Culloden Battlefields Circuit.

I recently did the 14km Culloden Battlefield’s Circuit which included the Culloden Moors, the Culloden Visitors’ Centre, and the Clava Cairns. It’s an easy walk, physically. Flat (for the most part) with made paths that are either gravel, forestry trails or footpaths next to the road. In that respect it’s easy. No physical challenge.

There is, however, some emotional challenge.

Like most of the world, I knew nothing about Culloden or the history of the Scottish people until I watched the first series of Outlander. While it may not be an accurate historical representation, it has certainly piqued the interest of millions, including myself.

On top of that, both sides of my family hale from Scotland. Some of my blood started here. I was drawn to Scotland, by my own history and partly by Outlander. (And to be honest, partly by Neil Oliver, the simmering historian!)

On the 16th April, 1746  the Battle of Culloden happened in this place. Lasting less than an hour, it led to the deaths of 1500 Jacobite men and 50 Red Coats. It was not a battle of Scottish against English. It was not a battle of Protestants against Catholics. It was a battle for Scottish independence and for the personal vanity of a would-be King.

For me, the emotional challenge started at St Mary’s Well, where the Jacobite Troops got their water and where they retreated to after the short-lived battle. The trees around the enclosed well are covered in bits of material. These strips are “wish rags”.

Rags tied with a prayer for healing and good luck.

There are ghosts here. You can feel them. I cursed my crunching boots and squeaking backpack buckles, I needed to be quieter.

“I am sorry” I thought  “Sorry to disturb your rest.”

I don’t know who I was speaking to, but I felt it. Like you sometimes feel the change in air pressure before a storm.

You feel it when you stop to listen. You feel it when you stop to take notice.

People had died here. Badly.

A few kilometres on,  I passed onto the “official” battlefield. I expected more ghosts, but none appeared to me. There were too many living people here. The air was disturbed with the conversations of the now. It was too noisy. The ghosts were hiding, looking for peace. Perhaps if you came back at night, they would be here. If you came back after the buses had gone, after the Visitors’ Centre had closed, perhaps they would be here then.

Even so, without the ghosts, it was a sad, bleak and windy place. No trees, just low shrubs. The wildflowers should have packed up and gone home, because even their bright colours failed to cheer things up.

There may be no ghosts, but my rational self imagined what it must have been like.  I thought “Are there bones under my feet? Am I stepping on someone’s corpse?”

The ground would have been covered in bodies, blood and flies. By the 19th of  April it would have been a stinking quagmire of gore, with human scavengers picking the pockets of the fallen.

The loud laughter of a group of women on a private Outlander tour disturb my imaginings.

Go slowly. People died here.

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The Visitors’ Centre was excellent, a very good balance between entertainment and sorrow. The walk continued for another 8 kilometres or so after the battlefields, well sign posted and level, it remained an easy walk. Along the way, the Clava Cairns take us back to an even more ancient past. Perhaps 4000 years old, these rocks, arranged in slotted rings, take us back much, much further than the battlefields.

There are no ghosts here. The ancients made sure their dead were at rest, unlike those who died on Culloden Moor.

The Cairns are peaceful.

They are just another brown signposted ‘place of interest’  on the road.

This video shows you what to expect on the circuit trail.

I am having all sorts of trouble uploading videos with the mobile version of WordPress! I will post the video on my public Facebook site – Old Chook Enterprises.

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This walk is well worth the time. It took me around 5 hours but that included a good stop at the Visitors’ Centre. I used a map from Viewranger which you can access from the Walking Highlands website (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/lochness/culloden-clava.shtml)  but it was very well sign-posted and it would have been possible to do it without the map. I would recommend the Culloden Visitor Centre, although you can walk right on by it if you chose to.

My advice? Walk quietly, listen for the ghosts.

