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Hebridean journal

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Thursday 7th June 2007

The day started cloudy but with the promise held by enough blue to make a pair of sailor's trousers - as my grandmother would have said.

After breakfast we drove into Stornoway for coffee at An Lanntair.

From its windows I watched the freight ferry while we did our daily crossword from The Times.

Going back over the Braighe I stuck the camera through the window and photographed the memorial cairn. which stands in the village of Aignish. It was erected in the memory of the men and women of Point who raided the farm in Aignish on the 9th of January 1888. This event was part of the great land reform struggle that took place in the late 1800s, when impoverished crofters and tenants challenged the authorities to improve their conditions and their rights to the land on which they lived.

Tigh na mara is in Eagleton and this is taken half way down the township which is unusual for the Western Isles as it is one of only two that consist of fisherman's holdings as opposed to crofts. These were small allotments created to provide land for local fisherman to build a house and to grow essential crops. Tigh na mara is the house at the end on the left but is hiden behind others in this photo.

There have been a large number of Snipe Flies around since we arrived and so far all of them appear to have been Rhagio scolopacea. There are a number of related Rhagio species with less heavily marked wings and this one that I saw this morning was also quite a bit smaller.

The common Daisy (Bellis perennis) may be abundant and it may be a 'weed' in most circumstances but that does not stop it being an attractive little fellow though this one was destined to meet GB's new paving tool in the near future.

After lunch we went to the Water Wheel Project in Stornoway Castle grounds. In the woods there were some fine clumps of Dame's Violet (Hesperis matronalis). An escaped garden plant this fragrant flowered species is found in woods throughout Britain. A large patch of Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus) was coming into flower and should be spectacular in a week or so.

Opened in October 2005, the Water Wheel Project is a restored water mill. The mill was originally constructed in 1816 but destroyed by fire in 1890. The restoration project revives an aspect of Stornoway’s history and has created an additional visitor attraction for the area, while creating general interest in renewable energy.

The waterwheel generates 4kW of hydro power which is used for lighting the castle grounds.

By the wheel was a splendid Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra). These are so hard to find nowadays since the outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s. I didn't check if I could hug it. This turns out to have been a mistake since the definition of a mature elm, for the Elm Map purposes, is one that is too big to hug! See

We then drove round to the Woodlands Centre and parked up to have a walk along the harbour shoreline to the River Creed and then up into the woods.

The views of the boats in the harbour in the strong afternoon sunshine were excellent.

One of the boats was a Ness sgoth, built in the style of a traditional wooden fishing boat that was widely used at the turn of the last century in Lewis. The tradition of building and sailing these boats was almost lost. But recently there has been a revival in interest.

Oystercatchers were, as usual, the most commonly seen and heard birds on the shoreline.

Despite the pervasive nature of the dreaded Rhododenrdron ponticum it has to be admitted that it can form a beautiful foreground to the scenery in areas like the castle grounds on a sunny day like today.

Using the camera's remarkable telephoto facility I took a picture of An Lanntair - where we had had morning coffee - from this opposite shore. An Lanntair is the building with the pink corner.

The table at which we sat is in the centre window!

A Herring Gull went overhead and fore once my attempt at a photo of a bird in flight did not look like the creature had been thrown across the photo.

Arnish lighthouse, past which the incoming ferry passes was clearly visible from this shore. According to the records, Arnish Light came into being in 1852, earning its place in the Northern Lighthouse Board's history as their first ever prefabricated tower. The 'Sailing Directions' for the east coast of Lewis, dated 1867 describe a ' lighthouse, painted white, stands on the eastern horn of Arnish Point, on the western side of the entrance to the harbour; and from an elevation of 56 feet above high water is exhibited a revolving white light, which attains its greatest brilliancy every half minute. The light should be seen in clear weather from a distance of 12 miles'.

We walked alongside the River Creed and I took loads of photos, playing with different shutter speeds to see what the effects were on the appearance of the water.

As we climbed another view of Stornoway opened out below us.

