Friday, 15 July 2011

Scotland. There's sunshine here somewhere.


We packed the tent and headed south, to a campsite I'd last stayed in many years ago when I was a teen. The journey took us down the west coast, through Ullapool (shop-stop) to Gairloch, via a quick soup-stop where a White-tailed Eagle drifted distantly past. Throughout the journey the sun shone, the birds sang and the weather was generally pretty fabulous. Weird.

We finally arrived at Big Sand campsite (yes, that's really the name of the place) and had a gentle wander along the beach to relax.The campsite was stuffed with Six-spot Burnet moths and Small Heath butterflies; and with Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and Wheatears feeding on the caterpillars. Shame they don't eat midges.

The stony end of the sandy beach at Big Sand, looking to the Torridon hills

Six-spot Burnet moth.

As the evening seemed nice, we thought a spot of seawatching might be in order, so we headed off to Rua Reidh lighthouse, a few kilometres up the coast, to see what might be on offer. As we arrived, the weather closed in and a few spots of rain began to fall. Nothing daunted, we sat and watched - or I did, whilst Na wrote postcards - a steady stream of auks passing by, with the odd Black Guillemot pepping up the mix a little. A few parties of Manx Shearwaters drifted through, killing time before heading in to their roosts overnight. Even better, a first-year Great Northern Diver appeared just offshore, and to cap it all, a pod of about 60 Common Dolphins hurtled past southwards.

Looking north from Rua Reidh

Rua Reidh lighthouse, looking to the dim and distant Outer Hebrides


Once again woken by the rain, but swiftly forced out of bed by a combination of sunshine and midges. We trotted off to Gairloch harbour to investigate a whale-watching company, booked ourselves on their afternoon trip and set out for a brisk walk to blow out the cobwebs beforehand. The walk produced our only dragonflies of the trip: two Common Bluets (Enallagma cyathigerum), a couple of Goldenrings (Cordulegaster boltonii) and what looked like a single Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum), though the latter went past quite briskly in the wind. We also managed to find a Golden Eagle circling up in the sunshine and yet another pair of Greenshank.

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch by the loch-side, then headed back to the harbour and kitted up for our trip. This entailed putting on a rather large survival-suit, or some such beast, which made me at least look like a bit of a charlie. 

Sailor Na

Sailor J, camping it up.

We were soon on our way out of the loch, heading out in search of cetaceans. After a rather disappointingly empty sea had been scanned for a while, we eventually picked up the occasional Harbour Porpoise, but nothing more significant. So off we headed for the distant flocks of Kittiwakes and Gannets, putting the wind up a few auks as we passed.

Gannet. Not camping it up - Gannets are too straight-laced to act in such a fashion.
The bird flocks signified nothing more than birds for a while, until a Minke Whale finally put in an appearance, sounding majestically near the rib, then diving in search of food. He/she/it did this a handful of times in the end, coming within 100m of us as we drifted along on the current. This was all fine and dandy, indeed quite spectacular - until we drifted into the patches of air where it had breathed, and my word!, does a whale's breath smell bad... if you've every had the misfortune to smell a septic-tank which has been cracked and the leachate is stagnating in the sunshine, well that's about as close as I can come to it - and believe me, I've no desire to come any closer.

Minke Whale diving, having just let out a vast blast of halitosis

Fulmar, gliding serenely by on its way somewhere. I bet they home in on feeding whales by scent.

We drifted far enough from the whale to start the engines up again, and headed off to be shown small pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins, which really weren't interested in our boat. Sometimes you get the dolphin, sometimes the dolphin gets you, I guess. Anyway, whatever the reason, they headed resolutely off into the blue, so we had to be content with a drive-by viewing of a Common Seal haul-out, a handful of Grey Seals, and then a steady steam back to the harbour and dry land. Not a bad day, in the end.

Short-beaked Common Dolphin getting out of the water...

...and getting back in. Perhaps it was too cold out.


A return to form by the weather, so we headed slowly and steadily southwards in order to break up our return to Devon. A walk along the base of Slioch was uneventful in many ways - the highlights definitely a couple of newly-fledged Ring Ouzels and a pair of Golden Eagles heading down the valley - and we dawdled our way down to Pitlochry with a relaxed attitude. Pitlochry came as a bit of a shock after the slow and gentle pace of things in the north and west - the town seemed to be teeming with people and vehicles, rather like that first time you go to London as a child who's grown up in the country (if you've ever done this, it's a bewildering experience for a while) but all too soon it settled down into just being back in 'civilisation'. Cracking meal in the Turkish restaurant though... moussaka and lasagne followed by a richly sticky portion of baklava (mmm!), all washed down with a niiice red wine. Civilisation has its benefits.

Fragrant Orchid

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