Setting Off From Sandwell valley

Friday, 30 July 2010

Glenuig to Glenborrowdale.

27th July 2010

Awoken by a truly inspirational family - Colin and Sophie, with their children Rowan and Dougal camp and kayak their way around Scotland. Talk about a tent - luxury! I've got to get me one of those.
Such a wonderful, close knit family. Delightful children and adventurous parents. Better than tele and computers, kids!
A shower in the village hall and goodbye to the bus shelter. A grasshopper warbler trilling, more scotch argus and a dark green fritillary beside the road. Saw thre stone structures beside the road. Wonder what they were for and how old they are?
A day of quick showers and drier moments but little sunshine; got to the RSPB reserve at Glenborrowdale and walked the footpath up onto the moorland and back. Very little around and any birds suffering the mid-summer silence. Dark green fritillary on the buddleia at the car park noted.
Beautiful ancient oak woodland here too.
Finally met Vanessa Caldwell, the RSPB Golden Eagle information officer. A quick natter before a downpour.

Glennfinnan and Harry Potter

26th July 2010

Decamped and rode into Fort William. Won't dwell on the MP3 THIEF!!!!!

Right, got that off my chest.

Rain and drizzle as I cycled down the road towards Glenfinnan but arrived there during a drier patch. Had seen 10 scotch argus butterflies just before reaching here.
Not a bad photo that. Shame I can't get the same sort of images of the birds that I'm seeing.

Glenfinnan famous for ...... Harry Potter. Had been here 16 years ago when some Highland games were taking place and a bagpipe player stood next to the statue of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Now nearly everyone wanted to see a train go over the large railway viaduct. Why? A scene from a Harry potter movie. That was why people were standing on a hillside waiting for such an event to occur and the train itself didn't disappoint. Slowing down and hotting a long steam trail as it went over.

As a member of the New Zealand National Trust, I climbed to the top of the statue's tower to admire the views down the loch.
Then set off again. Rain. A brief stop for tea in a glass bus shelter and on again into the rain before reaching Glenuig. Now I didn't know that there's a village hall in Glenuig where the weary traveller can stop for coffee and a shower. Instead I ended up sheltering from the rain inside  . . . . . .
Now this photo doesn't capture the full elegance fo my place of residence. That bit of newspaper you can see on the floor covers masses of sheep dung. The attraction was that it was dry and there was a pile of the prveious day's newspaper ready to be read. So I did! And there I slept, scared of falling off the narrow bench down onto the . . . . . .

Items of news in the said papers :--

Blackpool shirt sponsors offer loans at 2689 % APR. Let's hope they go down and the company go bust. Surely that should be illegal. I'm sorry Blackpool fans but to promote a company which 'offers' such obscene rates is just that - obscene.

FIFA made $2 billion profit from the World Cup yet the footballs are made by people on less than $2 a day wages.

I liked the article about Alistair Brownlee [who?]. You know the World Triathlete champion. When asked if it was a little rough in the water with the other competitors, he said "if any little *it gets near me I'm just going to kill him."

On that note

Thank for reading folks.

All the best


Crainlarich Youth Hostel to Ben Nevis

OK. I know I'm a few days behind but using an iphone is difficult on a remote Scottish island.

No more excuses. Now to catch up.

Early morning goodbyes to a lovely family from Cornwall; Steve, Alison, Charlene and William.

Soon [!] reached Glencoe ski centre and went on the chair lift to get to the higher plateau. Nobody else up here and lots of changes since I was last up here, 30 years ago. Ski runs designated, non used chair lifts and closed cafes. Still walked up to a distant edge to look down the Glencoe valley. Saw only 2 meadow pipits and a golden plover but the misty views in the drizzle were what I was really up here for.

I love chair lifts and this one, being so steep and long is well worth the money. Strange that I was the only person on it.

Through Glencoe and down to the coast road, only to be stopped by a car with two laughing occupants. Ruth and ***** [oh dear i've forgotten her name - I am so sorry!]! Two fabulous girls who I'd met earlier in the year at Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve. Such a coincidence that they were travelling along the same road and saw me. Cherries, olives, a plum or two and some apple juice cadged from the pair and me last in the cherry stone spitting competition. Fabulous to see them both again. Brilliant pair.

Drizzle now turning to rain and ever onwards towards Fort William. Decided though to head into a conifer woodland about 2 miles north of the Corran Ferry and put the tent up. End of day with a bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes and a book about life on St Kilda.

