Monday, April 30, 2018

Amsterdam Spring 2018

We've always intended to visit Holland with the Tulips in bloom, although this trip was more accidental in timing than planned it worked out wonderfully.

Helen and I were one quarter of the group who made our way variously to Amsterdam, meeting up for dinner on Friday night.

Saturday we split into two groups of four, with our group managing to run and catch the tourist ferry with just 2 minutes to spare, across the inland sea to Muiderslot Castle also know as Amsterdam's Castle.   It dates back to around 1400 having been developed and maintained since then and is a very impressive structure:

We passed this derelict vessel on our approach to the Castle:

We had a good old explore, enjoying the outstanding weather, which proved informative and enjoyable as was the coffee and the beer, before catching the return ferry and making our way into town to meet up for dinner.

On the Sunday we'd pre-booked coach seats and entry to Keukenhof Gardens from our hotel rather than via the airport.   We'd been advised the queue from the airport for the bus routinely exceeds an hour, so this seemed a smart choice.

As the road to the gardens was already busy our knowledgeable driver dived off at a roundabout and took us down single lane roads through the planted Tulip fields, they are seriously impressive and indeed clearly visible on approach and departure form Schipol. 

We photographed these from inside the gardens as there a couple of decent vantage points:

The gardens themselves are very impressive, well organised, accessible, well priced and generally very European in organisation.   And florally stunning too:

The formal arrangements are equally impressive and often too big to capture, particularly with the ever growing throngs of visitors (the sunshine, the timing and the location meant roughly 50,000 visitors on that Sunday):

We really enjoyed our half day at the gardens, and the 24c warmth and continual sunshine helped that, as did the odd beer :)

From Keukenhof it was back to the hotel and then into town for our final dinner and drinks.   A cracking weekend with some outstanding company, weather, food, drink and general sunshine!

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Still Winter

Helen's sister Jenny came to visit for a long weekend over Easter.   The ongoing winter weather (it's snowed today on April 4th as a I write this) is punctuated with the odd hint of sunshine.  Seizing an opportunity on a fine morning we set of North to visit first Loch Arklet which looked magnificent:

This small abandoned dwelling has some amazing landscape to dwell upon:

We reached Inversnaid and enjoyed a short boggy walk to Rob Roy's viewpoint over Loch Lomond:

Before heading round to complete the circuit, passing the waterfalls by the Inversnaid Hotel.   Tourist boats were out on the water, I bet everyone was sat inside, keeping warm!

Down at the waterfront the view was equally impressive:

Having finished at Inversnaid and enjoyed lunch overlooking Loch Katrine we meandered back, passing Loch Arklet again:

The next day was rain day but given another break in the weather we planned a trip a lot further North, staying on the Moray Firth at Rosehearty, near Fraserburgh.  On the way up the forecast snow was falling in the Cairngorms but we stopped anyway to visit Ruthven Barracks:

A strong cold wind rolling off the hills made it feel a lot colder than the 1c air temperature, it was properly baltic but worth a visit nonetheless.   This is the stable with a snowy-mountain backdrop:

We stopped at Cullen for an afternoon walk along the impressive geologically featured coastline:

The forces that turned that sedimentary rock through 90 degrees must have been immense indeed.  We enjoyed the walk although the wet and hard winter meant the principle circular paths had been so eroded they were shut, we used a secondary ascent route and that proved precarious but passable.   A good walk but calling for a hot cuppa ASAP.

The following morning was the bright and bitterly cold start forecast.  I headed down to the small harbour in Rosehearty to take a few snaps in the low morning light:

It was beautiful but i was chased back in by the wind for breakfast.

Starting our return trip (we should have added another night it proved too long a trip and we had to dash around fitting things in we wanted to visit and see) we stopped at Slains castle:

It is an amazing and impressive ruin with a sad story of its own.  Apparently it is in private hands and was going to be developed into luxury apartments.  Now however it is going to ruin.  Perhaps the government could step in and rescue it before it is lost for ever?

The castle is magnificently situated on the coast:

From Slains we headed south toward Newburgh to explore Forvie National Nature Reserve.  It proved an interesting spot though one i think that would be improved with a visit in Spring or Summer.

