UK 2002 SIX-WEEK LUTMAN MOTORHOME BIRDING TRIP

 

Monday, April 22, 2002. Week 4 Day 1. Wild Goose Chase, Part 2. Near Edinburgh.

Map

PROBLEM

It's almost 10 am and we're still sitting in camp here at Gallowhill. I have determined from various observations that the AC battery charger has stopped working, probably days ago. So at night, when we plug into 240 volts AC, and run the motorhome lights, TV and so forth, all that is running down the auxiliary battery, but nothing is charging it back up. Till the next day, when we start the engine and do that day's driving. Have to do something about that sooner or later.

GOOSE GOOSE

While Sharon and I were eating breakfast, I began to imagine I was seeing geese in the meadows that the owners told me about when we checked in. I got my bins and, Holy Cow, there were about a nundred (you don't say "a hundred" nor do you say "an hundred." You say "an 'undred," which I am just spelling like it sounds) geese in view down there. I told Sharon and she got on them too. We got out the scope and realized we need to get closer.

So out we go, exit the camp, left turn, down the road, behind a large pile of hay bales to shield us. The geese are very wary not of vehicles moving rapidly by, but of people or cars stopping. We peek around the hay, but all of the geese are walking away from us, some disappearing over the hill. We check out the rest, but they're all Pink-foots. [Reminder, we are looking for the red-breasted goose that may be among the hundreds of pink-footed].

We drive to another view, check the rest out, and again, there aren't any Red-breasteds here. Then we begin to drive around, paying attention to the line defined by last night's flight over our camper. While we're tooling around these tiny roads, Sharon notices a red car parked in the middle of nowhere. "I'll bet they are birders like us, checking for the Red-breasted Goose." She checks our OS map, but can't identify any road that goes out there. I feel more like it is probably somebody's junker, and say so. But Sharon feels strongly, so I choose to go with her feeling, and we figure out from our Ordnance Survey (OS) map how to get out to the car. We wind up in a settlement called the Balado something-or-other, park, and walk out towards what turns out to be an abandoned red junker car, in the middle of a field.

BUT...

As we are walking out there, suddenly we see about ten geese fly up from over a rise, fly a little, then drop down out of sight again. Incredible. Then we see about twenty do the same thing. We walk down this old abandoned lane, which is showing horse shoe prints, and after a bit, in perhaps a forty mile per hour up and down wind (gusty), we find them. Sacre bleu. There must be two thousand about two fields over from where we are.

We get the scope out and take turns scanning. We move our position a bit so we can see behind tree blocks from the first location, but in the end all the goose breasts are greylag colored. It rains off and on, which combines with the blustery wind to shoot little darts into us.

Reminding me of high school buddy Dan Peek's new book, entitled "To the Point, the Story of Darts in America." I ordered the book from Amazon.com, and it should be waiting for me when we get back home.

OK GEESE. YOU WIN THIS ONE.

We finally decide we gave it our best shot, under the circumstances, and move on towards Edinburgh. On the way out of the little village, all the wheeled garbage carts we see are empty and lying on their sides, beside the road. Gustification. But, then miraculously, as if it were in a dream, there, beside the road, sits our Red... -- nah, I'm just kiddin'.

At 1:20 pm, we get a "Welcome to FIFE" sign, which we figure means Windy, in Scottish. We also come to a sign which we've seen probably ten or twenty times in Scotland - it's a picture of a flag blowing and it says "Side Winds." I laugh and say they should take all these signs down, and just put up ones that say "No Side Winds," to save money, since there would be fewer signs. Oh, but you say, they've ALREADY GOT the "Side Wind" signs. So how could they save money by putting up MORE signs. Well, that's true, but it was just a joke. See, what you ... never mind.

DRUM MOHR

Sharon checks out some sites in our book, and we choose one to the north and east of the city. It's Drum Mohr Caravan and Camping Park, and Betty checks us in, followed by Willy (the owner), who leads us to our site in his quad. Betty said if we walked out of the camp, turn left, then the 400 yards down the hill by the "coal wagons," we could catch a bus running every ten minutes into Edinburgh for one pound fifty each. This would give us all day privileges on the red buses to go anywhere in the city. About $2.25 each. Unbelievable.

We go back into the nearby village to shop at the local mini-grocery and mail some post cards and a letter at the post office. Then we go back to camp, but on the way to our site, we stop to dump gray water and take on fresh.

