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Christmas Lunch  - 10th December 2015

On Thursday 10th December, 34 of us gathered from about 12 noon onwards at the Inverness Maple Court Hotel for our annual Christmas Lunch.   Although a few who had travelled from Speyside had driven through a little snow & slush, most of the group had seen only bright sunshine on the journey, so everyone seemed extra cheerful!  

Martin welcomed us & drew our attention to the fact that Susan Culliford was having to resign from the committee due to ill health.   For many years she had been an excellent Minutes Secretary as well as finding and auditing many ramble routes in the Speyside area. She would be much missed & he wished her well.

A recent volunteer helper, Christine Gilmour, had agreed to be co-opted onto the committee as minutes secretary.   It was also good to see a number of members present who had not been able to come on recent rambles due to being unwell or in hospital, but who were now “on the mend”.

Members were also reminded by Martin of the pressing need for the group to find new storage premises for the 10 scooters.   Despite two articles published recently in the Courier & the P & J, no results were forthcoming so far.   In the past, word of mouth had proved to be the best way of getting a result, so all present were urged to get talking!   The scooters have to be out of their current home by the end of January, although we have been offered temporary storage over the winter.

This was the third year running we had chosen this Hotel & once more they did not disappoint us!   Although the cost was fractionally up, the choice on the menu was wider than before, and judging by the high level of chatter & laughter, it was all very much enjoyed.

After we had all consumed our coffee or tea & warm mince pie, attention turned to the Raffle table which was looking very enticing, with lots of different bottles & parcels contributed by members.   Gerry Lowe did his usual good job of calling out the numbers, and a total of £81 was raised.   During all these comings & goings, Peggie came around persuading us to buy lots of her next intriguing quiz sheet - all in aid of HDR funds of course!

Our thanks go to Elspeth & the committee for organising another enjoyable Lunch.



Ness Islands, Inverness  -  November 3rd 2015

On a lovely Autumn Day we gathered at The Inverness Botanic Gardens for our last outdoor meeting of 2015.  We departed passing by the Highland Archive and Registration Centre - this exciting facility gives you the opportunity to search: Birth, death and marriage records, Census records, Old parish records, Valuation rolls, Wills and testaments, Catholic records for Scotland.

Across the bridge onto the first island which is a beautiful natural park with many mature beech trees; the sun coming through the canopy was beautiful. We continued along the path which crosses several bridges (built in Victorian times) linking each island to the next, often giving fine views down the river towards the Cathedral. We passed the war memorial and Edith Cavell gardens before a final suspension bridge completed the journey to the far side of the river.

After passing the University offices and the old Infirmary, now used for patient recuperation, we stopped for lunch on a grassy bank and enjoyed good views of the river and castle. Well refreshed, we continued along Ness Walk beside the Bught Park recreation area and on to the Whin Park children’s play area. We stopped near the boating pond, joined by some ducks, to enjoy the last of the sun’s warm rays.  

After returning the scooters to the van, most of us repaired to the Inverness Botanic Gardens for a warm up with Coffee & Cake.
Thank you to all drivers and volunteers for a nice day out.



North Kessock Ramble - 12th October 2015

We all met up at the car park on the sea front in North Kessock on an indifferent day, weatherwise, for a ramble. The views from North Kessock up the firth to the mountains behind Beauly and across the narrows to Inverness are what make this village so delightful.

Many of us remembered the North Kessock of yesteryear, before 1982, when it was the northern landing for the Kessock ferry before the bridge connecting Inverness to the Black Isle was opened. In those days it was constantly awash with traffic queuing to get on and off the boat, but now it is just a sleepy, little, dormitory village for those who work in the city across the water.

We can guess that North Kessock has been in existence since the first half of the fifteenth century since there is a record of a charter being granted in 1437 to the Dominican house in Inverness to allow them to officially operate a ferry across the Kessock narrows. If there wasn’t a village in existence before the ferry was formalised to the Dominicans then it’s certain that one would have sprung up shortly thereafter. The intention of the brothers was that the ferry would cut many miles off the journey for pilgrims to St. Duthac’s shrine in Tain, but most pilgrims still took the long way round the firth via Beauly in order to pray in the church of The Blessed Virgin And Saint John The Baptist at the Valliscaulian priory there. The ferry turned out to be of far more use to the commercial life of the communities on both shores of the firth than to the religious travellers and generated good profits for the Dominican brothers for many decades.

