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