On the way back to Tigh na mara a Hooded Crow was kind enough to pose and GB kind enough to stop in the middle of the road. A quite satisfactory end to the photographic day.

Posted by tigh-na-mara at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Wednesday, 13 June 2007 5:44 AM BST
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Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Wednesday 6th June 2007

The clouds visible from GB's in the morning soon cleared to leave the day sunny and bright. After breakfast I went for a walk along the road and over the moor to Loch an Duin. The large-flowered cultivar of Bistort Persicaria bistorta 'Superba' is grown as an ornamental plant but can also be found wild at the roadside near GB's.

As I walked along I was amazed at the number of flies of various sorts to be found on the Creeping Buttercups, Marsh Marigolds, Yellow Flag and Silverweed. Anything yellow was covered in them. The human population may be sparse in Eagleton and Lower Bayble but for Diptera it is the great metropolis.

Out on the moors the Sphagnum mosses and the Common Cotton Grass were abundant.

Oystercatchers were scooting along at Loch an Duin raising merry hell as they always do. It never ceases to amaze me how far their peeping carries.

I photographed Dun Bayble - the site of an ancient stone fort or dun on an island in the loch with a causeway out to it.

The Dun does not appear at its best from ground level and a satellite shot - from the Google Maps site - shows it to better advantage.

A Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) settled on a patch of Sphagnum for me. A robust damselfly this is one of our most common species and is found throughout the UK from May to September.

A variety of plant types make up the moorland around here - grasses, sedges, rushes, mosses, lichens, and flowering plants. Among the lichens was a Peltigera species - one of the Dog Lichens.

Another lichen here is the incorrectly named Reindeer Moss (Cladonia sp. - probably C. rangiferina).

Even the fence posts are covered in lichens so clean and fresh is the Island air.

Red Rattle or Marsh Lousewort (Pedicularis palustris) was one of the showier flowers hereabouts and, with Tormentil (Potentilla erecta) and Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis), the most common. Quite the opposite, an inconspicuous little bedstraw (Galium sp.) hid among the grasses and mosses. Sorrel (Rumex acetosa), Marsh Marigolds (Caltha palustris), and Meadow and Creeping Buttercups (Ranunculus acris and R. repens) are other common species on the moor here. Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) can be found alongside the roads and paths.

We went out later in the morning to Tiumpan Head to look at the Kittiwake colony on the cliffs and checked out GB's new spotascope in the process.

The cliffs were not only covered with Kittiwakes but a colony of Guillemots was keeping them company.

A number of Fulmars were also nesting there and a pair can be seen here with a Kittiwake flying nearby.

Shags could also be seen nesting in fair numbers though they were very hard to pick out - there are four in this photo alone.

A Meadow Pipit was gathering food for its young as we left the summit of the headland and had to wait for us to leave to get at its nest.

In the afternoon we popped over to Tolsta to the garden centre where a ground beetle - as yet unidentified but possibly a Bembidion species - posed for me. One of the same species was found dead in the study a day or so ago.

On the way back to Tigh na mara the road was being remade so we had to wait for a short spell and took the opportunity to call down at the jetty where I photographed Bayble Island, Tigh na mara and Lower Bayble.

Back at GB's the Rock Pigeons were still happily feeding at his 'birdorium' which has now been enhanced by a birthday present of a bird bath from Pat and Dave.

Somewhat further away - well out in The Minch - a host of Gannets, gulls and terns were finding their own food having gathered in a flock presumably because of the proximity of a shoal of fish, probably sand eels.

Posted by tigh-na-mara at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 12 June 2007 7:35 AM BST
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Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Tuesday 5th June 2007

Another beautiful sunrise began another sunny day.

The mainland was clearly visible across The Minch with Canisp and Suilven made conspicuous by the latter's shape. It is a mere 2389 feet high - not a Munro, not even a Corbett but it remains magnificent. For Suilven is "wonderfully remote, breathtakingly craggy and blessed with the sort of scenic panoramas that prompt a landscape photographer out of bed in the wee small hours of the morning". In my case at 5.10 a.m.

