Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Arran Adventure

It's been a few months since I posted.  Life has been busy in the South Atlantic where I live with my wife, camera and bike. So busy that I couldn't update this blog as regularly as I would have liked. However, I have a few posts in the pipeline, so I hope to publish more soon.

This first catchup  takes me and my wife back to the UK - to the Isle of Arran in Scotland to be precise.
On the ferry, heading for Arran (the Sleeping Giant) in Force 8 seas!
Arran is a favourite island of mine, and I've visited it since childhood, when I was growing up in the southwest of Scotland.  I lived in a fairly mundane industrial town on the coast, and could, if it wasn't raining, look across 12 miles of the Firth of Clyde to the mystical "Sleeping Giant" of Arran every day.
This ferry decided to ride out the gale....
The "Sleeping Giant" nickname comes from its profile, which resembles the face of a giant lying down.  Arran's other nickname is "Scotland in Miniature", because it packs the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland into its 20 mile length.
Brodick Bay
In April, we travelled from the Falkland Islands to the UK, and to Arran for a rare break on the island. April and May can sometimes mean good weather, and we certainly were lucky, with 10 consecutive days of sunshine.  If you know the west of Scotland, you'll appreciate how lucky we were!
North Glen Sannox
The hills of Arran are a walkers' paradise, with granite mountains rising nearly 3,000 above sea level. The glens and ridges offer endless possibilities, and the chance to catch glimpses of red deer or golden eagles.
Low rainfall means easy crossings, North Glen Sannox

Ascending to the ridge, North Glen Sannox

River crossing
Arran also has a lot of historical sites, ranging from Neolithic chambered cairns and rings of standing stones, through remnants of Scotland's turbulent medieval history, to the time when sheep replaced people on the land.  The people were forcibly evicted ("The Clearances"), and many emigrated to outposts of the British Empire such as Canada, New Zealand, and possibly ending up in the Falklands.
Lochchranza Castle

The Mull of Kintyre ferry, Catriona, arrives at Lochranza

Rain clouds sweep down the Mull of Kintyre to Ireland.

The "Stavros Niarchos" training ship drops anchor in Lamlash Bay

The Rosa Burn, Brodick

Looking over Whiting Bay to Holy Isle

Tulips in Brodick Castle gardens

"Isle of Arran" with Goat Fell in distance

Machrie Moor standing stones, with wife and Julie to give it scale!
Early people may have reached Arran over 5,000 years ago, not long (geologically speaking) after the end of the last Ice Age. They built many forts, and buried their dead in cairns. They also left huge standing stone circles.
King's Cave - where Bruce met the spider!
Another visitor was Robert the Bruce, before he became king. Legend has it he hid in a cave on Arran from his enemies. As he sat there wondering how long he could continue his struggle, he watched a spider spinning its web. Each time it had almost made a thread between two walls, it broke, making it start again.  The resilience of the spider reputedly gave Bruce inspiration, and he eventually won the Kingdom of Scotland.

Southern Beech, from Chile, in Brodick Castle's Gardens

Another big old tree, Brodick Castle

Glen Rosa, a beautiful glaciated glen.

Glen Rosa camp site.

Laggan Cottage
Laggan Cottage sits in a remote spot, but there once was a thriving community here, making salt from the seawater, and even mining coal, to sell to buyers on the mainland about 12 miles east.
Sandstone Boulder
Arran also has huge appeal for geologists. James Hutton, the father of modern geology, found rock formations which did not fit into the existing theories of how old the Earth was. "Huttons Unconformity" can still be found to the north of Arran, where layers of different aged rocks are tangled together.
Otter off Kildonan beach
If you keep your eyes open on Arran, you will almost certainly see deer, and possibly majestic Golden Eagles and rare hen harriers and merlins.  In May, you may be lucky enough to hear the evocative cuckoo returning from Africa to breed in remote Scottish glens.
And despite my many visits, and knowing exactly where to find them, I had never seen a wild otter on Arran, until this year.  We were walking along a beach in the south with friends, and I optimistically said that otters were sometime spotted on the rock about 100 metres offshore.  And, as if summonsed, one appeared and started eating a fish it had caught! Magic!  Within minutes we had a crowd of people staring out to sea wondering what we were looking at!
Very nice house, belonging to friends

Soay sheep, Holy Isle
In a sheltered bay, which once housed a Viking longboat fleet before it lost the Battle of Largs (1263) and its hold over much of Scotland's western seaboard, lies Holy Isle.....
View north from Holy Isle
Holy Isle is now a Buddhist retreat where the public can attend training courses or lock themselves away from the outside world.
Pods for individual meditation
Monks meet daytrippers like ourselves arriving on the small ferry, and explain the ground rules, and what can be seen on the island.
Eriskay pony and Stephenson lighthouse

Buddhist statues.