Heading to the Southern part of the reserve to have a look there we followed a sign for the seals, they have a beach they use just beyond the currently closed Ternery at the Southern end of the NNR.   We estimate 1,000 seals were grumpily moving up the beach to escape the rising Spring tide.   They made quite a racket and number of the younger animals were in the water close to the shore with the human onlookers, watching us, watching them (worth a click to expand this one to see the scale of the spectacle):

We also visited Dunnotar again, just south of Aberdeen and drove through Arbroath too, the Abbey looks worth a visit as do a few other sites in that historic town..   There's so much to see and explore in Scotland, i just wish Spring would get on with itself now and usher Winter away for a few months! 


Having had to postpone our planned visit to India due to the flu we looked around for an opportunity to get away somewhere we'd not been before but directly from one of the two local international airports.  We settled on a trip to Athens with EasyJet.

Our first day in the city was the half marathon and a number of different distance fun runs too, so we woke up to the noise of pounding music and loud commentary from the speaker stacks along the main road and therefore right outside our hotel. 

Luckily for the runners it was cool and overcast and actually had rain forecast!   We set out to start exploring the city and headed first to the nearby Temple of Zeus.   Athens is low-rise (4 storeys being the typically height of city buildings) with some open spaces, typically surrounding amazingly old structure and ruins.  The Temple of Zeus is no exception.

It's a magnificent structure, many thousands of years old and in fact led to one of my abiding memories of the trip as adjacent to the remains of the temple are the ruins of some Roman baths, built there so the guests could look upon the much older temple, and there we were two thousand years after the baths had been occupied looking at them both in turn.   I wonder what the next two thousand years will bring...

The city is dotted with architectural ruins and often they are stumbled upon by chance, as this well preserved Roman bath was when the city was excavating to extend the metro line:

One thing we didn't like about Athens is the ubiquitous graffiti.  It really spoils the place.   Historic buildings, shops, homes, etc., are all covered.   Some people have resorted to putting up sheet metal in front of their properties to take the paint.  It makes the whole place look ragged and rough, as you can see here in what i assume is the abandoned site of the former Museum of Archaeology:

We visited the new museum, a must, and managed to time it to miss the day's rain, before heading out to a decent veggie restaurant a few blocks from our hotel.

The next day was glorious, lovely and warm, sunny and very pleasant at 18c with a feels-like 22c, much better than the -2c to 2c we'd left at home.

The National Greek Parliament looked rather splendid:

We chose the day, a Monday morning, to head to the Acropolis, assuming it would be quieter first thing.   We were very lucky as anything after 10am looks insanely busy.   We had to queue behind about 10 people, later on it was hundreds.  We chose to access the site via the Temple entrance, taking in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus on the ascent:

On the hilltop the path narrows as you enter the main site, and as well as the Parthenon which is under constant repair and maintenance there's also a Temple of Athena overlooking the city:

Pretty much any archaeological site in Athens has its historical debris, such as here at the Ancient Agora of Athens:

We really enjoyed exploring the history of the city and walking up a nearby hill to get further views of the Acropolis and Parthenon.

Tuesday was our last full day in the city, we started by exploring some of the sculptures and monuments in the old city:

As well as the more impressive churches, of which there are many very old and quite new:

We spent the later part of the morning ascending Athens' highest hill, taking in the impressive views across the city on another lovely Spring day:

Before exploring further.  In the late afternoon we drank beer on the hotel rooftop and watched the setting sun cast the city orange in its fading light:

We were impressed with our short visit to Athens, it's kind of a must-do for people interested in travel i think.   It's also whet our appetite to explore this country more, particularly the mountains such as Mount Olympus, etc.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Proper Winter

According to our neighbours it's been the hardest winter here in Scotland for sometime.   2010 was a toughie, but it snowed harder and longer in January and February than anyone can remember.  That and the flu we both caught somewhat limited our getting out and about.   We've managed a few bits here and there though including a walk along the shore on the North side of the Forth at Culross on a sunny day:

In the distance the refinery at Grangemouth (we drove home from Edinburgh one evening recently with low lying cloud and the motorway was lit orange from the flame-offs and everything smelt of sulphur, it was a relief to be past it).

Then came the beast from the East and 18 inches of lying snow with drifts half as much again:

Having joined a community dig-out we watched the snow start to melt away in the heavy rain that followed.  I picked a brief window of sunshine to drive out and head to Glencoe, dodging rain showers on the way.   Although the bulk of the snow had gone it was still a magnificent sight both on the way:

and on arrival:

The weather soon caught up with me so i turned round and headed back, getting home again before lunch, that's how close one of the most spectacular natural landscapes is to us now.   Spring is coming and it's time to get fit and get out exploring again...

Wednesday, January 10, 2018


With Christmas behind us and my birthday approaching I decided to gamble on the weather and picked a long weekend in Oban, as it has long appealed and why not?

