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Borderline birding. Two weeks along the 'debateable lands'.


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We have developed a habit of taking two weeks in mid November to visit the Solway Firth mainly with the intention of seeing the annual spectacle of the 1,000s of migratory wildfowl that over winter there. These include Whooper Swans, Pink-footed and Greater Whitefronted Geese, Greenland race, and most of the any Barnacle Geese that breed on the Svalbard archipelago. We usually swing east through the debateable lands of the very fluid and porous border between Scotland and England to visit the Northumbrian coast around Lindisfarne and Bamburgh before heading back home.

This year we are to spend a few nights in Barns Tower 'castle' in Buchan country of Peebles.

More on that later.

To start the trip we needed to leave home 'early doors' for the Ferry to England. This year it was blowing a gale and we were late boarding and even later arriving in Heysham. 

I have given a full account of the tribulations of this part of our journey in my 'Big Year' so won't repeat them here.

Suffice to say that our planned arrival before dark failed and the last 15 miles, the hard bit, was done in darkness which is never a good idea when seeking a lonely cottage in the Galloway Hills.


However we arrived safely and settled in. The place was comfortable and warm so no regrets.







All looking very nice inside.

Then next morning we could see where we had ended up.


Nice stone cottage..




Miles from anywhere in the Uplands above Gatehouseof Fleet.

This will do nicely.

And by way of confirmation we were treated to an overflight of a Golden Eagle.

More to come as we tour the many Wildlife reserves of the area..


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Well we have had three days here now and it really is lovely.

Where exactly are we?

Well in the good old days the County was called KIrkcudbright but now part of Dumfries and Galloway which is the large county that borders the Solway Firth to the south. Parts are quite remote and beautiful.

Here are two maps to help with the Orientation for those unfamiliar with UK and Scotland.



First you see the general area with the main trunk road A75 running from the right, Dumfries, home of Rabbie Burns, is just off to the right. From there the

road runs west through Castle Douglas, home of the Maxwell's and on to Gate house of Fleet and up to Newton Stewart before in 25 miles arriving in the Seaport of Stranraer where ferries leave for Larne in Ireland.


Homing in on Gatehouse of Fleet, a lovely small market town you see 'our' road going north and swinging through Lauriston Forest to the village of Lauriston? We are half way 'up that road'.

Next map.


We are staying for seven days in Croft Cottage at the 'bed' logo marked Grobdale of Girthon. This is two miles of lonely track from the tar road.

Really dark nights with no light pollution and wildlife around.

But easily accessible to many lovely spots.

Birding wise it could not be better placed. You can see the Red Kite feeding station by Lauriston is so close. Red Kites were almost extinct in UK apart from a small number in mid Wales until about 30 years ago when a re-introduction programme took place around the UK which has b een more succesful than thought possible..There must be 1000 pairs around the country now.

Red Kite.



A beautiful raptor indeed.

And that is not all that is on offer around here.

30 miles or so west lies Wigtown Bay, "Book Town" and the RSPB reserve of Crook of Baldoon on the Cree Estuary with 1000,s of wildfowl to see.

Just to the east of Lauriston lies the Ken/Dee Marshes with more wildfowl and visiting birds.

East again is the RSPB reserve of Mersehead with myriads of wildfowl. 40,000  Barnacle Geese over winter here from Svalbard in the far north which I sure those of you who know that area will be very familiar with around Longyearbyn.

Mammals are well represented also with both Red Deer and Roe along with Badgers and the native Red Squirrels plus the vanguard of the Pine Marten invasion from the Highlands.


Roe Buck. Mereshead, 14/11/2022.

I will try and add more of this odyssey as we go on.


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tuesday was a washout and whilst we did tour around yesterday it was frustrating to find places closed.Even the tourist town of Kirkcudbright (pron Kurkoobree by natives) was ultra low key and nowhere but  a 'greasy spoon' open for lunch. Even the Tourist information Bureau was closed until next April. Don't these people want business or do they rip folks off so much in the four summer months not to need a bit extra?

So back to Gatehouse of Fleet and a very nice lunch in the Mason's Arms washed down with a nice Aussie Shiraz. Kirkoobree eat ya heart out!

This was our last night in Croft Cottage and I felt the location would attract folks seeking peace and quiet that Sarah's website did not show.

So I took a couple of snaps from the road as we left this morning.


A long lens from over a mile distant.


A very wet drive to our next stop was a bit grim but a stop off in the lovely market town of Moffat was rewarding for stocking up with fresh produce.


Onwards over the pass to Tweedsmuir and the source of the famous river whose course we followed down almost to Peebles. However our destination was the 14th C. Tower erected by William Burnett that has recently been repairedand opened as a very nice self catering property. All mod cons even the infernal 'wiffy'.

Too wet toshw a photo of the buiding which will follow but here are some internals of the Tower where one enters by the iron gate and substantial wooden door into what was livestock accommodation but is now a storage for guests including WC and shower rooms.




Then one clmbs the spiral stairs to gain the kitchen on the first floor.




The kitchen.






Which is very nicely equipped and fitted out.


Then up another set of stairs, wooden this time,to reach the second floor lounge/sitting room.





which also contans a traditonal box bed that pulls out t make a double should you have unexpected guests.

All very warm and cosy.


Then, you guessed it, up another spiral staircase to reach the third and final floor with the 'master bedroom'.




Large double bed, untried at the time of writing this although it won't be long, and complete with a new interpretation of the term En Suite. Guess what lies behind the velvet curtain?? Got it in one.

So here we are for the next three nights and days on the banks of the river Tweed on the Neidpath estate.

For more details one can look up 'Barnes Tower' or read John Buchan's first novel 'John Burnett of Barnes. I got mine from Abe books for the princely sum of

£2.50 incuding postage and despite not being a fan of Buchan (seen 39 steps, seen em all.) I did learn quiet a bit about the troubled times of the Borderlands during and after the Restoration.  On a personal note this added a lot to my knowledge of how an earlier King Charles persecuted my own Ancestors at that time due to him fighting on the Parliamentarians side.

But this is not a potted English history. Just a note of my late year trip along the borders.



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Another combination of heavy rain and visitors blocked out yesterday apart from a pair of Tawny Owls duetting outside the garret window in the night.

Today, 19th, the sun looked promising so we went out on a circular drive back to Tweedsmuir and then via minor roads by Talla and Meggat water to St.Mary's Loch and thus back via Peebles and our castle home. Wildlife was bedraggled and mainly Buzzards and LBJ's but I did pick up a couple of Golden Eye on St.Mary's Loch and an overflight by a large V of Pinkfooted Geese.

Back home I took some external views of 'our' Tower.




Note the Iron Yett guarding the front and only entrance.

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that;s an imposing building. 

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Back home this morning after emerging from a Wiffy Black Hole at the back of the Moon to continue where I left off.

Yes, the building is imposing as are most of the fortified homes along the Anglo Scottish borderline. One needed a stranger defence from pushy neighbours than the current vogue for larch lap fences can provide. Those walls are five feet thick.


Two maps to share. The top one of how we drove over from Grobdale. (Croft cottage) to Barns Tower.




On our tour mentioned above the weather was mixed but here is a map of our route, anticlockwise.


Over some of the most rugged country in the Border country.

Sadly apart from a very dodgy photo of a Sparrowhawk all the wildlife we got close to was a pair of Golden Eye (ducks) on St. Mary's Loch near Tibbie Shiels (an old wayside Inn going back to 1783) where we actually spent a few days about 50 years ago. Said to be a favourite haunt of Sir Walter Scott. Well I do recall they had a fantastic stock of Malt Whisky even in 1970.



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Coming to the end of this short odyssey with a final transfer to the North Sea coast of north Northumberland via historic towns of the Tweed valley such as Coldstream and the site of the Battle of Flodden near Branxton.

A noted disaster in Scotland's history, I will let Bruce Fummey tell it in his own inimical style.

A worthwhile series to follow for those seeking some history.


Our route went as follows.....


And when conditions permitted we took a few photos.



Flores Castle and then over the top of the Lowick road we got our first glimpse of the area we were heading for.



Lindisfarne, (Holy Island) where St.Aidan from Iona (off Mull) founded a Monastery in AD 635 thus founding Christianity in the ancient Kingdom of Northumberland Christianity in England.

