Thursday, 25 August 2016

AN ACCOUNTANT IN A DISTRIBUTION COMPANY

In complete contrast to the past few weeks, I decided to take a short trip by train to London, or as I like to call it (in a Cockney accent), "London Taaaahn". So, on a bright and sunny day, I boarded the Virgin train for the four and a half hour journey.

I'm not a city person really, especially in terms of holidays, preferring to be playing outdoors, but it has been a good six years since my last visit to the UK capital, so I was looking forward to it. The motivation behind going was to catch up with Australian friends John and Linsey, who have lived in London for the past eight years. It was only going to be a two day visit, but I knew it would be a lot of fun, as the two of them have a great sense of humour, mostly with a dry, immature Australian slant.

I've known John for the best part of 16 years, and I first met him by chance on holiday in 2000. This was no run-of-the-mill vacation though. I was on a six-month world backpacking trip, and John, together with his Australian buddy Spiros, were on an adventure trip. We were all trekking in the Himalayas, on a route that led to base camp for those attempting to summit Mount Everest. It had been a lifelong ambition of mine to do this trek, and it seemed an appropriate way to start the new millennium. Just after the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar, at the bottom of a hill that led steeply up to the monastery at Tengboche, I plonked myself down for a breather and a water stop, and got chatting to two guys, who, despite the altitude and thin air, were having a ball. This was John and Spiros. More on this encounter later.


We stayed in touch, and a few years later, after I sold my deli in 2006, I set off again on a long break. This time I stayed with John, and his new wife of a few years Linsey, on the northern outskirts of Sydney. A couple of years later and they were in London, transferred by the company John worked for. But that has come to an end, and they have both decided it's time to return to their native land.

They had changed a bit when we finally met up, most definitely used to and loving European life. After a short journey to Putney where their apartment is, John handed me one of his bikes and we went for a run through the enormous Richmond Park. In the evening they had other friends around and in typical Ozzy style they stoked up a barbecue and we enjoyed roast lamb and sweet potatoes for supper.


A late start the next day, and a leisurely journey into "the city", saw us spend a nice amount of time wandering the Egyptian and Greek artifacts in the British Museum.


I do love this place, and I don't think there's ever been a time when I've visited London that I haven't made a stop there. The day passed too fast, and a couple of hours before my train home we enjoyed a drink together in the wonderfully restored St Pancras Station.


But I didn't quite finish my story of when I first met John. As many readers will know my professional life involves filmmaking these days, and back when I was on my backpacking adventure I had just started my first steps into carving out that career. I had always been passionate about everything film, and when the usual, if somewhat boring question, of what we did for a living came up between John and I, sat there in the middle of the Himalaya, I was excited to tell him of my new found vocation. It was only polite to return the question, to which John replied that he was an accountant in a distribution company. There wasn't a whole lot I could ask him about that. It didn't sound that exciting. But we hit it off and enjoyed a week of trekking together, becoming good friends. Back in Khatmandu it was time for them to return home and we posed for a farewell photo with a fellow trekker Sophi from Sweden.


We agreed to stay in touch, so I asked him for his contact details. So he says, why don't I just give you my business card.

Taking the card, vaguely interested in what distribution company he was an accountant for, I read his card:

"John Peachey - Financial Controller - Paramount Pictures".


Thursday, 18 August 2016

THE TARMACHAN RIDGE

They say you learn something new every day. My very first hillwalk that I did with Pauline was on the northern edge of Loch Tay on the 13th August 1995.


In many peoples opinion, including mine, it is the most enjoyable ridge walk in Scotland and is called The Tarmachan Ridge. But for the past 21 years I've always thought it was spelt Ptarmigan, like the Scottish bird. Then, last Saturday, on the 13th August 2016, I returned to walk the ridge again. Only when I parked the car did I spot a sign pointing to the main summit, did I notice its correct spelling.


I had intended to walk the route last August, on the 20th anniversary, but a small thing like a brain haemorrhage got in the way. Then on this attempt I couldn't reach the start point on the 13th, as a serious accident on the only route to Killin, closed the road for several hours. When it eventually opened it was early evening, but I decided to continue on and camp the night. The forecast was to be better the following day anyway.

I awoke the next morning, camped at 500m, to very low cloud and grey skies. This was not the forecast. I sat it out for a while, then around 9am, when it had lifted to the point where it was just shrouding the tops, I packed the tent away and set out for the hill. There are two ways to tackle this mountain. If you're only interested in "bagging" a Munro peak then there's a boring, fairly steep path in a straight line to the summit. A far more enjoyable way is to head west along its base for about 4km along a dirt track, then ascend onto a ridge, turn west and walk to the summit from there.

