Monday, December 28, 2009

White Christmas

It started snowing here on Saturday 19th December and we have had flurries and heavy showers ever since, even snowing on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It was really magical especially as we were watching the Bing Crosby film 'White Christmas' as the snow actually fell giving us and our guests a real White Christmas. Our guests have had to leave their cars at the top of the lane leading down to the cottage as the snow is just under one foot deep. The temperatures are well below zero during the day now with the threat of -10C tonight. Look at the forecast for the Highlands. Beautiful as it is we have not been able to get out in the car since last Tuesday as the driveway is sheet ice and the side roads are treacherous. Birds have been well fed and the deer and red squirrels have turned up now and again.
Enjoy the photos......
HAPPY NEW YEAR to all who enjoy this cottage diary

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Red squirrel in the snow.

While we were preparing the cottage on Saturday for our Christmas guests the snow began to swirl and then fall quite thickly. We were very surprised to look out and see a red squirrel on the nut feeder outside the lounge window. The longer he stayed eating the more snow gathered on his bushy tail until he looked a bit like a Christmas decoration but he ignored it and just carried on enjoying his lunch. The red squirrels do not hibernate and need feeding all year round so thanks to everyone who 'Bookmarked a Squirrel' during the year.
Enjoy seeing him turning into a Christmas decoration.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lunch in Dores.

Met up with friends and enjoyed a very good lunch at the Dores Inn with lots of laughs and a varied menu. We all enjoyed different foods including local braised pheasant,Black Isle turkey,steak and pork. The restaurant was tastefully decorated and very busy and noisy. It is always advisable to book a table especially at this time of the year. Luckily venison was not on the menu as we had a young deer wandering along the front bank in the afternoon and we would have felt rather guilty. Thick snow on the mountains now and a few frantic flurries around the house with the promise of more heading our way over the weekend accompanied by plunging temperatures. Our Christmas guests are arriving on Monday after staying near Loch Lomond on the way up from Yorkshire. The scenery is looking very festive now and we could be in for a White Christmas which would thrill their two boys. The numerous birds are well fed every day and we get an amazing variety of bird life at all the feeding stations dotted around the garden although smashing through the ice every morning on the bird bath is becoming a real challenge

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Freezing fog.....

Could not see anything out of the windows yesterday morning except a very thick fog which stayed for most of the day. Could just make out the trees in front of the house but no sign of Loch Ness and we felt really cut off. The whole of the east coast had it very bad and Inverness airport was closed for a while due to the extreme foggy weather. At 5pm a mountain rescue team were called out to an area known as the Lost Valley in the Three Sisters in Glencoe in the Highlands to assist two climbers who had foolishly ventured out in these atrocious conditions. Unfortunately one of the climbers had died after falling in the mountainous area and the other is now recovering in Fort William Hospital. Today the fog has lifted slightly and we can see a little more of the loch and Urquhart Castle looming eerily out of the mist on the opposite shore. It will be below freezing all day and promises of -4C tonight. The log fire beckons.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pheasant for Christmas ?

Spent the morning up at Aspenwood decorating the tree and making the cottage really festive for our special Christmas guests. Every time we looked out of the window,hoping to catch a glimpse of a red squirrel, the fog was still there and we could not see anything beyond the tree line at all. We know the squirrels are about as we have spotted a few dashing around but usually at this time of year they rely on their secret hoard of nuts that they buried nearer their dreys in the better weather. We did have a rather plump female pheasant strut along the top of the fencing. This reminded us to sort out new fencing at the front of the cottage during January as it is in need of renewal. We hope to have a platform along the top enabling the squirrels to perform to their hearts delight for the watching guests.When we came back home the male pheasant was picking up the residue of the bird food under the feeders We do feel that these are the same pheasants that we saw grow up from fluffy chicks in the summer as they really know their way around and where all the food is likely to be. The thick fog has stayed all day and the nights are now in the below zero zone. Enjoyed a lovely evening yesterday with guests and we sat by the fire having a good chat or blether as it is known north of the border.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Scenic route home.

Had a really good day out yesterday - clearing our gutters! This is a job we both hate but one which has to be done - one of the perks of living in a forest full of leaves and pine needles. The overnight rain finally washed them clean and now our gutters sparkle like new. Unfortunately it also washed quite alot of the snow away from the mountains opposite apart from the very tops. On our way back from Inverness this morning we took the scenic route home passing by the lochs on the top road, a road which used to be the main route from Inverness to Fort Augustus. This is always a pleasant ride which we never get tired of as there is always something new to see and my camera is always at the ready for snapping birds,wildlife and scenes such as these.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Long tailed tits arrive.

