Haynes International Motor Museum

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The day after my trip to Caen Hill, my friend Mary came down from London. We were planning to visit the recently opened Newt in Somerset. We had joked about making sure we had gloves with us, the weather had been so awful on her previous visit in June, when we had stuck to our plans to go round the Bishop’s palace and Gardens in Wells, but the pictures were so dull and grey and cold that I didn’t write it up. In the event it was even worse. Perhaps not so cold, but it was raining continuously, and only forecast to stop mid-afternoon. So we abandoned those plans to another day, and decided to visit the Haynes International Motor Museum, just a short drive from Castle Cary Station where I had picked her up.

First though, a stop in the town for a coffee at the George Hotel, opposite the Market House.

Although I had been vaguely aware of the Museum, in the eight years I had lived in Somerset I had never visited it. Established in the 1980s, with its 400 cars and motorcycles from many countries it truly merits the epithet ‘international’. It was quite amazing, and, though neither of us has the slightest interest in motor vehicles, we had a great day out.

I do apologise to real motoring aficionados for the undoubted mislabelling which will have occurred from time to time below. I tried to keep track but fear I may well have made some errors. Corrections, and suggestions for filling gaps, if added in Comments will be gratefully noted and acted upon.

There were a few cars in reception, and this one caught our eyes.

But I didn’t make a note of what it was.

As you go through the dark doors, you are plunged into ‘The Dawn of Motoring.’

This then greets your eyes. Nearest is Veteran and Vintage. Where do you start?

1905 Daimler Detachable Top Limousine
?

We turned off to visit The Red Room.

1929 6C Alfa Romeo 1750 Gran Turismo
1956 AC Ace
1980 Maserati Merak SS
1958 Facel Vega HK 500

Back to Veteran and Vintage.

1900 Clement Voiturette

A reconstruction of a WWI car turned into a tank.

I took photos of quite a lot of car mascots.

1929 Lanchester 30hp Sports Tourer

A byway into Minis and Micros

And back into vintage cars.

1934 Austin 10 Four Door Saloon, and …
… its mascot

No yellow room, but a collection of yellow cars.

1951 Jaguar XK120

I’m pretty sure that my (state) primary school headmaster, Mr May, had one of these (below) in the 1950s. Perhaps head teachers were paid more, in real terms, in those days.

1949 Jaguar 3.5 litre Saloon

There was a whole section, on a first floor, for motorcycles, which we didn’t visit – there are limits – but this magnificent Harley Davidson made it to the main British Marque showroom.

1992 Harley Davidson Fatboy
1928 Jordan Playboy Roadster

I think I’m rather glad that steam cars didn’t last for more than a few decades. The Stanley Twins started making this model in 1897.

1924 Stanley Steam Car
This car brought Mary a little nostalgia. Her father had something like it at one point.
1937 Ford V8 Model 78 Deluxe ‘Woody’
1909 Reliable Dayton (we’re in the US section now.)

Plenty of displays on the walls as well.

More mascots, or hood ornaments.

It was time for a bite of lunch, in the café just off the reception area.

While Mary held a place in the lengthy queue – they apologised profusely for the delay, explaining that the tills had gone down, but were now up and running again – I went back to reception, and found my very first car, a Wolseley Hornet, only mine had been a pale turquoise.

After lunch we found ourselves in the ‘other foreign cars’ section. We looked at this and virtually chorused that it must be Russian. We were right. (I suspect that we actually had some deep memory of the car.)

1959 Gaz M13 Chaika

Aggressive or what?

In 2010, most unexpectedly I found myself the sole tourist occupant of a white Ambassador for three days in Uttar Pradesh, India. Sadly, the Mumbai massacres had just taken place, so instead of having only a driver with me, I had some army fellow with a rifle as well, for my ‘protection’. I sat scared in the back, and had to ask for the rifle not to be pointed so near me over the shoulder of the army man, who sat in the front passenger seat. I really would have preferred not to have been ‘protected’ in that way.

This Ambassador seems much more peaceful. I understand that, prestige cars as they have been seen in India for a long time, they are now being phased out, heavy polluters that they are.

1992 Hindustan Ambassador

We seem to have wandered back into the British car section.

1969 Jaguar 420G

And now into The American Dream once more.

1968 Pontiac Superior Ambulance
1959 Ford Edsel
Cadillac Model 452A Madame X Imperial Cabriolet

More hood ornaments.

The above-mentioned Cabriolet
1917 Haynes Light 12, rescued from a jungle in Java ‘where it lay hidden for 30 years in an overgrown, wooden warehouse’.

Hall of motorsport. My dad, who never drove, would have loved this section. He used to spend hours in front of the TV watching the cars going round and round.

1989 Reynard 893 Alfa Romeo Formula 3
1950 Healey Silverstone

Motor scooters (but few of them British).

Ambassador, made in Berkshire, UK, from 1960 to 1962
This Lambretta was the only exhibit in the whole museum we noticed without a label. So our curiosity went unsatisfied.

There was a section on The Morris Story

1938 Morris Eight Saloon
1935 Morris Minor Van

There was a large section called Memory Lane.

