Sunday, 26 July 2015

Wonderful Scotland 2015 (Day 5)

JUST the name of the Summer Isles inspires excitement - these scattered islands in the NW of Scotland are becoming an mandatory pilgrimage for us each time we visit the area, as the scenery enlivens the senses.

To get there (from Lochinver to Achiltibuie) we took the "wee mad road"; a long, twisting and largely single track road, which skirts around the coast and provides stunning views and scary encounters with speeding locals.

You can see our destination in the distance from the view below, taken from the front door.

Looking out from the front door
After surviving the WMD drive we reached the wide sandy bay - (Achnahaird Bay).  The sheep were grazing a pink "meadow" - it turned out to be a sea of thrift flowers - quite spectacular. It started being quite overcast so we decided to move on a return later.

Our drive around the area took us to a number of  bays and beaches.  There is a resilient community here that finds ways to make a living from tourism, fishing, farming and providing local services.

One far off headland beach, scattered with massive boulders, had a large stone enclosure - it could have been made in the last 100 years or could have been 1000s of years old - it was hard to tell.  The area is good for ringed plovers - these wonderful, diminutive waders are full of character and are very attractive in their own right.  This pair that I found were ringed...ringed ringed plovers!  They let out a short, high pitched peep and I assumed that these were young from the same parent, i.e. siblings, rather than a breeding pair.



The sun did make an appearance, and this opened up the fantastic and breath taking views.


Back to the thrift bay and the pink shone out:


The flora of the area is rich, as there has not been any attempt to fertilize the ground - the insect eating butterwort was plentiful and was flowering during our visit:

This is a wonderful area and one highly recommended if you are ever up that way.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Wonderful Scotland 2015 (Day 4)

HAVE you ever breathed in the air around a big sea-bird colony - it's something never forgotten.  Rotting fish and bird...well you know what - poop...festering in the sunshine makes quite a sensory impact, but this is what we came for.  Well, actually we visited small, but beautiful, Handa Island to see the birds, rather than smell them, and we were not disappointed.

The super stars of this wonderful place are the puffins, but the great skuas (also known as bonxies), arctic skuas, guillemots and razorbills, red throated divers and eider ducks are also pretty special.

A small inflatable craft takes you from the mainland to this SWT nature reserve, where there are no trees, just the occasional stone walls running over the open moorland, massive cliffs and some beaches.  It's a great place and a real a must-see in the bird breeding season.


Great skuas




Puffin in thrift

Fulmar (on the right)
Ultra cute juv. oystercatcher
A hatched egg

Big cliffs...


Wonderful Scotland 2015 (Day 3)

THE holiday house where we stayed is surrounded by boggy peat moorland grazed by sheep and cattle.  It could be quite rich in flowers, but the stock tend to graze the sward hard.  The plants remain, however, just in a short, stumpy form.

The house's lawn was free of this pressure enabling half a dozen stunning northern marsh orchids to bloom.  Other orchids outside the plot were short lived; this lesser butterfly orchid, growing by the rough track leading to the tarmacked road, lasted just a few days.  Other species in a diminutive form, such as gypsywort with their pink flowers, provided frequent blobs of colour and we've seen loads of bog asphodel in the past, but these were only a few inches high.

Not a bad spot to start the day - lesser butterfly orchid
We drove to a local beach on our way out for the day and stepping off the road for a few yards went exploring.  This below is a view of the typical landscape of the area between the coast and the land west of Lochinver - there was noone else around enjoying the diverse flora and fantastic views.

The beach was breathtaking (literally).  A gaggle of fathers and small children were enjoying the shallow, clear water, whilst we clambered around looking at the rock pools and enjoying the morning sunshine.

A (green?) sandpiper called from the headland...

On the walk back to the car, through a narrow creek where the stream rushed to the sea, I was excited to see a globe flower - just one lonely, but wonderful blossom.  This is a rare relative of the buttercup that insists on living in the zone wheres its feet are wet most of the time.

Health spotted orchids are plentiful over the moorland across the region

Our main destination for the day was quite a long drive away, so instead we stopped off and repeated a valley walk, following a wide rushing river that cut a route through a hillside clothed in woodland and moorland.  It was quite a tiring route, which might surprise you, but was a wonderful walk.  

The area is frankly quite wet.  Where there nutrient is really leached from the soil it makes hard for some plants to grow, but other such as this sundew take advantage of that gap.

This butterfly was an early spot:


Along the path this large beetle won the battle with its lunch and was dragging it away somewhere...who'd a thought!

Climbing up out of the valley looking to the horizon this was the amazing sight, open moorland and a mountain clothed in white cloud:

A rather impressive waterfall was our destination - but we were too knackered to go any further:

It was a great day and on the return trip we stopped off in a lay-by to admire the view back from where we'd come: