15th April – Oban and Loch Etive

Oban Apr 2014 49On Friday we had a day out in Oban, visiting Leonie and Andrew and generally enjoying the beautiful countryside up there.

The weather started off fine, but deteriorated slowly so that it was raining by the time we drove home.   But we did quite a bit… walking around Oban’s town centre, going for a cup of hot chocolate and an eclair in the wonderful Chocolate Shop on the promenade, taking a short walk on Ganavan beach, then driving at a snail’s pace along the minor road that follows the north shore of Loch Etive, a long sea loch which reaches right up into Glencoe.

We stopped at Ardchattan Priory, a place I’ve only seen in photos until now;   this is a ruined 13th century monastery, part of which was incorporated into a farmhouse in the 1600s.   There are gardens to explore too, and the borders were bright with daffodils and the white stars of wood anemones.

Oban Apr 2014

Just when you’re trying to take a decent photo…

Oban Apr 2014 21There was no one else there, apart from the farmer who was coming and going in the farm buildings nearby.   It should have been idyllic, but there was a chill wind getting up from the loch, swirling the dead leaves around against the stone walls with a dry rustling noise that seemed to emphasise the loneliness.  The sky was lowering, with fast-moving grey clouds driving showers of drizzle down towards the sea.

Oban Apr 2014 158Oban Apr 2014 144Undeterred, I spent a while examining the row of carved medieval stones that were lined up as if for inspection, before wandering around the ruins themselves.   I’ll tell you more about the history of the place soon on The Hazel Tree, but for now I still can’t quite decide what to make of it.

Oban Apr 2014 132For such a tiny monastery, it’s surprisingly hard to decipher, and this is not helped by the fact that large lidded tombs of the vampire-emerging variety are crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in sections that were once chambers of the monastery church.   Memento mori, carved skulls and crossbones, are dotted around on walls and grave stones.   I’ve seen enough of these now not to be creeped out by them, but when they’re at head height it can be quite disconcerting.

Ardchattan is also the home of the MacDougall cross, an elaborate memorial commissioned by (you guessed it!) a chap called MacDougall.   He may have got the idea from his friend Mr MacMillan down in Kintyre.  (I am pretty sure that it didn’t happen this way, but since this isn’t The Hazel Tree I can speculate as much as I like!)

Photos copyright © Jo Woolf

Posted in General, History, archaeology & geology, Wildlife & nature | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

26th March – snow in Glen Lyon

Glen Lyon (5)

Glen Lyon is widely described as Scotland’s most beautiful glen, and with so many lovely glens to choose from, that has got to be a very big accolade.

For some reason, we hadn’t visited Glen Lyon until last Sunday, when we found ourselves driving down the single-track road almost by accident.   We were spellbound by the pristine white peaks rising on either side, plumes of powdery snow drifting off their summits.   The river was winding its way between lovely woods of ash, beech, birch and hazel;   on the far bank I noticed an old bridge, now disused but still with an elegant arch over a waterfall.

The first buds were just appearing on the trees, and it looked like spring, even though the wind blowing off the mountains told us that it wasn’t!

For us, Glen Lyon more than lived up to its reputation.

Snowy mountains (3)

Waterfall and old bridge

Afterwards, we made our way back down the glen (it’s a no-through road) and visited the lovely churchyard of Fortingall, where there is an ancient yew tree.

Fortingall Yew (1)

I’ve just published a new feature about the Fortingall Yew on The Hazel Tree – this incredible tree is believed to be at least 5,000 years old, and it has some fascinating history and folklore attached to it.

Just a little further along we found three clusters of standing stones in a field;  and the sudden sighting of a ruined tower house also caused a sudden stop, because it was just so romantic and picturesque.

It is going to be very hard to choose the best photos!   I hope you enjoy them.

Photos copyright © Colin & Jo Woolf

Posted in Outdoors, Photography, Wildlife & nature | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

11th March – Falkland Palace and St Andrews

Where do I start?   Two spectacular places in one day!

If you ever need reminding that Scotland boasts some of the finest historical sites in the world, take a look at these two amazing properties.   Falkland Palace, gilded playground and hunting lodge of the Stewart kings, in the little town of Falkland in Fife…

Falkland Palace 1 …and the breathtaking Cathedral and St Rule’s Tower at St Andrews, a place of worship and pilgrimage since the 8th century.

St Andrews 1Unbelievably, at Falkland Palace, I played tennis on the oldest tennis court in the world, where Mary Queen of Scots once played.   Strictly speaking, I hit a few balls around and tried to get to grips with the weird racquet, even weirder rules and non-bouncing balls… but what a thing to be able to do!    The gardens are only just coming back to life but the lawns were studded with crocuses, and we enjoyed ourselves getting some unusual and creative shots.

Since it was such a lovely day we progressed on to St Andrews, somewhere we’ve never been before.   What a delightful town – well kept and so interesting, with lovely shops.   But the Cathedral took all my attention.    Wandering around in a daze with my eyes fixed on the wonderful east wall, I’m surprised I didn’t fall into one of the open tombs.

St Rule’s Tower posed a brief dilemma:  should I attempt to go up?   I could see people at the top, taking photos, and I so badly wanted to photograph the view.   But just in time I remembered the Scott Monument fiasco, and I didn’t.

I’ll write more about both of these wonderful places on The Hazel Tree, but meanwhile here are some of our photos.   I can’t wait to tell you about them!

Photos copyright © Colin & Jo Woolf

Posted in History, archaeology & geology, Photography, Wildlife & nature | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments