Monday 20 April 2009


Seen at RSPB Rye Meads reserve this afternoon. Yes, I had things to do at home, but the sun was shining and I'll be back at work tomorrow - the housework can (always) wait for another day!

I've seen a Kingfisher at Rye once before, but it was too fleeting a glimpse to be able to get a shot. Today it was clearly checking out the nesting bank they have at the reserve for suitability as a future home and was around for a good while. While we were watching him, a heron flew in as well and helpfully sat himself down on a post and proceeded to have a good old grooming session, all the while fully aware of the line of long lenses poking out of the hide at him!


Friday 17 April 2009

Tesco, Hebrides style!

And a rather appropriate subject for the final post from this trip to the Western Isles really.
Tesco arrived on Lewis last year after taking over a store which was previously operated as Safeway, later becoming Somerfield. There was a mixture of anticipation and unease over the move - many felt that it was only a matter of time before the supermarket giant decided to try Sunday opening - something which would by no means be accepted by the majority of the strongly religious population on the Island. This, remember, is a place where, when planes first started running to and from the Island on a Sunday, the protests were vehement enough to gain national news coverage. Well although we can only look at it from a visitor's point of view, I would have to say that so far so good as far as Tesco are concerned. They have maintained the lines of local produce, and as you can see above the major signage is in both Gaelic and English. Prices appear to be fairly level with the mainland which is also excellent news for the Islanders. Sensibly they have not made so much as a murmur about Sunday opening, although this summer will be their first full tourist season so things could yet change on that front.
Next time I update will be from home. We've had another fantastic trip here in spite of mixed weather last week, the final few days have been glorious though and another good day is forecast for tomorrow, which will at least make out 7.30am ferry crossing somewhat more bearable!

Thursday 16 April 2009

Desert(ed) Island...

Something we have talked about doing pretty much each and every year since we first started visiting the Hebrides is walking across at low tide to visit the island of Vallay - just off the coast of North Uist.  At last today the weather and the tides were right so we set off 1.5 miles across what is for most of the time seabed to explore. Vallay was occupied until 1945 but since then has been abandoned. Vallay House itself is now largely derelict and is unsafe to enter, although it is possible to look in through some of the windows to get a flavour of the former grandness of the interior. If you are interested in finding out more historical details then Google "Vallay House" and it throws up some interesting links. There were others there when we first arrived but once they had left we had the place to ourselves - quite an odd feeling being on an entire Island without anyone else there, we agreed! The house itself is marvellous, and there are remains of lots of other buildings to look at although at the moment we're not clear on what a lot of them are. We'll certainly be hoping to go back at some stage in the future.

It seems almost impossible that already we have to be thinking towards packing up to go home.  Tomorrow will be a day of shopping for Salmon, Pate, oatcakes and Scallops to take home, and revisiting places and people for a last time before driving aboard MV Hebrides on Saturday morning to begin our journey homewards. It'd be hard not to feel a lingering sadness about the idea of leaving but we'll leave that for the ferry on Saturday - to do anything else now would be to spoil our last precious hours here, and anyway we'll be back -once the Islands have got under your skin it's unthinkable that you would not return.


Tuesday 14 April 2009

Danger? Or signs of the times?

Sometimes, when we are out and about, we see a sign by the roadside which either makes us look at each other in bewilderment, or burst out laughing. The first of the shots above was undoubtedly a "burst out laughing" sign - exactly how dangerous IS this person that a sign is required warning oncoming motorists of the possible peril in their path? If such a sign is warranted, the question must be asked should the person referred to be driving at all?! Absolutely hilarious, and seemingly a total waste of someone's money in erecting these signs (oh yes - there is one of these a hundred yards or so each side of the driveway!)
The second sign above falls firmly into the "bewildered" category - I can assure you that having stood taking this picture, I felt that there would not be the slightest risk to me in entering the area. There were no man-traps lining your path to a table, ready to catch you in their vice-like grip should you unwittingly stumble off course... the most vicious animals in the vicinity were the sheep, and the low circular structure to the right of centre is simply a flower bed, not an unfenced well ready to swallow an unwary child.... the most amusing thing is that anyone encountering this picnic area in the first place must, to have reached it, travelled along several miles of narrow, single track road, booby-trapped on a regular basis with blind summits and unexpected twists and turns. Frankly if you've survived that then a picnic area is (possibly quite literally!) a piece of cake!

