TRIP REPORT, ARGYLL AND BUTE, WESTERN SCOTLAND, 4 - 11 JUNE 2017
Butterflies and bistros
Sunday 4 June
Our Easyjet flight from Luton to Inverness wasn't full and departed on time arriving early. Picked up the Europcar Corsa and departed the airport heading erroneously for Aberdeen - well, there is a tradition of driving the wrong way out of airports to be upheld!
Our first stop was at Tom Prescott's house in Kingussie where we were met by a Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) nectaring on Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis). David, Tom and I pored over maps, and later stopped in the town for a bowl of soup at the Duke of Gordon Hotel before departing. Tom had drawn a map of a possible Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne) site just through Newtonmore but under a grey, cold, sunless sky we drew a blank there. At the Laggan café we stopped for a cuppa, noticing a Green-veined White (Pieris napi) as we were leaving. The excellent Tigh Bhan B&B on the Cuil Bay single track road just through Duror was reached at 5pm and a warm welcome received from Heinel and Andy. 20 minutes later we drove the short distance to Cuil Bay but found no butterflies in the cold and windy conditions, but the sea smelled nice!
The Holly Tree Hotel at nearby Kentallen Pier, less than 10 minutes away, provided a smashing dinner. We'll return! Back at the B&B at 9pm I went outside to make a phone call (no reception inside the cottage) but was instantly attacked by midges and had to abandon the call and dash back inside!
Monday 5 June
Awoke to rain. So after a good cooked breakfast we set off at 10 o'clock for the Oban distillery located in the middle of the town and booked on the 11.40 tour. This lasted an hour but once you've done one distillery you've done 'em all (I hope that's not taken as an offensive comment because I'll certainly do some more!). At the nearby Cuan Mor restaurant on the front we had a soup lunch and noticed that the rain had at last stopped. Our plan had been to take the so-called Oban ring road from Kilmore up to Connell particularly to check out for Tom a potential Marsh Fritilary (Euphydryas aurinia) site at Meall Reamhar that was favoured for tree planting. Approaching from the south side we soon found the boggy habitat and the occasional Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) and Green-veined White in sunless conditions. Then I stumbled upon a mint female Marsh Fritillary low down in the grass and we whooped with delight! No sooner had we got our photos the sun came out, and so did the butterflies - Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries (Boloria selene) and more Marsh Fritillaries. We never cease to be amazed at where they'd been hiding, and how rapidly they respond to the first hint of raised UV. For a time the sun was very warm on our backs. A male Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) joined the fly-by. We returned in a circular walk past the Lochan then back on the road to the car from where David spotted a cluster of butterflies on a Marsh Thistle Circium palustre) - three Small Pearls, and our first Chequered Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon). A Cuckoo could be heard in the distance. Excellent!
Got back to the B&B at 6.30 and left rapidly for the Laroch Restaurant in Glencoe Village but the manager told us it was closed on Mondays and recommended the Clachaig Inn further on down the road past the youth Hostel. I love this place, set in front of the vast blocks of Glencoe and Bidean Nam Bian! A walkers’ haunt, rustic, informal, busy and friendly with a great menus and several decent ales. I chose the Game Pie described as "a taste of the wild. Rabbit, venison, pheasant, mallard, partridge and pigeon cooked with blackberries, fresh tarragon and juniper berries, and given a final kick with a slug of Botanist, Islay Gin, served with chips or potatoes and salad or vegetables". And it was excellent, as described! David chose haggis, neaps and tatties. The rain was starting as we left. What a great day!!
Tuesday 6 June
We hung around on a grey, calm, rainy day as forecast until 10.15 when I drove to Fort William to visit the West Highland Museum, making our first stop a corner pub in the pedestrian precinct for a coffee. The cosy, free-entry museum was great: I bought two Ben Nevis geology booklets, one for daughter Liz. Lunch was a Cullen Skink each downstairs in the plain Café 115 but as the rain continued to fall, we called it a day and head back to the B&B. On the way back we called in to the grand Ballachulish Hotel and booked a table for dinner at 7pm. Tigh Bhan became our afternoon venue from 2.30 where my patience was sorely tested by the bt.com email website that kept cutting out, very frustrating! David walked down to Cuil Bay in the rain, and I let him go alone. Off at 6.45 for a very good dinner in the busy restaurant, returning c9pm.
