Thursday 31 May 2012

Gotcha!

You may remember that last year when we were here, we visited the RSPB Reserve - Balranald - several times, in the hope of seeing the elusive Corncrake. The Hebrides are a fantastic stronghold for this endangered little bird, with the crofters working alongside the RSPB to help ensure it not only survives, but flourishes here. The low intensive farming methods in place here help, as do the fact that the farmers on the machair use no pest control or herbicides, and their fertiliser is nutrient-rich seaweed, gathered from the shore. As a result of all this, at this time of year you hear Corncrakes calling all over the place - within the first 24 hours we were on the island we’d already heard several, and over the next few days that number grew…but in spite of patiently standing with binoculars trained on a patch of Iris for ages, still no sign of the little b……sweet little thing.

Yesterday, that changed. In fact, it nearly changed quite dramatically, as one ran out in front of the car. Our car. Right in front. Eeeek! Thankfully, we were going along rather slowly as we were just on our way out of the reserve, having been on a guided walk there, in part looking for - yes, you’ve guessed it, Corncrakes. I slammed the brakes on and pulled onto the side of the road - thankfully just wide enough here for two cars to pass, grabbed the camera, and managed to get several shots before he remembered that he was supposed to be elusive, and skulked off into the undergrowth.


We’re going on a Corncrake spotting guided walk on Monday evening - I wonder if we’ll see any more?!

Robyn

New Favourite view...



You may remember that when we stayed at Tigh Alasdair in previous years, I got rather fascinated with the view across the Loch from the front room, dashing out of the cottage in all manner of peculiar garb to photograph it in various changing lights. It was well worth it too - with Eaval rising tall and majestic out of the landscape, and the smaller Burrival next door, crouched and humped….now we’ve moved down the road, we can’t see those any more - well, a tiny bit of Burrival, but only a tiny bit. Instead we have The Lees, and so far they have proved no disappointment - just look at this…

…That cloud was rolling over the top of the hill, and down the side, and when it was getting almost down to the land below it was dissipating into a vague mistiness. Very odd, and quite hypnotic to watch. And of course I had to run outside in my pyjamas to photograph it. Several times. We have neighbours here, quite close by. I think they are going to get quite used to the mad woman in her pyjamas taking photos at odd hours of the morning….!

Robyn

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Factor 50 still required!

*written on Sunday 27th, but posted later* Another day of beautiful sunshine. Both of us are a little sunburnt, in spite of the Factor 50 cream, and you’ll notice from one of the pictures in this post that my feet are showing distinct signs of tan-lines! We’ve been mostly meandering today. Our favourite café for late breakfast/lunch, followed by a drive up one of North Uist’s hills - Cleattraval - formerly a stronghold of the military, but now accessible by the public almost to the top. It’s an ideal spot to admire the view…



… or indeed to get a broadband signal via a handy dongle….which was why I was there! The view was very good indeed though - right across to St Kilda and right across North Uist itself to Benbecula, South Uist and over to Skye. This is looking roughly west…

 


…and looking slightly further to the south you can clearly pick out the pub, the water tower at Balivanich on Benbecula, and today even the hills of Skye clearly visible.

From there it was on to the beach at Hosta - a lovely quiet sweeping bay with some interesting rock formations at each end…..


The rocks at the other end appear to be Lewisian Gneiss - the same stuff that the standing stones at Calanais are formed from - it’s distinctive with its definite striping…


…and also has the advantage of having a stream running down through them from up on the machair behind the beach - on a day like today as this is warmed by the sun it becomes a sort of natural foot-spa - we sat there luxuriating in the wonderfully relaxing sensation for quite some time!


 From there we wandered to the RSPB Reserve at Balranald - lots of Corncrakes calling but as per usual none to actually be seen, and then on to the Westford for beer and grumbling. (I drank the beer, Ben did the grumbling as he was driving!)

Robyn

Rueval, Benbecula...




The views were worth the climb...!

Robyn

Tuesday 29 May 2012

Abandoned...


