Thursday, 26 May 2016


On a cracking day on Friday 22 April, my friend Pauline set out for the day to Callander, a small town on the edge of the Highlands, to walk north into the hills. One in particular was her goal, a mountain called Stuc a'Chroin (you can read about it here: The Outdoor Diaries), and the blog is subtitled "the Long Approach", because of the fact that she had to walk along a track for mile after mile just to get to the bottom of the hill.

As she reached the end of the track there was a small, locked building, most probably used by the estate during the stalking season. There in the undergrowth was an old rusty bicycle pedal. She picked it up and propped it up on a stone to photograph it with the mountain in the background.

On her return she shared the photos and the story of her day, and we speculated on the age of the pedal. I commented that it may well be 50 or 60 years old, at which point Pauline wished she had brought it home, as she quite liked the look of it.

Well, it's her birthday this week, and up until this point I had no idea what to get her for her birthday. So, the following Friday I loaded my bike into the back of my car and set off for Callander. My quest was to retrieve the pedal as a fun and unexpected present.

She was right about the long track in. I was so grateful to be on my bike. And it was steep. The weather was quite different from the Friday before. It had snowed on the Thursday evening, and there was a light dusting everywhere, plus there was a chill northerly head wind all the way in.

It was quite exciting, not knowing if I would find the pedal or not. I knew I would have to go all the way to the building to find out. As it came into view I was faced with a small challenge . . . there were three buildings! I passed one on the road as I headed for a brand new wooden bridge across the river, which you used to have to ford, and the building didn't look like the one from the photo. Neither did the second one, so I knew if I were to find it then it was going to be at the last building. Getting to it with the bike was tricky, and I had to go a little further and cross the head of a no longer used reservoir, then push through the snow as it was a little deeper here.

There, right on the corner, in exactly the same place that Pauline had propped it up, was the pedal. I was quite pleased with myself. Not only had I found it, but I'd had a great afternoon out on my bike in the hills.

And so for the past month it's sat in a bag in my house, waiting to be boxed and handed over.

What fun.

Thursday, 19 May 2016


Spring was late again this year. The pink blossom on the trees, one of my favourite spectacles, in the local park, was at least three weeks later than usual. It has been a mild winter so I would have thought this would encourage new growth to start early rather than late.

A great place to visit to see a wide variety of new life springing forth, both flora and fauna, is the Figgate Park, originally known as the Figgate Muir, just 15 minutes walk from my house. Figgate is from an old Saxon word meaning "cow's ditch" and was used as pasture for cows tended by monks in the late 1700s.

There is a great cycle route that you can complete in a day, which takes you from the source of the Figgate, up in the nearby Pentlands Hills, all the way down to the pond and on to the sea. You can read about that in The Outdoor Diaries blog. Around eight years ago the council built a wooden walkway, snaking across the northern end of the pond, having the effect of immersing you more in the wildlife experience.

In the past few months locals have even spotted otter gracing the banks of the large pond in the centre of the park. Sadly I've not seen it myself. Speculation has it that it may well be a pup that's been ousted by its parents to go and find its own territory. There wouldn't seem to be enough food at the pond, though the bird life are all now nesting and incubating their eggs.

One such bird is the mute swan. I was a little concerned this year as it had built its nest right next to the public walkway, and an easy jump for the likes of a fox in search of a tasty meal.

However, several weeks on and my fears were unfounded. Five signets are now happily swimming around with their proud parents, as seen here in a photograph I captured early one morning this week.

Right in the centre of the large pond is an island, inaccessible by predators, creating a safe environment for them to occasionally come out of the water.

As the summer goes on a large area of the park will become very colourful, as the Scottish wildflower garden emerges. Planted just five years ago, every year it seems to get better and better.

But it is the rich variety of animals that attract me the most, and incredibly that list is enormous:

Mallard; Mute Swan; Moorhen; Coot; Goldfinch; Starling; House Sparrow; Blackbird; Canada Goose; Greylag Goose; Grey Heron; Dipper; Grey Wagtail; Magpie; Carrion Crow; Jackdaw; Woodpigeon; Feral Pigeon; Blue Tit; Great Tit; Black-headed Gull; Tufted Duck; Dunnock; Robin; Wren

Red Fox; Brown Rat; Rabbit (including some jet black); Grey Squirrel; Bats

Regular Visitors
Kingfisher; Goosander; Cormorant; Sparrowhawk; Buzzard; Shoveler; Great Spotted Woodpecker; Chaffinch; Long Tailed Tit; Herring Gull; Lesser Black-backed Gull; House Martin; Swallow; Sand Martin; Mistle Thrush; Goldcrest; Bullfinch; Greenfinch; Redwing

Rare, but spotted
Otter; Osprey; Willow Warbler; Chiffchaff; Brambling; Goldeneye; Gadwall; Little Grebe (used to be resident); Pintail; Teal; Treecreeper; Blackcap; Waxwing

New bird feeders have now been put in place, using old railway carriage wheels in a creative way. Took me a while to realise what they actually were, and I assume they are a tip-of-the-hat to the nearby railway yards.

