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"World tour of Scotland" at www.nigelandkathyinscotland.blogspot.com

Sunday, 14 October 2012

My favourite time of year

In my mind early October and late May battle it out for the loveliest time of year. Lately, night skies have been peppered with stars and the Milky Way has been clearly visible. The symphony orchestra of stags has continued to blare out around the clock. (The stags have stationed themselves on crags around the glen for maximum impact.)

The bracken on the hillsides is sinking down in a blaze of fiery gold and the rowans are laden with glossy clusters of berries  In May 2011 I wrote a blog about the devastating effects of a powerful wind we had, which turned all the trees prematurely brown. But nature is clearly putting tree survival to rights with this bumper crop. Half a dozen basking sharks have been cruising up and down the coast between Lochranza and Catacol, and the little ferry to Claonaig has detoured a couple of times to see them.

The fine weather has given us chance to get started on the autumn task of clearing out the ditches but yesterday we took some time off to walk the classic Cock of Arran route, heading up from the campsite and across to Laggan then returning along the coast. Above the Narachan (the old track above the campsite) a stag with a small group of hinds kept us under close watch. We could sense his tension and didn’t linger to agitate him more. Up above, a croaking raven was chasing a golden eagle until the eagle caught a thermal and rose serenely higher and higher.

This route is full of historical and geological interest that I have described in earlier blogs: prehistoric giant millipede tracks, centuries- old graffiti in Ossian’s cave, the Cock of Arran itself, Hutton’s Unconformity and more. At Fairy  Dell, where there is a choice of paths home, we chose the North Newton route because we knew we could get choc ices from Reg at the Whins and eat them whilst having a rest and watching the seals on the rocks below. Incidentally, Kitty, who is 81 and has lived in Lochranza for most of her life, says that what is commonly called Fairy Dell is really Dairy Puddle.

Today it’s raining but I’m pleased to report that our newly cleared ditches seem to be working. The weather hasn’t dampened the testosterone-charged atmosphere we inhabit just now. I am reading “The Sea Kingdoms” by Alistair Moffat which discusses Celtic Britain, but not as something past and gone, but something very much alive in the west. Many of us will be following a Celtic tradition soon with turnip lanterns for Hallowe’en. I hadn’t realised that the originals 2,000 years ago were the skulls of enemies stuck on posts to make ghost fences for protection!

The pictures show: Laggan cottage, the Cock of Arran (something else that lost its head some time ago) and the view from the Whins.

Monday, 1 October 2012

What do campsite wardens do on holiday?

I love camping, and always have. I never sleep so well as when I am camping, and if it’s a wet, wild night and I’m snuggled in my sleeping bag in our small green tent, I sleep even better.

A problem until now for us in our three years of running the campsite has been, ironically, lack of camping. Three years ago we spent two entire months kayaking and living in a small tent in a very wet and windy summer in the Scottish islands. Now, our time off comes from November to February but the little Calmac ferries, which stitch the islands together in summer, will soon be heading up the Clyde for the winter. Seizing the moment before this happens, and leaving campsite-sitters Carol and Alan in place, we finally went camping again, heading north to Knapdale.

A good thing about living in a place of islands and remote peninsulas is that you don’t have to go far to be somewhere completely different. Knapdale is an area of long sea lochs and ancient woodlands, and if you like the wild nature of Lochranza, you would like this area too. We sea kayaked round the Faery Islands, looked for signs of beavers, felt very small watching the awesome power of the tide rushing past Jura, and put a foot in the footprint on the (replica)Stone of Destiny at Dunadd, where Scotland’s earliest kings were crowned.

We stayed at Leachive Campsite in the attractive village of Tayvallich. I’ll wild camp if I’m on a mountain or sea kayak journey far from civilisation, but I don’t find sleeping on boggy tussocks relaxing, nor digging a hole every time nature calls. I positively enjoy the quirky nature of small campsites. Leachive Campsite itself was a very pleasant base, right in the middle of the village and close to the water’s edge.

It was all happening in the Kilbrannan Sound on the way home to Lochranza, with porpoises and a basking shark swimming unconcernedly beside the boat.