Rainy in the Trossachs

The weather was against us when we moved further north and west to our second and last Scottish stop at Killin. The high ground was blanketed in mist, nonetheless there were glimpses of the impressive scenery as we travelled along the banks of Loch Earn. We secured a lovely pitch on the river bank but decided to have an afternoon in the van rather than brave storm and tempest outside. The next day and the weather was still uncertain, so we opted for a circular drive, recommended in the guide book. This took us round the perimeter of the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. This is a wonderful time of year to be in Scotland. The bluebells were spectacular and many gardens were full of colourful azaleas and rhododendrons.

We stopped off at the RSPB Loch Lomond reserve. This is on a much smaller scale to the one at Loch Levan. Our arrival coincided with a birthday party. I’d be the first to applaud a parent who decides to expose party-going children to the great outdoors but the piercing screams did rather put paid to seeing much in the way of wildlife. The best we could do was hear a cuckoo.

040 19 May 2019 Bluebells Trossach National Park

I was tasked with hiding a panda within sight of Loch Lomond. We stopped by the Loch Sloy hydro-electricity plant, where there is a car park, café and view point. There were also rather a lot of people. I nonchalantly attempted to make it look as if photographing a toy panda is a perfectly normal activity. It is actually quite difficult to do this without drawing attention to oneself. I accomplished the mission as subtly as possible and beat a hasty retreat before I could be accused of leaving litter in a National Park. Not that our lovely pandas are litter of course but you never know.






More Island Misadventures and some Birdwatching

One of the reasons that this holiday to ‘Northumberland’ has seen us detour to Scotland was because I wanted to make a return visit to the Isle of May to see the nesting seabirds, in particular the puffins. Last time we went the weather was truly appalling. It was raining, it was freezing; we were the only sailing that week, all others having been cancelled due to the conditions. This time, I decided I would not book months in advance but would wait until I had some idea of what might be expected from the weather. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea, so when I went to book online a few days ago, they were already full. There was no chance on our first choice of day and the only other sailing whilst we were in the area was also full but we were invited to come along on on spec as first reserves.

The sailing is at 9.45 and you have to be there half an hour in advance. The harbour is half an hour away so, naturally, we leave the site at 8am – that is quite restrained for me. By 8.40am we are wandering round Anstruther. The fisherman of my acquaintance comments that, given the state of the tides, the boat looks unlikely to sail within the next couple of hours and indeed the harbour is almost dry. It nears 9am and we approach the booking office. What I have not thought to do is check the sailing times. 9.45am was sailing time on our first choice date. Now the tides have changed and today’s sailing isn’t until 11.30am! We could have had a lie in!

Anstruther is all very lovely, a typical fishing village that has been forced to also embrace tourism. It doesn’t have massive wandering round potential however. An additional problem is that I have believed the weather forecast, which stated that the maximum temperature would be 11 degrees (about 55 in old money). Despite this, people are sitting on the front at 9am in shorts and t-shirts. I however am wearing a long-sleeved t-shirt, my thickest fleece, a waterproof coat and a body warner for good measure, accompanied by my fleecy lined trousers that were purchased for Finland’s minus 23 degree temperatures; I have drawn the line at the thermal long-johns. I am prepared for it being colder out on the ocean. It turns out that the weather forecast is wrong and there is glorious sunshine and despite the keenish wind, the temperature is approaching 20/70. I shed layer after layer. Eventually, the ferry operator arrives and tells us to return at 11.15am. We do as instructed (well, we are there for 11am) and wait with bated breath to see if all those who were booked will turn up to collect their tickets, which are they are supposed to do by 11am. It was close. The last party arrive at 11.27am, so there is no room for us. We are offered places on the rib but I really don’t do adrenaline and this looks a bit ‘adventurous’, so we decline. I am very sad until I realise that we might be able to substitute this trip for a visit to the Farne Islands on our way back through Northumberland.

So another day of plan B. I do have thinner clothes in the car and Mr Bean-like, I manage to wriggle my way into these as we set off for the RSPB reserve at Loch Levan. The Loch provided the water supply for local paper and flax industries but was later drained, so the reclaimed land could be used. More recently, the RSPB have restored the wetland habitat and also created the world’s first bee reserve. We walk round the waterside track and see nesting swallows, shelduck, greylag geese, mutes swans, many nesting black-headed gulls, an oyster catcher, a redshank, a grey heron, mallard, a coot and a wood pigeon but the stars of the show are the nesting lapwing, who have declined noticeably in recent years, so we rarely see them now. We watch three adult lapwing mobbing a stoat, to draw attention away from the nests. This causes consternation when we report back to the ranger as the stoat was inside the predator fence.

