Van Conversion - Introduction and Plans

Van Plans

From small acorns grow big ideas and that’s my excuse for why there’s now a VW Transporter T6 sat outside. What initially started off as a couple of interesting YouTube videos documenting those who choose to live in their vans full time sparked something within me that has kick-started a whole new strand to our adventuring. Admittedly we won’t be eschewing the comforts of bricks and mortar any time soon but the chance to escape for weekends without the hassle of tents or the cost of hotels is something that appeals greatly and by summer, that’s exactly what we plan to be doing. Before that though there’s much work to be done with the conversion from base van to full on camper being undertaken by our own fair hands. This is going to be fun.

Mull - It's Been Epic

P1140798 - Redwing, Isle of Mull
Words and images from 06/04/2018

It's an unfortunate certainty that all good things must, alas, come to an end. So it is for our fortnight on Mull and after a day of rain yesterday we awoke this morning to a bleak and foggy scene.Visibility was minimal with the cloud base well below our position and you know what? I was ok with that. Over the last couple of weeks we've seen some truly amazing things, enjoyed great company and walked miles. There's been Eagles galore, Otters at close quarters and scenery that blows anywhere I've ever been out of the water. It's even snowed, a new experience for me on Mull and another side to this magic isle which I will forever carry with me. Really I could ask for no more and as thoughts inevitably turn to the life we will soon be forced to return I took a moment to absorb and reflect on how lucky we are to have found such a place as this.

Langamull to Croig

P1140751 - Langamull, Isle of Mull
Words and images from 05/04/2018

Dare I say it but there was actually a bit of warmth in the air this morning, yesterday’s brisk wind nullified and after some early morning cloud plenty of sunshine too. In response it seemed that the stuttering spring migration of the past few days was finally beginning to gather momentum with at least four male Wheatears spotted around the coast and a pair of pristine White Wagtails at Croig, our first of the year. Nothing too dramatic but progress nevertheless.

From Snowman to Owl to Adder to Sunset

P1140674 - Snow on Isle of Mull
Words and images from 04/04/2018

Contrary to all expectations we awoke at first light to find that Mull had been treated to another helping of snow overnight. Even this close to the coast the ground was white over but despite many very kind offers I declined the opportunity to go and build a snowman (you may sing this line if you must) choosing instead the warmth of bed and a good book. By breakfast the earlier low cloud base had lifted, blue sky was visible and even the sun had come out making short work of any snow around our house. This left for a rather incongruous juxtaposition of this snowman against what for all intents and purposes looked like a warm summer’s day.

Red Grouse, in Snow, in April!

P1140639_2 - Red Grouse, Isle of Mull
Words and images from 03/04/2018

A sudden and surprising desire to perform carpentry meant that Monday was spent weather boarding the gable end of the house. Back at home with numerous DIY stores just down the road this would present no real challenge but on an island where the nearest shop is a good hour or so away? Not so much. Fortunately over many years a policy of never throwing anything away, just in case, meant that we already had a wide array of materials from which to choose including left overs from the last major building work here and tongue and groove panelling which once adorned the front sitting room. Re-purposed these materials seemed to take to their new life almost too well, although the lack of a working drill did increase assembly effort somewhat. With one success under our belts there was no stopping us and a long missing section of guttering was quickly erected, again from recycled materials, doing our green credentials no end of good.

Slavonian Grebes of Loch Ba

P1140559_2 - Slavonian Grebe, Isle of Mull
Words and images from 01/04/2018

I don’t know quite how low the temperature plummeted last night but by morning it was still minus one and the ground was frozen solid. Ice encrusted any lingering puddles and in areas as yet untouched by sunlight everything was white over. For a west coast location in April this is pretty unusual to put it mildly but as we drove down the side of Loch na Keal, things were about to get a whole lot stranger. Not only were there several sheets of ice floating out on the loch itself but where the tide had receded more ice had been left haphazardly straddling the rocky shore. As conditions slowly warmed a cacophony of creaks and splintering cracks could be heard, gravity and physics beginning to win their war for supremacy. Watching on from its mantle as Mull's highest peak Ben More still wore a snowy cap and seems likely to continue doing so for some time yet.

P1140541 - Ice on Loch na Keal

Despite these unusual occurrences Mull’s wildlife continued as only it knows how and whilst an adult White-tailed Sea Eagle basked from its perch high up in the trees a trio of Red-breasted Mergansers braved the icy waters below. At Knock we parked up and were immediately surrounded by the calls of Siskins and Redpoll, both species which we see relatively rarely. Despite offering some great views they remained lofty throughout making getting even a record shot distinctly tricky.

P1140591 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

Admitting defeat we pushed on through a small area of forestry before arriving at Loch Ba, our walking destination for the day. The plan was for a simple out and back route along the well made track on its southern shore, about eight miles in all and a pleasant change from the boggy conditions experienced elsewhere. Or so we thought. It turns out that although peat may not lead to the driest of conditions underfoot it isn’t half as wearing on the feet as mile after mile of stone and gravel. Not that there was too much hardship felt of course when the views were as good as this.

P1140589 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

P1140582 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

P1140567 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

What we were really hoping for here was overwintering waterfowl which we got courtesy of three Goldeneye, around thirty Teal and a small flock of five Wigeon. A trio of Red-throated Divers were also nice to see, if a little distantly, but I had never in my wildest dreams imagined that we’d be watching summer plumaged Slavonian Grebes. What little stonkers! With predominantly black plumage set off by a pair of crazy yellow tufts behind the eyes there really was no mistaking them, and then things got even better. From one lone bird we came across a pair which set about a short courtship display. Lining up alongside each other they began to mirror their movements perfectly, heads switching back and forth crisply before both dived beneath the surface in perfect synchronisation. I preyed that they’d continue and I could film a little of their encounter but alas it was not to be. Even so these distant record shots should go some way to showing off their fantastic plumage.

P1140560_2 - Slavonian Grebe, Isle of Mull

P1140559_2 - Slavonian Grebe, Isle of Mull

Against that kind of competition even the four Golden Eagles soaring high overhead had to play second fiddle.

The marshy ground around Rubha Gainmhich held good numbers of Curlew, Skylark and Lapwing, the latter in full on Nintendo* mode and hopefully looking to breed. A couple of Common Snipe did their usual trick of almost giving us a heart attack as they erupted from our feet unannounced and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t turn any of the Meadow Pipits into an early Tree Pipit. In fact we couldn’t find any spring migrants whatsoever as the Wheatear drought continues.

P1140585 - Loch Ba, Isle of Mull

Our surroundings remained impressive throughout and it’s clear that there’s many potential routes here for future visits including an alternative ascent of Ben More.

Retracing our steps mid-afternoon it was actually warm enough to remove my coat for the first time this week, a strange feeling given that we have snow in our forecast for tomorrow. Even stranger was the sight of a Carrion Crow in front of Benmore Lodge, well outside its normal range as up here Hoodies are king.

P1140594 - Ben More from Loch na Keal

We finished off with a tour alongside Loch na Keal picking up Great Northern Divers pretty much everywhere we looked. Recent reports have put the evening roost here at somewhere near sixty birds so there’s certainly no shortage of them about. Contrary to my earlier statement we also spotted a male Wheatear, only our second this week, but still no hirundines. Mammalian interests were taken care of by around twenty Harbour Seals hauled out on a small rocky island before it was back to the house and an evening spent trying to forget the sight of Cows giving birth. The magic of new life? A gory hell more like.

*Lapwings' display calls sound like an old Nintendo soundtrack to me.
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