Very cold today with freezing fog drifting down the Great Glen from the west. For a few hours in the late morning the fog cleared revealing a clear blue sky with snow still laying on the mountain tops opposite. We wrapped up warm with the intention of clearing our gutters of debris but found that the leaves in the gutters were actually frozen to the plastic pipes and also the hose was frozen. We had a quick vote and abandoned the idea and decided to wait until the temperature was at least over zero. While we were inside warming up with a special coffee we noticed a flock of long tailed tits arriving on the nut feeders and suet balls...their first appearance this winter.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Snow on St Andrew's Day

The weather has been turning much chillier lately so we were not surprised to wake up on Sunday morning to see a layer of snow covering the mountains opposite. More snow fell overnight and the temperature today has not risen above 4C with the threat of a freezing -4C tonight.
Today is St Andrew's Day, the patron saint of Scotland, so we will be celebrating tonight by the fire with a few wee drams.... cheers.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sparrowhawk at Aspenwood.

While we were doing the changeover at Aspenwood Cottage yesterday we noticed this magnificent sparrowhawk sitting in the aspen tree outside the lounge window. He was watching the bird feeders along the fence with anticipation but all the birds had seen him coming and were well away. He stayed for a while and dried himself off by fluffing out his tail feathers. The male sparrowhawk is quite smaller than the female of the species which is rather unusual in animal life.
While we were at the cottage we had arranged for two new bathroom blinds and a new vertical blind to be fitted in the main bedroom. As we were taking down the old fittings in the master bedroom a red squirrel ran along the fence during an interval in the showers and munched away at the peanut feeders. Unfortunately the fitter drew up in his van and this noise was enough to scare away Cyril the squirrel...but at least they are still about.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Up on the roof.

Yesterday was forecast to be fairly dry with the odd short shower so we decided to clear the gutters at Aspenwood. Over the last few weeks we had noticed that the leaves were getting less on the surrounding trees so therefore more stuck in the gutters. There is always a problem with pine needles and balls of moss rolling down from the roof tiles and clogging everything up.
Ray has come up with a cunning plan to saw away the front section of the down pipes thus allowing us to manually remove debris and prevent a back up of leaves etc which would eventually cause rain water to spill down the outside of the pipes and guttering. We have tested this at Lower Birchwood and it is very successful.
As we worked clearing all the gutters and pipes plus hosing jets of water along the channels the short showers turned into pouring rain and somehow we got drenched. Looking up at guttering in the rain wearing glasses is not a good idea but we soldiered on for a couple of hours and completed the task. The water on Loch Ness is extremely choppy today with lots of white water and there is a gusty 30mph wind coming from the west so we are very glad there are no ladders involved today.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Spot the Buzzard.

Yesterday dawned clear and bright so we went into Inverness to collect a few items. As we were driving back home along the shoreline of Loch Ness a buzzard swooped low in front of the car and quickly disappeared into the woodland. They are unmistakable as they have a wingspan of between 3 to 5 feet depending on their age. A bit further on we passed another one sitting absolutely still in a tree, only spotting him as we drove past. By now I had the camera actually ready and sure enough another buzzard flew across the road and rested on a nearby branch in the forest. He remained absolutely motionless and blended magnificently into the woodland scene with perfect camouflage.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Amur tigers at Kincraig Wildlife Park.

A rare breeding pair of Amur Tigers arrived at Kincraig Wildlife Park in September 2008 from Edinburgh Zoo. Amur tigers originate from eastern Siberia so are well suited to colder climates but unfortunately fewer than 500 remain in the wild. On May 11th this year they had 3 cubs, one male and two females. They are now about 6 months old and still very playful. The large glass partition allows for a real close up view and it was fascinating watching one of them interact with the little boy on the other side of the glass.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kincraig Wildlife Park.

Enjoyed a very good day out at Kincraig Wildlife Park, about 7 miles beyond Aviemore. Even though it was cold [the temperature was -6C at Aviemore earlier in the morning] with a sharp frost on the ground the park was very busy for the time of year. The new arrivals must have encouraged visitors . These 3 Amur tiger cubs were born earlier in May this year.Also a baby Japanese snow monkey arrived and of course Mercedes the polar bear...who had just been fed and was fast asleep when we saw her. After a drive round the animal reserves we then explored the rest of the Park on foot seeing other animals at close quarters. We enjoyed some much needed hot soup in the restaurant.
For more information visit the Kincraig Wildlife Park website.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Himalayan Pheasant.

Luckily ths type of pheasant does not frequent our garden as it is extremely large and brightly coloured and very likely to scare the local wildlife - as well as us!....and it sits in trees!
We saw this species of pheasant - the Himalayan Pheasant [Satyr Tragopan] - or Crimson Horned Pheasant on our visit to the Kincraig Wildlife Park this week. It lives in the upper cooler reaches of the Himalayan Mountain of India and China at about 10,000 feet making the Highlands seem quite warm ..... more about our visit to this space!!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Berry nice !