Russian yacht in Lamlash Bay

Seal sunning, Brodick

Granite boulder, roadside near Sannox
A 55-mile road hugs the Arran coast and its undulating surface is a true test for the many cyclists who try to complete the circuit in time to catch their ferry back to the mainland!
Isle of Arran distillery, Lochranza
But for those who want to sample other delights, Arran is famous for it fresh dairy produce, seafood, venison, beef and lamb, and Arran Mustard! Oh, did I mention the distillery?  And the Brewery?
Whisky taste guide, Oystercatcher pub,  Otter Ferry, Cowal, Argyll.

Looking down from The Rest and Be Thankful
All too soon, our adventure was over, and we departed Arran by the small ferry to the Mull of Kintyre.  From there, another small ferry transported into the hidden Cowal Peninsula - a large unspoilt area normally bypassed by visitors heading to the better-known Highlands.

A final stop at the beautiful lochside Oystercatcher pub, and then one of the best views in Scotland - the aptly-named Rest and Be Thankful pass.  Indeed, we were Thankful.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Honeymoon at Volunteer Beach

[For new readers....My wife and I moved to the Falkland Islands over 5 years ago, initially for two years.  But we have yet to be bored with the opportunities for work or the wildlife. Plus most of the people are very friendly and helpful.]

This week, we headed to Johnson's Harbour, a massive sheep farm which includes a private nature reserve,  about an hour out of Stanley, with two friends on board. At the end of the gravel road, we waited at the tiny settlement of about 4 houses for the Warden to arrive and transport us in his big 4x4 (SUV) to the House, about 12 miles away, over very boggy untamed ground.

The 12 miles took about 75 minutes to traverse. The main tourist track to the beach was closed due to being too wet, but as the Warden lived at the House, he could use a quiet track which was relatively pristine, as it received little traffic.
The track had been closed for 2 weeks, due to being wet!
One reason it may not have had much traffic during the season, was that it crossed a tidal lagoon. So knowing the local tides was an essential requirement  for arriving at the destination.
This is not due to rainfall - this is a tidal lagoon. The main track is worse!
 After admiring some skilled driving, we arrived at the House, and quickly got down to the 2-mile long beach to see the main attraction - penguins!  It is "PetersPenguinPost", after all!
Indecisive King Penguins
 King Penguins are relatively rare in the Falklands, but this was the biggest colony - about 1,000 pairs, plus hundreds of chicks.
"OK, form a line"
 There are Magellanic and Gentoo penguins, too, but these can be found close to Stanley, and all over the Falklands. The Kings were what we wanted to see.  And the huge numbers also attracted predators such as Sea Lions.....
"Follow me!"

Hallo, 'allo, 'allo!
 We watched a line of penguins waddle into the surf, only to emerge moments later at top speed as a dark shape was spotted in the waves!
The Gentoo wins the race!
Oh dear...

 As well as watching the wildlife, we had hoped our friends would enjoy their visit. It was a sentimental journey for them, as they had first come here on their honeymoon - 40 years ago!
White-rumped Sandpiper and a 2-banded plover
 The Bride's Grandparents had given them a flight in a Beaver float plane to take them to a shack at Volunteer Beach. With a bag full of compo rations from the Royal Marine barracks where the Groom was billeted, along with the other Marines in Naval Party 8901, they set off on their honeymoon.

The float plane landed on the nearby lagoon. As the shack was uninhabited, there was no-one to greet them. So no boat to get them ashore from the float plane in the middle of the tidal lagoon. So the Groom had to give the Bride a piggy-back lift to dry land! 
Feeding time at the creche
 Not only were there no people at the shack, there was no electricity. "I remember playing cards by candlelight", said the Bride. 

The peat stove was fired up and a Fray Bentos Steak and Kidney pie was heated.  Baked beans were warmed for breakfast. 
Swimming all day makes one tired
 Two days later, they returned to the lagoon to await the plane.  There was no phone in 1977, so after hours of waiting they gave up, and guessed, correctly, that the plane was grounded by the strong winds.  The same thing happened the next day!  Eventually, the plane arrived and rescued them.
More feeding

We are not allowed inside the white stones.
Anyway, the 2017 visitors had no need to bring rations - champagne was enough. The Warden and his wife provided superb hospitality in their home, with delicious meals and yummy fresh home baking.  Teaberry cheescake is a Falklands delicacy, which I was lucky enough to taste twice on the one day.  It is worth the calories!
Young one
However, we did work some of the calories off by long walks along the beach and cliffs.  Saw more Sea Lions and peregrine falcons.
"Leave it!"
Some people miss all the fun of arrival by the track....

Group beach stroll

House is beside the green trees, right. Volunteer Beach in the centre.
All too soon, the visit was over, and we enjoyed the swaying ride in the Warden's car over the bumpy countryside. Once again, we felt very, very privileged to have been able to visit one of the best wildlife spots on the planet. But unlike many tourist hotspots, there are no crowds and because Man has only lived here for about 200 years, the wildlife is as curious about us as we are about them.

More in a few weeks,
Sea Lions