Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Belvoir Castle - Leicestershire

A sunny afternoon to take a trip up the A1 to Belvoir Castle (pronounced Beaver)'Beautiful View', (French I believe but all a bit too much for the locals to pronounce) in Leicestershire although it does seem to have a Nottingham post code? Furthermore the nearest town appears to be Grantham which is in Lincolnshire ...somewhat confusing so best to place ones trust in the satnav .... Regardless the Duke and Duchess of Rutland warmly welcomed us to share their gardens , at least that was what it said on the brochure. So armed with a packed lunch and a bottle of pop we made our intrepid way uphill to the 'Dukes walk'. Allegedly a 3 hour walk that takes in Capability Brown's excellent work and panoramic vistas. The gardens have undergone several changes over the centuries, the latest being a 2 year restoration programme that saw the lost plans of Capability Brown brought to fruition. This saw the creation of new walks into the woodland through a Japanese, Duchesse's and Hermit's gardens.
Wyatts Summer House

Lots of interesting and quirky sights to see on the walk which made it all very interesting. Possibly my favourite area was 'Frog Hollow' a series of large lakes by a lovely pavillion - an ideal spot for a pic-nic!
It was a good thing we had a pic-nic because the only outlet for food and drink was at the entrance down a very steep hill and there was no way we were going all the way back there in this heat. I think I nodded off for a short while after too many mini scotch eggs and dips, is this too much detail? Revigorated we set off again and promptly went off piste. Not a deliberate on I might add, my map reading skills went south , although it could quite easily have been North , West or East .. We did a large loop to arrive back where we started from..

We set off again in what was thought to be the right direction. It was only when we happened upon a game of cricket that I realised we had actually gone off the map and were heading towards Lincolnshire. Another about turn , just what my wife wanted in this heat and I was left to use distraction methods to stop her flagging. These included 'isn't that a Red Kite up there' and 'I shall buy you a lovely cup of tea at the end and some cake'. This seemed to improve moral until we discovered for the third time we were back at Frog Hollow again. As much as I liked the place it was getting slightly annoying, particularly as a large frog on a tree trunk seemed to be looking down and laughing at us.
The Laughing Frog 
  Eventually we did find the right path more by luck than judgement I should say. Making our way through the Hermit's Garden and through the stumpery before getting completely lost again.. I was amazed at the lack of people about ?The car park was rammed , where were they all hiding? Must be in the Castle , not daft enough to venture out into the wilds of wherever we are. By now the clock was ticking and wouldn't be totally honest if I didn't admit to a small degree of panic creeping in. This probably wasn't helped by my wife who kept saying on repeat 'thats it we're in for the night' .. So it was with great relief that I spotted the castle in the distance , actually getting to it was another matter completely. Eventually we did make it back to the Rose Garden just as the gates were beginning to close.

There was just enough time to go up to the Castle and grab a couple of photos that really didn't do justice to the view. That cup of tea and slice of cake went down really well I must say!

Monday, 18 September 2017

Last day .....Back to Inverness

It was with extremely heavy hearts that we said goodbye to Mull to make the journey in reverse back to Inverness. On the way back to Craignure I couldn't resist stopping off at a place that had caught my eye driving past previously.

The face tells the story , sad to leave 

Goodbye Mull , hope to see you again one day
I had noticed a sign saying 'Lookout Tower' this did indeed need further investigation. From this specially-built lookout there are great views over the tree tops to Tobermory and down to the plunging Aros River waterfall. It’s spectacular after heavy rain, as the peaty water thunders towards the sea. Everything went according to plan and we made it back to Inverness in good time. Different hotel this time right by the river but the room felt tiny compared to the luxury of Glengorm Castle. Time for one last hurrah before we would catch the flight from Inverness Airport to Birmingham in the morning. It was lovely to watch the sun set over the River Ness just as it did on our memorable trip north of the border.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Isle of Iona

My goodness it was a long and winding drive down from Glengorm to the port of Fionnphort! It was from here that we needed to take the short ferry journey across to the 'Cradle of Christianity' as Iona is sometimes known. Iona is a tiny island off the southwest coast of Mull in the Inner Hebrides. It is only 1.5 miles wide by 3 miles long, with a population of around 120 permanent residents. Our original plane was to catch a boat from Iona up to Staffa to see the Puffins and Fingals Cave. However the weather had other ideas, it was so rough all boats were cancelled. There was even some doubt as to how long the ferry would keep going as the forecast was set to deteriorate throughout the day.

