Monday, November 13, 2017

Sunshine in November (at last!)


Finally a spell of bright weather has lifted Autumn and indeed my mood.   I'm trying to do more planned photography now to add to the more haphazard work i've done thus far (mainly recording wildlife and landscapes while exploring them).

My first planned shoot was picked for a still evening with some cloud in the sky, ideal for photographing the Kelpies.

First in the late afternoon, a reflection:


The skies darkened as the sun set:


And the lights came on:


We keep going back to visit the Kelpies they truly are magnificent.  I wonder what the Artist is up to at the moment?   Hopefully something as dramatic and landscape oriented as these.    Kudos too to the council for funding the work and installation, they are a real sight to behold either close up or from the nearby motorway.

Living in Falkirk is ideal really in terms of exploring Scotland and balancing that with the need for Helen to keep working.  We're north of the axis between Glasgow and Edinburgh yet still proximate to the motorway network so it's easy to head North, West, East or indeed South.

We watch the weather and given free time pick a destination to suit.   One weekend the forecast was good but patchy, location specific.  So on the Saturday we picked St Andrews to visit, starting at the Castle and then walking to the nearby Abbey.   If you pay to visit the site or are a member of historic Scotland then you can get a wee token that allows you access to climb the tower, to enjoy the rather splendid views of the town and surrounds:


From St Andrews we headed up the coast to Tentsmuir, which was bathed in Autumnal sunshine:


As was the beach:














The locals didn't mind me taking random snaps of the dogs.   This chap kept losing the ball as it was washed past him by the incoming tide:


We followed the Tay towards Perth stopping at the various Abbey ruins along the river, visiting a distillery, Lindores Abbey named after the ruins it overlooks, that has a cafe and a visitor centre indded it is fully open despite the fact it's never distilled a drop (of Whisky).   These distilleries are popping-up all over the place, there has to be some kind of overcapacity coming, which will be good for prices and collectors a few years hence no doubt.

Heading closer to Perth we passed through an unforecast heavy rain shower, and saw a cyclist stopped with his camera phone out.   We turned around and hey presto a magnificent rainbow in the town of Newburgh:


The next day the forecast looked better South so we headed to Dryburgh Abbey, one of the cluster located in the area but we'd not yet had a chance to visit.   We stopped first at Smailhome Tower, a building that dominates the local landscape:


Close by we saw a field full of Pink-footed Geese with ever more descending to join them:


Then Dryburgh Abbey, which is a very impressive building and well worth exploring:



Having seen the building and read the history we then started a 4-5 mile circular walk to and indeed along the River Tweed.   The sunlight and autumn colours combined specatacularly:



The river hosts a number of Dippers and we were lucky enough to hear and see our first Dipper display, a real treat.  The walk was very pleasant apart from the golf course bit, and being a Sunday there was no gunfire or other unpleasant distractions so we could really soak up the sense of time and place this area offers.

Roll forward to another weekend and after seeing Scotland vs Samoa at Murrayfield, and enjoying the rousing rendition of Flower of Scotland followed by a Scotland victory, we spent Sunday morning walking our local River Carron:



There's still leaves and colour but it's dissipating quite quickly now as Autumn turns to Winter.  We are finding Scotland to be a wonderful place to explore and indeed live.  Roll on Winter and hopefully some frost and snow to photograph!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Autumn in Scotland

After recovering from the flu I picked-up on the Orkney trip it was time to rebuild some strength and also to indulge my renewed interest in photography (I've recently joined Falkirk Camera Club with a view to learning more about photography, our adopted home of Scotland and anything else I can pick-up, frankly).

I've been itching to get out but once well enough the weather was against me, until finally a brightish day gave me a chance to pop down to Cumbernauld to visit another Andy Scott sculpture, called Arria:



I also explored some nearby woodland, the imaginatively named Forest Wood.  It wasn't up to much in terms of Autumn colour and is obviously well used with all the rubbish and burned patches.  I did however discover this tiny young Newt while re-tying my laces on a tree stump:



A favourite stop-off remains the Kelpies.  On a partly clear day with the hills behind them they look magnificent.   Kudos to the Council and the Artist:



We had a week off to go to Cornwall but it proved to anything but a holiday and we didn't really get out much at all.  On return to Scotland we'd missed a good patch of weather but at least had a planned weekend in Aberdeen for our Anniversary to look forward to.

I drove up stopping first at Montrose Basin SWT reserve.   I was shocked to find that 60% of the land is actually used for killing ducks and geese still.   Like so many other nature reserves in the UK it is ringed by land used for shooting wildlife and in particular the inhabitants of the nature reserves.   It's just so cynical and heart-breaking.   We're becoming more like the USA as time goes by in this regard.

