There’s a feeling I get..

I had to start with that old Zep line after hearing it (including ‘When I look to the west..’) said by friend T today!

Back at my John Muir Award, things may be drawing to a close – or maybe not.  I had committed to do this project from April to September and as I write it’s the 30th September.  However,  as the earth’s journey round the sun continues past the equinox I know the changes will keep on coming, although I’m not so sure I can commit as much time to my ‘seasons’ project now that the daylight hours are diminishing and other obligations are crowding in. I’d love to follow all my plants and special spots along the West Highland Way over the autumn and winter, so I expect I’ll try to do that while declaring the project complete for JMA purposes at some stage soon. The project has fitted in well with volunteering at the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. I would say it has changed the way I see some of my volunteering: while from a nature-connectedness viewpoint I’ve been exploring more detail, for volunteering, I’ve been more aware of the big picture, why certain tasks are being done, listening to the story of why we’re doing what we’re doing to fit into larger plans, for example, Wild Park 2020. I’ve not managed  everything in my plan, although the project  sort of took me along its own road.


Nostalgia, wistfulness, just getting old(er)? I do get a feeling of anticipation when the mist takes a while to clear in the morning, when the leaves take on different colours – this from the person who complained that it was all very green during July and August!  – and when brambles are at last gatherable.  The first frost really is special as the smell of woodsmoke hangs in the air.

Sneezewort (Achillea ptarmica) – September
Northern Bedstraw ( Galium boreale)  – September

Still learning, adding new plants that I have photographed and identified – often with a great deal of help from patient friends – thanks!

I am planning another visit to my special JMA place between Balmaha and Milarrochy Bay next week (I hope) to see what wonders are on show, to take some photos and to visit my oak tree, even though the season for Track a Tree lies well in the past.

Today I took part in a session with trainers from Opal (Open Air Laboratories) and TCV. The Opal project is about Citizen Science and the training, arranged by Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, was brilliant, very interactive (oops! forgot to use that word in my evaluation) and a great way to learn.  We tried the Soils (and Earthworms) materials and also looked at Lichens (part of Air Quality materials) and Tree Health as well.  The resources are colourful and clear.  It was lovely to be encouraged today to personally relate to trees: something I’ve enjoyed lots of on my JMA project! And the session met my JMA criteria in supporting my own exploration and enjoyment of the natural world; of course, it offered ideas and materials for sharing with others in all sorts of contexts.

Today’s  presenter, Matt,  used the Hand, Heart, Head model (see below) to review our experience of the session: it’s a model used in the JMA materials as well and is based on the work of Patrick Geddesa thinker active across many realms in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Credited variously with giving birth to town planning and eco-politics, to my mind, one of his major achievements was trying to get teachers and learners  out of subject silos, perhaps to get a better view!  As a former teacher myself, I can relate to an integrative approach that engages the ‘learning domains’ of participants through taking practical actionexploring their feelings and gaining understanding.  Geddes was a bit of a polymath and I like to think of him as a geographer (well, I would, wouldn’t I?), seeing the big picture and making a difference – promoting transformative learning.

Patrick Geddes HHH Model

The last time I looked at ‘my’ Guelder-rose (last weekend) on its sunny outcrop by the WHW, I was pleased to see that the berries were, at last, red.  Here is a photo from 12th August and one from 27th September:


guelder rose

The Alder at Manse Bay that I’ve visited over the months (and I am so pleased to be able to use that expression!) is one of my favourites.  Here it is on 20th May and 3rd September:



So, when you look at the tree, it’s all green, but I like the change from see-through to screening.

It looks like the shorter days, something I seem to go back to time and again, are making me think about endings more than beginnings: so far, pursuing the JMA has definitely helped me connect more explicitly and meaningfully with nature. The strong sense of place I’ve felt for a long time in relation to this beautiful area – its uniqueness, familiarity, ability to surprise and lead you in –  is probably rooted more in the larger landscape than in the smaller detail that makes it up and gives it new and changing life.   This growing season, I’ve been trying to learn as much as possible about the smaller, component parts of the natural world from the well informed people I am privileged to know.  Slowing down and looking, listening, learning  remains both the ultimate goal and also an achievement of my project on an ongoing basis!  And September has been sunny, hopefully in time to give we west of Scotland folks a boost of Vitamin D before the great darkness sets in.  Yep, this is sounding like an ending!

I’ve still to write a wee bit about values and the outdoors – or I should say, some explicit things about values and the outdoors, since I sincerely hope ‘values’ such as  accepting responsibility for the future (and thus the benefit of planning for it?),  choosing to try to conserve the natural world because it is a choice for  justice, fairness and health are part of my efforts most of the time.


There’s so many different worlds..

I know it should be ‘There are…” but it is a song lyric after all.