After we set up, Sharon puts up the bird feeder, plus the peanut feeder which she bought recently, behind the motorhome. We can watch the feeders from inside the motorhome. It's fun to think that we might walk down the same street tomorrow that Maureen did last year when she studied a quarter at University of Edinburgh.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: In Great Britain, diapers are called "nappies." That's how they are listed on those signs over supermarket aisles.

SLEEP IN: Drum Mohr Caravan and Camping Park, Musselburgh, 20 miles east of Edinburgh, Fife County (I think), east-central Scotland

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): none
Today's Total: 0
Trip Total: still 43

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): none
Today's Total: 0
Trip Total: still 118

 

Tuesday, April 23, 2002. Week 4 Day 2. Edinburgh for the Day

Map

WHO?

Sharon gets up a little before five to use the motorhome toilet, and I barely wake up as she climbs back into bed. Then...

WhoooooOOOOoooOOOOooooOOooooOOOOo! Several times. Real fast on the frequency. "Bob, that's an owl. TAWNY OWL!!!" Sharon says. We have been listening to our recorded CD tracks and recognize it.

We both are aware of a phenomenon associated with this owl. The small birds like Blackbird, Robin, Chaffinch and so on are scolding like crazy, warning everyone of the owl, but also trying to pester the owl so it'll fly off. It sounds like the owl AND the commotion are both right over our head.

It's beginning to be light, but as we look out our windows, it's a black and white world still. I slowly open the motorhome door, to get another angle on the source, but the sound still is right over our heads. Then we get under the motorhome skylight and look up. Huge tree behind us, with big limbs branching over our camper. Sharon is adjusting to a different angle when I see this owl launch itself off of one of the limbs overhead, and disappear to the side. It lands in a tree pretty close, though and does its quavering call again, then flies away, by the fact that that's the last we heard from the owl. We do a not-so-sleepy high five, but go back to bed anyway, knowing we'll be heading for Edinburgh in a few hours.

We get up later, have breakfast, collect and load up all the stuff we want to have with us, then walk down to the bus stop.

[Let me describe my routine as I dress for these cold days. First I put on my underwear (or "small clothes" as they were called in old England) then I put on one pair of socks and pull on a pair of tights. Another pair of socks go on and then I put on sweatpants. Up top, I start with a silk skiers turtleneck top, followed by another heavier turtleneck top, topped off by a heavy sweater or sweatshirt. Now I'm set to go for the day. When we go outside, I wrap my neck in one of my muffler-scarves, put on my parka and add gloves and a hat if it is really cold. So far, that outfit has worked in all situations. Hooray for the layers.]

On the way, we walk past these beautiful little bell-shaped flowers. I lean over to smell them, and they smell like onions. The thought still brings tears to my eyes. As we're waiting for the bus, Sharon picks up a pair of Stock Doves high in the trees on the hill behind the bus stop. Sharon also pick up a couple of raptors, but they turn into Mistle Thrushes with closer study.

TO EDINBURGH

The bus comes, and it's a nice double-decker, "red" one.

We climb the stairs, and get the front seat, on the right. Great fun. We drive through lots of little villages on the way to the city, and one says "Jan de Vreis, Homeopathy, Osteopathy, Naturology, Aroma Therapy, Reflexology, Herbology, Iridology." I guess you walk in and say something like, "I'm feelin' like 'avin' the Reflexology today, Doc."

About 10:30 am, we get off at Princes Street, in the center of the city activity, it seems. We meet a young man named Stuart, who has about ten rings in his left ear. He's a good looking guy, with cool blue eyes. Sharon hears him say something about his wife and hospital and family way, so she asks if his wife is having a baby. No, it's pneumonia, he says. Then he says something about her spending lots of time on AOL. [A little hard following his Scottish accent. He hears where we are going and takes us up near the Royal Mile to get us started.]

We walk up the hill to a point where he goes left, and we go right, further up the hill to Edinburgh Castle, our number one target. Three Korean students ask us if we know where the Royal Mile is, and after saying we don't live here, we realize that we know where it is. It's right in front of us.

EDINBURGH CASTLE

As we approach the castle, we see two statues in front.

One is William Wallace (Braveheart) and the other is Robert the Bruce, both heroes in Scottish history. We purchase entry tickets and give them to the checker at the entrance to the drawbridge. Then we head in.

