Plans 2018

Now that we’ve got the first office week of the year out of the way it’s time to start adding some detail to the plans for the not-in-the-office weeks of the year.

Somewhat usually I don’t have a big Arctic or Antarctic trip in the diary for the next year (at the moment), instead the recent turn-of-the-year aspirations revolved around spending more time on Shetland and making in-roads into my Landranger Project.

I made gestures towards both of these aspirations this week.  I booked the ferry to Shetland for next weekend and I ordered another batch of Ordnance Survey Landranger maps to add to the collection.

This latest batch of OS maps had an island focus and as I unfolded the maps I also found myself looking at the CalMac website trying to figure out a logical journey (or more likely, journeys) through the islands.  

In the Outer Hebrides the route is pretty obvious (the only real decision being whether to travel from south to north or vice versa).  Long long ago (June 2006) I crossed from Oban to Castlebay on Barra then drove slowly north via causeways and ferries until I got to Stornoway before going back across the Minch to Ullapool.  

The Castle in Castlebay, Barra
Isle of Harris / looking across to Taransay

I’ve only been back to the Outer Hebrides once since then (in 2014), this time getting the ferry from Uig on Skye to Tarbet on Harris (where I spent several wild nights in a tent around a couple of day trips to St Kilda - and I mean wild in the wet and windy sense!) before jumping back on the ferry to the Skye and the mainland.

Beaches, South Harris
MV Hebrides, Uig Bay

Next time it probably makes sense to drive south through the Outer Hebrides and then come back via either Tiree, Coll and Mull or via the Small Island (Rum, Eigg, Muck and Canna).

At the moment I can see half-a-dozen geographically obvious island groups to explore (or re-explore). (i) Lewis, Harris, the Uists, Benbecula and Barra, (ii) Tiree, Coll and Mull, (iii) Rum, Canna, Eigg and Muck, (iv) Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Gigha, (v) Skye and (vi) Bute and Arran.  Hmm, the Landranger project seems to be evolving into a how-many-islands-can-I-visit project. Maybe this bit of the project would be easier if I had a boat rather than a car. 

And that’s before I set off exploring either Orkney or Shetland.  Shetland, I hear you cry, aren’t you always there?  

Yes, But!

There are still some of the Shetland Islands I’ve not been to yet - and others I’ve only been to once. 

Weather permitting, more on winter on Shetland next weekend. I hope.

Edinburgh, January 2018

It’s always a good idea to start the year as you mean to go on - so to start 2018 we filled the car and headed North.  This time going up to Edinburgh to be tourists and to celebrate our 30th Anniversary.

When we’d booked the trip we had pictured it being cold, clear and sunny - with the hope of seeing some sunshine on Leith (where we were staying - in what had been the Leith Sailors' Home) and maybe even some snow on the ground.

We did see a little bit of sunshine and even a little bit of snow on the hills outside Edinburgh, but the ‘cold, clear and sunny’ bit didn’t really pan out - more ‘warm, wet and grey’.   

Weather not withstanding we did have a fab few days being tourists in Edinburgh and catching up with family and friends there and across the new bridge in Fife.

The Royal Botantic Garden and Edinburgh Zoo are always worth visiting - and at this time of year the Christmas Fair in Princes’ Street Gardens is excellent fun (even/particularly if you limit yourself to more sedate rides).

Leith Harbour at Night - MV Fingal under restoration
Sunshine on Leith
On the Big Wheel (did go on this one!)
Flying High over Princes Street Gardens (didn't go on this one)
Penguin Spotting at the Zoo
Senior Penguin - Sir Nils Olav
Have reservations about some of the experimental breeding programmes.
Snow on the Pentland Hills

That was 2017

Another 25,000 pictures taken. One camera retired. One new camera bought. 365 more pictures of the day. 12 more pictures of the month. 36 blog posts (including this one).

Eight trips to Shetland.  60 nights in various hotels, guest houses, conferences centres and on boats.  33 additional Ordnance Survey maps bought as part of my Scottish Landranger project.

A rather more geographically limited year than some of the recent ones.  The farthest west I got was about 12W (somewhere in the pack ice off the Greenland coast), the farthest east was the Russian mining colony at Pyramiden on Svalbard at 16E.  These two extremes weren’t actually very far apart and both were close to my northern-most point of the year at almost 79N (somewhere around the west coast of Svalbard).  

