This bun has been in the oven for three years and two months and now she’s finally here.
My book is written as though I’m walking along with you, dropping in history, folklore and other nuggets along the way. There are castles, stone circles, museums, distilleries and also plenty of opportunities to eat cake.
Slow travel is about taking the time to find lesser known spots and really connect with the places you visit. I’m proud of how much I’m crammed into these 328 pages, and I hope that whether your interest is wildlife, whisky or waterfalls, you’ll discover something special. Incidentally, it’s the perfect size to slot in your rucksack and take out and about.
Today I’m thinking back to a little girl who loved writing so much that she thought maybe she could be an author when she grew up. Well, she did it.
Yes those are dolphins jumping in the background – I’m just that good!
Despite the cocktail of sun, rain, hail and snow all in four days I managed to have an excellent Easter weekend of wildlife watching. I heard my first chiffchaff this week, which can only mean spring is on its way despite the occasional blizzard!
Osprey season has begun and I spotted my first of the year on Saturday. That was the hottest day in a long time and sunglasses were essential for squinting up at the sky. As well as seeing this stunning male osprey hovering over the estuary, I saw my first sand martin of the year (too nippy for a photo) and my first ever grey plover, which was a rare visitor to the area.
That evening the excitement continued with my first gannets and bottlenose dolphins of the year! It was a gorgeous evening with a cracking sunset, made even prettier by the appearance of three dolphins that cruised all the way around the headland. There were a couple of distant breaches too far away for a photo but it was so lovely to see dolphins again. I can’t wait for the season to kick off properly when there will be sightings on most days!
But the most exciting encounter happened on dry land.
I knew there were hares nearby as I often saw them dashing across the open fields, too fast and far away for a photo. I wondered if I pulled up with the windows down safari style whether they might appear a bit closer. For a photographer, a car can be an excellent wildlife hide.
I passed the time watching pheasants foraging. Every now and then the male would do his screech call and flap his wings, which looked lovely in the early morning light.
I waited for him to do it again but he wasn’t playing ball. My hands were going numb and I was just about to put the camera down when a hare appeared behind him.
I froze, actually hearing my heart thud as it padded towards me. Once it was ten feet from my lens it sat and stared right at me before lolloping back behind the bales. Even though it could see me, there was something about me being in the car that had relaxed it enough to check me out.
Once I was sure it had gone I checked the photos and actually cried looking at them, which has never happened before. The combination of shock, joy and relief was overwhelming and I almost couldn’t believe what had happened.
It’s been an Easter weekend full of treats, from soaring ospreys to sunlit dolphins to breathtaking views of one of the most iconic Easter animals: the gorgeous hare. Thank you Mother Nature!
I go through phases when it comes to wildlife watching. For the past couple of months, I’ve been deep in a forest phase and all I’ve wanted to do is wander through trees and look for birds and red squirrels. My Instagram was full of greens and the first hints of autumn oranges.
But then the ocean started pulling me back. After a few weeks with no sightings, bottlenose dolphins started to make appearances along the Moray Firth again. It was looking unlikely that I’d see my first orcas this summer, but I was still looking forward to getting dolphin photos that showed slightly more than the departing splash. I was back in an ocean phase.
Earlier this month, on a particularly choppy morning, I found myself running full pelt along Burghead harbour to reach the end of the sea wall that juts out conveniently into the sea. From there, I could watch three different pods of bottlenoses as they caught fish. With so many breaking waves and white peaks, I didn’t know what I’d managed to capture until I returned home and uploaded the photos. I was thrilled to discover I’d caught a little face just as it breached the surface.
A few weeks later, I received a text alert from the local shore watchers saying there were bottlenoses heading west around the headland. Snatching up my camera, I made a beeline for my favourite vantage point at the end of the harbour. Unlike last time, the water was completely flat and every flash of fin caught my eye. Unfortunately all the feeding action happened far out, way past the range of my lens, but I did have an unexpected visitor pass close by.
The action continued the next week. Another text alert had me hiking up to the Burghead Visitor Centre at sunset and before long I had my lens pointed at a small pod who were following a jet ski and giving the driver some sensational views! As well as belly flops and tail waves, there were plenty of breaches. It was amazing to see the dolphins so active.
In the last of a flurry of excellent dolphin sightings, I paid Chanonry Point on the Black Isle another visit: one of the prime dolphin watching spots. Within moments of arriving – being sure to time my visit with the rising tide – a pod cruised straight past. Although there were no breaches this time, one particular dolphin dived three times directly in front of the crowd, revealing a distinctive notch in its tail fluke. I was also delighted to see a newborn calf among the adults, sticking closely to Mum as they passed by.
As summer blends into autumn, the dramatic display of emerging fungi will undoubtedly draw me into another forest phase, but I’ve loved having so many marine wildlife encounters this month. I’ve now got plenty more dolphin photos to add to my portfolio too!
Although I’m naturally quite an introverted person and love having time to myself, I’ve still struggled to adapt to the lockdown routine. I like to potter around outside for hours while I write or just watch the world go by, so it goes without saying that I’ve missed wildlife far more than the pub. Alerts have hit my local Facebook groups about ospreys just a few miles away from me and orcas (orcas!) further along the coast, but lockdown measures have kept me stuck in one spot.
Still, it’s a beautiful spot to be stuck in, and there have been some new visitors to my local patch over the past few weeks. Before the clocks went forward, the daily sightings always included goldeneyes, long-tailed ducks and red-breasted mergansers. Now, as the spring wildflowers emerge and the days grow longer, I’m seeing some new faces on the backshore.
When I arrived in Scotland I was told that May was the true start of the bottlenose dolphin season, but I’ve already been spotting dorsal fins on the water. I’ve had three different sightings so far, and on the second I managed to photograph some for the first time. Even from a distance and with most of their bodies submerged, it’s easy to see just how large these marine mammals are. In fact, the bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth are the largest and most northerly in the world.
As well as cetaceans, there’s been some avian excitement too. My absolute favourite birds have arrived in my patch: gannets! I glimpsed a white wingspan last week but wasn’t sure if it was just another herring gull, but since then I’ve had indisputable views of these vast and beautiful seabirds. As well as flyovers, I had the privilege of watching a dozen gannets diving for fish just offshore – twisting their bodies and tucking in their wings at the last moment before hitting the water like feathered torpedoes. I’ve always been drawn to gannets’ subtle plumage and dramatic facial markings and it’s been such a treat to watch them in my patch.
As I walk along the shore, I have the option of looking left to the ocean or right to dense clouds of gorse. As well as infusing the air with a beautiful coconut smell, the gorse provides excellent shelter for lots of different birds. Over the last week I’ve seen willow warblers, stonechats, linnets, skylarks, hooded crows, swallows, swifts and yellowhammers in just a small area. The charm of the gorse forest is that you never know what you’re going to spot and I’m almost always surprised by something.
Although I’m usually drawn towards birds and mammals, I can’t help but notice emerging insects as the temperature climbs. Just along from the town allotments I’ve seen bees, peacock and red admiral butterflies and green foliage that’s speckled with ladybirds.
It’s been difficult for us all to stay connected to the natural world during the lockdown, but seeing snippets of spring visitors on my daily walks has really lifted my mood. Nature never fails to make me feel better, and it’s during these challenging times that our time spent outdoors is the most important. Stay safe and stay wild everyone.