We walk up to see the cannons, overlooking the city,

and then to this huge one which split open once during battle. It's been repaired, as you can see.

But being from Missouri, I needed to inspect it more closely to verify the work.

Further on, Sharon tries to take a brick for her collection (No doubt, a Christmas gift for someone).

We walk all over the castle interior, on the grounds and in the buildings and towers. From the castle, we can see the body of water that is the Firth of Forth. We can also see the (Walter) Scott Monument. Scott wrote these lines about Edinburgh and the castle:

Such dusky grandeur clothed the height
Where the huge castle holds its state
And all the steep slope down
Whose ridgy back heaves to the sky
Piled deep and massy, close and high
Mine own romantic town.

We finish up here, then leave, but a friendly lady takes our picture on the way out,

and I collect a shot of Sharon with the ticket collector.

We walk back over to Princes Street, and there is this fascinating thing we call an "open" dome, part of a cathedral.

Behind the Royal Mile, there are many pubs, and our caravan park host told us to try one of these. As we turn and look at the castle, there is a nice view past a horseman, and I can't remember who it is. I DO recall that you're not supposed to forget who it is, though.

We eat at the "Auld 100," upstairs, over a pub, and have steak pie, a type of "puff pastry." Delicious. I have a gin and tonic and Sharon has a Pepsi.

After our break, we walk down the Royal Mile, away from the castle, to take a couple of photos of the Holyrood Palace, where Queen Elizabeth and other royalty stay when they come to Edinburgh. Rood means "cross." I am thinking of going into the bagpipe-selling business, and Sharon records that fact below.

Continuing on, I pick up a small bag of candy-covered licorice. This tastes like chalk, and I throw it in the trash after convincing Sharon to try one. She thinks they're chalky too. Then we find a fudge shop and get two big pieces to go. Then, here's a Christmas store, so we pick up a new Christmas ornament. A Scottish Santa.

After a very long walk, we finally come to Holyrood.

UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH

Next we take a bus over near the university and take some photos to show Maureen when we get back. We hope she says stuff like, "I drank coffee there," or "I shopped there." [I also get my copy of "Lorna Doone" that I have been wanting since we saw the dipper in the Doone Valley. I found it in a little second hand book store, called Wildwood Books, across from the University]

OK, Rini, here's Parliament Square. Here's the Tattoo Office. Here's the Bear Shop, here's Wildwood Books. Here's "Sox in the City," where sox sells.

We're getting tired, so we take a bus back to Princes Street for our final big shopping spree. We spend another 30 or 40 percent of our souvenir budget here, then have a tea break. This shopping is twice as hard as birding. [I have something called a Clooty Pudding with cream as I have had good luck with the puddings here. The only thing I won't try is their "black pudding" which I think has something to do with "blood pudding"].

Finally, we go back down, and get the red Number 26 bus, with "Seton Sands" on the destination list above the bus number, as specified by the caravan camp lady, Betty. We enjoy the ride back to our bus stop, and the bus is filled with commuters, who worked their job today in Edinburgh, and are now going home.

HOME AGAIN

We get home and at a little after six pm, the birds have emptied the seed feeder. Sharon refills it, and we put our souvenirs away in our big suitcase, for temporary keeping.

OWL (NOT) BE SEEING YOU AGAIN

We have a light dinner, then when it gets dark, we go owling. Just outside the entrance to the camp, we play the CD track and get an immediate response, not too far away. We slowly walk the direction of the call, but the owl flies away and we're done with that for the night. We were hoping to see a Tawny tonight. I can't stay awake worth a hoot, as it were, so "down goes Frazier," to quote Howard Cosell, from the Thrilla in Manila fight between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier.

For some reason, I've adopted this "Down goes Frazier" saying lately, and my granddaughters Mikayla (6) and Samantha (4) have heard me say it a lot. As we were preparing to leave San Jose, their little sister Sydney, who is just beginning to walk, stumbled on the carpet, and just sat right down. "Down goes Frazier," says Samantha.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: It's (conservatively) a million times better to take a bus into Edinburgh rather than to drive a motorhome in.

SLEEP IN: Drum Mohr Caravan and Camping Park, Musselburgh, 20 miles east of Edinburgh, Fife County, Scotland (2nd night)

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): Tawny Owl (both heard, Bob saw fly)
Today's Total: 1
Trip Total: 44

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): 1 lifer + Stock Dove
Today's Total: 2
Trip Total: 120

 

Wednesday, April 24, 2002. Week 4 Day 3. Hadrian's Wall. Birders: No birding and no new birds today.

