When the rain washes you clean….

You’ll know….

There was a sunny evening in early June – just as well, since my plans for the day were scuppered by a car problem. I had intended to meet friend S in the morning for a visit to my lovely woodland, my special oak tree (I’m following it for the brilliant Track a Tree project) and my photo sites.  The morning light was one of the things I wanted to catch – but that was not to be!  We all finally got together for a long walk around my John Muir Award area between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay in the evening. For the Award, you have to discover, explore, conserve and share your own little bit of wildness  – see my plan for my study of seasons and seasonal change.

I must have looked quite at home in the lay-by, waiting for the AA, in my hi-viz vest and with binos and camera.  I  watched a buzzard close by, some hunting wagtails and  some geese.  I learned what I could about what was around me! It was a nice morning, no rain, so that helped. Here are three photos:

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The hawthorn at the end of the lay-by was in gorgeous bloom, the lovely pink colour  gives the whole bush a vanilla hue, different from the creamy white at the start of blossoming.  The roadside plant with little white flowers is garlic mustard.  The flies were spectacular, there were lots of them and they favoured the sunny side of the lay-by tree.   I discussed them later with S, they weren’t known to him at that stage. I’ll put a photo on iSpot for help.

The flies are Rhagio scolopaceus, downlooker snipe-fly,  thanks for help, iSpotter.

Seasonal change is moving along nicely – and it was still not raining. Wild garlic now had its lovely dome of stars, a change from the folded flower of four weeks ago (photos early May and early June on Inchcailloch). The fragrance seems to be brought out more by the rain.

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Reaching the woodland by Loch Lomond, the globeflowers by the shore close to the West Highland Way were still a sight to behold.


The OS maps show a dun or fort (an antiquity) in the woodland.  There is information about it at The online catalogue to Scotland’s archaeology, buildings, industrial and maritime heritage.   The site defines a dun as  “A building or settlement enclosure with a thick drystone wall, generally circular or oval in plan, usually sited in an elevated position.”  While making our rounds we went to see the remains and found them quite overgrown -and found litter too.

Ian McCalllum G62 8HL

Exploring the woodland round ‘my’ oak tree, it was clear that caterpillars were at work. S advised they were of various types including winter moth, november moth and feathered thorn.  The woodland had turned into ‘looper’ central!  And the oak leaves were suffering.



The light coloured caterpillar, the feathered thorn, is pretty well disguised especially when it’s on bark and twigs. My Track a Tree oak tree looked much like last time, about 2 weeks before – but maybe less luxuriant and full?  If that was actually the case then the caterpillars were to blame; time will tell if the oaks hereabouts have a later burst of growth, the Lammas growth.

The woodland still looks beautiful, though.


I took photos at my photo points, and it was a shame to have missed the light of earlier in the day, not least because photos into the sun in the west are painful on the eyes! But who’s complaining this year about the sun??!!

FP 4

FP 4

This is the little promontory by the WHW on 3rd April and 8th June.  I’ve got 6 views over that period of each of my points, and I suppose the challenge is to keep up the record keeping! (Also to improve the fixing of my so-called fixed points!) I plan to make more/better movies and to integrate more sound recordings: I have woodland birdsong recorded in the area round the tree, so I hope that gives some atmosphere! It’s all  quite a learning curve.

The changes in the wildflowers are really interesting: with each visit the balance of the different species changes. My strategy with wildflowers is to try to keep the knowledge of the ones I know and to add a few more at a time (while still checking back to the known ones!). I may not know very many, but my list is growing all the time. This visit, a notable change was the red campion which was out in force now. Wood avens (below right) had appeared, while water avens (below left, earlier photo) was still out.  An intermediate hybrid of the two was seen as well, it’s in the bottom photo.

water avens

wood avens

avens - hybrid

The bluebells were still blooming and lighting up the woodland, this one was positively shining. Carpets of yellow cow wheat were out and S swept them for the pug moth that uses the plant. I think the cow wheat is common as against small, based on the ‘eyelashes’ of the calyx where it meets the flower.