This is the way Pauline had guided us 21 years ago, so this was always going to be my choice on this day. But I reached the ridge only to be enveloped in cloud. I could see nothing. I waited for a while but it seemed it would not clear, so I headed back down 50m or so, to get out of the chill breeze, to have some food.


My experience since the last ascent has been vast, as has my knowledge and skill in the hills. As I tucked into my carefully balanced packed lunch of high energy foods, I recalled a similar lunch spot there 21 years ago. Back then the choice of foods suited specifically to take hillwalking had not yet evolved, and I liked to take all the elements of my sandwiches separately with me and make them fresh on the hill, as I hated soggy sandwiches. What had also not evolved was my understanding of having everything as super lightweight as possible. To this day it makes Pauline and I laugh when we remember how I pulled from my pack the elements to make my lunch, which included a full pack of butter! Even my camping skills needed a little tweaking as I used to take a full bar of soap . . . in a nice plastic, light blue soap dish holder!

As I sat reminiscing, smiling, I noticed the cloud just above me had cleared. To the east I could make out the shape of one of the craggy sections of the ridge. I also noticed the direction of the light breeze was at right angles to the ridge, thus blowing the cloud away from me. So I opted to go back up and start walking to see how it was. I could always turn back if it didn't improve or got worse.

But half an hour later the low cloud lifted, revealing the ridge in all its glory. All around me in the distance the other mountains were still shrouded, but here, right now, the ridge was clear, and only got better and better as the day went on.


In places the ridge narrows, and I'm not good with exposure. There is only one point that the guides say is a "scramble". From a distance it looks like nothing, but up close, though short, it's a little nerve racking. As you place your feet carefully on the almost vertical craggy section, you keep telling yourself not to look down.

I looked down.

Then the path in front of me vanished. Erosion had taken away a fairly crucial small section. In order to continue I would have had to take a small leap. Thinking that there was a very real possibility of falling, albeit a short distance, the risk of another bash on the head made me turn back. I had no sooner taken that decision than I discovered a less exposed path that I'd missed on the way up, and I was pleased to be able to continue on.

The guides online had advised the whole circular route would take seven hours. Not counting the stop for lunch, I reached the actual summit of the Munro, Meall nan Tarmachan, at 1043m, in around three, with another hour to descend. The final approach to the top is long and gentle, and you are rewarded with a great view back along the ridge, with its path twisting and winding, up and down, through the craggy peaks.

Down below me I could see that in the intervening years the original enormous car park had been removed, together with the visitor centre building for Ben Lawers (the next, higher Munro along), to be replaced by a much more hidden car park. There has also been a great deal of planting of indigenous trees through an ongoing regeneration programme, turning what was had once been a bare barren landscape, back into something of it's original beauty.


And the spelling of the name? Well Meall nan Tarmachan translates from the Gaelic to "Hill of the Ptarmigans", so I don't feel too stupid.

And I didn't carry a whole block of butter either.


Thursday, 11 August 2016

THE MINIATURE MOUNTAIN

Over the past week I have been keeping a close eye on the weather in the Highlands, with a view to getting up one of its mountains. At first I planned to summit Ben Ledi, just outside the town of Callander, but I've done it before, so Pauline suggested a new peak, one she had enjoyed a winter walk on in February. Ben Venue, its Gaelic translation meaning The Miniature Mountain.

The forecast on the BBC at 7am on Wednesday morning looked favourable for the Trossachs area, just on the southern fringes of Callander, with light rain not forecast until early afternoon. So I set off early for the village of Aberfoyle to be able to make and early ascent the mountain Ben Venue before the rain came. It is a short journey to Aberfoyle and by 9am I was parking the car on the edge of Loch Ard.

It was raining.

Thanks BBC, for your ever accurate and reliable forecasting. Not!

Looking up the valley to the mountains beyond was not a welcome sight, with the tops obscured by low cloud. But I was here now, and the rain was light enough, plus the temperature warm enough, to warrant not wearing a waterproof shell, so I set out optimistically, with the thought in my mind, as I walked up the farm road for the turnoff to the hill path, that I can always turn back if it the weather gets too bad.

As described by Pauline, the first part of the route was very pleasant, and sheltered from the light rain, through an indigenous wood. The path was fairly muddy in places and somewhat overgrown, but it was an easy start and the smell of the damp bracken, its colours already changing to Autumn hues, made me happy to be in familiar surroundings.


