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Highlands and Islands. Just a tour around one of our favourite desinations. May/June 2022


Galana
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Galana

Last years report seemed well received so here goes another in which I will outline this years trip but spare the detail given previously.

 

We live on another Island in the archipelago known as the British Isles so are quite used to ferries to start and finish our trips to UK and with Covid restrictions now much easier the planning this year was fairly straight forward. Just a matter of melding cheaper weekday crossings into the usual Sat-Sat weeks for renting cottages. Matching up the excellent Cal Mac ferries of Scotland was easy enough as they also seem to gear their operations to facilitate this. Or it may just be a happy piece of serendipity that timetables work so well for us?

A pattern emerged with a few nights in a B&B or Hotel at the start and finish of straight weeks Sat-Sat in Self Catering cottages.

 

So to the easy bit. Booking.

This is what our plan looked like.

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Transport.

Well we use our venerable family car for such trips and ‘he’ has served us well over the many years we have owned ‘him’ so we have no rentals to consider. Load him up with our modest needs and off we go. Italy, Slovenja, Hungary or Scotland it’s all the same to him. I like driving and the comfort levels are good. ‘Him?’ I hear. Yup. He was called ‘Red Alf’ when he replaced his elder brother “Green Alf”. I kept to motor racing colours from British Racing Green to tipping my hat to Ferrari Red in honour of his Italian heritage. Operating mainly on a small island our annual mileage is small and gone are the days of being told the car must be sold just because the “Accountant” says it is ‘old’ and must go before 50,000 miles on the Odometer. (He once telephoned me to demand I hand it over immediately as we hit 50,000 and was a bit non nonplussed when I said I was in Hungary and he would have to wait until my return or come and collect it at his expense. I have gone on a bit about cars for reasons that will become clearer later so stay tuned. This really IS a Trip report!

 

Our local Ferry operators, The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company ( Oldest Packet company in the world) are now re-nationalised after too many years in the incapable and avaricious hands of various private companies. They do a good job and a new boat is in course of being built as the poor ‘old’ Ben my Chree is now a bit long in the tooth, or keel? Oldest Packet company in the world employing mainly Manx Seamen.

Eat ya heart out P&O!

 

Our lodgings were partly booked through agencies and partly booked direct. Some new places and some old friends revisited.

We rose very early on day 1 as we faced a 45 minute drive from home to harbour and then had a 60 minute check in time for an 07.30 sailing. Do the maths. The streets are not yet aired.

Arrival is at Heysham, Lancs at 11.15 when normally we head straight north on M6 and M74 via Glasgow and Loch Lomondside for a first stop in Crianlarich by about 16.00. This year we decided to press on another 30 miles or so to try the very attractive “Falls of Lora” Hotel at Connel Bridge. Not cheap but we felt a bit of a splurge was in order ahead of four weeks self catering. The ‘Blue room’ is a lovely room overlooking the loch and with excellent cuisine for dinner.

“The Falls of Lora” are not true falls but a tidal overrace as the incoming and outgoing tides cross a rocky narrow strip faster than the sea loch can handle the amount of water entering or leaving.

 

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Here is our drive on 25th May.

 

These are a selection of 'review' scenes' of our room at Falls of Lora, Connell, Argyll.

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We had three days/nights here and never having lingered in this beautiful area before we spent our time exploring the minor roads normally avoided by tourists in our/their headlong dash for Oban and the Inner Hebrides or further north to the Highlands.

We really enjoyed our days out despite mixed weather at the start and were of course well placed for the short drive to Oban on Saturday for our Ferry over to our first full week of the trip on the Island of Mull. Isle of Man (IOM) to Isle of Mull (IOM) Ellan Vannin or Eilein Mhuilich? Home from home really.

 

Here are two of the beautiful birds we found on our local exploration of the area.

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Goosander family.

 

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Black-throated Diver pair.

 

Next up is our journey over to Mull.

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I’m pleased you are doing a trip report, and very impressed that you are doing it while still on the trip!

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Galana
11 hours ago, TonyQ said:

I’m pleased you are doing a trip report, and very impressed that you are doing it while still on the trip!