Wednesday 7 June
Today looked better - dry, a NW breeze and some blue patches = optimism! In anticipation of meeting some midges at Glasdrum I applied the essential Avon 'Skin so soft' stuff to face and hands before we left. The National Nature Reserve alongside Loch Creran was reached in about 15 minutes where it was sunny but with a stiff breeze blowing up the wayleave. Initially we walked up into the woods where it was more sheltered and in the lush glades our first Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries were found, along with Chequered Skippers. Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria), a single Small copper (Lycaena phlaeas) and Green-veined Whites completed the butterfly fauna during the three hours spent there. A snack lunch was found at the excellent and hospitable nearby Creagan Inn washed down by a pint of Jahr bitter.
Next stop was close by, at the farm of Mr MacCorquadale at Inverfolla in Appin, another site given to us by Tom. Mr MacCorquadale came to the door and was happy for us to tramp his fields, gleefully rubbing his thumb and forefinger because Marsh Fritillaries meant conservation money for him! The fields were very boggy and my tussock-stepping skills perfected half a century ago on Rombald's Moor in West Yorkshire came into their own. David sensibly wore his wellies. A group of black cows with their calves told us to keep our distance, the outriders standing dead still and fixing us with their stare, just like buffalo watching lions on the Serengetti. With a zero butterfly count as we neared the end of our trudge and the tarmac, I kicked up a Marsh Fritillary which settled a short way away on the heather and in the cool conditions wasn't about to go anywhere. Elation, and vindication! And then maybe we saw a Peacock (Aglais io), but it flew quickly away and we couldn't be sure. Back at the farm we updated Mr MacCorquadale and met his son, who now runs the farm, and exchanged pleasantries before returning to Tigh Bhan.
We ate at the Creagan Inn, a nice dinner overlooking the sunny evening loch and Castle Stalker, used in filming 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'.
Thursday 8 June
UK Election day. Outside it was overcast and calm. With midge protection on we returned to Glasdrum hoping that any butterflies we might find would be accommodating for photos, and that we needed to be lucky by lunchtime before the rain resumed. And lucky we were! Down the wayleave the wind had shifted through 180° but David almost immediately found a roosting Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and then close by I spotted another. A few Chequered Skippers had ventured onto marsh thistle and remained almost motionless for long periods whilst nectaring. And in a small dip of c20 square metres filled with 'reed grass' we began to count more Small Pearls eventually totalling at least 12 in a communal roost! After a couple of hours we popped in to the Creagan Inn (again) for coffee leading to a snack lunch as light rain began to fall, on cue. A lap of Appin seemed like a good way to pass some time and to check the ferry times for our planned visit to Lismore tomorrow, and to check out the Pier House Hotel for dinner. Got back to the B&B by 2pm and I used the time to try to sort out my camera's focusing issue. Naturally, the rain began to ease and by 3.45 it had stopped, so we took the car down the road to Cuil Bay for what turned out to be a fruitless browse but still better than sticking indoors.
We'd booked the Pier House for 6.30, the only slot available, and enjoyed an expensive dinner sharing a bottle of Rioja, getting back to our digs a couple of hours later through misty rain. By the time I hit the sack after the news this had become proper rain.
Friday 9 June
Turned on the TV around 1am to see how the election was going, and it looked horrible, and even worse around 3.30 when I checked in again. Woke to a hung parliament, and a rainy though calm day. We caught the 11am ferry for the 5-10 minute crossing from Port Appin to Lismore in drizzle, having bought sarnies in the local Co-op, and donned my pacamac as we walked south down the road. It slowly eased and by the time we reached the museum and café across from Killandrist 3 miles later we were quite warm. Several Green-veined Whites were taking nectar from Lady's Smock (Cardamine pratensis). A coffee, followed by a bowl of Scotch broth, became lunch after which we began the return walk, mostly downhill, the sun warm on our backs. David spotted a female Drinker moth (Philudoria potatoria) and we both took photos, me struggling again with the damned focus. We took the left turn to Port Ramsay and noticed an area of potential Marsh Fritillary habitat but it was fenced-off. Once across the cattle grid we could explore it at our leisure, but it yielded nothing until I disturbed a Marsh Fritillary, managing a single shot before the breeze took it across the road, and away. Then, on the way back, I saw another Marsh Fritillary struggling in the water lying in the cattle grid, and came to tits rescue. It was a very sad and bedraggled female, otherwise seemingly pristine, but a warm hand and a stout Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) stem began its recovery. Pleased with my good deed for the day! And a good 7 mile walk too.