036 17 May 2019 Lapwing at Loch Levan (1)

Despite some changes of plan, we have enjoyed our stay in Fife and look forward to moving on tomorrow. To top it all we have a booking for a boat to the Farne Islands!

Elusive Ferries and other adventures

Today we were meant to be going to Inchcolm island. The clue is in the name really; ‘island’ involves a boat. I thought I had correctly identified the location of the ferry boarding point but lack of time to prepare for this trip meant that I didn’t have my usual beautifully printed out itinerary. We set off. I plug the postcode into the sat-nav. It doesn’t seem to exist. Instead of returning to the van and firing up the computer to check the proper address, I try to remember it. We try Queensferry. The sat-nav insists this is in Wales.  Even we know we don’t need to go 288 miles. I know, I know, we should be able to Google this on the mobile phone that we have that is less than thirteen years old. Phone fine, operator not so. We could have and perhaps should have, made a call on said mobile phone (we can actually accomplish that, or at least one of us can) and summoned assistance. We didn’t. I look at a map (remember those?). Unfortunately, it is a very small-scale map but it does suggest I might need to be looking at North Queensferry. We go to North Queensferry. We get nice views of the Forth Road Bridges (which no one is painting) but no sign of a ferry. I try the postcode again. I’ll own up here, I have scribbled this down and can’t actually quite read my writing; this is not an unusual occurrence. The postcode I put in takes us somewhere called Aberdour. (It turns out this was the correct postcode for the island but not for the ferry). By this time, we have missed the ferry, which doesn’t go from here anyway. (I later discover we needed South Queensferry – ah well, hindsight and all that). Aberdour is a satisfactory plan B and after a wander along the coast path enjoying the wildflowers and bird song, we walk inland to Aberdour Castle.

It is likely that a stone tower was constructed here in the twelfth century by Sir William de Mortimer, making it one of the oldest castles in Scotland. Additions and improvements were made and by the sixteenth century, James Douglas, the Earl of Morton, regent to the under-age James VI, had created a residence with a lavish Renaissance garden on this spot. His doocot, with room for 600 pigeons, was designed as a status symbol. It includes ‘rat courses’, ridges to impede rats trying to get inside. Douglas was beheaded in 1581 when he was accused of murdering Henry, Lord Darnley, the king’s father and husband of Mary Queen of Scots. The property was owned by William Douglas, the 8th Earl of Morton in the seventeenth century and suffered from a severe fire in 1688. Troops were billeted here during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 and another fire led to the gradual decay of the building, with major collapses in 1844 and 1919. The gardens have now largely been laid to lawns, which is a shame. We can however recommend the café’s produce. Aberdour’s claim to fame is that it featured in Outlander. I have never watched Outlander; is this sacrilege?

028 16 May 2019 Aberdour

We take a look at neighbouring St Fillan’s Church, which dates from 1123, or earlier. In 1790, the Countess of Morton got fed up with the great unwashed attending a church so close to the castle and had the roof removed, forcing the congregation to meet in town instead! It was restored in 1926. The stained glass is beautiful and I am also taken with the leper’s squint, allowing sufferers from leprosy to witness the service whilst limiting the danger of contagion (although leprosy is actually a great deal less easily transmitted than was believed). Allegedly, Robert the Bruce, a leprosy sufferer, used this squint.

On the way home, we see signs to ‘Scotland’s secret bunker’; spot the irony!

Rubbing shoulders with Mary Queen of Scots in the Kingdom of Fife

Ten minutes up the road and we are at Falkland Palace and gardens. This is still considered to be a royal palace and there was a hunting lodge on this site as early as the twelfth century. We are there for opening time and historical interpreters are assembling to accompany a school party. I don’t want to be picky but we quickly spot a watch, twenty-first century footwear and an unauthentic hairstyle. I shouldn’t judge though, as Mistress Agnes has had to resort to glasses, following two unpleasant contact lens related incidents. I was therefore pleased to see that ‘Mary Queen of Scots’ was also wearing glasses. In my defence I have made some attempt to make Mistress Agnes’ look vaguely old fashioned. I wanted proper re-enactor’s frames but the optician refused to put lenses into anything but their own frames, so I had to settle for the nearest I could get.