Thanks. I  can manage to make notes so thought I may as well formalise them.  The trick will be in staying 'behind' any events as whilst I can report on what has happened up to check out if I get too far ahead I will catch myself doing 'trip planning' and not 'reporting'.:o   That would never do.

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pomkiwi

Lovely start. Looking forward to the journey. I’ve stayed a few miles north of the Falls of Lora and agree it is a lovely area of Scotland to explore.

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Galana
3 hours ago, pomkiwi said:

I’ve stayed a few miles north of the Falls of Lora and agree it is a lovely area of Scotland to explore.

Thanks. Yes, we knew the area north of Connell to Ballahulish from several trips to Appin etc., (which we did this trip too esp Jubilee Bridge) so concentrated on the area south as territory unknown to us. Pleased we did. Indeed we are back 'down there' at the end of the trip based on rumours of.....Ooops. Getting ahead of myself. Gotta keep something back and 'no' we have not got there yet so written more in hope than actuallity.enjoy Aus.

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Galana
Posted (edited)

 

 

Part two. To Mull.

 

We had been booked on the 12.30 ferry from Oban to Craignure so had plenty of time to drive the 10 miles or so to Oban from our Hotel ‘Falls of Lora’ . Indeed as we were self catering from now on we took the time to add fresh provisions to the stock of staple household’ items we had brought with us. Small basics like salt and pepper, in cellars, half used items that may be needed but not totally used up on the trip. Does anybody get through a whole kilo of Granola or Cornflakes in four weeks?Things like that. This leaves us to buy eggs, margarine/butter, milk, bread etc.., fresh as required. Red wine is constantly turning over in our household and long gone by the ‘use buy date’ on the label.. The legend “Best before” always amuses us and is taken to mean “Best before the end of Dinner” once opened.

 

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Having been caught out last year by fuel shortages and timetables we also planned to refuel as we had come up from the IOM on this tankful and were quarterful. Alf will run over 400 miles from full before the warning light shows which is a far better indicator than the guage.

And this is where we hit a major snag. Alf is old for his looks having been purchased new in 2003 and had actually achieved his 100,000 miles shortly after setting out on his trip up here. He needs good old Unleaded and nobody seemed to stock it in Scotland since the bloody Oil companies brought out some new fangled juice called E10 last year. The UK Government has therefore condemned over 600,000 cars still in use to premature retirement. How ‘Green’ is that? Many owned by the less well off folks in society. How caring is that?

On the other hand we had been shielded by our prudent and caring Government who ensured E5 is still available on the island and indeed E10 is banned. This event had passed us by and it was a shock to discover some 300 miles from home. We are told this new stuff will harm our engine but what are we supposed to do? Push all the way back home? Oh how deceitful/stupid these Oil companies are and they expect us to believe them doing ‘green’ things. These are the same people that made the aviation industry switch to burning leaded fuel when it suited them back in 1970s. All petrol driven planes had to have expensive mods done or scrap their engines. Now the opposite is being done and your Governments are aiding and abetting them. Ba$tards!

We reluctantly topped off our tanks with E10, Hobson’s choice, and hoped for the best until we get home in another 1500 miles or so. **.

 

Having done our shopping we are in time for an earlier sailing on 11.25 and those nice people on CalMac let us take this so we can enjoy an extra hour on Mull before checking in to our new cottage at 17.00.

“Mull” is Gaellic for ‘headland’ and there are lots of those on this island as many sea lochs run deep into the overall shape of the island. I am not sure how such things are measured but I am told that Mull is the third biggest of the Hebridean islands after Lewis/Harris and Skye. I will take their word for it as I am not visiting to spend long days driving. We are there for the wildlife and especially Otters and Eagles of which Mull has both species native to Britain.

 

We had few plans for this afternoon apart from checking in to our home for the next week so simply drove to the Spar shop in Salen for further groceries before heading to a favourite ‘hot spot’ for Eagles on Loch na Keale to ‘waste’ time watching them until check in time at 17.00.