Lewis Coastal Walk

When I packed my suitcase to come to Scotland, I went out and bought another pair of fleecy Gortex pants because I was worried I would be wet and cold. My research of the weather said I could expect temperatures in high teens at best. I didn’t pack any shorts and only one t-shirt. That plan was sorely tested.

On the day I did this walk, The Outer Hebrides put on a summer day to rival summer in Wollongong! Not a cloud in the sky and at one point my car told me it was 30C!

After 5 km of walking, I decided to cut down my jeans with the little scissors in my trusty first aid kit!

After a thorough cost benefit analysis I deemed it worthwhile.

Pros:

1. It’s 30 C (86F)

2. The jeans are not expensive ones

3. It’s 30 C (86F)

4. I’m sweating like crazy and I am only carrying a litre of water. It’s a health issue!

5. It’s 30 C (86F)!!! In Scotland!!!

Cons:

1………

2. Still thinking of 1!

(Video to follow! Ackkkk not sure why but they won’t load)

Photo of the Week 15

I usually photograph “real” places, events or objects. I very rarely set up a scene with the intention of photographing it. I want to experiment with studio lights and created scenes. I have started with natural light and have used natural objects from native Australian plants.  I edited some using the Jixipix suite of apps.

Nuts and gum leaves

 

The original photo was taken on a white sheet of paper in the open shade of an awning.

Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 f3.5 ISO 125 14.25 mm 1/500s

Edited in Lightroom and Jixipix.

 

 

Digging for Dinosaurs.

It’s July, in Hell Creek, Montana. The daytime temperature hovers around 45ºC (113ºF). Your lips crack, and the water you guzzle seems to evaporate before you get a chance to swallow it.

The barren landscape is speckled with low buttes, rounded striated mounds that rise abruptly from the otherwise flat landscape. Tufts of serrated grass struggle to grow in the grey popcorn-like clay that breaks easily under the pick.

Weather-beaten bone fragments are abundant under your feet and ignored by the experts. The real treasure is still underground. The dark brown, almost purple bones that have been encased for millions of years are not hard to find. Isolated fragments of skeletons are common. It’s the whole skeleton, intact and in one place – now that’s the mother lode.

To find these, the researchers concentrate on landforms they call washes. The remnants of watercourses; these are places where bones congregate in a tangle to form bone beds. Here the dead beasts became stuck and then covered in mud and silt in a Triassic flood. They have lain here undisturbed, the bones becoming fossilised as the living tissue is replaced by minerals. Hard and locked in time.

Fifteen long hours of bright sunshine makes sleep a problem. The extended twilight, a photographer’s delight. The six hours of darkness that finally comes is not enough to recover from the day’s hard labour, yet you press on. The heavy pick is replaced by a small hand pick and then a soft brush and dental pick. Your tiny little pick hits something that “tinks” when the metal hits it. You’ve found it! You’ve found the rib of a triceratops. More digging, slowly, slowly with painstaking tedium you brush away more dirt. Wait! Stop! Is that the vertebrae? YES! The joy punctures the eerie mood. You are the only human who has ever seen this bone.

No-one.

Ever.

The feeling of time stretched out behind you becomes unnerving. What catastrophic event lead to these massive creatures being nothing but a pile of bones? Will it happen again?

a women in a straw hat is kissing a dinosaur bone
Bec kisses the recovered rib bone

Dinosaur dig vacations

A dinosaur dig is not your typical vacation destination. It’s not glamorous. You actually have to do some digging!  It’s hot and dusty. Most “holiday” digs are part of research programs, and you become the cheap labour and pay for the privilege.  My dig was with a group called Paleoworld Research Foundation who operated during the summers from a ranch about 50 km out of the town of Jordan. The two women (Hannah and Jess) who ran the operation where both Masters students who were collecting specimens for their studies. We slept in an old caravan and ate simple meals with the family who owned the ranch.

A grren grassy hill in the forwground and a red hill with teh moon rising in the the left hand side.
The full moon rises over the Lervick Ranch at the end of another hard day.