The flock of mistle thrushes have now migrated south after swarming around and gorging on anything tasty for the past week. The last few remaining rowan berries have finally dropped to the ground where they are being devoured mainly by the blackbirds and the odd passing pheasant.Fortunately we have not experienced the harsh rains that fell nearer Aberdeen during the past week. Weather wise it has been dry and bright but turning rather chilly lately with a slight touch of frost on the grass in the early mornings. The coal fire beckons.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Mass of Mistle Thrushes

Over the last few days we could not fail to notice abnormally large flocks of birds flying about. Some would eventually settle down on the trees around the house,especially on the rowan trees, and on the path loch-side. Anybody walking casually along the front path would trigger this swarm of birds to take off enough to frighten most folk on a quiet stroll. The birds have been eating the remaining rowan berries left on the trees and generally filling themselves up with any food available, sometimes listening and looking very intently to underground sounds.We did wonder if they were waxwings which would be a sign of a cold winter but on closer inspection we discovered they were mistle thrushes. Apparently some of the Scottish species swarm about in large flocks in late Autumn to gorge themselves and then fly south or across to Ireland or even to France for the winter. They are also known for their loud song, which we can verify as we could not believe the constant birdsong noise this morning, even though it was raining. Their loud song can be heard during stormy weather hence their alternative name of 'Stormcock'. They came quite near the house in their search for grubs on the front bank and driveway and a few stopped for a splash about in the rain puddles.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Scottish Highlander Barge

Whatever the weather certain passenger cruise craft have to carry out their business and entertain their guests. During an interval in the recent misty weather we saw the Scottish Highlander barge go up to Urquhart Castle in the afternoon on one of its 7 day cruises.The 117ft long craft travels from Inverness to Fort Augustus on the first day of its cruise where it docks for the night and the entertainment begins. The following day it journeys back up Loch Ness to Urquhart Castle allowing passengers to view the ancient structure at close hand from the loch whilst enjoying drinkies and lunch prepared and cooked by a master chef . By the time the barge returned to Fort Augustus, passing our house en route, the night was beginning to close in and it looked quite magnificent lit up in the darkness. The Scottish Highlander barge caters luxuriously for 8 passengers and cruises along the Great Glen from Inverness to Fort William stopping for day trips to various sites of scenic or historic relevance along the way.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunset from the beach.

Although it was a bit chilly the other evening we wrapped up well and went down to the nearby beach to sit on the seats and watch the sun setting.Took an essential warming dram with us and it was quite beautiful just sitting on the peaceful shore of Loch Ness watching the sun quickly disappear behind the mountain.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fort William

A very low cloud base was hovering over Loch Ness yesterday morning covering the mountain tops opposite. Seemed like a good time to go out in search of new anoraks and fleeces ready for the coming winter. Decided to go down to Fort William which has a good supply of outdoor shops because of the proximity of Ben Nevis - the highest mountain in the British Isles at 1344m. Drove over the mountain and alongside Loch Tarff amazed at the changing colours on the trees. Skirted Fort Augustus and enjoyed a leisurely journey to Loch Oich noticing all the time that the cloud base was getting lower. We had to stop at the swing bridge which was shut to allow the 'Lord of the Glens' cruise liner to pass through the Caledonian Canal from Loch Ness and onto a very mysterious misty Loch Oich. Drove by Loch Lochy, through Spean Bridge and reached Fort William after about an hour and a half. A successful venture as we both managed to buy exactly what we wanted. Fort William is at the head of a sea loch, Loch Linnhe, and the sea mist was really coming in so we decided to head for home but a different way. Turned off right at Spean Bridge through Roybridge and home via Kingussie and Aviemore. On the way we drove alongside beautiful Loch Laggan, a long narrow loch to the southwest of Newtonmore. The area has been used by the BBC for the filming of the TV series 'Monarch of the Glen' and we could see why it was chosen.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Big cats and little cats.

The first snow fell on the CairnGorm Mountains this weekend and it has been very chilly at night with temperatures in single figures during the day.
Studied the weather forecast intently and today looked good enough to go for a drive and visit the Highland Wildlife Park near Kincraig just beyond Aviemore. So armed with a picnic and all the photo gear off we drove in the sunshine. We were really looking forward to seeing some new arrivals - 3 new tiger cubs born on 11 May this year, a baby snow monkey,an elk and bison calf and "Mercedes" the polar bear. Unfortunately the weather forecast turned out to be completely wrong and the rain fell down harder the nearer we got to the Wildlife Park. This was not good photo-taking weather so we turned round and came back home where our wildlife was very pleased to welcome us back home. We shall try another day soon.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

2009 Loch Ness Marathon.

We woke up to a clear blue sky this morning which was a welcome change from the rather blustery weather we have been experiencing lately. Very pleased about that as the 2009 Loch Ness Marathon starts at 10 a.m. this morning.

Walked up the grass track passing Aspenwood Cottage to the top road to wait for the runners entering the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon this year. The race starts at Whitebridge and they run the 26 miles - initially along the south side of Loch Ness, up the punishing undulating uplands beyond Dores and eventually finish in Inverness by the River Ness. One of our guests,Paul, was entering the Marathon for the first time so we watched and waited with Michelle and their beautiful dog Nikita. It was very chilly but great fun and we had some good laughs with the competitors as we tried to keep their spirits up. We found out later that there were 3521 entrants just for the Marathon and the first past the post was Simon Tonui from Birchfield Harriers based in Birmingham who completed the race in 2.20+13 secs. Our guest also completed the well done you !

