Friday, 12 October 2018

A "pop up " restaurant in the old byre ....... Cafe L'Atelier...... a brief rant about Trumpism

On Thursday evenings  a small group of elderly men  meet in the bar of the, " Kilchoan Hotel" for gossip, discussion of the latest outrage from Trump ....the undoing of enlightenment values, rejection of truth, rationality and science;  beer and sometimes a meal. We also try to organise a small expedition, suitable for elderly and infirm male crumblies each summer.

Cafe L'Atelier
In 2017 we had a few days on the Knoydart Peninsula one of Scotland';s remotest places and communities. A highlight of that trip was an evening at a "pop-up restaurant" for the best fish and chips in the UK. Since then Big Al has been itching to do this  ourselves on our own peninsula in my old byre ( now  the workshop).

A couple of weeks ago he got his wish. I cooked.... Al provided the ambience with lighting, candles and French stuff. It was after all the " Cafe L'Atelier ".

 Menu  du jour..... salade verte ......Cassoulet.... Creme caramel.... Fromages regionaux. And of course a selection of malt whiskies. The Chef was awarded 3 Michelin Tyres.


Suggestions for a theme for the next pop-up dining experience are welcome. If your idea is selected you get an invitation. So far we have had, The Roadkill Cafe and  The Post Brexit Apocalypse Dinner which would comprise three courses, porridge, followed by porridge then more porridge we wont be able to afford anything else!

For the best analysis yet of Trumpism and Borisism have a look at this piece by a psychologist in today's Guardian. What Freud can teach us about Trumpism

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Our last barn owl leaves the nest box......it's early October

Owlet's first night flight




Last week as he was driving home past the barn "Raptor" saw a young owl on the road in his car headlights it was the third owlet to be hatched.








Barn owls are usually 12 - 13 weeks old when they leave the nest so this one ( the last of the three) must have been hatched around the end of June. Incubation takes 31 - 32 days and the female sits on the eggs until three weeks after the first egg hatches, she must have spent about nine weeks in the nesting box being fed by the male. The first egg was probably laid in late May or early June.





It's not surprising that I found the male dead three weeks ago, after four months of feeding the female, the young and himself then three weeks of wind and rain he was probably starved and exhausted.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Hybrid Scottish wildcat meets a pine marten

Press & Journal  22nd August 2018
While I was away in France a photograph taken by a holiday maker appeared in the Press & Journal of a pine marten and a "wildcat" together. The pine marten appears to be retreating and we ( my neighbours and I) are pretty sure that the photograph was taken in the garden of a nearby house, "Ardvaig" part of Mimi's territory.

My cat arrived here from the Cat's Protection League in Acharacle in December 2014. She was neutered and we thought she was just another tabby cat. Then I had a call from one of a team of vets neutering cats on the peninsula as part of the Scottish Wildcat conservation programme. He told me that they had just neutered her siblings and that they were wildcat hybrids and he asked if she had been neutered.

You can distinguish a domestic tabby from a hybrid and a true Scottish wildcat by examining their coat markings. DNA testing is the definitive, objective method  but perhaps the next best is pelage scoring. You can find out about this on the Scottish Wildcat Action website.Wildcat pelage scoring We did this and Mimi was indeed a hybrid.

You can see images of Mimi being wild; climbing trees mainly, soon after she arrived here on the blog at www.craigardcroft.blogspot.com/2014.




Sunday, 23 September 2018

Barn owl in the freezer

I found a dead, male barn owl this morning, under the beam in the barn where they normally perch and roost. It was so light weight almost as it were only feathers. When I weighed it on my kitchen scales it was a mere 216g a healthy adult male should weigh 360g.

All white breast without any spots of black indicates a male








The past three weeks have been cold, wet and windy, perhaps the tail end of "Storm Ali" that we got this week was the last straw after nearly three months of feeding three owlets. Hamza is away in Spain filming so it's now in the kitchen freezer. He wants to take it to a taxidermist!

Friday, 21 September 2018

Sparrowhawk attack

House sparrows
 There has been a steady decline in the population of UK house sparrows during the last 100 years, probably since the motorcar replaced horses on our streets. Changes in farming practice have had an effect too, particularly the lack of winter stubble after a swing to autumn sown cereals and oil seed rape. But house sparrows aren't endangered here on the peninsula, my old buildings provide plenty of nest sites and the sparrows feast on food that's meant for the hens.

