Friday, December 31, 2010

Farewell 2010

On the last day of the year, I took my dear sweet dog Polly on a walk.  It was foggy today and there might have been a pheasant shoot nearby so I put on a high viz vest and I put one on the dog.   I've got a new camera and I was keen to start using it.

Polly in the fog
I haven't been on our favourite walk in a while.  We've had lots of snow and very cold temperatures.  Now, the dog loves to play in the snow, but it has been too cold to go out.  It's the sort of cold where you feel your nose hairs freeze and snow squeaks.
Looking up our lane
A couple warmer days and some rain have made the snow go away.   We are now back to normal Scottish winters with fog, rain and generally dreich weather.   
The pond in the fog
There were plenty of pheasants up here today and a huge blue heron.  In the fog it looked like a pterodactyl!

I am headed to my bed early as I have a hacking cough.  I'll leave the rest of you to whoop it up and sing Auld Lang Syne. 

We've been at our home, Whitelees for almost 17 years now.  These trees were saplings when we first arrived.  I remember being careful not to step on them when in that field picking daisies.

The Trees have grown!
I was talking about this with the youngest member of the family we agreed that our life here is pretty fantastic.  We wouldn't live anywhere else.  I'm really looking forward to the next year! 

Friday, December 17, 2010

Whiskey Galore? Nope, just an animal medicine bottle

Where are we?
On Sunday some (rather stalwart) members of the Dumfries Subaqua Club went on a mission to find new dive sites.  We were looking for good entry points near sites where there are known to be shipwrecks.  We looked at a couple of different sites near Stranraer. 
Rodger looking out to sea
The first place to check was Corsewall Point.   There is a lovely lighthouse there.  It has been turned into a rather nice hotel.  I went in at one point to ask the hotelier some questions about access to the sea.  The answer confirmed what we had already guessed.  There isn't a really safe place to enter the water near the Lighthouse.  There is one spot with some sand - but it isn't close enough to the wreck site for us to swim to it safely.  We need a boat.

Corsewall Point
The reason we were looking at this point was that on the 26th August 1898 the ship Firth of Cromarty left Glasgow.  She was bound for Australia with over 2000 tons of general cargo and a large consignment of whisky.
Firth of Cromarty
The next day, the 27th August as she was clearing Corsewall Point at the top of the Rhinns of Galloway wind smashed her against the rocks.  The crew managed to escape to shore.  It is reported that it took another four days before a salvage party could get to the ship.  In the meantime much of her cargo, including the whisky, had been "washed ashore".

Nobody knows what became of the whisky but  local legend has it that that many local farmers were quite merry during the months following the wreck.

Gilchrist poison
I did find one bottle in the sand a few hundred meters south of the wreck site.  The mouth of the bottle has been broken and smoothed by the sea and the bottle filled with sand.   I pulled a few small limpets off the bottle and tossed those back into the sea.   The bottle is ribbed.  There is a smooth spot where a label used to be and pressed onto the glass is the word Gilchrist across the bottom and poison across the top.   I don't know how old the bottle is.  I doubt it is from 1898 . . . but it might be!   I've since been told that it is an animal medicine bottle.  I'll let you know if I get more information on it.

As there wasn't a spot at Corswell Point that we wanted to dive, we went to look at the alternative site, Lady Bay near Stranraer.
Lady Bay

The entry to Lady Bay can't be easier.  There are steps going from the parking area down to a gently sloping sandy beach.

Winter days are short so there wasn't any hanging about once the decision to dive this site was made.  Even though we were quick about getting in, we really only had enough light for a short dive.

The visibility was much better than the dive we had last week.  We could see almost two meters!  This meant that we weren't losing dive buddies and we could actually see some of the marine life.  There were some beautiful bright yellow Flat periwinkle shells the size of a child's fingernail and smaller still was the jewel like Blue Rayed Limpet. 
Blue Rayed Limpet

I had seen a photo of these in my field guide but I had never seen one of these in the wild.  They sure are pretty.

Sea hare

There were hundreds of Sea hare nudibranchs.  They are not overly spectacular compared to their garish cousins but these mud coloured nudibranchs are still fun to see.   There was even one on my back later when somebody was unzipping my dry suit.  Naturally I put the poor beast back into the water.

Dahlia anemone
One of the divers, Alex spotted this lovely dahlia anemone.

These creepy marine isopods were everywhere.  It was mentioned that they looked like those worms that were used in torture in an episode of Star Trek. . . . 

Isopod on kelp
I'm sure these little isopods are fine and won't find their way into our ears to nibble on our brains.