We spend our visit playing dodge the school party. The building was extended in the sixteenth century by James IV and improved further by James V, using French architects, hence the resemblance to a chateau. It seems that the influence of his wife, Mary of Guise, was at work here. His daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, spent time at the palace and we were able to view what is allegedly the oldest real tennis court in the world that is still in use; it dates from 1539.

022 15 May 2019 Falkland Palace

A great deal of damage was done during the ‘English’ Civil War (which was not exclusively English at all), when Cromwell’s troops were billeted here and the banqueting hall wing was destroyed by fire. The Marquis of Bute was responsible for the nineteenth century restorations and the twentieth century hereditary keepers of the palace were the Crichton-Stuart family. The palace contains a functioning Roman Catholic chapel and is the only royal residence to do so.

The palace has adopted an effective method of preventing visitors from sitting on the chairs, each one has a sprig of holly placed on it! No photographs were allowed inside but I was particularly taken with the painted ceilings and the tapestry depicting a British woodland, compete with parrot! They also have an apothecary’s room and a physic garden. The gardens as a whole are beautiful and several gardeners are hard at work. They were designed in the 1940s by Percy Cane who also designed palace gardens in Addis Ababa.

This is meant to be a relaxing ‘chill out’ holiday so the remainder of the afternoon was spent sitting in the sunshine on site, planning next year’s trip to Ireland.

Walking Northward

A slight (planned) hiatus in our holiday occurred at the point we have reached in my narration. This required me to use my thirteen year old ‘emergency’ mobile phone in order to summon a lift. We had recently had an issue when such summoning did not work owing to a technical hitch but on this occasion, it seemed my phone and the recipient’s were now communicating. I decide however to send a text message in preference to a call. Simples. I know how to send text messages. It turns out that I can indeed send text messages, I just cannot write them on my phone. My capitalisation is idiosyncratic and I am unable to work out how to create a space between the words. I write the message Ifinishat4wiLLletUkNowifitcHanges and hope the fisherman of my acquaintance can interpret it. Considering that I am reasonably proficient with computers, it is sad but true that mobile phones are another country.

Amongst all this, panda hiding continues. I head out to photograph a hidden panda in the early hours before we are due to move the caravan on to Scotland. I appear to have forgotten to return the SD card to the camera after uploading previous pictures. Fortunately, I don’t have to walk back up the hill and down to the van as there the van is, just the other side of a fence. I call for assistance and my travelling companion retrieves the card and prepares to hand it over the fence to me. Ah. A slight snag, my side of the fence is accompanied by a stinging nettle filled ditch. Hmm. I am terrified that the card will somehow get dropped in the undergrowth but fortunately this danger is averted and the picture is duly taken.

We arrive in Markinch. My children have Scottish ancestry. In fact, all my grandchildren have kilt wearing credentials on both their mother’s and father’s sides. The closest I get is Northumbrian lineage. I pay tribute to Edward’s ancestors, who come from this area. We decide to go for a walk, following a leaflet we have found at the site. It is a five mile walk. We realise that it probably a while since we walked five miles. It may not sound far but we are out of practice and knocking on a bit now. We used to walk regularly until grandchildren visiting seemed like more fun!

The walk instructions are a tad vague. It starts well, with us finding our way through Markinch then on up a footpath. We are to look for a ‘worn stone step style’ (their spelling). We debate whether a couple of steps constitute a ‘style’. They are supposed to be opposite a parish boundary mark. We climb a bank. No sign of said marker. We dismiss these steps and continue. Our first mistake. It turns out that these were the steps we sought. Road signs are conspicuous by their absence but we manage to recover the route, although have walked on road rather than footpath more that we should. I am wearing soft shoes as opposed to walking boots as the latter are slightly narrower than my feet (story of my life). I should have read all the instructions. They are taking us across a peat bog. My shoes are not peat bog proof. Luckily, the recent dry weather means I can safely negotiate the boggy bits. We try to identify the ruins of Kirkforthar Chapel. The guide tells us a former vicar was called Reverend Zong, allegedly a corruption of Yogh/Young – one for the family historians amongst us. We also see the remains of Kirkforthar House and ‘doocot’. Also on the itinerary is Stob Cross, a monolith of uncertain origin but possibly Pictish.

019 14 May 2019 Kirkforthar House and doocot

As a reward for our strenuous exercise, we treat ourselves to an ice-cream. It may be a day or two before we walk again!

