Ranking Friday / 29th May 2020

So, we're now 75 days into LockDown (at least based on my start date, your mileage may vary), and this is LockDownFriday #11.

Our team of highly skilled analysts have been hard at work, and I can now bring you the full results.

Over the last 75 days the joint most popular locations for my picture of the day have been Bury Knowle Park and the C S Lewis Nature Reserve, each of these have made picture of the day on 13 occasions.

Bury Knowle Park
C S Lewis Reserve

In third place, and rising in the rankings as the weather has got better, is My Garden (10 mentions)

In the Garden

In fourth place is Stoke Place (7 mentions)

Stoke Place

And to complete the top 6  - the Lye Valley (6 mentions) and Shotover Country Park (5 mentions).

Lye Valley
Shotover Country Park

And todays picture was from Rock Edge (which in chart terms, is 'bubbling under').

Rock Edge


Staycation May 2020

It should have about learning German and wandering in the Black Forest.

Lock Down Rules (apparently open to other interpretations) meant that it was almost entirely spent in OX3, but I did continue to take pictures each day - and it was good to be away from the tyranny of the inbox and Zoom meetings.

Day 1. Stoke Place
Day 2. Fledging
Day 3. Lye Valley
Day 4. Shotover Country Park
Day 5. Bury Knowle Park
Day 6. John Radcliffe Hospital
Day 7. Stoke Place
Day 8. Headington Hill Hall gardens
Day 9. Back Garden
Day 10. Jungle (aka Front Garden)
Day 11. Still in Hiding



Staycation Friday / 22nd May 2020

Friday Blog #30.  I can honestly say that when I started these Friday blogs back in November I didn't anticipate composing quite so many of them in - and about - OX3, but here we go again, further thoughts from Oxford.

Staycation Walk: Shotover Country Park

I've never liked the term staycation.

I'm never sure quite what's its supposed to mean? Is it a holiday where you stay(1) in this country rather than heading overseas? And does Shetland count as overseas? - there's certainly plenty of water under the Northlink boat between Aberdeen and Lerwick.  Is it a non-working period of time when you stay(2) at home and venture off on day trips.  Or it is time where you stay(3) put at home and find ways to amuse yourself without going out (or maybe, catch up on the house and garden chores that never quite get done).

Variant three ('stay put') is really where the country has mostly been for the last couple of months - with, on paper at least, variant two ('day trips allowed') now apparently being an option in England - provided you don't want to cross the border from England into either Scotland or Wales.

I'm taking the view that for the foreseeable future I'm still not venturing further than walking distance from the house (other than for very occasional essentials), so I'm definitely in the variant three staycation.  Just the thought of venturing to a day trip 'destination' and the inevitable crowds of people takes me into nervous twitch territory.

Staycation Walk: Bury Knowle Park

With today's announcement of a UK incoming travel quarantine it looks as if staycation (in one or other of the variants) is going to be the default for most of us this summer - unless presumably you're a cabinet minister or associated minder.  I'm still hoping that travel to the Scottish islands is going to be an option sooner rather than later - early July would suit me well.

Essential Journeys Only - has only been off the drive once in the last 70 days.

Back in LockDown Oxford, we are fortunate that almost all essentials are findable either within walking distance or can be delivered to the house.  Our delivery list got extended this week from veg, coffee, bread, beer and books to include flour, washing-up liquid and office furniture - never mind wanting more living space for the next LockDown, we need more storage space.

New Office Chair - ordered at the start of the LockDown
Ready, Set, Bake

So while my vacation plans meant spending today around Freiburg, the staycation plans meant mostly spending today around Headington.  I might have been wandering footpaths in the Black Forest, I did spend a while this morning wandering around the 'lost' paths in the grounds of Headington Hill Hall.

Staycation Walk: Headington Hill Hall

Staycation in the garden









More Exploring (Virtually)

I've found that spending a bit of time concentrating on each Landranger Sheet is turning out to be a really good LockDown activity - and it's helping me to figure out my Real Grand Tour for After The LockDown

So I've tumbled the random generator again and it's rolled out a further set of suggested sheets...

And this is what Series II looks like


As with the first Series the tour will go from the Shetland Islands to the Borders, and from the Highlands to the Islands.  Some of the sheets I know very well, others I'm pretty sure I've not (yet) visited - at least not properly.

Sheet 83 Newton Stewart & Kirkcudbright : Have certainly visited this sheet, and have explored both the coastline and Galloway Forest.  Last time I visited - I declared that a further visit was needed!

