Monday 28 August 2017

Keeping it close to home

A change in work schedule has resulted in more regular but shorter spells at home.  With a focus on shorter ventures, three afternoons on three consecutive weekends have been a good reminder that it's not necessary to travel far to get great outdoor days......

August brings the heather into full bloom and transforms the hills.  In this image there are two types, Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) in the foreground and Common Heather or Ling (Calluna Vulgaris) beyond.  Eastern Scotland provides ideal growing conditions for both species and close up they are bright and vibrant. 

On the landscape scale, even on a cloudy day, the hills are a rich purple.  The dominant sound on an afternoon walk around the Correen ridge was the hum of bees working the heather plants - bees from the same hives may visit the flowers in our garden in the valley below these hills.

A calm and sunny day the following weekend gave some really good conditions for sea kayaking on the Moray Firth coast - it's not far from home and all the better for that!  The Bow Fiddle Rock is the outstanding feature of this part of the coast.......

...but there's so much more to explore.  Hidden channels behind cliffs, a ruined castle, picturesque harbours, sandy beaches......

...and more than a few caves and tunnels, lit with luminous light in the summer sunshine.....all in an afternoon's paddling.

A recent find for us are the Tarland Trails, a series of mountain bike trails just outside the Cromar village of Tarland.  Just twenty minutes away by car, the trails are a super facility with a mix of family-friendly and challenging routes through a mixed wood.

We enjoyed the "Puddock" skills area and the Blue (Moderate) rated "Spiky Hedgehog" run - a fast, sweeping singletrack descent with curves, rollers and berms.....

.....which was huge fun!

As much as I love to explore new places, it's so good to be reminded of what's close to home - and I'll never take that for granted.

Sunday 20 August 2017

From green to gold

In March at the cusp between Winter and Spring here in the north east of Scotland I started to record the change in the fields as the new growth spread across the land in a green wave.  The change was startling; a complete transformation in a few short weeks which goes almost unnoticed until complete.

I've continued to photograph the fields around the house as Spring became Summer - and have been somewhat surprised that the pace of change has hardly slackened.  From the green blush of the last day of April, the fields have seen great change.

By the last week in May the "green wave" had become a vivid emerald, contrasting with the brilliant yellow of gorse on the hills and the blue of a late Spring sky.  May and early June were very warm and relatively dry, ideal growing conditions as the days lengthened towards the summer solstice.  All around the house there was new life as the cattle calved - a busy time for our neighbours who have several herds of beautiful Aberdeen Angus.

By mid July the ears of barley were forming and the spring green had been replaced with a dazzling shade somewhere between green and gold.  In the hayfields a "cut" of grass was already taken, to be baled and stored as fodder and bedding for cattle during the following winter.  During late May to early July there's virtually no darkness here, and growth accelerates in over twenty hours of full daylight.

By early August there's a definite sense that the crops are ripening fast, despite very changeable and cool weather through most of July and into August.  The "park" (field) at the right of this image is planted with potatoes and the plants are now at full height.  Behind the houses the park under grass for hay and silage is covered with lush growth - it'll get another cut before the end of the summer.

The crops temselves are coming on well if a little later than in an average year - the ears of barley approaching fully ripened.  Most of this will go to feed cattle with some of the best going for malting to make whisky.

Oats are cropped later, sometimes not until October and the stems of this crop are still green.  But it's definitely gold and not green which is the predominant colour now.

Thursday 10 August 2017

A ride down the tide on the Sound of Jura

As we moved out from the Gulf of Corryvreckan into the Sound of Jura the tidal stream was increasing and our GPS confirmed that feeling.  Pretty soon we were travelling south at 10 Kph with very little paddling effort.

At the very end of the trip and the end of a lengthy day of paddling, this was a pleasant way to travel!  We headed across towards the mainland side of the Sound, taking transits as we went to make sure we passed to the east of Ruadh Sgeir (Red Skerry), a small island in mid channel which splits the tidal stream.

As we approached, the true speed of the flow became apparent and we were slung around the north of the island at a terrific rate........

....into flat calm water - but even here we were getting a great ride down the tide.  The view down the Sound to the distant Paps of Jura under a huge cloudscape was very fine.

We passed inside Carsaig Island into a lagoon reflecting the blue of the sky and the vivid green of early summer vegetation.

 A familiar yacht was anchored in Carsaig Bay - we'd last met with "Wild Rose" on the west coast of Iona - and she looked just as good in her home bay!

The last few hundred metres into Carsaig seemed to pass quite slowly, we were out of the tidal assistance and we were all tired at the end of a long day. 

David and Maurice were heading home the same due to work commitments while Douglas, Sam and I had intended to stay on the water and paddle a little way south to find a wild camp for the night.  In the event, we elected to join David and Maurice for dinner at the Tayvallich Inn - which we can heartily recommend - we ordered identical meals - fish and chips all round!  From the Inn it was just a few metres to the Tayvallich camp site which we three stayed on for the night.

What a trip it had been!  We paddled 135 Km over four days and camped for three nights on some of the wildest and most remote beaches on Scotland's west coast.

A second trip to Jura in two years just reinforced my view that it's amongst the very best of sea kayaking destinations  - wild scenery, wildlife, remoteness, grandeur and fast tidal streams make for a potent mix.  Colonsay and Oronsay exceeded the very high hopes I had - this was my first visit to both those islands and it most certainly won't be the last.

As ever though, it's the people who really make trips special. To David, Maurice, Sam and Douglas - thank you so much - and Slainte!

Day 1 - Carsaig to Jura, the Jura Portage and West Loch Tarbert

A change of plan sets the wheels in motion across Jura

A Jura salute for a Jura sunset

Day 2 - West Loch Tarbert to Oronsay and the west coast of Colonsay

Snakes alive

Oronsay Priory - a place of peace

Out on the edge - Colonsay's wild west coast

Day 3 - North and east coast of Colonsay and crossing back to Jura

Under a perpetual summer sun

Stocking up at Scalasig

Boules - Hebridean style

The shining sands of Shian

Day 4 - West coast of Jura, Gulf of Corryvreckan and Sound of Jura to Carsaig

The bones of the place

All in the timing at the Gulf of Corryvreckan

A ride down the tide on the Sound of Jura