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Guest does a runner !

Been a busy week so far. The conservatory has been completely emptied and is being decorated and new wood flooring laid. New furniture arriving tomorrow hopefully. We miss being able to use this room and the cats are most annoyed at being made to camp out in the hallway. The weather has been very showery and overcast lately with a very low cloud base and quite chilly at night.We hope the weather improves for this coming Sunday when one of our guests arriving at the cottage on Saturday is entering for the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon . We shall go up to the road to take a video and cheer him on as well as encourage all the other entrants. We always tell them they haven't got far to go and have lots of laughs with them.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Some chick !

The windy weather we have been experiencing this week has now begun to subside. Although it has been very breezy with alot of white water on the surface of Loch Ness it has been a warm westerly wind. No doubt the birds are pleased as they were really whirling around on the circular sunflower feeders as well as contending with the predatory sparrowhawk who was doing overtime for his family nearby. This young greenfinch chick was often seen enjoying a drink at the bird bath.The young greenfinch is surprisingly large with untidy ruffled feathers and the chaffinch at the drinks bar kept looking on in amazement.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mountain rescue.

Whenever we hear the sound of a low helicopter approaching we wonder who the RAF,usually from Lossiemouth, have now been sent to rescue. As big as a helicopter is it can be virtually impossible to tell which direction the aircraft is coming from. This one passed overhead recently and stood out against the blue sky. Reading the papers today it could possibly have been to rescue a family of 4 who were attempting to descend Ben Eighe in Wester Ross. The Torridon mountain rescue team were alerted by one of the family and the helicopter was alerted to take them off the mountain. The weather has been bad the last few days with a low cloud base,very poor visibility and high winds. The RNLI lifeboat was out on Loch Ness today in a 40 mph wind. You have to wonder if some people on a day out just realise the other people involved in their rescue.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pheasant family.

The family of 7 pheasant chicks we first saw in June as little bundles of fluffy feathers have now grown. They still go round together as a family and we can now see there are 4 females and 3 males. Mother pheasant is always vigilant even though they are as big as her now. They strolled up the driveway yesterday and rummaged in the vegetation under the bird feeders. Mother stayed at the top of the driveway keeping an eye out for any possible danger. After a long while she gave a high pitched call and they all ran towards her, although there was one stubborn male lagging behind. Our guests staying in Aspenwood said they looked forward to the pheasants daily circular tour of the cottage each morning. The males are still a bit scruffy but in the next few months they will hopefully smarten their appearance if they want to attract the local girls.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fort Augustus walk.

Drove over to Fort Augustus in good clear weather for a walk alongside the Caledonian Canal and a look at the various boating craft going through the lock gates. This was the original plan but to our surprise Fort Augustus was heaving with tourists and there was just nowhere to park. We had heard that the Isle of Skye has been having its best season for ages and the Highlands have been doing good business this year. We drove through the village and turned off left where there are several forest walks off the beaten track. The colours were only just beginning to turn and we enjoyed a relaxing stroll along the River Oich.
On our walk we came across this clump of colourful fungus - 'Amanita Muscaria' - more commonly known as Fly Agaric {don't worry - got a new book!}. They may look very attractive but definitely not one for the breakfast table as they cause hallucinations and contain unknown poisons. They are also known as 'magic mushrooms' so we tiptoed away quietly in case they worked their magic on us.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Update on missing man.

As we sat watching the sun setting yesterday evening over Loch Ness we couldn't help but think about the 17 year old lad who had jumped into the River Foyers from a great height, possibly from the waterfall. He was with 2 friends and was a local lad from Errogie. Every morning we listen to the Highland and Island local news and, although they have carried out an extensive search every day since Sunday, there has so far been no showing of a body. This morning they are concentrating on searching the pool at the bottom of the Falls of Foyers in the hope that the body is snagged under rocks. Although we didn't personally know the lad we have spoken to many local people who did and all say he was a terrific person and talented musician. As we watch the sun setting our thoughts were with the family who no doubt long for a closure on this very sad situation.
POST SCRIPT.......the body of the young lad was found in the pool today.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Man missing at Falls of Foyers...

Saw and heard the yellow rescue helicopter hovering low over Loch Ness yesterday evening above the Foyers area for a long time and guessed something was wrong. This morning we received the following press report and photo from the RNLI Loch Ness Lifeboat Press Officer. Date: 06/09/2009
Author: Martin Douglas, Volunteer Lifeboat Press Officer "RNLI Loch Ness volunteers launched just after 5pm, Sunday 6th October, after Police received reports of a missing man last seen entering the water near the Falls of Foyers.
The gully is at the bottom of the 165 ft falls and forms part of the Foyers river into Loch Ness.
The lifeboat crew were quickly on scene and took the Atlantic 75 RIB into the mouth of the river as part of the search.
Aberdeen MRCC (Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre) called for the assistance of an RAF SAR helicopter from Lossiemouth and Coast Guard shore teams from Inverness and Fort Augustus in addition to an ambulance crew and members of the Fire and Rescue service.
Extensive searches of the river, shore and loch area continued and items of clothing were found but the man's whereabouts remain a mystery.
The search teams were stood down shortly after darkness and will continue in the morning."