Sheet 1 Shetland - Yell, Unst & Fetlar : Good to have another proper Northern sheet included - and as OS maps go, they don't go much further north.

Sheet 11 Thurso & Dunbeath : In mainland terms this one is quite 'North' - and it includes the Flow Country which is worth travelling a long way to visit. And one often has to.

Sheet 30 Fraserburgh : Have visited this sheet several times - it's on one of my 'scenic' routes from Aviemore to Aberdeen.

Sheet 36 Grantown & Aviemore : And speaking of Aviemore.  The sheer tattiness of this sheet (in comparison with the others) gives evidence about how often I've been to this sheet.  It's also worth confessing that I've got three copies of this sheet - and this is the least disreputable.

Sheet 43 Braemar & Blair Atholl : Another sheet that appears in my collection of scenic routes between Aviemore and Aberdeen.

Sheet 24 Raasay & Applecross : There's a fighting chance that I've not visited this sheet - and it's high time that I did,

Sheet 54 Dundee & Montrose : Have visited this sheet numerous time en route to Aberdeen from the south of Scotland - but wouldn't have claimed to have 'explored' it.

And why only eight episodes this time?

The random number generator suggested I also revisit Sheets 61 and 68 - and at this stage that felt like over-egging whatever it is that one shouldn't over-egg.




30 Days Wild - Past Years

Next month will be the sixth year I've joined in with the Wildlife Trusts 30 Days Wild, and for me big parts of this are both getting away from the desk and sharing the wild-themed photographs I take each day in wild June.

This year is going to be a bit different - LockDown and all that - for one thing I'm expecting all my pictures to be taken in/around Oxfordshire (and mostly - if not all - within the OX3 postcode).  Most years I've managed a mix of locations - Oxfordshire (occasionally Warwickshire), Shetland, elsewhere in Scotland - and just occasionally further afield.

I've picked out a few of my favourite 'pictures of the day' from previous 30 Days Wild

Southern England

Warwickshire (June 2016)
Oxfordshire (June 2016)
Oxfordshire (June 2015)
Oxfordshire (June 2018)
Oxfordshire (June 2019)

Shetland

Shetland (June 2018) 
Shetland (June 2018)
Shetland (June 2018)
Shetland (June 2019)

Elsewhere

Svalbard (June 2017) 
Cairngorms (June 2015)
Cairngorms (June 2015) 
Sutherland (June 2015)

EV70

Part of a series - exploring Scotland map by map - for more background

Exploring (Virtually) OS Landranger Sheet 70 : Ayr, Kilmarnock & Troon



The final stop is this tour (although I think that now I've started, I might need to carry on) swoops back down to the southwest of Scotland, and the Ayrshire coast.

The coast runs right down the sheet taking in a whole of familar place names - from Ardrossan, to Troon, to Ayr and then on south past Culzean Castle.   And that's before you start to add in the numerous golf courses dotted along the coast.  The landward side of the maps is decidedly busy - lots roads and a few railway lines (both current and dismantled).

Dotted right along the coastline is the very tempting Ayrshire Coastal Path  - which runs (or walks) from just north of Stranraer right up to Largs, the middle 65 km of the entire 150 km is on Sheet 70.

And my new-found bit of Scottish geography knowledge for this sheet - while I had heard of both Irvine and Ayr (and could have probably placed them on a map), I wasn't aware of either the River Irvine or the River Ayr (and there is even a River Ayr Way to explore).


And have I ever visited this sheet?

I started writing this with a clear "No".

However as I've wandered (virtually) around the sheet recollections of student-era rail journeys have re-surfaced. On a number of occasions, when finances were 'restricted', I caught a train from Bristol to Crewe and then got a seat on the overnight sleeper train from Euston to Stranraer - and I'm pretty sure that the train would have come through Ayr towards the end of the journey.

So "Yes" I have visited this sheet at least a few times - but I think it deserves a proper return visit.

EV53

Part of a series - exploring Scotland map by map - for more background

Exploring (Virtually) OS Landranger Sheet 53 : Blairgowrie and Rattray, Forest of Alyth

River Tay, through Perth (October 2018)

Moving just a few miles southwest from the previous sheet bring us to Blairgowrie - although the sheet might be better named as 'Perth to Pitlochry' (the first being on the southern edge and the other on the northern edge) - and while its mostly an inland sheet, it does just manage to include a wee bit of the Firth of Tay.