1974 Vanden Plas 1300
1959 Ford Popular 103E
The indispensable picnic set for those ‘Let’s go for a drive’ days, when we didn’t think, or indeed know, about the environment.

But I still hadn’t seen my favourite car, the MG Midget that I had owned in the mid-1970s. I had seen this car.

1930 MG Midget

And a 1947 MG.

1947 MG TC

But not my little pride and joy, in whatever colour.

Towards the end of our visit we found ourselves back in The Red Room, near a couple of Museum employees chatting to each other. I asked them about ‘my’ Midget. We were led to it, not far away. Mine had been white and a model just few years later than this one, but here it was, nearby in The Red Room, and overlooked earlier by me. I was invited to step over the rope barrier and examine it more closely.

1968 MG Midget
What fun it would be to be driving it again! They stopped making it in 1979.

Here’s a photo my dad took (and subsequently developed, enlarged and printed) on 11th June 1976, as he carefully noted on the back. I wonder what he would have made of it’s being out there in The Cloud 43 years later!

No wing mirrors!

A cup of tea and a cake, and it was time for Mary to be taken back the short distance to her train (in my Skoda Citigo, just awarded best city car of the year by ‘Which?’). What had been just something to do on a wet day had turned out to be a very enjoyable experience indeed.

Caen Hill

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Thwarted by a dead computer, it is only now that I can write up a very enjoyable day spent nearly two weeks ago with my ‘American’ cousin Geoff, his two daughters, Claire and Sophie, who live in New Hampshire, and his mother, Barbara, who lives in Berkshire. Sadly a last-minute problem meant that Geoff’s wife and their son were unable to make it over the Pond, so the party was somewhat depleted.

We had arranged to meet up in Wiltshire, as being about halfway between where I live, in Somerset, and Berkshire. Caen Hill is near Devizes. (‘Caen’ is pronounced ‘Cane’, not like the French town.) It is best known for its 29 locks, and in particular its ‘flight’ of 16, engineered by John Rennie the Elder and a scheduled monument, on the Kennet and Avon Canal, which links Reading and Bristol.

Constructed between 1794 and 1810, it was not long before the railways were serious and stronger rivals. Through lack of maintenance, most of the canal had become unnavigable by the mid-twentieth century. Some 35 years ago, when I was living in Reading and mad keen on canalling – and I still could be – I was a member of the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust, which had been formally constituted in 1962 from an informal group to bring the Canal back to life. Much of it had been restored by then, but the Herculean task of the flight had only just been started upon. The only time I had visited Caen Hill, before this month, had been in the 1980s, and it was then in a sad, derelict, sorry state.

Total restoration of the canal and all its works was not complete until 2003, but it was fully navigable by 1990, and formally reopened by HM Queen in that year. The first boat to do the complete trip was that of Sir Timothy West and his wife Prunella Scales (‘Great Canal Journeys‘). They had been founder members of the Trust. (And as it happens, I came across them as they were canalling near Hungerford in 2005, and drove them in my car to A and E at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, but that’s another story.)

I had last seen Geoff and co in New Hampshire in February 2018, and Barbara this January, so there was quite a lot to catch up on. We wandered downhill in one direction.

Looking backwards and upwards as we started off.
Gongoozlers – that’s what canallers call people who stand and stare.
Barbara admiring an owner-occupied narrowboat, solar panels and all
Sophie, Claire and Barbara watch a lock filling. Out of the sun it was decided chilly until lunchtime

There was wildlife.

On one of the side pounds, holding water in reserve for the nearest lock

There were reflections.

Outside the flight, the distances between locks were not far.

Every lock was dedicated to someone or some group.

As we walked back up to our starting point, Geoff and the girls helped two women holidaying on a hired boat. It’s so good to have someone to do the locks!

As we went back up we had a good view of that central flight of 16 locks.

Because of water management problems, in fact that day boaters had to be in the first lock in the flight by noon. There is no stopping and mooring up between locks on the flight.

After lunch at the Trust’s café, we had a pleasant walk uphill into the town, with the intention of going round the Wadworth Brewery.

Looking back at some residential narrowboats
It’s just always fun to gongoozle
The brewery

Unfortunately, when we got there we found the afternoon tour was full. So we sat around for a few minutes in the entrance hall, and reflected on what to do next. There were exhibits, including a rather detailed one on the beer-producing process – and lots of different beers on sale in presentation packs.

We decided to meander the mile back to the locks’ cafe, and to have a Marshfield (West Country speciality, highly recommended) ice cream, before dispersing.

A lovely family get-together, blessed by the weather.

Knoll Gardens, Dorset

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Still with bruises all over, and my arm still bandaged, I went with three friends to Knoll Gardens, near Wimborne in Dorset a few days ago. To quote from their leaflet, In just 40 years, Knoll has progressed from being a market garden to being a private botanic, specialising in Australasian plants, to today’s naturalistic display garden. Many of the rare and unusual trees and shrubs you’ll see in the garden are a legacy of the original plantings. Now under the stewardship of Neil Lucas, Knoll is internationally acclaimed showing Neil’s fabulous collection of ornamental grasses through a series of horticultural galleries.

