Monday 23 May 2011

On the Moray Coastal Trail

Lossie Beach:

Having read Cameron McNeish's description of the Moray Coastal Trail in the Scots Magazine, a two-day coastal daunder from Forres to Cullen (or vice-versa), we were keen to see it for ourselves.

Lossie Harbour:

Rather than doing the entire walk, we walked a taster from Lossiemouth to Findhorn. I don't know if this is the best bit of the trail, but it was certainly eye-openingly beautiful, a blazingly sunny day helping the seaside mood.

Covesea Light:

Directly on leaving Lossie, a broad, pure beach leads to the Covesea lighthouse, perched on a low cliff-punctured crag above sand-dunes and links, hosting the ubiquitous golf course.

Moray Coastal Trail:

We stopped for a sunbathe and bite to eat, a big yellow helicopter buzzing about just offshore. I waved at the pilot - wonder if they waved back?

Above Sculptor's Cave:

After Covesea light, the path climbs up onto cliffs as far as Hopeman, tumbling masses of gorse falling over the crumbling edges, gulls on sea-stacks, with cliff-riddled headlands and rocky foreshores constrasting with gorgeous, inacessible beaches.

Brilliant display of forget-me-not and gorse:

Green seas:

Don't you just want to find a way down to this beach and share its limpid waters with the gulls?

Inacessible beach:

Gulls on the beach:

On such a warm day it was a relief to reach Hopeman and have an ice-cream and top up our water supplies. But there was a fair way to go yet. Burghead was next - but on the way to Burghead, the highlight of our entire holiday occured.

Beach at Hopeman quarry:

The way to Burghead is less spectacular than the previous stretch, mainly walking along the bottom of an old railway cutting. But occasionally it opens out to the sea - and what was that out there? A pod of feeding dolphins, surrounded by gulls! If only I had a long lens to show you! There must have been over twenty dolphins, and my heart skipped a beat as one of them, then two simultaneously, leap entirely clear of the water in a display of joyous athleticism. We had paid for a boat trip a couple of days before to go out to see dolphins from Cromarty, but hadn't seen anything like this!

Beach huts, Hopeman:

Burghead is a pretty wee town, with fascinating Pictish remains: and we finished the day, sun and weather-beaten, in Findhorn, where we were staying the night. I haven't had as much fun on a day's walk for a very long time.

Findhorn evening:

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Moray Firth Dolphins

When you are near the Moray Firth, one of the things you should try to see is the pod of dolphins that inhabits this stretch of water. They are the biggest dolphins in the world apparently - bulky due to the fat reserves demanded by their chilly northern home! We were told that the best place on land to see dolphins was from Chanonry Point at high tide, where the Moray Firth narrows between two spits of land (the other is Fort George, opposite Chanonry Point). In atmospheric evening light we wandered down to the lighthouse, water rushing silent and smooth past the point, a view down the fault line towards Loch Ness, the lighthouse lamp starting to wink. An Indian couple were also strolling about.

"Bottlenose dolphin!" exclaimed the man excitedly, pointing to a dog-like head just offshore.

"Seal," I replied.

Dolphin spotters at Chanonry Point, looking to Fort George:

The next morning we returned, but it was too late in the day: the tide was right out. A nice spot for a picnic however, and there were plenty dolphin watchers in attendance. The only thing to do if we wanted to see dolphins was to take a boat trip! A trip to Cromarty and a boat ride with Ecoventures was on the cards.

Cromarty from the sea:

First, our captain Sarah drove the RIB into the Cromarty Firth, close to old rigs that rest in Nigg Bay, either awaiting breakup or redeployment elsewhere.

Oil rigs in Cromarty Firth from North Sutor:

South Sutor lookouts:

No dolphins here, so we went out through the narrow channel between the headlands of North Sutor and South Sutor and into the Moray Firth. The North Sutor has a rocky and inaccessible coast, home to many seabirds, and old lookout stations from the 20th century wars. But no dolphins.

