Saturday, June 06, 2009

Highlands of Scotland Holiday - day 1

Friday night we both finished work promptly at 5:30pm and jumped in the car, having packed everything the previous evening. We set off for our first planned stop, the Premier Inn at Stirling. Sat Nav said 5½ hours. We had to detour up the M1 and across on the A50 around a smack on the M6 North then hit slow traffic around Stoke anyway, but apart from that the entire trip was uneventful right up to Stirling. So we completed the 368 miles in five hours flat. I say uneventful, we did pass under one motorway bridge which had a line of three cameras linked to a van which was so well hidden you could only see it if you looked for it as you passed under the bridge, I do hope that wasn’t a ‘harvesting’ speed trap, as there were certainly no safety aspects…. we’ll no doubt soon see, my last ticket five years ago was for doing 76mph on the M62. 76!!

Anyway, to the holiday. We’d settled on the Highlands of Scotland as at this time of year there are, potentially, a number of new species for us to see including birds that breed at very high altitude, such as the Capercaillie, Ptarmigan, Grouse, etc. We picked late May early June so we didn’t squeeze this year’s holidays too close together but still caught the end of migration/breeding, and we used the 'Best Birdwatching Sites in the Scottish Highlands by Gordon Hamlett' book to plan the outline of the holiday, though clearly we planned to adapt based on the prevailing weather conditions.

So, we drove on from Stirling toward our first hotel at Aviemore, stopping first at Faskally for a short walk around the woods and alongside Loch Faskally.

One plant that is spreading rapidly across Scotland is an invasive variety of Rhododendron:














Large swathes of natural forest are being overtaken by it, with the native flora dying back. It appears to be most abundant around gardens, pointing to its source of origin.
I took this photo of a sunlit glade as we headed back to the car:














From Loch Faskally we drove through Pitlochry to the visitors centre at Killiecrankie. There's no fee to access the Soldiers' Leap walk so we made a donation to the National Trust of Scotland by way of payment. First up though a cup of tea at the cafe.

The woods around the centre rang with the song of Wood Warblers:



















Along the path we watched a Spotted Flycatcher taking a spider from its web and then spending about five minutes trying to get the web off its beak:


















I'm not sure what this is but it is surely pretty:



















At the end of the walk there is a shaky bridge cross the river about thirty feet above it, this is the view up the river:




















We couldn't locate the return path on the other side of the river, the only obvious path was fenced off to protect the locally breeding birds so having tried to follow some other paths through the woodland we turned around and retraced our steps. On the return trip a Goosander paddled along briefly before taking off:

















On a quieter stretch of river we watched a Dipper filling up it's beak with food before flying off to a nest downstream, then returning to start again:




















And more Wood Warblers were singing in the cover of the trees:




















As we headed on to Aviemore itself along the local roads, we pulled alongside a pair of (Common) Pheasant, this Cock kept a wary eye on us as I photographed him:













Further along the road, the first view of a Cairngorm 'mountain', though they look more like hills, I guess age and the weather have conspired to round them off giving the appearance of huge hills:













We reached our hotel in Aviemore, The Cairngorm Hotel, mid-afternoon and settled into our room, planning an early start on Sunday. The hotel is very popular with locals and tourists alike, offering a genuine vegetarian menu and with helpful and considerate staff. Whilst not the cheapest we did enjoy our stay at the hotel. We also thoroughly enjoyed the 20 minutes of bagpipes every evening at 8:30pm, though I did jump as when the piper first started I was sat by the open window processing the day's pictures and he was playing out of sight and directly below us!

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