Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Kings Cave Isle of Arran

Kings cave is part of a group of caves that sit north of Drumadoon on the Isle of Arran.  The caves are formed from sandstone and are steeped in history. One of the most famous associations and the origin of the title Kings Cave comes from the belief that Robert the Bruce had  his spider encounter within the cave.  In the 17th century the cave was associated with the mythical Irish hero Fionn and his warriors and some texts of this era refer to the cave as Fingal’s Cave. What is certain is that throughout time the cave has been used for shelter, worship and teaching and whereas modern day graffiti is done with a spray can, historical markings were made with the tools available at the time.

Carvings date back many centuries, possibly even to bronze age (Machrie Moor stones are about 1 mile away) and have been worn away or overlaid by both more recent carvings and mineral deposits. The caves are now an easy circular walk (from the kings cave carpark).

On entering the cave serpents can be found about 4 meters in just above head height on the left.  

Once these are found it is quite easy to pick out Ogham inscriptions slightly to the left of the serpents and a meter or so to the right – all at the same height.  Oghan inscriptions are a medieval type of alphabet or cypher, sometimes known as the ‘Celtic Tree Alphabet.

At the rear of the cave the tunnel forks.  The left hand side has many 19th century engravings and a modern Christian symbol.  

The central buttress has a large Latin cross inscribed on it with other concentric lines near the base.  This has been reworked many times and has had various interpretations, from a two handed sword (associated with Bruce and Fionn),  Christian cross and  ‘tree of life’ a common motif in early Christian art.

Immediately to the right of the ‘cross’ is a human figure, with hands raised.  This hands raised position is believed to represent the prayer position.  Above the head is two curved lines (upside down w).  Various interpretations have been made of this, from it being hands joined, hair or a bow.

Moving down the right hand fork to where the tunnel narrows significantly (a torch will be needed), older animal carvings can be found.  The furthest is believed to be a horse  (head height) and below that (near the floor) a horse and rider.  

These appear quite different styles and are probably from very different dates but iron age is suggested.

Moving back towards the entrance but still within the right fork of the tunnel, at shoulder / head height, a very clear square carving can be seen that appears to represent a house. 

A little more to the right and two animals can be seen together.  These could be a deer and calf, or deer and hound.

To the right again, just above head height, moving out of the tunnel another animal, most likely a horse

and very faintly to the right of this and now being slowly covered with algae and mineral deposits is another human figure.

Another two meters right and at floor level a circles with a centre dot can be found.

Much nearer the entrance and on the overhanging ledge are two shields / masks / animal faces.  I prefer the suggestion of animal faces when a torch is played over the carvings.

There are more to be found than those listed here, although some do require a good dollop of imagination!

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Purple Sandpiper

On one of the brighter days this week I set off to Kildonan to have an hour out with my camera; the mission to photograph a purple sandpiper.  Travelling light (not that the lens in any way can be described as light!), but with no bag or tripod, kitted out more for the cold weather than anything, a fresh stroll along the beach at the turn of the tide.

The purple sandpiper is not always an easy bird to spot and is well camouflaged within its usual habitat of rocky coastal shores. Although a regular winter visitor to the Isle of Arran it is more common around the east coast of Scotland, northern England and in Devon & Cornwall. The first time I saw one of these, it had to be pointed out several times before I could spot it, stood motionless in the seaweed.

These birds like to eat insects and can often be found foraging in the seaweed, the reduced shore line at high tide makes them easier to spot.

Other waders such as turnstones are also picking over the same areas, along with the very cute ringed plovers.

The ringed plovers have very distinct markings, the bright yellow legs and beak blend perfectly with the seaweed strands making them virtually impossible to see when they stand still. The RSPB describes this bird as small and dumpy (I'm offended on its behalf!).

Rock pipits are always in abundance throughout the year, although bigger than a meadow pipit, I still think of this as a delicate little bird that is often overlooked (did you spot the one in front of the turnstones?).

Other delights of my walk included the territorial red shank and an oyster catcher taking a bath (at the very extreme of my camera's focal length).

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Advantages to long dark nights

It was when  I was watching the Olympic firework display and talking to a friend that I realised just how different the light is up here on Arran.  In the summer our evenings lasted a lot longer, to the point that it really never got properly dark at all.  However that does mean payback comes in the winter as the nights draw in around 4pm and morning seems to start around brunch time! Now don't laugh but there really are some advantages to long dark nights.

There is absolutely no excuse for not having enough time to snuggle up with partners, friends and even the dog. Night time photography can be great fun, especially when it's really just after tea and not in the middle of the night.  

There is nothing like a good stroll around a graveyard to get the nerves jangling - goodness knows what drivers thought when they neared Brodick, with strange moving lights and flashes going off!

The local hotels (Lamlash Bay Hotel & Glenisle Hotel) look really cheerful and welcoming at night, all lit up and I think more inviting than during the day if its dull.

Brodick castle can always be seen across the bay all lit up and appearing like its floating in midair.

Experiment by taking things outside, the darkness can add another dimension to a picture. 

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Wild on Arran

Well what a year its been! I'm never sure whether a review of the year should be in the last few days of the year or the first few of the new one?  But as I sorted through a few files and photo's  and as I don't want to bore you with the details of my Christmas, I thought a quick look at a few of my favourite bits would fill the gap. Kildonan (above) has to be one of the best places to see coastal wildlife from seals and otters to an abundance of birds.

There seemed to be a fair bit of logging going on and this log pile caught my eye.  The sap oozing from the cut branches appeared painted on and actually lasted for weeks. The log is still there but alas has lost its star quality as the sap dried out (or more likely got washed away).

Washed away was the order of the summer and normally drier streams provided torrents of water usually reserved for winter and cooler months. The down side was the midges were abundant in the leafy glens.  Balancing the brighter summer days with longer exposures is a challenge enjoy.

When quietly stood in one spot, it's amazing what comes along.  This slow worm (neither worm nor snake but a legless lizard), came for a nosy at what I was doing. Whereas I had to do a little prep work for the beetle and damsel fly.  Neither being very cooperative as they can fly away any time they want.

Summer brought the highland games, always worth a look.  The effort these heavy guys put in amazed me, event after event they threw huge weights around like I would a tennis ball (they had a little more accuracy than I do - fortunately for the audience).

We got snow up on the Witches in May for the Arran Mountain festival and many a day with low cloud and rain.  Paths were washed away and boggy bits more boggy.  But it's always worth getting up high for the views. 

However coastal paths have been part of my dog walking regime, as one of my dogs can no longer do the mountains, and these bring their own delights, from basking sharks in October, to this rare threat display (below) as this one decided to display and not fly off.

The first snow arrive in October, then there were the waxwings that visited in November in great numbers.  Then before I knew it I was here on the 2nd January, looking forward to 2013, regardless of the weather I know Arran will deliver with views, wildlife and a little bit of paradise.