Thursday 16 May 2013

'Off Island' pt 2

  On the 6th April, we continued our extended trip 'off island' to stay in north Gloucestershire; Catriona and Sula staying at Moreton and Rona and I staying at Longbrough for most of the time - with Catriona taking trips to Oxford and London in between.

  A couple of days later, Rona and I took the almost obligatory trip to the Cotswold Falconry Centre at Batsford nr Moreton in Marsh. When we lived three miles away, it was a regular place to visit with the girls and on the odd occasion they would even help out. Geoff and his team do a sterling job with both the flying displays and also the breeding program they have there and so is well worth a visit. After we'd watched one of the displays, Geoff invited Rona and I over to his house to see one of the recently hatched Yellow Headed Caracara  chicks. Both Rona and I learnt a lot from that visit and Rona even got to feed and hold the chick - something she was really delighted with, so thanks again Geoff. One other 'treat' was to see - and hear - another chick starting to breakout from the egg, the faint 'cheeps' clearly heard if you held the egg close to the ear.

  Two days later, it was Sula's turn for a visit. They flew all sorts of raptors from falcons to vultures and hawks to owls.The highlight for me was seeing the magnificent Snowy Owl in free flight, it brought back to me as clear as day, the one Brydon and I saw on Unst a few years ago. Geoff asked me again if we'd like to go with him to feed the chicks - to which Sula jumped at the chance. The egg had now hatched and not to be out done by Rona, she held two chicks in her hand at once!.....

One of my favourite birds from Batsford

 While we were in the area, I called in to the car sales centre where some years ago, we bought our Audi. My dear old Suby' is starting to cost too much each year to get it through an MOT (the engine is still sound however) so I thought I'd have a look around and see what was available. It probably seems a crazy idea to buy a car down here, but as we'd had good service before, I thought it better than going to someone I didn't know. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover he could get hold of exactly what I was after and would have it there the next day for me to look at. Viewing it the next day, I decided to buy it, but unfortunately I wouldn't be able to have it until the following week - as he would put two new tyres on it, plus full MOT and a clean etc. The next decision would be whether to drive the family back to Unst, stay at home for a couple of days and then travel back, or return south by train from Aberdeen and have another week in the Cotswolds? We made the decision that I'd drive us back north to the ferry (via an over night stay near Dumfries) and then Catriona and the girls would take the 'northboat' and I'd head south again by train after an overnight stay in Aberdeen.

  Sometimes returning back to somewhere where you have long, fond memories of (such as a special holiday) is a bad idea, as things are often never like they were. It is the same for me returning south to where I was brought up. I must emphasize I love meeting up with old friends and relations etc, but the place has changed and much of it not for the good - I don't have any 'pangs' in the heart for the place, that's certain. One major 'gripe' I have is with the planting of so called 'shelter belts' in fields along the side of roads. The Cotswolds are certainly not in need of trees, what the Cotswolds are in need of are the  traditional grasslands of yester-year. Driving around this last week, I've seen miles of shelter belts which in a few years time will block out many of the very views that the Cotswold Hills are famous for - maybe living on Unst I've become too use to 'big skies'? Also in the last few years there have been hundreds of new houses built in the area, of which, quite a few are still unoccupied. One other very noticeable things, is how bad the roads are. In just over two weeks, I've driven from Unst in the north to the New Forest in the south and totaled up around two thousand miles, and without doubt Gloucestershire's roads are the worst by a long way.........

The village where I 'grew up'

 The two weeks down south seemed to fly by and in no time at all it was time to drive back north to Aberdeen with the family with - as I said earlier - an over night stop north-west of Dumfries. The following day (which was a Sunday) I said my goodbyes to the family as they headed off on the 'northboat' on a sunny but cool evening. I then headed off to find a room for the night - the first stop being a Travel Lodge not far from the railway station. There were  rooms available, but for some reason I couldn't reserve it at the desk, but had to phone the central reservation office who would then send the booking to the guy on the desk via his pc. The room was comfortable (good for the price considering it was the town centre)  but overlooked the high street - which became quite noisy later on in the evening. After a reasonable nights sleep, I caught the train south again for a long day travelling back to the Cotswolds. Even though I had been offered the use of  a car, I declined as I thought the exercise might do me some good. Over the next 5 days I reckon I walked a least 30 miles and most of it was in fine, sunny weather. There were a few spring migrants around - Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs, a number of Blackcaps and also a few Redstarts. I also saw a number of Red Kites which, only a few years ago, would have been a 'mega' rarity in that part of the world. I was told that not far south from there, during the winter, there was a roost of over 90 birds - most of them would have probably originated from the Chiltern population.