The 4.15 ferry took us back to the mainland where a cuppa tea for two was had in the craft shop as we chatted to the friendly owner/assistant about the election and her thoughts as to what had happened to the SNP and Tories in Scotland. An hour later we arrived at the B&B and left at 6 heading to the Clachaig (where they don't take bookings) and had another good time. This is a busy, dog-friendly, family, classless kind of place - and I just love it! On the way back we called in at the Holly Tree for a snifter (me a double Lagavulin, and David a double Oban 14 years, setting us back a mere £21!!) and to book a table for our final night tomorrow.
Saturday 10 June
Raining hard, so after a chat with Andy and Heinel we departed for the hydroelectric station at Cruachan some 45 minutes drive away beyond Taynuilt on Loch Awe. David rang to book us on the 11.30 tour and we arrived in plenty of time for a coffee in the café. The ½ hour trip was truly fascinating, an astonishing excavation of an underground generating plant inside a black granite mountain. Still raining, we had lunch at the recently refurbished Ben Cruachan Inn, previously known as the Tight Line Inn frequented by the miners who created the 'hollow mountain'.
The rain had just about stopped now, so we returned to the visitor centre and parked in order to find our way up to the dammed cwm reservoir 'header tank' on Ben Cruachan, some 375 metres vertical height above us. The wet bracken soaked our trousers and boots and the narrow path led steeply up the hillside before emerging above the tree line and easier walking along the service road to the dam itself. The final ascent up a near vertical ladder gave me 'the willies'. On the way back down I found a solitary Small Heath and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.
Got back to the B&B by 5pm and made our final visit to the Holly Tree for our 6.30 booking (and a chance to see the Estonian waitress again). In heavy rain, which continued into the night, we left after a good evening to pack our stuff.
Sunday 11 June
On a windy, overcast though dry day we said our farewells to H & A and set off just after 9 for Loch Arkaig, via Fort William, Spean Bridge, and Clunes. We parked under the tall pines at Clunes in a very cool wind with rain in the air. Our stroll up the track alongside the loch was a waste of time so we continued a further 6 miles along Loch Arkaig to the designated Chequered Skipper car park at the Allt Mhuic Butterfly Reserve. Midges said 'hello' as soon as we stepped out of the car, so I borrowed some of David's beauty treatment which duly did the trick. It was blowy, no sun, threatening showers and no butterflies - until I spotted a Small Pearl-bordered brazenly sitting atop the bracken, the only butterfly we'd see today.
Resuming our journey to Inverness we stopped before Spean Bridge at the Old Pines Hotel (where we'd done a similar thing 6 years ago) for a coffee and shared slice of coffee cake. Pushing on up the A82 to Invermoriston we called in at the Glenmoriston Arms Hotel for lunch, eventually arriving in Inverness sometime before 3pm. What a confusing town this is! Once we'd found our way to the centre from the multi-storey Rose Street car park, having walked 3 sides of a rectangle to get there, we had a cuppa in a bar sporting over 100 ales on draught (none sampled), then found our way back to the car, changed into our travel clothes without offending any of the public, and got to the airport at 5.45pm and had a pint in the waiting area before the Easyjet desk opened 70 minutes later. All very straightforward thereafter. Swift Meet & Greet had the car waiting for us at Luton, I dropped David off just gone 11.30 and 20 minutes later I was home. Jean, being in Greece, had kindly left a tea bag in my mug but had forgotten to leave any milk in the fridge, so I didn't hesitate climbing into bed.