25th July 2010

Up with the lark, who luckily had decided to stay in bed due to the rain. Not woshing to upset him I did the same and got to Fort William at about lunchtime. Charity shope are open in this town on a Sunday. Down Glen Nevis and then up to the summit of Ben in weather not condusive to good views. in fact you couldn't see more than 50 feet once 1,000 meters was reached. The path though was excellent and easy to keep on, which I very carefully did. Met a Liverpool fan at the top from Manchester [Brave lad!]. Otherwise there were only 5 other people and they soon left leaving me and Barnaby Bear alone as the tallest people in Britian.

Had met a wonderful pair of local men whilst I was on the way up, who had spent the day doing haircuts at the summit to raise money for charity. This fellow had to carry all the gear up and down.
In the mist a pair of snow buntings were knocking around the summit. The male in particular was a very bright bird; not that I'm saying that the female was thick or anything but to live up here is a tad daft.

Back down and back to warmer temperatures and not exactly sunshine but clear views of surrounding hills.

So, as stated before all 5 peaks now climbed and I can concentrate on birding.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Someone has stolen my MP3 Player!!!

I'm absolutely gutted. I went to fetch a book from the shelf whilst using th computer facilities at Fort William's library. returned to find my MP3 palyer gone and the lady sitting next to me gone also. How could she? All my music gone.

C'est la vie! No it isn't - what a rat!

OK - calm down.

To return to the diary. I got to Oban and cycled to Crainlarich youth hostel where a very different sort of lady, Beryl, greeted me and was so very helpful and friendly. She was from South Africa and couldn't have been nicer. Clothes all washed, coffee and evening meal and a bed for the night.

23rd July 2010

Up early and cycled to Inveruglas to take a ferry across Loch lomond to Inversnaid RSPB reserve. Up onto the high moor to look for butterflies, particularly the scotch argus but no luck with that. Did see a few ringlets, a very tatty small pearl-bordered fritillary and a dark green also. A few golden-ringed dragonflies allowed very close views.

Golden-ringed dragonfly

Heath-spotted orchid

Next explored the woodland along the loch shoreline, to Rob Roy's cave. What a disappointment. Could hardly be called a cave.

Boat back to Inveruglas and a cycle back to the youth hostel hastened because of a wasp stuck in my cycle helmet. One stung bald head later and cream and tablets taken. Ouch!

OK. Now to search Fort William for the person who has my MP3! fat chance.

All the best everyone,


July 25th climbed Ben Nevis!

So all five peaks climbed now and today was the toughest; little visibility, windy with cold drizzly rain at the top. Made it though and feel good about that.

That was yesterday. Today is the 26th and it's drizzly after a calm dry start to the day camping beside the river in Glen Nevis.

I'd last told of the first day on Oronsay and the kindness and generosity of Val and Mike. Well the next day was very wet with heavy rain for most of it and curled up in my sleeping bag and in the caravan I disgracefully spent the day reading my book, Origins Revisted by Richard Leakey. Well it was a very heavy book and I needed to finish it.

Eventually felt guilty over not being outside birding so got up and walked to the same headland as the previous evening, photographing crabs, seaweeds and watching the birds on view. Waders : 1 dunlin, 1 black-tailed godwit, 2 greenshank, 1 sanderling and a few oystercatchers and curlew; 53 greylags on the sea but very few seabirds passing in a strong north wind with rain falling steadily. Still enjoyed myself sitting in a sheltered area.

What a fabulous evening. Invited by three brilliant young people, Kat, Rob and Elena, to dinner. Lasagne!!!! My favourite with tiffin [my favourite too!!] to follow.

Rob was a young man from Conway, North Wales with birding credentials. He'd spent a year travelling around the USA birding after university. Elena was a RSPB volunteer from the Cotswolds, who'd worked at Titchwell, Abernethy and The Lizard. Then there was Kat! Katherine Snell - here goes .......

An Antarctic explorer, a pilot, a photographer with work on exhibition, possible future astronaut, chainsaw user, nicknamed 'Albatross Girl' by boyfriend who lives in the Falklands, Ex boyfriend of James Bond [he was a stunt double for Daniel Craig] cellist and tripod holder for David Attenborough's next wildlife series coming out next year. Enough? Well I'm sure with kat that her CV will continue to grow apace.

Now kat and Rob are working on a project called F.A.M.E. - Future of Atlantic Marine Ecosystems and are presently radio tagging seabirds to find their feeding strategies and areas.

A truly wonderful evening with these three very different and very fabulous young people.

I look forward to hearing about Sid the Fulmar!

22nd July 2010

Early morning spent hoping to see the calling corncrake in a stinger patch 5 meters in front of me and again to no avail. Then a perusal of the ruined priory, with bones in a hole and many superb grave slabs depicting warriors and wildlife.

Cycled to the ferry for Oban, even cycled over the sands between the 2 islands and after watching large hermit crabs in the harvbour boarded the boat, met a lovely family [Sue, Anna and Peter from Cumbria] and watched the few birds to be seen.