This Scarecrow summed up the weather !

  Our first port of call on Iona was the famed Abbey founded by St Columba in 563. The Abbey was a focal point for the spread of Christianity throughout Scotland and remains a popular site of Christian pilgrimage today. Several high crosses are found on the Isle of Iona. St Martin's Cross (dated to the 8th century) still stands by the roadside. A replica of St John's Cross is found by the doorway of the Abbey.
  Another interesting place is the Augustinian Nunnery founded at the same time as the Benedictine Abbey and is one of the best-preserved medieval nunneries in Britain. The first prioress was Beathag (in English Beatrice), sister of Reginald who founded both the abbey and nunnery.

 As we walked through the ruins of the old nunnery it was a little shocking to find out that buildings such as the Nunnery often had a carving of a naked woman with her legs apart, called a Sheena-Na-Gig, to drive off evil spirits . Fortunately this carving was well worn so it does leave a little to the imagination .... By now we were both very wet and getting colder by the minute, nothing for it but to disappear into the heritage centre and a warming bowl of soup. The worry was that if the ferry was cancelled we would be left high and not so dry on Iona. We decided for safety to catch the next ferry back. As they are frequent it wasn't a long wait thankfully.

 Sadly we didn't get to see the highly acclaimed beaches , all accessible by foot, and all them enjoy the endless changes of colour in the landscape and the sea. On warm summer days the sunshine, sand, and crystal clear waters are said to make Iona appear positively Mediterranean. We were just thankful to get back to the sanctuary of the car. Driving back we did make a slight detour to the Ardalanish Weaving Mill and farm. It was an interesting place but the finished articles were not cheap. It was more inclined to walk through the nearby fields to look at the beach. Behind the beach was Machair grassland, which is a protected habitat and gives the beach a sheltered feel thanks to the grassland and dunes.


There were some large flocks of Oystercatchers on the beach which took great pleasure in avoiding me just as I tried to take the photograph. To say the beach was bracing would be an understatement so I made my way back to the warmth and noise of the mill.

The long road back to Glengorm 

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Wildlife Watching on Mull

Around Ben More
This was the 'big one' as far as I was concerned , the day I had been looking forward to the most.  I had even gone easy on the complimentary whisky the night before so as to be in peak condition. We drove to the ferry terminal at Craignure to meet our guide for the day 'Nigel' from Island Encounters. The tour would mainly be focused around the centre and southern parts of the island.

Around Ben More

Our first major sighting was of 'White Tailled Sea Eagles. White-tailed eagles are magnificent birds of prey, with a wingspan of over 2 metres when adult. They became extinct in Britain in the early 1900s but were reintroduced in the 70s. The first successful breeding of the re-introduced white-tailed eagles occurred on Mull in 1985. Together with the golden eagle, these birds are the reason Mull is often called ‘Eagle Island’. The small population of white-tailed eagle in Britain is found only in the highlands and islands of the west of Scotland. Compared to smaller and shorter-lived birds, white-tailed eagles have a low reproductive rate, which has contributed to the slow growth in the population. 'Egg collectors' have also hampered efforts to re-introduce the species. There are now said to be 21 breeding pairs on Mull.