Will keep you posted when we hear any news.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wildlife update.

The juvenile robins are starting to appear in the garden again. After two months out of the nest the young birds start to grow some reddish feathers on their light spotted brown coat and can look rather scruffy. During the next few weeks the red patch will gradually extend to complete the sleek adult appearance. Both male and female are similar in appearance. They now start to assert their territory and will be heard singing loudly throughout the autumn and winter.
The pheasant chicks are now as big as their mother and the one male pheasant is now showing a few red feathers in his plumage. Last Saturday they were boldly sitting on the wooden fence in front of the cottage. The osprey and most of the swallows are now on their long journey back to Africa with their young.
We have not seen many red squirrels lately as they are having their second litter. If there is a good food source they will have two litters a year, one in April and another in August. The success of the breeding season depends on the seed crop of the trees where they live [acorns,hazel nuts,pine cones]as well as people like us putting out a never ending supply of free peanuts. While we were up at the cottage on Saturday I saw a mother squirrel run across the driveway carrying a baby in her mouth, similar to a cat carrying her kittens. We are looking forward to seeing the youngsters in the next few weeks chasing each other round the trees trunks, exploring the garden and clinging to the peanut feeders.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Book your seat early !

Placing the two garden chairs, the small table and the bench from Aspenwood on the nearby Loch Ness beach below our driveway has been a real success. We often see walkers stop and read the wording on the bench at the top of the path and then stroll down to enjoy sitting on the seats looking out onto Loch Ness and the mountains opposite. Before we have noticed that walkers kept walking thinking that the beach was private but now we encourage them to go down and relax by the waters edge. There is also a growing collection of bits of pottery,interesting stones,feathers and coloured glass resting on the rocks by the chairs. We have been left several notes carefully placed under a large stone on the small table thanking us for the chance to sit down after a strenuous walk so we are going to leave a waterproof bag containing a notebook and pen for anyone to write down their thoughts of Loch Ness.
On a good evening we stroll down there ourselves with a spot of refreshment and watch the sun set..... CHEERS.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Boleskine Wetland Project.

Monday was a warm blue sky sort of day so after a good breakfast we set off on the Easter Boleskine walk. Bit wet underfoot through the forest in front of our house and we were glad to get up to the road leading to Foyers and along to the gate of Easter Boleskine. The next bit we find the most strenuous part of the round trip - a rather steep climb up the path to the house - but well worth it as there there are stunning panoramic views looking down onto Loch Ness. In front of the house there is an established forest trail and a very ambitious project is now taking place nearby on a piece of land owned by the Forestry Commission for Scotland. The project has been mainly engineered by the owners of Easter Boleskine House, Frank and Katie.
This project was started back in 2007 and after much hard work and fund raising the wetlands is finally beginning to take shape. The view from inside the new hide is breath taking with the backdrop of the mountains and Loch Ness.
The variety of wildlife using the wetlands is already better then expected for the area.While we were there we saw several large dragonflies, different species of butterflies, a tiny brown toad and the acrobatic swallows were performing with delight.
Find out more about this very interesting Boleskine Wetland Project.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Heather on the hills.

On the way back from Inverness yesterday via Daviot we were surprised to see so much purple heather on the hills. There is usually a good showing in mid September. Guess the rain of late and the warm temperatures has encouraged the flowers to bloom earlier. Passed Bonnie the tame deer in her garden enjoying a break in the sun.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

'Ness Express' success..

The Ness Express boat service which started in April 2009 has been a great success with the general public as well as our own guests. It can seat 12 people and travels at the exhilarating speed of 30 knots. It leaves Fort Augustus four times during the day and goes up to Urquhart Castle jutting out on Loch Ness and back, a trip of about 90 minutes. We do enjoy waving to the passengers as they zoom past the house often accompanied by loud shrieks of excitement. This trip is now included in the new Trips by Boat folder in Aspenwood. This also includes the dolphin trip from Chanonry Point on the east coast, the seal trip from Plockton on the west coast and several trips on Loch Ness as well as other local trips of interest.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Great spotted woodpecker.

While we were talking to our new guests yesterday evening in the cottage and looking out of the window at the view the great spotted woodpecker suddenly alighted on the nut feeder outside the lounge window. Our guests were thrilled as they had not seen one at such close quarters before. We have often seen him on our feeders and it is good to know that he really puts himself about the area.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Summer sunsets

A good bright week with warm temperatures interrupted by the occasional short shower. Even though it rained during the day yesterday there was still an amazing sunset in the late evening.Taken another bench down to the beach and have been relaxing by the shore of Loch Ness in the evening watching the beautiful sunsets. We are often joined by passers by who are enjoying the scenery and we have met some interesting people this week.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Lunch at Dores Inn.

