Thursday, 17 June 2021

Balnauran of Clava

Each year thousands of people flock to the site of the 1746 Culloden massacre but the attraction of a killing field completely eludes me. Just over a mile away, down a very narrow, twisty little road with occasional passing places, is somewhere far more special.

Normally known as Clava Cairns, what's visible to most visitors are three massive cairns, one ring type and two are passage cairns, and the timeline of the structures is contemporary with Skara Brae and [later] Stonehenge. If you venture into the picnic area the remains of a further circle can be made out, and a ten minute walk down the road leads to what's known as the Milton of Clava and generally called the 4th cairn. Archaeologists believe there would have been a line of seven or eight cairns so it is reasonable to assume that one lies buried under the generous carpark, and the others are hidden under the farmhouse and associated buildings that you walk past between the main site and Milton. In the same way as early archaeologists did incalculable damage when excavating sites, we've done just as much by building homes and farms. But sighing and wishing things were different does not bring back that which has been lost.

I don't know if my pictures can do this site justice, but you can read about it online, Google returns many results. Balnauran is referred to as a "site type" which means that the 50 or so similar structures in north-east Scotland are all called Clava cairns, which confuses most people because this location is generally referred to as Clava (perhaps because Balnauran takes up more room on road signs 😜). I have not yet tracked down the location of all of the others, but I'm working on it. I can feel a 'project' coming on !

For me, some places cannot be accurately described, dissected or written about in significant detail. Balnurnan is one of those sites - it is ancient and magical, the sense of time in the rocks is palpable. It is a cemetery, the final resting place for the loved and revered and it still feels sacred. The day I spent in this amazing place was the highlight of my entire trip.

For those who don't waste as much time firtling around archaeology sites as I do, you might find this link interesting. If you would like more depth than Google provides ("oh look, it's a location from Outlander") then is always a good place to start.

When you are done with marvelling at the building abilities of our ancient ancestors you can walk half a mile down the lane in the opposite direction and see the Nairn (or Culloden) Viaduct, opened 123 years ago and still carrying trains. A sense of scale is impossible from this little photo but the central arch which straddles the River Nairn is 100 foot wide (that's 30 metres for our younger viewers!)

Monday, 14 June 2021

I'll take that as a win

I am a victim of my own success.

I have spent years making the soil conditions at Bag End the best I can. Between me, Management and LP we must have moved tons and tons of manure, compost, bark chip and goodness knows what else around this garden to create humus rich soil, supress weeds, retain moisture. And I have to conclude that I have achieved what I set out to do because I now spend nearly all my time trying to get the upper hand on rampant growth. A horticultural paradox . . . and I try not to cringe at the irony of complaining when my plants grow too well, too big, too fast.

But it does mean that I have to work fairly hard not to have the whole place go feral, and sometimes it can be soul-destroying to just not have the time, energy or sufficient co-operative weather to get jobs done. Happily, today was not one of those days.

Today I focussed on the area immediately outside my study and although it took the whole day, actual working time was probably only 4 - 4½ hours. Before:

After: Self-seeded acquilega and foxgloves have all been moved somewhere more suitable, the heathers have had a good top-up with mulch, the pretend-box hedge of Lonicera nitida around the small bulb bed has had a good trim (nothing nests in here) and I cut the small lawn. The thalictrum which dominates the small bed in early summer is nearly over but has looked fabulous this year.

I know most normal folk do not leave a swathe of Vetch, buttercups and comfrey in their lawn but Bag End folk are not normal folk 😃.

I moved some self-sown Prunella vulgaris (Selfheal) into a corner that is difficult to mow.

I am currently watching a blackbird scrabble like crazy through the new bark mulch on the heathers which they will doubtless end up scattering all over the darn place, messy little buggers! But all these birds eat slugs and grubs which would otherwise eat my plants, which of course would not grow so well without the mulch that harbours all sorts of tiny beasties which are culinary delicacies if you're a songbird, and then the whole cycle starts all over again. ðŸĪŠ ☺️

I would like to think I could achieve as much tomorrow in another area, but right now all I can think of is a long, hot shower and my bed.

Sunday, 13 June 2021

Happy to be home

Bill is safely on the drive and we are back home after another week away.

The ratio of distance travelled to coastline driven was rather less than I would have liked (given how far from Bag End I had gone) but as I initially went up to the area for another reason and “tagged on a bit of coast” as an afterthought, I’m counting this as a success. My Coast by Campervan project has now covered the section of coastline between Inverness and Cullen in the north east of Scotland.

The sun shone every day and when there were clouds they just made things more interesting, and whilst being in the van is always a win the week was not without frustration. It is not until you try to drive as close to the coastline as possible that you become aware of just how much is not accessible. And I don’t mean closed off because of the MOD or industry, but because there just are not any flippin’ roads! I drove as close as I reasonably could to the coast whenever possible and came away with even more respect for people like Ruth Livingstone who are doing all of this on foot ðŸĨū ðŸĨū.

However, frustration aside, the area between Burghead and Lossiemouth was very attractive, and Lossie itself was interesting because whilst I was there multiple Typhoon planes decided to practice aborting their landing which resulted in them all coming in over the sea, and once at a very low altitude hitting the engines and soaring off again. This went on for nearly half an hour and reminded me of a visit to Farnborough Air Show many years ago.

At least I could leave when I had finished my coffee, not sure I could handle living close to that sort of noise on a regular basiss.

I think the little villages of Buckie, Findochty and Portknockie would have been nice to wander around but all three had the same problem - signs for Parking which disappeared before a suitable expanse of tarmac was located. I ended up getting very frustrated, thankfully didn’t get the van stuck down any small residential roads, and to be honest by the time I got to Cullen (which has superb parking, right on the beach, thank you Cullen) I was tired and had had enough.

There were some stand-outs during the week which are threatening to derail/reroute the Coast project. The first was deciding to take a ‘scenic’ route up to the Highlands and travelling through the Cairngorms via Braemar. Holy moly - Lake District on steroids! I could have run Bill off the road with all the gawping I was doing at the scenery. Just a couple of stills edited off the dashcam to remind me how beautiful it was:

I really MUST spend more time in this area, which is definitely not coastal 😉.

The second was a visit to Clava Cairns which are near the location of the Culloden massacre. The site is late Neolithic/early Bronze Age and absolutely blew me away. It will eventually have a very picture-heavy blog post all of its own.

I’ve studied history for as long as I can remember, and in recent years the focus has been shifting from early medieval to pre-Christian times. There are numerous sites like this in Scotland and most visitors either completely ignore old lumps of stone or spend very little time there which makes it more likely I will have peace and quiet. According to Google "most visitors" only spend 30 minutes at this site - I was there much of the day and whilst there were regular arrivals folk did not tend to stay long and were quiet. It was lovely 👍.

The final potential sandbank onto which the Coast project might get stuck was the drive home via the Great Glen, Fort William, Glencoe and Rannoch Moor. Far too long since I have been up that way and had forgotten just how much I love it. What I did not love was seeing how much traffic there is in some areas, but I was doing the journey on a Saturday which might explain some of it?

One of the many well-placed parking spots on Rannoch Moor:

Late lunch at Loch Tulla, there are worse places to stop for a quick meal:

It seemed like a good idea to clean the inscriptions on the Monroe Memorial Cairn, so I did:

Afernoon tea at Loch Lomond:

Time away in Bill is always time well-spent. The van is a comfortable delight and not only did nothing go wrong (and the new tap does not leak ðŸĪ—) but for the first time EVER I did not come home with the usual list of “things I have thought I could add/change/make/do differently”. Good grief, does this mean I finally have the van set up exactly to my liking?

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Bill has a new tap

Oh, Thank Crunchy. Bill now has a lovely new tap and there are (fingers crossed) currently no leaks. Fitting the new tap was very simple and straightforward, except for my needing Management's strength to push the water connectors into the supply pipes, they are a very tight fit.

Thanks to Eunice's "toothpaste tip" the sink is showing far fewer scratches than previously although it's never going to look brand new again - it gets too much use.

Bill is feeling very pleased with her repair, and enjoyed the major cleaning which took up most of yesterday making her all clean and ready for the next outing which commences Sunday. Yes I know I have only just got back from my last holiday but we are currently working on the premise that I should get away when I can, because if we go into another lockdown (or Ms Sturgeon closes the border between our two countries) then all of my travel plans for 2021 will be well and truly knackered. According to the RSPB I still have a great deal of coastline to get round just in Scotland: this project is going to take rather longer than I might have initially planned!

From looking at the news I cannot help wondering if the only person who claims to be convinced we should "get back to normal" on 21st June is Boris, many 'experts' he says the Government listen to seem to feel otherwise, although Management reckons that the decision has already been taken not to relax all restrictions and that nearer the time Boris will play the "but I was on your side, I tried to prevent this happening" card and make himself the 'friend' of those people who want to pretend Covid has not happened.

Am I a Harbinger of Doom or a grumpy realist? I find myself wondering when/if the zeitgeist might start to register the fact that we (individuals/this country/the world) cannot go back to what was "normal" in January 2020 and that the world may have changed, forever. Change is uncomfortable whether it is for better or worse and it is not what the status quo wants, but that doesn't mean it isn't happening.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Campsite (Holiday photos #5)

When you realise you have lost count of the number of visits to a particular location, you know you rather like the place.

Apart from the usual Caravan Club facilities of water, waste, dishwashing room, and a 'facilities' block with showers governed by a Health & Safety limiter which means ablutions are luke-warm at best* (a pet peeve of mine) there is absolutely nothing at New England Bay but a couple of acres of sweet-smelling gorse and a small beach.

And despite all the short-comings and resorting to showering in the van where at least I can do so without fear of hypothermia, I love just being there, which is insane if you stop to analyse it, so I won't!

Pictures enlarge to full screen, and if you click on the first one you can scroll through them all.

There were other garden visits - Logan Botanic (three times 😜) and a fair bit of mooching about, but that will do for this trip . . . .

* I know it is quite deliberate that showers are barely warm enough to be usable because the water in handbasins only a couple of metres away is so gloriously hot as to be too hot!

Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Logan House Gardens (Holiday photos #4)

Despite the numerous visits to this area, somehow I have never managed to visit Logan House Gardens, which is silly as they are next door to Logan Botanic Gardens where I seem to spend rather a lot of time! I had a couple of hours wandering around one sunny morning, worth every penny of the £4.00 admission fee. The land which is now the Botanic Garden was once part of the Logan Estate and in truth whilst this is a fabulous place to visit I found it a little sad that it is not as well maintained as it could be, but to do so would cost thousands and thousands. I indulged in a Lottery-inspired fantasy of what I could do with the place given a very large budget, a few years, and a team of six gardeners who were prepared to work very hard.

Setting that aside, it was interesting to be able to identify some of the original planting, and imagine how the estate might have looked two or three hundred years ago. The "info board' on my Port Logan post mentions the development of the garden.

The garden was almost empty, I think I saw one couple my entire visit. Pictures enlarge to full screen, and if you click on the first one you can scroll through them all.