The early morning warmth soon brought out the White-tailed Bumblebees in the garden. After breakfast we went into Stornoway and while Barry went in the Autoworld I watched the Rooks and Hooded Crows. Rooks are only found in Stornoway itself, not around the rest of Lewis at all.

We went to the Woodlands Centre and had a walk around the Castle grounds. The varied woodland was planted by Sir James Matheson in the 1850s and developed further in 1875 and at the turn of the 20th century, In the woods were plenty of ferns including Hard Fern (Blechnum spicant).

We had a wander around the outside of Lews Castle which is now closed because of its dangerous condition.

I just love these folk who are on the South-eastern corner of the building.

Despite the fact that the Common Seal is also known as the Harbour Seal these are Grey Seals in Stornoway harbour. Half the world's population of Grey Seals (Haliochoerus gripus) are found on and around British coasts and numbers have doubled since 1960. Today there were four of them in the harbour and two were practising synchronised swimming.

Outside the Woodlands Centre, where we went for coffee, there are two models of the Lewis chess pieces. Originally discovered on the Isle of Lewis around 1170, they are of Scandinavian origin and form the earliest known European chess set. The originals were carved from ivory and walrus tusk and are now on display in the British Museum. These six foot high models are carved from single blocks of wood.

Back at Tigh na mara for lunch an Angle Shades moth was sheltering from the wind on the garden gate.

We drove back into Stornoway and out to Loch Stiapabhat where there is a Local Nature Reserve. From the Braigh the Ferry was visible just leaving Stornoway. By the Loch, in a part of Fivepenny Machair that was full of daisies, a couple of Rabbits were happily feeding until we disturbed them.

From the hide we saw a great variety of birdlife including Whooper Swans, Mallard, Arctic Terns, Lapwings, Herring Gulls, Black-headed Gulls, Redshank, Dunlin, Skylark, and others.On one occasion the Lapwings and gulls and terns took to the air with a great clamour and we thought they were arguing among themselves. Only when I got home did the photos reveal a splodge which are reasonably sure can be interpreted as Hen Harrier.

The second time they were upset we saw the cause before they even took to the air - a Peregrine. Wonderful.

On at least one occasion I saw and GB heard a Whooper Swan whooping.

From the Loch we went to the Butt of Lewis lighthouse and looked at the cliff-nesting birds, the rock formations and the dashing waves.

On the way back we stopped to watch and photograph a Rock Pipit, undoubtedly one of the most common birds of the Hebrides. Back at Tigh na mara the sun was illuminating the headland rather beautifully as it gradually moved around to set.

Posted by tigh-na-mara at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Sunday, 10 June 2007 9:19 AM BST
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Monday, 4 June 2007

Monday 4th June 2007

Happy birthday GB - or do you stop 'celebrating' and start 'miserating' once you are past 60+! The day began misty but here that is not necessarily a 'Bad `Thing' and the views can be brilliant in the mist as it gradually sinks down into the valley with the sun coming up. A Cuckoo was calling away very close by but not from any perch that we could see. (Can I add a bird to my 'holiday list' if only hear it?)

The mist left water droplets on the cobwebs. A Buzzard was observed from the study window as it has been a few times since we got here - sometimes perching on the fence posts. Most amazing bird so far to me was the Snipe which thrummed its wa over my head so close as to make me duck as I was just over the garden fence this morning. Apart from the mechanical nature of the noise, its volume and the shock it was also the fact that I was se it was going to hit me. Needless to say the camera was on macro setting at the time even if I had responded quickly enough.

We went into Stornoway and I had a brief walk in the woods while Barry shopped. The lichens on the trees are very healthy - a sign of the unpolluted air. There is a beautiful Larch just outside the lodge with both young and old cones on it. We had coffee in the library and searched unsuccessfully for a water lily for GB for his birthday.

I photographed the boats in the harbour. Boats always look so romantic in the sunshine - so long as one does not have to go out to earn one's living in them.