Having lost a lovely, but old, crab apple tree to honey fungus last year, I had converted that area to a gravel garden, and had already furnished it with a few ornamental grasses a couple of weeks previously. But I just had space for two more. So I was delighted that they had an excellent selection on sale, and found just what I wanted as we left. With four of us in the car all buying, it was a good job that I hadn’t decided to buy my entire stock from Knoll!

But I’m jumping ahead. Come round with us to see the trees, grasses, lawns, shrubs and other plants – and then we’ll go blueberrying…

It was quite overcast when we started going round, but as a high chance of rain was forecast, we did not complain when the sun only came out not long before we left.
Pontederia/pickerel weed in one of the ponds
A well-established bug hotel
The ‘guardian’ of the garden seen from the pergola walk
The dragon, specially commissioned from Susan Ford, (link to come if I can find an authenticated one) is based on the legend of St Dunstan, patron saint of goldsmiths and one of the four patron saints of Wessex. The legend goes that when the devil tried to tempt him from his work he struck him on the nose with a red hot tong. The harp is the emblem of St Dunstan, who was a metalworker, born here in mid-Somerset, sometime Abbot of Glastonbury, and later Archbishop of Canterbury.
This eucalyptus was blown down in a storm some years ago. Retained as a feature it is re-growing.
Each of us took a photo of the other three sitting in these chairs. (There was no passing stranger to take the four of us, and it did not occur to any of us to try to take a selfie – I’m quite pleased at that!)

Tipped off by a neighbour that there was an organic pick-your-own blueberry place next door to the Gardens, I had suggested that we take containers. So, having bought our plants, we left the car in the car park and walked to the nursery.

We were invited to try the five different varieties of blueberry before we started picking, ranging from sharpish through to sweetish. I chose somewhere in the middle (Herbert). These are the bushes you come to first but we were encouraged to go to the other end, where the branches were absolutely dripping with fruit. We soon learned not to pick the berries individually because other ripe ones dropped to the ground. So we held our containers underneath the bunches. Tickling them was a very speedy way of gathering all we wanted. Picking goes on until the fruit runs out, likely the end of August.
A humorous request not to eat while picking

I was so busy picking – or rather catching – that I failed to take pictures of either the dripping bushes, or the full container of more than one kilo that I picked. I’m now enjoying the latter in smoothies, with ice cream, and on their own, and there are many more in the freezer. I may even try one of the recipes on their website.

There is talk of this becoming an annual expedition.

Taunton Flower Show, 2019, a trip

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A few weeks ago I had never even heard of the Taunton Flower Show, held annually in Vivary Park – thank you Sam. I went to its opening day yesterday with a friend.

While it was interesting to see all the many commercial stalls, selling all sorts of things, most of them nothing to do with flowers (and indeed I bought a handbag), the highlights were the marquees. And perhaps another time, on reflection, I would wish to spend more time watching what was going on in the arena. But as neither of us had a sunhat with her – having believed the BBC’s local weather forecast that it would be overcast for much of the day – that was not really on. Anyway, there was a lot else to occupy our time.

The first ‘flowery’ exhibits were in the growers’ marquee. Here is a tiny selection of what we saw there.

I overheard someone saying that the plant nearest looked like a tarantula
I wasn’t the only one taking pictures
This is just part of the central stand in the marquee, by one of the main local nurseries, Monkton Elm Garden Centre

We moved on to the competition marquee. I have not been able to be so rigorous in my photo selection.

This won first prize in the ‘In a nutshell’ category. It was about 5 inches, about 13 centimetres, high.
This exquisite composition one first in the ‘Turkish Delight’ category.
Second in the ‘Nostalgia ‘ category
First in the same. I didn’t seek to take a photo without the observer, because I thought her dress went so well.
We both thought that this was by far the best in the ‘At the garden gate’ category, but sadly it was disqualified because of the use of artificial grass.
Likewise, we disagreed with the judges in the ‘Helter Skelter’ category. Of the five entries, only two included a coiled ‘slide’, but first and second prizes went to entries that were just vaguely lighthouse-shaped. This is the one we liked best.
This, like the following image, is of entries in the ‘Roots, Shoots and Leaves’ class.
We had no problem with the judging in the ‘Recycle’ category. Each contestant had been given an hour, a bottle, a tin, some string, some sticks, some fabric and some vegetation, to make their exhibit. This was definitely the best we thought – and so did the judges.
Couldn’t resist taken a ‘selfie’ in this exhibit from the mirrors category in the crafts section.
The snowy owl and the squirrel won second and third in their class.
I love begonias, and fuschias
Another photo op I couldn’t resist – a rather large gentlemen taking a photo of this rather large cabbage.
How do you judge Victoria sponges…
… or cottage loaves, for that matter?
This is one person’s entry for a variety of crafts. The top of the box is in a sort of felt bas relief. No doubt it has a name. Would that be stumpwork?
The mauve and white arrangement won first in its class
I was given a very small one of these as a houseplant many decade ago. I think it was from that that I acquired my love of begonias.