Sunday 12 April 2009

View from the top...

Today we have done what I class as a proper climb up a hill, and what Ben classes as a bit of a stroll up a slight incline.... the shot above is from the summit of Blaisheval which is just outside North Uist's main town of Lochmaddy. We've been eyeing this one up for years as a relatively straightforward walk which would give good views, but until this year had not managed to work out anywhere sensible to leave the car. The climb was indeed fairly straightforward, and the views were, as you can see, spectacular enough to make it well worth climbing! North Uist is studded all over with the Lochs you see in the picture - in fact this is a pretty typical "aerial" view of the Island - it's often referred to as a drowned landscape, with good reason. The cluster of houses you see towards the right of the shot is Lochmaddy - you might just about be able to make out the Ferry "Hebrides" which had arrived a short time before this was taken - she'd moored up for the night by this time and will be off to Uig on Skye again early tomorrow morning.


Friday 10 April 2009

Desert Island?

Not quite - deserted beach! We walked a mile or so along this glorious beach this afternoon and didn't see another soul. We could easily have gone the same distance again I suspect and still not encountered anyone else, the Hebrides are a bit like that. The beach is at Kilpheadar, to the south west end of South Uist. The majority of the western coast of the Southern chain of Outer Hebridean islands is fringed with these beautiful white sand beaches and on a day like today there is little better in the world than walking on one of them. My 12-24mm lens rather comes into its own in a setting like this as it does like a good sky....!


A job well done....

As I think I mentioned, we had an invitation from Alastair and Elisabeth to go and visit the Blackhouse that Alastair has been restoring - the three pics above show what an amazing job he's done. The first shot is Alastair himself making tea in the kitchen - above his head is the upper level (not altogether authentic but it would be a shame not to make use of the surprising amount of headroom inside) which is reached via a fold down ladder and a trap-door.  The second is the other end of the main room - Ben sitting on the sofa and Elisabeth on the window seat looking out at the amazing view across Bays Loch, and the third shot shows the outside of the cottage along with the neighbours.  The 4' thick stone walls keep out the weather marvellously - while we were there it was blowing a gale and yet once inside you would have no idea....

Thursday 9 April 2009

Anyone for a challenge?

Can anyone confirm an ID on the bird above? We initially thought Meadow Pipit but the colouring doesn't seem quite's more like a Tree Pipit which is illogical on an island with barely any trees.


Wednesday 8 April 2009

Clear skies...

It's been another lovely day - apart from one brief shower around lunchtime, we've had sunshine for pretty much the whole day.  The skies are still mostly clear now - resulting in me being able to take the moon shot above. (Click on the shot to see it full size - much more detail) With no light pollution to worry about, it's remarkably easy to get nice clear shots of the moon - your only real obstacle being the intense shivering caused by the outside temperature, coupled with the fact that as you've just grabbed the camera for a quick shot, you've dashed outside with only a thin fleece on rather than the coat which would have proved so much more sensible!

I could have posted another bird pic today - as we've been to the RSPB reserve at Balaranald. Highlight of the day was a snowy owl, albeit seen at a hell of a distance. No photos of that though as it was just too far away. Apparently he's been seen a few times over the past few days so he might be there if we go back.  We also called in at the Westford Inn (Our "local" - Dad, look it up in the Good Beer Guide!) on the way back through and have been invited to go and see the blackhouse that Alastair has renovated so there may be a picture of that on here in due course.....


Tuesday 7 April 2009

Never believe the weather forecast....

