Monday, 29 May 2017

Monday 29th May 2017

We were woken at just gone midnight by the biggest most stunning electric and thunderstorm I have ever seen. The sky was almost continually illuminated by intercloud lightning, with only the occasional ground strikes. It woke us both us, and I really should have gotten the camera out, but didn't, and soon went back to sleep after it passed and the thunder rumbled on quieter and quieter.

We woke at seven, with the ground and garden steaming in the morning sunlight, but the day was getting on, and I had plans. There is a site which is well known and home to the Late Spiders, where I found the flowering spike two weeks ago, well, I thought if we go, or I go, early enough, no one about and we have the place to ourselves. So, after coffee we are dressed and on the road at half seven, driving up the A20 to Folkestone, taking the cliff road and parking on the side of a field.

After a 5 minute walk to the site, I see it has been fenced off, to stop according to the sign cattle, but really to stop people, and in particular photographers.

Late Spider Orchid Ophrys fuciflora A single spike has been left outside the fence, so people can snap that, and so that is what I do, three sets of shots, one a general distance one, another of the flowering spike, and a macro of one of the flowers. All done in 5 minutes, and after counting the spikes, we walk back to the car, drive back home along the Alkham Valley to fill the car at Tesco, then back home to Chez Jelltex for a slap up breakfast of bacon butties and fresh brews.

Late Spider Orchid Ophrys fuciflora And then back out to go back to Orchid country along Stone Street to look for the Greater Butterfly and also see the woodland Fly. Traffic was still light, and again the parking space was empty so we could reverse in, so being near to the start of the climb to the glade. But checking the small group of Lady near the entrance, we find the clearing so overgrown in two weeks that the Lady could not be seen from the path. But they were there, now full out and soon to fade and go to seed for another year.

Up in the glade there were no Green Hairstreak about, but I did snap another new moth species. DOwn the path there were Fly everywhere. Many now faded lower flowers, but other with up to nine flowers on a spike. I snap a few of the best before we cross the road to the other half of the reserve.

Greater Butterfly Orchid Platanthera chlorantha Up the path to the top meadow we find two Greater Butterfly in flower, these are the only two I have found thus far in Kent, but then I haven't been to every site. I snap both, and more Fly nearby. Also on the site were dozens of White Helleborine and also many fresh spikes of Broad Leaved Helleborines, meaning we probably will have to come back later in the season to see how they develop.

Greater Butterfly Orchid Platanthera chlorantha Up in the meadow many of the Lady have faded and were wizened spikes now, a few were still worth a shot. Mixed in were a few Common Spotted and yet more Fly.

But I have the shots I wanted, sadly I am making it sound like a military operation, and with the sunny weather due to be replaced by clouds in the afternoon, I was against the clock, so back to the car, a bar of chocolate and a swig of squash and we were back on the road, back to Stone Street, onto the A2, turn off to Wingham and on to Sandwich then to Ramsgate to the abandoned industrial site for another hunt for Bee.

We park up among people camped out having picnics or watching their kids playing ball games, while we walk down the steps the the site, and along a ruined road, at a point found by friends, there is a colony of yellow Man. There are now at their peak, but this season they are smaller and stunted than in previous, because of the lack of rain we guess, but these are so different from the ones at Lydden, always worth coming here.

Further on I spot a Southern Marsh spike, and as I make to take a shot, I notice a smaller spike in front, a Bee! It was the first of about 30 spikes and rosettes I saw, maybe half in flower, but more to come, but then again numbers well down on last year.

Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera The final call was at the neighbouring nature reserve, which proved to be very disappointing, as it is so overgrown that orchids were hard to find among the rampaging plants. We did find a few nice Souther Marsh and a possible Leopard Marsh too, but will have to go back to make sure.

Bee Orchid Ophrys apifera We come home, and with the time nearing two, I cook asparagus, corn and focaccia bread for lunch along with a cheeky Belgian beer.

And then came the blogging, the editing, the listening to radio and sitting in the garden drinking coffee, eating strawberries and cream with attending cats. All very nice, but with travel on the horizon tomorrow, I am aware these salad days are coming to an end.

I pack for the morning, check my work stuff, and will put the phone on charge before I go to bed. And so will be ready for the off at quarter to six in the morning.

Time for pizza and beer for dinner, on the sofa watching a documentary about trains, and by the time that ended, so had the holibob.

So, wee you on Friday when it will be June.

Sunday 28th May 2017

It seems that Mother Nature paid our garden a few visits while we were away, as the garden and what was left of the lawn, all had gone crazy. Two days later, and we really still don't know what to do with it to be honest, especially as the Imperialis beds are now full of poppies as Jools was over-generous with her seed broadcasting. It was a sunny and warm morning, and the soft light filled the garden, so before Jools hung out the first batch of washing, I took a shot just to record the moment.

