Category Archives: Scotland

Watching pine martens

The Aigas Field Centre in Scotland offer you the chance watch wild Pine Martens and Badgers from their own specially-built hide. It was originally built to watch Badgers, which still visit the feeding station every night, but the Martens also took a liking to the spot, and are a regular visitor.The people who run it say “We encourage the mammals to visit by putting out a small amount of peanuts and a tablespoon of jam. The food is merely to entice them in – by no means do we sustain them or interfere with their territoriality.” They claim that the success rate for seeing Pine Martens during each 2 hour hide visit is a remarkable 95%, all through the year. They also promise prolonged views of feeding and playing Martens at distance of between 6 and 30 feet. The field centre looks a great place to stay offering “Wildlife, Birdwatching, History & Nature Holidays in the Highlands of Scotland”. More on this soon.
Visit the Aigas Pine Marten and Badger hide

The oldest tree in Britain

The Fortingall Yew is generally considered as the oldest tree in Britain. Like many yews, it stands in a churchyard. Yews were sacred for the Celts, and the Christian church often found it expedient to take over these existing sacred sites for churches. This oldest of yews is the village of Fortingall in Perthshire. Recent tests suggest the tree is some 2,000 years old, rather younger than the 5,000 years claimed by some, but still probably one of the oldest trees in Northern Europe. The yew was vandalised for tourist trinkets in the 19th century, and its once massive girths is now split into several trunks, giving the impression of several smaller trees.

The remotest place in Britain

According to the Telegraph the remotest place in Britain is near Carnmore in the Scottish Highlands. Grid reference NH02020 77000, height 2,000 feet. The greatest danger is being taken for a deer and being shot by a hunter.
“It all seemed so different from the comfort and warmth of home. When I rang Ordnance Survey the man had said, “Sure, no problem. We have that information on file. The remotest point in Britain is in north-west Scotland. We measure it by the distance from the nearest road (near Grudie). It’s 6.48 miles.”
Daily Telegraph

Images from the area:

NG9761 : Summit Cairn, Ruadh-stac Beag. by Chris Eilbeck

Geograph

Yahoo Answers suggests Cape Wrath, the Assynt Peninsula or the Island of Foula, among others.
Read

Whale hunting could hit whale watching in Scotland

According to the World Society for the Protection of Animals, Norway’s annual hunt of minke whales could cost the Scottish economy up to £15m, and threaten the viability of the whale-watching industry there. The last report on whale-watching in Scotland published in 2001 estimated the industry was worth £7.8m a year, but tour operators have doubled since then from 80 to 165.
BBC

Golden eagle poisoned

Police investigating the death of a golden eagle found in the Glen Orchy area of Argyll, say the bird was poisoned by a toxic insecticide.

Bob Elliot, head of investigations with RSPB Scotland, said: “As ever, we’re shocked and saddened that there are still people out there placing poisoned baits in the countryside, which often result in the deaths of some of our magnificent birds of prey.”Scottish Natural Heritage’s recently published golden eagle framework report showed that this iconic bird is being held back in parts of the country due to illegal persecution, which simply shouldn’t happen in the 21st century.”
The Independent
RSPB

Fall in Scottish seabird numbers

Kittiwakes [Pic: RSPB]

Seabird numbers in Scotland fell by 19% between 2000 and 2008, according to a new report. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) said the major cause was almost certainly a shortage of food due to a drop in the number of small fish, such as sandeels. If the declines continue, many of Scotland’s famous “seabird cities” could be virtually empty within ten years. Kittiwake numbers have fallen by 40 per cent since 2000 and the shag population that has dropped by 25 per cent. The Arctic skua population has dropped by 57 per cent and the herring gull population has dropped by one third.
BBC

The Stronsay Beast

While reading about basking sharks, I came across the story of the Stronsay beast, a large, dead sea-creature that washed ashore on the island of Stronsay in the Orkney Islands, after a storm in 1808. The decomposed carcass was said to measure 55 feet in length, without the tail. The terrible beast was reported in the local press athe time:

“Its flesh was described as being like ‘coarse, ill-coloured beef, entirely covered with fat and tallow and without the least resemblance or affinity to fish’. The skin, which was grey coloured and had an elastic texture was said to be about two inches thick in parts.”
Account of the Stronsay Beast as reported in The Orcadian newspaper. From The Stronsay Beast

The Natural History Society of Edinburgh was unable to identify the carcass and decided it was a new species, probably a sea serpent. Later the anatomist Sir Everard Home dismissed the measurement, declaring it must have been around 36 feet, and deemed it to be a decayed basking shark as basking sharks can take on a ‘pseudo plesiosaur’ appearance when they decompose. “First the shark’s jaws – which are attached only by a small piece of flesh – drop off leaving what looks like the remains of a long neck and a small skull.” More here

References

George Orwell on Jura

Between 1946 and 1948, George Orwell spent two spells of six months on the Isle of Jura with the aim of giving himself  ‘six months’ quiet’ in which to complete 1984.  A rich friend had let him use a small, remote stone farmhouse called Barnhill seven miles from Ardlussa, the nearest village, on the bleak northern tip of the island. After “a quite unendurable winter”,  he grew to love the isolation and wild beauty of Jura, while writing his most famous novel. He spent a lot of time with his young son fishing the loch and sea, shooting rabbits, laying lobster pots, and lending his hand at farming: he kept a small vegetable garden and orchard and had sheep, a cow and pig. One day on a fishing trip with friends he was nearly drowned in the infamous Corryvreckan whirlpool.