The first part of our ramble took us eastwards along the waterfront. We passed the modern R.N.L.I. station hard by the new bridge then went under the bridge and along a road that originally would have let us ramble all the way along the north shore of the outer firth to at least as far as Kilmuir, but the right of way has been stopped up, probably illegally, by buildings and the only way through is now unsuitable for our scooters. Nonetheless, the bit that we did traverse was utterly charming and wended its way along through bosky glades with the shoreline on one side and a beautiful wooded rise on the other.

The rise was punctuated by small fields that were devoid of livestock on that particular day, but the hedgerows contained brambles and wild flowers and the sun shone intermittently. Our spirits were dampened just a little by a heavy shower, but it soon passed and we all perked up again. The views across the firth were wide and attractive and gave a fine and picturesque vista of the southern shore and the hills beyond. We made our way back over the same route to the cars passing, once again, under the new bridge with its strange echoing noise made by the traffic passing along the roadway overhead.

After a bite to eat, we rambled eastwards along the shoreline into Charlestown. The sun came out and the views up the firth were glorious. Charlestown itself is now a gentrified former fishing village and we rambled along the quiet shore road past interesting houses, charming cottages, delightful gardens and bushes filled with chattering birds.

We turned round a little way beyond Sunnyside Old Inn and retraced our steps, so to speak. On the return journey we spotted that one of the gardens had a model railway winding through it, but no trains were running that day, regrettably. Being at sea level many of the gardens still had fine floral displays to gaze on and one, in particular, was noteworthy for its rose hedge still displaying many virulently pink blooms. On closer inspection, however, it was obvious that the hedge had been planted not for the colour of its flowers but for the superb scent given off by them – even that late in the year it really was quite delightful.

We returned to the cars by mid-afternoon and I can only say that this ramble in two halves was a lovely way to spend an autumn day. As usual, thanks are due to the van drivers, scooter handlers and walking volunteers who made all this possible for us.



Strathpeffer - Friday 25th September

We arrived at our meeting point in the Square in Strathpeffer to a shower of rain. However this soon abated and the rest of our ramble was enjoyed in fine weather.

We went in convoy to our starting point in Blackmuir Wood, and then on our scooters on an upward path. It was quite narrow but good underfoot and with lovely views to our left over Strathpeffer. After a while we came to a stop as the path ahead was blocked by fallen trees caused by previous gales. However, no matter, we stopped in the little clearing and had our lunch with lovely views across to the golf course.

We retraced our steps a short distance and then Martin took us on another upward path with even better views all around. After stopping for a while to take it all in, we progressed downwards and back to our starting point having had a very enjoyable ramble.

                                                                                                    Alan & Kath


Ardersier - 2nd September 2015

Sue and I set off on a dismal morning from Boat of Garten. Sue reckoned that by the time we got to the coast the mist would have lifted and it had. The sky was blue with some clouds and it was much fresher. We had a quick look round the community garden while some went to the toilet services being made available at Macleod Organics.

We then met with the local countryside ranger John Orr who was leading our ramble. We were a large group but there was plenty of space to gather round. The path was good with the sea on one side and Fort George ahead. We didn’t go as far as that but it is a walk to do ourselves in the future.

If we looked behind us we could see the Kessock bridge.

The ranger showed us many plants. I can’t remember all their names or uses except the one that can be used as a laxative (it’s funny the things that I remember). We turned right to go inland for a bit pausing on a board walk/bridge where some took photos of all the scooters. We passed a very overgrown old bowling green and turned in our circle back towards the village, stopping to read the information boards about the sea levels millions of years ago.

Then we went back to Macleod Organics where they grow fruit and vegetables and pack boxes to take out to customers. We were able to eat our sandwiches inside their building out of the cold wind. When we returned to the car park we had the option to go on further but the weather made the decision for us as it started to rain. Many of us stopped at the Connage cheese factory to buy the fresh organic cheese.



