On my recent walking tour of the Orkney islands, our walking guide, Nigel had told us to be on the lookout for the elusive Primula scotica or Scottish Primrose. It was sharp-eyed Elaine who spied it first. Declared to be nationally scarce, it was indeed a lucky find! It is only small, about 13 mm across and maybe 7 – 8 cm tall. This one found on the walk from Skara Brae to Yesnaby.
Scotland has proved to be as photogenic as I had expected. The landscape is breathtaking but it’s the little things that also catch the eye. Here are some of the tiny wildflowers I found on St Kilda and Lewis Islands, in the Outer Hebrides. If you know any of the names of these flowers please let me know in the comments.
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.
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 thecircuit 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
taking a rest
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.
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?
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.
Robyn and Judy – Montana
cold beer greasy food
female bird side on
Bird on post 2
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.
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!
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)
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.
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.
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.
I have edited some as black and white to emphasise the textures; especially in the cactus.
These photos were all taken with my Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 and edited in Lightroom. Some frames where further edited using Nik software or Jixipix.