Words and images from 24/03/2018
I was awoken this morning by the honking of Pink-footed Geese, a wonderful sound and the surest sign yet that we’d left Swansea far behind. At the foot of our bed bright morning sunlight streamed in through picture windows revealing a crystal clear sky of a blueness that if painted that way you’d swear blind was simply unrealistic. Stock Doves milled, Lesser Black-backed Gulls patrolled and off in the distance, standing stark on the horizon, were the white capped peaks of the Cairngorms. Oh yes my friends, this was Scotland and ahead of us lay a fortnight in which we planned to make the most of our well earned break.
So where were we exactly? A good question and put simply, my sisters house. Not a helpful description for the vast majority I’m sure but a fact nonetheless and one which makes me incredibly envious. Nestled amidst the rolling terrain north of Loch Leven their small cottage is surrounded by a landscape rich in variety. Arable land, plantations, woodland and of course hills. Hills in every direction and each seemingly in possession of a beacon which called to my very being. Certainly a far cry from our hosts previous residence in Kent barely six months ago, a brave decision to relocate which is now paying dividends. We’d been longing to get up here and visit ever since and with an Easter visit to Mull planned we finally had the perfect excuse.
Having arrived the previous evening this was really our first opportunity to asses these new surroundings and as may already be obvious, we liked what we saw. Sat in the kitchen eating breakfast my early morning alarm clock could be seen in their hundreds feeding a couple of fields away, their own meals interrupted shortly after by the farmer trying to protect his fledgling crops. Then of course there’s the garden. Tree Sparrows on the feeders, a trio of Red Squirrels which have spent the winter fattening up on what, to them at least, must have seemed like an endless supply of peanuts not to mention a plethora of other species. Previously this was an area of Scotland I’d not widely explored but that was clearly going to have to change.
Our options for the day ahead were vast but having spent ten hours in the car yesterday we decided somewhere local might be sensible. Fortunately the Lomond hills sit basically on my sister’s doorstep and once we’d finally managed to drag ourselves away from the garden that was exactly where we headed.
Our approach would take us through Glen Vale, a gently ascending valley which immediately got my seal of approval thanks to the flock of at least twenty Yellowhammers hanging out on the fringes of a small wooded area. In the morning sunshine their plumage was incredibly vibrant but by sticking to the higher branches they managed to avoid the glare of my camera. Coal Tits, Long-tailed Tits and a passing Sparrowhawk were also present before we broke through to more open terrain. The going remained easy but each step took us ever higher, the views around us expanding all the time.
As has been the case for the past couple of weeks Skylark song was once more in evidence as we noted a pair of Stonechats and off in the distance a Kestrel at hunt. What I hadn’t been expecting however was the sight of a Woodcock barrelling towards us across the heather coated hillside, its roost presumably disturbed by another walker. We got fantastic views as it crossed our path before heading onwards, noticeably bulkier than the similar looking Snipe and with a distinctly more direct flight. A lifer for two of our party and a year tick for me.
With one final push we conquered the steepest part of our route so far bringing us to the trig point atop West Lomond. A biting wind immediately stripped any warmth that the sun had been providing and served as a timely reminder that there were still patches of snow on the ground for a very good reason. Completely worth it though as the views in all directions were simply spectacular.
Lunch served a dual purpose of not only providing valuable fuel but also a vantage point from which to spot Red Grouse amongst the heather below. There were at least two birds present that we could see so the next twenty minutes or so were spent trying to relocate them on the ground. Easier said than done. The closest we came turned out to be a little too close as the Grouse in question erupted from barely three foot away before we’d even had chance to spot it. I did however leave happy with this, as I shall now be referring to it, scene setting shot.
Our return route took us steeply down around the opposite side of West Lomond from our approach passing the curiously named Bunnet Stane on the way. This wind weathered sandstone outcrop has been the source of much folklore through the years including one tale which states that a hermit once lived in the cave below. There’s no doubt that a square room has been carefully carved out of the solid rock by hand but as for anyone actually living there? We may never know.
In all we’d walked just under nine miles by the time we’d finished and back at the house spent the evening watching Pink-footed Geese gradually gather once more. Even with the windows closed their calls were audible, a perfect reminder of why moving from Kent in the first place had been such a great idea.