Glen Cannich -  Tuesday 11th August 2015

We set off in high hopes that this would be a good weather day for the ramble.  As we started the drive down the glen from Beauly it was sunny and everywhere looked so lush and green.  Despite living on the door step it is many years since either of us in the car had made this journey so it was lovely to see familiar places and to reminisce about previous journeys here.  The only blot on the landscape was the Glen Affric Hotel in Cannich all boarded up and overgrown.  A sad sight.

We then turned off to travel the remaining 4 miles to the start of the walk up Glen Cannich towards Loch Mullardoch.  What a perfect Highland glen.  We followed the river tumbling through beautiful woodland.  We saw a couple of very new houses and speculated on how they got planning permission for out here in the middle of nowhere, and how did they get on with the resident neighbours from hell, the midge and the tick.

As we neared the start of the walk it was raining, the wind got up and when we got out of the car it felt really cold.  Being August I had been determined I would not need my lined thermal winter trousers but was beginning to regret this decision.  On came the extra layers, waterproof trousers, gloves, hat.  However, as is often the case the weather vastly improved in the short time it took us to start the walk.  It got better as the day went on and we had mainly sunshine and blue skies.

We travelled up and back down a forestry track going towards the Mullardoch dam.  Sandra, the Forestry Commission Ranger for Glen Affric and Glen Cannich came with us.  Her discussion about the creatures who live here, the habitat, and managing the area for nature whilst also welcoming all  visitors was fascinating.  She told us about the native Scots pines (I had no idea they came in so many shapes and forms).  She pointed out some fox poo.  All black and shiny due to the fox diet being almost exclusively blaeberries at this time of year.  Some of us saw an actual fox across the river and also an adder who slithered away when we all arrived.

Thankfully there was a strong enough breeze to keep the midges away except when we stopped for lunch.  They lost no time in making their presence felt then.  Out came the Skin So Soft, and Peggie donned a very fetching total immersion midge jacket which must have made eating the butties quite difficult!

On our return journey with the weather getting better and better a red and yellow helicopter went overhead several times back and forth, sometimes carrying a load suspended below.  Does anyone know who this was or what they were doing?

What a lovely day out.  Perfectly rounded off with cake and a nice cup of tea at the Bog Cotton Café in Cannich.



Boblainy Forest Ramble - Thursday 23rd July 2015

It was a chilly day, but the sun made an effort to encourage us and the rain kept off.

Sadly Martin, who was to lead us, had to leave once we were ready to start on our ramble, as Maureen, his wife, was not well.  We trust she will be back to strength by the time this goes to press. Our special thanks go to Elspeth who took the lead in Martin’s place.

About a mile to the south of the village of Kiltarlity, on a minor road signed ‘Scottish Water’, we parked in an open area where the road forks.  We took the right hand unsurfaced road into the forest which is a largely coniferous plantation, most of which is owned and managed by the Forestry Commission.   When the trees opened up, we stopped to admire the view to the north, with Ben Wyvis in the distance.  It was just noon and we decided to make this our lunch stop.  A convenient heap of gravel offered a good place for some of us to sit.

Walter had the spare scooter and I had made sure that I could use it if needed.  After lunch I gratefully accepted the use of the spare.  It was interesting to experience being part of the disabled group.

We returned to the cars by the same route and then took the left hand fork.  This is a private road, newly tarred, which leads to the Water Treatment Works.  Although we could see the buildings, we didn’t go that far, but enjoyed the wide open view toward Drumnadrochit.   When we had to get off the tarmac to allow a van to pass, I discovered that three wheeler scooters are not very stable and had visions of toppling sideways when getting down the small drop at the edge of the tar.  Fortunately I was advised to take it straight on instead of trying to go off sideways.  Getting back up onto the road was not easy either, as there was not much room to get a clear run straight at the lip.  As if to calm me down, we saw a couple of gorgeous, luminous, green dragonflies.

The road was wide enough for three scooters to travel alongside each other so that we were able to converse.  Later we were joined by Rosemary, but by then we were nearly back where the cars were parked.  It was a really good day, but I felt quite stiff when I got off the scooter!



Beinn Eighe  -  Monday 6th July 2015

The Highland Disabled Ramblers outing on 6th July 2015 was to the Beinn Eighe area by Kinlochewe. This ramble was eagerly looked forward to because the ramble to the same area the previous year had to be cancelled due to bad weather.