Alongside these snowy extremes, I think my southern-most point this year (51N) was probably one of the terminal buildings at Gatwick airport.

12 Pictures of the Month.

January - Cold clear morning, University of Warwick Arden conference centre
February - stampede Shetland-style, Quendale
March - Let’s Not Be Stupid, Warwick-style
April - North Sea Coast, Jutland, Denmark 
May - Bear Necessities, off the Greenland coast
June - Polar Outpost, Pyramiden, Svalbard
July - Puffin Time, Sumburgh Head, Shetland
August - Orca, Sumburgh Head, Shetland
September - Autumn Calm, West Voe of Sumburgh, Shetland
October - Wild Seas, Scat Ness, Shetland 
November - Golden Hour, Quendale Bay, Shetland
December - The Old Ways, Shotover, Oxford

Snow Day, December 2017

I guess the relative infrequency of decent snow in Oxfordshire makes the days when it does turn up a bit special.    A proper layer of snow has near-magical transformational properties.  The sound is different, the light is different, the scenery is different, even the people are different.

There's lots of physics about in the transformation of the sound and the light - the light bounces around more and the sound bounces around less.  The scenery is cleaned up - both the pretty bits and the unsightly bits are hidden by a layer of fresh crisp snow - and it is all (at least briefly) special.  And the people - just walking up the street there are more smiles and hellos than usual - maybe it's just that everyone needs to slow up a bit but maybe the snow lets a little bit of optimism shine through.

Whatever the reasons for the transformation - the snow provides a splendid reason to be out and about with a camera.

Freezing Saddles, London Road, Headington, Oxford

Bury Knowle Park, Headington, Oxford

Under Construction, Bury Knowle Park, Headington, Oxford

Shotover Lanes, Oxford

There are more pictures from the Headington Snow Day in a Flickr Album.

National Tree Week 2017

My daily photographs over the last seven days have all been (as far as I could manage it) tree themed - they've ranged from Weisdale on Shetland to central London via Coventry and Oxford - about 700 miles as the puffin flies.

Day 1 - Weisdale - see there are trees on Shetland

Day 2 - But not many at the south end of Shetland - but the waves patterns do look a bit like a Christmas tree

Day 3 - Autumn colours at the University of Warwick campus

Day 4 - University of Warwick Christmas Tree

Day 5 - Early sunlight on the Warwick campus

Day 6 - Bury Knowle Park, Headington Oxford

Day 7 - Decorated trees on Oxford Street in central London

Braving the elements, Shetland, November 2017

Over the last few months I’ve been very lucky with the Shetland weather - I’ve managed to fit in trips between the storms.  This time, although the storms weren’t enough to earn names from the Met Office, there has certainly been enough wind to disrupt the Northlink schedules and to force passing ships to search for shelter.

On dry land getting out and about with a camera has involved a little bit of planning and a little bit of luck.  

The planning at this time of year is about remembering just how few daylight hours there are (typically sunrise just after 8:15 followed swiftly by sunset, just after 15:00) and the luck, this weekend at least, involved not getting caught in too many hail showers.  I don’t have any particular dislike of hail but when combined with 40 mph winds it does have a tendency to sting.  The 40 mph winds also make it feel rather colder than the thermometer suggests - wind chill makes a balmy 6 or 7C feel more like 0 or 1C - which certainly warrants layering up along with wearing both hat and gloves.

As is my usual pattern on these shorter forays north, I’ve spent time at my regular spots - around Sumburgh Head (which is even better when the cafe is open!), around Scat Ness and on West Voe and Quendale beaches.  I’ve been trying to put together a collection of Scat Ness images so I was  trying to find one or two new angles to go with the regular favourite locations - not sure I’ve yet got all the pictures I want but it’s good to have more to add to the set. 

The other extra I added in this time was a trip north to Weisdale to see the trees - this is (apparently) National Tree Week, so it seemed like a good idea to take a few pictures to counter the ‘there are no trees on Shetland’ message.  There are trees, but they are often in quite small clumps and are sometimes significantly smaller than their Scottish-mainland relatives.

Scat Ness