Judge for yourselves whether it was really ‘wasted time’ , in addition to the almost guaranteed White-tailed Eagles, we picked up an Otter sighting AND a great view of a Great Northern Diver in full breeding plumage. No apologies for showing these again to followers on my Big Year.DSCN6150.JPG.12fd566d3112cd5ba7cb266b7c3f8e3c.JPGDSCN6098.JPG.94a478b776bfcf4c7c0a11809ed4ae16.JPG

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And so to our new home. Courtyard Cottage at Gruline Home farm just ten minutes drive from both the afore mentioned WT Eagles and an Eyrie for Golden Eagles too. I think the term ‘centrally located’ quite appropriate in such circumstances.DSCN6216.JPG.d40eb378d42588f61d8637d34b1f27ad.JPG

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Courtyard Cottage is set as part of the main farm and quite secluded and quiet. Accommodation is on two levels with the bedroom on the ground floor and living room/kitchen on the floor above. All well fitted and working. If there is a fault it is the lack of a view as the top floor is lit by Velux Roof lights only. No matter but worth noting.

 

Our days on Mull comprised mainly of rising very early and heading out along either side of Loch na Keale seeking Otters in which we enjoyed some success. Occasionally we drove further to Pennyghael on Loch Scridain or up to Ulva in the opposite direction but mainly stuck to Loch na Keale.

The one ‘break’ in this routine was our traditional shopping trip to Tobermorey where we also indulge in a full lunch at MacGochans on the harbourside. Sadly this year they seemed to have gone ‘downmarket’ to the Burger and fries brigade although there were some standard dishes for which they were previously renowned for. The locally produced Mussells in garlic were very nice but if you wanted something like Langoustines or Lobster you were disappointed. OK. This happens I suppose even to the best of places.

We really enjoyed our full week on Mull and saw many birds, including both species of Eagle and quite a few otters so were not disappointed at all. The weather was fine throughout and this helped.

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We were not booked on any trips such as the Eagle feeding on Lady Jayne or a trip to the Treshnish Islands for seabirds as the weather forecasts were variable. These are recommended for anyone who has yet to try them.

 

And so at the end of our week we packed ready for a flying start over to Morvern for the drive north to Dundonnell and ‘The Wee Barn’.

 

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Edited by Galana
map added
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shouldbewriting

As a born and brought up Scot who hasn’t lived there in fifty-five years, I am lapping this up! Many thanks for great photos, including interior shots of accommodations.

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Towlersonsafari

enjoying your report @Galana- we often have more luck with otters on the loch scridan/pennyghael side and probably do a lot more walking, but Mull is such a lovely place and to pootle about in the car spotting otters and eagles and stuff in between is a splendid way to enjoy life

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I did see Otters on Pennyghael last year, hardly miss em as our 'digs' were on Pennyghael estate, but we take them wherever we can and Loch na Keale does us well.

Pleased you are enjoying the report. Spoiler alert, there is something nesty brewing out in the Atlantic as I write this.

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**Correction to earlier report on Mull!

After filling up in Oban and re-filling in Fort William with E10, we arrived ‘up’ near Dundonnell. (Report follows soon)

 

In the village of Laide the ‘Gleaners Garage & Post Office’ had E5 and assured us that distribution from Inverness is ALL E5. That will do us for now. Topped off with 40 litres of E5 and that should see us onto Lewis next week and the next 400 miles.

 

More to come later on that week.

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On we go.A tale of two ferries.

 

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We had a longish drive (172miles) today so had decided to get the first Ferry of the day at 07.30 from Fishnish over the Sound of Mull to Lochaline on the Morven shore. From there we would have a 30 mile drive to Ardgour and the 2nd Ferry of the day over the Corran narrows to the A82 to Fort William. This was a long Bank Holiday weekend to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee and traffic would be busy and as neither of these Ferries were bookable, we needed a head start. So rising early we packed and headed the short distance to Fishnish at 06.30 to wait in line to ensure being boarded. We happened to be first in the queue but the early start was worth it as the line soon grew behind us.

 

First on and first off and, once out of the village, we resembled the Safety car at a GrandPrix with a tail back of anxious racers behind. Single track roads are not the practice ground for such matters so we allowed passing where conditions permitted even though we knew many of these would be heading for the Ardgour and the next ferry just as we were. We knew the crossing frequency was quite good and expected that we would have to wait a while for maybe a couple of ferries before crossing. So be it. We had all day and better let the others go ahead than have an accident. We had thirty miles to drive and most of those passing would be ahead in the queue when we got there.

 

When we eventually arrived we joined the ‘line’ of waiting cars just as the next ferry was loading and we inched forward thinking we would not get aboard. And darn it we had only two vehicles ahead of us when the boat appeared full. But imagine the smiles when both these larger vehicles proved too large for the tiny space we could see remaining on the Ferry and the ‘loadmaster’ pointed to me and waved us aboard with tiny Alf at 168 inches, 4.2 metres, just squeezing into the last 4.5 x 1.7 metre space. And when the loadmaster recognised our Manx Reg. Plate he was even more pleased that he had helped us get the last slot.

And so we gained the main A82 and headed for Morrison’s Supermarket in Fort William for shopping supplies to cover the long weekend and, more importantly, fuel. The first was successful but sadly there was no E5 petrol to be had so it was E10 or nothing. Very annoying but I won’t repeat my earlier rant.

After Fort William it was a simple route through the Great Glen to Drumnadrochit before cutting inland to Beauly Firth and almost to Dingwall before joining the better road A835 towards Ullapool.

We stopped off at the nice looking Aultguish Inn for a bowl of soup and a sandwich for lunch. We were not due to our next cottage until 17.00 so had time in hand and spent time scanning the moors and rivers for birds but without much success. Eventually it was time to check in, so at Dundonnel we took the minor road to our cottage “The Wee Barn” at Badluarach.

It looked and was lovely.

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To conclude this sector perhaps I should explain why on earth we chose this place? Well, pre covid, we had booked here in the hope of some birding and mammal watching but had had to cancel. It did not fit our itinerary for last year so we held it over for 2022 as we needed a place convenient to Ullapool for the Ferry over to Stornoway as well as a possible trip up to RSPB reserve at Handa Island. The former worked well but Handa was felt to be too far for a day trip so did not happen.

 

We knew the area from earlier, much earlier as ‘in 1975’, visits to Torridon, Ben Eighe, Loch Maree and the gardens at Inverewe so it fitted in OK. More on this later as there is just space to describe “The Wee Barn” in this posting.

A lovely little single storey “Butte ‘n Ben” conversion with a fantastic view over Little Loch Broom and as far as the Summer Isles to the west. All mod cons that worked although ‘Instruction booklets’ on the various kitchen equipment would have been useful. The TV/DVD thingy was a total mystery to us but as we do not have a TV at home this was unimportant. Good private parking at the rear (so as not to spoil THAT view) and we were set up for our next week.DSCN6680-001.JPG.26bd711d1cfedf31057beffa9e33b25d.JPG

 

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Great bed.

 

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Dining table and room heater. (Not needed.)

 

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Lounge seat and cooker.

 

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The 'Kitchen'.

 

All that one would need in a compact space.

 

More on the area etc. later.

 

 

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That looks very cosy, and with a lovely view 

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Kitsafari

you've selected some delightful and cosy lodgings, i have to say. 

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6 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

you've selected some delightful and cosy lodgings, i have to say. 

We do try. Wait until you see the next place where I am writing this despite a houlie trying to lift the roof off.:o

'It' was forecast to be bad yesterday and today and it was and is but that's the Hebrides for you. Even the Red deer have stopped raiding the garden.

But the weather does let me catch up on mails without worrying about going exploring outside the four walls. How is it on Uist @TonyQ? We have the mountains of Harris between us.

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Soukous
On 6/9/2022 at 4:54 PM, Galana said:

Hobson’s choice

don't you mean Hodgson's choice?

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Soukous said:

don't you mean Hodgson's choice?

Not really! In this instance much the same process is involved but it ante dates @Galana by a few hundred years.:D

The phrase is said to have originated with Thomas Hobson (1544–1631), a livery stable owner in Cambridge, England, who offered customers the choice of either taking the horse in his stall nearest to the door or taking none at all.

For stable space read E10 petrol. Q.E.D.

Edited by Galana
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@Galanawe have had all sorts of weather, often in the space of a couple of hours :D

Quite cold, sometimes very windy, sun, cloud rain!

We have got out every day, often for the whole day.

Yesterday was the wettest, but we had two of our best sightings in the dry patches. We are close to some great sites, so look out the window and take advantage of good patches.

We have loved it!