Garden gone wild We have croissants for breakfast, then at nine Jools goes to collect the cats. Odd that I had given them only a few random thoughts all the time we were away, but now wanted them back as soon as. When Jools was away, I did a bit of gardening, really, deadheading poppies and clearing spaces around the climbing roses. I marvelled that even though I only seeded one quarter of the lawn with Yellow Rattle, seedlings are to be found in all corners of the lawn, and even growing through a gap between the paving stones.

Yellow Rattle And in the corner of the garden, the Flag Iris from Jools' wildlife pond is nearly four feet high, as it rose through the foliage of the Artichoke.

Flag Iris Jools comes back with the cats, and they have been singing all the way home, and all insist that they have not been fed since they have been away, so we fill their bowls, then the cats go out one by one, checking on things, marking with their scents and the such Normal service had been resumed.

Man Orchid Orchis anthropophora After an hour, I say I am going out to visit a couple of orchid sites. I know, I know, missing those plants, like an addict. All true and guilty as charged. I take the car to Lydden to look at the man Orchids. It is now peak season for them, although many are stunted probably due to lack of rain through the late winter and spring. I climb of the fence and find the spikes, poking through the heavy ground cover, I get a few shots, but not many, just enough to show they were there.

Man Orchid Orchis anthropophora As I walk back to the fence, a moth lands in front of me, and after giving chase as it takes off, lands, takes off and lands again, I get a good enough shot to grab a record shot, and later I find it goes with the name of a Mother Skipton Moth.

Mother Shipton moth Callistege mi Almost as soon as I had snapped that, a blue flies by, and so I am chasing all over the meadow again, chasing the first one, then another and finally get one to settle down long enough to get a shot, even then as I snapped it another male was threatening it by flying close. It must have been fresh out of the cocoon as it was so blue and so crisp, I thought it might be an Adonis, but turned out to be a pristine Common Blue, still the first one of the year for me.

Common Blue Polyommatus icarus From Lyddon, I drive a few miles further on to Barham, not for the Lady, but to check on the colony of Lesser Butterfly, and as is the way, these are at the top of the down, up the bridleway. So, I tighten my belt, gird my loins and stomp up.

Lesser Butterfly Orchid Platanthera bifolia IN a clearing, I find four plants, two with flowering spikes and two that had failed to produce a spike at all. Then, a beam of sunlight broke through the canopy and lit up one of the Lessers, like a star on stage caught in Limelight, looking very much the star it is.

Lesser Butterfly Orchid Platanthera bifolia No point in going over the road as the logging has ruined the season there this year, I hope it will recover.

I look at my watch, half eleven, time to drive to Park Gate as I really should check on the Monkeys. And after going back to the Elham Valley road through Barham, it was just a ten minute blast down the road until I turn off and go to the down, where the lay by is full, but at this time of the season, its the way it should be.

Monkey Orchid Orchis simia Two weeks ago when I was last here, the Monkey were only just coming into flower, with just one spike flowering, and now they are all just about past their best, their lower lips starting to turn brown. But more are emerging, probably due to the recent rain which might just have rescued their season.

Monkey Orchid Orchis simia There were two groups of people in the far paddock, I was really only looking for Fly out in the open, and then signs of the tiny Musk which should be out, or near to.

I spend half an hour hunched, looking at a patch of ground for signs of a tiny spike or a lime green flower, with no luck. I take a break and walk to the far side of the paddock, find some Fly still worth snapping, but of the Lady and four Greater Butterfly there was no sign, all had failed this season.

Musk Orchid Herminium monorchis I walk past one of the groups, having a picnic in the middle of the orchids. I think I should have said something, but let it go. Back to the Musk, and ten more minutes reveals one tiny spike, that had yet to open. But I found it. The other group come by and I show them the spike as I have overheard some serious orchid chat going on when I went past. They were pleased to have seen another species, even if two of them had seen the Musk before.

Birds Nest Orchid Neottia nidus-avis One o'clock now, which means I have just enough time to call in at Wollage on the way back home for some Bird's Nest and White Helleborine action.

As always, t is deserted, but the ground is full of Bird's Nest spikes, poking up through the leaf litter, very impressive and clearly another species that has thrived in the dry conditions.

And then there are the White Helleborines, which are of a size and number I had not seen before at this site. I take shots, then my rumbling tummy tells me it is time for lunch.

White Helleborine Cephalanthera damasonium So I drive home, and Jools is in the garden, reading, and very happy to see me as she is also hungry. I zap some baking potatoes, then slice and fry them so they can be dipped in mayo. To go along with that there are various party foods; samosas, spring rolls and the like to go with the spuds. And in half an hour it is done, and with a cold beer, lunch is splendid, and filling.

The afternoon was full of picture editing, blog writing and listening to the radio. At four we have strawberries and cream, because, you know, they were there.

We were too full to have a cooked meal, so we have a sandwich instead, and at least the cats have stopped following us around everywhere, but still want feeding every hour on the hour. Or so it seems.

