A Travellerspoint blog

May 2022

Day 8 - Day 2 in the Cairngorms

The Cairngorms fail to live up to expectations

semi-overcast 15 °C
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We had been told that Avielochan was a great place to see Slavonian Grebes, a rare species. We had the hide to ourselves, though quite chilly as the wind was blowing straight in. With the wind blowing towards us, I thought we would have a good chance to see these grebes close to the hide, as other people we had met had done, Eventually, we did see one, possibly two but on the far side of the loch, just recognisable. The only other birds we saw there were Greylag Geese, Black-headed Gulls and Goldeneye but none close enough for acceptable photography, so I will include just the attractive view we had from the hide.

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RSPB Abernethy was highly recommended so we moved on there. The young woman at the entry "gate" told us much about how valuable this tiny relict part of the great Caledonian Forest is but, unlike other RSPB places we have been, did not offer a map and didn't seem to have much idea what we could do, other than go up to the Visitor Centre. This site is renowned for its Ospreys and when we reached the centre, we found that we could see nests, out on Loch Garten, through digiscopes or nest cams which we could have watched from home! We watched Siskins and other birds making good use of the feeder just outside the viewing window. There were some walk tracks but we had no idea where these went and, in any case, were still stiff from yesterday, so just wandered down to the edge of a body of water (possibly an arm of Loch Garten but without a map we couldn't say) where there some good views through the forest.

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The advice received from our hotel seems to be rather more hopeful than accurate! According to the blurb, at Loch An Eilein we could sit in our car and birdwatch (just up our street!) as with the bird feeders in the car park, we could be certain to see Crested Tits (one of our wish list, as mentioned). We happily and hopefully drove there only to find no bird feeders and mighty few birds! We settled for a walk along the shore of the loch to see the ruined castle on an island. We had to share this with groups of off-road cyclists who were incredibly noisy - it is a family-oriented place so I had half expected something like this but they were rather inconsiderate of others. We did find a quiet area by the loch where we watched a very smart Mallard cruise by, while Siskins and Pied Wagtails hopped around on rocks and shore.

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We then decided to try RSPB Insh Marshes where there is a circular hide from which we had panoramic, if distant, views of the marshes below us. We could make out some birds but not sufficiently well for photography. However, just outside the curved window was a set of bird feeders and on these we had close encounters with Chaffinches, Coal Tits and Blue Tits, Siskins, Pheasants (including a melanistic one - darker than usual plumage), a Great Tit and a Robin. This was an enjoyable spot and, if time had permitted, we would probably have made a return visit

As we left Insh Marshes, we spotted Ruthven Barracks - an imposing ruin which, after earlier castles had been destroyed, was created early in the 18th century as a defence against Jacobite rebels. One attack by about 300 rebels was repulsed by a dozen soldiers but when some 3,000 Jacobites, retreating from their defeat at Culloden, attacked they overwhelmed the fortified barracks and left them in the ruins which can be seen today. Unfortunately, like a few places we have been in Scotland, visitors are temporarily barred - mainly while renovations take place.

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A somewhat mixed day but overall rather disappointing. Even the scenery that we have seen so far has not been as impressive as expected, although it has been great to see some wonderful woodlands. We have relatively little woodland in Suffolk so it is really nice to see the variety of forest that exists in Scotland.

Posted by SteveJD 17:48 Archived in Scotland Tagged birds scotland cairngorms Comments (0)

Day 7 - Day 1 in the Cairngorms

A long walk

semi-overcast 15 °C
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One of the tips we were given was that we could see Dippers by the Old Spey Bridge. We walked out of the hotel and within a couple of hundred yards were in the Anagach Woods which are principally native pine woods but with a nice variety of broad-leaved trees for balance. These are very attractive woods dripping with lichen of all sorts. There was plenty of birdsong but not many that we could see, other than the ubiquitous Chaffinches and a Blue Tit. Before we came here, both of us had set our minimum aim at seeing (and hopefully photographing) Crested Tits, Crossbills and Red Squirrels.

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We continued for about 600 or so yards to get to the Old Spey Bridge. Before we reached it we had spotted a couple of Dippers the other side of the Spey, hopping around on rocks. However, when we walked under the bridge another pair was busy nest-building much closer. There was a clump of grass on the central arch support and we watched the Dippers fly up underneath into their nest cavity.

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Although we had so far only walked about a mile, my legs were very stiff but we decided to walk on in the hope that they would ease up. They didn't and we cut back on what should have been a 3 mile total loop but took a wrong track and found ourselves back at the Old Spey Bridge and between that extended loop.

Along this trek, we saw a Treecreeper which did not pose for photos and a Chaffinch which did, albeit behind twigs!

