Friday, September 11, 2015

Day 22 - Mull Eaglewatch, Ardalanish Weavers and Macquarie's Mausoleum

It’s a replay of yesterday morning for brekky and conversation. We’re supposed to be on a rest day today. Well, until I went and booked us on the Mull Eagle Watch… and apart from visiting Lachlan Macquarie of course.  Naturally with the increasing tendency to morning self-indulgence we’re running late on departure. Hubby reckons it’s because I’m doing too much gasbagging. Helen lends us a map which has some additional locations that are not shown on our tourist map of Scotland and we’re away, deliberating which way to head to get to the meeting point as quickly as possible. In the end we decide to just follow the scenic route because it seems a bit shorter. We have an added incentive because it’s been suggested that perhaps we should go via Craignure because the route through Gruline feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere. Middle of nowhere sounds great to us!
The weather forecast is for a dry day but it’s moody and overcast as we head back along the Sound of Mull to Salen where we turn onto the A8035. If we follow the A8035 we should see signs for the Eagle Watch.  Passing through Gruline it’s a pleasant surprise to find a lovely wooded area. The signs to the Macquarie Mausoleum are clear. That’s good and noted for later. There’s a section near there with some creepy, twisted trees by the road that I’m sure must have inspired some spooky stories.
Despite the hurry, we have to stop for a photo of the black-faced sheep scratching their backs on the road barrier by the bridge. No, sheepies don’t move off...  This will have to do. No time to fuss.
We drive on along the water around the bays where we have been told the wildlife watching is good.
The signs for the Eagle Watch are indeed easy to spot and there’s plenty of parking and other cars here but no people around. We’re about 10 minutes late. We’ll have to just ignore the sign saying to stay out and try to catch up with the group. I dash out of the car and through the gate suppressing an inward groan as I see the path ahead through the pine forest is steadily uphill and quite long. I power on though and sure enough I can see a hut at the top and there’s a group of people clustered around getting a briefing on the various key species we’re looking for this morning. “Sorry we’re late” I say slightly out of breath. No worries. Well they didn’t actually say “no worries” but they did say some sort of British equivalent.
The White-Tailed Sea Eagle is the largest of the UK birds of prey. You’ll see that it has a shorter tail than the other birds of prey around here and with the white on the tail it can seem like it has no tail at all. It’s huge with a wingspan wider than a tall man’s outstretched arms. John (our guide) holds two large feathers with his arms out to show us. Wow. It looks like a flying plank of wood in the air, its wings are pretty flat and level and rectangular in appearance.  The young birds are brown and easily mistaken for a Golden Eagle. Here’s a picture of someone holding one. Flipping heck! You’re joking! That is one enormous bird. Look at the talons! They’re bigger than a man’s hand and bright yellow with vicious looking claws. The young bird almost dwarfs the young woman holding it. They weight something like 8 kilos.
We go on like this, hearing the diagnostic features of the various large birds of prey we’re looking for, as Hubby (who has caught up now) and I quickly apply some Smidge. There’s a few midges hanging around this area and a lot of very distracting small birds. I love small birds! One of the other guests leans over to let me know that John has said the midges are only at this spot and won’t be such a bother where we’re going.
Hubby borrows a set of binoculars and we move off along the path, walking slowly as John gives us the run down on all sorts of things. Our group is pretty much all bird watchers and there’s the six of us. The same friendly lady says to John that he needs to point out even the common things we see because it’s all new to me. She knows this because I mentioned it to her. I really like her accent. It’s just like Sarah Millican’s (English comedienne) whom I also really like, so it has great associations and now that this lady is so nice, I’m sure I’m going to be assuming that all people who speak like that must be awesome!
John is a bit of a legend actually and he’s very knowledgeable about the local environment. Wildflowers, butterflies you name it.  I learn that the scabious I’ve been seeing everywhere are Devil’s Bit Scabious and they are very shallow rooted. The folk tale about them is that the devil came up and bit off their roots, hence the name.
We stop at a concealed viewing spot for one of the old nesting sites. It’s an area where bark mulch has been spread out over the ground beneath the branches of the sycamores. We can see the large nest in a distant tree and get a better look through the spotting scope. The eagles like a broken off tree. The sycamore trees are non-native but they are good for the wildlife. The nests sit cradled in the branches. You can readily see that if the trunk is broken off, the branches whorled around it provide a brilliant framework to support the huge nest.
We go from one of the biggest of all bird nests to one of the smallest. A sweet, cosy looking little nest constructed of spider’s web and lichen sits concealed right at eye level.
We go along like this for a short while and then we are stopped by John who explains that he will go ahead on his own, and we should follow but hang back and keep fairly quiet. If he calls us up we should go no further forward than the scope.