And in that way the day ended, just time to sit in the garden, in our shelter, looking back at the house, with stars shining bright above. I pour myself a wee dram, and am taken back to the Highlands with the first taste.

Saturday 27th May 2017

Mum's birthday.

And the parting of the ways. After some 13 and one half days, Tony was to leave us early in the day, being dropped off at Glasgow Airport to pick up his hire car so he could do at least two more weeks exploring of the highlands and possibly islands.

Jools and i slept poorly due to the heat in the room and heavy duvet which might have been made of magma for the good it did us I ended up the last hour of the night on the sofa staring at the ceiling, waiting until it was time to get up. We only had a carrier bag with a change of clothes and toothbrush and paste, so, no packing to do. I try to check on the news, but Premier Inn supplies, free, one of the worse internet connections, in the hope that you will pay £5 to upgrade. I won't give them the satisfaction, so struggle on having to reconnect every 5 minutes or less, before I lose my final patience and log off.

We meet Tony in the restaurant for breakfast, he has been packing for ages, deciding what to take and what to give to us to take home so he can collect later. I would love to have given him more time, but even with clear roads the trip down south to home would take eight hours, and with it being a bank holiday, it was likely to take much longer.

One hundred and forty four And then we had to drive half an hour in the opposite direction to the airport then turn for home once there. Such is life, but we knew this was the plan, so no worries on that part, we just wanted to get on the road and started. Wheels at quarter to eight I told Tony, and fair play to him, he made it, taking just one pair of shoes and a pair of flip flops, he had repacked and presented us with a large bag of unwanted items.

We programmed the car sat nav and drive out of the car park, along dual carriageways, round roundabouts, onto motorways and then to the airport. Here it was then, farewell, for now. But it was a good parting, we are sure we have held Tony back on occasions, and now he could walk to his heart's delight, I hope the Highlands were ready! He takes his two bags, waves and is gone. I will see updates on Facebook from time to time, so will be interesting to see where he goes.

We program the sat nav for south, I engage all horses and we pull away, next stop: England.

THere was lots of roadworks out of Glasgow on the M74, so we seemed to make slow progress, but once they finished, the landscape changed, the road climbed and became wild and untamed again, even if the hills were topped by turbines (not ours). The road climbed and climbed, traffic was light so we made really good time, climber to a thousand feet and then beginning the gentle descent into England.

We stop in Carlisle for some candy and a toilet break, so I fill up the tank and we are ready.

The motorway was still fairly empty, and we had sunny intervals so we had wonderful landscapes until we turned off, taking the A66 over the Pennines into Yorkshire. There are two roads we could have taken; this one or the M62, but that would have meant taking the Manchester ring road, and the traffic chaos that would mean. Says a lot about that option that made the mostly single carriageway A66 the better option. There are dualled parts, and on those we could engage all horses to get past trucks and or caravans, as the road climbed over the backbone of the country, with views to the edge of the known world. Apparently.

Now that we were back in the modern world, the car could pick up DAB, so we had Huey to play the soundtrack for the journey, at least for three hours, and that meant the miles passed quickly, even on the roadworks on the A1 south of Scotch Corner which go on for miles and miles, and are there for the most part, not apparent reason at all, now that the heavy work had been completed.

At least we were moving, which is more that could be said about the northbound side which was one long jam. And pretty much all the way south into Lincolnshire. It was going to be a very long day for those right at the back of the queue.

We encounter the only jam of the trip south of the M62, a small shunt between two cars meant miles of tailbacks on both sides as people rubbernecked. I hope the people in the accident were OK, of course. South of Doncaster, we went back up to cruising speed, and pretty much stayed there for a hundred miles through Newark and into Cambridgeshire.

We stop at a diner we like near Peterborough, so have the main meal of the day: huge burgers. and lots of coke. Feeling refreshed, Jools took over the driving, and I maked our progress in the atlas, turning the pages as we went south.

Both the M11 and A1 were jammed, so I find a way round them going through Hertford. We drove through another corner of the country we had never visited before, and very green and leafy it looked too, with a smattering of churches.

Even the delays the matrix signs told us to expect near to Dartford really didn't amount to much, meaning we got through and into the last country of the trip, Kent. I have described the drive along either the A2 or M20 many times, so I won't bore you with them again, but in the early evening, traffic was light, and we arrived home at half six, pulling into our street and to my surprise finding a parking space outside the house.

Home at last.

The back garden has grown mad since we have been gone; the lawn is full of Yellow Rattle and the beds full of poppies crowing madly. And the air was full of busy insects, now that there is so much for them to feed on in it.

We unload the car, then while Jools sorts through the washing I go to Tesco for supplies, which is good as the Cup Final was one, meaning it was pretty empty, and even had stocks of what we need. Although, not sure what it says about Dover, but they were nearly out of cider!

Back home, we sit down to watch the last 20 minutes of the football, so witness Arsenal win it again with a goal a few minutes from time.I was unmoved.

