Summer Blends to Autumn

Today was the first day I’ve missed my woolly hat while out walking. I should have anticipated this from the sound of the moaning wind down the chimney, but I saw diluted sunshine and overestimated its efforts. We’ve hit that indecisive time between summer and autumn, when dressing for a walk becomes a series of deliberations.

This morning I saw a couple of swallows swirling over the shore, still lingering after their long summer holiday. Further out, a couple of white flicks were diving in the choppy swell. Even from an anonymising distance I could tell they were gannets straight away, recognising the stiff beats of their black-tipped wings. As I withdrew further into my coat with hunching shoulders, another flash of white caught my eye. This was the clincher, a sign I’d been waiting for. A flock of eider ducks meant autumn was coming.

Hazy Burghead
Gannet mid-dive
Eider ducks

Summer isn’t my favourite season by a long way, and this year it was made particularly insufferable by a 40°C heat surge that coincided with my first case of Covid. Still, I can look back and say this summer has been both productive and great fun. Most of it was taken up by research for my book, which is now due in six weeks. I’ve explored Aberdeen, Portsoy, Glenlivet, Ballater, Braemar, Banchory, Dufftown and Carrbridge in the last two months alone, filling the last gaps in my Slow Travel Guide to North East Scotland.

Sitting at the top of Clachnaben, south of Banchory

After spending so much time walking outside, I was pleasantly surprised to find tan lines beneath my rings and watch strap. I mostly write at my desk, so I loved having the opportunity to stretch my legs and assure myself that spending days on end walking through forests and wandering around coastal villages was in fact work. Putting this book together has tested my organisation, self-discipline and resolve, but I’ve now emerged with a complete manuscript. All that remains is the entire editing process.

The Lecht Mine, near Tomintoul

During my research trips I’ve been learning more about butterflies. Birds and mammals have been favourites of mine for years, but insects in general have never been my strong suit. This summer I thought I’d make use of not being able to birdwatch as much, and expand my nature knowledge in another area. I found it fascinating, stopping frequently to crawl on the ground for a closer look at a red admiral, peacock or, on two wonderful occasions, a common blue.

Common blue
Small pearl-bordered fritillary
Speckled wood

The butterfly I saw most was Scotch argus, which has made my English friends jealous. Many of them have never seen one, let alone several on just a short walk. It’s been a fantastic learning experience and one that I’ll continue next year.

Scotch argus

Now, however, as both summer and my time working on my first book draws to an end, I’m looking forward. Fly agarics are popping up in the forest and eiders are rushing past over slate grey waves. I know it won’t be long before some of my favourite birds – fieldfares, redwings and long tailed ducks – make their reappearance. That chill in the air is the sign that autumn is waiting in the wings, and I can’t wait.

Birds at the bottom of the garden

As of today, I’ve been living in my new house a week! It’s not the biggest or the most glamorous, but it’s certainly enough to feel like home. There is also a generously sized garden that oozes potential. Currently, the grass is several feet high and tickles the midriffs of the two apple trees, but I’m determined to make it a spot both we and our neighbouring wildlife can enjoy.

Zahrah and I have already had debates over whether the grass should be cut at all. While she favours the truly wild, I prefer neat and tidy with areas that the wildlife can still feel at home in. My plan is to cut the majority of the lawn but leave a wild patch at the bottom, so all kinds of creatures can still seek sanctuary in its grassy depths.

I’ve noticed several species of garden bird already, namely robins (Erithacus rubecula), blue tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) and great tits (Parus major), but I’m sure we can attract more with a range of bird feeders – millet for dunnocks (Prunella modularis) and finches and sunflower seeds for the tits and hopefully greenfinch (Chloris chloris). As well as this, we could fit some nest boxes to the apple trees to encourage nesting birds to stay.

Now we have such a secure garden, Zahrah suggested setting up a camera trap to see what nocturnal wildlife we play host to. In an urban area, it’s possible we have hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) and maybe red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), something I’d be thrilled to see. After managing to photograph a wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) at Kingmoor Sidings nature reserve not far from here, I’m optimistic we’ll get to see a lot more once we’ve set some tasty bait.

As for the lawn itself, I’d love to create a winding path out of the stray slabs we’ve found lying around. The garden is large enough for a compost heap too, something else that would attract a range of species. I’d love to cultivate a pond, but feel like this may be beyond my skill set! However, it would be lovely to plant some flowers and inject some colour into the otherwise very green garden. Although not the prettiest, stinging nettles are well known for being excellent attractors of the red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), comma (Polygonia c-album) and small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae). Other good plants for butterflies include garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and marjoram (Origanum vulgare).

All in all, I see some exciting things on the horizon for our little garden! After living in halls for a year and the only green space being the faded carpet of my room, I can’t wait to unleash my inner gardener and make our patch the perfect wildlife haven.

Sunny Cliff Wander

It had been several years since we visited Arbroath for the first time; I remember wearing my trusty blue cagoule, but that’s about it. So, we thought it was high time we paid this beautiful town a second visit.


It was another beautifully hot day, so we abandoned coats during our walk along the cliffs. Due to the sheer drops, we kept Jas on a short lead, as our beautiful but rather simple dog wouldn’t hesitate to do a Tom Daley off the top. She was content sniffing the long grass and trotting along beside us.


There were butterflies and pollinating insects wherever we looked; the sky was alive with flapping wings. Bees wrestled for space on the thistle flowers while house martens snatched flies above our heads. We had to watch we didn’t step on caterpillars that were crossing the path in abundance.


The walk built up an appetite, so when we got back to town we tried the legendary Arbroath smokie for the first time. It was an interesting taste, but definitely something I’d have again. We ate the freshly caught fish on paper plates looking out onto the harbour; can’t get much more traditional than that!