The Newt in Somerset – July 2021 (2) The Story of Gardening

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The celebrated garden writer and designer, Penelope Hobhouse, (b. 1929), at one time married into the family and having had a great influence on the restoration of Hadspen House’s gardens in the 1960s, wrote a book called ‘The Story of Gardening‘. Was it in tribute to her, in ignorance, or for some other reason that the museum in the grounds of what is now called The Newt in Somerset bears the same name?

Last Friday, my friend Mary and I, as part of our visit to The Newt (see previous post), spent the best part of an hour looking round this museum. Its external setting is well described here. Inside it consists, on the left-hand side, of a long, very wide corridor, with a wall of tools and including central island exhibits, and on the right-hand side a series of nine rooms, with a further, much narrower corridor, fully glazed, beyond them on the right, so that you have access to the rooms from both sides.

When you arrive you are given an audioguide, for one ear only. It works on the same principle as a satnav/GPS system, except that it’s a Building Positioning System. It knows where you are and offers you various options to learn more, relevant to that very point, referenced by the little numbered trowel indicators that are discreetly everywhere. If you listened to all of them you’d be there for hours, and I fully intend to do just that (well, perhaps not all of them) before too long.

Here are some of the pictures I took, in order. You start in the entrance hall, and we missed the commentary on the short initial film because we hadn’t quite twigged at the very outset, despite being told by reception, how the audioguide worked.

The first room is behind the green ‘hedge’
The first island is about various soils.
There were inserts like this outside every room

The (his)story started with classical times,

and moved through the time and geography.

This island was about scent. In normal times you would put your nose up to the cone, and squeeze the puffer. I didn’t try it, and my assumption in any case was that it would not be in operation in present circumstances.

This island was about animals.
Great gardeners were celebrated.

This island, the theme of which was ‘colour’ was a real curiosity. This is roughly how the human eye saw it, all the time.

But as I was taking my eye away from the viewfinder of my camera, which showed the picture I had just taken, I noticed that the image captured was this:

So I took another…

And another…

Only on my fourth essay did my camera faithfully reflect what my eye saw, and shown first here. I expect there’s some scientific explanation about white light being made up of the spectrum of colours, but I’m intrigued.

The last area in the museum concerned modern gardens and gardening, and featured what is going on in Singapore a lot.

It was time to return to the entrance, taking the long, wide corridor, passing its islands on the left this time.

I shall return – and spend a lot more time there!

The Newt in Somerset – July 2021 (1)

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It is nearly two years since my London friend, Mary, and I tried to visit The Newt in Somerset together, but in August 2019 the weather was so awful that we diverted to the Haynes International Motor Museum nearby instead. And, as I vaguely recall, that itself had been a second attempt. Then of course along came you-know-what.

Last Friday was the first time I had seen Mary since February 2018, when, given the time of year, our estate visit had been to see the daffodils of Stourhead, (National Trust). So at last we made it to the Newt last Friday.

The timing of Mary’s train was such that we had only time to check in and brush up before the very early lunch I had had to book, all later times having been taken. As we stood on the terrace of the Garden Café,

we noticed a helicopter parked in the field.

(Clip from previous photo)

My guess is that this belonged to a guest at the very up-market hotel that is now Hadspen House, former seat of the Hobhouse family. Or possibly the billionaire South African recent purchaser of the estate, who has turned it into the present attraction, was visiting.

Lunch was delicious. The cuisine is superb. This is just our starters – Mary has yet to pour the cucumber soup into her bowl.

It was a long time before we emerged and started to explore how The New expressed itself in July. As ever, I took an enormous number of photos, of which this is a small selection.

The Cottage Garden
The marigolds were blinding in real life.
Hadspen House, now a luxury hotel, in the background

We had a reservation for the recently opened ‘Story of Gardening’ for 2.40, so started making our way towards the deer park where it is situated. This involved going past this wildflower bank (and picnic area), which is very new. I had not seen it in flower before.

One of the entrances to The Parabola, home to hundreds of apple trees.