Sadly, the island’s damp weather weakened his already fragile lungs and after finishing 1984, he finally left the island for a tuberculosis sanatorium in January 1949. Twelve months later, he  died.

Orwell disliked cruelty towards animals though according to a friend of his this clearly did not extend itself to this adder, rather common on the Isle of Jura, he came upon. I wonder if this attitude came from his days in Burma where he may well have seen people die of snake bites.

“‘We landed in a sort of shingly bay and the first thing we saw was a dirty great adder, an enormous thing and Eric quickly planted his boot right on top of its neck and anchored it to the ground and I fully expected that with the other foot he would grind its head into the ground too – he was obviously intent on destroying it – but he got out his penknife and quite deliberately opened and proceeded more or less to fillet this wretched creature, he just ripped it right open with the thing – quite deliberately. I must say, it surprised me terribly because he always really struck me as being very gentle to animals, in fact I think he was a very gently, kindly sort of man.’…”

From here Orwell’s Life on Jura

See also

From The Guardian on writing 1984 on Jura…Now Astor stepped in. His family owned an estate on the remote Scottish island of Jura,. There was a house, Barnhill, seven miles outside Ardlussa at the remote northern tip of this rocky finger of heather in the Inner Hebrides. Initially, Astor offered it to Orwell for a holiday. Speaking to the Observer last week, Richard Blair says he believes, from family legend, that Astor was taken aback by the enthusiasm of Orwell’s response.

Around the web

Loch Coruisk

Loch Coruisk in the Isle of Skye is one of the most spectacular and isolated places in the British Isles.  The head of this freshwater loch is surrounded on three sides by the imposing volcanic Black Cuillin while the southern end runs into a small rivulet, which then discharges into a sea loch, Loch Scavaig. Coruisk is an Anglicisation  of the Scottish Gaelic, Coire Uisg meaning “Cauldron of Waters”. As with much of the Highlands, once it would have been thickly wooded. Deforestation has left it all the bleaker.

Robert Macfarlane visited Loch Coruisk  in his tour of Britain’s remotest parts, The Wild Places. He describes it as the greatest example in Britain of what he calls “sanctuaries”: hidden valleys with all the lure of lost worlds.

Sir Walter Scott visited the loch in 1814 and described it vividly:

“Rarely human eye has known
A scene so stern as that dread lake,
With its dark ledge of barren stone…”

Lord Tennyson was somewhat more descriptive:

“Loch Coruisk, said to be the wildest scene in the Highlands, I failed in seeing. After a fatiguing expedition over the roughest ground on a wet day we arrived at the banks of the loch, and made acquaintance with the extremest tiptoes of the hills, all else being thick wool-white fog

The loch has been painted by many painters including Sidney Richard Percy (1821-1886) who painted the above picture, William Daniell (1769-1837), J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), and Alexander Francis Lydon (1836-1917). Turner almost fell to his death while painting this view of the Black Cuillin from a crag high up the valley.

The foreground figures help establish the scale of this awe inspiring view over the remote Loch Coruisk. The Cuillin Mountains soar above the loch like gigantic waves. Read National Galleries of Scotland

The loch is accessible by boat from Elgol, or, most usually, a 7-8 mile hike from Sligachan.

See also

  • Loch Coruisk – Wikipedia
  • Misty Isle Boat Trips. We are a family-run business running boat trips from Elgol on the Isle of Skye to the famous Loch Coruisk in the heart of the Cuillin Hills.
  • Skye – Loch Coruisk Cruises
  • Review of The Wild Places in the Guardian “In certain predictable ways, his early travels provide him with “the real” that he wants. On the island of Ynys Enlli, off the westernmost tip of the Lleyn Peninsula, he identifies with the contemplative and austere connectedness of the original peregrini – the monks and other devout solitaries who settled there. In Coruisk, the loch-filled valley on the southwest coast of the Isle of Skye, he encounters “a silence that reached backwards to the Ice Age” (similar sorts of time-travel occur in later chapters as well). Making “an ice-bound traverse” of Rannoch Moor, trekking through the Black Wood east of Rannoch, teetering on cliffs that define the north coast of Scotland and contemplating the peatbogs (the “Flows”) nearby, he is at once taken out of himself and connected with the original need for his journeys. They are all places that put human achievement in the perspective of eternity and generate a sense of the primitive that is salutary and bracing.”

Books about the Isle of Skye

Collins Rambler’s Guide – Isle of Skye

Produced in association with the Ramblers, this walking guide covers the beautiful Isle of Skye and combines detailed route descriptions with information on the local history and wildlife.

This famous corner of the Scottish Highlands and Islands is home to a spectacular variety of mountain landscapes and dramatic coastlines. There is also a wealth of fascinating places to explore: caves and sea stacks, headlands and arches, waterfalls and castles.

The introduction gives information about the topography, geology and history of the area, and describes the flora and fauna inhabiting it.

Isle of Skye: 40 Coast and Country Walks (Pocket Mountains)

An excellent little walking guide, especially for those – like me – wanting to explore as many parts of the Isle of Skye as possible in a visit. Arranged roughly by ‘peninsular’, there are walks ranging from 45 minutes to a few hours, even a day. We did at least one from each section and they were all straightforward and, of course, beautiful!