Anyway, time for dinner; insalata caprese, something light and healthy counteracting the afternoon diner burger.

And that was it, holibobs nearly over, however, it is a bank holiday weekend, so Sunday and Monday off to decompress.

Friday 26th May 2017

And like all things, it has to come to an end. Looking at Google it suggested a 12 hour drive back to Dover, and it was decided that upon reflection we should have an overnight stop. So on Wednesday I booked two rooms at the Premier Inn in Kilmarnock from Friday, near to the airport to drop Tony off as he goes on two further weeks of exploring the highlands, and we go home to the cats and garden and then I can travel on Tuesday to sunny Denmark.

We had a lie in until seven, then were all balls of energy, packing, tidying, and taking the rubbish out, having showers and so by nine we were ready to go. One last check around the house revealed nothing left behind, so we locked up, put the keys in the safe, and after loading the car we drove out the gates for the last time.

Our first stop this day was Kylerhea, another place Tony’s Grandmother visited in the mid-60s, and he has slides of locations that over the years he has identified. It is also the location of a small ferry leading to the mainland, and is only accessible on either side y long and winding single track roads.

We turn off the main road to the Kyle and take off down a bumpy track, following in the wheeltracks of a 4x4 ahead, but once we reach the summit of the road, and have breathraking veiws into the sound below, we stop to admire it and take shots. As you do.

Soon, we spy a lady, Jos, riding up the hill on her bike, her exercise before she can have breakfast. She stops when she reaches us, talks and speaks bike geek with Tony.

We go down the hill, nearly 1:5 in places, but don’t see the house in the photo, and with the road so narrow, there was nowhere to turn round, so we continue to the stone jetty and wait for the tiny ferry to arrive. It was large enough for six cars, and access from the jetty was by a turntable arrangement.

One hundred and forty three It seemed slightly Heath-Robinson and dangerous, but for 15 quid, why not? Two common seals splashed around a few metres away as we waited, Jools and I looked at the bottom of the sound through about 2 metres of crystal clear water.

The ferry arrives and offloads the six cars from the other side, and we all gingery drive on the deck, the crew rotating it round ready for sailing. THe passenger door was jammed against the railing, so I could not get out, and for 5 minutes, not really worth it. I tell myself.

On the other side we get off, and Tony takes many shots as it loads up again and sails. The owners have a small shop selling snacks and cans, and payment is via an honesty box. He is amazed, but then this is a simpler place

There is then a ten mile drive up a narrow lane that steadily climbs the valley, and then down a steeper on the other side, at which point we get stuck behind a logging truck, which has the bonus of scattering other traffic out of the way.

Onto the main road, and the long way round to Fort William, down impressive and sun-drenched valleys, sometimes able to travel at the speed limit and other times at 30mph when stuck behind a motorhome.

Time clicked towards noon and thoughts turn to lunch. I see a sign and turn off thinking there was a hotel down a narrow lane. We go down it with the road leaping around like a rollercoaster, but with no other traffic about I put the Audi through its paces.

We cross the Caledonian Canal, and realise we are nearly in Fort William, so at the side of Neptune’s Staircase, a series of eight locks, we find a hotel with views onto the locks, and did food and drink.

Wemyss Bay station We have sandwiches and coffee, which is all very nice, then look for a place to fill up before taking the long road south, stuck behind both a Tesco lorry and a motorhome. We putt along at 30mph for what seems like ages, then thanks to the many horses under the bonnet I get past both on exiting a roundabout and using all available horses.

But we run into the back of a lone of traffic going up Glencoe, and so we put along between 30 and 40 for ages before we can get past the camper van and truck causing the delays.

And then we come to Loch Lomond, where the road snakes around the shores of the loch, and we are in a train of cars behind a coach which has to stop whenever a truck wanted to pass.

But we get through, onto a better road, then at Dumbarton onto a dual carriageway, then over the bridge and onto the motorway, following the Clyde out to sea as I had a date with a station to snap.

Wemyss Bay station Wemyss Bay is not well known, but is where the ferry to Bute leave from, and the once grand station at the harbour was renovated 20 years ago, and is still in good nick. It is incredible really, and using the wide angle I get the shots I wanted.

Wemyss Bay station We walk on the beach a bit, between the rubbish and dirt nappies,we think we might want fish and chips for dinner, but looking for a place to sit down in. So we drive south, finding the road skirting the river and then along the coast, giving stunning views in the late afternoon sunshine to the islands a few miles out. We pass through towns with ports offering passage to the islands, you could go to Bute, Arran and other islands.

The oddly names town of Largs seems that it will have a fish and chip restaurant, but with the sun having come out and the start of the school holidays, the town was full, and a mini Blackpool with amusement arcades, putting greens and full car parks. THe one restaurant we pass is full to the gunnels, so we drive on.

