Tuesday, 13 June 2017

A Walk On Wild Side

Those who frequent my www.dexidelite.com website may have noticed that I've not been available to contact this last week.  The reason being I had headed off north to bonny Scotland in search of some refreshing holiday time.

I set off, what now seems like a month ago, last Sunday morning up the M6, which for once offered a rather quiet and relaxing start to my break.  I did see a couple of lovely old Ford Escorts in convoy on the way, so I wasn't the only classic 70's-vintage escort heading north on the M6 that day.

Luckily it was a trouble-free run, and I hoped that the roads would remain clear for the rest of the holiday - but more of that later...  So, by midday I was stepping out of the car at the car park of the RSPB centre at Loch Leven in lovely Perth and Kinross.  No, I haven't taken up 'twitching' as a hobby (unless it is the post-orgasm kind of twitching) - but there was one reason for my visit to the east side of Scotland this year...

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Bees!
Yes, the creation of the first ever Bumblebee sanctuary for the little fuzzy and buzzing bundles of delight (and a slight obsession of mine) meant that I had to make the effort to visit as I was nearby - well, north of Hadrian's Wall, anyway.  I have to admit that I was buzzing myself at the thought of seeing what the 'sanctuary' would be like.  Firstly, though, a spot of lunch and refreshment at the Centre's little café.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - RSPB, Loch Leven.
I strode into the café and looked at the menu, slowly becoming aware that the bubbling chatter had dropped somewhat.  Among the assorted jeans, kagools and 'comfy' footwear I realised that I looked a little different in my skin-tight minidress and high-heeled over-knee boots.  I clearly didn't look like the average 'bird-watcher'.  The café afforded some fabulous elevated views over the loch and bird sanctuary, with tripod-mounted binoculars lined up to view the loch and surrounding area.  A few gentlemen were studiously peering through them, looking out for something to catch their eye.

After a light lunch I went to the shop to find where I needed to be - and my first miscalculation.  "Bees?" queried the shop girl.  "Oh, that's our wild-flower meadow - but it doesn't bloom until July and August, so you're a bit early."  Ah.  I bought myself a ticket for the reserve anyway and had a wander.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - RSPB, Loch Leven.
Despite the sun, there was quite a cool and strong breeze blowing off the nearby loch, so I slipped my leather coat on over my thin and somewhat clinging dress.  On my way out of the main complex I passed a group of ten or twelve cyclists that had just arrived, all looking hot and sweaty from their exertions.  They were chattering away noisily until I got close, and one by one fell silent and stared at me in rather obvious appreciation as I walked past - clearly my attire, not especially noticeable in a city like Manchester, was a bit more noticeable out here.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - RSPB, Loch Leven.
I walked through some lovely lowland wooded paths first - the air was lovely, fresh and lush, and every shade of rich green surrounded the paths.  I had a relaxing stroll before heading off towards the main reserve, situated down by the loch itself, and reached by  a small under-road tunnel.  The wildflower meadow was, indeed, a little barren of colour...

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Wildflower meadow, RSPB, Loch Leven.
...but a nearby information board did show that it was very much full of wildlife regardless, as numerous birds used it for ground nests in which to rear their young.  It was lovely, with Benarty Hill (and a main nesting site for my bumblebees) rising in the background.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - RSPB, Loch Leven.
I strolled down paths a little more, passing more birdwatchers on the way.  All were very polite, and a got many 'good afternoons' and 'have a lovely day' from them.  I reached a vantage point and looked out over the loch.  More gorgeous views of the water with the Ochil Hills rising way beyond - it was quite spectacular.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - RSPB, Loch Leven.
Thankfully, not all the little bees were in hibernation and waiting for the meadow to bloom.  The few bees that fed on the path-side flowers were the only ones around, though.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Bees, at last!
I struggled up a small path-side bank to get a better view - no doubt giving the guys in the café something to look at through their binoculars... they may have classified me as a great-breasted Manchester bustard or something.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - RSPB, Loch Leven.
Although I was disappointed to have arrived a little early for the wildflower meadow and bees, it was still a lovely place to visit, and I hope I get chance to return when the wildflowers are blazing their colours amongst the wonderful countryside.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - RSPB, Loch Leven.
A visit to the more northern shores of Loch Leven was next - and a chance for a boat ride over to Loch Leven Castle situated on a small island in  the middle of the loch. This was accessed by a small motor-boat, which meant a bouncy ride over the waves to the castle, where Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned for a short time.  Luckily, I'd had the foresight to buy a bright headscarfe to cover my head and ears, as the whipping wind would have given me ear-ache in no time at all.  In the absence of a sun hat, it helped keep the blazing sun from burning my head, too.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Loch Leven.
Thankfully we reached the island jetty with no Titanic-like disasters, and the island was serene and perfectly lovely, with castle ruins standing still proud and strong in the hot sun.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Castle, Loch Leven.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Castle, Loch Leven.
I had a good look around the medieval site, taking time to read all the information that was displayed around the castle.  The main castle keep afforded fabulous views over the nearby woods and loch.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Castle, Loch Leven.
Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Castle, Loch Leven.
The castle itself was quite beautiful, even though only the strongest and most enduring parts remained - and it was easy to see how stunning it would have been in its heyday.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Castle, Loch Leven.
Of course, the lovely setting made a good backdrop for some blog photos...