Since my last post here on my John Muir Award blog I’ve spent a brilliant week on a study tour/course in Slovakia, mostly seeing and thinking about the natural world.  The view from abroad wasn’t in my plan, but inevitably the trip has had an impact.  I had wanted to look at values in connection with the outdoors as part of the JMA: the people speaking with us in Slovakia talked values as they described the biodiversity of their country and the various threats and challenges being faced, in much the same way as the lovely folks at Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park do. The trip was fascinating, a window on a different world in a way that a holiday sometimes is not. We had input about bark beetles; wolf, bears and lynx; fabulous flora and lots more. We saw wolf scat, bear scat and footprints, a bat netting event, some beautiful scenery and we met some lovely people. Below: a good crop of sloes on the blackthorn at Slovensky Raj National Park.


Several of Slovakia’s National Parks were established as long ago as the UK’s first ones, although, as in the UK, others have been designated over the years. Access arrangements are certainly different from those in Scotland.  As in other countries, Slovakian National Parks are zoned, with the highest protection  and the most limited access accorded to areas only a little or not at all affected by humans.  The National Parks have a core and a buffer zone – sometimes the buffer zone is a small fringe round the NP while in others it is a large area between an intensively used landscape and the core NP.

This is a map of one of the Slovakian NPs we visited, the smallest one: Pieniny NP. It is 37.5 km2 in area (core)  – compare with Loch Lomond & Trossachs NP 1863 km2, and Cairngorm NP 4528 km2. The green outline marks the Core of the NP, the buffer  zone is very much larger; northward is the Polish border and the ‘matching’ NP there. Zone D is the area for settlement and development.  Zone A attracts the highest level of protection and includes the Slovak side of the spectacular incised meanders of the Dunajec River which forms the border with Poland for a distance.


This next map shows the Core of Pieniny NP and its buffer zone – in this case the buffer is large compared to core, though in each NP that relationship is different.


Maps from a publication by Pieniny NP.

The business of access is interesting.  Here is some Slovakian signage, pretty direct with no explanation or supporting rationale, the first one below is from the Tatras National Park.


It’s about no camping, no hiking and no bottles and cans or eating and drinking,    I think.  It was by the start of a forest track and not far from the start of a marked footpath. Sorry, not a good picture.

This one below is different again: at Slovensky Kras NP, no picking plants, no fires, no litter and no camping/caravanning. The first and third red crosses seem to have faded to yellow and were hard to photograph! Maybe someone had rubbed them out? I also wonder if there was a 5th prohibition that has been removed/has come off?


The one below is perhaps the definitive Slovakian NP access info: again, it’s from Slovensky Kras NP and includes a lovely pictogram for ‘no walking outwith the path’ among the other messages: no camping, no litter, no fires, and no netting butterflies.


This really made me think! And yet there was a high expectation of compliance.  The designation of NPs began in communist times (though protected areas predate that era) and as I understand it it was easier before the ‘change’ to designate, protect and keep people out of  land or at least keep them to the tourist paths. I know from other countries that walkers are expected to stay on the paths, so likely it’s we who are a bit different!

Information/interpretation panels in the Slovakian NPs are colourful, nicely illustrated if a bit fact-heavy: giving information rather than aiming to  ‘provoke (curiosity), relate (to everyday experiences of audience) and reveal (a memorable message)‘ as in the classic approach  -see this link to some introductory information about interpretation.   This is a link to SNH advice on producing interpretive panels; and here is an example (the English language version, always alongside the Slovak!) of  a bit of the text on a panel in  a Slovakian NP.  OK, I know there are lots of examples like this in our country too!


What’s in a name?

One of the keys to comparing these Slovakian National Parks with our own is that one of the highest degrees of protection in the country is afforded within Slovakian NPs which are IUCN category II (National Parks, predominantly for the protection of ecosystems and themselves protected by a surrounding buffer area) while in our case in Scotland, our most protected areas include some of our SSSIs.  Our ‘National Parks’ are ‘managed landscapes’ and so are IUCN category V (a protected landscape/seascape);  Rowardennan Woods SSSI is category IV (an area for habitat or species management), according to data published by IUCN.  State ownership in Slovakian NP core areas is strong, while private (including FCS) ownership is the norm in Scotland’s NPs.  UK protected areas have their management widely shared among SNH and our well developed ‘third sector’, so the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, NTS, JMT  and so on may manage some very sensitive areas e.g. Insh Marshes NNR is managed by RSPB.  I think this is different from Slovakia, but it’s hard to be sure.  In Slovakia, the gorge we walked up within Slovensky Raj NP, Suchá Belá, is IUCN category Ia (protected from all but very light human use) – judge for yourself from the pictures here and on-line of this well visited and definitely managed ‘corridor’ through the limestone landscape of the NP.



Slovakia is very beautiful and was a great place to visit for nature, wildlife and the outdoors. I’d love to go back.


Meanwhile, back in Scotland it’s the autumnal equinox; a little chill is in the air, a little gold is in the trees.