We end up in Ardrossan, another port and stone built town, this one looking initially as unwelcoming as a few further up the coast. We follow the main road in, then I take the road to the port, and what looked unpromising, turned into a fabulous looking marina, and in a converted port building we spotted an Italian restaurant. We park outside, and although it looks full, they open up an upper floor for us, which seemed generous, only in half an hour all other tables are taken and another floor above is now being opened.

We have a fine meal, along with drinks, and the service is great too.

We program the postcode for the hotel in the sat nav, and it takes us through industrial areas before turning north and along dual carriageways to Kilmarnock, and beside a busy roundabout sits our home for the night. Its not bad, and for £50 each we have rooms, a good bed and full breakfast in the morning, but the rooms are hot, not enough ventilation after another very warm Scottish day, and on the bed a winter duvet of 550 tog thickness.

Wemyss Bay station We are pooped; six hours of driving and a couple more of photography, and we want to get to the Premier Inn, in Kilmarnock. Which is where we

Thursday 25th May 2017

Another day long in the planning. It involved two ferry trips, one rail journey by national rail, and one by preserved steam. And a good two drives on the road between Mallaig and Fort William in the Audi. And then there was Glenfinnan.

So, up even earlier at half six, make coffee, have a shower, get dressed and have breakfast to be on the road at quarter to eight for the four mile drive to the port to board the half past eight ferry to Mallaig.

We joined the queue at the offices at the port just as the ferry arrived, it was a smaller roll on/roll off one to what we rode on on Saturday, but as we had a reserved ticket, our place was spoken for.

We get on the ferry, but with passenger space limited, Jools and I take up a place in the main stairway and wait for casting off. Top deck was full of people crowding at the railings, we were happy looking onto the sound as we pulled away and the mainland got closer. The sea was almost dead calm, and we could see jellyfish floating along as we steamed east.

Armadale It was cool, but warming up, so I had just the t shirt on, so was bracing to say the least. We decided to go inside to let others have the view and space we had taken up, and so were privy to a conversation between a dozen excited Italians who were heading home, or somewhere, hard to say really as I don’t speak Italian.

There was no announcement to go back to our cars and coaches, so as we neared the shore, people went down, many itching to be first in their cars, even though we all had to wait in line to get off.

The plan was to rave to Glenfinnan to get a parking place and to snap the Jacobite heading over it before going to Fort William to get our tickets for the return trip, then race back to Mallaig for lunch and onto the train at two.

Jools drove to Glenfinnan, and soon had mastered the many horses under the bonnet in getting past slow cars and buses on the few short stretches of road as we cruised through just stunning scenery.

I mean, words cannot describe how beautiful it is, but in bright sunine it seemed like the technicolour of Oz compared to the grey fog of Wednesday.

Glenfinnan We arrive at Glenfinnan and find a parking space with no problems, pay the two quid for all day, then get out to explore. The bis load of Italians arrive, and are queueing to get in the shop to buy souvenirs at ten, almost banging the door down.

We walk over to the monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie, marvel at the colours and light on the loch, then with my thoughts turning to the steam train the THE shot, I walk back to the visitor’s centre then up the steep path to the viewing point, and after surveying the area, decide to venture onto the boggy hillside to a rocky outcrop and wait.

Wait for 46 minutes, no other trains came past, but others came to wait and prepare to take shots. Jools joins me, and so we stand together until at ten to eleven, the first smoke could be seen as the Black 5 puffed over the viaduct.

One hundred and forty three Glenfinnan is best known now from the flying car scene in Harry Potter, but is well know befre that to railway snappers, and it was something I wanted to take. Instead of using a xoom, I use the 50mm, this getting all the viaduct in as well as the foreground and mountains behind.

And in 30 seconds it was gone, and people begin to drift away too.

We walk back down to the car, me helping an old lady abandoned by her family as they rush up to get their shots. SHe had had a stroke and was quite inform, but Jools and I get her down OK.

Whilst waiting for Tony, we have an ice cream, and how lucky we are to be doing this stuff. Tony comes back, and it is me in the driving seat as we fly to Fort William, passing cars and truck using more horses. Oh my, this is fun. We have an Audi A4 S line, and it is fast. And fun.

Mallaig Harbour Fort William is a proper town and has proper traffic, so it comes as a shock to have to queue at junctions and other places, and all we wanted to do was get to the station and get back to Mallaig.

Twelve fifty each for the tickets, a real bargain, and back to the batmobile, engage all horses and fly back to the coast, again passing slow cars when I could, doing the 43 miles in just over 40 minutes,. Happy with that, but the drive was great.

We park somewhere near the harbour and find a bakery to get some lunch; so focaccia bread and a sausage roll. Not as good as either looked, sadly, but much better was the int in the beer garden at the Steam Inn, and it was hot in the sunshine, not warm. In fact, I think I have caught the sun today.