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Castle, Loch Leven.
Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Castle, Loch Leven.
Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Castle, Loch Leven.
In fact, had I known how quiet it was I may have worn something even less appropriate so I could pose for some properly rude photos!

After arriving back on the mainland, there was still time to head for an early evening meal - and in the Loch Leven area there was only one place that caught my eye when I looked online - the famous Pillars Of Hercules organic café/shop.  It was a 20-minute trip from Kinross/Loch Leven, but more than worth it.  The wooden café was wonderfully welcoming, and outside in the gardens, where much of the café food is produced, flowers, vegetables and fruit grew.  It was a perfect little haven, and the food was pretty fabulous, too.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Pillars Of Hercules.
Afterwards, fully refreshed, I finally arrived at my hotel in Glenrothes, where I would be staying for the next two nights.

My initial plans were to visit the Bumblebee sanctuary and Loch Leven Castle on the Monday, but the forecast promised poor weather for Monday, so when I woke on Monday morning to rain lashing at the hotel window I was glad of the change of plans.  With no real itinerary for the day ahead, I had a look at a map and saw that the coastal town of St. Andrews was in striking distance.  I dressed for the weather in my tight jeans and heavy duty boots to guard against the inclement weather.

Firstly, breakfast.  Although I had breakfast included in my hotel charges, I found myself back at Pillars Of Hercules in time for them opening at 9.00am to try out their offering instead.  With a filling and tasty breakfast inside me it was time to head out to the coast.  Lass than an hour later I was in St. Andrews, and luckily the downpour that was hitting Glenrothes hadn't made an appearance on the coast.

I wandered around the town centre and, although some of the buildings were quite lovely, was under awed by the town.  Over-priced trinket shops nestled next to cut-price stores, all without any real charm.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - St. Andrews.
On a whim I headed off to see the castle, as by then I thought I'd seen enough of St. Andrews.  Luckily, my choice saved the trip.  The castle and older part of the town were stunning, and the coastal front offering wonderful views out into the sea.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - St. Andrews.
Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - St. Andrews.
Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - St. Andrews.
From there it was back on road all the way back to the small town of Falkland, nestled under the Lomond Hills near Glenrothes, and thankfully the weather had cleared up since I left the area earlier in the day.  It was a pretty little place, and I enjoyed a good walk around the quiet and old streets.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Falkland.
I took the chance to visit the grand Falkland Palace and its surrounding gardens.  Although no photography was allowed in the old house, I did manage to snap a few photos around the lush and colourful gardens as I strolled around.  Once again, I was delighted with a preponderance of bumblebees of all sizes as they hunted for pollen in the rich garden - at least I found my bees, even if they weren't at the sanctuary!

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Falkland Palace and Gardens.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Falkland Palace and Gardens.
I couldn't resist another trip to Pillars Of Hercules for another late lunch/early dinner, though - especially as the café was just a mile up the road from Falkland.  My last night was spent back in my hotel at Glenrothes, ready for the next stage of my Scotland adventure... and some real wildlife to come.