The sheet does have a few contour-dominated areas - the Forest of Alyth, Forest of Clunie and Glen Shee, but the initial impression when you unfold the sheet is of a 'developed' area.  There are lots of towns and villages and lots of roads - including the M90, A9, A90 and A93 - and the main railway lines from Perth up to Inverness and to Aberdeen.

I'm driven (and trained) across this sheet many times, Perth has been a regular stopping point both heading north and south, as has Pitlochry when heading up to Aviemore or Inverness. As I've been writing this I've been distracted by thinking about how many times I might have driven up (or down) the A9 or the A90 - I think further research is going to be needed.

As with so many of the 'transit' sheets - ones I've driven across rather than 'visited', I'm left with a long list of places I ought to visit (or revisit) properly rather than just use them as service areas.

Of course the key to properly exploring an area is to find somewhere to park the car and to start exploring at 3 or 4 miles per hour, rather than 50 or 60 miles per hour.  Like so many of the sheets in this part of Scotland, there's a trail to follow - in this case the Cataran Trail, which starts and finishes in Blairgowrie and goes along Strathardle (then heads off onto Sheet 43) before appearing down Glen Isla and meandering through Alyth and back to Bridge of Cally. I've just added this to my walks list!





Alternate Friday / 15th May 2020

We had a plan - possibly a cunning plan.


The plan was to spend this weekend on an intensive German language course at the University of Oxford then get an early flight on Monday to Basel and spend the rest of the week walking from hotel  to hotel through bits of the Black Forest, finished up in Freiburg - consuming copious beers, coffees and cakes en route (all of which we would have ordered in flawless newly-refreshed German).

A Walk in the Black Forest

But no.

University of Oxford were first to say "no, that won't be happening", followed in short order by a similar "nope" from British Airways and finally a "this isn't going to happen" from our travel company.

The last time I left Oxfordshire was a couple of months ago when I, rather optimistically I'll concede, spent time searching the German maps section of Stanfords to find maps of the Freiburg area.

Exploring - but only on paper

Hopefully, one day I'll get to unfold this map in situ, but for the time being I've put back in 'the big map box'.

So, rather than wandering across newly acquired maps, I've got lots of staycation time over the next few days to look at the photographs in my digital archive and at the maps in 'the big map box' - and to re-walk a few of the Headington parks and lanes.

Bury Knowle Park, Headington (15th May 2020)

Stoke Place, Headington (15th May 2020)

And, as I was composing this post - comes the expected but unwelcome news that the next planned walking trip has met a similar fate.  We won't be discovering the Traditions of South Tyrol in July either.

Traditions of South Tyrol (also cancelled)






EV44

Part of a series - exploring Scotland map by map - for more background

Exploring (Virtually) OS Landranger Sheet 44 : Ballater & Glen Clova

Cambus o May Suspension Bridge, November 2013

After a couple of stops down south, the latest map is back north in the Cairngorms - the Cairngorms National Park covers about half of Sheet 44 - and although there isn't any coast line, there are a lot of contours.  There are some dramatic steep sided valleys that just cry out to be visited and photographed - like Loch Muich at the top of Glen Muich, and Glen Clova.

One of my Cairngorm confessions is that although I've visited many many times, I've almost always climbed and walked from the Spey-side rather than from the Braemar side.   Maybe I should repeat my Lairig Ghru project but visit from the east side of the mountains.

So does that mean I've not visited this sheet?  Not at all - I've crossed bits of this sheet many many times.  There are two A-roads shown on this sheet - the A90 and the A93 (and one or two other bits feeding into the A93).

There are about three miles of the A90 down in the south east corner of the sheet (just outside Brechin) - and I must have driven those three miles dozens of times heading to or from the the boat in Aberdeen.

And up on the northern edge of the map, the A93 runs right across the sheet finding its way past Balmoral Castle, Ballater and Aboyne.   On the A90, I've probably never even paused but I have stopped at least occasionally along the A93.  I can recall stopping at (but not visiting) Balmoral and the famous wee church at Crathie.   I've also got evidence of stopping for at least a brief walk around the footbridge over the Dee at Cambus o May.  The picture was taken back in 2013 (when it was still possible to cross) - I gather that storm damage in 2015 made that impossible and that this is still the case in 2020.

I'm sure I'll drive the A-roads again - but I think a trip up some of the glens is called for soon.