Time up at the library........

 All the best everyone. Gary

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Oronsay RSPB Reserve

Tuesday 20th July

Ferry left Islay at 6.30am and misty, cloudy sunrise over the mountains of Jura. A few manx shearwaters and gannets were flying down the sound and the sea was mill pond flat.

Arrived at Colonsay and soon the rain started. Got to the sandy bay that required me to push the bike over the sand to get to Oronsay and then pushed it further until I reached a high dry [!] stone wall. Explored the coast here and then saw a large house and ruined priuory complex further west. Couldn't find anyone in at first but soon met 2 of the most fabulous people that I've met on the tour. The RSPB ceratinly has the top people and Mike and Val are 2 of the best.

I'd heard corncrakes calling whilst coming along towards the big house and Mike, after a coffee and a chat, took me down to where one was about 5 meters away calling from a dense patch of nettles. Could I see it? No chance. It moved left, I followed. It moved right I did the same but in 2 hours I didn't see as much as a feather. How loud the male was as well. The female did a sort of tiny squeak but the male; well, it was loud enough for me to record it on my mobile.

Spent the afternoon helping one of the RSPB volunteers, Niall, put out electric fencing with the hope that it will stop the many greylags from getting to the barley crop before the winter geese arrive. Niall's a tall distinguished ex civil servant from Edinburgh who is now treasurer for the BTO. A most charming work companion.

The evening was spent seawatching at the end of a nearby headland. Not many birds passing; gannets, kittiwakes and auks with 37 greylag quite far out on the ocean. Had seen a crater near the beginning of this penbinsula and it turned out that this was created during World War 2 when explosives were tested here under the watchful eyes of Winston Churchill himself.

Mike and Val had said that I could use the caravan for the couple of days that I was going to be on the island and when I returned there, there was a beer, pizza and salad waiting for me. Their kindness was greatly appreciated and even if I hadn't seen a corncrake the delightful island and wonderful people had made this a very special day.

Monday, 19 July 2010


Now at Port Askaig on Islay after having a wonderful couple of days. was a little early here due to having had to change the itinerary due toa boat breakdown but couldn't have been made more welcome by the warden, Catherine and the 3 volunteers, Hugh, Heather and Richard at Loch of Guinart RSPB reserve. Many thanks to them all.

Catherine - the sunny personality warden

Heard a corncrake briefly on the first evening here [209] and saw 5 roe deer from the reserve's hide.

Yesterday went to The Oa, cycling down there after meeting Jeremy 'Jez' hastings in Debbie's Coffee House. [great cheesecake!] Jez runs a cycling wildlife business on the island and visitors don't even carry any luggage/rucksacks around. Jez carries them all on his 'work' bike. Brilliant bloke and well worth meeting.

The Oa has a huge tower atop dedicated to American sailors and soldiers that lost their lives on two shipwrecks nearby. Views over to Rathlin and the Antrim coast were as good as when I'd been there a few weeks back. A dead sheep was a draw for a number of ravens and other birds seen here were 4 chough, gannets and auks passing, whinchat and stonechat on the moorland and lots of linnets and meadow pipits.

Today, Monday the 19th of July has been the 200th day of the cycling tour. After sorting out the moth trap this morning; Catherine gave me a tour of the reserve and the rest of the afternoon was spent exploring on the bike. More chough, a male hen harrier and a female sprog were the highlights.

One interesting thing has been a bottom lip like a large sausage due to a cleg bite. I have always reacted adversely to cleg bites and this one was no exception. When I can I'll put the photo of this and the others taken over the last few days onto this blog.

Just want to say thank you to catherine, the warden of Loch Of Gruinart RSPB reserve and also to Hugh, Heather and Richard. Wonderful people.

Right now about to sleep on a lifeboat! Have met the owner, Steve from Manchester who has refurbished an old lifeboat and he has offered me a bunk aboard. Brilliant!

Tomorrow on the way to Oronsay. More corncrakes hopefully and it would be good to see one

All the best everyone


Friday, 16 July 2010

Lochwinnoch RSPB Reserve 15th July 2010

Some people have requested my email address to get in touch so here it is :-

Had cycled past Ibrox on the way out of Glasgow the previous evening. Impressive stadium but not as good as Villa Park! OK maybe I am a little biased. Names from tragedies were topped by a statue of John Grieg.

The early morning was spent walking along the south bank of the Inner Clyde RSPB reserve; lapwing, curlew and oystercatchers a plenty and four buzzards on top of football posts. Impressive views over to the cloud covered hills on the other side and the mist from the overnight rain adding to the atmosphere. Thousands of wooden posts standing in the dirt. later I was told that these were left over from the declining ship building industry in the area. They used to ram the posts into the mud for it to be salt seasoned. Now there's intricate patterns of posts stretching out to the low tide edge.

