I can’t believe we’re almost halfway through the year already! June has flown by…
I spent the whole of last week on the west coast of Scotland for an MA assignment. I had to organise a self-led trip and two of my previous plans had already been cancelled, so it was a relief to finally go!
And what a week it was. I stayed in a chalet belonging to friends of mine, which stands on stilts at the edge of a loch. I woke up to ravens outside the front door and on two occasions an otter swam past! It was so refreshing to have a change of scenery and spend time with different wildlife.
One of my highlights has to be the divers. On the first day I spotted a distant red throated diver, but the great northern and black throated divers were particularly photogenic and wandered close to shore. Before my trip I hadn’t seen any divers in breeding plumage so struggled to tell them apart, but after watching them daily at the chalet I soon learnt which was which. And what stunners they were in their monochrome harlequin costumes! On several occasions I saw five black throated divers at once, and even across the loch I could make out their gorgeous barcode plumage.
The bird excitement continued even closer to the chalet. Visitors to the feeder included goldfinches, greenfinches, siskins and lesser redpolls. I’d never seen such a glittering display of birds while sat on a sofa before! I’d also never seen a feeder being emptied quite so quickly…
I really was surrounded by wildlife. One evening as I was getting ready for bed, I peered out the window and saw a stag munching on bracken right next to the washing line! Worried he’d bolt if he saw me, I crept outside and peered round the corner. He glanced up briefly mid-chew but continued browsing almost straight away. I’d forgotten he wasn’t a camera-shy roe deer that scarpers as soon as it senses me. This was a bolshy red deer, and he let me watch him munching his way through the garden for half an hour.
And speaking of munching, I was thrilled to also be visited by a pine marten! The little scamp came almost every night and I had no trouble recording its visits on my trail camera, but seeing it in the flesh was a lot trickier. Despite staying up until 2am on some occasions I didn’t manage to see it, but on the fifth night at 11pm I was watching a field mouse on the decking when the marten appeared, still in moderate daylight! The mouse was just as shocked as I was and sat frozen for several hairy moments before racing for cover. The marten didn’t even look up – obviously peanut butter was more enticing!
Although the wildlife was incredible, the weather left a little to be desired. Streaming rain blurred the loch some days, and there was a determined wind that kept the midges away but prevented me from ticking a particularly exciting task off my bucket list: wild swimming. I’d brought my wetsuit and was really looking forward to going for a dip, but the wind was chilling and I wasn’t feeling up to it. Before long it was my penultimate day in Assynt and I was disappointed that I might not be able to get in the water.
I went for a walk along the beach, scavenging for sea glass and other treasures. Almost next to the road was a tiny tube with a clear orange tint, looking to the untrained eye like a bit of plastic. But I lunged to pick it up because it was a mermaid’s purse! These extraordinary objects are the egg cases of sharks and after asking around on Instagram I was told that this one belonged to a dogfish.
I’ll admit, I saw this as a sign. Especially when the sun broke out and I felt a smidge warmer. I’d found a mermaid’s purse and I was going to swim. The water temperature was 14° and with my wetsuit on I was just fine. It was my first time swimming in Scottish waters and I fell completely in love. Watching the waves from wave-level is quite a surreal experience, and I loved that I was right where the otter had been just the night before.
It was the perfect way to end a trip full of wildness and nature. I was really quite sorry to leave, but I had over 1000 photos to edit and dozens of note pages to go through…