EV71

Part of a series - exploring Scotland map by map - for more background

Exploring (Virtually) OS Landranger Sheet 71 : Lanark & Upper Nithsdale



Moving just 50 miles east makes a huge difference to the landscape.  The previous sheet included lots of coast and sea, this one is completely inland - and is filled with place names I recognise, but would struggle to place accurately on a map of Scotland.

I certainly recognise some of places from road signs on the M74.  I've driven up and and down that road more times than is sensible - heading to or from Edinburgh, or the Cairngorms or Aberdeen - and barring brief pit-stops at the services at Abington (down in the SE corner), I'm not sure I've ever stopped in this sheet.

And what am I going to do when I get to visit this sheet in real life?

There's a copy of the Cicerone guide to the Southern Upland Way on the shelf in my study - I got rather put off when I realised that it was way over 200 miles long.  About 30 of those miles twist their way tortuously up and down through the Lowther Hills - going through Sanquhar (a name I'm told I ought to recognise - there's a knitting connection) and Wanlockhead (a name I do recognise - there's a pub connection).  The former is the home of a traditional black and white knitting pattern, the latter the location of the highest village and highest pub in Scotland.

If you scour the northern edges of the map the area the area around Lanark and New Lanark, not only does it appear to be the end of the railway line, it also appears to be the end (or perhaps the beginning) of the Clyde Walkway.  And since I've made a point of trying to visit UNESCO World Heritage sites in lots of countries - it seems a bit daft that I've not been to New Lanark. It would seem to be a good starting point for the 40 mile stroll down the Clyde (a 40 mile trail feels a bit more approachable than a 200 mile one).

Exploring New Lanark

The map also reveals lots of signs of a local mining past ("opencast workings" and "Coalburn" are a bit of clue) and a wind-farming present just west of the village of Douglas and just south of New Cumnock.

Visits? Numerous transits - next time, I will stop!


EV68

Part of a series - exploring Scotland map by map - for more background

Exploring (Virtually) OS Landranger Sheet 68 : South Kintyre & Campbelltown



Continuing what is becoming a grand (but virtual) tour of the Scottish coastline, by moving just a few miles south from Jura & Colonsay to the Kintyre Peninsula and the Isle of Arran.  There's a small (but inevitably virtual) prize for anyone who can see reference to the "Mull of Kintyre" without hearing that song.  And you really don't want to Google "Mull of Kintyre Test".

The Kintyre Peninsula stretches south from the Scottish mainland towards Northern Ireland, by the time you reach Southend you're probably no more than 15 miles from the Antrim coast - close enough for this to be one of the 'suggested' sites for the "Northern Irish Bridge". Much of southern Kintyre coastline is defended by cliffs with just a few gaps where roads come down to the water.

Getting to Southend (the little village at the south end) is a bit of a haul - if you want to get here by road from the Scottish Central Belt, you'll wind up needing go along the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond (there's another ear-worm for you) then round the top of Loch Long and Loch Fyne before starting to make your way back south towards Campbeltown.  There is, according to some sources, the alternative of a direct ferry from Troon or maybe Ardrossan, or more credibly via Arran. And you might even be able to fly directly into the wee airport outside Campbeltown - once (like so many Scottish island airports) an RAF station - RAF Machrihanish - which had very long Cold War-era runways.

In addition to the cliffs and the airport, the two other features leap out from this Landranger sheet are the extent of woodland, and the number of wind turbines on the peninsula - these are in two major wind farms, one at Tangy on the west coast with 20-odd turbines and a bigger one (60-something turbines) at Beinn an Tuirc.

If you have the urge to visit under your own power there is the 100-mile Kintyre Way which twists it's way from Tarbert (on OSL 62) down the peninsula to Campbell then round the east and south coast before ending up at Machrihanish.

Exploring Southend at the south end.

A feature this areas shares with both Sheet 61 and with Sheet 28 from earlier in the tour (maybe this is becoming a grand whisky tour!) is a distilling tradition.  Once long ago there were numerous distilleries in Campbeltown, but my notes tell me that there are only three left.

On the eastern edge of the sheet - maybe half a dozen miles across Kilbrannan Sound is the Isle of Arran.  Arran does get an OS Landranger Sheet (number 69) all to itself, but on the edge of Sheet 68 is just a taster of what awaits if you head further east.  The impression you get from comparing the two bits of land on each side of the Sound, is that Arran is a more rugged version of Kintyre.  There's a similar mix of forestry land and open land, but the contours are much more closely packed on Arran.  The highest point (I can see) on Kintyre is about 450m above sea level, while I can see (on this sheet) spot heights up to almost 800m on Arran.