I travelled to America with Bec, a friend I had met at a Science Teachers’ workshop a few years before. Our trip was 100% science-based. After the dig, we drove down through the Yellowstone National Park (geology) and onto the Grand Canyon (more geology)  and Los Vegas. From Los Vegas, we flew to Alabama to join an Educators’ Space Camp at the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center. (Maths and physics!) (Ok…. so Los Vegas wasn’t very scientific!)

Paleoworld Research Foundation are no longer operating. Some internet research shows that Judy Lervick, the ranch owner, sadly died in July 2017. There are other groups who offer a similar experience, although I cannot in any way vouch for them.

 

Wollongong Snapshot: Wollongong Botanic Gardens

Being a tourist in your own town has its advantages. It’s quick, inexpensive and you don’t need much planning.  I took myself off to the Wollongong Botanic Gardens on a glorious spring day in search of colourful flowers and interesting textures. I was not disappointed!

A large kookaburra sitting on a rock
Plenty of bird life to be found in the gardens

It seems like ages since I have been out for the express purpose of taking photos.  The  Gardens are one of my favourite places for a close-to-home photo safari.

The Gardens are across the road from the University of Wollongong, but it’s best to park in Murphy’s Avenue, Gwynneville.  (click here for a map of the area) Because it is right near the Uni, parking can be a bit tricky during Semester time. There is a small designated parking area in the gardens itself. (Enter on Murphy’s Road)

A black metal scultpure of a man in a baseball hat with is arms crossed
Sculptures adorn the lawns

The Gardens are free and a fabulous place for a picnic. There are limited BBQ Facilities near the entrance. An “all-abilities” children’s’ playground with a big sandpit, climbing web and maze will keep kids occupied for ages. The design ensures that is accessible for everyone including those with limited mobility.

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Well organised picnickers nab the best spots!

In summer, you can take along your family,  bean bags, cushions and a picnic dinner and catch a movie on a big outdoor screen as the sun sets and the birds twitter in the trees.   Not all movies are suitable for kids but many are, so best to check the program here Sunset Cinema first.

The highlights for me are the Dryland Gardens (good all year)  and the rose garden (you need to pick the season). In spring, of course, you will find the garden in full bloom. Since most trees in Australia are evergreen and our Autumn’s are not very cold, there is not much leaf colour  as you would find in colder climes.

If you wanted to make a full day of it take a packed lunch,  include a walk around the Uni which has pleasant grounds and have a peek at Glennifer Brae, the stately home of the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music, both within an easy stroll from the Garden itself..

There are  guided tours run by the Friends of the Botanic Gardens and there are various gardening workshops advertised on the website.

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These photos were taken on September 30th and while its  officially been spring for a whole month the weather was only just starting to warm up.

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I have edited some as black and white to emphasise the textures; especially in the cactus.

Spring flowers in the Wollongong Botanic Gardens-5

These photos were all taken with my Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 and edited in Lightroom. Some frames where further edited using Nik software or Jixipix.

I hope you enjoy them!

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Give me a home among the gumtrees….

Australians know about travelling. We don’t hesitate to drive 100km to get to a friend’s house. It’s just what you do. We get on a plane and fly all day just to go on holidays.

“You came all this way?” people will ask you. We can’t get out of the country unless we do! It’s 4 hours from Sydney to Perth. It’s a 22 hour flight to Israel (plus layovers or waits at the airport).

Compared to Australia, Israel is a very small place. The total length from north to south is 424 kilometres.  My mum’s place is 635 km away and we still live in the same state. At its widest, Israel is 114 km – that’s only 2 km more than from my place in Wollongong to Penrith; one of Sydney’s western suburbs. At its narrowest point its only 15km across – I ran that far a few months ago in a fun run!

The total area of Israel is 20,770 km2 compared to 7,692,000 km2. More than 370 Israels would fit inside Australia. It’s nearly three times smaller than Tasmania.

