In a sign …

October 23, 2021

… that I have been in Scotland for too long – and particularly the western side of it – I have started celebrating the idea of ‘slightly warmer rain’.

Exhibit A:

Group of damp cyclists looking over the river

We had a ride down to the local wetland centre on Tuesday on a day that I can only describe (indeed, I frequently did, to nobody’s amusement) as ‘nice weather for ducks’.* As we made our way damply along the river’s banks, stopping frequently to admire the complete and utter lack of views, with our socks squelching gently in our shoes, I was surprised to note that we were all actually having a really nice time. It was wet, we agreed, and that wasn’t great, but at least it was quite warm rain. I don’t know if the weather equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome is officially known as ‘Glasgow Syndrome’ but I think it should be from now on.

Anyway, we went back on Thursday on a sunny day, and I can confirm that it was much nicer when your feet are dry.

Sunny view

Anyone saying ‘no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing‘ can get in the sea.

* I asked the wildlife people and they confirmed that ducks do like the rain, but geese are indifferent to it.


By Air, Land and Sea

August 20, 2021

It’s a sad side effect of being heavily involved in various cycle campaigns, that I have to spend more time than is healthy on social media, and particularly Facebook.*

This does at least keep me tuned into the local zeitgeist which is probably helpful in keeping me real and breaking my cycling-green-generally wishy washy liberal bubble. In particular it has alerted me to the fact that Bigtown is under siege by a force more deadly than any mere pandemic:

Seagulls.

It seems that nobody can so much as eat a chip in the town centre without being swooped on and the food snatched out of their mouths (really?). Children scream and flee in terror, people are trapped in their houses, and the gulls have now actually taken control of the town centre, without a shot fired by the fleeing forces of the cowardly Coonsil (well, what are you going to do without any air power?)

I read this with particular interest having sat in the town centre for two hours last Saturday, contentedly eating my lunch and watching the gulls as they mostly politely waited for people to feed them, which they quite frequently did. Clearly the terrorised populace have been reduced to paying tribute to our squawking overlords. So cowed are they, that they even do it with a smile. A proud populace, brought to heel.

Fortunately the fightback has begun: Someone’s started a petition.

Meanwhile, during the same two hours, about a dozen cars and vans drove onto the pedestrianised High Street which has become an unofficial short cut and short stay car park – even when there was a market festival filling most of the street.

Call me daft, but I don’t think it’s the gulls that are the real menace here.

Local news post with amended headline - The Gulls are actually controlling the town centre' (with gulls crossed out and cars written in)

* Special love here to all my fellow campaigners who loftily eschew the site, which is great for them but given (at least as far as Bigtown is concerned) Facebook IS the internet, simply means that others have to sully their hands with it…


St Swithin’s Day if Thou be Fair

July 15, 2021

In what I think is a first since we moved up here, it has been absolutely gorgeous weather on St Swithin’s Day. Lord knows we need a fine summer in these mad pandemical times, so I’m choosing to put some faith in the fact that this is one of those meteorological legends that has a grain of truth to it,* even if we’re unlikely to actually get 40 days of fine weather from now on.

On the other hand, St Swithin was a mardy bastard who was more into inflicting 40 days of rain on people than 40 days of sunshine, so we also decided to make the most of the fine weather while it lasted, just in case. So a gentle cycle into Bigtown, lunch (and even a glass of wine) in the dappled shade of a cafe terrace garden, and then a swim at the river on the way home. Close your eyes and squint a bit, and we could have been on holiday.

Bike with swimming towel draped over it

If it wasn’t for the fact that I loathe the word in general (and the people who get upset about it being used ‘wrong’ in particular), I might even have called it a staycation.

* As the more accurate version goes: “St Swithin’s day if thou be fair / For forty days, a northerly jet stream might result in some fairly decent spells / But then again it might not”


Stand By

June 17, 2021

It’s hard to believe but I have finally found myself out the other side of the enormous pile of work I’ve been buried under for the last three months, and I’ve actually arranged with myself to take the next few weeks off (so apologies now if anyone was hoping for a fine summer …).

