Thursday, 13 September 2007

Broadford to Luib, Isle of Skye

As the weather was horrendous (torrential rain/sleet) I thought I'd take a short, easy walk... a walk without any possibility of getting lost or stranded in the middle of nowhere....but it still ended up being a miserable trudge :(

The shoreline from Broadford to Luib borders the narrow strait between Skye and the isle of Scalpay and is mostly pebble-beach with swathes of yellowish-brown fucoid seaweeds further out. The main road is close to the shore but is almost undetectable due to the small birch wood that lies between the two. Because there is no footpath and few houses nearby, the shore is very quiet and undisturbed. The birch wood has a great variety of fungi (I was unable to identify most) including Lactarius sp., Leccinum sp. and lots of Birch Polypore (Piptoporus betulinus).

It rained so heavily that I was unable to see through my glasses so I probably missed a lot of birds, but I did see a lone oystercatcher, a young heron and I could hear curlews merrily curlewing away through the pluvial onslaught.

At some point (after being soaked to the skin), I'd had enough and decided to walk to the next bus-stop and hopefully catch a bus back. I walked/sloshed to Luib and as there was no other shelter, I stood in the phone-box at the edge of the road for an hour til the bus came. That was a long hour I can tell you: by that time I was starting to feel cold, most of my stuff was dripping wet (maps included) and a combination of walking and wet boots/slipping socks had really blistered my feet.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Elgol, Isle of Skye - Special Area of Conservation

Limestone pavements are uncommon in the UK, especially so in Scotland. The most extensive limestone pavement with the greatest diversity of plants in Scotland is the Strathaird region of Skye. The grey limestone here is of the Cambro–Ordovician Durness type.

Limestone pavement is formed by the gradual corrosion of exposed limestone by rain-water (limestone is composed mainly of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) which is water-soluble) leaving slabs of rock called 'clints' divided by deep fissures called 'grikes'.

limestone pavement elgol

limestone pavement elgol

limestone pavement elgol

limestone pavement elgol

limestone pavement elgol

limestone pavement elgol

Small ponds had formed at places on the limestone surface and that is where I found this very plump toad.

toad (Bufo bufo)
Common Toad (Bufo bufo)

I disturbed a group of young Red Deer stags (Cervus elaphus) that were resting in a hollow. Neither the deer nor I knew of each other's presence until we were within 3 metres of each other and then we both got a terrible fright! I was momentarily worried that the startled deer would stampede toward me, as they are pretty large animals, but after a few confused steps they turned and ran up the hillside with great haste.

red deer (Cervus elaphus) elgol
Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) stags

Herds of cattle also wander freely around Elgol and I took care to put as much distance between myself and the resident bull as humanly possible.

A strange fucoid seaweed I found on the beach

cushion star (Asterina gibbosa)
Cushion star (Asterina gibbosa)

This cushion-star (Asterina gibbosa) is a scavenger and predator of molluscs, worms and brittlestars, but will also consume decaying seaweeds. These animals are protandrous hermaphrodites: they begin life as males and eventually become females as they mature.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Lochain Dubha, Isle of skye - Special Area of Conservation

Lochain Dubha is one of a series of small lochs located between Broadford and Kinloch, just off the A851. This is a Special Area of Conservation because it has undisturbed 'blanket bog', a habitat which has disappeared from much of its former range in the UK as a result of peat extraction, forestry plantings and land drainage. Just as deciduous forests change colour in the autumn, so do peat bogs, and the colours are infinitely more varied and unusual!

lochain dubha

lochain dubha


heather (Calluna vulgaris)
Heather (Calluna vulgaris)

cross leaved heather (Erica tetralix)
Cross-leaved Heather (Erica tetralix)
lesser bladderwort (Urticularia minor)
Lesser Bladderwort (Urtricularia minor)

At first glance, Bladderworts seem like quite inconspicuous, unassuming plants, but under the surface they are methodical and heartless killers! There are a number of carnivorous plants native to the UK and most of them are to be found in bogs. Sundews and Butterworts produce sticky secretions which entice and trap insects but Bladderworts use a completely different mechanism. Water is pumped out of microscopic underwater 'bladders' which creates a vacuum within the bladders. When a Daphnia or similar sized animal bumps into the trigger hair which holds the bladder door closed, the vacuum seal is broken and both water and animal are sucked inside the bladder. Once trapped, the animal will be gradually dissolved by the plant's digestive enzymes.

yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea)
Yellow Water Lily (Nuphar lutea)
yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea)
Yellow Water Lily (Nuphar lutea)

Bright orange Blackening Waxcaps (Hygrocybe conica) are fruiting along the road margins.
Other bog-plants worth noting are: Thyme-leaved Milkwort (Polygala serpyllifolia) and Common Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia).


herring gull (Larus argentatus)
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) juvenile

This forlorn-looking bird is a young Herring gull (Larus argentatus) that is moulting into adult plumage.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Dunvegan, Isle of Skye - Special Area of Conservation

Skye is a large island, covering more than 2 OS landranger maps (639 square miles), with rugged rocky shores and a moody, exceptionally scenic landscape. In the centre of the isle are the Mordor-esque jagged Black Cuillins and to the North are the erosion-carved pinnacles of The Quairaing and The Storr.

I bought an Apex Return ticket (Citylink) for £34.80 and booked 4 nights at Broadford Youth Hostel (Scottish Youth Hostel Association). The bus service in Skye is especially poor, so if you miss the first bus of the day there is almost no point getting the bus at all, you might be waiting several hours! Likewise, the last bus back from some locations is about 4pm and I had some dread-filled moments when I feared I had missed the last bus back to the hostel :(
On Sundays there is no bus service.

I visited Dunvegan mainly because it is home to a large population of Common Seals (Phoca vitulina) but I thought I might as well visit Dunvegan Castle too (the seat of the clan MacLeod). The seal colony was disappointing: too crowded with people for my liking (a boat carrying tourists circles the colony once every hour) and the shore was strewn with litter.

Highland cattle with rich-ginger, black and cream coats, wander the shore-side and seem friendly enough. Interestingly, it is the cows not the bulls, which have the more impressive horns.