At two we walk to the station, take up our seats on the train, we have seats on the right side of the train, but in direct sunlight, and it was only the need to keep snapping that kep me there. Jools got too hot and waited in a vestibule where it was cooler.

The line is stunning, and for 30 quid each we got to ride behind a black 5 working hard upo Glenfinnan, then coasting downhill into Fort William, but now with endless blue skies and warm sunshine, it was too much, really.

Ben Nevis I get shots out of the window as we cross the viaduct, which is what I wanted, then as we came into Fort William, Ben Nevis was clear of cloud, and its peak glistening with snow.

Glenfinnan Viaduct Most people getting off the train were getting on buses taking them to their next Scottish experience, we, however, we to wait 20 minutes and get the next scheduled service back to Mallaig.

It was cooler, maybe because it was later in the day, but even still we spread out in the carriage, one seat each, in order to cool down and be comfortable.

The ride was quicker, even if it did stop at every station on the way, many must see a handful of passengers a year, but someone must use them.

The tain paused on the viaduct to allow people to take shots, then motors on, passing another DMU going in the other direction, then reaching the summit of the line and coasting to the coast and Mallaig.

I thought we had time to get to the ferry, but the 5 minute walk to the car and then the 2 minute drive to the port elicited the statement from the staff on duty, cutting it fine, aren’t we? I thought not, but we were allowed to take our place in line, and a few minutes later, boarding began.

It was a glorious crossing, with Jools and I in the same place as before, the cool early evening air bringing some relief after the heat of the day.

Back on the island we drive to a hotel by the harbour we had visited a couple of days ago, buy three drinks then sit at a picnic table next to the loch, and supped as the sun began to sink in the west. There was a party of loud upper class toffs nearby, talking about snails, but they leave, and some peace is restored.

At the end of the day Back in the cottage i cook corn on the cub and asparagus to go with the pasta salad and cold aubergine left over from the previous night. We sit in the kitchen eating, with every windown in the building open so to cool down.

Sadly, this was to be the last evening here, as tomorrow we are to drive south, but for now, sitting in the living room watching the sun set and the mountains on the mainland turn pink in the evening light, this is the perfect end to a perfect day.

Wednesday 24th May 2017

And again we get up to travel to Portree for the wildlife tour, and pretty sure we had the right day this time. But when we threw open the curtains, we found the mainland and sound gone, replaced by a curtain of fog. It looked set in for the day.

Isleornsay, Isle of Skye We have breakfast and get ready for the 40 minute drive to Portree, leaving some extra time for the bad weather and maybe getting stuck behind a truck or bus. But, we had an easy ride, and in half an hour are cruising down the hill into Portree, and the fog had begun to lift.

Out in the harbour, a cruise ship is moored in the bay, and already the passengers are filling the town, and wandering around like zombies. Best of all is the line of people lined up at the taxi rank, the chance there is more than one cab in the town seemed remote. It is possible they’re still waiting now.

One hundred and forty two I walk to the post office to post Mum’s birthday card, its on Saturday when we are traveling home. Anyway, will show we had not forgotten.

At quarter to ten we meet in the car park beside the tour bus. Mini bus, along with 5 other passengers and our guide, who describes that with wildlife nothing is guaranteed, so we might see nothing.

And so began the great hunt for otters. There animals are numerous, but secretive, and are viewed on Skye, at least by us, from across a loch. Or hopefully will be. We go from plan a, to plan b, to plan c. Driving from location to location, scouring the water and shoreline for an otter or two.

Twite Carduelis flavirostris None of the locations were unpleasant, but a couple were beside the main road, so it seemed odd to be looking for otters by walking down the verge beside thundering trucks and buses.

The final site, Andy, the guide, finally sees one across the loch. He gets his scope out so we could all see it, on some rocks about 100m away, eating a large fish. I try to get shots, but until I process then I won’t know if I got it.

It was lunchtime, so we drive over to the first of the eagle spots, and tuck into rolls and carrot cake.

Camustianavaig, Isle of Skye But the mist had dropped down, meaning that we could see only about 100m up the hills and mountains, and so all the crags the eagles rest on were out of sight. I did see and snap a Twite, a small brown bird, which is rare. And that turned out to be the highlight of the day.

We go from place to place, and as we went west things just got worse and worse. The site that always delivers a sighting, outside the Talisker distillery, also failed to provide either golden or sea eagles.

Two more locations back near portree, but apart from a couple of common seals near to shore, we see nothing.

At half five we are back at the car, and one of the other people on the tour, a John Cleese lookalike gives me a mason handshake. I wasn’t sure what I should do, if anything to be honest.

So I say nothing and we walk to the car and make ready to leave..

Along the main road, the fog had lifted higher, meaning we could have looked for more eagles, but we were eagled out. We stop at the Co-Op for supplies, and return home to have a beer, some pringles, a Ripple and a brew. It was that kind of day.

Tony and I egg and breadcrumb aubergine, then I fry the slices up, so at eight we sit down to a late dinner, and despite the snack we had when we came in, we ate well.