There’s now basically a three month backlog of gardening to get through, which I made a start on today. Step one was going to be turning all the compost in the compost daleks and emptying one so that I can fill them again but this was scuppered when I lifted up the bin that was ready to be emptied and discovered a tiny pink baby mouse snuggled up in what had been a cosy den up until that point. I’m generally fairly ruthless about mice but this one was looked too helpless and naked to survive eviction, so I hastily (but carefully) put the bin back down over the compost and had to make do with turning the others. I wonder how long it takes baby mice to grow up?

Vegetable patch in progress

Anyway, there has been gardening done and there will be time to do more, and hopefully there will a few more interesting things to blog about to boot. Starting with a bit of a bike-related adventure…

Watch this space.


It was Cutting it Fine …

May 31, 2021

… but May finally came good.

sunny day with blue skies and cow parsley flowering

The may is even out, at last. Let the clout casting commence.

Hawthorn (may) blossom

We can depend on very little when it comes to the weather around here, but having one precious week of fine warm weather towards the end of May had started to feel like something we could count on. It’s a few days late but it does appear to be here, squeezing into May by the skin of its teeth.

Naturally, I shall be spending it mostly chained to the laptop, but at least I’ve got the daily paper run to enjoy it in.


Potemkin Garden

May 30, 2021

We had actual visitors to our house on Saturday, the first since (checks calendar – jeeze, can that be right?) August, which meant not only an epic amount of scurryfunging* in the house but some hasty gardening in order to at least find our bench so our guests would have somewhere to sit…

Tidy bench and seating area

I didn’t take a ‘before’ photo but this shot of an epic hailstorm earlier in the month may give you an idea of how much needed to be done.

weedy bench area in the middle of a hailstorm

Respectable as it looks from the right camera angle (thanks largely to the other half’s regular strimming and mowing), an hour an a half’s hasty Friday night gardening can’t do much to salvage your reputation as a gardener when your back garden looks like this.

Very weedy back patio and garden

In my defence, a patio which is ankle deep in dandelions is also often ankle deep in goldfinches, which like the seedheads and regularly shoot up out of the undergrowth when I head out the back door (indeed, as I was standing in the front door admiring my handiwork around the bench, a goldfinch turned up and perched in the little tree by the pot and had some strong things to say in goldfinchish about the devastation I had just wrought to his happy hunting ground). Perhaps we should turn the entire garden over to the hares and the goldfinches and just have a machete to hand to cut a path to the gate as needed.

Anyway, a fine afternoon and the sight of some actual fruit on the fruit bushes in the fruit not-yet-cage was the prompt today to finally finish the job before the wildlife got those too.

fruit cage with netting

Although, if my experience with the landlord’s fruit cage is anything to go by, we’ll probably be spending the summer ushering birds off the premises that have worked out how to get in, but are completely clueless as to how to get out.

* A possibly made up word for the act of hastily cleaning the house when you have visitors coming.


The Way We Leave Now

May 26, 2021

How do you give a proper sendoff in the time of Corona to two people who have been stalwarts of your local cycle campaign since its inception?

Group riding bikes

With a bike ride, of course (sorry, what was the question?)

Normally we’d have headed to the pub but even though they are open, numbers are limited, sitting indoors still feels too risky, and besides an evening bike ride in the long days of May just felt like it might be a nicer idea.

Group arriving at the nature reserve

We headed to one of my favourite places, a peat bog that almost ended up buried under a pine plantation. It’s been neglected in the past but I was pleased to learn that it is being restored (‘rewetted’ in the trendy new phrase) and it was looking rather fine in the evening sunlight. As we went for a quick walk (after coffee and home baking had been consumed, naturally) and heard – and then saw – a cuckoo. There are nightjars there as well, and plenty of insect life (almost certainly 99.9% of which by number was in the form of midgies, but you know, biodiversity is biodiversity and it doesn’t always have to be pleasant to be around). The weather more or less played ball – at least, it didn’t hail, which is the new low bar for May – and as we finally headed for home, the almost full moon rose over the clouds beside us and much as we like to scoff at the modern fad for declaring everything a supermoon, it was an impressive sight.