A very warm breezy day with temperatures hovering in the mid 20C and a welcome change from the recent overcast showery days of late. Drove 7 miles to the village of Dores at the eastern end of Loch Ness and took a walk along the crescent beach and then into Torr Woods. Enjoyed a 2 hour leisurely stroll through the woods and worked up a good appetite for lunch at the Dores Inn. The Inn was packed and it was a good job that we had booked. There was a good choice on the menu and lunch was tasty and very enjoyable.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Life on the ocean wave.

A real mixture of weather patterns this week with something for everyone and no two days alike. In all weathers the working boats and trawlers travel along the loch. The pleasure boating craft are about on Loch Ness although there are not so many boats as previous years. Quite a few large private yachts from abroad and we enjoy researching their flags.
Had large private yachts sail past bearing the flags of Germany and Denmark.

A yacht from Norway was moored at Farigaig Pier and the owners walked up our driveway looking for a route through to the shop at Foyers and the Falls of Foyers. We had a very interesting chat and then sent them safely on the right path.
The new boat service Ness Express has been very popular and looks great fun.

Friday, July 17, 2009

New in 2009..''Ness Express' on Loch Ness.

 The Ness Express is a RIB ..Rigid Inflatable Boat.. and is a new boat service operating on Loch Ness. It departs from Fort Augustus at 10am, 12 noon, 2pm and 4pm weather permitting of course and takes you on a 90 minute journey to Urquhart Castle and back. It holds 12 pasengers and operates from April to September and looks a very exciting service. Guests staying at Aspenwood have been on it and really enjoyed the thrill. It is 10m long and powered by a 315hp Yannmar diesel engine and can cruise at 30knots. Find out more. See it in action.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lifeboat Rescues.

Latest press release from the RNLI Lifeboat stationed on Loch Ness.
 News Release
11th July 2009 Loch Ness
Family rescued and marathon canoeist pulled to safety on Loch Ness.A terrified family with five year old daughter were rescued after being driven onto rocks on Loch Ness following and engine failure on their cruiser this evening.
Loch Ness RNLI were busy completing the rescue of a long distance canoeist who had capsized near Urquhart Castle when they were tasked by Aberdeen Coastguard to search for a cruiser that had run onto rocks following a suspected gearbox failure.Volunteer crew members Neil Hillyard, Sandra Delday and Howie Whyte were recovering the kayak and belongings of Stuart Walker, who was in the middle of a mammoth trip from the Scilly Isles to Shetland, after he had been plucked to safety by Gordon Menzies in the tourist cruiser Morag no Chridhe. The RNLI team were directed by the MRCC (Maritime Rescue Control Centre) in Aberdeen to locate and assist the hire cruiser Eriskay with family
members Dad David, Mum Janice, Grandmother Margaret and five year old daughter Rachel on board. The family's boat had suffered a power failure and had been driven onto a rocky shoreline one mile north of Drumnadrochit.In what has been described as very challenging conditions, the RNLI lifeboat Beatrice Dorothy transferred crewman Howie Whyte onto the stricken cruiser. After a check to see that the boat wasn't holed, it was taken under tow to Urquhart Harbour. Family member Janice Hill says..My mother-in law, daughter and myself were hysterical with fear. We thought that was it. Then we saw the RNLI lifeboat and realised help was coming. The lifeboatman, Howie, was so calming and friendly and made us feel really safe. Mother-in-law Margaret says ..I was ready to jump off the boat into the water I was so terrified. The family hope to continue their holiday tomorrow when they are given a replacement hire boat. They will be visiting the lifeboat station tomorrow and hope to meet the crew and see the facilities that enabled their rescue.
Canoeist Stuart Walker did not need medical treatment but is considering whether to continue his epic journey.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Wildlife update.

The weather this last week has fortunately cooled down and we have been experiencing wet but warm days with one terrific thunderstorm thrown in. In spite of all this the wildlife still has to go in search of food.Seen a few red deer nibbling on the wet grassy bank at the front near lochside and not surprisingly they always hear any movement with their lovely huge ears. The pheasant family- mother plus 7 chicks - are often under the bird table pecking at any remains hurled from above. The birds, especially finches, are always hungry and cling to the sunflower feeders daily but disperse at breakneck speed when the lethal, but extremely agile, sparrowhawk zooms round looking for a meal. The new bird bath is a big hit with birds and squirrels especially in the recent hot weather. The great spotted woodpecker is a colourful visitor to the peanut feeders. The red squirrels and youngsters with their much thinner tails are always fascinating to watch as they scurry down the tree trunks in search of the nuts and sunflower hearts - in fact they will eat anything put out on or under the bird table. This adult squirrel took shelter from a rain shower in the nearby trees just outside our window where we now have honeysuckle growing for the first time.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Sunrise surprise.

Daisy - one of our cats - jumped on our bed this morning at 3.33 to demand a very early breakfast. Watched the sun rise down the loch and the sky kept getting redder. Quite beautiful so thanks Daisy but don't do it every morning please.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Trip to Cromarty.