This time, the weather was glorious (between adjacent days of heavy showers and Weather Warnings!). The drive over through Achnasheen showed off all the mountains at their best. It was warm with only a hint of slight showers every now and then.

The vans pulled into the Beinn Eighe Forest Trail carpark at exactly 11am to find everybody already there, all dressed in their summer clothes and ready for action. The full complement of 11 scooters had been brought and these were quickly unloaded and distributed. The party set off along good gravel paths. Initially, the way led through trees and over an interesting timber bridge (with a seat built into it). Further along, the way led across open moor with waist-high heather and ferns. There was little wind but the midges were not too bad. Some members picked the wild bog myrtle and crushed the leaves to make a sort of midge repellent.

The cavalcade stopped for a while so that one volunteer could run ahead and verify if the scooters could turn round at the marked viewpoint. Given the all-clear, we all went up to the viewpoint to find a picnic table and plenty of room for the scooters. This was too good a chance to miss so a stop was called for a leisurely picnic lunch, admiring the view of the nearby Beinn Eighe and the more distant Slioch on the opposite side of Loch Maree. While there, Susie Fry led a round of ‘My name is …’, though I must admit I have forgotten most of the names. Next, Roger gave another advertisement for his forthcoming starring role in ‘Oliver!’ at the Eden Court Theatre (I will come, Roger, I promise!).

The party set off again and wound its way down to the road, which leads to Sheildaig, past the Whistle Stop café and the caravan site to the main road, and headed back towards the carpark. There was surprising little traffic considering it was the height of summer. Soon, another path opened up on the left so that we could get away from the highway. We passed another picnic table: Elspeth commented that the tables were made from recycled tyres and fashioned to look like wood.

The path wended its way back through the trees, over the same timber bridge with the incorporated seat, and back to the Visitor Centre, which is a sort of exhibition cottage by the carpark, with useful toilets.

To round off the day some of the party went to the Whistle Stop café for tea and cakes, including the van drivers: Victor and Walter, who still faced several hours of driving, unloading, refuelling etc. before their day was over.



Ramble along the Dava Way near Forres - 19th June 2015
Part of the Moray Walking Festival

Where has the summer weather gone?!!

We met at Dallas Dhu Distillery just outside Forres to avail ourselves of the facilities there. The distillery is no longer in production (having stopped distilling whisky about 1993) and is now run by Historic Scotland as a Visitor Attraction.

There was a very good turnout of both scooter-users and helpers. The helpers were very useful - as they always are - when we had to negotiate the sloping path up the embankment of what used to be the Forres to Grantown Railway line. The whole length of the line, some 24 miles, is now a walking and cycling track and is well used as we saw on the ramble, meeting quite a number of folk using it. When it was originally built in the middle of the 19th century the whole line from Dunkeld to Forres took two years to build - quite a feat with no earth moving vehicles, just shovels!

Wilson Metcalfe of the Forres Footpath Trust was our leader and he gave us a short history of the line before we left the car park and also pointed out various points of interest along the way. We were also lucky to have Elspeth with us as she is expert at spotting various birds and flowers. At some points along the line the colours of the wild flowers were stunning and Rosemary made good use of her camera. (I wonder if she will give us a slide show sometime?)

We left the line of the track just before the Rafford road, crossed it and went up past various houses, some with paddocks and horses, before rejoining the line further up. We headed back north again, stopping for lunch at a slightly sheltered spot with good views over the farmland and with a seat for some of the helpers. There are a number of these seats along the track, quite a few of them in memory of folk who loved to walk there.

We then rambled back to the car park, taking our time at the ramp leaving the Dava Way again but everybody negotiated it successfully.

The usual thanks are due to all those involved in the ramble, those who reconnoitred the route, who drove and loaded and unloaded the scooters and to the volunteers without whom we wouldn’t be able to go out at all. Special thanks to Wilson whose fund of knowledge added to the interest.

I started with the comment about the weather and I’ll finish with one. We were lucky that it didn’t rain but, boy! was that a cold wind!!