I left the reserve and headed towards the town proper, stopping to explore the Eastern end of the basin, which looked quiet bleak and forlorn:



On up the coast I stopped again at Dunnottar, still not been able to photography this in sunlight, one day!   I did however pay to enter and explore, and it's worth it, one of my favourite spots in this area i think:



From there I went on to Crathes Castle NTS.  I didn't have enough time to properly explore it but it looks very interesting and a worthwhile place to go back to:



That evening I met Helen off her train from Glasgow and we dined in Aberdeen before getting an early night.

The following day, Friday, we decided to explore Aberdeen City Centre, trying to find a cooked breakfast, which we singularly failed to do.  We did enjoy the architecture though:



Helen located a cafe on the fun beach to the North of the City Centre which we headed to.   It met our hopes and we enjoyed our breakfast although by now it was afternoon proper.   Down on the beach the tide was coming in, lapping up against the sea defences:



From there we headed down to Torry Point Battery and the main Aberdeen harbour entrance.   With the tide nearly full various large oil industry boats were headed in, however we watched the waves hitting up against the outer harbour wall:



 The sea was too rough for the dolphins we'd hoped to watch but seeing the wall breached by wave after wave was something:



The wind was picking up and the forecast rain started so we headed back to get ready for dinner with our nephew, which we thoroughly enjoyed, the company and the food at Shri Bheema in Aberdeen was fantastic.

Saturday Aberdeen was under a large, wet cloud, so we headed Northwest benefiting from Helen's research into places to visit outside of the city.

We finally got out from under the rain as we approached the town of Keith and our first stop at Balvenie Castle.   This was the transition area:



The light wasn't great for capturing a good quality image of the castle but the coos in a nearby field were worth capturing:



From Balvenie we headed to Auchindoun Castle.  Which is a cracking ruin of a castle:



It's set in a very pretty landscape and is host to some horror stories of history.  I also had a 'clunk-click' with a favourite song from my youth, by a band and on an album I must have heard 30 years ago, but cannot recall nor locate it.  The words came back straight away though:

'Heid me, hang me, that shall never fear me
I'll burn Auchindoun ere the life leave me'


The glen down from the castle with small burn running through it was briefly lit by the emerging sun:



 From Auchindoun we headed on to Huntly and the Castle/Palace there, which was the most impressive building of the day:



It's also set in leafy parkland, ideal at this time of year.  After Huntly our last stop was at Leith Hall NTS which is set in a beautiful woodland resplendent in Autumn colour:



Sunday started dark and rain-sodden so we headed for home having thoroughly enjoyed both the trip and chance to re-boot.

After that it was waiting for the weather to improve again, which it threatened but failed to deliver one Thursday morning.  I drove to New Lanark to capture the colour there against a blue sky however it remained resolutely grey, thwarting my aspirations:





That night our camera club had booked to visit the Falkirk Wheel to do some night photography, and had sent out some advice beforehand so we could arrive prepared.  We decided to first visit the Kelpies, our first night-time visit and they proved magnificent:





The Wheel was bust however as the lights weren't working, the message to advise the club of this hadn't been passed on and the staff had all gone home.   This led to 30-40 people hanging around in the dark for an hour waiting for confirmation that the evening was cancelled.  I felt sorry for the organisers at the club and more than a little annoyed with the staff at the wheel for not caring.

Roll on then the last weekend of Autumn (I'm calling it this because we had our first hard frost, -1c last night), and the arrival of a group of Helen's colleagues from her early professional training days).  They spent Friday afternoon exploring Stirling, Saturday we drove them to the Kelpies, the Wheel, The Forth bridges and Linlithgow Palace and the Sunday it was New Lanark again.

I was delighted to be designated driver rather than left at home as finally there were fleeting moments of blue sky and sunshine, which always makes the site look amazing:



And highlights the colours in the leaves:



The waterfall was in flood:



Further up the Clyde the larger falls were mostly in shade but still looking lovely as the treetops were caught by the infrequent sunlight:


I tried some slower exposures to give the water the 'silky' look:




















It was a great afternoon.   As the sun headed for the far horizon we headed closer to Glasgow, stopping at Chatelherault, south of Hamilton:



And watched the sunset, while the temperature fell away:



So now we're in the cross-over between Autumn and Winter, there's a huge amount to look forward to in terms of exploring and hopefully photography opportunities just around the corner, weather permitting...