The cycle to lochwinnoch was easier than I'd expected so arrived earlyish at around 10.30am. Coffee and chat with Russell,a volunteer, Paula, the assistant reserve manager and Zul, the warden. Brilliant enthusiastic people.

Just time for a short walk to the first two hides after noting what birds were on view from the fabulous visitor's centre on the feeders placed outside the windows.
Broad-leaved helleborines along the side of the pathway. Glasgow's were the first I'd seen, now they're everywhere. Flowers just about to open; should look good in a few days time. Eventually found over 30 plants and that was just along the path. What lurks in the woods.
26 species of bird seen or heard before a phone call to say that the photographer from the Glasgow Herald had arrived. Sedge and grasshopper warblers heard and bank voles by the feeding station in the woods.

Jim [James?] Galloway was thorough to say the least. He was very friendly, chatty and a pleasure and privilige to meet. What a career he's had; following the British Lions Rugby team , The Scottish team likewise, The Ryder Cup team and various golf tournaments, Grand Prix's and Royal events around the world. He was also there at Lockerbie and at Princess Diana's wedding in the cathedral. Great bloke and now he's photographing me. Put his name in on google images and see what I mean. Diverse and creative. Jim spoke of his retirement plans and I wish him all the very best in getting his cottage. He spent the afternoon in the photography hide available at the reserve.

Paula and I rode into the village of Lochwinnoch to a small, nice cafe on the crossroads there. Smoked salmon sandwich and hot chocolate, a great combination. When it came to making the payment, we were told that the warden Zul, had phoned to say that he would pay. Thanks so much Zul. A lovely kind gesture and very much appreciated.

Paula is a lovely girl. Not only a keen natural historian with an profound interest in moths but also a rock drummer and in samba bands too. I wish her all the very best and congratulations over her recent engagement to Emily.

Paula with some greater butterfly orchids on the meadow.

Zul then took me around some of the nearby birdy spots and I met other volunteers and staff at the reserve.

Finally the reserve closed. Goodbyes and good luck wishes both ways.

Ann, Paula, Russell and Zul
Lochwinnoch RSPB Reserve Tower

Spent the next hour walking around the reserve, initially with Paula and then just a couple of minutes after she'd headed for home, pished 2 family groups fantastically close, sometimes with arm's reach; willow warblers and long-tailed tits, with a couple of great tits. Brillaiant. Ended the reserve bird list for the day at 42, including treecreeper and an injured whooper swan. How many of those have I seen on my tour?

Friday 16th July 2010

Now at Ardrossan, just about to take the ferry over to Arran; the first of quite a few boats over the coming weeks.

Islay by Monday and maybe a lifer waiting for me there - corncrake I NEED IT!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Scotland land of heavy rain. In the tent on the bank of the clyde by the rspb reserve here and using my new iPhone,hence the shortness of tonight's blog. Visited the rspb Glasgow office today and must say thank you to Norman and Neil for their welcome. Norman also showed me some broad leaved helleborines! Amazing to see such wonderful flowers near the centre of the city.

Tomorrow will get to lochwinnoch rsn reserve and if the weather improves will have fun cycling with some of the people there.

All the best everyone.

Gary. 07988754090

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Airds Moss RSPB Reserve, Lawrence, Thelma, Phoebe and Morag.

Monday 12th July 2010

The cycle ride to Airds Moss RSPB reserve was hindered by only one thing. I couldn't find an open library. Scottish TV had asked for some photos and I couldn't get them to them. Still in the end that didn't matter because today I received a thank you but we don't have space for you voicemail today but that's another story of unrequited tv fame.

Searched for the unsigned RSPB reserve and luckily looked out for birds along the A70 from Cumnock to Muirkirk. Still searching I asked a lovely man with a gentle US accent. Invited in for coffee and to meet Lawrence, for that was his name, 's wife Thelma and daughter Phoebe [you must look up Phoebe Snetzinger Phoebe!]. Was given the local gamekeeper's telephone number and he conformed that I had indeed cycled along the edge of the RSPB reserve and had had lunch at a layby overlooking a large stretch of it. So what birds did I see here - oystercatcher, kestrel, meadow pipit, crow, skylark, curlew, pied wagtail, buzzard, siskin and redpolls.

Lawrence and Thelma were so friendly and lovely to meet. They allowed me to send the desired photos to STV and told of their life with their 10 [!] children; 5 boys and 5 girls. Phoebe, the youngest wants to be a farmer and had raised 6 lambs. All the children had been home taught and my hats off to the pair for their success and attitude. Great people.