The weather has been glorious all week with a refreshing breeze off the water of Loch Ness and temperatures hovering in the mid 20C. Took a trip over to the Black Isle and drove right to the eastern end to the main town of Cromarty, something we have been meaning to do since we moved here 13 years ago.Had a stroll around the town which is rather quaint with a mixture of small Victorian cottages and more substantial houses designed to house both the workers and the management at the peak of its prosperity.The town originally grew around its deep port and all the industry was connected with the sea and sea faring.
Cromarty gives its name to one of the British Sea Areas used to provide important weather forecasts for shipping. Bought a tea towel in one of the gift shops, which was well equipped especially with local pottery and jewellery, and framed it for the cottage. Always been intrigued by the various names of the shipping areas when we hear them on the radio and now we know exactly where they are.
We enjoyed a picnic on a red bench kindly positioned on the sea front looking towards the mouth of the Cromarty Firth and the North and South Sutors [hills] that guard the entrance to the Firth.We watched the smallest car ferry in Scotland 'The Cromarty Rose' which operates between Cromarty and Nigg on the opposite bank. It can carry 2 cars and passengers and operates regularly throughout the day between June and October.
As it has been hot we have put 2 fans in Aspenwood for guests to use and cool down.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pheasant chicks.

Mother pheasant has been a regular visitor proudly showing off her chicks as they eat under the bird table. There were originally 11 of them but at the last count this morning there were still 8 left alive and very frisky. Mother is very watchful of them and clucks quietly to round them all up while they give off high pitched squeaks. Needless to say father is nowhere in sight and one of two of them are real independent little souls and she has to patiently go after them.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sunset over Loch Ness.

 Sat outside with our guests yesterday evening with a glass or three of wine and watched the sun setting over the loch....say no more !!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Musical chairs...

The weather has been glorious lately with temperatures of about 23C and the promise of a continuing warm week. A bit of sea mist over Loch Ness in the early morning gives way to blue skies for the rest of the day. Went up to meet our guests on Saturday evening and we enjoyed sitting outside with a glass of wine at the new picnic bench and having a chat.

The old table is now by the rotary washing line and may be useful while hanging out any washing. The long bench has been moved to a cool spot under Aspenwood Cottage decking just a few feet away from the nut feeders. This will be extremely useful for close up photographs of the many birds and red squirrels who visit the feeders regularly during the day.We have taken some of the old garden furniture away from the cottage and placed the 2 chairs on the beach for worn out walkers to collapse into and eat their lunch in some comfort while admiring the fantastic view. We shall also be able to relax in them of an evening and watch the sunsetting over the mountains opposite. Also be useful for me to sit in and offer words of encouragement, and a whisky, to Ray when he is in a fishing mood.
We have also treated ourselves to some new garden furniture and placed our old bench at the top of the track which leads down to the beach. We often see walkers stopping at the top of the track studying their maps and being very hesitant about going down the track. This is a great shame as they miss out on a visit to one of the few secluded beaches around the loch. We have put a sign on the back of the bench advising them to rest here before dipping their toes in the cool waters of Loch Ness.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Where have all the sunflowers gone?

Every morning lately we are greeted with the high pitched squeaking noise of a swarm of siskin finches waiting for the sunflower heart feeders to be topped up. They wait noisily in the nearby trees until I replenish the feeders and then they attach themselves for dear life to the roundabout nearly biting my hand off in the process. The rather scraggy speckled youngsters make the highest pitched noise. We've had to buy another feeder as our regular popular visitor is Cyril the squirrel who scares the birds away by his sheer size and acrobatic skills.

We have a stream of squirrels visit during the day but they all go by the name of Cyril. In winter the coat is thick and red and it has a very bushy tail and long ear tufts. Now in Summer their coat is turning lighter in colour ready for the warmer weather and the ear tufts are smaller and pale. We can identify the different squirrels by their ear tufts as some have got a few whispy hairs remaining on their ears. The squirrels are very impatient and will try the nut feeders as well as the bird table for anything else to eat until the catering service is open for business.
Fascinating red squirrel facts.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Britannia and balloons.

While we were down in Edinburgh last week we took a taxi to Edinburgh's historic port of Leith for a tour of The Royal Yacht Britannia. This magnificent vessel was launched in 1953 and served the Queen for 44 years taking the Royal family on 968 official voyages all around the world. On 11th December 1997 the Britannia was decommissioned at Portsmouth naval base and was permanently moored at Leith to be maintained as a 5-star visitor attraction. For the tour around the vessel we were given individual handsets and directed to various stopping stations where we would learn about the room indicated.