Peg face down in the sea
Here is me - making my way toward shore.  I am face down in the water for two reasons, there are huge rocks under the water in this spot and I didn't want to bash my knees against them and the most interesting stuff  to me is under the water's surface and I don't want to miss anything good!

Dumfries Subaqua Club

Here we are bobbing in the sea just as the sun is dipping below the horizon.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

Diving in December!

Sunday, 5th of December was a cloudless, clear cold day here in Dumfries & Galloway.  There wasn't a breath of wind when five divers met in the Whitesands car park at 08.45.   After collecting our tanks at DG1 we were off for Dundrennan and one of the prettiest, most secluded spots on the Dumfriesshire coast.   We arrived just at 11.00 and high tide.   It was frosty, cold and beautiful. 

Robin Rigg Wind Farm
The views across The Solway Firth when we arrived were spectacular!   Not everybody likes this wind farm, but I love it!  I was happy to see it as I looked across to the snow covered foothills of The Lake District in Cumbria.   It seemed as though we could see for a thousand miles. 

The hills of The Lake District from across The Solway Firth

It was frosty, but next to the sea there is no snow.  I believe that the the Gulf Stream takes care of that for us.  It is such a friendly and obliging current.

This is me (black suit with yellow fins) and Alan getting into the water.  It isn't as easy as one would think.  There are large rocks just under the water's surface and if one is not graceful (like me) you will fall over in a humiliating manner. 
The water was still and calm.  Usually this means good visibility.  Sadly this was not the case on Sunday.
This photo of Nick, one of the  members of the club.   You can see how poor the visibility is even though this picture was taken near the surface.  Even with the low visibility some members of the dive club were able to find the a shipwreck that the guys were looking for, The Ludgate.

I was so happy to be diving.  I didn't care about cold or low visibility.  It was enough that I was in the water with the chance to look for little fish and seaweeds.  In the beam of my LED dive torch I saw the claws of a squat lobster poking out from under a rock.  In the time it took to look between the cracks of a rock and look up again, I had managed to get myself and Alan separated from the other three divers.  So sorry Alan.   

It was good that we had all reviewed separation procedures immediately before the dive.   We looked for 1 minute turning 360 degrees, went back the way we came for a minute, looked again for another minute and surfaced.  When on the surface, we looked for the other divers or their bubbles.  Oddly the glare on the smooth surface of the sea made it hard to see bubbles from the other divers.  We started to swim for shore when the rest of the party popped to the surface.    We re-grouped and thought we'd try again.  

My ears wouldn't equalize on the decent.  A mid-water decent is harder on ears than walking in from the shore.  I had to go up a few meters to get them to clear.  When my ears had cleared and I could go down again, I had lost my dive party completely!!  Crap!  I thought I could feel the current taking me a bit while I was clearing my ears.  I was disappointed that I had lost them a second time, but not surprised.  When I re-surfaced, I was already about half a kilometer from shore.   There is only one way to get to shore . . . swimming.   I rolled over onto my back and started kicking.  The sun was lovely and bright and it helped to keep my hands warm.  It took AGES to get to the shore and the current was insisting that I be on a different part of the shore.

While swimming toward shore by myself . . . thoughts of shark attacks crept into my brain.  It has only been a few days since the attacks in Egypt.  I forced myself not to think of that.  There is no point on dwelling on things outside ones control and focused instead on the stunning scenery.  I mean what else would I be doing on a cold Sunday anyway?  Laundry?  Christmas shopping?  Cleaning the bathroom?   Not long after I had started my swim to shore, two more divers popped up.  They had become separated and were following the same procedure I just did.  By the time we  made it to shore, all five of us were getting out of the water.  Again, some of them were much more graceful than I was.

We packed up and made our way to the The Old Smugglers Inn in Auchencairn to write up our log books and have a warm drink.  We ended up staying for lunch and a couple of games of pool. 

All in all, I had a wonderful day and I am very grateful to the members of the Dumfries and Galloway Subaqua Club for making it all possible.