Instead of computing, there was football to watch, Man Utd v Ajax in Europe, and United won. Sigh. Maybe Jose will smile and stop complaining now?

Tuesday 23rd May 2017

If all went to plan, we would spend the day on a guided wildlife tour of the island, with lunch thrown in. But, things did not go to plan and we did not get to see wildlife.

I was worried that we would oversleep as we had a 40 mile drive to Portree to meet the tour guide, so left the cottage after breakfast at eight. Breakfast was fried square sausage, grilled bacon and fried slices. All very unhealthy, but tasty. And set us up for the day.

And then we load the car, set sail for Broadford then onto Portree on the long and twisting road. We set off in plenty of time, in case be stuck behind a bus or truck, arriving in Portree at nine fifteen, with half an hour to spare,

So at nine forty we walk up the the minibus, introduce ourselves, and at that point we were told that we should have been there yesterday. Yes, somehow I got the date and day of the week mixed up, did not check, so that was £160 down the chute.

Only, we were told to come back in the morning, and they would let us on that tour! Amazing, no fuss, no arguments. All my fault too.

Anyway, the upshot is we have a free day, and so the plans for tomorrow are brought forward 24 hours, so we can set course for the mainland, and a mountain pass with my name on it.

Plockton We pick up a French hitch-hiker on the outskirts of Portree, and so practice our CSE French on his with our knowledge of colours and the such. He smiles and I’m sure wanted the 50 mile trip to pass as quickly as possible Anyway, he smiles at our attempts to make him smile, so we did right, right?

Plockton We drop him off just before the Skye Bridge, and we go over to Kyle of Lochalsh, then take the main road along the sound t where we turn inland.

Kyleakin, Isle of Skye, Scotland It was a long and winding road, with many passing places (unusual for an A road) and climbed and swooped in dramatic fashion. At times I could do 60 mph, taking corners at a worrying pace, and at other times creep along at 20 so traffic coming in the other direction could get by.

Kyleakin, Isle of Skye, Scotland We go along the main road beside the line to Kyle of Lochalsh, although see no trains on the quiet West Highland line, but trains do run every few hours.

And on the way we could go to Plockton. Tony's Grandmother visited Skye and the Highlands in the mid-60s, and left behind a photographic record, and over the past few years Tony has been identifying them and where possible visit them on his trip. First up was Plockton, a village I had not heard of, but was just off the main road, and seemed to be picturesque. We take the narrow road over the hills and down again, running beside the railway, it was a stunningly beautiful drive, of which I have no photographic record, as I was driving. So you will have to take my word for it.

Plockton We drive down the narrow High Street and find a parking place beside the harbour, which was free. And before us, now empty of water as it was low tide, was the harbour with a few beached boats, an island and for about 400 yards on the left, the village streted out along the harbour wall, lined with stone cottages, a pub and a hotel all facing the sea and mountain backdrop.

Plockton It was rather beautiful, Tony strode off the take shots, and Jools and I wandered around in the warm sunshine, just taking in the peace and quiet.

If anything, the drive out of the village due east was even better, and the road dipped and rose with the contours of the land, through fir forests and 1th century castles. Again, I have no photos of this drive, nor the views as they opened out through a clearing in the woods, you'll just have to go yourself.

We drive along side a lock, and at the far end cross a bridge over the river that fed it, and runs along the northern shore, through a village strung out along the main road until we came to the junction with Bealach na Bà.

One hundred and forty one Bealach na Bà is the name for the road to Applecross, a small village on the shores of a sea loch, but you get to it rather than the long way round at sea level, over the mountain pass, the only such one in Britain, rising from sea level to 2053 feet, is single track and has hairpins bends, vertigo-inducing drops, and in general a blast to dive.

As long as other people are sensible too.

Bealach na Bà There are stern warnings on signs at the start of the road, before it begins to climb. A mile in it really begins to get steep. About the third of the way up, we go round a shoulder and see high above us the road keep going, criss-crossing the steep slope, and catching the first sight of a hair pin bend.

We meet little traffic on the way up, I am driving so am in raptures at the steepness and tightness of the bends At the top, there is a small parking place, so we can pull over to look down at the twisting road, dropping two thousand feet out of sight far below.

The other side down to Applecross is less dramatic, but we meet more traffic, but we let each other through, and even from 1500 feet, we can see the loch far below.

At the bottom we cross a cattle grid, the round another hairpin bend and are down at sea level, we take the right turning to a country house with a ramshackle walled garden; they are doing it up, but also do food, of which we had been told great things.

It is nearly empty, but the menu looks good, so I order smoked haddock something, it came in a creamy sauce topped with breadcrumbs. It was lush, along with fresh new potatoes which went perfect with the smoked fish and cream.

Tony goes on another Strava walk, and Jools and I drive to the village and go for a walk ourselves, just along the waterfront, past the pub and houses and into the next village along. And then back again.

