Scottie's Monthly Photo Diary

- February 2011

I never go anywhere in Scotland without my camera and I take photographs wherever I go. Sometimes I go somewhere specifically to take photographs with a view to adding another page to the Rampant Scotland site. On other occasions I just see something that makes an attractive picture or else it's another graphic to add to the library to perhaps use on a future occasion. This is a selection of the best photographs I took in February 2011 with a commentary on each one. It thus forms a pictorial diary of my travels during the month which can be shared by everyone!

Alloway and Ayr

The Burns Cottage at Alloway is known around the world and its museum holds many priceless relics relating to Scotland's national poet. But it has not attracted sufficient visitors to allow the trustees to keep the buildings properly maintained and as the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Burns approached, the museum roof was leaking and the cottage needed rethatched and there was no money to pay for it!

The situation was put into even sharper focus with the Burns anniversary being a major aspect of "Homecoming Scotland 2009", a series of events designed to attract people of Scottish ancestry to visit Scotland. The fund raising and management for the Burns Cottage, museum and associated tourist attraction at Alloway was entrusted to the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) heritage organisation. It was decided that a new museum and heritage centre was required - and NTS are good at fund raising. But as with so many of these projects, there were significant delays and so the new facilities were far from ready in 2009. Indeed, it is only now that the work has been completed and I decided to pay Alloway another visit. I must say that while it is probably an improvement on what was there before (at least the roof no longer leaks) it leaves much to be desired. It may be still "work in progress" but the exterior of the cottage show major signs of dampness (I deliberately angled the above picture so as to hide the blotches!).

Previously, the inside of the cottage where Robert Burns was born, on 25 January 1759, had been set up to give some semblance of what it might have looked like in those days, even with models of cows and other animals in the area allocated to them during the winter. Now there are high tech displays and the walls and furniture are plastered with signage - and all pretence at showing the cottage as it was when Burns lived there has largely gone. As is evident also in the new Heritage Centre and Museum, the displays are perhaps geared more to the perceived needs of the younger generation - and certainly there was evidence during my visit that local schools were being encouraged to organise trips to provide background to reading Burns in class.

The previous "Tam o' Shanter Experience" which had a restaurant and souvenir shop plus a small cinema showing the a film based on the Burns poem Tam o' Shanter has been demolished and replaced with this more impressive looking building but still in the same sylvan setting. The restaurant has been expanded and has a wider menu choice and the small museum that used to exist beside the Burns cottage has been enlarged in this new building. So far so good. But because it now operates under the National Trust for Scotland umbrella, no photography is allowed in the museum. So photographs of items that were freely available in the old building are now banned. There are a number of interactive exhibits now in the museum, which again appeal to the younger generation. Though Burns poem "Tam o' Shanter" blaring out over loudspeakers can get a bit wearing at times.

When I ordered up haggis neeps and tatties in the restaurant I wasn't expecting this neat assembly - to be fair, I had missed the word "towers" on the menu! It actually turned out to be very tasty and thankfully the non-traditional sauce accompanying it was kept in the tiny jug rather than poured over the "towers". The previous restaurant was quite good but the new one is even better!

Having visited Alloway on other occasions, we gave the Old Alloway Kirk and the Burns Monument and its garden a miss. But the sun was shining so we decided to pay a visit to Bellisle Park in nearby Ayr. I didn't expect much in flower apart from snowdrops or crocus but recalled the heated greenhouse which always had a good collection of flowers. Unfortunately, the local council has allowed the facility to deteriorate and it is now a total wreck - but it did have a hopeful sign about "renovation" on the barriers surrounding it but with nobody doing any work on it! Fortunately some of the other parts of the park were in a reasonable state - as you can see from the above picture.

Continuing our visit to Alloway and Ayr, we then called in at the Brig o' Doon Hotel for "afternoon tea". The hotel is beside the bridge over the river Doon which became famous as the point at which Tam o' Shanter escaped from the witches chasing him - but at the cost of his mare's tail. No sign of any witches here - just a charming hotel which at this time of year was quite quiet and restful. In the summer it is very popular and on sunny days you can sit out in the garden within sight of that famous bridge.

Afternoon tea usually includes cakes or scones - and I opted for this appetising fruit scone with delicious black currant jam - yum!


