that the path is very well used by walkers and dogs I only collected 3 cans, 1 plastic bottle, 1 plastic coffee lid, 1 large tetrapac and 1 deflated helium balloon. Believe me, that's good.

( Please please don't release balloons into the skies, they are deadly to all sorts of wildlife, not least marine mammals and seabirds: turtles especially swallow them as jellyfish, the bags knotting in their intestines, leading to slow starvation; seabirds use them in their nests, chicks getting tangled and becoming unable to fly from the nest, leading again to starvation, or to legs and necks getting cut, infected, broken. 'Chinese lanterns' do the same, and plastic bags. More here - )

I couldn't bring myself to pick up the two bags of dog poo that I passed (two isn't at all bad compared to here in Burntisland) and I did notice three separate dog walkers allowing their charges to, well, charge through the bog, which is never good for wildlife.

I found a secluded spot in young woodland, looking south across the main body of the bog. I sat an hour and a half, working on two watercolours and a sketch in pencil. The afternoon light and cloudscapes meant shadows and highlights changed by the minute. Six roe deer came within metres of me, very unconcerned by my presence. They look alien this close and face-on. Chunky and thick-necked. A kestrel hovered at the other side of the Moss, only a speck without my binoculars.

Lenzie Moss, pen & watercolour, 14.5x19.5cm

Lenzie Old Parish Church

spot the deer

easier to (spot the deer)

easier to (spot the deer) 2

Frozen hands, train times and approaching darkness made me move. I finished my circle back in woodland, robins at regular intervals marking their territories with melancholy song. A succession of squeezeboxes losing their air.

A flock of pink-footed geese rippled over in the now half-light, I heard their 'pink pink' calls grow louder as they approached, quieter as they passed overhead and away. They were low, possibly coming in to land on a nearby field.

How to get there:

ScotRail runs regular trains to Lenzie from Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Go to timetables and click on Central Scotland.

Lenzie spire, watercolour, 13.5x14cm