Hunting the Aurora Borealis

Living in the north of Scotland, we are lucky from time to time to witness the Aurora Borealis. Last night the Aurora alerts were predicting an appearance so Lynn headed out with a group of photographers from in and around Inverness to capture the phenomena. It was decided that Roseisle Beach near Burghead, Moray would be a good spot for images as it provides an interesting foreground. During the journey, things didn’t look too promising as the sky clouded over and it started to drizzle. Luckily, the rain stopped and the sky started to clear a little …

Roseisle BeachThere wasn’t a hint of green in the sky, but often the camera can pick up colour that the eye can’t see. With that in mind, everyone spread out along the beach and began to take some shots. For many it was an opportunity to try night photography for the first time … although it isn’t easy having to operate by torchlight! The line of concrete blocks on the beach that formed a tank defence during WWII provided a ready ‘prop’.

 

Roseisle Beach - Light painting One of the group members has a Pixelstick, which was put to use for a bit of light painting while we waited for the ‘Merry Dancers’ …. and waited … and waited …

 

 

Burghead Beach at NightWith nothing much happening in the night sky the group headed along to Burghead for a change of scene before calling it a night. Hopefully the Aurora will put in an appearance soon!

Rogie Falls and the Black Water

Roggie Falls Black Water from Silverbridge

The latest trip to the Black Water didn’t involve hurtling down the river in kayaks, but a more leisurely stroll around the path to take a few photographs and practice the art of long exposure. It wasn’t the best of days weather-wise, although the overcast conditions are ideal for long exposure photography. The rain and spray from the river weren’t so helpful!

Black Water

After slithering down a bank for a shot that didn’t turn out to be particularly inspiring, we found a lovely waterfall after a short walk up the middle of a burn. Just as well we were wearing wellies!

Rogie Fall WaterfallRoggie Fall - Second Waterfall

Rain, rain, rain…

The recent rain, although pretty unpleasant for most of us, supplied a bit of fun for local kayakers. On Tuesday, the SEPA gauge for the Black Water was up at 0.9m, which gives a reasonable pushy level on the river.

These photos are of the classic drop above the old stone bridge known as the Silver Bridge (not to be confused with the bridge at Little Garve further down the river) next to the Forestry Commission car park that has the toilets. This bridge formed part of the drove road used by Torquil’s grandfather in 1909 when, aged 12, driving sheep from Achiltibuie to Dingwall.

The top ledge can have a big stopper and the last part can develop a large hydraulic at the bottom and under the bridge so care has to be taken when running the drops.

Tuesdays on the Moriston

From the beginning of May, Tuesdays mean only one thing to kayakers –the Moriston, a guaranteed Grade 4 river at the same level each week in the sun (hopefully!) and it’s only 45 minutes away from us at Invermoriston. There are often fellow boaters there from as far afield as Fort William and Aberdeen and it’s a chance for far north boaters to meet other kayakers on a river – not a normal experience in Wester Ross.

Torquil’s Tuesdays are now set in stone for the next few months. He meets up with his fellow boater, Robert, in Beauly at 3pm and ends up back there a few hours later for supper at the Priory chipper.

Their first outing was a couple of weeks ago and, being a bit out of the groove, things didn’t quite go to plan. Changing at the Upper Moriston get-in, at the lay-by beside the dam, Robert realised to Torquil’s delight that he had no dry-top or trousers with him. For some strange reason, Torquil has always wanted to see someone run the river without the essential dry kit! Alas for Torquil, Robert managed to borrow some kit and the pair completed a couple of rusty runs – 8 months of little paddling had done them no favours.

The top drop is always something to raise the stress levels as a lack of concentration will catch out even the best – many styles of descent have been observed from running the left, middle or right of the drop to those who have suffered the ignominious fate of running it backwards or even without their boat.

On this occasion Torquil ran it to the left, bouncing down the left-hand side to avoid the powerful downwards force below the falls, which can pop your spray deck or at least backloop you. The descent went as planned with no downtime under the falls, which can push you against the left wall if upside down. It’s not easy to roll up against the force of water if you capsize as you get pushed against the wall. The next 200m give plenty of opportunity for eddy hopping and there is one good pop out spot.

The second set of falls has to be run from right to left. There is a powerful hydraulic if you are caught out under the falls on the right – if you end up there, you will end up swimming out of it.

The third feature, known as the ‘cheese grater’, has a right or left option both of which cause problems – swimming is always a possibility here if you end up in the large hydraulic just below the falls. From here more Grade 4 river leads you down to the playhole at the get out. He’ll have to build up to more runs as the season goes on. Time for chips!

 

 

Rosemarkie Beach

Having an injured knee and the instruction not to do any hills has curtailed walking and cycling for the time being. However, Saturday was a pleasant day so we decided to wander along Rosemarkie Beach with the boys – the promise of cake at the end of the walk raised their enthusiasm level somewhat!

 

 

 
It’s a popular spot with locals and visitors alike, but the further you walk along the beach the less people there are. It’s always possible to find a quiet spot in amongst the rocks.

