Tuesday, 24 April 2018

timber galore

planks for the memory

So the Frisian Lady spilled tons of timber which has washed up between Eyemouth and St Andrews. The coast along East Lothian is comprehensively littered with loads of these planks. And nobody seems to be addressing it. I hope the owners of the Frisian Lady are being suitably fined. Thankfully it is timber and biodegradable (and usable) and not oil or anything toxic. It is quite tempting to go down the beaches with woodworking tools and make something with all the raw material there. There are various structures appearing but nobody has made a boardwalk or anything remotely impressive yet. Quite nice timber as well and now has a corners-knocked-off weathered feel to it. The police are saying, well who cares what the police and coastguard are advising; they are doing f-all and their advice is fatuous. If I had a wood burning stove and lived near the coast I know what I'd be doing.

So Saturday was looking to be lovely weather. Still suffering from a sore throat and cold I opted not to do the fabulous Alternative John Muir Way organised by Keith Burns, and instead have an easy handful of miles round the Gullane circuit with Mary. There was also that smoggy, noisy, overcrowded, over-rated marathon down south somewhere for people who prefer fumes and the proximity of other runners (dressed as star wars characters) to scenery, all jostling together. But there is no accounting for taste.

Now how did that snail get in there? Also, spot the spider.

Thee was a lot of waterlogged ground at Aberlady.

next 3 photos thanks to Mary

mirage weather

I had been hoping Aberlady would be awash with butterflies. The temperature was certainly high enough and I assumed the sunshine would bring them all out. However, apart from a lone singleton whizzing by on the breeze over the JMW and not pausing for a photo, there was nothing. Nada. I was vocal about my disappointment and got a telling off from Mary about complaining on such a lovely day. I huffed around, feeling a bit hacked off. (You can't move on Facebook for the amount of butterfly photos being posted.) The only wildlife visible were some saggy arsed naturists selling their wares in the dunes at Aberlady. If you've ever walked through there in shorts you'll have been inconvenienced by the sharp stabby grasses. It REALLY is not a place that lends itself to disrobing. Why these old, physically repellent specimens need to expose themselves here is beyond me. It's good to have a hobby but Scotland does not have the climate for this, and nobody wants to see old flabby dudes in the altogether.

Mary recently bought another wetsuit. Just a shorty this time and I think it was on sale under £30. I had my wetsuit along as well but when it came time to embrace the cold waters I just didn't have the enthusiasm. So I left Mary to it and ran back up the hill to find a couple of Small Tortoiseshell which almost saved the day.

Mary reported the water was cold but not intolerable.
She was in for a handful of minutes then back out again.


I presume it was the male following the female. Both sexes are visually identical. He would follow her in the air and then land close by and shuffle in even closer. I couldn't hear if he was singing any romantic songs or just reading over her shoulder. I really love the colour of their wings especially the blue heart shapes on the trailing edge of the hindwing. They are one of the most common butterflies and one of the most widespread throughout the UK, but that does not detract from the buzz I get from seeing and taking photos of them. 

Monday, 23 April 2018

bad nature

Having picked up Mary's sister's sore throat & cold at the weekend (in a marathon-weakened state) my first instinct was to fight it. Denial. I went to club on Weds and ran fairly hard. Then felt like death afterwards. Ok, point taken. I finished a job on Thursday, so had Friday free and the sun was shining. I decided to check out the Hermitage. Have a look for dippers and butterflies. I dressed in running kit but hanging-about-in-cool-weather running kit as I hoped there would be more distractions and photo opportunities than actual running. I was also in a pretty grumpy mood, despite the blue skies and Spring-like weather.

The cold had robbed me of so much vigour that I planned to catch the bus to Morningside and jog/walk from there. The bus overtook me on Leith Walk and I had to sprint to catch it. Only about 80 yards but I was breathing hard and my heart was thumping all the way up the Walk on the bus. Defo not well. Self-pitying tearful emoji.

My mood improved upon entering the Hermitage - the sun, the flowers, the babbling brook, oh and there's whats-his-name used to be a great runner (above). I took a photo and said hello and got a look like I'd said fuck you! Well fuck you indeed then! Alright, still a bit tetchy. I blame the cold bugs.

A short way in and I came upon the old dovecot and tiered garden. There were lots of flowers (they are layered in groups of medicinal / decorative / edible, I think) and there were bird and insect boxes to encourage the local wildlife. Almost immediately 2 butterflies flew up giving the impression the place was going to be teeming with them but those were almost the only ones I saw the whole day.

The comma is named after the white mark on its underwing. I think it should be renamed cedilla, for the same reason. Almost uniquely it has a very jagged edge to its wing outline. This one would have overwintered as an adult. One of the handful of species that do. I only got a couple of photos of commas last year so was pleased to have met this one sunning itself and happy to pose for photos.

excellent camouflage colours

This peacock was also basking on the timbers of the raised beds. 