Photos  by Rodger Donald

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Last Rose of Summer

 This rose was given to me over 16 years ago by a friend that is sadly, no longer with us. It's a robust thing and though it only gives us two or three flowers per year, I keep it.  The flowers are beautiful when they show up and I always think of my friend Ettie.
uncared for tomatoes
It is now mid-November and the garden is a mess!  It was so tidy all spring and into the summer.  Things fell apart in July when I started the "bad job".  I left the house at about 07.30 each  morning and wouldn't get home until after six.  Sometimes I got home later still if there were things that needed to be done.  In any case, life at home started to suffer.  I wasn't here to do all the lovely things I had been doing up until then.  The garden suffered the most.
Broccoli left to go to seed

former pea nets and canes
 It wasn't looking too bad when my sister and her family visited in August. We harvested the peas while she was here. But now, in November when I have done nothing but ignore it, it looks BAD.
beans have gone to seed on the canes
 There are still some beans flapping in the breeze.  A few canes that were there for support are still standing.  At some point, I will take the canes down, wipe them off and put them in the greenhouse.   They'll last longer in there, out of the weather.
old cabbages - the ones that the caterpillars didn't eat
Poor old cabbages.  They look like skulls.  The only thing that is salvageable at this point are the leeks.  They can stay in until I am ready to use them.   

I'm not making any promises, but if we get a dry spell, I'll tidy this patch up and cover it with black plastic until spring. 

I was a mildly non-lazy gardener up until July but rest assured, I'm back on form now.  :-)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ninja Mice

Before I get on to how the vegetable plot is getting on . . . let's turn our attention to the subject of mice.

At this time of year as the local amphibians start to go into hibernation, the tiny mammals start to think about where they're going to live during the long, dark and damp winter months.  Some of these rodents think that it would be a jolly good idea to live in our house.  The holes in the house that allow water and sewage in and out of our house make a nice way in and out for small rodents as well. 

We normally find mice under our sink.  This has historically been a good spot for them.  They are protected from what ever cat or cats we have living in the house as there are tight fitting cabinet doors that protect the under-the-sink area.  There is a way in via the plumbing I mentioned before.  To add to that the fact that the internationally recognised place for the kitchen rubbish is under the sink.  This provides the food that mice will need to live and indeed breed over the long winter months.  I keep mousetraps set under the sink all year long but it is in the autumn that they trap has to be emptied most frequently.  I'm not squeamish about these things.  The trap just gets new bait and re-set.   I keep meaning to block these holes with steel wool, but I never remember to buy some when I am in a hardware store or a D.I.Y. hypermarket.

Earlier in the autumn, our mousetrap broke.  It was banged against the side of the wheelie bin a bit too vigorously and it broke.  I stopped by a local shop on my lunch break and got another mousetrap (they may have sold steel wool but I seem to have a thing about not remembering it).  It was the same model mousetrap as the broken one and the same sort of mousetrap I have been used to using for decades.

Fairly reliable mousetrap
I baited and set the new mousetrap next to the mouse entry point under the sink and thought no more about it.   Until . . . I noticed that the trap needed to be re-baited. It hadn't sprung but the bait was gone.  (By the way - peanut butter is the best bait for mousetraps)   Hmmm

I re-baited and re-set the mousetrap.  Then again the next day the trap needed to be re-baited.  I put new peanut butter on the mousetrap each day for a week while thinking that this new mousetrap was not very good. 

Empty but unsprung mousetraps!!
I then went out to the greenhouse and dug out the nasty all metal mousetrap (see above photo) that I use in the greenhouse when I wish to keep my springtime seed trays from being robbed by sneaky greenhouse mice.  I set both mousetraps under the sink.  That'll get them!

Well, it got ONE mouse. If my years on the planet have taught me one thing, it's this.  You never have just one mouse.  I baited and re-set both traps and put them back under the sink.  

Ninja mice have been here!
I am now re-baiting two mousetraps each day.    This morning when I was taking The Man of the Place to work I stopped off at the local shop.  It turns out that they sell mousetraps.  I bought a third mousetrap.

Do you think that these mice have a chance?  I'll let you know later on.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Autumn Love

Firstly, let me say that I am very sorry to have neglected the blog for so long.  I had a cruddy summer job that sucked all my time and creativity - for very little pay.  I don't work there any longer so, I'm back now.

I have been enjoying evening walks with the dog.  As the days grow shorter, the walks are getting darker.  I'm going to have to dig out the hi-viz vest.

George includes his hand so we have a sense of scale
The mushrooms this year are bigger than I have ever seen them.    These seem to be the size of  . . . oversized mushrooms.
Fly agaric
This one looks as though it should have an elf sitting under it.

I've been on numerous evening walks with Polly up to the woods. 
Since August, our cat Julio has decided that he needs to come with us.  So now there is this strange American just outside the village who walks both her dog and her cat.  Julio is one odd cat.