We walked around the arena, and stopped to watch for a short while the Combined Youth Bands of Barnstaple and Bideford, though this video is just of the Bideford lot. (And I really must remember that the camera stops the sound two seconds before I press the button.)

A bar in your garden?

This plant sales area seemed to be doing good trade.

We decided to look for a spot of lunch. On the way, I moved sideways to take a picture of a whole load of seagulls and ducks to our right in the Sherford Stream, a tributary of the River Tone which runs through Vivary Park. I made for the railing, and … Wham!

I hadn’t noticed there was a step down before the railing, and fell sideways. Desperate to protect the camera slung round my neck, I fell flat on my front along said step, and ended up neatly ranged full-length between the upper step and the railing. People rushed to my aid, wanting to haul me up, though I asked to lie there for a little while before they did so. When I eventually stood up, someone from the Tone FM (Taunton’s local internet radio) stand opposite had already placed a chair for me, and someone else had gone to get first aid. St John’s Ambulance volunteers, Eloise and Mel, soon arrived.

They spent a very long time ensuring that every last bit of grit had been washed out with saline, and patching me up.

Taken where we eventually had lunch. I think my bag also must have cushioned my fall.

The only seriously broken skin was along my left forearm, and I had/have swelling on my right knee, pulled muscles in my left shoulder, a small bump to the side of my right temple, and a few other tiny scrapes and bruises. Nothing broken. Well done St John’s Ambulance for a very good job! Apparently I was their fifth call that day, and the two women were due to return for the second (and final) day of the show today.

Eloise and Mel, the railing behind them

We had some lunch, one of the thinnest and nicest pizzas I have ever tasted, entertained first by a local ladies’ choir, and then by this jazz band.

We meandered a little more, I bought my handbag, and I decided to take those pesky seagulls and ducks, though from a completely different angle. (Even from the original one, it wouldn’t have been all that much of a picture anyway, and wouldn’t normally have survived the thinning for this post.)

As we made our way to the exit, we enjoyed the sight of this little girl dancing to the fairground organ.

A very pleasant day, lovely weather, nice atmosphere, and not too many crowds.

Knuston Hall and Castle Ashby Gardens

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Last weekend I was in Northamptonshire, at Knuston Hall for music-making, a journey round Renaissance Italy, visiting Florence, Milan, Naples, Verona, Rome, Ferrara, Mantua and Venice, under the expert tutorship of Peter Syrus. We were nine plus Peter. At the same time there were smaller courses happening on Russian culture, Hatha yoga, Making polymer clay jewellery, and Hand embroidery. I took no photos of the actual music-making – or anything else – but I did of the Hall and its grounds.

In our free time on the Saturday afternoon, Frances, who had already kindly driven me all the way from Somerset, suggested we visit Castle Ashby Gardens, about 20 minutes away. Sadly my camera decided to go on strike just after we had got there, so those pictures are were subject to the limitations of my tiny phone.

My huge room was the one two floors above the entrance.
The view from my room, early evening
A close up next morning
A very pleasant place to take morning coffee round the side of the house.
And the view from there

Castle Ashby is the ancestral home of the seventh Marquess of Northamptonshire.

Entrance to the Gardens was quite along way further on from this view. Having parked, we wandered towards the church, taking this photo of the Castle itself through the trees.

The church was locked when we tried the door, so we wandered around the impressive graveyard.

The vicar turned up after a few minutes and she explained that the church had been locked because it was all prepared for a wedding starting in an hour’s time, but we could explore it now.

It didn’t take long for us to notice that the small, topmost panes of the 19th century stained glass windows had images of musicians playing from the era of music we were making on the course. The organist arrived while we were there, and he said that the windows, and the delightful angel carvings at the ends of the choir stalls, had all been installed in the 1870s by an energetic vicar, the Rt Rev Lord Alwyne Compton, a matter of days before he left to be Dean of Gloucester, and later Bishop of Ely. (The stained glass windows were quite beyond reasonable reproduction by my phone, but I offer the following approximate images of a few of the carvings, mostly blurry because of insufficient light – and possibly a hand not quite as steady as it should have been.)

The singer is minus his left hand.
Frances told me that this must be a Crusader because his feet are crossed.

We moved on to the gardens.

Frances modelling the carved tree trunk seat at my request

The Orangery is at the end of the path.

View on leaving the Orangery
And looking back at it. It was not possible to climb the staircase.

What a delightful way to spend a couple of free hours on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Grantown-on-Spey 5

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Monday, 3rd June. I spent my final morning at Avielochan, on my way to Inverness Airport. The Grant Arms Hotel, where I had been staying for the four previous nights, has a hide there for the exclusive use of its guests, and indeed ask you that if the little car park already has its capacity of five cars to come back later. I was fortunate in that I was the only person in the hide for the full 90 minutes I was there.

I was fortunate also to have shelter – it was drizzling when I arrived, and for nearly all the time I was there. This was the general view from near the hide as I arrived.

Avielochan was another place where there was to be the chance of seeing Slavonian grebes, though, sadly, again they were not in evidence. But I enjoyed my morning, obsserving a variety of more common birds, some of which are featured below. For a short while, not long enough to get my camera to it, I caught sight of an osprey flying around against the background of the hills opposite.