Jols is to drive back, so we go to the bottom of the pass, then up, up we go. Jools is unlucky that the road is bueier, and some people don’t want to stop, one van driver trying to force her off the road, but she did well, and soon we were at the top, shrouded in mist and drizzle falling.

Bealach na Bà The descent was dramatic, but the top half in fog, so we did not see the steep drops, but they were still there.

Bealach na Bà It was good to get to the bottom, and at the junction was a cafe, so we went in for a coffee and slices of spicy orange cake, which was yummy.

And then the last hour was the drive home, back to Kyle, over the bridge onto Skye, then down the main road to the ferry terminal to book our travel for Thursday when we head to the mainland to ride a train. More of that later.

We get back to the cottage at seven, and i get down to cooking chorizo hash, as even if I am quick it won’t be ready until eight, and we have to be up with the larks to make sure we get to the wildlife tour.


Sunday, 28 May 2017

Monday 22nd May 2017

While Sunday was a day for relaxation, Monday was to be a day of action. Or touring anyway, which will have to be the same thing. Although the forecast was for rain from eleven, we thought that having got it wrong the day before, maybe it would be wrong again today. So we planned to drive from the cottage to Broadford, Portree then around the northern part of the island, then round to Uig and back home.

We had a healthy breakfast of cereal and fresh Scottish strawberries, which were wonderful I have to say, then filled the car with coats and cameras and maps, and took the lane down to the main road and then back across the moors to the other side of the island, through Broadford, and for me new places I have yet to visit, as my last trip in 2005, ended here.

The Grand Tour of Skye The road ran beside the sea loch for some time, so we stopped a few times to snap the views, but after taking a sharp bend at the top of a bay, the road climbed to make its way across a headland before slowing dropping down to another sea loch and bay and the town of Portree itself.

The Grand Tour of Skye At one point we stopped for yet another spectacular view, stopping behind a camper van, and a voice from inside asked if we wanted tea. Even more amazing what Denis the three legged cat who came out on a leash, and the man on the other end explained he was a hiker, and now was apparently looking after Denis. Poor Denis, having lost one of his back legs somehow, now finds it hard to balance when he has to use the facilities, as it were. Oh, the indignity.

Denis the three legged cat No time to stop, as with the weather expecting to close in at any time, we wanted see the Old Man of Storr and then to Saffin, as Tony’s Grandmother had visited the island in the mid 60s and snapped both places, and he wanted to recreate the shots.

North of Portree the road changed to a narrow lane with occasional passing places, the narrow stretches getting more common as we went further north, requiring us to stop and give way many times, but other do the same for us.

The Grand Tour of Skye As the Old Man came into view, the whole mountain was illuminated by sunshine, making it look like it glowed. We stop a couple of times with other cars and a bus to take shots before moving on.

Old man of Storr North of Storr, we were treated to an impressive display of light, as sunshine pierced the clouds, casting shadows on the sea, shore and mountains all around, it was breathtaking.

Staffin Beach And as we entered Staffin, Tony found the cottage from his Gran’s shots, took the shot he wanted, and from there we took the narrow road to the beach, where at low tide dinosaur tracks can be seen in the sandstone deposits. For me, it was enough to see the basalt outcrops all around, the dark sandy beach and kelp that had been washed up in recent storms. I suppose this is what we thought Skye would be, except in Broadford and Portree seem like towns, and the road between them and onto the mainland can be busy, so this peace and quiet, deserted beaches and isolated farms and houses was very much appreciated.

The Grand Tour of Skye Further on we stop at the Flodigarry hotel for lunch. It is a fine pile on a headland overlooking the sea, apparently too good for us, but we go on. But lunch was not to be served until one, and we really did not want to wait for half an hour, so we have a coffee, and a wee dram for me, before we move off to complete the northern part of the trip and come down the southwestern side to Uig.

The Grand Tour of Skye The road was narrow in places, and ducked and dived like a roller coaster, but the scenery was stunning, and we all enjoyed the trip. We come down off a hill down to Uig, going round two hairpin bends as we neared sea level, then further along the two lane road started again, but still we had not eaten. But just up the hill we came to the Uig Hotel, pull in and find they have a table free overlooking the harbour below, we order our food: for me venison stew and vegetables, and a drink, and sit and wait for the meal to arrive.

By now the rain had come, and there would be no more stops for photography, just one at Portree to try to find a camera shop, now sadly closed, but I did go into a whisky shop and Jools and Tony clubbed together to buy me a special bottle of Jura.

The Grand Tour of Skye The rain fell heavier, so we set off south, back along the way we had come this morning to Broadford, then across the moors to the cottage, arriving with a gale blowing and the rain falling in sheets.

We rush inside to find the heating on, and it very toasty and warm. The kettle is put on and brews made, Tony and I review our shots from the day, as another day on Skye slips through our fingers.