Wolf Moon

It occurred to me when driving home last night that the interior of my car was illuminated more than usual, so much so that I check if I had accidently left one of the car reading lights on!  Normally as I make my way along the twisting country road which eventually takes me to the hill top on which my cottage perches, the darkness is all enveloping, with only the headlights to guide my way.  With not a street light for miles and very few other properties in the vicinity of my home, I often feel very lucky that each night I can escape from the hustle and bustle of society and I gain a strange sense of comfort from the blackness which demonstrates my seclusion.

But last night the whole landscape was glowing in the brightness of a moon which staggered me with its immensity and created a rather eerie supernatural atmosphere.  And it was a full moon at that!  I don’t know about you, but when I see a full moon, especially one which generates such a spine-chilling quality, legends of werewolves spring to mind!

I’ve seen the 2002 film ‘Dog Soldiers’, which is set in the highlands of Scotland (and some of which is filmed in the Glen Affric area) and although I realise it is entirely a work of fiction, as I made the short walk from where I park my car to the front door of my cottage I felt the need to remind and reassurance myself that it was just a movie!

It turns out that the January full moon is actually referred to as the ‘Wolf Moon’ and the reason for this has nothing to do with the mythical creatures which transform from their human form when it rises (perhaps living in such an isolated location is starting to affect me!? )  The ‘Wolf Moon’ is thought to have been so named by Native American tribes who saw hungry wolf packs howling at the January moon outside their villages. Seeing as wild wolves have not been sighted in Scotland in the last 300 years it appears the only thing I really have to fear is my overactive imagination!

The Royal Highland Show 2010

…started today and will be running until Sunday at Inslington, Edingburgh. For the next four days, there will be something for everyone. Events include cookery demonstrations, live chainsaw wood carving, the Gun Dog display, as well as over a hundred exhibitors at The Food Hall, handmade clothes and jewelry to buy, not to mention the all important showing and judging of sheep, cattle and ponies. Oh and there will also be giant hamster ball rolling. Not rolling your giant hamster against another giant hamster but larking about in one of those huge see-through balls as hamsters would do.

It sounds a lot like a Scottish version of the Ardingly Agricultural Show I went to in my youth yet seeing as I’m not a youth anymore, it is something I would definitely like to go to without having to be dragged by my parents. In my defence, I probably would have been a slightly less of a pain in the arse for my suffering parents had there have been ‘giant hamster ball rolling’ at Ardingly.

We were seriously considering not telling you this specific bit so as not to ruin our chances but when you sign up as a member, you are automatically *whispers* entered into a free competition to win lots of Graham’s Dairy ice cream *whispers*.

Get here in style with the ScotRail sleeper service

Let’s be honest – Scotland is far away. Further than Birmingham and Northampton put together. And lets face it, if you have ever driven, you’ll know that it takes until Blackpool before motorways actually come into their own.

So save yourself the hassle of Little Chefs and volcanic ash by taking the train here instead. Go that step further and get the sleeper train. It leaves Euston at 10.30pm and you arrive refreshed and ready for a day of sight-seeing at 7.30am with breakfast and a newspaper thrown in. You might have to share but it will be with someone of the same sex. Bunks are specified on the ticket so there won’t be any midnight arguments about who goes on top.

The Sleeper Service operates between London Euston and Glasgow Central. Check the Bargain Berth prices to grab a bunk for as little as £19 one way. That’ll leave you with enough for a glass of wine from the on board bar before you head off to bed. Just don’t let your imagination make you get so carried away as to dress up like you’re from an Agatha Christie novel.

Get your wildlife fix on a day trip to Staffa

If you’re planning on holidaying to the West coast this Summer, then you might want to consider a day trip to Staffa and Lunga. Turus Mara are now running day trips throughout the Summer until October with an all-in-ticket that includes ferry passage from Oban to Craignure, on the Isle of Mull where you are then taken by minibus directly to Ulva Ferry. For those worried about sea-sickness, it’s only the last 10 minutes of a 50 minute journey as the boat enters more exposed waters that might be cause for concern and that’s only if you are below deck. But don’t worry, there is a toilet on board! Better still if you can, try and bag one of the sixteen seats on top deck even if it means elbowing some school children out of the way.