When I came back from holiday there must have been 50 house sparrows around the buildings and the poultry feeders, Alisdair thinks that they were eating as much as the hens.  But this morning there were only five or six on the fence by the barn.. I now know why.

Sparrowhawk
This afternoon I went into the old byre to check on the water supply and as I was standing there a sparrowhawk shot in through the door, flew past me at waist height and dived to the floor. It picked up a sparrow in it's talons and swerved out of the door. It was all over in about two seconds.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

A summer in the Pyrenees

Fifty years ago I read a short account of a two person expedition into a remote and then inaccessible region of the Pyrenees, " the Enchanted Mountains" by Robin Fedden", then " The Pyrenees" by Hillaire Belloc and " Backpacking and Camping in the Pyrenees" my imagination was captured.

When I discovered that there was a long distance footpath through the mountains from Hendaye on the Atlantic coast to Banyuls sur Mer on the Mediterranean, the GR 10  I wanted to do it but work always intervened. Fifty five daily stages plus rest days meant I needed ten weeks to complete the route in one trip. This year 2018 I retired and I had the time but could an old man of 75 with dodgy knees, spindly legs and a heavy pack walk 1,000 km while climbing and descending  53,000 m.

The old casino Hendaye the start
This was also the year when I passed from, "wrinkly"  to "crumbly" a state of decrepitude that includes aching joints, painful legs, a fallen arch and increasing deafness. On 26th June, my 75th birthday, I met up with Rob Bolton (only 65 years) at Hendaye, we set off full of optimism from the old Casino above the beach and headed East; a relatively easy day for the GR10, 21 km but only 700 m of ascent.

After a week, at St. Jean Pied de Port Rob left for home and work. I carried on, on my own, through the Basque country followed by at least three species of vulture attracted by my slow pace, stumbling gait and white hair. It wasn't until I reached the High Pyrenees that they gave up. After ten 20 km days with 1200 - 1500 m of ascent and descent over high cols and a fall due to exhaustion I needed a Plan B.

Refuge de Marailles
Plan B would have to consist of shorter days, 10 to 12 km and avoid the most brutally hard descents. Walking uphill is fine but descending long, steep  eroded footpaths tough on the knees and rather slow. I took a day off to study the trail guide and the bus and train timetables also bearing in mind that hitch hiking in the mountain regions of France is easy.

Pyrenean valleys run from south to north so it's possible to avoid some of the harder stages of the GR!0 by travelling north, then east and back south again to re-start the route. There are also more mountain refuges and gites d'etapes as you get further east with the exception of the Ariege, this enables shorter daily walks.

Early on day 12 after 200 km and 6,000 m I walked out on to the road and stuck out my thumb. In two lifts and less than two hours I was at the railway station at Oloron Ste. Marie and the free bus service to Pau. ( When industrial action disrupts train services in France a free bus service replaces the cancelled train)

Cirque de Gavarnie 
This was the start of Plan B, wandering in and out of the valleys then east over high passes to encounter shepherds and walkers, wildlife and  forests, spectacular mountainscapes, good food, wine and hospitality.

The end




 It was a summer of relaxed wandering rather then hard trekking through the mountains. So, rather than write a blow by blow account of travelling from west to east with the wind behind me and a schedule to keep , I have had enough memorable encounters to write posts about my summer as a vagabond free wheeling through the mountains with no hard and fast plan.


Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Owls in the barn...... owls in the nestbox........ a barn full of owls




Owlets 3 - 4 weeks old 

Adult delivering food
Tonight it will be dusk at around 8.30 pm. if you wait quietly outside my barn you will see two adult owls swooping in with food for their young that hatched about six weks ago. Three owlets hatched from a clutch of five eggs.











We have had a nestbox up in the roof of the barn for over 18 months and this was a surprise and a rather late nesting. At six weeks of age now a size where they can be handled and ringed by Hamza an experienced bird ringer. Today he took a look inside with his mobile phone.









Although there are three young birds you can only see two in the video and there's a unhatched egg in the foreground.