We were nearing the deer park, when I heard my name called from behind me. It was Daphne, my bridge partner, and her husband, Andy. I was thrilled to be able to introduce my friends to each other, and to stop for a short chat.

We did not take the high walkway through the trees to get to the museum entrance, but a short cut down the mound

Here is the other end of The Viper, as I now know the walkway is known, for its sinuous shape.

One side of the museum is glazed, the other set into the steep bank, so windowless.

The Story of Gardening needs a whole post to itself, so that will follow. Mary and I spent the best part of an hour there, and then made our way back to the entrance area.

En route we saw two roe deer. There are two herds of deer in the grounds, and it is a treat to see any of them. These two individuals were quite unperturbed to have visitors walking close by.

To think they grow and lose those antlers afresh each year!

A little sit down in a woodland area …

… was followed by a long sit-down over glasses of iced coffee as we continued putting the world to rights, (though perhaps a more accurate description might be marvelling at the stupidity of those whose task it is to do so). We heard a noisy noise. I leapt up to see:

The helicopter we had seen earlier had been joined by a second, but was leaving alone.

We had another 30 minutes or so before throwing out time. Mary wandered off at one point to take some more photographs, while I ventured into the greenhouse, which was also a coffee bar the first time I had visited, and then sat watching human and avian life go by.

What a lovely day!

Mendip Hospital Cemetery

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On Christmas Day last year I took a walk around the old Mendip Hospital, South Horrington, near Wells, now converted into luxury flats, and wrote it up. At the time I regretted that I had been unable to find out much of its history, but had found something on the hospital’s cemetery, now a nature reserve, and wanted to visit it one day, the Friends of the Mendip Hospital Cemetery opening it to the public on summer Sundays. I finally got around to doing so yesterday, the hottest day of the year so far. I read up on its history again.

The right-hand red dot in the picture above is Peter Jaggard, Chair of the Friends. We had a brief chat before I wandered round the reserve, and a much longer one afterwards, before I went into the chapel to find out more about ‘it’s history’, which I took to be that of the cemetery.

Lady’s Bedstraw

There were very few headstones, which cost more money than could (or would) be found by relatives, if indeed there were any relatives known. In the early days, graves were not marked at all. After a while a numbered metal marker was used to mark each grave. However, although the names of every person buried there is known, is is not possible to identify which marker belongs to each person. The markers were moved and gathered in clumps together long before the Friends became responsible for the cemetery.

There were a few wood sculptures around the reserve. I learned later that all had been carved by one member, and each from the trunk of a dead tree, some still rooted in the ground, carved on the spot.

I think this may be a spindle tree.

As I walked around, I was aware of harp music in the otherwise very peaceful setting. It was irritating me a little, (only on principle, as the sound was gentle), just as recorded music for tourists in some large churches does. But I became aware that there was some stopping and starting and that therefore it was live, possibly someone practising in a garden in one of the surrounding houses, which changed my attitude entirely. I drew nearer to the sound.

I was tempted to go up to the harpist and chat, mindful of how I had been so taken by the harp in the Grantown-on-Spey Museum two years previously. But I decided to to leave her alone, and continued my stroll.

Beyond the lower wall, there was a long smooth patch of lawn. I learned later that it was part of Wells Cathedral School’s playing fields.

I zoomed right in to one end and saw these youngsters perfecting their penalty skills.

I identified the bungalow I had considered buying when I moved to the area ten years previously.

This would have been approximately the view from the bottom of my garden had I done so. The house had come second on my shortlist.

Work in progress, from a conifer.

After my long chat with the Chair, I entered the chapel. I was delighted to find that the history was not just that of the cemetery but of the Hospital as well. The Chair has done an enormous amount of research, which is ongoing, but yet to be put on line. I was a little frustrated that my ability to take in the detail of what I was seeing was limited by the misting of my glasses due to my mask. Which I probably didn’t need to put on as I was the only person in there. And it was the day before the so-called ‘Freedom Day’.

The hospital is in the middle, the cemetery lower left.
Yes, the alderman is grandfather of Jacob. (He, an Anglican, married an American Irish Catholic, and the rest is history.)