North Sutor:

But then we saw them! Engine at idle, we drifted along as a group of three feeding came close to inspect us.

Adult dolphin:

Two were adults and one was a baby, its stretch marks still showing.

Baby dolphin:

They are not easy creatures to photograph!

After seeing the dolphins we headed back to Cromarty, and we explored this beautiful little town, walking up to a viewpoint on the South Sutor.

North Sutor from South Sutor:

Cromarty has been a prosperous little town for a long time, and was the base for the King's Ferry. This northern counterpart for the Queen's Ferry over the Forth was first mentioned during the reign of William I, but possibly dates back to Pictish times. Its most celebrated passenger was James IV, a regular pilgrim to the shrine of St Duthac at Tain. This peninsula between the Cromarty and Dornoch Firths is a little-visited area, but one for another post!

Cromarty from South Sutor:

After a day in the open air we were glad to get back to Cromarty and find the Sutor Creek Cafe. Cromarty is a great place and we will surely be back!

Monday 9 May 2011

Dark River

Since reading Jamie Whittle's book White River, I've been keen to visit the River Findhorn, especially since realising it lies on the same fault line as the Etive-Taynish gap on my preferred Coast-to-Coast walk. A recent trip to Randolph's Leap enabled me to fulfil this ambition. The first thing that struck me, apart from the beauty of the general situation, was that the river was not so much white as dark. Very dark.

Dark River:

The waters, whilst dark, are simultaneously clean and clear:

As we walked upstream the sun came out, shafting light onto dark pools and illuminating the woodland flowers like wood sorrel.

Shafts of sun on the Findhorn:

Wood Sorrel:

Randolph's Leap is a lovely beauty spot. Why is it not famous? It is little known furth of the local area, but is enchanting in spring light.

At the leap:

It gets its name - like Soldier's Leap on the Garry and MacGregor's Leap on the Lyon - from desperate men sucessfully evading pursuit by jumping across the gorge where the river narrows. This is probably Scotland's oldest named leap, dating from an event in the early 14th century when a brace of Cummings, on a raid into Randolph territory, jumped back onto their own side. It should probably be called Cummings Leap...

The walk upriver is beautiful, glimpses caught through the trees. I half expected a brown bear to appear and start dipping for salmon!

River upstream of the leap:

This is just one small section of the Findhorn. I would love to see more of this beautiful river.

Thursday 5 May 2011

Election Communication Manifesto

Good morning, let me introduce myself before you toss this leaflet straight into the recycling along with all the other election leaflets, flyers for fast food restaurants, etc. Pause a while and read, for you hold in your hand a communication of originality and vigour the proposals entailed within which I hope will persuade you to vote for the only candidate of true vision in this constituency, which also happens to have been my home for the past 15 years. Just 5 minutes of your time this morning could change history.

It is well known that the main problems with the United Kingdom are the overheated economies of the South East. I propose a bold and simple solution to spread the heat around the country. Westminster Parliament will be moved to Meriden, in the centre of England, or perhaps Birmingham, which has better transport links and more hotels. The queen will also move from London, to Sunderland, which will experience a boom in tourism as tourists flock to Sunderland to see the queen. London will still have the financial industry, but the centres of power will be distributed more evenly which can only be a good thing all round.

As for Scotland, the main problem is of course the Scourge of Sectarianism. The solution again has a couple of possible answers. The first is to merge Rangers and Celtic to form a single football team, Glasgow United. I don't know what colour you get when you merge red blue white and green, perhaps the strips of this new team should be brown. If this does not work, a great opportunity presents itself for Scottish independence. Like in Ireland, the sectarian part of the country - Glasgow - can be hived off so that - like Belfast - it is another country's problem. This seems to me to be the neatest solution to the thorny problem of sectarianism. Parliament will be moved from Edinburgh to Clackmannan, as we know how to run things properly here.