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It may be small but compared to Australia, it’s crowded. The average population density is 385 people per km2 compared to 3.1 people per km2 in Australia. [2]

On one of my visits, I hired a car and drove with my daughter and her family from Tel Aviv up to Katzrin in the Golan Heights via Tsfat. It’s the very top of Israel; a little bit further and you’d need a passport!

Katzrin (Qatsrin) is 177 km north of Tel Aviv. When you look it up on Google Maps it’s surrounded by a whole bunch of dotted lines that chart the evolution of the border disputes between Israel and Syria. It is very close to both the Syrian and Lebanese borders. I have to admit I was a bit nervous about going there. My phone was definitely nervous with its frequent declaration of changing billing zones: “Welcome to Syria call costs are” … and then a few metres further “Welcome to Lebanon!” “Welcome to Israel…

After you have been in Israel for a while you get used to seeing soldiers. One of the first things I noticed about the soldiers in Katzrin, was how old they were.    They were real soldiers, not conscripts with training guns. They had real guns, they were not just doing their three years national service. The other thing I noticed was a large number of people who looked like they were from the Pacific Islands. They were little out of place, but it didn’t take long to figure out that they were the ones who were driving around in the UN jeeps. The Peace Keeping Observers.

I had a niggling feeling of discomfort. What was I doing less than 15 km from the Syrian border while there was a fair bit of activity going on?

I was sight-seeing and hiking that’s what! We had come “all” this way to take a walk through the Giliboon Nature Reserve, a popular walking destination for locals, just a few kilometres out of the town of Kaztrin.

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We began the trek by walking past mine fields; (ummm… ok… we’ll just stay on this side of the fence shall we) and then carried on to bombed out concrete bunkers that remained after the Six Day War between Syria and Israel. The bullet holes and graffiti competing for my attention with imported gum trees making the whole scene slightly surreal by reminding me of home.

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The grey sky threatened rain and the smell of eucalyptus hung in the cold air. The track spread out to reveal an ancient Talmudic Village –The Dvora Village. The age of the village is disputed, but some estimates put it at 5000 years and although the basalt stones lay around in unorganized piles after many earthquakes, there was enough order to get the sense of a once thriving settlement. A grind stone here, a drying oven there.  Cattle wander about, picking their way carefully through the rocks, timid and curious at the same time.

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The colours were great. A low, dark, foreboding sky with bright yellow lichen clinging to the stones.  We stopped and balanced on the rocks to eat a snack and I remarked that if we were in Australia, all this would be fenced off; either to protect the site or to protect the tourists. Here, the only hint of regulation was a single chain across a doorway and a rusty sign that said something along the lines of “Don’t climb the wall, it will probably fall and you’ll get hurt.”

The loop track is only 4 km but as we slowly slushed our way through mud, our shoes became weighed down by several kilograms of sticky black clay. We made fun of our pancaked boots[1] as they grew to gigantic proportions. We passed waterfalls, land crabs and native cyclamens growing in the crevices.

The metal ladders and carved footholds added a level of difficulty to the walk, especially with a baby in a backpack. The most intriguing sight took my scientific mind a while to work out. At first, I thought I was staring at a strange geological formation until I realised it was a rock covered in thousands of pieces of chewing gum!

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by gum!

In summer, the pools at the base of the Dvora Falls are popular swimming holes. We didn’t swim on this dreary January day but I marvelled at how peaceful it was despite the remnants of past wars all around us.

It was quiet.

Strangely quiet and it registered that there were no birds calling. No raucous cockatoos, no twittering blue wrens. I guess the birds had flown south and I made one more mental note of how different my daughter’s adopted home was to my own.

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[1] but forgot to take photos!

[2] just as a point of interest Israel is the 35th most populated country on a list of 233 and Australia 227th. The most populated is Monaco at 25,718 people per km2!! But that’s getting a bit close too a Pinterest vortex!