Once photography came in, a photo of every patient/inmate/resident was taken. I think these drawings of the very first male and female residents are lovely.

I was saddened to see that Sir Gilbert Scott, whose work is so beautiful, had been deemed to have fallen out of fashion at one stage.

Peter Jaggard told me that Wells Museum currently have an exhibition on on the subject of ‘The Somerset and Bath Lunatic Asylum, 1848-1918’, for just two more weeks. I shall really try to get to it – and hope that I shall be the only person there, and therefore not feel the need to wear a mask!

Travelling again – 12. Hanbury Hall, and home

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Faced on Saturday, 19th June, with another long day’s drive, from West Yorkshire to home in Somerset, I planned to stop off at a National Trust property for a bite of lunch. I remembered to book (Covid-required) entry in advance.

Digital aids told me I would need about three hours to get to Hanbury Hall, in Worcestershire, so I added half an hour for luck, and booked for 1 pm, which was precisely the time I drew in to the car park. (The clock below appears to belie this, but it has just an hour hand.) I reckoned I could spend about 90 minutes there before I wanted to be away for the final leg home. I called at the front door of the beautiful Queen Anne house just to ask where the Stables Café was, since the fact that would be open had determined my choice of stopping place.

Having partaken of a delicious vegetarian pasty, I prioritised a stroll in the grounds over a house visit. Here is a map of the property, though I did not have it available at the time. I reckon that nevertheless I covered most of the grounds, though it would have been nice just to sit down and savour the views for a little longer.

The formality of the gardens, recreated from original drawings in the 1990s by the National Trust, was very soothing.

I didn’t get to visit the Orangery. Indeed, I’m not sure it was open.

A moorhen leaves her chicks on the pond and crosses the bank

I had 20 minutes in hand, so went into the house. They were obliged, because of Covid restrictions, to monitor the numbers entering very carefully, and I was fortunate.

Only the ground floor was open to the public, presumably because they could not manage a one-way system on the first floor. I whizzed round, taking photos rather desultorily.

Various members of the Vernon family built, at the beginning of the 18th century, and over the centuries adapted and converted, and finally transferred the property to the National Trust in 1962. (Talking of ghosts, Emma Vernon is said to haunt the grounds between the house and the church.)

But the whiteness on the left-hand painting is reflection, not a ghost…

This is a Monteith punch bowl.

Usually formal dining tables are furnished with eating paraphernalia…

I arrived home, where Tilly was awaiting me, at 5 pm, Bella to be collected from the cattery the following morning. I had been away for 13 days, 12 nights.

I saw this poster at Hanbury Hall.

I feel that with this trip I began to collect the fruits of enforced patience over the previous 15 months, and certainly appreciate my ability to have done so. The weather was cold to indifferent, and I missed a heatwave that had occurred in the south. (Some would envy my having done so, but I would have enjoyed it.) I had 13 wonderful days of seeing friends, wildlife, countryside – spectacular at times – and manmade constructions ranging from a 12th century abbey, through a 16th century castle, to a 21st century bridge. Eaten excellent food, met new people, and driven some huge distances. I didn’t make a note as I went along, but retrospective calculation makes it about 1400 miles (2250 km) in total.

What an adventure, and I’ve been reliving it through doing these blog posts, which have taken longer than usual because of Wimbledon.

What am I going to do tomorrow?

PS Yesterday evening I watched on Channel 4, ‘A Lake District Farm Shop’, the first of four programmes about the enterprise behind the Tebay Service Station on the M6 where I stopped on Day 2 of my trip. It focussed on several of the local providers and described the ethos of the founders, and showed much of the beautiful Lake District scenery. All four episodes are available on All 4.

Travelling again – 11. More friends

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Hitherto, the photos in this series of posts have been dominated by the colour green. In this one they will be predominantly browns and greys, being manmade buildings.

For my full day with them, 18th June, Hazel and John wanted to take me to a local National Trust property, but of all days to close, it closed on a Friday. So instead they took me to Kirkstall, north-west of Leeds city centre, to see the ruined 12th century abbey there, and also Kirkstall Museum, in Abbey House, the old gatehouse of the abbey. We started with the latter.