Tuesday dawned with more heavy rain - I wasn't too concerned as the day only entailed a cross-country trip to Oban on the west coast.  I began with a last breakfast at Pillars Of Hercules again - quiet, warm, cosy and inviting in the relentless heavy rain.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Pillars Of Hercules - again!
After that the day was made up of a trip across to the west coast, with the weather changing constantly.  There was a brief stop at Taynuilt, and I wanted to see the views from the small jetty before heading off again.  The wind and rain, channelled through the mountains and whipped up by Loch Etive, was lashing, but not actually cold.  I decided to chance a photograph, even though I wasn't 100% dressed for the weather...

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - red dress in the rain at Taynuilt!
Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - red dress in the rain at Taynuilt!
From Taynuilt it was a short (but frustrating - thanks to the motorhomes and caravans heading for the Oban ferries) drive to Oban itself.  After a warming and filling meal at The Potting Shed in the town centre, the next stop was the Bed and Breakfast, ready for Wednesday (and the big day - the main reason for the trip).

Wednesday dawned brighter and the weather reports looked promising, which appeared to be good news, as a trip out on a boat to swim with seals - one of my 'bucket-list' choices - was booked.  I'd briefly spoken to the company on the Tuesday, who said the weather was looking patchy but they would let me know if the trip got cancelled, so made my way in good time to the marina where I would meet the boat and crew.

I arrived on time, with a bag of food and supplies, and waited.  And waited a bit more.  The marina was worryingly quiet, with no sign of any sailors or boats making ready.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - no sailing today.
At 9.00am I managed to contact the main office who told me that the trip was indeed cancelled, and they'd sent an email confirming this the previous day - which I had never seen thanks to my insistence on retaining my 1990's Nokia phone.  Shitfuck.  I was a 'bit' disappointed, and having paid for two nights B&B didn't want to head home early.  So, with a day and no plans, it turned into a bit of an adventure.  First a trip down the coast to the island of Seil - reached by the legendary 'Bridge over the Atlantic'...

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Bridge Over The Atlantic, Seil.
It was a beautiful island, with the main road across it offering glorious views of distant hills and charming coastlines.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Seil.

The road eventually ran out at Ellanabeich, a tiny gathering of houses all huddled low and close to guard against Atlantic storms.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Ellenabeich, Seil.
The good news arrived via telephone - if I could stay another day, then the boat trip to see the seals was definitely going ahead tomorrow.  It would mean a late arrival back in Manchester on Thursday night, but I hoped it would be worth it.

I enjoyed the scenery of the mystery tour a little more as the trip made a winding way back to Oban and The Potting Shed for another lovely, late afternoon lunch, and was up again bright and early and back at the marina on Thursday morning.

This time I was greeted by one of the crew on arrival at the marina and escorted to (what I later learnt) was a RIB - a rigid inflatable boat, with a few other journeymen already on board and waiting.  It wasn't a large vessel, though, so it could make the sea trip 'interesting', but at least a long canopy would afford some protection of the weather turned for the worse.

We set off on time - destination the northern end of the island of Coll, which meant a two-hour trip there, passing through the Sound of Mull on the way.  The views on the trip out were stupendous - distant mountains rising into the glowering heavy clouds, with the steel grey water beneath.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Sound Of Mull.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Sound Of Mull.
As we reached the northern edge of Mull there was time for a brief stop at Tobermory - perfectly timed, as there were no toilet facilities onboard the little boat.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Tobernory, Mull.
Ten minutes later, though, we were back on board and bouncing back into the waves beyond Mull.  Here, as the sheltering land dropped away, the journey became a little more rough, but all the more exciting.  Ahead lay our destination, the low island of Coll just visible as the boat rode the troughs and crests of the thumping waves.

On time the powerful boat engine slipped into idle, and we cruised into a small bay, with calm waters.  I looked down at some the clearest water I'd ever seen - it was a truly beautiful spot.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Coll.

A glance around showed the local inhabitants were already having a look to see what the fuss was...

