Tuesday, 13 January 2015

New Year 2014/15 - Spittal of Glenshee, a golden eagle

kirk of Spittal of Glenshee, watercolour, 25x29.5cm

This New Year we were in Spittal of Glenshee for four nights, staying in Gulabin Lodge - cosy, spacious, well equipped, great position, very friendly owner/managers. Really excellent. As every year there were lots of us, friends, friends of friends. Around thirty-five on the busiest night, including a few children. Around thirty-five plus one, including the dog.

(see our New Year 2013/14 in Inversnaid here, 2012/13 in Kingussie here)

Each day we splinter, some going up the mountains, some walking lower level, some hardly leaving the lodge. I hurt my knee on day one, so two and three were spent no more than a kilometre from the building, sketching and painting and joining in with some of the social.

Day one was a big walk, about 20km. Starting in a large group walking west along Glen Shee then north up Gleann Taitneach, fording two river streams without (very) wet feet. When we stopped to snack by the main river Allt Ghlinn Thaitneich a herd of a hundred or more red deer were on the western slope above us and another fifty the eastern, grazing the transition line between vegetation and snow.

red deer, western slope

red deer, eastern slope

spot the summit

river Allt Ghlinn Thaitneich

We separated part way along the second valley and four of us continued, fording a third stream and finding ourselves watched by mountain hares in their white winter fur. They crouched here and there, dotted among boulders like cannonballs of snow. All day we saw red grouse and heard them bubbling in the heather, or flying fast -not far- away from us, clucking and whirring. Once when Jennifer stopped to sort her boots a golden eagle was soaring to a cliff high-above, Jennifer's first ever and I think only my second. (My first was on a walk from Loch Ossian, written about here - www.landscapeartnaturebirds.blogspot.co.uk).

spot the hare (s). I spot two.

spot the hare

mountain hare, winter fur

mountain hare, winter fur

mountain hare, afterwards, from photo, 29.5x20.5cm

spot the grouse

red grouse, spotted me

Gleann Taitneach

spot the golden eagle. (you can't, but it's on those cliffs)

pencil sketches, 15x20.5cm

The last kilometre was a steep 330 metres up into the start of the hills proper, our turnaround destination Loch nan Eun. A mountain hare lay dead on the path, not looking injured but nastily thin. At the loch it was fiercely cold, the water iced and snowed solid, beautifully otherworldy. It was already after three so we could only stop for five-minutes, for thermos coffee and frozen hand photos. Plastic bags-for-life made the first part of our descent very much more fun. And faster.

those legs!

Loch nan Eun

Loch nan Eun

re-united at last

It was dusk when we re-forded the first stream and full dark by the time we reached the third one. Our last hour was by moonlight, cloud curtain often obscuring the glow but always enough residual light to see by. Our track was O.S. double-dotted no problem to follow.

The other main group had driven to the car park at Glenshee and walked the high tops from there. They saw ptarmigan close up. I've never seen them. Ptarmigan tend only to run a short distance from humans, not fly away like grouse do. As with the fur of mountain hares, ptarmigan feathers turn white in winter. Thank you Andy for the photos.

spot the ptarmigan, photo by Andy Seaton, Glenshee

three ptarmigan, photo by Andy Seaton, Glenshee

ptarmigan, photo by Andy Seaton, Glenshee

Days 2 and 3 I stayed close to home. Day 3 we had snow.

spot the Grave of Diarmid. from my under-umbrella, under-beech-hedge sketch spot

the Grave of Diarmid, from our bedroom window, through binoculars

Grave of Diarmid, four spirits

Grave of Diarmid, pencil, pen, coloured pencil, 20.5x29.5cm

Grave of Diarmid. under-umbrella, under-beech-hedge watercolour, 25x29.5cm

Grave of Diarmid, ink and ink wash 25x29.5cm

from the churchyard, picturesque

Not so picturesque. Legal bird trap, to control "pest species of birds".

On the last day snow came.