Visit?  Not yet.  I'm a wee bit embarrassed to not have visited either Kintyre or Arran.  It's got to be on the post-Lockdown tour - not least for the fresh whisky supplies.

And while I'm there - I might need to figure out how to get to Sanda Island (off the south coast of Kintyre) - it appears to have both a pub and an interesting looking lighthouse.

Routine Friday / 8th May 2020

It's good to have routines - perhaps more during the Strange Times™ we're living in.  And I've realised that there are more things I'm now doing to give a shape to the day than I was before.

In The Time Before™ there used to be (on most days at least) a regular set of routines that involved commuting, working, eating and getting some exercise (for starters) - and for me at least I would have added in taking a daily photograph too.

So what are my daily routines at the moment, and how have they changed?

Archive. Sharing a picture from my archive.  I've been doing this for quite a few months now - but it feels like it's become more symbolic that ever - it's a reminder (for me, and I think others too) that there is still a world outside the OX3 postcode.  I've been increasingly keen to share coast and mountain pictures especially pictures taken on Shetland.  And the extra 'rule' I have is that the picture I share has to have been taken on the same date.  Todays picture was taken in Å in the Lofoten Islands  (on the Norwegian coast) on 8th May 2014 - and is of the world's only Stockfish Museum, which is also the local youth hostel.

Stockfish Museum, Å, Lofoten, Norway (8th May 2014)

Exercise. Most days I've been getting out of the house as early as I can to fit in a decent walk before I start grappling with the work inbox.  Usually this is 5 or 6 km, between 08:00 and 09:00, when the paths and parks are relatively quiet and keeping 2m away from people isn't too difficult.  And rather than just pavement bashing, I try and make the turning point on the walk one of my local green spaces - the C S Lewis Nature Reserve, Shotover Country Park, the Lye Valley or one of the local parks.  Just occasionally, I'll just do 3, 4 or 5 laps for Bury Knowle Park (just at the end of the road).   And very occasionally, the exercise bit is covered by doing work in the garden - when it happens, that's usually a weekend thing - that was the case today, I only walked a couple of kilometres, but did stretch other muscles.

Bury Knowle Park, Oxford (4th May 2020)
C. S. Lewis Nature Reserve, Oxford (6th May 2020)

Pictures. I've been taking a daily picture for about 15 years, and I'm not going to let a Pandemic get in the way.  So, I usually combine the exercise bit with finding a photograph or two, this also acts as a aide memoire about where my walk has taken me each day.  Today's picture was in the back garden.  The last time I took a daily picture outside the OX3 postcode area was probably in Wytham Woods (OX2!) on 7th March.

Daily Pictures, OX3 (April & May 2020)
No Mow May, 8th May 2020


Planning. Over the last couple of weeks, I've started thinking about how I'm going to restart a long term photography project I was working on a couple of years ago. The Landranger Project was (and is) about taking pictures all over Scotland - and visiting every Scottish sheet in the Ordnance Survery Landranger collection (that's 85 sheets).  There's more about the project elsewhere - I'm probably about half-way through.  My current bit of the project (given that hauling round Scotland with a camera is frowned upon), is to spend time looking at each sheet and figuring out what I'm going to do when I do get there.  And I've been writing a blog post for each one too - as a way of focussing the mind.   Today was Sheet 61 (Jura & Colonsay) - haven't visited either of the headline islands (yet), but the activity did bring back memories of visiting Islay in 2002.

Landranger Sheet 61

Researching.  The other regular activity I'm trying to progress relates to family history.  I'm gradually working my way through each of my great-great-great-grandparents in turn and trying to see what further information I can piece together (from online sources) about them.  I don't get to this everyday (sometimes work gets in the way) - but I've spent quite a lot of time recently unpicking the geography around Tain in the north of Scotland (OS Landranger Sheet 21) - once that's sorted I'll be heading south to Fife and then to the Borders.

Great-great-great-grandfather Andrew Mackenzie


Eating. This is an important part of any (every?) day.  Supermarket visits have become increasingly occasional - and various home deliveries much more important, including beer, coffee, bread and veg boxes.  The biggest change this has driven has been proper lunches - it's much easier now to make some decent soup, and to stop and eat it away from the computer screen!  And sometimes (at least on weekend days!) to have lunch in the garden.

In the Garden (8th May 2020)


Blogging.  And on Fridays, I write a regular blog post.