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - seals at Coll.
Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - seals at Coll.
Cute seal faces looked at us from a distance - out here the seals, both Common and Grey, are still unused to human interaction, so it would be an interesting experience.  Firstly, though, it was time to don the wetsuit.  I've certainly put on a few latex catsuits in my time, but this wetsuit malarkey was a bit different.  Tough, almost unyielding, and most definitely not the sexy latex look I was used to.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - a different rubber outfit to my usual attire.
Soon I was ready, and with flippers and goggles on, slid somewhat unglamorously into the water.  As I flapped and splashed around to acclimatise myself to my new surroundings, the seals watching nearby must have been observing with puzzlement at what these new, ungainly creatures were that had arrived into their environment.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort -in the water - at last.
Once the swimming group was assembled in the water - thankfully not too cold at all - we headed off to explore the small coves, bays and little islets around the area.  The sea remained clear, with visibility around 30 yards.  As I poked my head up to get my bearings I could see seals quite close by, keeping an eye on me.  At one point I floated on my back and caught sight of a curious seal following me from a short distance away.  It watched me, it's cute face and big eyes on me before it slipped gracefully away.  Under the lovely water, small forests of kelp flowed and swayed in the soft currents.  A large group of juvenile sand eels drifted into view, and as I moved my hand they turned en masse, their bright silvery colours catching the light as they shimmied away before re-assembling into their group again.  I moved again, and they danced easily around my outstretched hands.  Small, colourful jellyfish bobbed by in abundance, and I had to gently push them aside as I moved through the sea.  All the time seals danced around us with graceful ease, keeping a relatively safe distance but their natural curiosity keeping them interested in their strange new visitors, and I found myself looking into their lovely faces on more than a few occasions.

We reached a small beach and, after removing the cumbersome flippers, took a small walk back over the islet to where the boat was anchored.  The sand looked soft and luxurious, but was quite grainy as it was made up almost entirely of ground-down sea shells, rather than soft rock.  It was another ungraceful entry into the sea at the other side - not helped by tripping up!

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - and in the water again...
Around the cove more seals bobbed and glided through the water in a sea-bound ballet.  Here the currents were stronger, with no land protection all the way across the Atlantic.  Larger fish swam by, in touching distance, and under the water starfish and sea urchins glided over the sea bed.  One of the tour guides picked up a sea urchin and carefully handed it to me - it was surprisingly heavy and quite beautiful.  It was laid back softly on the sea bed, and I was then handed a starfish.  It moved its arms slowly, balancing itself in my palm.  It was a fabulous experience to see this wild side of nature so close.  The starfish joined the sea urchin back on the sea bed, and we finally made our way back to the boat - two hours after leaving it.  I will admit I pretty exhausted by this time, and I was grateful to be back on board.  I had to be helped from my wetsuit, though, as my limbs seemed to have given up a little bit.

Once dried, with a hot drink and some food inside me, I was feeling a little better for the trip back.  Overhead, little terns whipped around the sea breezes, enjoying their own lunch.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - little tern, Coll.
With engine started, its rough coarse noise ripping the tranquillity of the islets, we headed back towards Mull.  As we reached the Sound of Mull, with the island to the starboard side, our guide pointed out a gigantic sea eagle in the trees.  It took me a while to spot it, and my camera wasn't quite up to the task, either...

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - sea eagle, Mull.
...but thankfully the guide offered me his powerful binoculars, and it was indeed a stunning and huge bird.  A little while later we reached Tobermory again - and time for a hot drink and toilets!

Just half an hour later we were back travelling down the channel between the mainland and Mull.  I was at the back of the boat enjoying the fantastic views when a brief flash of black in the water some way off caught my eye.  I watched the water again where I'd seen the moving shape for a few seconds, and it appeared again.  I pointed out the shapes to one of the guides.  Hastily the boat was swung around and we headed towards the area.  We soon found ourselves in a small pod of large, beautiful dolphins.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - dolphins, Sound Of Mull.
They were pretty hard to get photos of, as they moved so quickly, but at one point rode the bow waves as we cruised alongside them.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - dolphins, Sound Of Mull.
It was a magical end to the trip, and we were still buzzing from the encounter as we said our final farewells to Mull and arrived back in Oban.

Dexi Delite Altrincham and Manchester Escort - Mull, and a wonderful trip.
Back on the mainland, I said goodbye to the fantastic crew and, less than five hours later, was arriving back in Manchester city centre, still basking in the tranquility, and dreaming of, those seas around Coll.


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