Into Muirkirk and with the local library open a chance to do a bit of blogging. Morag, the librarian told of some local historical sites and so during their closing time I explored two of them; namely Macadam's Stone celebrating one John Loudon Macadam, the 'inventor'maybe of tarmac.

Having seen the stone cairn I wandered down to a near bridge where the famous Isabel 'Tibbie' Pagan lived. A poor girl with a squint, a deformed foot and a large growth on her side, she opened a house where the locals could enjoy strong drink and her poetry - a deadly combination. She is credited with the poem "Ca' the Yowes tae the Knowes" and as she is credited with Robbie Burns being a close friend that may be why he took her poem, alledgedly.

Back to the library, for it was open for the evening in a strange twist on the lack of opening times found in nearby towns and more chat with Morag and a 'Banking headhunter' from London. Eventually time to leave but not before Morag had told of the birthplace of Bill Shankly. Now the coincidence of having one of such sporting dignity after having written about my feelings on the World Cup Final was not lost on me and having said goodbye, I cycled to Glenbuck and found a large plaque dedicated to the man. Disappointed there wasn't a statue.

Midges, lots of them. Now I feel I'm in Scotland!

Tuesday 13th July 2010

A quick ride of maybe 25 miles to the RSPB reserve at Baron's Haugh, near Motherwell and a few birds to be seen. 2 black-tailed godwits, a snipe which seemed an unusual sighting, 73 lapwing, 4 grey heron, a large number of eclipse mallard and a few teal and pochard together with good numbers of sand martins. Very solidly built hides of unburnable construction overlook the lake and marshes and have survived the test. An excellent reserve.

Another lovely cycle ride from here into Glasgow where, tired out, I've ensconced myself in the Glasgow Youth Hostel. What a brilliant hostel! Friendly staff at the reception and lovely people staying; Yenthe and Sewuaes both from Belgium, young travellers with something to learn about money, and two lovely ladies from the States. Tired so relaxed instead of exploring Glasgow itself. Will do that tomorrow before heading to the Inner Clyde and Lochwinnoch RSPB reserves on Thursday. Looking forward to those as the people at the latter seem to have set up some shared cycling experience.

Getting closer to the time when I'll be exploring the Scottish West Coast islands!

Monday, 12 July 2010

Stranraer to Girvan and beyond . . .

Heavy rain in the evening and hills. At least their was only a gentle SW breeze and a bus shelter shelter time gave a bus shelter list that included eider [37], black guillemot [ 7 ] and arctic terns [3]. Through Ballantrae with a water stop and onto Lendalfoot. A crackingly close barn owl didn't see me just north of Ballantrae and just at the last minute saw me and gently crossed the road. Beautiful.

Camped against a hedge alongside a large layby; one in fact dedicated to a Russian ship, Varyag, that sunk here in 1925.

Sunday 11th July 2010

Although the night was reasonably calm and the morning around 6.00am likewise; by 8.00am I needed large stones to stop the tent from flying! I was determined to finish Sally's book, which I did but I hadn't seen the tent buckle so extensively in the wind before. Good fun actually. What a gale!

Fabulous views of Ailsa Craig from here but an hour's seawatch didn't produce much. Close by gannets and fulmars, a couple of common sandpipers and a few terns.

Eventually both book and gale had finished and I packed and cycled to Girvan, straight into a busy harbour for it was Lifeboat fete day. Onto the lifeboat and a chat with one of the lifeboat men. Two young cyclists arrived who had just completed a tour of the lifeboat stations along the West coast of Scotland. 400 miles in 6 days, all proceeds to the Girvan lifeboat.

No chance of a boat to Ailsa Craig, so northwards to Turnberry, a small golf course dominating the area. Well, no a huge long hotel with many steps down to the courses and immaculate looking fairways and greens. Only for the wealthy I suspect.

North along the coast, found Culzean Castle, not that that was at all difficult. Huge modern looking castle with extensive grounds and various entertainments. Into the castle for a guided tour culminating in the Eisenhour section where details of Overlord was mapped out with an audio commentary. D-Day casuaties listed on a huge map and many photos were seen before the memorabilia room with more photos, a large Stars and Stripes and various documents.

To Maybole and after a interesting [!] conversation with someone who came along the road screaming 'Heil Hitler', who then proceeded to sit next to me at a park bench and tell me that he was going to sit there for 2 hours exactly, who then started by saying that he was schizophrenic and that his sister was inside his head. What was I to do? I asked about the badges on his t-shirt. "Don't ****ing humour me!" I was off to the pub.