The ground floor of the museum is a series of Victorian streets. Here is a selection of photos I took of the shops and houses.

This reminded me of the Somerset Rural Life Museum, where in normal times I am a volunteer. It has a similar display of washing out to dry.

Upstairs was mainly given over to a temporary exhibition, ‘Sounds of the City’ [of Leeds], which, as it seemed to me, was mainly given over to pop music, with groups I had mainly not heard of, did not excite my attention nearly as much. But I did rather enjoy this:

I may also have been rather biased in my observation, since this online visit seems very much more interesting than I found the physical one.

There was also a collection of (working) automatons, not part of the temporary exhibition, I think, of which here is one:

And here is another (the voices are those of staff on walkie-talkies):

I was interested to read this history:

Fortified by a coffee, we crossed the busy main road to the ruined Cistercian abbey.

West end
Hazel and John, called unexpectedly by me

I know it’s not good for the stone, but I do find vegetation growing in ruins very attractive.

East end

There were informative panels everywhere.

The chapterhouse

I loved this tree.

I wondered out loud what stone the abbey was built in. John told me it was Millstone Grit. Further research tells me that it is the Bramley Fall variety of the grit – and that Westminster Bridge also is made of it.

We wondered whatever this curious thing was – and then realised it was just one table and bench set stacked on top of another!

Even more curious was I, at why this man needed five cameras (one is hidden). He introduced himself as Mark Vernon, ghost hunter. He invited me to look his website up on the internet. I have found a few references in local media, for instance this one. But no personal website – perhaps it’s an invisible ghost.

In the evening there was some football match on the TV. Hazel and I sat in another room, knitting and nattering. Every now and then, John reported the score. It didn’t seem that much was happening, as there were no goals. I think it was a match between England and Scotland.

Homeward bound the next day, to include one more visit.

Travelling again – 10. Lindisfarne

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After a good night’s sleep, I looked out of the window of my Berwick-on-Tweed B’n’B’ bedroom, to see this.

My destination today, Thursday 17th June, was Shipley, in West Yorkshire, where I was to spend two nights with an old school friend (another Hazel) and her husband. My planned stop-off en route was just a few miles away, Holy Island, Lindisfarne. According to published information, the causeway to it would not be safe until 10.40, so I had plenty of time to kill. Having checked out after a good breakfast, I walked over to look at the sea.

Where there were literally hundreds of swans. No one picture could capture them all, and many were sailing (?) round to the other side of the harbour wall. I wondered whether this was in reaction to the tide falling.

I arrived at the Lindisfarne causeway around 10.30, expecting to have to wait, but that was not the case, and it was clear from the numbers in the car park that others knew that the published timings were set to cover only the extremes of safety.

But I stopped in a layby to take photos of the causeway first. I had never driven across a floodable causeway before, and was curious.

Once parked – quite a palaver in order to pay – I followed the crowds into the ‘village’ so that I could pick up the anti-clockwise circular path I intended to take. I’ll admit now that I did not have the plan with me and relied on just a brief look at this board. As a result I walked much further than I intended. But it was a lovely warm day – the only one in the whole of my time away – and a lovely setting, so apart from worries about time, that didn’t matter at all.

At the harbour, the ruined priory was to my right. Time did not allow further investigation.

The castle had been in view for most of the time, and indeed could be seen from all nearly over the island.

Not only did time mean I could not visit this National Trust property, but I should have had to book in advance because of Covid restrictions.

Some way further on, a kestrel was hovering overhead, and I followed its subsequent flight with my camera. I confess to being quite pleased with this picture.

I took a backward look at the castle.

Coming near to the shore, I wondered what these curious bumps were. A zoom on my camera revealed all.

A trio of goosanders

A spent a few minutes in the hide by this lake, but just before I got to it, …

I was thrilled not only to notice, but to get a photo of this stoat, as it stopped its scuttling for a second or two. (It could of course be a weasel; I did not see its definitive characteristic, the colour of the tip of its tail.)

