Saturday, May 22, 2010


Iím sitting out in the front yard of my cottage in the Highlands, typing this.† I can hardly read the screen, because of the brightness out here, but maybe I can pound out a Ramblings, and proof it later.


I was up about 7 this morning, but I took my time getting out of the house, as I needed to play some rental car games (turning in one car and picking up another), and one aspect of that was not to pick up my new car too early, as I will need to turn it in in London in two weeks by the same time of day that I picked it up, and I didnít want that to be too early.† The reason I had to switch rental cars has to do with insurance and credit cards.† I wonít go into the details, but on all my long trips, I need to use two cars, if I need a car for more than 31 days.


Anyway, I also needed to get groceries this morning, as I have a kitchen for the next four nights.† There is a Waitrose store about 20 minutes from where I was staying, so I drove over there and stocked up.† First I had loaded all my stuff into Margaretís car, though.† Then I filled the car with gas and drove it from Waitrose to the rental car place where I needed to turn it in.† I called Margaret from there, and she came and picked me up and took me to the airport, where I needed to pick up my second car.† It is a long story about why I had to turn in the old car in one location and pick up the new one at the airport; I wonít bore you with it, and Iím not sure I remember the exact reason anyway.


So, I got my new car and Margaret helped me transfer my huge pile of crap into the new car from hers, including my ten shopping bags of provisions from Waitrose.† She went off, and I started my car and was familiarizing myself with it, when I noticed it was a standard transmission.† Shit!† I had booked an automatic, or so I thought, as there is no way I am going to deal with shifting with my left hand, while driving on the wrong side of the road on these narrow roads.† It was hot as hell, and I was sweating, but I trudged back into the rental car centre.† I had already waited for 10 or 15 minutes the first time, and now the line was even longer.† Fortunately, the guy who had handled me had just gotten freed up, so I barged right in, excused myself to the poor guy I was butting in on, and told the Europcar guy he had given me the wrong car.† I can just imagine what all the people in line thought about the Ugly American butting in (jumping the queue?).† The Europcar guy was very nice about it, although he insisted that the booking, which I had done online, was for a stick shift car.† The printed confirmation said AU in the description, but he said that stood for air conditioning.† AU means Air Conditioning?† Seems highly unlikely to me.† Anyway, he straightened it out and gave me another car, and it only cost me about 7 bucks more.† Now all I had to do was transfer my huge pile of crap from one car to the other, and finally I was on my way, after dropping off the key in the car return shack and explaining my whole story again.† This car is the same strange model of Mercedes that I had before, but it is a more recent model year, I think.† There are a couple of minor differences (like no armrest, which I miss, and the rear windows are manual rather than automatic).† It is also a diesel engine model, while I had a gasoline one before.† But, at least I know where all the controls are, and I am somewhat used to the size of the car, which will help.


I got the a/c going full blast, and headed north.† Unfortunately, my trials were not yet over.† I missed a turn and had to go back 7 miles Ė another 20 minutes lost.† It can be a long way between exits on their motorways.† I finally found myself negotiating a roundabout I had been on 20 minutes earlier, and then I was off.† Again, I thought I was finally good, but then there was a back up at the Forth Road Bridge, and it was another 10 or 15 minutes of stop and go traffic to get to the bridge.


Once I got going, it was a really beautiful drive.† It was a warm day, up to 80 (27 C) at one point.† The carís a/c was barely adequate.† I stopped at a Service area and had a burger, and I got to my little cottage about 4:20 PM.


It is located on an estate, which is also a farm and has a trailer park as well, I think.† It is a Victorian era cottage, but completely modernized.† It is what the Brits call semi-detached, and we would call a duplex.† There are some marginal doorways, and I might hit my head again, but so far I have been able to duck and avoid that, although I have gently grazed it a few times.† I will be very comfortable here, Iím sure.† It is a fairly long drive from the road, along very narrow lanes, and it will be interesting when and if I meet someone coming the other way.† Someone probably will have to back up.


The view from the front yard of the cottage, and out of the windows, is incredible, which is why I am outside, struggling to read the screen.† I took some pictures, inside and out, and maybe I will post a Photos of nothing but cottage pictures tonight, when I post this.† Meanwhile, there are House Martins swooping around, going to and from their nests under the eaves of the cottage, Grey Herons are in the treetops across the field (either nesting or roosting there), and a few other birds are around.† A raptor flew over, and I think it was a Peregrine Falcon, but I didnít get a good enough look at it to be sure.† Iím not a good enough birder to tell from the wings and body shape, I have to see the head well enough to ID a Peregrine.


The cottage has a wireless internet connection, which I checked out first thing.† A kitchen and internet access.† I am in heaven.† The incredible view is a bonus.† Add a modern bathroom and a double bed, and I have hit the jackpot.† There is even a washer and dryer in the kitchen, so I can catch up with my laundry.


It is cloudy across the valley to the north, and it looks like they might be getting rain up there.† There is snow on some of the mountaintops, and I heard that they are still skiing and expect it to last until July.† It has been a very late spring here, after a very harsh and snowy winter.†


I donít expect to see a lot of new birds in this area, although there are several excellent species I could potentially see.† Two of them would mean getting up really early and hiring a guide, I think, and three others would involve hiring a guide and/or walking long distances at high altitudes.† Neither of those propositions sounds like me, so I probably will just see a few new species and enjoy rambling around seeing the sights.† The trip has never been about maximizing the birds at the expense of my comfort and convenience.† I consider myself a keen birder, but I am even keener in the pursuit of my comfort and convenience.


I havenít worked out a plan yet for seeing this area, and I guess I should do that tonight.† There are several ďmust seeĒ sites.† I need to make a list and a plan.† The weather is supposed to continue to be warmer than usual, but with showers, so I am going to have to be flexible, I think.† I wasnít expecting the area to be so incredibly beautiful, so I am sure I will enjoy just being here, regardless of what birds I see.


I have moved inside now, and I think I will process my photos of the cottage and post them with this short Ramblings.† What a life!