A bit of an unusual one, this. Normally, the shots in this series have been a building, which has been physically abandoned as a conscious and planned decision - houses that have been upgraded to "the next one on the ladder" or the school, which was closed as part of a planned closure package, and the children sent on to somewhere new and, allegedly, better. This time though it’s a whole set of islands - St Kilda, the most westerly of the Outer Hebridean Islands, last inhabited in 1930, which was when the final 36 St Kildans left, having done battle with the elements for as long as they could. Hirta, Soay, Boreray & Dun are the major islands in the group - although in this shot you can *just* see Stac Lee on the side of the right hand island. (In case you’d not worked it out by the way - St Kilda is the islands which show as vague smudges on the horizon. The five quite distinct lumps of rock slightly closer in are Heisgir).

St Kilda is all the remains above sea-level of a volcano that was probably last active around 60milllion years ago. As a result pof this some of the rock comprising the islands is highly magnetic - you would do well not to rely too heavily on your compass here! It’s also so far west that nights last only around 1 hour in midsummer! (Having said that, it was still light here at around 10.30pm last night!)

One of these days we hope to visit St Kilda - at the moment the £150 or thereabouts price tag is outside our budget, though!

Robyn

Home sweet home...

The Moorings…



As you might remember, we have stayed at our usual accommodation, Tigh Alasdair, for quite a few years now. It’s suited us just fine, and the broadband connection was certainly an added advantage, that’s for sure! Anyway, with coming up later this year, when we enquired about Tigh Alasdair it turned out that the cost increase for being later in the season was just too much for our budget, hence needing to find somewhere new. After a bit of digging around on the internet (handy beast) and several enquiries, we eventually booked for The Moorings - just half a mile along the road from our previous base. There were no interior photos online at all, so we didn’t have a clue what to expect until we turned up here today.

To say we were pleasantly surprised was an understatement. On arriving we chose to enter through the first door we saw, which turned out to technically be the back door, opening straight into a lovely bright and spacious kitchen. Masses of worktop and cupboard space, an almost brand new hob and oven, even a dishwasher!


The hallway too is bright and airy…


…And the bathroom is positively the lap of luxury compared to ours, lovely and big, beautifully tiled, and immaculate.

There is even a dining room, which is a nice touch.


The whole place is beautifully fitted out and decorated, and all in all, we will be extremely tempted to come back again I think. The views aren’t quite as good, but we do still have some hills in sight - South Lee is just across the Loch from us, and we can also just see the "hump" at the top of Burrival from the front room. It just wouldn’t be the same without a "favourite view"!


Robyn

Monday 28 May 2012

Technical issues...

...mostly involving a temperamental Laptop, and relatively few places to get a signal, means that normal Hebridean service is currently somewhat disrupted. In the meantime, we're here, the sun is STILL shining, and we're drinking lots of cups of tea and eating cake in some cheery cafes.



There is a cunning plan involving a fully charged laptop and the top of a hill...cross your fingers that works, and keep checking back!

Robyn



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Sunday 27 May 2012

A Journey, with sun, sea &cake...

*written Saturday 26th May, but posted later* So, we’re back in the Hebrides at last! Hurrah! And even the sun has got his hat on to celebrate - the weather, let me tell you, has been fantastic today and yesterday - absolutely stunning. I even had to take my boots off and swap for sandals on the ferry crossing yesterday, it was THAT hot!



The journey went smoothly, we reached Fort William in plenty of time to take the scenic route via the Skye ferry which is always nice, and then reached Portree on Skye in time to stop and eat ice cream, which was also nice! In spite of it being lovely and warm, there was still the traditional cup of tea on the crossing to Lochmaddy…


…Before arriving at the Westford Inn, which was to be our resting place for the nice. We were well fed and watered (or rather, fed and BEERed, which is better still) and had plenty of licks from Winston before settling down in the extremely cosy and lovely "cottage out the back" about which we have heard so much. Small but perfectly formed and just ideal for us.


Today we have been pottering about. The weather was fantastic so it felt that a beach walk was in order - we usually do try to head for a beach on our first day over, and today Clachan Sands on North Uist was the beach of choice.


There was paddling…


And a mad dog….


And much sunshine…


And some fabulous patterns from the sun on the water…


And all was good. A thoroughly nice "we’re back, and isn’t it great!" wander about. A little later there was tea & cake, too, at our favourite café, and that was good too. And now I’m sitting in the cottage, and at the time of writing it’s nearly 11pm, and it is STILL just about light outside, and the sky is just such a beautiful colour… What’s that? What’s the cottage like, then, you say? Well, you’ll just have to wait until tomorrow for that, I’m afraid!

Robyn.

Saturday 26 May 2012

We're here!

Unusually, no photos with this one. Photos are on cameras, and the connecty bit for the camera, and the laptop to download them too, is currently buried in the depths of the car!

Anyway - WE'RE HERE! Arrived yesterday evening - journey was excellent (incredible weather with temperatures so warm I had to excavate my sandals!) ferry was bang on time (good old Calmac!) and we got here - the pub - at about 8pm. Royally fed & watered (well, fed & beered!) by Elisabeth & Alastair, and made much fuss of by Winston, who you may meet this time as we've volunteered for dog-walking duties.

We are currently as snug as bugs in rugs in the cosy cottage at the back of the pub, with the sound of birdsong all round us. Later today we plan a beach walk, followed by lunch, an exciting trip to the Co-op for shopping (mind the irony there) and finally a drive up to the road to discover our home for the next fortnight.

Watch this space for more!

Robyn



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Thursday 24 May 2012

Hebrides Countdown 2012...

Beaches. One of the best things about the Hebrides by far - endless beaches, white sand, the ocean crashing...bliss. We usually earmark our first Sunday over there for a beach walk - often this one:

West Beach, Berneray
3 miles of perfect, pretty much deserted white sandy gorgeousness. You relax just stepping on to it, although by the time you've walked a mile or so of it your leg muscles are feeling anything but relaxed - that soft sand is tough walking, you know! West beach is one of our favourites, but as beaches like this are dotted all over the islands (The Western edge of South Uist is almost entirely beach) then it's never hard to find one to walk on. A favourite down on South Uist is Kilpheder - here:

Kilpheder, South Uist
The fantastic beaches aren't just limited to the Southern islands, either - one of the most stunning views anywhere in the hebrides has to be from the main "Spine road" up through Harris, when you suddenly come across the view over Luskentyre - possibly the most beautiful beach I've ever seen

Luskentyre, Harris
I have many MANY photos of that view. Mainly because I can rarely resist stopping - there is a handily positioned layby just there and it's ideal for stopping to take a photo, or to see if we can spot some of the Long Tailed Ducks that seem to like the water just below where you're standing!

Moving on further up to Lewis, again, some fantastic beaches to choose from. I have a picture taken on the Island of Great Bernera, to the North of Lewis itself, which I used to use regularly as a desktop on my work computer - if I had a fiver for each time someone has told me that of course it couldn't be Scotland because "there aren't beaches like that in the UK" then I would have retired by now! Then there are the amzing rock stacks on the beach at Garry, North Tolsta:

Stacks at Garry, North Tolsta
there are countless others too - Vatersay where we've had the longest, laziest lunches basking in the sunshine, Eriskay's "Princes Strand" - said to be the landing place for Charles Stewart, the bird covered beaches of Benbecula, Clachan Sands....so many to choose from. I wonder where we wil got for our first walk of the holiday this year?

Robyn

Tuesday 22 May 2012

A beachy adventure with cheery folk!



Well, last weekend I headed off down to Brighton to met up with some lovely folk. Some you may know - Fay for example, and Jenni, and some you may not but cheery they all were for sure, and a good time was had by all. There was beach-wandering, and piers (Some live, some dead)


There was also tea and cake, and ice cream, and a delicious and very Brighton wholefood takeaway lunch, and pizza, as someone else said, the day sometimes seemed like eating, punctuated occasionally by a wander around! 


There was even paddling....well by some people anyway - mainly those with matching toenails!


Now, the bizarre thing about the group of us who met up down there was that a lot of us had never met before, and yet we all know one another really well. We met on the internet in the first place - initially when we were all involved with the forum offshoot of a very well known website, before "breaking away" with five others to form our very own offshoot of the offshoot, as it were. That was well over a year ago, and while most people from the group have met at least one other, this was the first time that any number of us have got together in the same place. Internet friendships are getting more and more common these days - a few years ago most people would have died sooner than admit that they'd actually met anyone they considered a friend that way, now though I would suggest that the majority of people have at least one friend who they have met remotely. Certainly the dynamic last weekend proved that such friendships can work really well - in fact we're already talking about when the next meet-up might be, and those who couldn't make it this time have sworn their determination to make the next!

Robyn

Friday 18 May 2012

Frugal Friday...

Sometimes savings can be as simple as maximising what you already have. This works particularly well if you need a short term boost to your finances - for spending money for a holiday for example, or because you've had an unexpected expense or shortfall in income to be dealt with. Even once you've got this Frugalisticness (no, it almost certainly wasn't a word, but it is now!) down to a (fairly) fine art, it's still worth looking at possibilities in this direction.


One area that this" maximising" approach works really well is in the bathroom - specifially toiletries - I frightened myself rigid when I first decided it was time to look at reducing my stockpile. Shampoo and conditioner enough for a family of 6...for a YEAR! Makeup I'd long since forgotten I had, and never used. Shower gel & bubble bath...well, we won't talk about those! The first step was to identify what I had, and the second? To identify that impulse-buying tendency. Shampoo on special offer in the supermarket? I'd grab a couple on the basis that it was a good price. Half price eyeliner in the Avon book? Absolutely - better have two! Buy one get one free on something else....? Oh, go on then! Sure, it was all bought at good prices, but that doesn't change the fact that I was heading for the territory of it all going off long before I used it! Oh, you'd not realised about shelf life on those sort of things? Well true, so long as something like that smells OK it is unlikely to harm you, but that doesn't mean it might not smell different to the scent that was intended, or change consistency, and in either case you're unlikely to fancy using it. (The exception to this by the way is Mascara, which should be replaced fairly often regardless to avoid the risk of causing eye infections.) My first approach was to make a start on working through the half-used bottles of shower gel, shampoo and bubble bath. The problem was, I would get something new, open it to have a sniff, take a couple of baths or showers out of it, then move on to something else, so the bathroom cabinet was full of partly used bottles of STUFF! At least a couple I threw out - either because they smelt a bit odd, or because the reason I'd stopped using them was simply that I didn't like them. The approach with body creams & lotions was slightly different - again, I had lots, but that turned out to be mainly because I never got around to actually using them! Oops! When I made time to slather myself in something delicious smelling after a shower, not only did the stash start diminishing, but my skin thanked me for it too!

Special offers are designed to suck us in, remember. Whether it is BOGOF's in Tesco or "Better than half price" elsewhere - they are designed to get us reaching for our purse. Remember - retailers aren't putting these sorts of offers on to do you a favour, they are doing it because it turns them a good profit! The other thing I have noticed over time, is that there is always another offer along in a while - as a BOGOF finishes in ione place, a half price offer for the same product starts elsewhere. There are some products now I simply *never* buy without some kind of deal. Coffee for example, or toilet rolls. Shampoo is a great example of this. Poundland sell Alberto Balsam shampoo. So do 99p Shop, so that's a penny saved. Asda however, pretty much always sell them at 4 for £3 - so that's the unit cost down to 75p each. To really pare it to the bone, last time I was in Home Bargains or B&M, both were doing a twin pack - one Shampoo, one conditioner, for £1.49! Another good example - the Avon book. I am an Avon rep, and there are two specific tricks I've noticed over time: 1) NEVER buy anything at full price - within a few books, it will be discounted (I tell customers this!) and 2) The offers go in cycles - a "best ever" offer on Skincare or shower gel, for example, will always be repeated again a few months later. I'm guessing this applies to most shops, too.

So, go on then, go and raid your bathroom cupboard, and see what "stuff" you're accumulated, that by working your way through without buying more. You might be richer than you expected at the end of this month!

Robyn

Thursday 17 May 2012

Hebrides Countdown 2012...






I asked Ben to choose a favourite place for me to write about this time, and he almost immediately said "what about Balranald?" The RSPB reserve at Balranald on North Uist is indeed a favourite place to visit for both of us. It's also one of the RSPB's most remote reserves - and the people at our local reserve are rather jealous we have been there! In fact, rather than just having been there, we consider it one of our favourites - we always visit at least twice when we are on Uist.

I asked Ben why he'd chosen Balranald, and indeed why we kept going back "there are so many different landscapes in one small area, and such a diverse range of birds too - from ground nesters such as Lapwings & Skylarks - of which there are ALWAYS several singing! - to Waders, Pipits and sea birds - Skuas and Petrels are regularly seen off the coast there" he said. It's also the home of several rarer species - the Corncrake can be heard here most evenings in the breeding season, and Corn Buntings are regular visitors too. Ben also mentioned Twite - a very sweet, and very LOUD little bird - which visits Balranald hundreds at a time and makes a deafening racket singing from the fences near the small visitors centre!

Robyn

Ps - please note, we are still not in ANY way to be considered "birders" .....


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Tuesday 15 May 2012

Auld Reekie...

If you asked me my favourite city in the UK, then Edinburgh would be right up there, without question. I first visited over 20 years ago, when on a speedway trip north we had a few hours to kill before heading to Powderhall Stadium for the meeting, we were turned loose in the city for a whole to explore. Since then I've taken every opportunity to return - repeated holidays spent at the Fringe Festival, Ben and I got engaged there, and subsequently it was the first overnight stop on our train tour of the UK honeymoon. Any excuse for a visit really! When we were planning our recent jaunt north for Easter, it wasn't long before one of us said "...and we could end up with a couple of days in Edinburgh!"

It is an easy drive across from the Lakes, so off we headed after packing up a rather soggy tent - thankfully not required for the remainder of the trip, but more on the accommodation in a minute... A meander north via M6 & A74M, then hang a right onto the A702 and it was a straight road to our destination, the lovely Mortonhall Camping & Caravan Park - this one definitely does get a mention. Superb facilities, excellent prices for what is basically a city centre (just a short bus ride from Princes Street) location, and a Good Beer Guide pub on site - who could ask for more?! Highly recommended by us, and quite the poshest shower block on any site I've visited - underfloor heating and all! Anyhow, rather than having to erect the tent again, we had booked one of their rather fab Wigwams - here, let me show you....




Cute eh? We were most impressed that there was an electric kettle and a fridge - there's a TV and microwave too but we didn't use either of those. Basically it's a tiny self catering unit - should you want to do "real cooking" there is a small kitchen across the way in the Courtyard - we cooked breakfast in there on our second morning as the weather was terrible!
It didn't take us long (once we'd stopped marvelling at the wigwam!) to get sorted, and then the pubs of Edinburgh called us...who were we to argue?! With arrangements to meet friends later in the evening, we headed straight for one our our favourite pubs, the Guildford Arms, and followed that with a quick drink in the Cafe Royal's beautiful bar too. Edinburgh has lots of truly amazing pubs - not only from a beer, but also an architectural point of view - and the pub where we were meeting pals Colin & Aileen was no exception - The Cloisters is an old parsonage - and rather a spectacular building. Inside is no exception with about 8 handpumps on the bar each with a different real ale - a good night was clearly on the cards! From there it was a short walk around the corner to Bennetts - which boasts some of the most incredible stained glass and a wooden "gallery" behind the bar which you would never get tired of admiring! Thankfully another of this pubs remarkable features was the proximity to a rather good fish & chip shop so dinner was assured as well before getting the bus back to Mortonhall.

The following day dawned grey and cloudy, but dry, so we felt that some exploring was in order. First to Leith - our "day tickets" for the buses allowed us to travel all over the city which for just £3.50 was good value - we've visited Leith before some years back and liked it, but this time we had to say it disappointed - it seems to have lost a lot of it's "buzz" - there are trendy restaurants everywhere but no atmosphere. A shame, and we didn't stay long, choosing instead to get the bus back to the centre and walk through to the Botanic Gardens - as recommended by the lovely Fay at The Wind & The Wellies.