As always there was a Herring Gull on guard duty on one of them. A friend of Barry's came around for lunch during which I momentarily broke off to photograph a Hooded crow. Considering how common they are I have had few chances to photograph one as yet.

In the afternoon I played at photographing the garden birds such as a regular visitor, the Greenfinch, before wandering down to the shore and playing with the camera at low tide.

Barry dug out more of his prospective waterfall and claimed to have been hard at work but as this photo from the shore showed he spent part of the time chatting!

The way down to the shore takes one alongside the stream in the adjacent croft and the Yellow flag are just beginning to come into flower there but they cannot as yet match the yellow carpet of Marsh Marigolds. As elsewhere throughout the island every damp part has a good sprinkling of Ladies' Smock.

The quiet little beach immediately below Barry's, with its view of Bayble Island just offshore, was as beautiful as ever. And, also as usual, the lichens so cover the rocks above the water line that their original ground colour is invisible .

The boulders at the top of the beach caught my eye - in particular the beautiful graining of the Gneiss. Gneiss (pronounced 'nice') was formed by high-grade regional metamorphic processes from preexisting formations that were originally either igneous or sedimentary rocks.

An Oystercatcher posed politely on the rocks for me.

Among the other birds on the shore were the inevitable Herring Gulls, a Lesser Black-backed Gull, and a Ringed Plover, seen above in flight.

A most attractive Cyanea lamarckii jellyfish was washed up on the sand (Barry tells me that I am not allowed to call it beautiful since he can concede how I might think it attractive but not beautiful!) It was a delightful purple colour.

Another tiny jellyfish was floating around - possibly a baby Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia aurita).

One of the seaweeds on the shore was Dabberlocks ( Alaria esculenta) - the length of which can be seen from the bootprint in the sand in the foreground. There was plenty of Sea Lettuce (Ulva lactua) floating around.

A lovely delicate species which I think may be Porphyra umbilicalis was another seaweed being washed around at the tideline.... Barry's friends Pat and Dave came for dinner and Fiona called in at he cheese and biscuits stage. All in all a most pleasant day.

Posted by tigh-na-mara at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Friday, 8 June 2007 5:06 AM BST
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Sunday, 3 June 2007

Sunday 3rd June 2007

We stayed around Tigh-na-mara all day with the exception of a brief excursion for coffee with a friend of my brother's. There were plenty of insects around including a lot of Snipe Flies (Rhagio scolopaceus).

Among the visitors to the garden so far have been Greenfinches, House Sparrows, Rock Pigeons, a Skylark and Starlings. The Rock Pigeons, known to us oldies as Rock Doves, are regular visitors.

GB's garden pond has some Pond Skaters (Gerris species). The Common Pondskater (G. lacustris) is found throughout the British Isles with the exception of the Western Isles and Shetlands so this is an alternative relative.

Unfortunately I don't know what other species are found here. It would be nice if it was Gerris gibbifer as that is found in fewer than five 10k squares in Scotland. The other British species are G. argentatus, G. odontogaster, G. thoracicus.

The garden and the adjacent croft are full of Green-veined Whites at the moment and they are very strongly marked. There are also the occasional Small White and Large White around.

On the way out to visit Barry's friend we pulled in a passing place to let another car through and I took the opportunity to photograph the peats drying on someone's peatbank.

The day ended with a super sunset.

Posted by tigh-na-mara at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Wednesday, 6 June 2007 5:42 AM BST
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Saturday, 2 June 2007

Saturday 2nd June 2007

Before breakfast (which in my case included haggis and black pudding) I had a little stroll around the hotel and photographed some Butterwort and Sphagnum mosses on the roadside as well as the Elm in the grounds. The owners of the Sconser Lodge , Philip and Debra Grice, are new, having only had it for three weeks.

The glorious weather of yesterday had disappeared but we had the day to explore the island and began with the serpentarium ( at Broadford where we were allowed to hold Goldie, a Royal Python.

We passed The Cuillin; dark and forbidding today.