The mushrooms are as numerous as they are plentiful as well.  They are under every single large beech tree. 
Mushroom with purple gills
-unknown red capped mushroom -

We had taken delivery of a load of logs the other day and the new logs need to be stacked on the big green plastic tarp.  This morning,  The Man of the Place was re-arranging the firewood and discovered some beasties that have already begun their hibernation.  Frogs, toads and two newts were sleeping in last year's logs and old bits of bark.  We didn't want to disturb them my desire for organisation overrides.  I demand that all logs be put neatly on the tarp and the tarp folded over the logs to keep the rain off..  It is so nice to have dry logs when we need to light a fire.
The frogs were still jumpy but the newts barely moved at all.  We have relocated the critters to a spot the poly tunnel under some black plastic that won't get stepped on.
hibernating newt
 My newt was quite plain.  The other newt had a few dark spots and a very red belly!

This frog was very handsome.  I hope the hibernation is successful for these small and delicate creatures.  When moving the logs, we found earthworms and wood lice.  When relocating the frogs to the new hibernation spot, I put a fat worm next to each frog.  They might want a snack later on.  :-)

I'll report on the state of the garden next time. . . . .

Monday, August 02, 2010

Corkscrew Hazel Has Nuts!

I have had this corkscrew hazel corylus contorta for a number of years.Here it is in February, 2007 with the catkins dangling off it. The catkins remind me of a geisha's hair ornament. It is beautiful. Through the long winter it provides us with something lovely to look at in the front garden.It wants to send up shoots below the graft which are not twisted. Those straight shoots get nipped out as soon as they are spotted.

Though some of the ends of the shrub were killed by our hard winter, the plant seems to be quite hardy. It surprised me yesterday by revealing that it isn't just a living ornament in the garden, it has fruited! Looking closely at it I was delighted to see that there are about 8 hazelnuts on this tree. I wasn't expecting this! I had assumed that an ornamental shrub was sterile and would not fruit. I am so pleased that I was mistaken!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

No Time

Sorry folks - I started a new job.

Please don't send congratulations as it really is only slightly better than being unemployed. A plus side is that I am busy and my employer is grateful. Big down side is that I am so very very busy that everything else has been put on hold. I have long hours. I put in a twelve hour day yesterday.

I can just about find the time to read the blogs I like, but very little time to contruct a thought and write in mine.

Please forgive the slow output for a while. I will either get the new job managed so that I have time to do stuff OR I'll find a better job that allows for things like a life.

I am hoping to get into the water for a dive this weekend. I'll write about that if I manage to get wet.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Loch Long

It was a very memorable 4th of July for me this year.View Larger Map

I went diving with members of the Dumfries dive club up to Loch Long along the Clyde.

The new weight harness (Christmas present from The Man of the Place) and the LED dive torch (the other Christmas present) were getting used in anger for the first time.

Independence Day found me bobbing in the Clyde, protecting my face from stinging hail while waiting for the other divers. I wasn't upset by the wait as the reason the others were delayed was that they had been helping me to get ready. I was using a new weight harness and it needed a thousand little adjustments to get it to sit right.

The weather wasn't great on the way up to Loch Long with wind and rain on the increase. One of the motorway signs warned of heavy rains and a chance of flooding - drive carefully. So what's a little bad weather? The purpose of diving is to get wet!

Weather always improves once the dive has begun. Once a diver is one meter down the fact that there is howling wind and rain mixed with hail no longer matters. The two dives we made yesterday were spectacular!

I haven't taken my camera into the water here in the north. I won't take my camera in until I am as confident diving in a dry suit as I am comfortable and confident diving in a wet suit. I'll just have to use other people's photographs and tell you about it.

Here are a few of the things we saw on our dive.Dead man's fingers - a soft coral. I always think this stuff looks out of focus.One of the walls of the loch is covered in both white and yellow plumose anemone. Many clumps of delicate little Light bulb sea squirts were stuck on rocks between the kelp.

It seemed there were all the crab varieties in the whole world ever on these dives. Loads of velvet swimming crabs with their red eyes, a large hermit crab and on the second dive we all saw the biggest daddy edible crab! So delicious and just out of reach!

We didn't see any common lobsters but the smaller cousin, the squat lobster was seen. In fact, it seemed that every rock crevasse had either a squat lobster or a beautiful blue blenny swimming in it.

This was the first dive this year and I was SO glad to be in the water again. The water temperature was at about 13 C. The visibility was near enough to 10 meters. We could see fairly well and the water wasn't freezing. The wind and rain had scared off any other divers so we had the place to ourselves! Except for a few human errors (not serious) and an outboard motor that threatened to be temperamental we had a really great day out.