The awesome hexagonal ballast columns on Staffa greet you as you come into port (although the Captain of the Hoy Lass ferry assures us that there are in fact at most only seven sides to the columns). You are given an hour on Staffa which is just enough time to climb the steps to the top and eat your packed lunch with views of Iona Abbey and the Treshnish Isles, free of the worry of tick bites as Staffa has no deer or bracken for them to hide. This lack of bracken is sure to be a hit with Scottish wild flower enthusiasts or in fact any Highland inhabitant as they will tell you that the amount of bracken has grown significantly in recent years with the steady decline of grazing and crop planting. So don’t mention the ‘B’ word to any locals you might meet. After lunch, there is still have enough time to walk back down and precariously edge your way to hear your echo in Fingal’s Cave before taking the boat onwards to Lunga.

Lunga will tick your bird-watching boxes with a large population of puffins, guillemots and shags. However, for birds that have colonised an uninhabited island, the puffins seem rather sociable as you’re able to get within a few feet of their cliff-top nests. We were also lucky enough on the day to spot the fin of a basking shark in the bay and a couple of seals on the rocks on the way back to Ulva Ferry. Day-trippers to Mull are bussed back to Craignure just in time to catch the 7pm ferry back to Oban.

Highland cows first thing in the morning

I thought life in the countryside would consist of being woken up by cockerels not cows. Our neighbouring farmer has moved them to the field next to our house and the closest thing I could describe their mooing sound to is like a foghorn. Or at least it seems that loud at 6 o’clock in the morning.

Around here they are allowed to roam across the roads so if the scenery isn’t enough to make you want to go at a slower pace, then let the Highland cows be reason enough to drive more cautiously. Our local farmer told us that some of the more romantic bulls have been known to trample down fences during mating season so we can see why they have chosen to give up on fencing them in.

The fact that their are two large, spiked horns coming out of their heads may seem intimidating yet they are generally timid animals so you needn’t worry if you want to get out of your car to take a passing photo. In fact they are more likely to be nervous of you and may gallop off if you get too close. One word of caution though, if you are out walking and approach a group of them, do go around them not through but around as some new mothers can be protective of their calves!

Sea eagle chicks

A cargo of 19 sea eagle chicks arrived at Edinburgh airport from Norway this weekend as part of a 30 year project to re-introduce them to Scotland.

The sea eagle plays a large part in bringing tourists to our part of Scotland, the West coast where there is now a healthy population, even though all sea eagles in the UK were raised in Fife on the East coast. Just remember if you spot one whilst driving and want to stop to get a better look, to pull into a parking area and not a passing place.

When we first moved here we had no knowledge of birds and would often look up at common buzzards assuming they were eagles. It was not until we actually saw an eagle that we realised the difference in size between the birds and what idiots we had been. You will definitely know when you see an eagle because quite simply, they are huge. No wonder then that the chicks are the size of your average Christmas turkey.

A number of operators are now running wildlife tours although sightings of the eagles can never be guaranteed. In fact, any sighting of the sea eagle can be reported to the RSPB on 01463 715000. In the mean time the RSPB website has an osprey ‘nest cam‘ complete with sound which has now made it to our ‘favourites’ links just for relaxing purposes!




Celebrate the Summer solstice tonight in Scotland

It’s not just Stonehenge where all the Gandalf-wannabes gather, you know. Apart from the Beltane Festival which already took place this year in April to mark the beginning of Summer, there are a few more places we can think of to whet your astrological appetite.

The Callanish stones on the Isle of Lewis are famous not for their alignment with the midsummer sun but with the midsummer moon. Some astrologists claim that the position of the moon on midsummer night behind one of the stones to be pure coincidence but what does it really matter when we all know that Stonehenge was rebuilt in the 1950′s.

The Maeshowe cairn on Orkney is of particular interest for those celebrating the Winter solstice for the angle at which the sun descends through the tunnel towards the inner chamber and its alignment with the Barnhouse stone 800m away. What we find truly amazing is that the sun even makes it to Orkney in December.

It is only in recent years that the stones at Ballochroy, Kintyre has sparked interest amongst astrologists. The stones are best seen tonight but it will involve leaving your car and climbing a hill to the site which you carbon-guzzling hippies may find hard to get your head around.

But why bother with all those crusty old sites when you can be a new-age hippy. And by new-age we mean pay a visit Britain’s newest stone circle. Sighthill in Glasgow was to be the site for the first stone circle built in the UK for 3000 years but plans were cut short in the 1970′s when half way through building, the plug was pulled on spending.