When not feeding they are not exactly the most energetic of birds, quite content to idle their time away in the tree tops. The bird we were watching was soon joined by the male and it was just the start we hoped for. It was one of those days where the sunshine instantly disappeared and driving wind and rain replaced it. As a result we we were forced back into the mini bus to take shelter. It was good to see seals basking on the loch along with many Oystercatchers on the shore. We took lunch opposite Inch Kenneth.

Inch Kenneth is just a short distance off the coast from Mull, just off Gribun rocks. The island is 55 hectares in area and is very different from the rest of Mull. Inch Kenneth is one of the most historically important islands in Scotland. Along with Iona, this island has a significant number of important burials of the kings of Scotland. The island (Innis Choinnich) was named after St Kenneth, who founded a monastery on the island.
Shortly afterwards we had our first Golden Eagle sighting! There was a pair , a long way in the distance and very high over a ridge. Just then the heavens opened again  and one went over the ridge. The other took shelter high amongst the craggy  outcrop. With the scope it was 'just' about possible to make out the shape but with the conditions so bad it was almost impossible.  A golden eagle has a wingspan of up to 8ft. Its body is up to 40in long,it weights up to 13lb and it can fly at 100mph. Sadly this was to be as close as e were going to get today.
It is thought that there are 23 pairs of Golden Eagle on Mull.

Time to go
We did have more luck spotting Otters though! Spotting Otters can be tricky, they blend in well with the seaweed covered rocks and often, when out in the water, there little heads can be mistaken for rocks sticking out from the water. Thankfully as we passed Loch Beg we had our first sighting. Once spotted the secret is to get up or down shore in the direction they are swimming. The type of Otters on Mull are The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), also known as the European otter. They can easily be well over a metre

Friday, 1 September 2017

Glengorm Castle

The journey from Tobermory to Glengorm takes you through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Glengorm lies 4 miles north of Tobermory along another single track road and sits at the northernmost tip of the island looking over the Atlantic. 80 miles further north are the outer Hebrides, which miraculously appear on the horizon when there is a sunset.

  The view looking north across the water is of the peninsula of Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point in the British mainland and the mountainous island of Rhum. Low lying Coll with it's white sands can be seen to the west. Our spacious bedroom provided stunning panoramic views of all this as well as the Highland cattle which seem to roam free all over the estate. It really is the most perfect of settings and I sensed I was going to be most comfortable here.

After a quick bit of unpacking we made our way out into the fresh air for a walk down towards the sea. Once again the weather turned a bit nasty or 'dreich' as they say in these parts. 
Standing Stones near Glengorm
Highland ' Coos'

Glengorm Castle was completed in 1863by James Forsyth of Dunacht, Argyll. Work started in 1859when an Edinburgh architectural firm drew up the plans. Forsyth then evicted all of the estate tenants and burning down all the cottages. The smoke from the thatched roofs turned the sky blue and from this Glengorm got it's name' blue glen'.One of the evicted tenants cursed Forsyth citing that he would never sleep in his new house.This came true as Forsyth was killed in a riding accident before the castle was completed.

Anyway, returning back to the castle after a lovely albeit very damp walk we left our sodden gear in the entrance hall. Everything was very relaxed I must say , even the bedroom doors were all left unlocked 24 hours a day. After a warming shower and a spruce up I decided it was time to pay a visit to the library. This was no ordinary library however as it stocked over 20 different fine malt whiskies, all of which were complimentary to guests ...


Continuing with the relaxed spirit of the place I set off without bothering to put on any shoes, that was a mistake. I was soon to discover that a polished wooden staircase and woolen socks are not a good combination. I took quite a tumble down the staircase , Norman Wisdom would have been proud of my descent My mobile phone disappeared over the top rail shattering the screen upon landing in the hall. As for me, well I was in crumpled heap at the bottom of the stairs trying to regain some semblance of dignity. A German visitor enquired semi mockingly if I had started early on the whisky? Which wasn't particularly well received by yours truly I must say. Needless to say I quckly poured myself at least a double double purely for medicinal reasons of course, a Balvennie I think it was ?