Cygnets just a few days old
Scaup, I think, but I’m not sure

At this point I turned inland, but I went further than I intended, missing somehow where I should have turned south.

I should not have gone into these dunes.

Viper’s bugloss
I’m getting to recognise Northern Marsh Orchid – or am I?

Small heath

Starting to worry about time, I was feeling rather hot and beginning to feel hungry, and the castle and the priory seemed a long way off, but at least they were landmarks. I was definitely going south now.

I enjoyed, nevertheless, the lovely heathland flowers.

Presumably these are variety of tiny thyme, but they look more like a mass of seething mauve ants.
A fritillary of some sort
I saw so many meadow pipits

As I eventually emerged onto the road I saw both these lovely poppies and two people. “Is it far to the car park?” I asked, not really sure where I was. “Not very far at all’ they said – and I was very pleased that in fact it was barely 100 yards further on.

I can remember very little of the long drive to West Yorkshire. I just recall that I was very pleased to refresh myself before joining my hosts for an evening meal.

Travelling again – 9. RSPB Loch Leven

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It was with a distinct pang of regret that I left the Grant Arms Hotel after breakfast on Wednesday, 16th June. As during my previous stay in June 2019, I had felt so well looked after. For anyone who would like a holiday in the Cairngorms – not just for wildlife purposes – I cannot recommend it highly enough.

But it was time to make my way southwards. Indeed, I needed to descend (map-wise that is) through Scotland rather more speedily than I had travelled on my way ‘up’, as I wanted to spend a couple of hours at RSPB Loch Leven, given that it was so near to Kinross Services. So I took the faster A9 road, and stopped for no photos, much as I would have liked to. As the previous week, I plugged Steve Richards’s latest podcast into my ears, having downloaded it at the hotel, and was pleased to find that he had taken, not for the first time, one of my comments or questions to respond to. Moreover, he had mentioned my journey northwards. (And the following week he did the same again, this time referring to my journey southwards. He enjoys including personal references to his listeners who contact him.)

After stocking up on fuel and food provisions at Kinross Services, I made my way to Loch Leven, and spent a couple of hours there, in three hides, each quite close to the others. As I moved to, between, and from the hides, I enjoyed looking at the the wildflower meadows as much as I did at the birds.

Mainly greylag geese
Viper’s bugloss

Way in the distance I spotted one of my favourite birds, a lapwing, aka peewit from its call.

And then I noticed one ferreting around much closer to the hide.

It stayed quite a while. I moved to the next hide. As with the others, I had it to myself.

Two adult and two coot chicks
Mainly tufted ducks
Little grebe, aka dabchick
Dabchick with ?fish

There were several artificial ‘islands’ where birds could nest safely.

I took a final picture as I made my way back to my car afters two hours. I needed to move on.

Another enjoyable crossing via the Queensferry Bridge, though in rather faster moving traffic this time, and then I disobeyed my satnav’s instruction to avoid Edinburgh by using on the motorways surrounding the city to the south, and went instead across the top, parallel to the Forth, though sadly not actually seeing much of it. I had only visited Edinburgh once before, on a management course some 50 years previous (!) and I was pleased to see a little of it as I drove through in the very slow, sometimes stationary, traffic.

It was a lovely, but by now tiring, drive further along the Forth/North Sea coastline to Berwick-on-Tweed, where I was very happy to flop for the rest of the evening in my pre-booked B’n’B. It always amuses me when places give you a key to the front door, ‘for if you come in after 11 o’clock’. I wasn’t going anywhere after such a long day!

Travelling again – 8. Glenlivet

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Tuesday, 15th June dawned sunny and warm. Well, I suppose it did – dawn that far north was far too early for me to be aware of it. But when I did wake up, the day was set fair for whatever I chose to do.

I chose to spend it on the vast 23,000-hectare Crown Estate of Glenlivet. The visitor centre in Tomintoul, where in normal times I could have bought a guide booklet, was and still is closed for Covid reasons, but this map was displayed widely, and I also had it in a leaflet I’d picked up. I decided to do Walk 1, the Glenmulliach Viewpoint Trail first, and then to explore the north of the Estate in the afternoon.