Now who agrees that that was the worst World Cup Final ever. Cheats won, even if they did deserve it surely no glory in diving and waving imaginary yellow/red cards at the ref. Thugs lost; how many booked and how many should have been on the pitch at the end. Well done Howard Webb. To keep his cool and any critisism can only be because he didn't reduce the Dutch numbers earlier. So name the teams that go home from this World Cup with credit. France? England? Italy? etc etc.

Thank goodness it's over for 4 years. Maybe football will look at lessons to be learnt but I doubt it.

A lovely evening in the pub with various friendly characters and my thanks to everyone there. I didn't note the name of the place but it's near some benches in a floral type square adjacent to the post office. Great night despite the awful match.

Right, the day finished with a hasty erection of the tent in a field some 2 miles along the A77. Mistake - what a noise from lorries all night but the lateness of the hour of the match ended left little choice.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Don't Believe it - I'm up to date!

Saturday 10th July 2010

Well it's chucking it down outside and I'm safely ensconced in Stranraer library. Got here after cycling from the Mull this morning. Can't believe the weather. The sea is mill flat calm and it only rained until 7.00am. From then on it was cloudy but still and no wind to blow me back up the Mull. What happened to that SWerly?

Right, exciting news. I've been asked to go on Scottish Television! Up here their version of The One Show is called The Hour. Well I've ben asked to go on maybe on the 14th or 15th next week. One problem. I've got nothing to wear! My t-shirts and trousers are a little grubby from all the cycling so I'll have to see what I can do before the day. Exciting ain't it?

Right now to look at how the cricket's going and see what the weather holds in store.

All the best everyone,

and thanks to everyone who's donated to the charities.

Mull of Galloway RSPB Reserve

Friday 9th July

Early in the morning just as the sun was rising I saw .... nothing very thick fog covered everything and I had to look carefully at the reserve map to get from the above sign to the visitor's centre only 50 yards or so away.

Talked with a volunteer, 76 year old Margaret from california originally but now living in Yorkshire, for a while before braving the gale and fog to get down to the foghorn viewing platform.
Guillemot, razorbills, kittwakes and shags on the cliffs. those and gannets flying past but the views were brief due to the fog. Then in the space of a couple of minutes it all lifeted and there was the Isle of Man about 30 miles to the south. Amazing views now and what a tide and swell.

More birds, 3 puffins, a few manx shearwaters, a wheatear, a stonechat, an arctic tern and 6 curlew going around the headland then a coffee with Margaret and a chat to warm up.

Spent the whole day at the reserve because the boat from Girvan to Ailsa Craig had been cancelled due to a rather bad weather forecast. Met the warden, Paul and then had some food at a cafe called Gallie Craig, apparently named afetr the most southernmost rock in Scotland situated just below the cafe.

Back to the foghorn replete with masses of custard. More manxs going past now than previously and a single grey heron flying along the cliffs caused panic amongst the guillemots.

Sitting on the cliff opposite the cafe I noticed a fox far down below, then another. Put the camera on video and spent a minute recording them, eventually 8 of them cavourting around oblivious of me. Rain stopped the cubs play as they disappeared into the rocks leaving me to have one last look from the lighthouse.

The day ended with 2 roe deer along the cliff and the late evening talking to the local farmer, Billy about why I was camping in one of his fields. Spent about 20 minutes in the rain chatting before settling down to Sally Hinchcliffe's book. Now do British great-crested grebes dance over the water?

Seventy Miles A Day!

Thursday 8th July 2010

So awoke at Ken Dee Marshes, birdwatched for an hour putting off leaving because I knew that today would be tough. Almost same birds and mammals as last nigth but breakfast supplemented by wild cherries.

A phone call from Mersehead had told of the possability of a boat over to Ailsa Craig but only on the 10th of July. That gave me 2 days to get to the Wood of Cree, the Mull of Galloway and then to Girvan to get the boat. 140 miles plus. HELP!!!!

Well, got to Bruce's Stone and it's attendant cafe reasonably quickly seeing 40 odd species of birds whilst doing so. The stone is supposed to be where Robert the Bruce celebrated the victory over the English at Bannockburn. In fact the information board next to this large lump of granite states that it might not be the actual stone but what the hey.

Hot chocolate in the nearby cafe and a look at the reconstructed iron age maison before setting off over the moors, through the large planted forest landscape to the Wood of Cree RSPB reserve.

Now why do Scottish graveyards have such immense grave stones? Hid my panniers and camping gear in such a place and got to the reserve quickly due to the lack of weight on the bike.