I feel it in the air, the summer’s out of reach

So, I made  another visit to my lovely John Muir Award (JMA) area of Loch Lomondside as autumn approaches. See my plan for the JMA challenges of discover, explore, conserve and share. Starting from Milarrochy Bay, I walked south taking photos of various plants and at my photo points as well.  On the way back to Milarrochy Bay from Balmaha Pier, I made a time lapse video of the walk with my little SJ5000 camera on a stick – more on that later.  It was sunny – almost too sunny for some of the photo points, but no complaints: was summer ever really within reach this year?

I think I’ve now lost count of the wildflower species I’ve noted (and, mostly, photographed) since the start of spring, it’s really amazing what variety can be found close by this delightful stretch of the West Highland Way through the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park – there’s a job for me on a rainy day, counting them! A continuing challenge, though, is getting them correctly named and then learned.

With  autumn drifting closer, I saw lots on my last visit: Devil’s-bit Scabious, Common Knapweed, Yarrow, Bell Heather, Heather, Wild Carrot, Enchanter’s-nightshade, Marsh Woundwort, Hedge Woundwort, Harebell, Nipplewort, Goldenrod, Common Cow-wheat, Self-heal, Stone Bramble.  I checked on my Guelder-rose – the little berries are coming along though not yet red.

Guelder rose

There was more oak mildew as well, though I didn’t visit ‘my’oak tree  as I hadn’t brought my complete anti-tick kit with me.   Late afternoon seems to be a time I often walk this walk; it’s quieter and the views are brilliant across the loch.

Heather is a Scottish icon, typically pictured flowering en masse on our hillsides.  I think (!!) there are two types in bloom in my area: Calluna vulgaris – Heather, and brighter Bell Heather, Erica cinerea which flowers earlier.  It was great to see the rocky exposure near Balmaha Pier turned to purple with both types on show.



Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) is one of the pleasures of this time of year, its mauve/blue seems to echo the bluebell colour of spring.  It’s an amazing wee flower – some look quite different from others (?gender?) though all seem popular with insects.

devil’s bit

The Hedge and Marsh Woundworts are interesting with their orchid-like flowers. Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) is the beetroot coloured one, while Marsh Woundwort (Stachys palustris) is more lilac. They’re both easily seen by the path.

hedge woundwort    DSCF0696

Enchanter’s-nightshade (Circaea lutetiana) was first pointed out to me by a young colleague, H,  in summer 2012 as we were walking along the path (the path, my little exploration zone).  Several wildflower sources describe this plant as ‘easily overlooked’. It’s certainly not easily photographed! It was still flowering away in the shadows on my last visit, but the photo below is from July.

enchanter’s nightshade

I did say I was not doing umbellifers, but the gorgeous Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) deserves special treatment.  I took a nice photo (of flower and insect) here  in August 2012 so I’ll just repeat that one, even though I got some more the other day!  The seed heads are pretty spectacular when you look at them closely: below is an immature one I saw – shows it really was sunny on my last visit!



The Wild Carrot seed head reminds me of the challenge of recognising your plants at different stages of their year. With the Devil’s-bit Scabious, some of the heads are not yet fully flowering just now and are lovely, a little bit like a bramble fruit.

The time lapse movie made walking from Balmaha Pier to Milarrochy bay is great fun to watch at the computer, but as yet I’ve not worked out how to transfer it to this blog in a viewable fashion.  Videos need to be from You Tube (as I do not pay for my WordPress access): so far so easy.  But uploading the file directly or uploading from iMovie both give a blurry result so I must consult my friend T, who is responsible for tempting me to buy the camera in the first place! He’s very knowledgable.

This blog is serving me as a supplement and a complement to my little John Muir Award Record Books, which I love to write in (I’m on number 4). It’s a way to share, of course: the award asks you to discover, explore, conserve and share. I made up some sheets of July and August wildflowers using own photos taken in my little area; these are an aid to my learning, so I’m sharing the pdfs here: Summer wildflowers1Summer wildflowers2 and Mountain bog Cashel. I put links to two sheets of spring wildflowers (pdfs) in a post entitled “Blinding light through fading grey..”, published in mid-May.

Spotted this link in JMA resources section:  it’s  called ‘5 ways to wellbeing’  – Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give.  Reading the little notes, I can’t believe how well it fits my JMA plan! Find it by searching at or see embedded link below. The JMT has ‘fleshed out’ the 5 areas to show how different groups could use the JMA to achieve these – see here.

“But in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks”. John Muir in “Mormon Lilies”, San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin (part 4 of the 4 part series “Notes from Utah”) dated July 1877, published 19 July 1877; reprinted in Steep Trails (1918), chapter 9. (I like that phrase in bold above, but some of  the rest of the piece, not so much!)  Some of my volunteering this year has been about  supporting  access to the outdoors by less well represented groups. In my plan I have something like ‘walk in the NP with…. others’ and ‘appreciate and understand’:  and while these appear in the ‘explore’ corner of the plan, they are also about sharing. The nice folks at Education and Outreach within the National Park offered the chance to volunteer in support of visits by Deaf Blind Scotland and by Greater Pollock Integration Network.  Both of these visits involved walking in my JMA area with some of the group members, so that let me better appreciate and understand the landscape through the senses of others: humbling.