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