Walked the trail around the reserve; first down to the river but no otters. Then through the wood along a beautiful beck with many waterfalls. Met Will Cranstoun, the RSPB assistant warden for this and four other nearby [!] RSPB reserves. Walked around with him a few people out carrying out a bat survey for a couple of hours before leaving to cycle on. Now how many times have I mentioned the wind, the SW wind, the strong SW wind. Well, into the wind again and a very long bike ride to eventually the Mull of Galloway. Now somewhere along the way I dropped my road atlas page so with no map I had no clue how far it was going to be. Mind you gratefully and with little incident other that seeing a large roe deer doe dead by the road, i reached a field just short of the Mull RSPB reserve and set up my tent before collapsing in it.

A 50 bird plus day but a strenous one.

Mersehead RSPB Reserve

So, maybe a day later than planned but cycled along the road to the reserve entrance, into that SW wind that I've been on about for a while and straight into a wonderful welcome. A noticeboard stating welcome, two large RSPB 'feathers either side of the road and a comfortable coffee with Ben, Dave, Tom, Julia and Oliver.

Superb. A lovely visitor's centre and a poor crippled male pheasant outside the window. Plans made for the next day and then a walk to the hides with a gentleman I'd met earlier in the day. Roger Lever, a recently retired vet and cousin to Peter Lever of England cricket fame, went around the hides with me chatting about cricket and being a vet. Nice man.

The enjoyable evening carried on with watching the World Cup match, Holland versus Uruguay in one of the cottages available for self catering accommodation. Luxury again.

Here's the link if you want to rent one for the week. Ben said that to rent one in the winter would be about £240 a week. Not bad at all for a 4 bed cottage of such beautiful quality.

Wednesday 7th July 2010

An early morning exploration of the reserve but not many birds about and then met Ben and the volunteers to go in search of natterjack toads. We found one and Ben gave all a lesson in how to sex both common toads and natterjacks.

Back to the visitor's centre and then shown around the Sulwath Centre with Dave. Loved this place with it's eco credentials well in place. Areas of raised beds for wheelchair access, herb and butterfly gardens, outdoor habitat creation and various projects, then indoors to a superbly resources environmental centre. Conference room, classroom, reception area etc - brilliant.

More details can be found here :-

So visit over and photos taken with everyone by the centre, I left to face the wind [recurring theme isn't it but it's starting to get to me] and headed for Dalbeattie. Stopped a lorry just before reaching there to save a golden-ringed dragonfly from being squished. The lorry driver was genuinely interested in why I'd stopped him.

Reached Ken Dee Marshes RSPB reserve at 7.00pm, after having haggis and chips in Castle Douglas.

A lovely new hide here after a cycle through the woods along the loch, black-headed gulls making a fuss as red kites quartered overhead; one even swooping to pick up a dead gull chick in the margins. A pair of oystercatchers had a new chick and a pair of redshank had 3. An osprey glided over and a red squirrel came on the close by feeder, followed by willow tits and a young great-spotted woodpecker. A lovely evening wildlife watching and such a variety.

Kirkconnell to Mersehead

Tuesday 6th July 2010

Reluctant to leave a bathroom with a collection of Far Side books. Have always thought that Gary Larson was brilliant and for many years he has been my favourite cartoonist. 'How do snakes say goodbye?' ofr instance.

Still on the road early and soon at Kirkconnell National Nature Reserve where I met the warden, Nick Gedge.

Walked to the peat bog/ heathland where the most amazing area of cotton grass greeted me. Masses of it with pieces of seed floating away in the wind to be caught on the nearby trees and bushes.

A spot of elevenses, including a marmite sandwich that is supposed to keep the mozzies away. Something to do with the B12 vitamin it contains. Found a common lizard that allowed a close approach for a photo.

On the bike again and found the Kirkconnell RSPB reserve. No signs anywhere but a local told of fields belonging to the RSPB and the saltmarsh edge down to some very large container tanks along the river was also part of this reserve. Low tide and very few birds. A couple of goosander on the river, a few curlew and oystercatcher on the mud, common spotted orchids along the long tarmac track.

Cloudy and a moderately strong SW wind in my face, rain started falling as I reached Sweetheart Abbey. A superb ruin with the feel of Tintern Abbey, I showed my English Heritage card and looked around in the rain. Thanks to the curator, Moira for the donation.

Next Mersehead. .......

Caerlaverock to Dumfries

5th July Monday 2010.

Brilliant, polite and fun-filled boys came to Caerlaverock to take part in a morning of fun activities centred around birds. Mike, the warden joined in and at one moment some of the wonderful lady staff joined us all to sing the song - 3 Rs - It's a Magic Number!

An albatross on the floor was ceeated using the boys as wings and Mike as the body. demonstrated the wingspan of this magnificent bird whose numbers are dwindling.

Outside to pond dip and points for each creature caught.

Final scores were totted up and the winner with 129 points was ----- OWEN.

