We’re one month into the year already! As usual I’ve been beavering away and forgetting to update my blog, so here’s a summary of what I’ve been up to in January.
My 2022 started with my best mate Luke coming to visit for the first time since I’ve moved to Scotland. This year we celebrate our 20th anniversary of being friends – we’ve known each so long I can’t remember a time without him! I took Luke to many of my favourite wildlife haunts. It’s funny how seeing familiar places with someone who’s never visited them before makes them fresh all over again. Although he’s definitely not a birder, I pestered Luke into looking through binoculars at eider ducks in the harbour and a dipper hunting on the river. I actually think some of my enthusiasm rubbed off on him.
Burning of the Clavie
By happy coincidence, my friend was here when the annual Burning of the Clavie festival took place in Burghead. Although usually held on the 11th January, this year the festival was delayed a week because of changing Covid crowd rules. The festival was cancelled in 2020 and I missed it by a week the year before, so I was relieved to finally be able to experience it for myself. And it was totally worth the wait – the sights, sounds and intense feel of the mighty Clavie fire were extraordinary. It really has to be seen to be believed!
I’m currently hard at work writing my Slow Travel Guide to Northeast Scotland, which will be published by Bradt in 2023. Although some places on my list are closed until spring, there’s lots to enjoy in winter too. This month I spent a long morning in the village of Carrbridge, seven miles north of Aviemore in the Cairngorms National Park. I didn’t know much about Carrbridge except the Old Pack Horse Bridge – the oldest stone bridge in the Highlands – and the annual Porridge Making Championships. After some Slow exploration the other day I discovered that Carrbridge also has a yearly wood carving competition every September. I’ll definitely be returning this autumn to see it for myself, but in the meantime I enjoyed spotting sculptures from previous competitions dotted all over Carrbridge.
Another day trip for my book this month was to Loch Garten, also in the Cairngorms. I much prefer visiting this loch in winter. Historically it’s known for ospreys that have nested here, but in winter you can actually hand feed the birds. Coal tits are the bravest, but the other day I also fed a dozen great tits and a blue tit. There’s nothing quite like the feel of a tiny wild bird gripping your palm, trusting you enough to take a seed right in front of you. I could have stood there with my hand in the air all day, but I tore myself away to walk down the west side of Loch Garten to the tip of the smaller Loch Mallachie, then back through the ancient pinewood of Abernethy Forest. Woodland locations are lovely and quiet in the Cairngorms at the moment and I relished the subtle sounds of water lapping the bank and pine trunks creaking in the wind. And all those birds’ wings of course.
Speaking of birds, I reached a significant milestone this month: photographing my first goshawk. At the end of 2021 I caught my first glimpse of this incredible woodland raptor from the same hide, but she didn’t stay long enough for photos. This time I waited over six hours for a five minute sighting, but for the opportunity to photograph a huge female goshawk 20 feet from my lens that was a tiny price to pay. An added bonus came when Iolo Williams liked my photo on Twitter!