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Orkney Islands - exploring mainland

We drove off the ferry and parked-up immediately in the long-stay car park and then walked into Stromness itself.  The town has had a £3.5m facelift apparently though most of the funds were spent on the ground, as the narrow main street is also used by cars:


We visited the Stromness museum before lunch and then headed on to visit the first of the 'must do' archaeology sites on the mainland, Stenness Standing Stones:


Current thinking has Orkney as the centre-point and indeed origination point of the neolithic religion that included standing stones, stone circles, etc.   This 5,000 year-old stone circle at the start of the thin land bridge that also includes the Ring of Brodgar is as impressive as you would expect:


We enjoyed wandering around both sites before heading on to the coast and Skara Brae, the neolithic village found on the coast to the West of mainland:


And the beach/coast location itself:


It is amazing to think that 5,000 years ago these people were as sophisticated as they have demonstrated being.

Making the most of the lack of rain, given the prevailing forecasts, we headed on then to the Brough of Birsay, enjoying the geology of the coastline:


As well as the Viking settlement itself, this a mere 1,000 years old:


We headed on to our hotel late afternoon in Dounbsy and hoped for fine weather the next day.  I couldn't help but stop and get my picture taken with this signpost though:


Sunday was grey, showery and windy, but determined to make the most of the trip we headed out and to the far end of South Ronaldsay, passing on the way the visible remains of one of the Churchill barriers, the vessels sunk to make a protective screen around the natural deep-water harbour of Scapa Flow, at the start of the second world war.  You can also see the causeway which was subsequently built by Italian POWs shortly thereafter to make the defences impenetrable to submarine attack:


Our first planned stop was at the Tomb of the Eagles, a privately owned and run Neolithic archaeology site, discovered and explored by a self-learned land-owner as the authorities had ignored his initial findings and pleas for professional help.

His two daughters now run the operation and provide a very detailed understanding of the site, it's finds, history, etc, which we enjoyed.

It rained on the walk out to the Tomb, this is Helen pausing to take in the view and enjoying the weather on the way:



On the way back North we stopped on Lamb Holm to visit the Italian Chapel, built by the POWs so they had their own place of worship during their time on the Islands:


An impressive though fragile building it is too:


We explored the area around Scapa Flow and the coastline on our way back to the hotel as the wind and the rain increased.  We were thoroughly enjoying the trip though, there's so much to see and learn about.

Monday was the rain day we'd feared.   Winds from 25-30 mph and showers that were light or intense with no particular warning and no let-up in the rain, so we headed for Kirkwall the Capital to see what we could see there.

St Magnus Cathedral is a very impressive building, inside and out, and well worth a visit:



The same goes for the Earl's Palace next door.




After seeing these two impressive buildings we began a bit of a shopping odyssey.   There's a wood-smoking business located close to Stromness, which smokes cheese, fish, garlic, etc.  We wanted to see what we could find to bring home, particularly smoked garlic.  None of the produce shops we visited, in the pouring rain, had any and recommended in turn another.  We visited them all but no joy.  So we drove to Stromness, driving through rivers running roads, such was the rainfall, but we couldn't locate them.   We finally found them the next day on a second attempt, having been directed by a postman.   The building is not where the website says it is and they don't have a shop.   Nor apparently can you buy their smoked garlic anywhere on the mainland and the smoked foods they do provide to local retailers are fridge only.   It's crazy.   Surely they could seal smoked cheese in wax so people could buy it and take it home?   Surely they could do this with hot smoked fish too?   I think they are missing a volume business opportunity there...

Anyway having been bounced around Kirkwall we decided to head back to the car as the weather was getting worse, cue taking a wrong turn, walking half a mile and getting absolutely soaked to the skin, so much so I caught a chill that became a fever but that's in the future...

The next day Tuesday was our last day on Orkney and we decided to complete our tour of the mainland by visiting Deerness and some of the old military installations on the coast:


You're not supposed to go inside but the view from this old gun emplacement was worth it:



We visited the Gloup, a sea blow-hole worn into the coast and enjoyed another side of Orkney as the sun shone across the islands, really bringing out the colours of the landscape.

We enjoyed our last dinner at our hotel before leaving to board the ferry and stay in our cabin ahead of the 06:30 sailing to the mainland and the long drive from Thurso to Falkirk.

We really enjoyed visiting and exploring The Orkney Islands, as much as we could given the weather anyway, we'd have liked to visit Westray and Sanday but given the conditions it wouldn't have made sense.   We were delighted with the number of birds, everywhere, the lack of trees means there's no industrial shooting of birds, which means greater numbers and abundance, a rare sight in the UK and indeed much of the world these days.  The people we met were friendly, helpful and patient.  There's a real sense of the Viking heritage (one third of the population have Viking DNA) and it's a remarkably peaceful place to visit.