Map

Birders: No birding today.

A BEAUTIFUL DAY

It's 9:42 am and we're ready to leave the area. Yesterday was cloudy and windy all day for our Edinburgh trip. Today is perfect blue sky, and castle visitors will get some beautiful pictures. We play the owl tape as we leave, but get no takers. We pass through Dalkeith, having gotten on the A1, then to the 720 Ring Road, then down the A68.

We're driving through a residential area with a 20 mph speed limit when Sharon sees a sign that says "Twenty's Plenty." A couple of miles later, we refuel. 54.20 liters at 75.9 pence per liter, for 41.20 pounds. About $62 for the tank, which was about a quarter full when I began filling.

We continue on and pass an old camper in Lauder, with CARAWAY written across the top - Sharon's maiden name. Her father Ed will be tickled at that.

I'M A LITTLE TEAPOT

Sharon has begun a collection of teapots, and wants one from Scotland, but everywhere we stop, they're made in England or elsewhere. There was an antique store in Edinburgh we noticed at the beginning of the day yesterday, but I said let's come back to it at the end of the day so we don't have to carry it around, to which she agreed. The problem was that at the end of the day we were so pooped, we didn't want to go back. She reminds me that this happens fairly frequently - me saying we'll find a better one later on in the trip, and she sometimes passes up something she really wants. I throw myself on the mercy of the court. I'm an engineer your honor, and have no excuse.

I stop before we leave Lauder, and while she waits, I go to a coffeehouse slash art store, but they only have new, designer teapots, something Sharon's not interested in, when I tell her about them. Plus they were about 60 pounds. So we move on.

We come to another village, Jedburgh, with a Superstore grocery called Co-Op. I take a rest in the motorhome while Sharon visits this antique store - the real reason we stopped here. After a bit, I go back to the antique store, and Sharon has found a nice little teapot with no name, label or other identifying mark on it. "Don't ask them if it was made in Scotland," she warns. That way, we know this pot was purchased in Scotland and will think of it as Scottish. [It's very pretty and it was only 20 pounds, about what I wanted to pay].

When Sharon and our friend Nancy Burlingame and I got together a couple of years ago to plan this trip (we came to London and parts south for eight days last spring), we took turns listing the favorite things we wanted to see or do. One of Sharon's highest priorities was Hadrian's Wall, which separated England from Scotland when the Romans wanted to hold back them Scots [Only they weren't Scots then, they were Picts and the Romans didn't want to deal with the "barbarians"].

Today, the wall is mostly or totally in England. And that's what we're headed for today. We pass Jedwater Caravan park, the "Last Caravan Park in Scotland," a sign on the highway says. Then we pass a caravan sign pointing to another camp, just past the other "last" one, and before England. Then Chef's Grill, with an American flag flying, looking very independent flying over the restaurant. We drive by the last hotel in Scotland.

At one point, I pull over to admire this wonderfully tall railroad bridge, before continuing our trip.

BACK INTO ENGLAND

We pull over at the border with England, and I call RDH Motorhomes, to schedule a trip down there tomorrow. We think we're only about 3 or 4 hours away. Now there are two things to look at, the battery charger driven by site 240 VAC power, and the microwave. We're clear to come in, and they open at 9.

There are large stones painted with "England" on one side and "Scotland" on the other. I'm pretty sure I see a couple of Scottish Crossbills (cough) in the evergreens by the stop here.

Then we take off south, crossing the border, back into England. "Welcome to Northumberland, England's Border Country, the District of Tynedale," one sign says. Another "Northumberland National Park," with an outline of a bird. We follow A68 towards Newcastle, and Sharon sneezes, trying to carry her cold to Newcastle. But that is not to be because we turn off from that road, at a sign that says "Hadrian's Wall 17 miles."

HADRIAN'S WALL

We begin to see little pieces of it, once in the middle of a field, with a fence enclosing it, like it were an orchard to keep out the deer. But you can see it.

We want more and drive on. We stop at Chester's Fort and museum, and walk down to the monument,

which is pieces of a settlement that housed soldiers. It is neatly laid out and an artist has made a model (in the museum) of what it may have looked like in primetime. We finally go into the museum, where there are pieces of artifacts found in the area for us to look at and ponder. We take off, but not before I ask my QUESTION in the museum store, of two young workers.