We got very very lucky with the weather with a long, dry, calm spell forecast, though the drive up on the Friday night was anything but, we encountered stags, sleet and snow on the road but made it to a quiet, post festive seaside town, that was still lit-up and with plenty of food and accommodation choices.

After a good night's sleep it was up before dawn to get down to the harbour to watch the light slowly filter into the sky.  As it did so the snow-capped mountains on Mull became visible, beyond the small island of Kerrera:

The harbour waters were still and at pretty much full tide:

I wandered around a bit before breakfast, long enough to watch the Mull ferry come into the ferry terminal:

After breakfast we drove a little way down the coast to the departure point for the foot ferry to Kerrera, having decided to spend my birthday walking the 7 mile loop:

The ferry left early because enough people were waiting so we arrived on the island to be greeted by a lone sheep, one of the more abundant Kerrera residents:

We decided to go against the flow and walk the circuit counter-clockwise on the basis the light would be on Mull and the Highlands and then behind us as we completed the circuit thereafter:

The views to Mull on that Saturday morning were magnificent:

As indeed was much of the landscape of Kerrera:

Not much in the way of wildlife though we did see our first ever White-tailed Eagles, soaring above the channel between the Islands.  Magic!

We completed the circuit surprisingly briskly in 3 hours, despite the boggy and somewhat icy conditions.

From Kerrera we caught the foot ferry back (again early, our thanks to the ferrymen) and headed back to Oban to warm-up before heading out to catch the sunset.  We decided to watch the sunset from McCaig's tower, a folly overlooking Oban.   Whilst there we met a lovely family from South Uist, a place we have to and indeed have yet to visit.

The tower is a circular structure without purpose other than to be and to be seen:

The view over Oban from the ledge in front of the tower is splendid.   You can see the chimney of the Oban Distillery in the centre foreground as the sun set over Mull in the distance:

At night the harbour lights give an entirely different impression of Oban, luckily we were there while the Christmas lights were still on, adding a line of purple lights to the normal fare:

McCaig's tower is lit-up at night too:

Sunday morning was another cold crisp morning, this time with a lot more cloud cover, though with some sunlight breaking through from time-to-time:

The ground was frozen solid in places as were a number of smaller water bodies and water courses:

It was another beautiful morning as we worked our way North along the coast:

At one point we though we'd seen an Otter (we did later) but it turned out to be a couple of young seals close to the shore:

in a magnificent landscape and setting:

Our first stop was Dunstaffnage Castle:

Before heading on further North.   At one point i stopped to walk on to a bridge to take a picture of some snow-capped hills.   The cold breeze blowing up the channel was quite something to experience while taking this:

Our next brief stop was at Castle Stalker, which was intermittently sunlit through the clouds:

How on earth they built that...

From there we headed into Glencoe, which was duly snow-dusted and barren:

But absolutely breathtaking:

We'd met some more photographers on Kerrera the previous day and they'd mentioned Rannoch Moor as a good location for photography.   They were right:

 The moor is dotted with lakes, rivers and waterfalls, frozen or partly active:

And all in the snow-capped landscape of Glencoe:

Even with the sun heading down (at 2pm) it remains a magnificent landscape and spectacle and well worth a winter visit or two:

Our final stop of the afternoon was at Kilchurn Castle, though we approached it from the other side of Loch Awe:

I've seen a number of images of the castle reflected in the Loch but not today, there was far too much surface ice, with just a small window for the reflection:

But it's a lovely spot.  You have to move around a bit to obscure some of the electricity pylons but you can reduce their numbers at least.   I also note the landowner has given in to the inevitable flow of tourists and built a stile over their fence.  Smart!

Monday, the last day of the long weekend started even colder than the previous two days, due no doubt to the mostly clear skies.   The dawn started with red light:

Before moving into pastel shades:

And eventually yellows and blues:

It's hard to make progress when there's so much spectacular scenery around every corner.

We headed first to Lochgilphead, then alongside Loch Fyne to Inveraray before heading home from there. 

We stopped in the Trossachs to photograph more of the snow-capped mountains along the way:

And to admire the frozen ground where the sun had yet to reach:

Another frozen Loch at altitude in the Trossachs:

And our final stop on the way home, a waterfall with Christmas trees growing alongside it.

We were elated at the weather, the landscape and the whole experience of a winter visit to this part of Scotland, we'll back to Oban, Glencoe and a number of other spots as soon as we can.... fingers crossed.