Glenshee Bridge, work recorded as starting in 1749 and not completed until 1763...

kirk of Spittal of Glenshee

kirk of Spittal of Glenshee

Driving home:

and Jennifer drove us home

Unfortunately Spittal of Glenshee isn't reachable by rail. By car it's about an hour from Perth, two hours from Edinburgh. Details here.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Scotland by Rail - Ardrossan and Arran

Brodick Bay

A railway and ferry day, accompanying mum part of the way to her volunteering week on Holy Isle, a mile off the eastern side of Arran. (Read about our 2011 sketching trip to Holy Isle on pages 99 - 100 of my Landscapes &Birds of Scotland book.)

The journey: 
- train

Mum joined me on the train at Falkirk High; from there to Glasgow Queen Street; walk to Glasgow Central; train (plus thermos coffee and mother-made apple cake) to Ardrossan. In Ardossan take your pick from 'South Beach', 'Town' or 'Harbour' stations.


We chose Town to let us see a little of the, ah, town. But not too much, because of strong wind and rain. In good weather choose South Beach station. In dire weather choose Harbour.

We walked to a very ruined castle on grassland that rises from the middle of the town. Everything was grey with mist and well-off-the-vertical rain. Pretty bleak. I like bleak. (In fact I'm lucky in enjoying almost everything except hot.) I thought of childhood holiday days in Peterhead, walking into town along the lido with mum and roan and assorted cousins.


spot mum

Ardrossan Castle, welcome

but this lovely lion makes up for it

In a spare half hour at the ferry terminal we sketched in warm safety looking out at choppy waters and two crows that searching for scraps on the tarmac. I managed an outline of the pier beacon before our ferry arrived and obscured the view.

beacon without ferry

beacon with ferry. nose rising

The journey: 
- ferry

I really love islands and really love ferries. To go to an island, even just for these three hours, is extremely exciting. As we climbed the tread-gripped ramp of MV Caledonian Isles a smile gripped my face and inside I tingled. Maybe there's a pill I can get for it.

Ardrossan to Brodick on Arran takes only one hour. Other than using corridors to cross from one side to the other - the strength of wind over the prow made it almost impossible to walk that way - we stayed on deck the whole time. There were all the expected birds: the six-foot wingspan of gliding and diving white adult gannets and their still-brown youngsters; rafts of guillemots floating on the waves with a few razorbills dotted among them; black guillemots, quite confusingly coloured at this time of year, more white than black; shearwaters skimming tight above the waves; cormorants passing; great black-backed and lesser black-backed gulls, more great than lesser. Great are much bigger, their backs a much blacker back. 

We both sketched a little, at risk to our sketchbooks and finger circulation.

Holy Isle! What a place.

as I said

Holy Isle lighthouse

Holy Isle lighthouse

On Arran

Arran, welcome.

On Arran I walked the shore and estuary of Brodick then a mile out into countryside. Exiting Brodick chaffinches, all males, were in the shrubs. 
(A birdy aside - One had a terrible clubbed foot, a huge crusty growth covered the whole of its right foot and had begun reaching up the leg above. Lots more information on gardenwildlifehealth.org and www.bto.org. If you ever see diseased birds in your garden the BTO would love to know the details, especially to see any photos. Details here. Chances of disease in the garden can be greatly reduced by regularly cleaning and repositioning feeders and water supplies. Factsheet here. Thanks for reading)

As I walked past the museum a red squirrel bounded over the luckily empty road. I'd no time to visit but it looked good, whitewashed old stone buildings, agricultural tools from days past.

I reached the Brodick Castle and Merkland woodland at the very very foot of what eventually becomes Goatfell, Arran's highest peak, 874m. I ate my packed lunch looking the length of narrow Glen Rosa valley, above a group of mallards on the tight meanders of the Glenrosa Water. Mosses and lichens glowed green after rain.

I managed a watercolour - ten minutes or less - before it was time to hurry back to the ferry.

from Brodick Bay, looking inland

lunch spot

I did only have 10 minutes

ferry approaching, black-headed gull, grey heron

£11.35 return. Bargain


 How to get there

ScotRail timetables here - Ayrshire, Inverclyde & Stranraer

Combine your rail and ferry fares with a ScotRail Rail & Sail ticket

Thanks to ScotRail for ongoing and invaluable support of my Scotland by Rail project.

Ardrossan harbour, Arran in the distance