Metcheck had us down for steady rain through most of today, and quite frankly first thing this morning you would have believed them as when we got up the rain was still splattering against the windows and even the sheep were starting to look fed up with it....!
We had, over breakfast, been browsing over the OS map of this area, and had spotted a series of ruined cairns and a stone circle not so far from here, so at the first sign of the weather clearing we decided that it was time to chance it and set off 3 miles up the road to a handy parking place. It was a fairly stiff climb to the first cairn - but this was more to do with the terrain itself than it being particularly steep. Heather and boggy ground do not make for easy walking, and both of us went in above the tops of our boots at least once. We then cut across the hillside to the stone circle (about half of it visible, and quite likely to be older than Stonehenge) before making our way to the summit for the best of the views. By this time the sun was out as you can see, making it just the perfect setting for the super-wide angle lens to come out of the bag....
Bird wise we've had another good day seeing among other things: Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Cormorants, Redshank, Skylark, Grey Plover again and Wheatear - quite pleased with that last one.  So far we've seen 32 different species of birds in 4 days....Mum - I expect you to be impressed!

Monday 6 April 2009

Foraging and twitching....

Sounds an unhealthy combination, doesn't it! We started today by heading in to the local shop (Take "Local" somewhat loosely - local up here is a 10 mile round trip!) for some more kindling for the fire, then up the road to Hebridean Smokehouse for some of their quite excellent Peat Smoked salmon pate for our lunch. Next stop was McLeans Bakery on Benbecula for some oatcakes to go with the pate! We made the handy discovery last year that they sell nice big bags of broken oatcakes in the shop - usually tucked slightly out of the way to ensure that the tourists buy the posh packets at a higher price, I suspect! Anyhow, at 80p for a bag probably three  times the size of the standard packs, we weren't complaining about a few crumbs in the bottom of the bag!

From there it was on to Creagorry at the lower end of Benbecula. We discovered a couple of years ago that the South Ford as the area is known is a rich picking ground for cockles and mussels - so off we strode armed with a cut down rake (well, it had to be cut down to get it in the back of the car!) and a bucket. A short while later that was dinner sorted out! A quick call into the co-op for those classic shellfish accompaniments of wine, garlic & cream and off we went again.

First priority was to find somewhere for lunch - without any clear idea of where we picked a side road to turn off onto and away we went......sometimes these little turning end up as little more than tracks but this one was fine and eventually we found a nice spot where we could pull off the road with a view over a lovely white sandy beach. The place was teeming with bird-life - including the little chaps above - Ringed and Grey Plovers. First time we'd seen Grey Plovers and I have to confess to only having made a firm ID once back here with the help of Surfbirds bird identifier - I'm afraid we usually find the RSPB one hopeless! We sat outside for quite a while watching them running about and taking the occasional photo......

Back at the cottage now and the wind is howling about the place - it's showering too so the raindrops are splattering against the window. Warm & cosy in the front room though with the fire lit. There is a faint smell of peat smoke in the air and I have a pint of Isle of Skye Brewery's Hebridean Gold at my right hand and a fabulous view out of the doesn't get much better.


Sunday 5 April 2009

Wet 'n' windy...

I would show you a picture to illustrate just HOW wet and windy it is here right now, however I think venturing outside into it with the camera just may not be such a good idea. After some discussion we have decided that as there is no need for us to go out and get wet and blown about, we should just stay here for the time being, hence the shot above. The fire is lit and the room is snug and cosy.  The clouds to the West are brightening a little which is a good sign nthat things may improve in a while, however the weather forecast would currently suggest that this view may be a false optimism. We'll see - it's been wrong before.
Gulls keep blowing sideways past the window at great speed.

Saturday 4 April 2009

We're HERE!

At last - here we are on North Uist.  Concerns about being able to find a solid wi-fi connection for updating this have proved completely unfounded as there is now a broadband connection at the cottage we are staying in. This came as a complete surprise - it's still too new to have been advertised by the cottage's owners yet - so far it seems absolutely fine and wonderfully fast....apparently though when the conditions are bad it can come and go a bit....
We were blessed with marvellous weather on the way up yesterday as this shot of the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge in the Highlands shows. The memorial is wonderful - it stands overlooking the area where the WW2 Commando's were trained, and cannot be missed from the road as you pass by..... There is a small memorial area too where people leave tributes to those they have lost - many of those mentioned lost their lives in the 1939-45 conflict, others took part in that and have passed away since, and the most recent was killed in Iraq in 2007.