Catching up on my John Muir-related reading: the little book from the JMT 1992 conference at Sabhal Mor Ostaig remains to be finished. Looking up the flowers and trying to ID them in photos takes up quite a bit of time! Planning a food packaging audit as well….


Where sunlight streams…

….meet me in a land of hope and dreams!

Well, the limitations of my photos of the onset of spring are obvious when they’re viewed as a (very) short ‘movie’: I’ll need to try to better ‘fix’ the photo points!  Maybe it will look better when I have more photos.  Sounds and photos are only part of my plan for the John Muir Award. There are four parts to the award:  discover, explore, conserve and share.  It’s an absorbing activity to undertake, there is so much to learn about the great diversity of landscape and life in this lovely place.  Here’s my first little movie, with all its faults, of the changing banks of the loch between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay: ‘Spring comes to Loch Lomond’. The sound of the waves was recorded at Manse Bay.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit my photo spots with a friend, A. I enjoyed our walk along the West Highland way, spotting lots of  wildflowers and seeing some of the plants I’ve been following in this cool and fickle spring.  A was a good source of advice on matters technical!  Our little outing was a chance to do some sharing, in the JM spirit. This contorted rowan on the West Highland Way is so beautiful, a contrast to the straight trees around it. I’ve lots of photos of it and it’s only been eight weeks since I started this project. IMG_2065 rowan rowan There’s been a big change around the twisted base of the rowan between early April and late May.

Time for revision!  The area I’m looking at is, of course, special.  But how is it recognised as special in a formal ‘protected area’ sense?  In the alphabet soup of conservation, my beautiful stretch of woodland has some importance.

It forms part of the Conic Hill  Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI): such areas are designated for protection because they “best represent Scotland’s Natural Heritage” – plants, animals and habitats, rocks and landforms –  and are well protected in law.  SSSIs are found across the UK.  This particular one is designated because of  rocks, woodlands (oak and wet), grassland, moths and beetles. The full info is at this part of the SNH website.  The area is in two sections, one on Conic Hill itself with woodland and grassland centred around Druim nam Buirach, and the other being the (mostly) woodland north of Manse Bay and south of Milarrochy Bay car park on both sides of the road.

The same woodland section is also part of the Loch Lomond Woods Special Area of Conservation (SAC) which includes separate woodland areas such as part of Inchlonaig, all of Inchcailloch, woodland at Strathcashel and several others stretching from the broad south of the loch to its northern tip. See this part of the SNH website.  The areas are designated for their oak woodland and otter.  SACs are part of the EU Habitats Directive and are designated because of the international importance of  threatened species or habitat.

And of course it’s in a National Park!  Scotland’s first National Park is in itself a mosaic of special places (including National Scenic Areas), some with capital S and some without. See http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org.  Reading the National Park’s site and that of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) there’s lots more to find out about designated and protected areas.

I found a booklet in a second hand bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland’s book town, at New Year: it’s the proceedings from a conference organised by the John Muir Trust in 1992: Wilderness With People: the management of wild land.  Reading it was an eye-opener as 1992 doesn’t seem that long ago to me!  But the world of conservation and outdoor recreation  has changed quite a bit since then. One of the articles, ‘Parks , PeopleDSCF0166 and Permits’ by Bob Reid is subtitled ‘Lessons for Scotland from the Parks of the Central Rockies of USA’ and covers issues much debated in the outdoors magazines over the years such as the long walk-in,  are we loving our mountains to death?, permits to stay – permits to do, control of the car…..    There’s an article by ‘Who Owns Scotland?’ writer and forester, Andy Wightman, too. It’s all good stuff : from geese and crofting, to rural development, to sustainability, to wilderness. I liked the far-sightedness of the contributions, the clear statement of linkages and interconnections in the natural world and the recognition of the value of managing wild land to safeguard it for the future.