Blame Thatcher.

Its creator, David Lunan, (we’re starting to wonder if he changed his name – Lunan, luna, moon – see where we’re coming from?) wants to see the project completed for party-goers to come and enjoy the midsummer celebrations. We’re sure Somerset would be all to happy to pass on your details to the bearded men dressed in bedsheets, Dave. Not so sure however what the residents of the nearby tower blocks would say though.

Passing place etiquette

Driving on rural roads in parts of Scotland can throw up new challenges for the suburban driver. There are sheep and cattle to watch out for and tractors and cyclists to navigate around. But the main problem you’ll have to face is single track roads. Don’t get us wrong, after moving here from a city we found it hard to get used to. So here are the rules and some unwritten ones to help you help us.

Passing places work more than one way. Firstly they are for when two cars meet going in opposite directions which in this situation, the car closest to the passing place must either wait in it or wait next to it for the other car to use. DO NOT change sides of the road! Secondly, they can be used to let the faster driver behind you pass. These are usually irritable courier drivers who really shouldn’t flash or beep their horns but ignore the ones who do and let them pass without giving them the finger.

Now for some etiquette. Try to avoid any situation where you have to reverse or make the car coming towards you reverse. Just go cautiously around bends to eliminate any need for reversing into passing places. Not all of us are so confident in reverse especially if we’re new to the roads and panic easily. If you are in a checkmate situation where you’re both at an equidistant from two passing places but there are two cars coming towards you rather than you just on your own, then you should really do the reversing, simply because it is easier for one car than it is for two. Lastly, it is generally easier to wait at the passing place going down hill then to let the car going uphill wait and then make a hill-start. In general, it just takes a bit of common sense and to ask yourself in each situation what would be the best thing to do for both cars concerned.

When it comes to cattle on roads, I would suggest not beeping at them – my neighbour did this once only to have her bumper kicked off by a disgruntled cow.

Rowan trees according to the locals

The rain from last night and most of today has thankfully filled up our water tank. No more trips to the burn with the watering-can for us now. A little wander around the garden when the sun came out, because it does look so much more appealing after a bout of showers, lead to this find.

The shape of the leaves leads us to the conclusion that it is a rowan tree which we think is a good omen after our neighbour once dissuaded us about a fallen rowan tree which we had had our eyes on for the wood burner, saying that to burn it would bring us bad luck. It wasn’t until a year later that the importance of the rowan tree would crop up again. This time, we heard about a wedding ceremony taking place underneath a particular rowan tree that had grown on top of an oak, an epiphyte or ‘flying rowan’, that is especially potent in warding off evil spirits, that we started thinking about the relevance of the tree to Scottish mythology.

They are everywhere up here although it isn’t until the Autumn when their bright red berries appear, that you start to notice just how many. If you spot one in a graveyard, its presence is probably not a coincidence as they are planted by loved ones of the deceased to prevent any hauntings.

Rowan is still used in the craft of stick-making, that is still taught at our local village hall, even if the mythical properties behind its use in the past by druids might not always be known. We’ve yet to see our local farmer put a sprig of rowan above his barn door to protect his cattle from harm although we might suggest it only if we see him down the pub and have had a few drinks first.

If you’re in the Loch Lomond area and fancy a walk then you might be interested in this.

The marmalade cake

With rain pelting against the window, there seems little else to do but bake a cake. Especially when there’s nothing else sweet in the house to eat. And if you’re looking for sweet, then the marmalade cake really hits the spot with its drizzle frosting.

According to www.rampantscotland.com it was first made in 1797 in Dundee after a Spanish ship sort refuge from a storm and then had to sell its cargo cheap to the locals. Always up for a bargain, never have we wanted to be a resident of Dundee 200 years ago more than now.

Ingredients for the cake

6 oz butter or margarine

6 oz caster sugar

6 oz self raising flour

3 eggs

3 oz marmalade

Zest of one orange

Ingredients for the icing

Juice of one orange

4 oz icing sugar

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Stir in the marmalade and zest and then the flour. Bake in a lined round 6 inch tin at gas mark 4 for about an hour or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Beat the icing sugar and orange juice together and drizzle on top of the cake while still warm. Yes, it will make a mess.

Someone pass Mr Murray a slice of this – there’s always next year, Andy.

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