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This meandering, together with other walking that day, resulted in us clocking up about 6 miles, which I am ashamed to admit is a good deal further than I have achieved for quite a while. For the last mile, I was almost on my knees and took advantage of every "sit upon" that I could find! Once back at the hotel, both of just collapsed! This ended up in being a short day as far as the blog is concerned!

Posted by SteveJD 21:21 Archived in Scotland Tagged birds woods cairngorms spey dipper Comments (0)

Day 6 - We leave Edinburgh

A roundabout route to the Cairngorms

rain 13 °C
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As far as I am aware, I only have one slight family connection with Scotland. In the 19th century, my paternal grandfather's half-sister gave birth to a son at Dupplin Castle while there with her husband who was the coachman. The poor old castle had a chequered career - it seems that it was built sometime in the 13th century but in 1461 it was attacked and was destroyed. This seems to be some internal Scottish rivalry rather than an English invasion! The castle was rebuilt, ownership changed hands and, some time later, in 1688 it was again rebuilt. I presume this had been required due to the ravages of time as I can find no mention of fire or other damage. The castle was gutted by fire in 1827 but was again rebuilt and restored as a country house. This must be the version in which my half great aunt had her child. In the 1920s or 1930s there was a fire in the interior. It was then demolished in August-October 1967 and a new house was built in 1970 on the foundations (thanks to Wikipedia). This is a family-run estate and there appears to be limited access.

All of the above is to explain that, on leaving Edinburgh, we headed for Dupplin but found that the buildings were not visible from the road and, as the castle was destroyed long ago, it is all rather academic. Still, a pleasant country drive.

One of the benefits of my Wednesday morning "lessons" with Sam Newton is that he digresses from the subject matter and I and the others find out about all manner of history. On one occasion, Sam mentioned Pictish stones at Aberlemno, so we made this our next stop, The stones date to between 400-800AD and, not surprisingly, are covered during the winter months. One stone, in the grounds of the little T-shaped church and dated to about 800AD has a depiction of a battle on one side (believed to be the Battle of Dun Nechtain in 685 in which Northumbrian raiders were routed by the Pictish army) and a cross on the other, albeit with dragons and other creatures included! Along the road are three further stones, a similarly dated roadside cross, a presumably much older stone known as the Crescent Stone on which there are barely discernible crescent shapes and the Serpent Stone (which was leaning before I touched it!). This dates back to between 500-700AD. Apparently there were other stones in the fields so this must have been quite a significant site for the Picts.

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The weather on this trip was mainly drizzly to showery and windy, with a brief clear spell at Aberlemno. We decided to take a chance and headed for RSPB Troup Head. I did get out of the car and walk across the car park to see where the paths led but I was almost blown off my feet and got a little damp. The photo flatters the conditions - or my photographic abilities!

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From this remote spot, we drove through some narrow lanes to Banff. Judith's great-grandfather had an aerated water factory in Annan (see photo of ginger beer bottle sold on e-Bay!) and either he or another member of his family ran a similar business in Brewery House in Banff. This a rather foreboding building, in an otherwise quite attractive town, opposite the harbour. I don't have all my records with me, so I can't bore you with the full details!

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We finally carried on to the Grant Arms Hotel in Grantown-on-Spey, in the Cairngorms area, where we stayed for four nights. At dinner in the evening we were chatting to a couple from Northumberland who had been there for 7 days. They suggested a couple of places to go, one of which was great and the other I suspect was with a personal guide and our experience there didn't quite live up to expectation. Other than that, we have had a good journey with some interesting waystops.

Posted by SteveJD 18:57 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland banff cairngorms picts aberlemno ginger_beer Comments (1)

Day 5 - Day 3 in Edinburgh

Royal Botanic Gardens

semi-overcast 15 °C
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While waiting for our first bus, we were delighted to watch a small flock of Goldfinches devouring Dandelion seeds.

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Today we really tested our knowledge of Lothian buses. We took a 10, as usual, from close to our flat towards Ocean Terminal (where we had disembarked to visit the RY Britannia). We than took a 16 through rather less salubrious areas heading westwards and changed to an 8 which dropped us by the east gate of the gardens. This gate has a rather blind entrance so we missed this and walked around the gardens about 800 metres to the west gate. This was opportune as, by now we were hungry and the east gate does not have a restaurant! We had a very tasty lunch before exploring the gardens.

Compared with, say Kew Gardens, these are quite small. Kew is about 300 acres and Edinburgh about 72. Nonetheless, this small package delivered. We walked up to the highest point from which we could see various parts of the city skyline, including the "folly" monument to the Napoleonic War dead, apparently unfinished due to lack of funds and providing a view which suggested to some that Edinburgh is the Athens of the North. The castle was also, of course, very visible.