Greylag geese were in abundance.
So were gulls of various kinds.
Hmm, there was a lapwing on the bank a few seconds ago.
Young ducklings – goldeneye I think.
Female Goldeneye
Great black-backed gull taking off
Willow warbler (?) in nearby tree
Greylag geese in parallel formation
About turn!
And I couldn’t resist taking this little video of the three adults and goodness-knows-how-many goslings.
Mallard
The greylag goose is all ready to start conducting the piece, but the choir is not watching. Heads in copies as usual.
Goldeneye taking off …
… in flight …
and landing.
Gulls enjoying the wind. I’m glad someone was.

There was short path beyond the hide, but I didn’t say long. By now I was perishingly cold, even though the rain had temporarily stopped.

And in the event, this was all I saw of the Slavonian grebes.

Despite the weather, and despite the underlying sadness over the very recent loss of my lovely Lulu, I did enjoy my short stay in the Cairngorms National Park. The hotel was a friendly, welcoming place and made me feel very comfortable and looked-after, which I’m sure helped my general satisfaction at the mini-holiday. But I was happy to get home to Bella in the early evening. I feel pretty sure I shall return to Grantown-on-Spey before too long.

Grantown-on-Spey 4

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Sunday, 2nd June. The verdict as to what I should so on my final full day was unanimous: ‘Strathdearn’, they said, which is also known as the Findhorn Valley.

Findhorn Bridge
Through which can be seen a railway and a major road bridge

I made several stops along the valley As I got back in the car the first time, ‘Henry’ and ‘Clara’, out for a walk, asked me was I looking for waders. I replied I was looking for anything, in a very amateurish way. The waders were all over the fields they said.

I succeeded in seeing nothing for a while, except some colourful cows,

evidence that sheep had once inhabited this field,

some actual sheep,

and some oystercatchers too far away to get a decent picture. I liked the colours in this newish wall round a farmhouse.

And then it started raining. Many years ago, when I was working in Whitehall on public housing subsidies, it had been alleged to me that it rained sideways in Scotland. Here’s the proof.

With wind like this, no wonder it does.

It calmed down, and I came to a little layby. ‘Jack’ and ‘Jock’ were there with telescopes and heavy rainwear. Of course I pulled in. Birdwatchers always compare notes, though I had nothing to offer. The hope was to see a golden eagle. I stayed just a short while, which they clearly did not think was very professional of me, but I was keen to reach the car park at the end of the road for lunchtime, and I was now only halfway along.

I had stopped at a broad bank and had been watching the first oystercatcher making desultory nest-building moves, before the second came along and appeared to tell her there was no point. ‘Marie’ and ‘Hamish’, who said they were keepers (self-appointed or not, I was not sure) came along in a Landrover, and said they were concerned that a pair of dippers had been disturbed ‘just under that bridge’ in their nest-building recently. They seemed satisfied that I was not guilty and after some pleasantries drove on in the direction I had come from.

I continued on my way, and just before the car parking area, I encountered this meadow pipit, with caterpillar.

This was my view as I sat in the car starting to eat my lunch. I was really, really hoping to see a golden eagle or some other raptor.

Then I stopped chewing, because I could see two tiny protuberances at the top of the mountain. With my binoculars I saw this.

Then this.

Then this.

Then this!

I was spellbound.

In due course ‘Jack’ and ‘Jock’ came along, and asked me if I had seen the ravens. (As it was ‘Jock’ who asked me, I had to ask three times what he was asking, his accent was so strong.) The ravens were way up on a hillside behind me. I had been so mesmerised by the red deer (and nice and warm in the car as I ate) that I had not yet turned round to see them, on a far horizon.

I learned that ‘Jack’ and ‘Jock’ came up to the Highlands from Dunfermline and Airdrie as often as they could to look for birds.

All of a sudden ‘Jack’ got very excited. ‘I don’t believe it!’. He had just been idly looking through his telescope, and there was … a ring ouzel. I had never seen one in my life, and I had previously met people who had travelled many miles unsuccessfully to see one. It is a mountain relative of the blackbird, and has a white bib. I was invited to to look at it through their telescope. I then tried to find it with my camera, in vain. So I took some general pictures of the gully, hoping I might pick the bird out on screen later.

Here’s one of the photos.

And yes, the bird is there. Yes it is. Here is a tiny segment of the main photo, enormously enlarged.

And here’s a tiny segment of another photo.

Clearly there is a blackbird with a white bib.

I was chuffed! Thank you ‘Jack’ and ‘Jock’. I’d never have seen either it or, probably, the ravens had you not been there. But that’s the birdwatching world (of which I do not count myself part). They love sharing their sightings.

Another car came along, but I was moving on. I had more plans. Again using the map and information provided by the hotel, I was making for RSPB reserve Loch Ruthven. But not before this common gull had greeted me beside my car.

And I had zoomed in on this ruin back along the Findhorn Valley.

There was what turned out to be a very narrow one-track road over some moorland to get to the reserve. The sun was coming out, and it made this ‘blasted heath’ a little more attractive.

(I don’t usually manage to take a 360 degree video at all steadily, but this time used the car as a leaning post.)