Drumnadrochit Ramble and AGM - 6th June 2015

We all assembled at the Tourist Information car park in Drumnadrochit  and made use of the toilets there. Martin then led a convoy of cars 4 miles along the Cannich road to Balnain from where we were to start the short ramble. The van crew were already there with the scooters which were duly allocated.

Martin led us along a good track through the forest, with views across fields to Loch Meiklie and the hills to the north above Glen Urquhart. There were one or two tricky manoeuvres round gates, ably directed by Graham. Martin had worked as a forester here and told us how forest plans often ‘gang aft a-gley’ when large areas of trees are demolished by storms.  Graham, who also knows the area well, gave us a short history of the local estate.

Too soon we had to turn around and head to the Drum. church hall where we had our lunch. Tea, coffee and wonderful home baking awaited us, waited on by Martin’s Maureen and other ladies of the church.  Donations amounting to £141 were given to Mission Aviation Fellowship, a charity supported by the church.  

Then followed the AGM to which 28 members attended. Martin gave a summary of the year’s activities, Philip cheered us up by telling us that our accounts are very much ‘in the black’ and Suzy updated us on memberships, which are also healthy. Rosemary was elected as our new Treasurer, taking over from Philip who was thanked for his accounting over the last 2 years.

None of our rambling would be possible without our volunteers, who were all given ‘Thank you’  certificates, this being ‘Volunteers week’. A particular ‘thank you’ to today’s van crew – Eleanor, Graham, Yvonne and Sid.

A very sociable day and a chance to catch up with friends old and new.



Carrbridge ramble - 13th May 2015

When we arrived in the main car park in central Carrbridge, the scooters were all out on display and ready for us thanks to drivers Walter, Graham & Victor.  It was chilly but bright as we departed passing along a couple of streets admiring the houses and gardens on our way to the Carr Plantation. 

I had surveyed this area for birds and mammals in 2013 on behalf of a well-known housing developer and was delighted to see the trees still standing.  Nice mature forest with juniper and blaeberry understory - so many shades of green.   Nice to hear birdsong too, the usual common suspects with tree pipit and tree creeper joining in. 

On leaving the forest we had a nice look over the open moorland and viewed the site of the old Poorhouse - a one storey house (c1864) built to accommodate the poor of the parish.  Nearby there had been a mineral well that was of chalybeate water (containing salts of iron) which were in great favour in Victorian times. 

Back into the woodland and onto our lunch stop - a nice sheltered spot with ready made benches (logs) for us to sit on. 

We returned the same way, guided through gates by Graham’s big toe !  We stopped a few times to view the very large ant hills on the way occupied by Wood Ants enjoying their classic habitat in northern Scotland: the sunny patches of woodland edge in Scots pine.  

Perhaps more than any other above ground woodland invertebrate, wood ants can be considered as a ‘keystone’ species in the forest ecosystem as they have a vital functional role. They provide habitats through their nests which harbour a wide range of invertebrates and  provide an important food source for predators such as capercaillie.

At the end of the Ramble we wandered down the street to The Old Bakery for afternoon tea and cakes.  Many thanks to Susan for organising the Ramble and to all the Volunteers and Drivers.



Tallysow Woods Ramble - 14th April 2015

This, our first ramble of the season, took place round the beautiful Tallysow Woods situated just off the A835 on the extensive Brahan Estate (traditional home of the Seaforths, the Chiefs of Clan MacKenzie) near Maryburgh.

Starting at the woodland carpark some nine scooters plus a spare, set off along the woodland track.  The weather forecast was rather ominous for the day but at least it stayed dry as we followed the track eventually returning back to the car park some two miles from the start. 

The path was a bit muddy in places but didn’t present any problems for our group of twenty seasoned ramblers!  Clearly the path we took was very popular with dog walkers.  We enjoyed our sandwiches, beverages at a lovely picnic stop/viewpoint looking down over Connon Bridge and beyond.   The estate  is known to have an abundance of wildlife such as roe deer, pine martin, red kite, woodpecker, owls, red squirrel amongst others but they all seemed to somewhat shy during our visit!

It was nice to welcome two new members to the group, Sue and John; we look forward to seeing them again at our next ramble and also two new drivers, Graham and Walter to whom we extend our grateful thanks for their support. 

                                                                                                                 Jane B.