After coffee, with which we tackled the crossword as usual, at Portree we headed up around Trotternish and stopped first of all to photograph that wonderful mountain, The Storr, a 2359 feet (719 m) high geological masterpiece.

As if this landslip were not enough a 160 foot (50m) high rock called The Old man of Storr, the remains of a volcanic plug, adds to the brilliance of the scenery - whatever the weather.

After exploring the path that leads to abandoned industrial architecture associated with the diatomite industry I photographed Lealt Falls.

Then we stopped at Kilt Rock. This is a 200 foot high cliff of basalt with a tartan like pattern.

In the foreground of the view from the viewpoint is the spectacular waterfall where the River Mealt plunges 200 feet over the cliff.

We had a tea at the Duntulm Castle Hotel in the rain which did not stop me photographing the castle itself. This was first a broch, then a Pictish stronghold before becoming a Viking fortification and then a castle. James V visited it in 1540 and it was abandoned in 1730.

We waited in the rain at Uig for the DSMV Hebrides which was late and after boarding my first trip up on deck yielded sightings of three separate pods of dolphins. Brilliant. Unfortunately the rain and dull light, speed of the ferry and tendency of the dolphins to appear only briefly above the water meant that not a single photo showed them. Got plenty of shots of waves though!

Posted by tigh-na-mara at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 5 June 2007 4:57 AM BST
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Friday, 1 June 2007

Friday 1st June 2007

We set off from Pensby with lovely blue skies and white cumulus and it was like that for much of the day. We stopped for coffee in Penrith where we came across a pride of Silver Ghost Rolls Royces taking part in the Centennial Scottish tour.

My apologies to all Lowland Scots but I always feel that when one reaches Loch Lomond one has really arrived in Scotland and we stopped at Luss for a bowl of soup at a most pleasant cafe, complete with kilted waiter.

A loo stop at the Welly Stop at Tyndrum was also used as an excuse for an ice cream and I photographed a Swallow settled on a wire.

One of my favourite places in the whole of Great Britain is Rannoch Moor - an area of peat and bog for the most part, laid on granite, of some 50 square miles at a height of over a 1000 feet. It is the Watershed of Central Scotland where rivers start their journeys towards the Atlantic in the west and to the North Sea in the east. Over this area are scattered thousands of enormous rocks which have been torn from the sides of the hills and corries by a giant glacier moving eastwards 20,000 years ago. It has been said that the mood of the Scottish landscape depends upon the weather more than anywhere else on earth and Rannoch moor is a classic example of that. On a sunny day like today it is a gem of gleaming lochans. Rannoch Moor is notable for its wildlife, and was frequently visited by Horace Donisthorpe, who collected many unusual species of ants on the moor and surrounding hilly ground. Peat deposits pose major difficulties to builders of roads and railways. When the West Highland Line was built across Rannoch Moor, its builders had to float the tracks on a mattress of tree roots, brushwood and thousands of tons of earth and ashes.

Black Mount (Stob a' Choire Odhair & Stob Ghabhar) to the West of the A82 over Rannoch Moor still had plenty of snow on the tops We dropped down Glencoe and around to Fort William where we decided to push on to Skye before resting for the night.

On the edge of Loch Duich we stopped to photograph Eilan Donan - my favourite Scottish castle, originally built in 1220. In 1539 a feud between the MacKenzies and the McLeods of Dunvegan, over the disputed claims of Donald Gorm MacDonald to the title of Lord of the Isles, came to head when he attacked the Castle with 50 galleys. He was famously shot and killed by Duncan MacRae with a single arrow. In 1719 the castle was destroyed by the government and it was not until 1932 that the castle was restored and the bridge built.

We crossed the bridge to Skye and after a bit of hunting the Sconser Lodge kindly provided us with beds for the night and an excellent evening meal (in my case of langoustines and steak).

Prior to dinner we wandered the shore outside and admired the glorious sunset and a friendly Rock Pipit.

Posted by tigh-na-mara at 12:01 AM BST
Updated: Monday, 4 June 2007 6:08 PM BST
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