The road was only 7 miles long, but it took a while to travel it. There was a delightful small loch at the end of it, Loch Farr. But I stopped only long enough to take a picture of it, as I had a few more miles more to do.

This was the view as I parked the car at RSPB Loch Ruthven.

And these a couple of views as I walked along the path to the hide.

THE bird to see there is the rare Slavonian grebe. Half the UK’s breeding population is found at this loch. (I know, there are countries called Slovakia and Slovenia, but no Slavonia. I don’t know why the grebe is so-called! … Ah, I do now. Spellcheck didn’t underline the word, so I thought I’d better look it up. Slavonia is a region in Croatia. So now I know. Well, I still don’t know how the bird got its name. In the US it’s called the Horned grebe.)

Anyway, I didn’t see any. Neither did ‘Janet’ and ‘John’, who were already in the hide, and didn’t say hello. They left after after ‘Janet’ said to ‘John’, ‘Shall we give up?’ I was happy just to sit there and see

a female mallard and duckling,
several little grebes, aka dabchicks,
two common sandpipers,

and various other birds of which I didn’t get decent photos, and to enjoy this abstract.

As I left, ‘Nick’ came in. We exchanged shy smiles and as I made my way back along the pretty path I found my self thinking, ‘I’m sure I’ve met him before. Is he on the telly, or is he in in the Somerset Wildlife Trust?’ I didn’t work it out.

Half a day left. What shall I do tomorrow?

Grantown-on-Spey 3

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Saturday 1st June. A day spent in Glenmore Forest Park, in the middle of the Cairngorms National Park. The morning was spent with the reindeer herd. This involved being led, (with 49 others) on a 15-minute walk, just a little steep at times, above the treeline, there to find a group of males kept during the summer months, within an enclosure of some 1200 acres, while they grow their antlers. The females and calves had dispersed a few weeks previously to roam the 10,000 acres available to them. The total herd is kept, by managed breeding, to 150, new bloodstock being introduced from Sweden from time to time.

We learned that a Saami (formerly known as Lapp), named Mickel Utsi, was visiting the Cairngorms in 1949 and realised that the conditions, (sub-arctic altitude, ground, lichens), were absolutely ideal for keeping reindeer, which are domesticated caribou. Indeed reindeer are a UK native species, but went extinct here about a thousand years ago. With his wife, Dr Ethel Lindgren, Utsi brought the first reindeer from Sweden to the Cairngorms in 1952. In due course, the Forestry Commission granted them the right to use the current land to keep reindeer. By the late 1960s the hill trip for tourists was well established, having been by appointment only up to that point.

Despite being in a group, or perhaps because of it, I was able to stop and take some pictures on the way up.

At the bottom right of the preceding picture is part of a boulder, with faintly engraved on it, ‘Utsi Bridge’.

Beginning to leave trees behind.

We come to a fence and see a boardwalk we will take, with the reindeer lying down by another fence.

Seen with camera much zoomed
But as we start along the boardwalk, the reindeer move to join us. In total we all went through the gates of three fences. Fortunately we had been told in advance that the deer would walk with us, across us, and alongside us.
I turned round and saw this
turned back and saw this,
looked ahead and saw a procession of reindeer and people ahead of me.
Despite the fact that they know what is in the green bag, they are patient while we listen to the next instalment in the story.
But when another green bag is rattled, they home in
on their huge, spreading feet. (Very useful in snow.)
They are moulting quite heavily now. Indeed, I learnt later that last Sunday was called ‘Scruffy Sunday’.
We each had one or more chances to feed the reindeer. A two-handed technique was necessary to begin with, but when I had just a little left, I was able to use my right hand to take this picture. Their teeth are flat and very ground down by tearing up lichen. This poor deer’s had his head elongated by the camera!
Lichen technique
Gentle creatures, enjoy a scratch, but we are warned to touch neither head not antlers, which will be taken as aggressive..

We made our way back down in our own time, when we wanted.

From Utsi Bridge
I was pleased to meet this woman and her golden retriever, Elsie (who was expecting her first puppies very shortly) near to the end of the walk. She had something to do with the herd, and was able to tell me how Utsi’s widow had taken on Alan Smith to manage the herd in the early 1980s, how a summer volunteer had shortly afterwards become Mrs Smith and how together they bought the herd on Ethel Lindgren’s death a few years later.

I had some soup at the Glenmore Visitor Centre, and then looked at a plan of the various waymarked walks. I decided to do the longest, 3.5miles/5.8 km, starting from there. It was marked ‘strenuous’, which I would normally have avoided, but the shorter ones, all marked ‘moderate’ looked really so easy that I decided to risk the more demanding one. To begin with the path sloped gently upwards, and was wide and gravelly. The route, from the contour lines, appeared to continue to climb gradually and then steeply toward the end of the outward leg, culminating at a loch.