Also buzzing about the primulas were these bee flies. Sting-less balls of fluff with long legs and proboscis they are cute but tricky to capture as they are constantly on the move from flower to flower.


I had seen a sign below the dovecot suggesting treecreepers lived nearby but hadn't expected to see any. After following the stream along its length and seeing no sign of the dippers I headed up into the woods on the North side of the burn. A small bird, sparrow-like in colour and size, flew past and landed on the trunk of a large tree. As I got closer and started taking pics it moved round the tree into the light and was just about perfectly placed... when another flew over and scared it off. They both flew away and that was the end of the treecreeper photos. I shouted all kinds of bad words at the second bird, then reined myself in a bit, reminding myself it was a glorious day and here was I in a beautiful place, free to wander about taking photos in the sunshine. And shouting at the treecreepers wasn't the way forward.

I had a good old wander round through the trees and then back down to the stream again. I had hoped to see the dippers and thought if I just walk past the water one more time (for the 5th time) they will turn up. I did see one at a distance but after patrolling that section 3 or 4 times there was no sign of it. Probably too many folk out walking dogs, many of which were enjoying splashing through the stream. I had to contain a silent fury and hatred of all things dog lovery. I even nodded and smiled at 2 women, professional dog-walkers with a group of about a dozen dogs, all the while checking them for dog poop bags and wondering if they were being vigilant about picking up after all 12 of their charges. I think I was still in a rage about the treecreepers. 

fingering a gnomon

Now I have heard that the thing about sundials is that they are just not accurate. Given the length and complexity of the wikipedia entry here I am guessing they are not straightforward or easy to set up for accuracy. It was just before 3pm when I took these photos and the time indicated on the dial was around 1.37pm. The correction suggested by the graph below the gnomon said for late April (at best) to add 10 minutes. That, plus the hour for BST vs GMT takes us to 2.47 which is, actually not bad, just checked and the photo was taken at 2.54. 

Map showing route taken around the Hermitage. 
Not sure why it suggests I swam across Blackford Pond, fairly sure I didn't. 

another animatronic robin

if I had to guess, I'd guess he was reading Tolkien
(thickness of book, hobbity stick etc.)

bored of not finding dippers I climbed this steep bit up from the river

Eventually I threw in the towel. The dippers weren't coming out to play and there were no more butterflies. I had been walking in circles for a couple of hours and the good vibes were clearing my bad nature. I headed over to Blackford Hill then Holyrood, occasionally breaking into a jog but finding I was happy just walking. Normally I'd think that was way too sedentary and be itching to run. Obvs I was still under the weather. But enjoying the good light for photos. I went via Blackford Pond where I failed to snap a Gold Finch in the trees there. When I hear birdsong in the trees I try to locate and photo the individual responsible. And have been getting some results. They are often so busy cheeping away that they don't mind me taking pics, like the chaffinch below.

Going through the Grange I came across Glenisla Gardens, a distinctive and quite un-Edinburgh-like terrace of painted houses. I have never seen this place before and it is only reluctantly on google earth maps (quite tricky to access.)

lots of excellent magnolia trees just bursting into flower

I used to live here

The above relief caught my eye. It is on the wall going into the student halls (lower of the 2 entrances on Old Dalkeith Road) and, until now, I haven't taken the time to examine it properly. Weirdly, it commemorates Oscar Romero, the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador, who spoke out against poverty, social injustice and torture. I say weirdly because he is not a local, and not particularly well known round these parts. I rather like the design, colour and imagery and when I looked closer (the benefits of walking over running,) I saw it was created by old pals of mine Chalk and Grime, an excellent art partnership (I signpainted their van!) who made many local installations (and murals) - a couple of which you can see in Duddingston, near the Kirk. It is signed Paul Grime 1992 and the inscription (dated 16th March 1980) along the bottom reads, "Let my blood be a seed of freedom and a sign that hope will soon be a reality." He, Oscar Romero, was assassinated 8 days later.

I went through the student grounds (though not over the turnstile!) and was very glad I did, as there were many lovely things in there. This Gold Finch flew up into a tree full of blossom making the most flamboyant backdrop. It seemed to be less than pleased and was giving me the evils. It then flew onto another perch and gave me the photo below which is also quite striking in a more restrained way. Then I came across these fritillaries - a favourite spring flower ever since CRM immortalised them in watercolour. Fritillaria Meleagris.

Remember I asked you to recall where that patina-ed lions head was to be found? Same blog that had the unsmiling face carved in red sandstone (from the Kings Theatre of course, symmetrically opposite the smiling version.) (ML guessed correctly.) Well the lion's head was here. The defunct fountain at the (Commie Pool) entrance to Holyrood Park. Of course. You pass it all the time. Ah yes, that.

Just one last treat, this robin was singing his heart out in the shadow of Salisbury Crags.

Very enjoyable walking wildlife safari from the Hermitage to Leith. 8.92miles over a relaxed 4hrs.