Our favourite room was large The State Dining Room. Here the Royal family would have wined and dined most of the Heads of State of various countries over the years. The table can seat 96 people and can be hired today for special occasions and events. All the food served on board the Britannia is local Scottish produce and freshly prepared by a team of chefs in the rather small but efficiently run Royal Galley. The rooms of the crew were below decks and not quite so spacious to say the least.
In contrast to this rather tranquil location we were walking down the Royal Mile in Edinburgh the next day when we heard a cacophony of noise coming down the road from Edinburgh Castle. At first we thought the police outriders were escorting a very important 'big cheese' until we saw and heard all the taxi drivers in a very noisy procession. On asking we were told that most of the taxi drivers in Edinburgh give up a whole day every year to take handicapped and needy children round the streets of Edinburgh for a fun ride armed with water pistols and then on to a beach with a picnic. Turn up the sound - but not if you are in the office and supposed to be working !

Monday, June 15, 2009

Trip to Edinburgh.

Just returned from a short break in Edinburgh. Weather was great and we enjoyed walking round the city admiring the architecture with a bit of retail therapy thrown in. Went on an open top bus tour to rest the feet after strolling down The Royal Mile from the to follow later in the week. They are still working on installing the tram track in the middle of Princes Street but it should be marvellous when completed in a couple of years time. Enjoyed lovely long lunches at Bar Roma and then walked them off by ambling in the gardens where crowds were sunbathing on the grass. A bit overcome by all the people and traffic and a short break was enough for us. Glad to be back in the land of red squirrels and quiet mountains.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Great spotted woodpecker

The male Great spotted woodpecker has been a frequent visitor to the nut feeders cramming its beak full of food before taking it back to the nest somewhere nearby in Farigaig Forest. Only realised just how large it is compared to the smaller female siskin feeding nearby.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Bullfinches at Aspenwood.

On Saturday at Aspenwood we suddenly saw the unmistakable brilliant flash of a bullfinch by the car port. He was soon joined by a female and was very protective of his partner, even fiercely chasing off another admirer before returning to her side and watching over her. We watched fascinated as they collected feathers from the dandelions for their nest.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Lunch at 'Contrast'

Enjoyed a second visit to the 'Contrast' restaurant situated on Ness Bank on the River Ness in Inverness.Weather not so good today so nobody at the outside tables although last time we visited it was quite busy. This restaurant serves a very good lunch and is part of the Glenmoriston House Hotel which also encompasses the 'Abstract' restaurant adjacent-evening meals only. It has large windows looking onto the River Ness ensuring a light and airy atmosphere. The service is friendly and the choice of dishes is very tempting. We both chose the Highland Red Deer Fillet and it was absolutely delicious. As it is opposite the Eden Court Theatre they also do a pre-theatre meal from 5-6.30. Worth a visit.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

To the beach....

Really hot weekend so went down to the nearby beach to splash about in Loch Ness and cool off. The water was freezing but very refreshing. Forgot to take a towel but dried off in a few minutes in the heat. We have ordered some new garden furniture for Aspenwood so intend to put some of the old chairs down on the beach. They will be very useful - not just for us to sit on but also for the many worn out walkers we see go down to the beach. We feel that a chair will be more comfortable than a hard rock. Thankfully it is much cooler today.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Barnacle geese over Loch Ness.

The weather over the weekend has been absolutely gorgeous with clear blue skies and temperatures of 26C . Sitting quietly outside with a cup of tea in the early morning gazing over Loch Ness we heard the familiar increasingly louder cries of a skein of Barnacle geese. They came from the north over Urquhart Castle and flew above us before strangely returning towards the castle possibly to collect any stragglers to join the group. After a short while they came back towards us and continued noisily to the outer Hebrides, usually Islay, where they will stay for the summer before returning to Greenland or Norway.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Day trip to Strathconon.

As the weather was quite fair we decided to take a leisurely drive along Strathconon, one of the lesser known straths which we had only visited once before many years ago. We drove from Inverness over the Kessock Bridge to the Torr roundabout and then took the first left to Muir of Ord. Carried on to Marybank village where there is a signpost on the left to Strathconon. Alternatively this can be reached via the Beauly Firth route.The entire strath is about 17 miles long and ends abruptly at a large parking area beside Loch Beannachan where we enjoyed a picnic in the sun and the breeze. On our journey along the peaceful strath we were surprised to see so many properties, comprising of magnificent large lodges, workers cottages and new builds. We passed stately Scatwell Estate, two kirks and a primary school, all completely in the middle of nowhere.

The highlight of the day was watching the herds of deer roaming freely around in the valley. By the looks some of them gave us we felt that we were intruding. They stared real menacingly, sniffed the air with a look of disgust and stamped their hooves. Turn your sound up to hear the cuckoos in the background.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wood mice come for supper.

 It took us a while the other evening to recognise what exactly was moving on the nut feeders located half way up the tree trunk. It was too late in the evening for a bird and getting quite dark so all birds should be safely tucked up for the night. Suddenly a little head popped out and then another and we realised we were now feeding wood mice as well as all the other wildlife of the forest. They are also known as 'long-tailed field mice' and, as we can verify, they are very agile climbers. They make their nests underground in complicated burrows or in holes in trees. It was quite amusing watching them chase each other round the feeder and then fall off into the bushes below.
Wood mice are one of the most common European mammals.
Luckily the cats were asleep.