Natural History

Ben Hope
Image by Ade Milne via Flickr

I came across a pamphlet from the 1902s about Gaelic proverbs and sayings. It focuses on those sayings that are unique to Gaelic or have no direct equivalent in another language. Not surprisingly for a language so deeply rooted in the countryside and so descriptive of the natural world many of the proverbs use natural features or phenomena as metaphor. I will enjoy dipping in and out of the seventy-plus pages for inspiration.

One piece jumped out from the page, although it seems to have no Gaelic basis and is not attributed to anyone. All the same it encapsulates the feelings that those of us who are fortunate to live, work or play in our mountain areas have about the natural wonder around us.

“Mountains are the great cathedrals of the earth, with their gates of rock, pavements of clouds, choirs of steam and stone, and altars of snow.”

Related posts:  A New Year thought for hillwalkers

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The Stunning South Downs

I was delighted when Natural England announced the creation of the new South Downs National Park at the end of March. Although I now live over 600 miles from the South Coast of England, as a Hampshire lad I still have a strong bond with this beautiful part of the country.

The South Downs between Winchester and Chichester is where I fell in love with the natural world and spent many happy hours exploring and wandering. I have fond memories of school trips to Buster Hill and the Queen Elizabeth Country Park (on the day a mini-tornado struck the Iron Age museum), the glorious oak woodlands of Kingley Vale and the historic houses at the Weald and Down Museum at Singleton. I learnt how to use a map and compass in those hills, undertook my first overnight expedition walking from near Petersfield back to Rowlands Castle.

Buster Hill and the Queen Elizabeth Forest As a teenager I would often get the train or bus out to the Downs and then walk back across the hills to my home. Many solitary hours would be spent exploring  chalky footpaths and quiet country lanes as I grappled with the quandaries of “growing up”. As a student at university in London, I always knew I was nearing home when Harting Down appeared into sight from the train window and we soon plunged into darkness as the railway tunnelled beneath the Downs.

The South Downs may not be as remote and rugged as the Cairngorms but in my mind it encapsulates the essence of much of rural Britain that lies on the fringes of urban and suburban life. Peter Friend writing for New Naturalists online sums up why it is such as special place. In the meantime I am already planning a few walks for when I visit in late summer.

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National Trust feels the pinch

The current recession is beginning to hurt organisations like the National Trust for Scotland. With investment portfolios taking a hit, as the stock market nose-dived and falling visitor numbers the NTS is feeling the financial pinch. As a result loss-making properties have been earmarked for closure.

Hugh Miller (1802-1856)It’s not just stately homes or historic castles that are under threat but smaller, perhaps, less eye-catchingly chocolate box attractive properties that face the axe. These might not be immediately recognisable but they play an important part in our history.


The small cottage in Cromarty, birthplace of Highland geologist Hugh Miller, is earmarked for closure. Millar’s fossil studies contributed enormously to our knowledge of both evolution and geology. In the year when we celebrate the Theory of Evolution and Darwin’s vast influence on modern science and culture it seems a travesty that an historic link is facing closure.

Even the modest numbers that visit the cottage will have a beneficial effect on the village economy in Cromarty. Yet in the Homecoming Year when we should be celebrating all that is culturally and historically great about Scotland and highlighting what the tourist industry offers, we see a custodian of our heritage faced with the dilemma of cutting costs by closing some of the treasures in their stewardship.

One of the local councillors for Cromarty has set up an online petition to campaign for Hugh Miller’s Cottage to remain open:

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Adult American Golden Eagle  Aquila chrysaetos...

Image via Wikipedia

I have been dipping in to the excellent book about Birds of Prey, in the New Naturalists series. Amazingly, due to the magnification ability of a Golden Eagle’s eyes, if it was flying 1500 feet above the summit of Ben Nevis it would be able to see a cat in a garden in Inverlochy!

Just as well Felix domesticus is not on the list of preferred delicacies for a Golden Eagle.

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