As I emerged from the wood the river gorge stretched on before me, a gradual uphill toward the crags of Ben Venue, peaking out from the low cloud every so often, teasing me with views of its craggy features.
As a bonus the rain had stopped, albeit temporarily. I was now in open hillside on a very good path, following the river, with the occasional pretty little waterfall. The path takes an arc, turning toward the east, as it skirts round toward the summit, but the ascent is gentle.

The best part of this route appears a little over half way, as you reach the top of the river valley. Suddenly the landscape opens up. Despite the low cloud on the mountain top, to the north, across the mountain slopes carpeted in vibrant purple heather, I had a hazy view of Loch Katrine. It was a shame that it was so damp and murky, as I could imagine in the sunshine this would have looked even more spectacular.


To my east the path hugged the side of the slope to the summit, winding it's way through rocks, narrow in places. With Loch Katrine on my left and the snaking summit path ahead I was in a good mood.

As the path started to steepen visibility dropped to about 20 feet, and with it the air moisture rose. Time to break out the waterproofs. Pauline had prepared me in advance that there were several "summits", but with such low visibility it was hard to know if I was ever at the highest point. I'd be thinking that this must be it, when a darker shape of another peak would come into view feintly through the cloud. Onwards I went, deciding that the path would naturally lead me onto the top, whereas so far it was curving round and through these other peaks.

After just two hours I arrived at the top of Ben Venue at 2,392ft.  This had been an enjoyable walk, despite the weather, and overall I thought the route was easy. Surprising seeing as how its a fair number of years since I've stood on the top of any Scottish mountain.

Visibility was down to a disappointing 10 feet, so I could only imagine what the view must be like. But as I sat for 10 minutes, rewarding myself with a flask of coffee, I set my mind to one day return.

But I'll not be trusting the BBC forecast.


Friday, 5 August 2016

LOWEST TO HIGHEST

Like most of the nation during this time of year, I'm taking time off my usual work commitments to recharge the batteries. However, I've not "been away" as such, preferring instead to have the odd few days here and there. But living in a city with a plethora of natural and historic features there's almost no need to go anywhere.

On another warm sunny day I headed out to walk to the centre of the city, via the highest point, from my home, which is at sea level.

A favourite destination for many a local walk is the Figgate Park, and at this time of year the wildflower meadow is in full swing, so this was an obvious first stop on the way. From the meadow I had a clear view of Arthur's Seat in the distance, forming the focal point of Holyrood Park, my next way point.

For a short distance, to get from the Figgate Park to Holyrood Park, I had to tolerate the busy traffic of the main arterial route for about half a mile, until the turn off through the historic Duddingston Village.

As I turned into the village I passed an old white house on my right, and up on the wall was a stone plaque stating that here, in 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart held his Council of War. So significant in its day, yet if you blinked you'd pass by and miss it.

Round the corner is a pub dating back to 1320 called The Sheep Heid Inn, making it the oldest licensed premises in Edinburgh, if not Scotland. And just across the road is a small church called Duddingston Kirk, which was built by a Norman knight called Dodin, 200 years before the pub in 1124. I had walked just a short distance yet traveled back in time 800 years.


The kirk was the point where I entered Holyrood Park proper at Duddingston Loch, a natural water feature and home to a great variety of wildlife. The park is associated with the Royal Holyrood Palace, created by James 5th in 1541, and is sometimes called Queens Park (or Kings Park depending on the reigning monarch) as it used to be the royal hunting grounds. The hill of Arthur's Seat now stood between me and the palace.

So I started my climb up to this highest point of my walk, the summit of Arthur's Seat, at 823ft. Like the rock that the castle sits on, it was formed by a now extinct volcano 350 million years ago, and eroded by glaciers to it's present shape roughly 2 million years ago.

It was a very pleasant walk up its slopes, and I reached the top in about 20 minutes, only to have the silence broken by a large mob of tourists gathered at the top. Fair enough, as it is a great vantage point to get the best photos of the city.

From here I could see my next way point, and journey's end, of Calton Hill. But I wanted to take a slightly less than direct route there, by coming down the northern ridge of Arthur's Seat to take in the ruins of St Anthony's Chapel. Built in the 15th century, its origin and history are a little obscure.


From there I had to pass by the hideous modern structure of the Scottish Parliament, but not before taking in the splendour of the Royal Palace of Holyrood House, a beautiful piece of architecture.