Panda Explosion #PDADay #Autismawareness

The day has dawned. It is #PDADay. For our family every day is #PDADay as we support Edward who has a diagnosis of Autism with Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). For more about what this means see my post Of Pokemon and Dinosaurs and being Edward and the website Being Edward, where his mum explains a little of the excitement that is life with Edward. In order to raise awareness of this, often overlooked and misunderstood, condition. Martha began to organise a Panda for PDA Day campaign. It began with close family agreeing to hide pandas around the country, which were accompanied by information about PDA. Friends got on board, then it spread to friends of friends. Martha spent a small fortune purchasing and posting pandas to willing volunteers. We began to hide pandas on Sunday and there are many still to be hidden. Worries that panda finders would not enter into the spirit of the thing and feedback news of panda discoveries, were unfounded. We’ve barely begun and already the responses have been overwhelming. We’ve had pandas hidden in many English counties (with more to come) and today I will be hiding what we believe will be the first Scottish panda.


One (we think it is Frederick Herbert panda #18) started his journey in Manchester, has been found twice and is currently on his way to Clapham Common. Another, Star, was hidden in a station and is now on his third train ride. Pandas have been hidden in shops and libraries, near schools and on footpaths. Panda hiders have told their friends and colleagues about the project and that too has spread awareness. The success, even at this stage, means that we will be continuing this throughout the year. It is obviously not sustainable to keep purchasing pandas, so we will be knitting and crocheting our own and looking to repurpose small charity shop pandas. Alternatively, why not make pandas from Hama beads or Fimo or paint a panda or a stone? – although we need to work out how to attach the information cards to stones! Anyone can join in the fun, anywhere in the world. We can email you the information details for you to print out and attach to your pandas and at the end of the week a printable label will be available on the Being Edward blog. We can also find patterns for you to make your own woolly pandas. We hope that you will then report on where pandas have been hidden, either on Martha’s website or on the Pandas for PDA Facebook Group or by tweeting @Being_Edward.

As well as raising awareness, Martha has set up a go fund me page to enable people to support the invaluable work of The PDA Society. She is also inviting those who make a donation to name a panda. Names vary from ancestral names (for my family historian friends), items from nature, book characters (potential for my authory friends here) and other weird and wonderful inventions – your panda, your name choice.

P.S. If any of my local friends have oddments of black or white wool, please leave them in my porch.

Of Lighthouses and Space Hoppers

Apologies for not reporting on our holiday adventures in real time but here is the next instalment. We took a short walk along the coast to St Mary’s lighthouse, which is only accessible at low tide. Fortunately, low tide it was. The island on which the lighthouse was built was used as a burial ground by Tynemouth Priory in the C7th. From the C16th it was known as Bates Island after Thomas Bates, the surveyor for Northumberland under Elizabeth I. Interestingly, the island was used to quarantine Russian soldiers who were suffering from cholera in 1799. This was particularly significant as it was 32 years before the first outbreak of cholera in Britain. In 1898, the lighthouse was built on the island to replace one at Tynemouth, as fog meant visibility was poor there. I am sure this should be the cue for a song! The lighthouse is 40m high and was constructed using 750,000 bricks and 654 stone blocks, at a cost of £8000. There are 137 steps to the top. I begin the climb then realise that this is probably not a brilliant idea for someone who suffers from acrophobia – it is making me feel a bit weird just looking up from the ground. I descend to a safer level and send a representative from our party up to the top in my stead. It was still being lit by oil in 1977 and was the last Trinity House lighthouse to be electrified. The lighthouse ceased to be operational in 1984 and is now a nature reserve. Over 50 grey seals are basking on the rocks. The ranger tells us that this is unusual at this time of year. Seals are not a favourite with a fisherman of my acquaintance, so we focus on the eider ducks instead.

012 10 May 2019 View frm the camp site

The next day and it is off to Eureka Children’s Museum at Halifax to meet up with some of my descendants. Some wonderful staff made a small boy very happy by taking the time to talk to him and letting him have a go on the giant space hopper – even though they were about to pack it away for the day. He’d spotted it from an upstairs window and couldn’t get down fast enough but they kindly agreed he could have a turn. The day also involved handing over a very large shrub. Martha had spotted these in a local garden centre when she visited me but did not have room to get it home, so I was deputed to purchase one on her behalf and hand over in Halifax. Unfortunately, what had been qute compact shrubs had assumed triffid-like qualities and grown to the size of small trees in the interim, so our car had been impersonating Burnham Wood. Handover complete, we also hid two pandas ready for the Panda Explosion for PDA Awareness, of which more tomorrow.