Massive thanks to both Nathan and Owen for coming along and also to Mike Youdale, Pam Mundy, Rosy Rutherford and Peter Williams.

So the end of a fabulous visit to the wonderful WWT Centre at Caerlaverock. Thanks to one and all. Must go again when the barnacles are there in the winter.

After a short visit to Dumfries centre, met Sally Hichcliffe and followed her to her cottage in the middle of nowhere; stopping by Routin Bridge and findng a well concealed spotted flycatcher nest with 4 young. Chatted with Margaret and Billy, a couple who had also stopped there to adrmire the waterfalls.

Once at Sally's house met her partner, Paul, and went to their garden pond/lake where blue-tailed, azure and emerald damselflies were in residence.

Sally is the author of a novel, OUT OF A CLEAR SKY; the story of a birdwatching girl who is stalked by someone apertaining to be the same.

Indeed at the moment I look forward to morning rain so that I have the excuse to stay in my tent and read it.

Read the reviews on Amazon, following this link and you'll see why I don't want to put it down.

It was so kind of Sally and Paul to put me up for the night and their company was much appreciated.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

A Rest and boy do I need it.

First let me say thank you to a number of people  met on my last phase [and I never forget a phase] around North Wales and the North West.

In no particular order because my notebook with names disintegrated,:-

My very sincere thanks go to these people for maybe donating to one of the charities I am supporting or just for a lovely meeting and chat - or both and more.

Mark and Jo from Sheffield. [ see their blog ] Brilliant couple!

The 3 lads at the pub in Rufford - Jason, Ben and Dave. Great lads and all the best to you. Thanks for the kind offer - I had a sandwich from the Co-op further down the road!

Sarah Lapsley - triathlon athlete met at Christ Church, Southport, lovely lady who, unlike me, looked super fit and Louise from St Helens, a kind older lady also met there. In fact this was the church where I first got married almost 30 years ago. Let's say it was a spiritual return and maybe a plea for forgiveness to all involved in that marriage.

All the above gave cash donations for Asthma UK and this has been given to Asthma UK through my Just Givng site.
John White [thanks so much for donating to the RSPB, the WWT and Asthma UK] and Nathan and Jan.

Ted Preece and Michael Davenport who I met at the fabulous Inner Marsh Farm RSPB reserve.

To Caerlaverock WWT Reserve, Dumfrieshire

After goodbyes and last photos, including a pretty poor photo of a close short-eared owl left to cycle to Caerlaverock.

Geltsdale was photographed in order to see the changes that 110,000 trees planted in the last couple of years will incur. What with Haweswater and Dave the warden there's tree planting and the number of trees planted here; one can see the commitment to preventing climate change by the RSPB. How many trees they must be planting overall. I'd be interested to know.

Wind! Through Gretna and over the border and immeadiately the west wind was stronger and in my face. I HATE WIND. Rain no problem; waterproofs on and on I go but wind, now that's painful and this was strong and uncomfortable.

Stopped at Ruthwell Cross; the cross eventually found inside the church. A superb medieval cross from the 8th century.

Reached Caerlaverock to be told that I was a day early. Still after a natter with the lovely staff was shown the farmhouse and what a shock. Not the small volunteers accomodation I'd expected but instead a plush 4 star, almost B & B feel to the place with a huge lounge and large conservatory looking over a large scrape. Luxury!

Here I must say thank you to Peter for the donation and to Jane and Brian for the fabulously friendly welcome. Thanks!

Only 2 other people were staying [hello Ann and Abigail!] and once a kettle was found it was comfort indeed. An early evening walk around the reserve then tea and roe deer from the tower; followed by a fox searching for eggs on the close by islands. A colour ringed black tailed godwit close by, as was a common sandpiper and at half past midnight, a badger coming to the peanuts and honey put out for it. Brillaint place and at £30 a night, well wortyh it. Got to come here in the winter when the barnacles are here in big numbers.

In the morning, a really wild morning with heavy rain and terrific strong winds, a walk around the reserve was exciting for wondering whether a tree would crash upon me. Not many birds braving the weather but another close roe deer by a hide.

Met up with Mike, the reserve, now I've got to be careful here because although I'd call him a warden, that is not his title.

He was taking a group of people over the reserve meadows and I tagged along.

The highlight was a roe deer fawn at our feet. Saw the pool where the famous tadpole shrimp may be found; an ancient specie older than dinosaurs that looks like a small horseshoe crab and which is found here at one of its only sites in Britain.

Another relaxing evening with a badger coming to the food earlier than the previous night; 10.00pm in fact.

Right time up again.

Thanks to everyone. Now at castle Douglas having been to Kirkconnell and Mersehead RSPB reserves.

All the best