Just a few hundred metres further on up Calton Road, a narrow set of steps dug into the side of the slope, and called Jacobs Ladder, took me up to the finish line of my walk, Calton Hill. 
There has been an observatory here since 1776, now not used, and a pillared monument in memory of the soldiers and sailors who died during the Napoleonic Wars, which dominates the top of the hill. Next to that is the Nelson monument tower.

From this final point I had a 360ยบ view, east back toward the sea from where I had started, to Arthur's Seat in the south and across to the castle in the west. From every viewpoint throughout my walk it pleased me at just how green Edinburgh is.


As with the majority of my outdoor adventures, albeit this one contained within the boundaries of the capital city of Scotland, I ended the day with coffee and cake.


Friday, 29 July 2016

A HISTORY RIDE

Another week, another outdoor adventure. This is getting to be a habit.

Though I love Scotland dearly, and enjoy the great outdoors it has to offer, there's one thing I really hate. Midgies. A tiny biting insect similar to a mosquito, or what the New Zealanders would call, no-see-ums. They can ruin a trip away. But the more east you go the less chance of encountering them, so Pauline and I planned a two-day cycle run down the east coast, starting out of Stonehaven.


Like most small villages down the east coast, Stonehaven was a fishing port, and had grown up around an Iron Age settlement. Our landmark for the start was just on the outskirts of the village in the shape of the ruins of Dunnotar Castle. It commands an imposing view, perched atop a natural stone formation, and you can see how well they could have defended it. So much so, in the late 13th century during the Wars of Independence, the Scottish crown jewels were hidden here.


It was late morning as we set off into a strong headwind, south toward Montrose, 27 miles away, our destination for the day. We were mainly following Route 1 of the National Cycle Network, and enjoyed quiet narrow country lanes, twisting and winding their way down the coast, but with the sea constantly in sight to our left. At one point we took an alternative off-road route along the coast, hugging the shoreline. Despite bouncing along like riding atop cobbles, it was fun to be on a narrow path next to the sea.

Just a few miles from journeys end we stopped for a wander through the dunes to the National Nature Reserve of St Cyrus. Shielded by a natural barrier of inland cliffs and the dunes, the natural grasslands are protected from the worst of the weather and the wildlife flourishes here. Beyond the dunes on the seaward side is a 3km long beach, but with the south easterly wind bringing a chill to the air we didn't stay long, but pledged to return on a warmer summers day. 


Soon we were in Montrose, and we made our way immediately to another nature reserve, that of the Scottish Wildlife Trust Montrose Basin.


A natural circular formation some 4km square, the basin is home to an astonishing 50,000 migratory birds! It wasn't quite the time of year to witness such an event, but it was fun to watch those that were nesting on the shoreline and out on purpose-made rafts. In the far distance, through a powerful telescope, I watched an Osprey tuck into a large fish it had recently caught, atop a tree stump sticking out of the water.

Before we set off to find a camp spot for the night there was one other feature to visit. Down by the harbour is a bronze sculpture of a St Bernard dog called Bamse.


He was a heroic sea dog of the Norwegian navy in World War 2 and became their mascot. His heroic acts were in saving crew members who had fallen overboard, or were injured in an attack. One of his "jobs" among the crew was to round them up and escort them back to the ship when needed, and he did this by traveling on public transport unaccompanied! The crew even bought him a bus pass, and he would jump on board the bus at Broughty Ferry, journey to Dundee then wander to a local bar called Bodega to fetch them.

We retraced our route a little north of the town to a forest, where, sheltered by the dunes, we camped for the night.

The following day the wind had died down, and although still a headwind it was barely noticeable. Back on small quiet back roads we headed for Arbroath, home of the famous smoked haddock called, not surprisingly, an Arbroath Smokie. But there was 10 miles to cycle to get there, and roughly half way I spotted a the remains of a ruined castle.


At least at first glance I thought it was a castle, but officially it had been a "fortified house". Confusingly it was called Red Castle. I took a few photos and didn't think much more about it. Once in Arbroath I used the wonder of Google to find out a little more. It turns out it had been built in the 12th century for William the Lion but was then taken by Robert the Bruce and given to the Earl of Ross. In the mid 1500s, the son of the Earl of Grey (yes, the very same one the tea is named after) was responsible for its eventual demise. He had married Mrs Elizabeth Beaton, who owned the castle, but had fallen in love with her daughter, so he threw him out. Presumably in revenge, he laid siege to the castle and burnt the occupants out, leading to it's present state. I thought it was great to find a mostly forgotten property with links to such rich Scottish history, tucked away on a little back road.