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We roamed through other interesting areas to the Azalea Garden where the colours were quite eye-popping.

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Judith was very envious to see a woman sitting on the grass creating a beautiful water colour image of one of the coral-coloured Azalea blooms, very talented.

We worked our way through Chinese and Nepalese plantings which were fascinating and colourful.

Across the park on a hillside was a very interesting area which had so many beautiful flower species that is hard to recall them all, although the Trillium I find fascinating. The blue Meconopsis were just coming into bloom and we could see the attraction of growing these if you have the right conditions. One of the areas that really impressed was where they had a few species of the orchid Cypripedium growing and flowering. An information board nearby assured us that these can be grown in UK gardens - what a challenge!

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As we neared the east gate and exit, we loved the large rockery area, planted with flowers from all over the world but ones which enjoy rocky slopes.

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On our journey back, we managed the trip on two buses, the 36 to the road where we could pick up the 10 back to the flat, in plenty of time to get packed ready for our departure the next day.

Posted by SteveJD 21:04 Archived in Scotland Tagged gardens scotland edinburgh orchids buses azaleas Comments (1)

Day 4 - Day 2 in Edinburgh

A trip to the city

semi-overcast 14 °C
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We again made good use of public transport. Thank goodness buses are good and reasonably priced as parking is the joint most costly in the UK and driving into Edinburgh at the moment is a nightmare with all of the roadworks. Mainly these work are extensions of the tramline which will no doubt be great once they are finished. In the interim they are a pain.

Both of us were rather surprised at how grubby Edinburgh is. We were dropped on Princes Street which is a fine wide street with wide pavements but despite this we found it, overall, rather underwhelming and disappointing. From this main street, we trudged up through the streets to get to the Museum of Scotland, as recommended by friends (thanks Steve & Liz). Just opposite the museum is a small statue of Greyfriars Bobby. There are various stories about Bobby but the generally accepted view is that he was a Skye Terrier who guarded his master's grave for 14 years until he eventually died. I do wonder how he survived for 14 years through Edinburgh's winters but let's not spoil a good story.

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The exterior of the museum was very modern, with clean angular lines which I quite liked. However, inside it was clearly much older with a very graceful arched structure giving great open areas.

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We explored a few areas, all of which we enjoyed although we felt that some exhibition areas (like other museums etc., that we have visited) lacked any logical flow and we found ourselves dodging to and fro and thus missing some aspects. We did enjoy finding, eventually, the Book of Hours, a small beautifully illustrated little book which had been inscribed by Mary, Queen of Scots.

Lunch was OK and we ate this on the balcony which was incredibly noisy. The eating area looked out over the large internal space and at the ground level, all manner of activities had been provided to keep children entertained (it was a Saturday) and the din was quite incredible. What a pity children can't enjoy the museum for what it offers without dumbing things down to very noisy and rather silly activities. I know I am being intolerant but I feel my years allow me a little grumble!

In one of the exhibition halls was a special display of paintings by John James Audubon. The story of how he got Scots to help him to get his paintings published was fascinating in itself but the paintings were superb with so much attention to detail. Judith has recently taken up painting as a hobby and she was greatly taken by the detail in the pictures with evidence of extremely fine brushwork. I hadn't realised that he painted other creatures as shown in the following examples of some of the paintings on display.

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My grumbles aside, we really enjoyed this exhibition and the museum as a whole. After absorbing as much history and culture as we could, we walked across the road, past Greyfriars Bobby into Greyfriars churchyard where we found a gravestone erected in Bobby's memory and also a granite replica posed in a flower bed in front of the church.

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The streets in this area are very interesting but also very steep and windy, quite taxing on our aging legs! We walked up the Royal Mile with the castle looming over the shops, pubs and other buildings.

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We continued up Castle Hill, to the skirl of bagpipes from a solo, uniformed, piper to the entrance to the castle. Unfortunately, by now, it was too late for an entrance so we satisfied ourselves with a photograph - into the lowering sun! We had to enjoy the sun as it had been in scarce supply although it was at least dry.

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On our way back down, we had a good view of the massive memorial to Sir Walter Scott. This is the second largest memorial to a writer in the world, the largest being in Havana.

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This monument we felt typified the general grubbiness of the city - the "Athens of the North" (having been to Athens, I can't help feeling the comparison is valid insofar as appearance is concerned! However, it seems that in the 1990s test were carried out and it was decided that the sandstone should not be cleaned as this would cause damage to the stone. They did however replace some damaged parts, resulting in a slightly mottled appearance from some angles.

Posted by SteveJD 20:33 Archived in Scotland Tagged paintings edinburgh dog museum castle terrier audubon greyfriars_bobby walter_scott Comments (1)

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