Looking over right,
zooming in with the camera,
zooming in further, and confirming with my binoculars that the white dots in the middle are indeed reindeer. The path is the boardwalk.
Looking left, and still on a broad, gently sloping path. What is strenuous about this?
The broad path has now gone, and the contour lines are closer I am glad that I have a walking pole with me, for the sake of balance.
Oh. Nice to have the Escher-looking boards to walk on over the boggy bits, but they are not meant to to be going down, please. This suggests there is going to be some climbing on the leg the other side of the glen, back to the start, where I had hoped it would be a gentle stroll downwards. (I much later realised that I had not noticed the heights marked elsewhere on the contour lines.)
Oh. Even steeper now, and I’m extra glad I have a walking pole with me. I allow some human mountain goats rush by me, on legs much more confident than and half the age of mine.
Arrived after much more descent at An Lochan Uaine (The Green Loch)
And again in the dusk of evening I shall find once more alone
The dark water of the green loch. And the pass beyond Ryvoan.

After a brief chat with two of the mountain goats who had passed me, who were contemplating continuing along to Ryvoan Bothy, and a nibble of a date flapjack, I continued on the waymarked walk, and was relieved to find that it was an easy path along a contour.

I was intrigued to notice this.

At first it reminded me of the mud volcanoes I had seen in Yellowstone last year. Then I thought it resembled a fountain. Then I realised it was a spring – and understood why in French the words for ‘spring’ and ‘fountain’ are the same, ‘fontaine’.

These four passed and fell behind me several times on my homewards stroll. I learned in due course that the 20-year-old grey was being used to train the 8-year-old piebald not to be afraid of the narrow drains which crossed the path at regular intervals.

The reindeer booking office/shop was just before the visitor centre car park, so I called into the paddock where those unable for various reasons to do the hill walk could go and see four reindeer, each kept there for just two or three weeks on a rotating basis. It was interesting to learn more about the creatures from the many information boards there.

I had once stood beside a model of a megaloceros in a French museum, an impressive experience! (And I don’t remember the moose in Yellowstone being so big.)

Finally, I had seen very few birds on my walk, though the loud and joyful sound of them up in the trees had accompanied me all the way. So I was pleased to see on a feeder several instances of one of my favourite small birds, the siskin. This has not graced my garden for a couple of years now, presumably because climate change means it does not now have to come so far south in the winter.

I was right to take the ‘strenuous’ walk. It was, I would say, not so much strenuous as a bit difficult at times. And, despite the grey colour of the sky, and the chill up there with the reindeer, the weather was OK. It didn’t rain all day!

Grantown-on-Spey 2

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Friday 31st May. On offer this morning was a walk in the local woods, led by Simon, one of the experts on hand in the hotel. With three other residents, I availed myself of it. We started at the local golf course,

where we saw nothing of interest, though Simon did his best to convince us that this was a rare Scottish wild cat.

The Anagach Woods were established in 1766 by James Grant of Grant (more later), but they look very natural, and provide excellent habitat for local fauna.

Treecreeper

And flora.

Bog cotton/cottongrass

As we walked through the woods, for much of the time to the right was acidic boggy land with stunted trees that could be 200 years old.

To our left, classic Caledonian forest, (the BBC’s ‘Springwatch’ is currently coming from just a few miles away) allowing lots of light through to nourish berry-bearing plants, good food for native species.

I was frequently a little behind my companions, as I was the only one taking photos.
Particularly if they involved reflections
The lichen is called Old Man’s Beard

We emerged from forest into more open land, and I learned that this native tree was called bird cherry.

We reached the River Spey, and went on to a bridge. (Of which, annoyingly, I did not think to take a photo when we later went down to the path on the right hand side.)

You don’t often get the chance to see a mallard’s orange feet so clearly.

On the far side of the bridge I was able to see this bird, identified for me as a spotted flycatcher.

I said that I couldn’t see any spots, even when it obligingly turned round for me.

But spotted flycatcher it was, I was assured.

From the bridge I was also able to wonder at these wild lupins, through which we were to wander minutes later. We also saw a very newly fledged grey wagtail.

Once down there, along the bank we watched a fledged pied wagtail being fed. Its parent was too quick for me.

Further along was a dipper, again it was thought, newly fledged, not least because it was showing a marked reluctance to dip.

And then there were two, sibling fledglings. Believe it or not.

As we started to walk back, completing a loop, it started to spit. I was able to notice and admire these patriotic finials.

By the time we were back at the hotel, via the Post Office in my case, it was pouring.

And still was in the afternoon, so instead of pursuing my rural intentions, I did that standby of wet afternoons, the local museum.

Which was small and perfectly formed. I learned that the Clan Grant had been around for a few centuries when Sir James Grant of Grant, he of the Anagach Woods, and known as ‘the good Sir James’, decided, in the mid-eighteenth century, to create a town on the River Spey. It didn’t become quite the boom town he had hoped, because it was too distant from anywhere, but it throve nevertheless, especially once it had become such a sought after place for holidays and leisure a hundred years later.

I learned about the superclan (that’s my word) Chattan, and its motto ‘Touch not the cat bot [without] a glove’, meaning that they were fierce fighters. This was a confederation of clans and large families with origins at least as far back as the fourteenth century. The wild cats engraved on this large 1600s brooch, the Cromdale brooch, suggest it may have a connection to the Clan Chattan.