'SCUSE ME. HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF...

"Have you heard about a series of large spherical stones, perhaps 6 or 10 feet in diameter, scattered all around middle-England, but when plotted on a map, are positioned in a large circle?" No, they 'aven't 'eard of any such thing. I'm beginning to think I dreamed it, rather than seen it on PBS in California a couple of years ago. Now I'm wondering if it wasn't April 1st or something. I want to get to the bottom of this. So if any of you know anything about this, I'd be pleased if you'd let me know.

We debate whether we need to get back to the motorway and get nearer to Nottingham tonight, or push west and farther away from the motorway to get a better look at the Wall. We pull over, review, and decide that the long term goal dictates that we keep going. We know that somewhere there is a long, unbroken stretch of wall, and that's what we have to see. So farther west we push, continuing to pick up isolated stretches of the wall, out in the nearby fields.

About six pm, we come to a place called Steele Rigg, where we turn right and drive up, up, up, perhaps a half-mile or more. There is a car park at the top, and we can see Hadrian's Wall in huge long stretches. Down into a valley, back up the slope on the other side, along the top of a bluff. It's wonderful. I trip over the sign that says "keep off the wall please," getting onto the grass-covered wall so Sharon can take my picture.

I get a nice photo of Sharon taking a stone brick out of the wall. Just kidding. It's not a nice picture at all.

It's a GREAT picture (Then she puts the brick back. Yes, Nancy B, in the wall!). Sharon scans the wall and picks up two sets of rock climbers, working the face of the bluffs. We get some more great wall shots, and finally get our fill. "Marion, let's head for Robin Hood country," I say, and we begin to unwind the path we drove to get here, from the motorway.

ON DOWN THE LINE

On the smaller (actually ALL) roads, the motorhome is one of the slower vehicles around. So to be courteous, I frequently pull over at a layby or side road entry to let traffic pass. At one of these, we notice a sign to the village of UNTHANK, and wonder about the origin of that intriguing name. About 7 pm, we're still not to the main road south, when suddenly a Red-legged Partridge zips across the road, and I clearly see her bright red legs shining in that great warm sunlight of late late afternoon.

IS THERE ROOM IN THE ... - NEVER MIND

We find a caravan park and make our way to it, but no one is staying there, and no one is manning the check-in office. Then an old man teeters down who surely came from deep in the Ozarks of Missouri. We see a sign that says "Gates open at 8:30 am," and we ask if we can leave earlier. "Gates open at 8:30 am," he says, so we leave.

Back on the road. We're getting tired. Sharon finally calls a place that I think is in a town only 20 or 30 minutes away, but Ripon turns out to be an hour and a half. Sharon gets directions in case that's our last resort, and we can't imagine being on the road that long. We make it all the way to Darlington and farther. Then...

NOT THE BEST, BUT THE MOST WELCOME

I just notice a camper sign and we pull off, find the camp, and to our great relief, see that they're open. We check in and are probably one of only two or three campers tonight, but it's heaven. A friendly lady checks us in. She says she's new at this, and has only been doing it a few days.

The gate doesn't open till 8:30, but if we knock on the door of that little trailer over there, the "old man" will gladly let us out. She calls him and tells him to expect us, and that we have an early appointment in Nottingham, and that we want to leave about half-six or seven (I just love the way they say six-thirty). I'm supposed to leave 2 pounds deposit for the key to the toilets, but I have only one pound in change, and she says that will be fine, and that the old man will reimburse us when we give him the key tomorrow.

We camp in Scotch Corner Caravan Park, where the hot shower water only dribbles, the men's toilet light doesn't work, but the home-cooked (motorhome, that is) spaghetti is fabulous. We watch Survivor, British version, and Alistair bites the dust in the Tribal Council. He never had a chance.

FACTOID OF THE DAY: About nine or ten days ago, Sharon took the high road, and I took the low road, and we got to Scotland about the same time. That's all I'm sayin'.

SLEEP IN: Scotch Corner Caravan Club, Scotch Corner, in the area of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North Yorkshire County, England

LIFE BIRDS (Never seen or heard by us before): none
Today's Total: 0
Trip Total: still 44

TRIP BIRDS (First time for trip, but already on our life list): none
Today's Total: 0
Trip Total: still 120

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