Also because it is light for so long it gives more opportunities to be out

Edited by TonyQ
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1 hour ago, TonyQ said:

Yesterday was the wettest,

One could say that. We never stirred over the step and even the Deer laid low and only came to feed after dinner when it stopped raining.

Good to learn that you are getting some good sightings.

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So what did we do around Wester Ross?

 

To be honest there is not that much to do other than enjoy the scenery and in our case the excellent weather.

Our peninsular was quite spectacular and ‘empty’. Ideal territory for moorland birds but we only saw cuckoos, ravens, buzzards and pipits.

DSCN6917.JPG.c5bfbf137461689edb629e48c6f04bf2.JPG We were also a bit ‘far back’ from the actual coast so seeking Otters was not really an option.

 

One landmark we found of interest at the end of our road was the round mountain of Sail Mhor which looked for all the world like the inspiration for the famous Scottish delicacy known as Tunnock Cake. https://www.tunnock.co.uk/products/teacakes/

 

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Sail Mhor.

 

We passed up on visiting the world famous Inverewe gardens as the car parks were overflowing with coaches and campers and we had been there previously. The village of Poolewe was very interesting especially with the wartime convoy connections and of course the romantically inclined amongst us will love the name of the nearest Island if spoken correctly as “Isle of Ewe !”

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The small villages stores of Aultbea and Laide were well stocked and home to very friendly staff with Fuel available 24/7 by automatic pumps with card processing in Laide.

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Aultbea and Loch Ewe.

 

We discovered an excellent place for birding at the Community Woodland of “Aultbea and Laide” which was well waymarked and signed with ‘Identification boards’. There are two lochans about 2km walk in from the main park and one of these was equipped with a small hide for birding.

Well worth a visit. I dare say more time spent there would result in an impressive bird list.

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Orange Tip on Ragged Robin.

 

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One side trip was up to the quaintly named hamlet of Mellon Udrigle where there is good parking and an excellent beach and foreshore containing wildlife (before the doggy walkers arrive). It was on this trip we came upon a pair of Red-throated Divers which ably demonstrated how much luck plays in birding. They were initially close to the road but on our return drive they were right up at the far end of the loch and next day were nowhere to be seen.

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Another interesting walk was the track over to the abandoned settlement of Slaggan, 8km each way that was not too taxing and passed two lovely lily covered lochans.

 

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I think that about covers the area and as I am about to be plunged into a WiFi free zone on North Uist from Saturday I doubt I will get any opportunity to post more of our trip here on Lewis or Uist until almost back home. To be continued….

 

Our boat over to Stornoway awaits....

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What a superb Cuckoo very jealous of that photo!

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Dave Williams

We visited Inverewe Gardens last year and to be honest I was not that impressed but we are lucky in that we have the superb Bodnant Gardens very close to home.

My brother, who lives in Germany , always takes several packs of Tunnocks teacakes back home with him. I wouldn't mind getting my hands on some of the dark chocolate ones, didn't know they made them until I clicked your link.

The weather on the west coast of  Scotland has been poor recently but you have had some excellent sightings.

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Towlersonsafari

The best way to eat a tunnocks teacake is too cram it all into the mouth in one go. i have researched this extensively  @Galana  and @Dave Williamsand this technique applies to both dark and milk varieties 

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Soukous

Whoa Fred! Your dragonfly photos are alarming sharp. Did someone else take them? :P

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12 hours ago, TonyQ said:

What a superb Cuckoo very jealous of that photo!

Thanks are really due to the Menzies van driver who kindly waited to pass until I got the shot. Mind you that's the firm that lost my luggage in Windhoek a few years back so honour is satisfied.

 

@Dave WilliamsGlad to help the export trade.

@TowlersonsafariInteresting research habit.

 

 

27 minutes ago, Soukous said:

Whoa Fred! Your dragonfly photos are alarming sharp. 

 

Not the focus it was the pin I used to hold them on the board.;)  ONLY kidding. Easier to hold a lens when the subject is closer (and keeps still)

 

Weather update. Yesterday was grim and  not helped by a trip to Tarbert which Lady G described as 'Dire'!

Mopping out the conservatory and I was rewarded by a nice Otter sighting. Did not realise the water had got that deep. 

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Soukous

Did you by any chance visit Shieldag, one of my favourite places with one of my favourite pubs

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