As if that wasn't enough history for one day, on the outskirts of Arbroath stands a bronze statue to the Declaration of Arbroath. This marks the moment, when, in 1320, a letter written in Latin was sent to Pope John XXII declaring for the first time in writing Scotland's status as an independent nation and its right to defend itself. Though upheld by the Pope in persuading the English king to make peace with the Scots, it was short lived, and just eight years later they would once more be fighting each other. It seemed nothing had really changed, and here we are, almost 700 years on, still fighting for the right to independence. I wonder if in 2020, the 700th anniversary, this will come to pass, influenced by recent events in leaving the European Union.


The last 20 miles of our cycle adventure was a complete joy, following a dedicated cycle path all the way. We zipped along, through Carnoustie and Broughty Ferry, and by mid afternoon we were on the platform in Dundee waiting for our train home.


Friday, 22 July 2016

ALWAYS SOMETHING NEW

Scotland just had summer recently. It was on Tuesday this past week! Not wanting to miss the season, I set out on my bike, in 26 degree heat and light winds, to the nearby Pentland Hills.

I've cycled this route many times, but this was the first on the bike I brought back from the States last year. Due to its great hill-climbing gear ratios, very light frame and 700-size tyres, it breezed along, eating up the miles. Even the several steep hills passed almost unnoticed.

The down side of this route is that the first 15 miles or so are on busy roads, as it picks its way gradually out of the city. There are still impressive sights to witness though, even within the first couple of miles, one such being Craigmillar Castle ruins. Built by the Preston family way back in the 14th century it took 200 years to complete to its current size, as progressive owners added to it. It is most famous for, you probably guessed, it's Mary Queen of Scots connection (it seems every fortification in Scotland is). Following the birth of her son, James VI, she was gravely ill and convalesced at the castle for a month at the end of 1566. Before she left the "Craigmillar Bond" was made, a pact to get rid of her husband Lord Darnley, Henry Stuart.

In a little over an hour I was grateful to be turning off the busy roads at Flotterstone Inn, to begin the gradual climb through the Pentland Hills. It has been two years since I cycled this route, and back then the first of the two reservoirs, Glencorse, was practically empty due to work on the dam. It was pleasing then to see it full to the brim, and small boats were out with fisherman casting their lines.

With one final steep climb of the day, I was following the edge of the second reservoir, Loganlea, which brought me to my favourite spot to stop for a snack and rest, just beyond the end of the reservoir, at a small waterfall.

As I approached I could see that a new wooden bridge had been built since I was last there, making crossing the stream a little easier, though to be honest it was never that difficult, and I reached my halfway point for lunch, beside an array of vibrant wild flowers.


I had no sooner sat down than I spotted a Kestrel fly overhead toward the small waterfall. Almost immediately I thought I saw it again, on the same flight path. Intrigued I silently scrambled up the hill behind me to take a closer look, and my suspicions were confirmed as I could see it was a pair. I couldn't be absolutely sure, but on the small rocky ledge they were perched upon, the clump of heather behind them was rustling about. It could well have been a late brood for the pair. This was a first for me in the Pentlands, and it was pleasing to have seen something new on a trail I have cycled often. Satisfied I left them in peace and returned to my lunch.

As I emerged from the hills, just a mile or two on, high above the city of Edinburgh, I could just make out in the far distance the new bridge under construction crossing the Forth. It was quite hazy, and I took the best photograph my little camera could manage to record the view.


From this vantage point the existing road bridge and historic rail bridge looked tiny in comparison.

A short distance on and I was into the outskirts of the city again, through the small village of Balerno and onto the Water of Leith path. Embedded in the ground at the start of the path is a stainless steel representation of the course of the river, which was glinting in the bright sunshine, mimicking the silver water itself. From here I new I could stay off roads for about 90% of the 18 miles home.

I love this path as it winds along, following the twists and turns of the river, past quaint riverside houses, through old railway tunnels,


and through the historic Dean Village in the centre of the city.



Several miles on it joins the canal for a short distance and crosses a huge viaduct. This is where I left the canal to rejoin the Water of Leith and the final push home via the local Figgate Park to see the wildflower meadow.



Friday, 15 July 2016

CYCLING AMONG THE SCOTS PINE

Following on from last weeks mini adventure by train to the Scottish Borders, this week me and my bike hopped on a train in the opposite direction, to Aviemore in the Highlands.