Well, thank you do much Fay - we loved your "wee garden" - from the beautiful and grand glass house to the area devoted to herbs of culinary & medicinal uses, via the fantastic Memorial Garden for HRH Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Wonderful place - we'll be back! All walked out (and having sampled some tea & shortbread!) we took the bus back up the hill to the pub where we were meeting yet another friend - Laurie -(perfectly summed up by Ben afterwards - with "what a lovely girl!") so another few drinks were consumed there! Food was courtesy of the Stable Bar back at the campsite - where we screeched in through the doors at the very last knockings for food service but they were still happy to serve us up two enormous platefuls thank goodness!
Tuesday morning dawned damp, grey, and distinctly sleety. The sleet then turned to wet snow for a bit, before deciding to simply tip down with proper snow....! We were extremely glad to be in a wigwam not a tent, I can tell you! By the time we had finished packing up the snow had more or less stopped, a relief considering the length of drive ahead of us! First though a diversion to Portobello and our favourite cheery butchers shop Findlay's for some Haggis....we decided to treat ourselves to some square slice (Lorne sausage) too - not only delicious but excellent for tormenting Facebook friends with too as we soon discovered! Yum!

Robyn

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Monday 14 May 2012

Lee Richardson.


Lee Richardson - 1979 - 2012

Yesterday, British speedway rider Lee Richardson lost his life following a track crash in Poland. He was rushed to hospital, but his injuries were simply too severe, and tragically he lost his fight for life shortly after. He was 33 years old, and lost his life simply doing his job.

I have been following speedway for 25 years - in that time I have seen too many crashes to count. So many look horrific, but the riders get up, dust themselves down, and come out again in their next race. Every now and then you get one more serious - the awful injuries sustained by both Mark Loram & Chris Louis spring to mind. Both men have recovered, but neither have raced a bike again since, and there have been many others in recent times even worse - Garry Stead, Kim Jansson....

I have personally witnessed one crash where a rider sustained injuries severe enough that he lost his life some days later. It is something you simply never forget - even now, some 23 years later I can see every second of that incident. I wish I couldn't, in the same way that those present in Poland yesterday will be wishing they'd not seen Lee's crash. You simply have to learn to live with it - it's all you can do - it's that or walk away from the sport that mostly, we love so much. On days like today, it feels closer to hate.

The death of Lee has left the speedway world in mourning today. He leaves a wife and three children, and our hearts go out to them, and his other family and friends.

Robyn


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Friday 11 May 2012

Frugal friday - Budgets & savings

To save money, you must first know how much you have. Then you must know how much you need. Logical, eh? Written like that, it makes perfect sense - but somehow when translated to real life it is anything but that simple for most people. You work out all your bills, cut back on electricity use, and shop from a list and to the most frugal of budgets, then the car needs a service or the home insurance falls due and all your careful planning is thrown into disarray.

It is possible however to sort your finances out to a place where those sorts of occurrances aren't a disaster, and life carries on with no doom-laden soundtrack playing. How do we reach this magical state? Well we budget of course! So, what do we mean by budget? well Dictionary.com has the first definition as
"an estimate, often itemised, of expected income and expense for a given period in the future"
Pretty concise, that. The key word there in my view is future - that's what a budget is - forward planning for money. Knowing what you have coming in is only half of the battle - the key thing is knowing when it needs to go out again, and in what quantities!


The simplest of budgets can be reached by writing down all your regular expenditure. Then, when you've got it all written down, fetch a years bank statements and skim through for the stuff you missed - add those to the list too. Remember the irregular stuff - the cat needing her vaccinations, the kids new school uniforms, the car needing new tyres. (We have a separate budget for the cars actually - I added up a years worth of servicing costs, tax, insurance and MoT fees, then added an amount to take account of tyre wear and a further amount for contingencies - the final figure was divided by 12 and that amount is now set to automatically feed across into a savings account each month. I can't begin to tell you what a relief it is to know that the money for those things is there when it's needed!). Some things are easy to budget - anything that can be set up on a regular monthly direct debit for a set amount, for example, or that only has subtle month by month variations. Other things are tougher, and it is these that can catch you out - insurances are a good example - try to avoid paying by instalments if you can as there is nearly always a charge for that. Christmas hits many people hard in the pocket, leaving them dreading the January credit card bill, and yet again, by spreading the cost across the year and transferring an amount each month into a savings account you can have a nice little cushion of money there waiting to soften the blow. Just £25 put aside each month will give you a nice £300 cushion come December.


