After years of sterling service my trusty Phoenix Phlighter backpacking tent has finally given up the ghost. Patched and re-patched (there are patches over the patches!), the time had come to accept that retiral was long overdue. So, with the Phoenix put out to pasture and unlikely to rise from its ashes, I scouted about for a replacement. I wanted something inexpensive to tide me over the summer and opted to give the Hi Gear Soloista a go. At just £19.99 from Go Outdoors it made but a small dent in my gear budget. Read more…
Research for a book on narrow gauge railways took me to Tentsmuir Point the other day, on a quest to find the remains of an old wartime wagon revealed by the shifting sands.
Setting off from the Fife town of Tayport, I soon encountered Second World War relics in the form of tank traps. As part of Tentmuir Coastal Defences, scores of these sturdy concrete blocks were manufactured by Polish soldiers in 1941 and placed in a line along the high water mark. This stretches from Tayport round the point although thanks to the shifting landscape and the gradual expansion of the coastline seaward many of the blocks now sit some distance inland from the water.
Close to Tayport I passed the derelict compound of a former meteorological station originally linked to RAF Leuchars and two pillboxes that cast a heavy stare over the estuary of the River Tay.
The line of tank traps extends east along the beach from here towards Tentsmuir Point and I followed it dutifully over the sand to an information board heralding my entry into Tentsmuir National Nature Reserve. While the main path continues east towards the sea, I opted to bear right and follow the block line south. Along the way I passed a couple of gun emplacements, the sand slowly filtering into and filling their dark interiors.
The line of blocks eventually ended, so I set a course for an obvious wartime landmark, a green prefabricated corrugated iron hut (known as Green Hut) mounted on concrete legs.
A short walk inland from here I found the railway bogie, mounted on a plinth. The 2ft gauge wagon – along with sections of rail and corrugated iron sheets used to mould the tank traps – was discovered by a walker after the beach was eroded by winter storms. It is believed that temporary railway tracks were laid to convey materials used during the making of the blocks and the track and wagons were simply abandoned after the war.
For a walk around Tentsmuir Point click here.
What a difference a decade makes. Today, I hiked up the Firmounth Road from Tarfside in Glen Esk en route to the summit of Hill of Cat. I did a similar walk in 2002 and, as I set out from the car park, I had happy memories of walking the old road all those years ago.
However, above the renovated lodge at Shinfur, I quickly discovered that over recent years the original hill track – a long established right of way linking Tarfside in Angus with Dinnet in Deeside – has been replaced by a much more robust estate road, one of many on the Millden Estate constructed to service numerous lines of grouse butts.
It wasn’t particularly pleasant underfoot, but did make short work of the ascent to the top of Tampie where, as part of the estate’s ongoing drive to upgrade its grouse moors, a line of butts was in the process of being rebuilt.
The ‘upgraded’ Firmounth Road lifted me up and over Tampie and as I progressed towards the next peak, Gannoch, it became apparent that the redevelopment was not yet complete. Ahead of me, at the end of the newest section of track, sat a mechanical excavator – poised to carve up even more of the original route.
It is a great pity that the old Firmounth has been bulldozed out in such a fashion. Gone is a wonderful old hill track. In its original state, it was an integral part of the landscape. Weathered and overgrown, the heathery highway lay hidden amongst the hills. Now, sadly, it is an all too obvious scar of grit and gravel.
For more on the Firmounth Road, visit Heritage Paths.
As a follow up to an earlier post (scroll down to find it!) about animal traps in the Scottish countryside, I came across three traps containing dead animals on my wanderings in the Angus hills today.
The first contained a freshly snared stoat, killed as it scampered through a fen trap slung over a stream close to the Firmounth/Fungle Road in Glen Esk, on the Millden Estate. It is one of the few occasions I have spotted a stoat in the great outdoors – just a pity it was in such circumstances.
The second was a rat, again captured in a fen trap, this one positioned over the Burn of Cat, across the valley.
The use of these fen traps is legal as a means of controlling vermin, including both rats and stoats.
