Gruinard Bay from Laide
I grew up in the suburbs of the UK’s tenth largest city, a tangle of Victorian houses, post-war prefabs, red brick estates and late ’50’s high rise flats. Though my origins are those of a city-dweller my heart seeks out unspoilt wildernesses, rugged coastlines and far-reaching vistas as this photograph of the Scottish Highlands illustrates.
This is a view from the tiny village of Laide in the north-west Highlands out across Gruinard Bay. In the distance is Gruinard Island, a site of WWII biological warfare testing. The island was quarantined for 48 years following the release of anthrax spores. Fortunately it has been decontaminated and no longer poses a threat. The sheep used as test subjects in the 1940’s were not so lucky.
During the last ice age this area was pushed down by the weight of huge sheets of ice but over a period of several thousand years it’s been undergoing post-glacial rebound – a phenomenon where the land moves upwards relative to sea-level. Here the rate of change is around 5cm per 100 years.
Scotland isn’t often thought of as somewhere sunny and bright but when I visited Laide (in the month of February – technically still winter) I was met with beautiful blue skies, warm sunshine and starry evenings. Just perfect!
The Road to Aberystwyth
A couple of weeks ago I needed to collect a bike from Wales. Rather than taking the direct route back I journeyed up the coast, stopped off in Aberaeron for a honey ice cream (the local speciality which is simply delicious!) and then travelled further along the coast to Aberystwyth.
Aberystwyth was badly affected by the New Year storms that led us from 2013 to 2014 and many properties along the seafront were still boarded up as I passed through.
On my way back I took the A44 expecting it to be a reasonably fast, but not too scenic route. How wrong I was! Although the road is quite fast the scenery doesn’t disappoint and having happened across this valley, I couldn’t resist the temptation to stop and take photos. It really is this green and the photo doesn’t do it credit.
Although the British Isles is small compared to mainland Europe and minuscule compared to Australia or the USA, there are truly wonderful areas of countryside, beautiful coastlines, buzzing cities and plenty of culture to explore. It’s not the warmest or driest place in the world but we have to count our blessings – we don’t get typhoons, bush fires, tsunamis or serious earthquakes either.
In the garden there’s an olive tree. Sadly it doesn’t bear olives because the climate isn’t warm enough to support them, even though the tree itself does just fine.
While looking at this year’s new growth I noticed this well camouflaged green orb weaver spider. I know spiders aren’t everyone’s favourite creature but I’ve always found them fascinating and this one is a very fetching shade of green.
I get a lot of spiders at home but most of those I find in the garden (and the bathroom) are big, brown and hairy. Some bathroom spiders are very big and very fast, ideally suited to frightening the life out of spider-hating visitors from the city who aren’t used to the range of critters you share your home with when you live in the countryside.
This almost fluorescent green arachnid wasn’t what I expected to discover hanging out in the olive tree. It’s such an attractive colour and so well adapted to its habitat that I couldn’t resist taking its photograph. Notice it’s already caught its lunch? That’s the reason I never allow spiders to be killed… Lots of spiders in and around the house = very few flies :-)
Just because it’s raining outside (as it is today) doesn’t mean being away from nature’s vibrant beauty. I love flowers, the garden is full of them, but rather cut them or buy expensive bunches that only last a few days I grow orchids. This is a rather stunning moth orchid and in the right conditions it will bloom for 10 – 12 weeks.
This year I decided to grow some tree lilies and here’s the first bloom. I’m told they can reach 6 feet in height by their second year of growth. I hope that’s true because the perfume from this one is delicious and I’d be perfectly happy reading, writing, day dreaming or even darning socks under a canopy of tree lilies surrounded by their heady fragrance and the warmth of a summer evening. What could be nicer as a tonic for countless busy days at work? :-)
I often see these birds on the university campus where I work and around the Sedgemoor waterways when I’m staying in Somerset. They’re surprisingly large and very good hunters, feeding on fish, frogs, ducklings and even small mammals like voles and mice. They’ll also take fish from garden ponds, often completely emptying the stock if there’s no netting to prevent their feasting antics.
Although herons can be a nuisance around garden ponds their colonies (known as heronries) are a good indicator of the health of the freshwater ecosystem. Where herons are plentiful the waterways support a wide variety of aquatic life.
This is a pencil and watercolour sketch of a grey heron with an unlucky fish… The one that didn’t get away!
These stunning birds of prey were once mistakenly considered vermin in the UK and as a result were almost hunted to extinction. It was thought that they competed for food, in particular game, so were often shot, poisoned or trapped. Their eggs were also taken by poachers.
Human persecution of red kites was unwarranted; their diet consists of carrion, earthworms and small mammals – mice, rats and the like. Fortunately a long-term reintroduction programme has seen colonies develop in several areas including the Shropshire/Herefordshire/Welsh borders. During a recent journey I saw at least ten kites soaring over the Powys countryside and they can often be seen over a stretch of the M40 motorway in Oxfordshire. They are adept at riding air currents and easily spotted in flight due to their distinctive forked tail.