Once you have all the figures, then consider setting up separate savings accounts online for the "big spend" items. We have various of these, which help us budget for Christmas and the car costs as mentioned, through to one for general household stuff which means paying the contents insurance when the renewal comes through is less painful than it would otherwise be!

Finally, you need to consider the budgets as being an ongoing thing - they need regular reviews and revisions as things change. A good, well maintained budget will look after you and actually help you save money as you begin to see where it goes. So, where do you stand on this question - do you budget already? Has it helped? If you don't, how do you manage your money from month to month?

Robyn


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Thursday 10 May 2012

Hebrides countdown 2012...







Fay over at The Wind & The Wellies has been having some problems with these little chaps lately. Not these exact ones, obviously, as these are Hebridean Oystercatchers and hers, naturally, are Orcadian Oystercatchers, but with some of their cousins, who keep (along with the Lapwings and Curlews) waking her up earlier than she wants to be awake in the mornings. I can sympathise - when we arrive in the Hebrides it always takes us a few days to get used to the incredible range of bird calls at both dawn and dusk - Snipe, at nightfall, make a sound so spooky it makes the hairs in the back of your neck stand up!

It was up in the Hebrides where we first gained a real appreciation of the sheer number of different species of birds it's possible to see in one fairly small location in the UK. Over our last few years trips we've seen birds ranging in size from the tiny (Wren) to the gigantic (White Tailed Sea Eagle) and from the rare (Iceland Gull) to the common (Starling) - the thing they have in common is that they are all stunningly beautiful in one way or another. Under that fantastic clear Hebridean light even your common or garden Starling has an extra iridescence. Oystercatchers, by the way, have been described as looking like 'a Magpie carrying a carrot' - you can see why, can't you!

Robyn


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Wednesday 9 May 2012

For Today...

I decided it was time to revisit the Simple Woman's Daybook - this is an exercise I like to do occasionally, it's a chance to stop, to reflect, to revisit.

 Outside my window...It's very nearly dark. The sky is an inky blue with just a hint of light left in it.

 I am thinking...of the jobs I need to do before bed tonight - a load of washing to the machine, and a quick clean round of the kitchen

 I am thankful...that there are no demands on my time this evening, other than those few jobs. Some TV, some internet browsing, some time for me.

 In the kitchen...it needs a clean! Aargh!

 I am wearing...comfy jeans. You can;t beat a pair of comfy jeans - you know, the ones you've had forever, so they fit just right.....

 I am creating...I have created, this time - my new website, which went live yesterday - it was a lot of work but I'm very pleased with the result.

 I am going...to meet with some lovely friends in Brighton this weekend - there will be wandering, and tea, and cake, and photos.......how exciting!

 I am wondering...what the weather will be like for our trip to the Hebrides, they've had far better weather than we have down here for the past little while....we're hoping that's not going to change before we get there!

 I am reading...City Girl by Patricia Scanlon. Unashamed chick-lit!

 I am hoping...for a good weekend, some sunshine would be nice!

 I am looking forward to...Brighton! Cake! Lovely company!

 I am learning...how to darn socks effectively.

 Around the house...HRH The Cat is looking for trouble - uh-oh!

 I am pondering...the best way to make a case for my iPad.

 A favorite quote for today...If you don't climb, you can't fall, but then you never get to see the view.

 One of my favorite things...my wedding ring - as seen in the photo below. We've been married 12 years this year, time's just flown!

 A few plans for the rest of the week: Some work, some fun, some tea, some cake, and possibly some darning.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

An Amble Round Ambleside...