You can walk all the way to Cromarty, but we only went as far as Caird’s Cave (also known as the Travellers’ Cave). It is a shallow, granite cavern, which was occupied around the time of WWI by ‘Captain’ Devine and his wife. They coppiced the hazel by the burn, sharpened knives and mended pots and pans.

 

 

A cave near Rosemarkie was excavated by Dr William MacLean 1907-1912. He found many pieces of worked bone, mainly basic pins and awls; one was better finished and originally had five pieces of amber inset. An excavation in 2010 proved that Cairds’ Cave was the location of Dr MacLean’s excavation. Radiocarbon dating has shown that the base of the cave dates to 300 BC, while the bones removed by Dr MacLean date back to 700-600 AD.

 

There are 19 caves along the coast from Rosemarkie to Cromarty. They are currently being investigated by the Rosemarkie Caves Project.

We turned back and headed to the Rosemarkie Beach Café for some (almost well-deserved) refreshment. We didn’t see any dolphins, but there is always next time!

Beltane

It’s Beltane’s Day on Thursday – a pagan fire festival which goes back to pre-Christian times, which was supposed to encourage the crops to grow. In more recent times it has been a tradition for young girls to rise early to wash their faces in the dew on 1st May.

This got me thinking about traditions that still continue. Just along the road from us is the Clootie Well, a rather strange remnant of an ancient tradition, once commonly found in Scotland and Ireland, of holy wells to which pilgrims would come and make offerings, usually in the hope of having an illness cured. This tradition dates far back into pre-Christian times, to the practice of leaving votive offerings to the local spirits or gods in wells and springs.

 

The holy well at Munlochy, also known as Hill O’Hirdie or St Curitan’s Well, is said to date back to, and probably beyond, the time of St Boniface or Curitan, who worked as a missionary in Scotland in about 620AD. Pilgrims would come and perform a ceremony, which involved circling the well sunwise three times before splashing some of its water on the ground and saying a prayer. They would then tie a piece of cloth or ‘cloot’ that had been in contact with an ill person to a nearby tree. As the cloot rotted away, the illness would leave the sick person.

An alternative tradition suggests that sick children would be left here overnight to be healed. Presumably those that survived the terrifying ordeal of being left out overnight in what is, quite frankly, a rather creepy location would have been likely to recover anyway.

 

The Clootie Well is still used today, although people tend to leave garments made of synthetic material that doesn’t rot. This isn’t environmentally friendly and nor, in terms of the tradition, will it do any good for the person needing a cure! It’s probably fair to say that the well is now the focus for a range of alternative world views and will undoubtedly be visited on Beltane.

Despite its slightly creepy feeling, the Clootie Well is worth a visit. There is a dedicated Forestry Commission car park right next to it and a footpath to the well.

The Sutors of Cromarty

The Black Isle has many photogenic spots and this morning I got up with the larks to try and photograph the sunrise over the Sutors of Cromarty. It was a bit murky and the sunrise didn’t amount to spectacular skies, but sea and sky still provided some drama.

 

The Sutors of Cromarty are two opposing headlands which mark the entrance to the Cromarty Firth. The North Sutor rises to 147 m, while the South Sutor reaches 140m.

The Sutors stand guard over the firth, and many stories have been told about them. Sutor is the Scots word for shoemaker, and one story tells of two giant shoemakers, the sutors, who used the two cliffs as their workbenches, and tossed their tools to and fro between one another.

Both the North Sutor and South Sutor carry the remains of substantial military gun emplacements, coastal batteries built in the early 20th century to protect and defend the naval anchorage in the firth, which saw service during both World War I and, to a lesser degree, World War II, but was abandoned by the 1950s. Built before the outbreak of World War I, this protection included elaborate defences to protect the firth from U-Boats, including not only the batteries, but a Boom Defence and Minefield, together with Lookout and Observation Posts, and Searchlight Batteries.

There is a nice circular walk around the South Sutor. You can find instructions on the WalkHighlands website here.

 

Canoe polo on Loch Achilty

After the lovely balmy weather we had at the start of last week the weekend was a bit overcast and blowy. That didn’t stop the Highland Canoe Polo group getting out onto Loch Achilty, near Contin for their first outdoor match of the year. It looked great fun, if a bit chaotic at times!

 

 

 

 

For the uninitiated (like me) canoe polo is played by two teams of five players on any piece of flat water large enough to take a pitch with the aim being to score goals in nets suspended a couple of metres above the water.

Loch Achilty is also great for more sedate forms of paddling….although some sea kayakers out at the same time as the match eventually joined in!

 

Signs of Spring

There’s still snow on the Ben (as Ben Wyvis is known around here), but we’ve now had three days of glorious sunshine and there are definitely signs that Spring is on the way. During a quick wander round the farm this afternoon, I saw that the gorse is starting to bloom – some gorse is almost always in flower, giving rise to the old country saying ‘When gorse is out of bloom, kissing’s out of fashion’ – although there wasn’t enough bloom to get the heady coconut scent. The catkins are going strong and I found some crocuses hiding under a rose bush. The fruit trees are budding up nicely too.

 

 

 

 

Back on the Blackwater

Today’s forecasted deluge didn’t really materialise, but there was enough water about for a quick trip down the Blackwater for Torquil and Lewis.