And finally, under one of the underpasses, a local artist was commissioned a couple years ago to paint a wildlife mural. This is just one side, showing a heron at one end and a fox at the other. On the opposite wall the artist has depicted a kingfisher, woodpecker, squirrel and several other animals, all resident in the park.

All together a fab place to spend some time.

Friday, 13 May 2016


Ahhh, Unlucky Friday the 13th.

Superstitious claptrap in my opinion.

If you believe certain things deeply enough they can become self fulfilling. I read about people all the time saying bad things happened to them on Friday the 13th. Coincidence folks.

Instead why not turn it on its head and make good things happen? All this week I've been telling just about everyone I meet just how busy I am. And it's good. I've had too long sitting on my bum getting over various stages of being unwell. I love being busy. Anyway, surprise surprise, I've become even busier!

Just this week alone I've built a new 7m long garden fence; assembled an entire bedroom set of furniture; filmed a set of very energetic young kids throwing paint everywhere for a day; edited a rough cut of a new 2 minute promo short; washed and tidied my car and van (first time in a year!) . . . and arranged a new mortgage for a rental flat!!

Then the phone just kept ringing today, Friday the 13th, to book me for even more work in the next few weeks!

So sometimes maybe obsessing can bring even more onto your plate . . . in a positive way.

The fear around Friday 13th has many origins, one of which is the Knights Templar. Supposedly that was when they were arrested in 1307. Some even associate it with the Last Supper of Christ, because there were 13 at the table, and that Judas Escariot who betrayed Jesus is documented as the 13th person at the table. But neither of these are the origin of the superstition. Until 1907 no one regarded it as unlucky. Then author Nathianiel Lachenmeyer published a book called Thirteen, which argued that before the 20th century 13 had always been an unlucky number, and that a Friday was an unlucky day, but the two together was never a concept.

This is the basis for Friday the 13th.

But if you're one of those that fears it, a friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigg because Friday is named after the Norse goddess Frigg) as they are known, then you can relax after today. In 2016 there is only one, and it wont happen again until January.


Friday, 6 May 2016


I have a great garden at the back of my house, albeit it is only 7m square. It's very sheltered but doesn't get a great deal of sunlight due to a 3m high wall on the south side. But Pauline has done a great job over the years of getting the space looking great, with just the right plants that love shade. The birds love it, and we have a resident field mouse.

However, the neighbours cats love it too, as a toilet.

It is really disgusting, and I do find it intolerable, especially as dog owners are responsible for cleaning up their pets mess, but cat owners can just let them out to crap anywhere they like . . . except their own back yard!

So my job in the garden over the years, has been creating a fence structure that deters them. It's impossible to keep them out completely, but I've managed pretty well over the years.

The main fence though, which stands a metre above the stone wall, has now become so badly wind damaged that the cats can simply walk right through wherever they like. I've been repairing it over and over, and the past year has seen that happening more and more frequently, to the extent it is now an eyesore of a patchwork mess.

So a new fence was needed.

This time I plumped for something pretty substantial, and went for woven wicker panels. They stand 1.2m above the wall, and the worry was that I was creating a strong climbing frame for my feline enemy. But a few months ago I discovered online someone who had screwed perspex panels to one side of their fence, and the cats found it impossible to climb as they couldn't get a grip.

So this is what I've built (you can just make out the perspex on the photo above), but I've also attached the perspex at a slight angle away from the fence, and sitting proud of the top. Then on the top edge of the wicker there are plastic cat-deterrent spikes, just in case they want to try and tightrope-walk the top edge.

The amount of debris from the old fence, plus masses of ivy, required four car loads to the local dump. Thankfully I had the help of my good friend John, who dragged the vegetation up the steps from the garden, through the kitchen and down the front stairs, obviously leaving a trail of vegetation and snails behind him.

The design of the fence is good, but my concern was that I was in effect creating a giant kite, and if the wind was to blow hard enough it could bring the actual wall down, so there was no way I could attach it to the stone. So, just to add to my workload, I sank 3" square, 2.5m long, fence posts, two feet into the ground, and concreted them in!

I'm almost finished. I've lost a few bits of greenery here and there, especially the ivy, which was the only thing holding the old fence up, but I'm sure everything will grow back well due to the sheltered nature of the garden.

I'll bet the cats are plotting already to try and find the structures weak points.

Let battle commence.