Sir James’s plan of Grantown-on-Spey, showing the Anagach Woods, and The Square, in fact a thin oblong, where the Grant Arms Hotel is located.
The former town clock mechanism

Alone in the museum, for 15 minutes I got quite emotional as I took up the invitation, below, to try the clàrsach, which was perfectly in tune, picking out tunes and even singing with it. (In the evening, I spent some time researching the cost of and how to play the instrument, I had been so moved by the experience, but have reluctantly come to the conclusion that I am unlikely to be any more successful with this instrument than I have been with any requiring the co-ordination of more than two fingers!)

Tearing myself away – I felt I could have stayed there for hours – I perused the rest of the museum, which featured various professions and achievements of the town’s residents, including the inventor of the flush toilet. (No pictures!)

Endorsement of he hotel by Prime Minster Ramsay MacDonald in 1934, from its wording apparently solicited.

I was fascinated by these next two images when I came to see them on screen. The light was flickering a little on the display of the curling stone, but my eyes did not see the complete darkness the camera did as it took the photos on burst.

Finally, the 1970s are clearly history to some, though I can remember the day we converted to decimal coins as if it were yesterday. Ironically, I was working in H M Treasury in Whitehall at the time. The lady on the sandwich kiosk was having a terrible time with the new coinage, and the queue was very long indeed!

Grantown-on-Spey 1

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Thursday, 30th May. It would have been nearly three months since my trip to southern Africa, so a few weeks ago I fixed a short, four-night break in this small town in Morayshire, on the northern edge of the Cairngorms. In the event, just a few days after burying my lovely cat, Lulu, killed on a country lane near to where I live, this was not the best of times to leave poor Bella behind, not was I really in the right mood to explore this new, for me, part of Scotland. But all was booked – flight, hire car, hotel – so I left home, hoping my sadness and guilt would not intrude too much.

The weather forecast for the five days was not great, but the worst was meant to be as I arrived, gradually improving over the period. So it was pleasing that, when I picked up the car (I’d booked and paid for the tiniest car possible, and they gave me a 2019 Astra with just 1350 miles on the clock) at Inverness Airport around midday, it was not actually raining, though there was a bitter wind. The hotel – more later – had sent me a load of information, so I had already made my plans for the afternoon. While waiting for the car, I had bought a sandwich, and drove along the Moray Firth to Nairn, when I parked by the small harbour and ate my lunch, looking at the northern side of the Firth through the windscreen. In the distance is a red ship, at, I think, the neck of the Cromarty Firth. It didn’t move all the time I was there.

Well wrapped up against the biting wind, I wandered around for a few minutes.

This is a fishwife, who erstwhile played a very important role in the fishing community. The statue was erected as part of the Highland Year of Culture, 2007.
Oystercatcher, feathers somewhat ruffled in the wind
Jackdaws always glare, even when their feathers are not being ruffled.

It was pleasing to see this sign on the harbour wall, but why only swans?

In the information from the hotel was a tip that there was a public car park, giving access to the beach, at the end of a road through a campsite, which otherwise I would have assumed to be entirely private. I went over the dunes …

on to the nearly deserted beach, and enjoyed the natural decorations.†

I was wondering about the precise sizes of the oystercatcher and the black-headed gull …

… when a herring gull photo-bombed the picture and answered my question.

After a few minutes it started spitting, so, not wanting to get drenched, I set off to make my way back to the car. But it soon stopped, so I was able to take more pictures, of which this is one, looking back to Nairn.

It was now my intention to go to a place described as, ‘A beautifully scenic spot – the ruined Lochindorb Castle lies in the middle of Lochindorb, surrounded by heather-clad moorland and scattered woodland.’ Followed by a long list of birds which might be seen there and thereabouts. But well before I got there it was teeming with rain. I got out to take a couple of pictures on my way.

Approaching the loch I stopped to take this picture of the ruined castle.

And was delighted when a mother and six offspring ran across the road in front of my car. Fortunately I lunged for my camera. Had I not, but just driven on, one, then another, further offspring might well have been crushed. I managed to get this picture with all nine safely reunited.

Proving this was wonderful weather for ducks

I drove on, scarcely stopping anymore. There was no point with the rain lashing down. I just got this picture of the increasingly mountainous scenery.

I was pleased to arrive at the Grant Arms Hotel, in Grantown-on-Spey (pronounced ‘Granton’).

I had chosen it because it advertises itself as a wildlife hotel. It had already sent me a great deal of information, as I have said. As a guest you become a member of its ‘Bird Watching and Wildlife Club’. There is a library, masses more information about walks and suggested outings, and real live human experts on hand twice a day for tips and information, plus a few guided walks from the hotel, and evening talks about twice a week. They also have celebrity-led weeks from time to time.

The hotel itself is comfortable, traditional in furnishings, serving excellent food, and for me was very good value for money, as they charge per person not per room. I felt very well looked after.

Queen Victoria stayed there, incognito I read elsewhere.

Not incognito, and some time ago, another royal couple stayed there…

There was just one talk during my stay there, and it was that first evening. It was on Yellowstone National Park in the Fall. It was very interesting to make comparisons with my own stay there in the snow of February last year.