...and other adventures.
At the start of this year I put together a list of 'places we want to see/visit' - some in the UK, some abroad. For the moment all fairly modest and easy to pull off - this is a serious list rather than a fantasy type thing, so no round the world cruises on there yet! Fairly high up on the UK locations was the Lake District - we pass round the edge of it on the M6 reasonably often, but hadn't been there since our honeymoon when we spent a day there visiting a friend. As our trip to the Hebrides is later this year, we decided to use the long weekend at Easter to make a trip up to Cumbria, then continuing on to Edinburgh afterwards to visit friends.
As ever with us, we decided to try to do the trip on a bit of a budget, so the car was loaded up with the tent and sleeping bags and a decent campsite hunted down just off the A66 for the first three nights. Slightly alarmingly the day before we headed off large parts of the area found themselves under a blanket of snow, much of which was still in evidence when we got there the next day!

Rather fabulously we arrived on site in brilliant sunshine to find we were the only people there - giving us the pick of the place, we chose a spot on the riverbank bordering one side of the site. A beautiful location - with fantastic views of the hills in the background....(please don't ask for details of the site by the way - due to their complete failure to enforce their own site rules regarding quiet times between 10am - 7am we won't be returning ourselves, or recommending to others - think loud noise from a group who pitched up after us until 2am and you'll get the picture. Shame as the site, facilities and location were superb).  Anyway, tent pitched up we headed off to explore - first stop Shap Abbey which proved to be fascinating - much wandering round looking at the plan of the building then trying to work out which room was where...

Shap Abbey

...an hour or do later we left with masses of photos and half a dozen eggs from the on-site hens via the honesty box. We usually try to buy eggs when we see them like that - they are usually cheaper than the supermarket and far fresher and tastier. We have two campsites we use regularly which both sell eggs from their own hens and it really is such a plus point! (and eggy bread as a camping breakfast just can't be beaten!)

From Shap we headed round to Ullswater - so beautiful! A nice tea shop with a garden was quickly identified and tea and cake consumed...well it would clearly have been rude not to!

Yum! Tea & Cake!
The following day dawned rather wetter and greyer. Undaunted though in spite of a poor nights sleep we jumped in the car and headed for Dalgarth in Eskdale - home of one end of the Ravenglass & Eskdale railway. To get there you are required to cross two of the Lake District's toughest passes - the Wrynose, which leads to the Hardnott. All the books warn you about these as being rather "challenging", let's say! I wasn't too worried, and as it turned out the roads were no worse than plenty I drive regularly in the Hebrides - single track, passing places at regular intervals, and if you leave the road be ready for a sheer drop! What we had forgotten, however, was that the clutch in our rather elderly (in miles, more than years - 153k and counting!) Citroen is well and truly at the end if it's life....just a short distance along the Wrynose pass I stopped in a passing place on a quite steep upward slope to allow oncoming traffic to continue, only to discover on trying to pull away again that I had NO drive whatsoever. Hmmm! The further we went, climbing all the way, the worse the situation became - when we found the parking spaces at the half way point I pulled in gratefully in a cloud of hot clutch fumes and we reluctantly agreed that to continue would be foolhardy in the extreme - potentially putting others as well as ourselves at risk. Turning round and retreating at least meant that we had mostly downhill stretches to do, so that was the decision. Sensible, but annoying.

View from the half way point on the Wrynose Pass

The following day we drove the short distance up the A66 to Penrith, leaving the car there for the day while we let the train take the strain! When we were on honeymoon one of the bits of train line that we travelled on was the line around the coast from Carlisle to Barrow-in-Furness, so the decision was to re-trace our steps getting off at Ravenglass to complete our plans of the day before. The Narrow Gauge railway runs from the coast inland to Dalgarth - a seven mile stretch through increasingly stunning countryside.

Ominous clouds looming overhead near Ravenglass
Many people use Dalgarth as a base for starting walks - we didn't have time for that this time round but did enjoy some spectacularly good ice cream! Back to Ravenglass and just time for a wander around the pretty village, and a beer in the pub before our train back to Penrith. Cheers!

Robyn


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