Although these sort of arrangements are not within the remit of Clackmannanshire Council, for which I am standing in the by-election as an independent councillor, great ideas are great ideas no matter the soil they are planted in. Change must start somewhere. Indeed with this in mind I propose we set up a forum that looks at governments all round the world and takes the best bits from each. Off the tops of my head I imagine we will want to follow the example of Sweden, with more women in Parliament, and Australia, which has pioneered duvet days. But of course there will be many other examples my forum will discover.

As far as global warming goes, the greatest threat to humanity yet, I sincerely believe you can't fight nature, she always wins in the end. Rather than creating complex schemes like carbon credits which don't work, I suggest instead growing vines and oranges, and avoiding building houses on flood plains - and if we do have to build houses on flood plains, then build them on stilts. This has the further benefit that if the climate ends up going the other way, and we get another ice age, the houses will be propped up and protected against permafrost. In fact now I think about it I believe all our houses should be on stilts, to protect against catastrophic climate change.

Health, education, roads, bins, council tax - I have no policies as these subjects are boring, there are no votes in them.

Sport and nutrition. School departments should be encouraged to hire attractive teachers of both sexes to take home economics and PE. If the teachers are good looking, then teenagers will obviously flock to their classes. If the good looking teachers in a school are say, maths teachers, they should be made to switch to Home Economics and PE. However maths teachers never are good looking so this is a moot point. People need to exercise more not just in schools, therefore all TV shown will be educational. This will bore people so much they will play sports instead. As a side benefit, if they decide to stay at home they will be well educated. It's a win-win.

A short word on my opponents in this by-election. A trade-unionist, a community activist, and a former bank manager. A vote for any of these time-served re-treads - even one cast whimsically - is utterly wasted, when you have the rare opportunity to vote instead for a genuine poet. In one word I could say what these chimp-brained automatons could not with a thousand pictures. The mere fact that they wish office should suffice to disbar them from serious consideration: I shudder at the very thought of being involved in the bearpit of politics. If I am successful, I will have to be dragged - literally dragged - into office. Consider that.

Thank you for reading my election leaflet. There are many, many more ideas and visions I have to bring to the table, but they will not fit on an A5 leaftlet, not even at 8pt Comic Sans. If you want to find them out, or require abilities and vision amongst your elected representatives, vote for me this coming May.

Yours, RC

Sunday 1 May 2011

Thingabouts: a Royal Wedding

As far as royal weddings go I have no interest, and assumed most people in this country felt the same. This impression has been easy to sustain as I have been spared the royal wedding gossip that has surely taken over TV in the last month. Indeed on Friday I had hoped to be on Ailsa Craig, making the most of the public holiday. But due to circumstances outwith my control, we were still in Moray on the big day, and I was surprised at the amount of bunting and flags on display. But of course! For the fairer sex royal weddings are like catnip, an event as momentus as if the football world cup final only came around once in a generation. I even saw this cute sand sculpture on the beach at Cullen:

Whilst I am as apathetic about the celebrity aspect of royal weddings as any, my feelings about the monarchy are more subtle. An unelected, hereditary, first-born male head of state - banned by law from being Catholic (though curiously not of any other faith) - is logically indefensible in these democratic times. A republic of some kind is the obvious answer. But before ditching the monarchy, a moment's thought about the alternative makes one pause. For every inspiring leader like Mandela, there are a dozen Putins, yet both were elected. Is the monarchy so bad after all, given that the alternative might be worse? Until such times as a dramatic change in our constitutional situation, or unacceptable meddling in politics, I am minded to leave the royals and all their alien pomp be. In the words of this thingabout (a verse style invented by Edinburgh-based artist Robert Crozier):

The thing about our parliament?
The truth's not quite self-evident.
Indeed, we have no president,
no bill of rights or amendment,
just ancient rite and sentiment.
This clearly leads to discontent.
Republican! Before you vent
on perfect forms of government:
think first round Cromwell's heads of steel,
who rhythm barred for an ideal.