The third trapped creature was a very dead (skeletal in fact) bird lying in the base of what appeared to be a disused Larsen trap, again located close to the Burn of Cat.
For more on animal and bird traps used in the countryside, visit Onekind’s excellent walkers’ guide.
Update Another day on the hills and another grim find in a fen trap, this time a stoat caught in a stream gully between Dog Hillock and Hill of Glansie.
During a recent hike in the Scottish Borders, I came across bird traps containing two crows. It is the first time I have found such a thing, although they are apparently quite common in this part of the country.
As a walker, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. At the time I was uncertain about the legality of the traps. Should I intervene and free the stricken crows or leave well alone? The birds were clearly in a state of distress. It is a dilemma other walkers have doubtless faced.
A little research revealed that such trapping is perfectly legal, provided the traps follow certain requirements (although there seems to be a very fine line between what is legal and what is illegal).
Traps are placed by keepers to catch birds like crows that may prey on the eggs of ground-nesting game birds such as grouse. That, however, raises the question of whether one species of bird should be persecuted for the sake of another, clearly more profitable one.
The traps I found were a Larsen trap (legal) sitting adjacent to a Snapper trap (illegal). The Larsen trap is placed with a live decoy bird in it (food and water should be provided). The idea is that this decoy bird will attract others to the site.
The Snapper trap, which had snared a crow, is a rather more basic affair, a small cage that snaps shut when a bird enters. By law only carrion crows, rooks or magpies can legally be used as decoys in Larsen traps in Scotland and the traps must be checked on a daily basis.
A variety of other types of trap and snare can be legally used in the Scottish countryside. The animal welfare organisation OneKind produces a useful guide for walkers.
If you find a trap in the countryside and are unsure whether or not it is legal, contact OneKind or Against Corvid Traps. They have a useful link on their website where you can report traps. Provide as much info as possible including details of the location (with a GPS/OS grid reference), the type of trap, whether there are birds in it and if there is a decoy bird, does it have food and water? You can also attach a photo.
If you find a bird of prey in a trap contact the RSPB and police immediately.
It is all too easy to miss great walking opportunities right on your doorstep. The other day I was dropping some rubbish off at the local civic amenity site where, by chance, I stumbled upon a relatively new path network right next door.
The Riverside Nature Park has been created on top of what was for many years Dundee’s main landfill site. Now full to the brim, the city’s waste has been covered in a generous layer of topsoil and replanted. The result is a square mile of grassy meadow and young woodland located alongside the estuary of the River Tay.
To enable exploration, paths have been created, there is a viewpoint at the top and a bird hide has been constructed overlooking the mudflats of Invergowrie Bay. A car park is located on the southern edge of the park, reached from Riverside Drive via Wright Avenue.
After disposing of my waste, I donned my boots and set off, spending a good hour or so exploring the area. The longest stretch of path runs from the car park up to the bird hide by the bay. Returning, I had the option of heading over the top of the mound – where the viewpoint is located – or following a path that runs between North Meadow and open fields usually occupied by Highland cows. Here there is a small pond where two swans were in residence.
Continuing east, various paths skirt round fields and patches of woodland, emerging either into the car park or on to Wright Avenue, close to its junction with Riverside Drive.
The landfill site opened in 1967 as part of ongoing efforts to reclaim ground from the Tay Estuary (nearby Dundee Airport is built on artificially created land). The site closed in 1996 and has since been the subject of extensive landscaping. The meadows have been planted with an array of wildflowers and there are various patches and strips of native woodland.
One of the highlights is the opportunity to spot wading birds on the adjacent mudflats. Geese are regular visitors while other species you may see include lapwing, shelducks, oystercatchers and curlews. The Tay Estuary is also home to white-tailed sea eagles, which were released over the water in Tentsmuir Forest as part of an ongoing reintroduction scheme. Mammals which frequent Invergowrie Bay include otters.
For more information click here to open a copy of the park information leaflet (with map) in pdf format.