Finlaystone Country Estate, on the border between Inverclyde and Renfrewshire, is one of our favourite places to visit as it's not too far to get to (15/20 minutes drive over the river Clyde via the Erskine bridge and a few miles along the motorway towards Greenock) and there's always something new to see as the months roll by. In the past, I've sometimes taken this picture of the small loch and turned it upside down and it's hard to tell the difference! But on this occasion, there was a swan making ripples on the water.

At this time of year it's the snowdrops that are the great attraction at Finlaystone. This photo is a bit of a cheat though - it's a bunch of snowdrops that had been gathered from the woods and was on sale at the visitor centre!

But there were many thousands of snowdrops still left growing in the woods. Drifts of white extend between the trees and alongside the burn that runs down to the nearby river Clyde.

Hogganfield Loch

Hogganfield Loch is a public park which is just within the boundary of the City of Glasgow. It is also a site of scientific interest (SSI) due to the large number of birds and wildfowl that are resident there or which pass through during migration. The swans are mainly residents - and are not only fed by visitors but also by the park authorities. Whenever the workmen turn up with large sacks of seed, the bird swim over and gather round to feast on the seeds thrown to them.

Of course, this being spring time, many birds are renewing their relationships prior to creating the next generation. The Great Crested Grebe perform a courting dance in which the male presents the female with water weed from the foot of the loch or maybe even a fish. Usually two eggs are laid, and the fluffy, striped young grebe are often carried on the adult's back. In a clutch of two or more hatchlings, male and female grebes will each identify their 'favourites', which they alone will care for and teach how to dive and catch fish. The youngsters are perhaps the noisiest of all young birds with a persistent, piercing call.

The streamlined goosander has an amazing turn of speed and acceleration which comes in handy when chasing after fish - or grabbing any bread that gets thrown from the shore. This is the female Goosander - the male is a handsome black and white.

The yellow-billed Whooper Swan, with its distinctive yellow bill and honking call is the Eurasian counterpart of the North American Trumpeter Swan. Because their body weight cannot be supported by their legs for extended periods of time, the Whooper Swan spends most of its time swimming whereas the resident Mute Swans will often clamber onto land and walk - in ungainly fashion - as they feed on grass. Icelandic Whoopers overwinter in the United Kingdom and Ireland and they pair for life. Their cygnets stay with them all winter, flying 900 miles from Iceland to northern Europe; parents are sometimes joined by offspring from previous years when they migrate south.

My Own Garden

OK, the Campsie Fells (covered in snow) aren't actually in my back garden but the above photo was at least taken from my house. This has been a particularly hard winter with more lengthy spells of snow than usual. The Campsies are not particularly high - the highest point in the range is Earl's Seat which is 578 metres (1897 feet) high. The name of the area is taken from one of the individual hills in the range, called Campsie; meaning crooked fairy hill, from the Scottish Gaelic cam, meaning crooked, and sėth meaning fairy. "Fells" originates from an Old Norse word "fjal", meaning hill.

Even though they were a bit later than usual this year, the crocus have pushed through as usual to announce that spring has well and truly arrived. When the sun shines, the petals open up to reveal the three golden stamens inside.

There are about eighty species of crocus (of which approximately 30 are cultivated) and in parks and open ground they can make a spectacular display, especially when only one variety is planted. My small garden can only accommodate a few of them but they have been coming up reliably for the last 25 years. Their only disadvantage is that their leaves - which appear after the flowers - wither and clutter up the ground later in the year. But that's a small price for such a vibrant show in spring.


The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) reserve at Lochwinnoch is useful as a source for bird food to attract birds into my garden at all times of the year - the smaller birds are particularly fond of an RSPB product called "Nibbles" based on suet. The visitor centre has a number of bird feeders not far from a viewing window and the birds are so busy feeding that they don't mind us "twitchers" taking photographs! Here, a Goldfinch, standing at the feeding station, ready to defend its perch as a Greenfinch swoops in.

The colourful Brambling is not often seen so I was delighted when this one turned up at Lochwinnoch. The Brambling is similar in size and shape to a Chaffinch. Breeding-plumaged of the male Brambling is very distinctive, with its black head, dark upperparts, orange breast and white belly.

If you want to read the other Scottie's Diary entries going back to 2009, there is an Index page with them all listed.

Where else would you like to go in Scotland?

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