The island was and is a safe haven being accessible only over a low water causeway .

Zooming in on the delicious clear day.


Lindisfarne and to the south.....


The equally imposing bulk of Bamburgh Castle at the other side of the Budle Bay which is our destination for four nights.

Whilst the weather did improve a little the strong onshore winds did make birding difficult.

Even the Golden Plovers were unhappy.





Edited by Galana
added text.
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So we now arrive at our next rental.

Kittiwake cottage. Great name - great location.


Sea view only from the kitchen. Several comments in the visitors book about another window in the lounge (just left of shot) but knowing how the North Easter can blow around that coast we happily traded warmth for the view.

By the looks of the stonework around both windows they appear to be a recent addition for folks that don't have to live there year round.



The lounge. Any window would have to be on the wall behind the right hand couch. Eyes in back of head and stiff neck?



A slightly snug bed but lovely and warm. And the sun helped.



Well equipped kitchen. There is a dishwasher but we always bring our own.:D



The kitchen window with folding dining table to the right. The view is there but one needs to stop down.




One cannot prepare dinner AND look out the window with a sharp knife in your hand.

Zooming in over the Hawthorns to the right and you get this.DSCN0306.JPG.de7ba5037ea01f95d7d36fed15f4ad5f.JPG

But Baby it's cold outside.

Edited by Galana
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I have never seen so many unhappy Golden Plovers.  Nice shot.  In contrast, the Roe Buck looks content.  Hope you saw many birds in this annual outing.

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6 hours ago, Atravelynn said:

Hope you saw many birds in this annual outing.

Thanks Lynn. The checklist just made it over 100 to 102 which given the weather was not too bad. We missed some 'bankers' for that area such as Kingfisher, Woodpecker and Willow Tits but not too disappointing. 

Not as sad as those Goldies who were two days at that sight just looking grumpy.

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Our four nights at Kittiwake enjoyed the best of the weather although a strong on shore wind made sea ducks hard work and ages staring at U.F.Os usually evolved into 'Another Eider' although I did get lucky in the calmer waters of the bay with Slavonian Grebe and Red-breasted Merganser. Lots of Brent around and easily viewed from the hide up on Fenham Flats as we used to call the 'seaway' south of the causeway over to Lindisfarne.

Two Brent had even popped over from Denmark but I am still awaiting their full history from the ringing group..



Light-bellied Brent Geese. This one has been ringed in Denmark.



Slavonian Grebe.


Whooper Swans.



With views from the hide like this, can birding get much better?


Soon our time was up and our final drive loomed.home.JPG.209550a3123b44b32f5d30b5cf1050b5.JPG

This was fairly straight forward. Down the A1 to Hadrians Wall, west to follow the wall along the A69 Tyne Gap passed many forts until almost CaerLiol (as this northern outpost is properly called in post Roman 'original Welsh/Cumbric/English'.  'Caer' fort  ''  Lugavalium' the latinised cumbric name.)

Then down the M6 where we made a planned stop at RSPB Leighton Moss, late supper at the Duke of Rothesay before going to check in for our sailing home only to find the offices in darkness with a red 'matrix' sign showing 'IOM Sailing cancelled' and not a soul around to advise the current position and NOBODY picking up the phone.

Oh well. Back to the Duke for more drinks where we learned that the 14.15 afternoon sailing had been cancelled and was still in Douglas, due to bad weather, but the 02.15 (on which we were booked) would be coming in on time.

And so it proved. On board at 01.30 ish, and into our cabin and into bed. A slight bounce was felt about an hour later as we cleared the Lune buoy but we were rocked to sleep by the Force 8 and only woke as the boat pulled into the harbour on time in Douglas.

It only remained for me to drive the 16 miles home and our trip was done.


Debatable land. Nothing to do with dispute or discussion, this is a small section of land straddling part of what is now the Anglo-Scottish border that was mutually shared by local tribes more or less like 'common grazing' is now. Uninhabited, by consent, good grazing since time immemorial, and now linked with the banditry of the 17th Century encouraged by both kingdoms before and during the merging of the two Crowns.


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Thank you @Galanafor a very enjoyable report. You did very well despite the weather

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