  Finally, Saturday morning arrived and I would be able to pick up my 'new' car. Unfortunately due to an oversight on my part, I couldn't get my old Suby' insurance transferred to the new one until Monday morning - so I wouldn't be driving it around over the weekend :(

 The next day (Sunday) I was going to have a day out with two good friends Martin and Tim. We were off to Greenham Common near Newbury, to look for Dartford Warblers and Woodlarks. There are supposed to be around 8 or 9 pairs of Dartfords' there (we've seen them there before) but unfortunately, despite numerous hours spent looking, we couldn't locate any. We were luckier with the Woodlarks and saw and heard several. Despite the lack of one of the 'target' species, I thoroughly enjoyed the day in good weather and with good company........

A 'record shot' of one of the Greenham Common Woodlarks

 The following day was spent - driving ! Before heading north, I still had a few things to do - now I had wheels - and also to say a few 'goodbyes' to friends.

 Well, the day had arrived which, to be honest, I'd been looking forward to for several weeks - the journey north. The 'northboat' was on Weds night which gave me a couple of options. One was to drive all day and get as far north as I could; spend the night somewhere and then have a few hours near Inverness (in the hope that the dolphins were at Channory Point) and then going back to Aberdeen for the evening ferry. The other option was to have a steady drive to stay with our friends again near Dumfries and then drive up to Aberdeen the following day. Looking at the weather forecast, it wasn't good for Wednesday morning (heavy rain) so I decided to go for the second option.

  Apart from a very slow start at the M5/M6 junction, the journey to the Borders went very smoothly and fairly quickly. The car went well and, unlike when I drive the Audi, I didn't get any cramps in my legs which was a much welcomed bonus. By half twelve, I was sitting beside the river in Dumfries watching scores of Sand Martins and also two pairs of Goosanders fishing in the river. All of a sudden there was one heck of a commotion being made by a hundred or so gulls - in Shetland I would immediately think 'raptor' - and sure enough, there was an Osprey soaring around above them. The rest of the day was spent 'relaxing' at our friends house.

  The following morning I awoke to pouring rain, I felt I'd made the right decision about not going further north and now could take my time on the last leg. The woodlands around the house have a number of Red Squirrels and as I was loading my car, one appeared on one of the purpose-built feeders by the house. Despite the rather grim weather I took a few pictures - just for the record. As you can see from the picture, it has a lot of fur missing, this is apparently due to a small mite that lives in their drays and affects some more than others and to different degrees........

  The journey went well and by Stirling the weather had cleared up - I think the rain must have come through earlier - so I could have gone further north after all, hey ho. It was then a few miles south of Stonehaven on the A90 that things went exceedingly pear-shaped. I was driving on the duel carriageway at around 70mph when a hen pheasant flew up from the verge on my side of the road. It appeared to then get blown back across in front of me and then 'BANG' , it hit my side of the windscreen and smashing the glass. Fortunately the glass was laminated so it didn't fall in, but lots of small shards of glass went flying around the car and so I was really thankful that I'd was wearing my sun glasses ( I did get a few very small cuts on my hands however). It happened all so quick that even if I'd time to break, it would have been too dangerous as there were cars fairly close behind me. Pulling over on to the wide grass verge, I then had time to collect my thoughts and ring the AA. To cut a long story short, they said that as it was an accident rather than a breakdown, I would have to pay to be taken to Aberdeen. When I said I had to be there for that nights ferry, they agreed to cover the costs to the port. My theory was that they'd looked at our membership record and seen we'd only called them out a couple of times in over ten years and had made their money out of us. It wasn't too long before a very pleasant guy arrived to transport me to Aberdeen and where I could leave the car in the terminal car park prior to being loaded on the Northlink ferry..........

Oh dear !!! (or words to that effect)

 The rest of the day and night went smoothly (including the crossing) although I didn't sleep very well. The following morning I called in at a windscreen replacement garage in Lerwick and was told it would take around ten days to get a replacement through an insurance company, blast! As I had a car load of things, I didn't want to leave the car in town; so I made the decision to drive carefully back to Unst - which was extremely hard work due to having to peer around the smashed section of glass and focus on the road, not the glass. Finally at around 11am, I arrived home - it was good to be back :)