I don’t believe that in the end any of us would have swapped the evening for a more traditional leaving do down at the Dog and Duck. Indeed, as someone who has long substituted a bike ride for any form of birthday party, I am fully on board with the idea of swapping pretty much all celebrations for a cycling excursion, even when the pandemic (hopefully) fades. Friends and family, you have been warned …


Badgering On

April 3, 2021

I would really like to know who it was decided elections in this country get held in May; not people with gardens, I’m guessing. I’d also like to know why I thought it was a good idea to start not just Pedal on Parliament but another election-focused inclusive active travel campaign that has meant we’ve spent the last week trying to keep up with all the various Scottish political parties which have been popping up (and occasionally popping back down again) like mushrooms after the rain.

So blogging has been a bit light – as has doing anything that’s not work, cycle campaigning, riding for the paper and popping out occasionally to apologise to my garden for neglecting it.

Fortunately, my new toy has revealed that there are at least a few visitors to the garden who have been enjoying the amenities greatly (bribed by a nightly handful of carefully distributed peanuts)

Although it’s possible they’ve realised we’re onto them.

Or maybe they just don’t like the angle at which we’ve placed the camera. Everyone’s a critic these days.


I Spy…

March 26, 2021

Among the lovely birthday presents I got last weekend was a fun new toy: a night-vision trail cam that we hope will reveal to us any nocturnal shenanigans among the local wildlife. As well as the hares we’ve seen signs of possible badger activity and footprints in the snow earlier this year suggest we also get nocturnal visits from foxes, which we never see during the day. We’ve left it out overnight for a few nights now, and so far it’s fair to say that we’re still perfecting its placement and set up so that we can capture something slightly more exciting than us putting it up and taking it down …

However, reviewing the footage one morning, I did realise (after 3 or 4 viewings) that we’d captured something here other than the sound of the Extremely Loud Blackbird who’s been delivering our five am wakeup call with enthusiasm. Have a look and see if you see what I see (keep your eyes on the bottom left corner …)

OK, so it’s not going to turn the world of wildlife filming upside down, but it gives me hope that with a bit of fine tuning we might be able to get some decent footage.

In other news, the lambs have reached the ‘lamb gang’ stage where they spend most of their time hanging out in the corners of fields getting up to mischief and generally looking as if they’d be smoking behind the bike sheds, if only they had opposable thumbs. And cigarettes. And, indeed, bike sheds.

lambs hanging out in the field

And, from the evidence of this photo, doing a little youthful experimentation into the joys of adult life too.


Hair of the Fog

January 31, 2021

I suppose one advantage of lockdown is that we’re all learning a lot more about our immediate surroundings as we take our daily state-sanctioned exercise. And there’s still something new to learn about the natural world even in the dark days of winter. Like an entirely new form of ice that turns out to be the bastard godchild of an unassuming-looking fungus.

hair ice forming on a stick

A local friend had posted pictures of ‘weird looking ice’ on Facebook this morning, and I’d done some research* which seemed to indicate that it was something called ‘hair ice’. It is by all accounts quite rare, so I wasn’t expecting to stumble across it ourselves on our walk after lunch. Naturally I hadn’t brought my camera – it’s an iron law that I will only see something interesting if I don’t – so I had to carefully carry a half-rotten frozen stick home with me so it could be photographed for posterity.

close up of strands of hair ice.

Worth it I think, though, because it is extraordinary looking stuff. Even knowing what it is, it just doesn’t look like it’s made of ice. The Met Office has a good explanation of how it is formed, as well as this wonderful timelapse video (below), but the short version is that water in the wood is extruded out of the pores as ice as it freezes and the presence of Exidiopsis effusa prevents it from forming larger crystals (she says with an airy wave of the hand while squinting at Wikipedia).

What exciting local phenomenon did you notice today?

hair ice under bark

* By which I mean a quick google, obviously.