North West Scotland [part 2]
With a blue sky It was back down the road to Fort William [rather than the ferry to Skye and over the bridge –Dead end Malaig!] and along the A 82 and onto the A87 towards Loch Duich and its famous castle. A not so famous drive around the circular Duich wetland was a break from the road offering several gulls and Red breasted merganser but few waders which it is famous for. Then it was a climb up the A890 and around Loch Carron and onto the Rassal Ash wood.
This is the most northerly ash wood in the UK and have been manged as ‘wood pasture’ for centuries even longer using ‘pollarding to keep the trees alive and also supply timber and grazing leaves and small branches for sheep and cattle as well as bark from the cut stems. The first shock was that a power line ran through the wood so not much for an SSSI and its protection! And then there was the mixed management with some planting and grazing with cattle and even Red Deer while another area was fenced off. Nowhere did I see any ‘pollarding’ which is what you would imagine the wood needed instead where the collapse of trees where rot and weakened the trunk.
Fortunately even a collapsed tree could regenerate with stems growing at all angels keeping the tree alive. The one thing I hoped for was finding ‘bird trees’ which are when new trees start growing in old trees caused by birds dropping their seed. These are common in wood pasture when Alder is the main tree pollarded. I did not find any. The woodland was very open other than where planting had taken place and where fencing had enclosed areas. Hazel was common here along with Rowan while the ground was covered with 1 to 2 year old ash seedlings but nothing older in the grazed area.
The birds were limited to Cuckoo, Tree Pipit, Willow Warbler and Mistle Thrush while I was there but I presumed Redstart and a few tit species would be present. There did not seem to be any woodpecker damage. The heights of Beinn Bhan made an impressive back drop. Only a short distance away was the ‘pass of the cattle’ named after the early movement of stock from crofts to southern markets. As a single track road with many hair pin bends would the mighty van make it up changing gears as I went. What I did not appreciate was the number of bikers trying to make it to the top especially as many would not stop trying to prove they were ‘he men’ and ‘she women’ with muscles to match!
I did find a stopping place half way up to scan the impressive face of Creag a chumhaing looking for eagles but with no look and to rest the engine after a terrible biker left me in 1st gear! Before the top it was 10 motor bikes coming towards me. 10! Where were the passing places for them to get in. I would not move so a stand off was on. I won!! They lifted their motor bikes to the side and I drove by with only one swear word entering my window! The top was for Ptarmigan. I walked a long way across the stone top with 2 feathers to my credit but it was a distant helicopter that brought my next bird. The yelping of a Golden Eagle which seemed to be upset with the noise of the helicopter. With a bright blue sky I couldn’t find the bird [terrible weather!] I looked and looked until the calls stopped. The site looks good for passing Dotterel as well as wintering Snow Buntings may be even around the two big car parks!
Down hill to Applecross was very much easier but what would it have been like in July/August with all the extra traffic! One of the reasons for the bikes and extra traffic is ‘North Coast 500’ created to expand the tourist season. Many of these single track roads do not need extra traffic so how this is supposed to work in the future I am not sure. Another reason to start driving before 6am when the motor homes and bikers are tucked up in bed!
Applecross was busy so I had lunch in the car park looking over the bay enjoying the Great Northern Divers, Eiders, mergs and mixed gulls. Leaving the crowds I drove south towards Toscaig starting with a fresh water loch with lots of vegetation in and around the loch. Little Grebes were here but it looked great for other species like waders and winter duck. Next it was watching Common Seals hauled out along with the odd GND close by and then Toscaig pier. Here was a close Black Guillemot along with Red throated Diver and several mergs. The shallow edge to the pier held several waders with Greenshank, Whimbrel and Common Sandpiper.
Returning north saw the tide pouring in and I drove passed a fire on the road side probable started by a carless fag thrown out of the window. It would have been worth seeing the chaos with the fire engine flying along the ‘The pass of the cattle’! It was soon time to find a nice parking spot for the night. This was by Loch Fada where I had the pleasure of the sea close by and this fresh water loch with its own Red throated Divers and a Stonechat nesting by the van!