But first I was delayed by a small parking area, with an information board and a curious cube just 150 metres away.

I found myself in a small abandoned quarry, (this view taken from halfway up the hill)

with these at the bottom,

and perhaps a hundred jackdaws in total flying around at the top.

This was the curious cube. I’ve since been able to find out that I was at a spot called Glen Avon, but nothing about the monument – if that is the right description of it. [Later edit: But see bruceb’s comment below.]

I couldn’t and can’t work out what was reflecting what as I took this.

I drove on through Tomintoul, and made my way to the parking area which marked the start of Walk 1 (according to the leaflet, 3.5 miles, 5.5 kilometres).

Dark Green Fritillary (I think)

It was a lovely warm day – I even took a layer off, for the first time in my whole stay.

I think this may be a milkwort, but I am open to correction.

It really was lovely weather.

Through a gate, and all of a sudden the landscape changed.

There’s some kind of mast over to the right of the path in the distance.

Unexpectedly, and after a lot of upward effort, it was the end of the designated walk.

I was tempted to go on to the top of the ridge, but, given that I had already spotted the mast, and that ‘they’ clearly intended one to stop there, I feared a disappointing view if I continued, so I turned back after a short rest.

Some boggy plants lined the path at one point.

Once back through that gate again, the appointed path diverged from that on the way up, so I dutifully took it, and at that spot spent some time trying to capture this Green-veined white.

Tormentil

Two similar plants beside each other, and I reminded myself of the difference between gorse…

…and broom

At last back at the parking area, there were lots of people picnicking, so I took a quick tour of the pond, and drove off, on the lookout for a suitable stopping place on my way to the north of the Glenlivet estate to eat my banana.

Refreshed, I found myself on another single-track road, which was perhaps as well, as it meant there weren’t too many places to take too many photos.

I was heading for Drumin Castle, where I intended to do the Drumin Circular Path (‘2.5 miles, 4 km’) and assumed that this was it, but it was in fact Blairfindy Castle, near the Glenlivet Distillery, as I found later.

Arrived at the parking area for the Drumin Circular Walk, I explored my surroundings.

I found that I could visit the castle itself, taking either the slope or the steps. I chose the latter. Many of them were much steeper than this.

I was rewarded with a bank of comfrey on one side, a plant for which I have a soft spot.

Sadly, the first floor was out of bounds because of dangerous steps, but I enjoyed exploring the ground floor.

It didn’t take long.

The gentle way down led past this inviting and polite gate.

It led into a community orchard.

The walk down the slope was a delight.

And at the bottom I heard that contemporary rarity, a cuckoo. (You may have to turn your volume up very loud!)

The signpost points up the road I had come in by. I took it, but then could not find any other sign of the Path, despite wandering around for 30 minutes or so.

In due course I found myself level with the castle again.

So I just wandered back slowly to my car.

A rabbit scuttled away from me, but not very far, thinking that I might not see him if he kept very still. He was at my eye level on the roadside bank.

Time was moving on, the sun had long gone in, I had walked much more this day than any of the other days, and I was ready to return to the hotel, quite a way away by now. I have since learned that in any case the walk would not have been possible because of a broken bridge.

It had been a good day. It seems to me that exploring the Glenlivet Estate, whether following their suggested walks or not, could constitute a hole holiday and more in itself.

Taking a back road, I was interested to cross this truss bridge, which replaced two consecutive suspension bridges, at Cromdale, not far from Grantown-on-Spey.

After my last dinner at the Grant Arms Hotel, a film, ‘Scandinavian Cruise Ship Adventure’ by Nigel Marven, was shown. This was my last night in Grantown-on-Spey, but I had nearly four more days’ holiday remaining.

Travelling again – 7. Strathdearn and Insh Marshes

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I had been to Strathdearn on my visit to the area two years previous. I had been on my own and had had the good fortune to encounter there a couple of practised birders. On Monday 14th June, the location was one of the options on the programme, so I was able to benefit from the expertise of Richard, one of the Grant Arms Hotel‘s list of local guides. The meeting point was a car park ten miles along the Strathdearn/Findhorn Valley, where I took the obligatory photos looking ahead,

and behind.

We were some ten people from the hotel. Almost as soon as we were gathered, a herd of at least 20 red deer arrived. I was a little careless as I took the photo. They were at a considerable distance, but I should have held stiller. I include this merely for the record.

We also got a brief glimpse of an osprey, but not good enough for a photo.

It was blowing an absolute gale, a really cold one at that, and at times it was raining. Like several others I am afraid I just sat in my car for much of the time, and emerged only when I saw a brave few huddled over the roadside verge. They were examining two plants,

a heath spotted orchid, and this pretty, innocent looking thing, a butterwort.

Not so innocent. It is insectivorous, as a closer look at these sticky leaves shows.

After an hour or so alternately shivering outside and warming up inside my car, I gave up. I imagine the others were continuing with Richard to Burghead in the afternoon, but I had booked on to a different outing. I made my way back along the Findhorn Valley, admiring the views once more, and occasionally stopping to take photos when it was safe to stop in the passing places along the single-track road.

The art deco Findhorn Bridge at the beginning of the valley is interesting.

The inscription explains, ‘This bridge was built in 1926 to replace the bridge built by Thomas Telford in 1833’.

I had plenty of time before I was due at the meeting spot for the afternoon’s outing, so I stopped off at a hotel in the village of Carr Bridge for a coffee. I had to sign up for the Cairngorms own Track and Trace system and not to forget to sign out as I left.

Continuing on my way, I tried to capture the beauty of the distant mountains, some with occasional snow.

I was heading for the Insh Marshes RSPB reserve, and passed of over Loch Insh. It seems to be best known for its water sports activities, but I saw none of those, I’m pleased to say, and had the road bridge to myself when I took these, with not an activity in sight in either direction.

There’s a bit of a breeze, but it wasn’t cold here.

I was very early at the meeting place, ate my banana and wandered around a just a little.

I didn’t want to leave the beaten track, but just enjoyed the wildflowers on the verges, the sheep and the views. Not to mention the smidgeon of sun.

As I’ve said before, I do like a clump of flowering grasses.

It turned out that I was the only customer for this afternoon’s outing, so we were just three, Nigel Marven, Sue W of the hotel, and me. We went to a lookout. I was pleased to have expert company. I would have spotted nothing in these marshes without them.

But with their eyes, I was able to see at a great distance, (my camera is on maximum zoom here) a greylag goose and goslings (and more geese),

a curlew

and a roe deer.

We also saw a redshank, but my photo of that is so poor it does not even merit being included for the record. We came down from the viewpoint and started making our way to a ground level hide. Nigel went on ahead, and came back with…

… a dung beetle. No, until a few days earlier I did not know that the UK had dung beetles. Though ours do not gather and roll along those balls of faeces you see on the nature documentaries about Africa, and indeed which I have seen there, most recently in Morocco.

On the way, we saw, among other things, a small heath butterfly,

germander speedwell,

common rock roses, and

and birch polypore fungus.

Once installed in the hide, we were delighted to see very close a family of curlews. A parent,

a chick,

two parents,

and a parent and a chick.

In fact there were two very attentive parents and three growing chicks, but it was not possible to capture all five together. Sue was very pleased to see that there were indeed still three chicks, the same as the last time she had been there a couple of weeks back, and they were very adventurous now.

Over in the distance was a buck roe deer.

As I drove back to the hotel I was taken aback to see this. Only on my return did I learn that it was a significant historical monument, the Ruthven Barracks, built by George II after the 1715 Jacobite Rising. Had I known, I would have parked up and looked around.

After another delicious dinner at the hotel (here is the menu for that evening, which also included a choice of four tempting sweets),

visiting speaker David Parkin gave a very interesting talk, more so than might be suggested by the title, called ‘Birds and Climate Change’.

This was the end of the official ‘celebrity week’, but I had a further full day to explore the area.