Good friends of mine Sarah, Roger and their two kids Emily and Robbie, were staying in the area for a short break during the summer holidays, and had invited me up to guide them on a cycle run.

Although the train ride is three hours long, I thoroughly enjoy it. Gradually the landscape changes from flat farmland, to rolling hills and on to tall mountains. Population density decreases as well, as the train climbs to the highest point on the UK rail network of Drumochter Pass, at 1480ft. Small villages that are well known to me from past adventures with Pauline, of Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore and Kingussie, pass the window, and before long we're pulling in to Aviemore with its hordes of tourist.

Aviemore station is where the nostalgic Strathspey Railway journey begins, with maroon coaches from a bygone era pulled by a traditional, restored steam engine. My timing was perfect, as just as I alighted with my bike the steam locomotive was chuffing its way in, with many happy passengers aboard. By the end of the week it would be Sarah's parent's Golden Wedding Anniversary. They were arriving Friday and had booked a journey and three course meal on board the train to celebrate. I was quite jealous.


I was a few hours early to meet up with Sarah and her family, as they were five miles further north at an adventure park called Landmark, so I took off on my bike. First stop was for lunch at a cafe I regularly visit when in the area at Inverdruie, less than a mile from Aviemore up the ski road, and tucked in to cullen skink soup with soda bread, and a fruit scone and latte.

Two miles south of Inverdruie is Loch an Eilein, nestled among the native Scots Pine of Rothiemurcus Forest, and it was here that I spent the next couple of hours pottering about on my bike, taking lots of photos and pedaling the three mile circular route round the loch.

Loch an Eilein translates from the Gaelic as Loch of the Island, and you guessed it, there's a small island in the loch, close to its western shore line. On the island is the ruin of an ancient castle. Its origins are not known exactly, but there was some sort of structure on the island when Robert the Bruce's grandson Alexander Stewart, built a fortified hunting lodge in the late 1300s. Now there are only ruins. Back home Pauline has an inflatable Packraft, and looking at the still waters, and the short distance from the shore to the island, I quite fancied the idea of exploring the island. But Pauline and the Packraft were back in Edinburgh. Another day perhaps.


Having met up with Sarah and gang later on, we settled into comfy chairs in their rented accommodation, and after supper planned the following days cycle.

Getting youngsters out of bed on any day can be challenging, but after less cajoling than I thought would be needed, we were off for our mini cycle tour. Sarah and Emily opted out and chose to go swimming instead, and to meet us later in Glenmore. So "the men", myself, Roger and Robbie, took off out of Aviemore and back along the ski road, for the six miles to Glenmore, following  a bike trail off the road called The Old Logging Way, once more surrounded by Scots Pine.


The route is very straightforward, and is a very gentle uphill for its whole length, so gentle you don't realise it has been uphill until the return journey. Taking a very slow pace we were in Glenmore in an hour with time to spare until Sarah and Emily arrived by local bus.

Now, if there's one animal that ranks above all others in the Scottish Highlands for me, it is the Red Squirrel, and on the veranda of the Glenmore Cafe you are pretty much guaranteed to see a wide variety of native birds, and Red Squirrels. It has been quite some time since I was last there, but I always make an effort to visit, as apart from the wildlife they do a fantastic bacon roll.

Inside they had made various changes to the seating, which was good, as it was in need of a thorough makeover, but I was disappointed to see that interest in maintaining the bird feeders seemed less of a priority. The staff were different as well, though the new name, Diana's at Glenmore, should have given that away. The feeders were looking old and rotting, with only one containing any food. Apart from a few Chaffinches and a mob of marauding seagulls, there was very little wildlife action, and of course most disappointingly of all, no Red Squirrels. It was more of a let down for Sarah and her family, as I had built up the experience prior to making the trip. But a walk down to the beach of Loch Morlich and it's fabulous views soon put all that in the past.


After a short meander, myself, Roger and Robbie set off on our bikes for the run back, taking a slightly different route round the shore of the loch. Just as we bounced on to the wide dirt track a Red Squirrel bounded across the track in front of me. Result.

There is a big reward in store having made the uphill pedal to Glenmore, and that is the fast downhill all the way back. It felt as if I only pedaled a couple of times, zipping along the narrow track as it made fun twists and turns through the forest.

Too soon it was time for my train home, and I boarded the train once again for my homeward journey. As if saying goodbye, the Strahspey steam train blew it's high-pitched whistle as we pulled out of the station, leaving the Cairngorms and Rothiemurcus Forest behind, bound for Edinburgh.