We get to talking quietly among ourselves about birding in our various homes. Great birdwatching destinations we have visited and so forth. It’s a very enjoyable walk and we have some lovely views over the estuary. It’s funny because we’re up on the ridge looking out and we can see a couple of different groups of cars with people here and there. I examine them with my binoculars. They are all looking through binoculars too. There’s people with binoculars all over the place on Mull! One of the groups below is obviously David Woodhouse’s group. We’re out with him tomorrow.
It’s a bright sunny day and it would appear the Eagles have snubbed their nose at their usual haunts around this area! None-the-less we’ve had a very enjoyable morning. I’ve learned a lot of things I wanted to know about what we’ve seen as we’ve travelled around. The scenery has been far from shabby; we’ve passed a pretty little burn tumbling its way down the hill; and we’ve supported the efforts of the RSPB here. All good.
We say our farewells back at the hut. I watch the many small birds flitting here and there and realise belatedly that their liking this spot is due to the bird feeder. My goodness everyone over here seems to love feeding the birds. At the moment the feeder is abuzz with strikingly marked Coal Tits.
Having been lazy yesterday morning we decide to pop over to Ardalanish for a look at the weavers there. It’s a bit of a hike and frustrating to have to retrace steps of yesterday but I really want to have a look at their knitting wool to decide if I want to buy some online. We find them eventually after our usual stupid and un-necessary confusion and head in for a look. The loom is working and it’s very very loud. Ear muffs are provided and we watch for a couple of minutes. As I hang the ear protection back on the peg and step back outside we get to talking to the visitor reception lady who has come to greet us. We’re talking about their manufacturing process and she mentions tenting, which prompts a question from me about the role of a “tenter”. Apparently they spend their whole time attaching the woven fabric onto hooks ready for the next part of the process. 
Over in the shop we admire some of their items for sale. They have some lovely finished clothing suitable for a cold climate and some heavy blankets. The one item in a lighter weight that we were tempted by was just a bit too small to be useful to us, so in the end, after Hubby has had a coffee and given a donation we head off. I’m really glad I stopped at Knockando and Skye Weavers and got stuff there.
Next stop Macquarie’s Mausoleum.  We enjoy a more leisurely jaunt along the scenic coastal route back up to Gruline and turn at the indicated place. It’s a lovely and simple drive through the shady woods to the entrance road for the mausoleum. There’s a large sign saying pedestrians only and that the walk to the mausoleum is 500 metres. 
We park and hop out. I’m doing the walk obviously but I’m worried about whether Hubby can manage it after the walking this morning. I've been having a look at the road in, then walk back to him feeling rather dismayed but he’s been busy himself. His closer examination of the sign revealed that people who have a disabled parking permit or who have trouble walking can drive in. There’s no question Hubby has trouble walking. We drive in, slowly so as to have minimal impact on the “fragile road”.  After a few hundred metres we come to a series of gates that give the demarcation of a couple of private properties through which access to the mausoleum must be made.  We do as bidden and pass by as quietly as we can. I hop out to open and shut each of the gates as Hubby passes through. Then we’re in a little open glade surrounded by tall, densely leaved deciduous trees. It’s a beautiful, peaceful spot and we agree with one another that this is a fitting resting place for Lachlan Macquarie, our much loved Governor of New South Wales. It is no doubt obvious by now that I love nature and wildlife and Mull is a great nature destination but in truth it is actually this mausoleum that has brought us to Mull. We are here to pay our respects. To thank Lachlan Macquarie for what he did as Governor at a crucial period in our history and all that he suffered as a result of his enlightened approach and visionary projects. As we carefully open the gate and enter the walled enclosure we note the small ferns growing in the roof, not entirely thrilled at the standard of maintenance. This place should be schmick. We stand solemnly reading the plaque denoting who lies within. The key section sums up very well why Australia and in particular New South Welshmen such as ourselves feel such love for, and gratitude to, this distinguished Scot.
Here… lie the remains of the late Major General Lachlan Macquarie … He was appointed Governor of New South Wales A.D. 1809 and for twelve years fulfilled the duties of that station with eminent ability and success. His Services in that capacity have justly attached a lasting honour to his name. The wisdom, liberality and benevolence of all the measures of his administration, his respect for the ordinances of religion and the ready assistance which he gave to every charitable institution, the unwearied assiduity with which he sought to promote the welfare of all classes of the community; the rapid improvement of the colony under his auspices; and the high estimation in which both his character and government were held, rendered him truly deserving of the appellation by which he has been distinguished, The Father of Australia.
May he rest in peace. For peace was not his reward during his governorship for his efforts on behalf of the people and future of NSW. He was bitterly opposed by a sociopolitical group called the Exclusives who sought to exclude emancipists from full civil rights and beyond that, in effect, recreate the class driven system and gross inequities of the mother country, there in the colony. Macquarie was criticised for his expenditure of government money on extensive public works providing essential infrastructure and buildings of quality and substance, many of which are among our country’s greatest heritage treasures. Those relating to the administration of the convict system are now listed as World Heritage sites. Macquarie was criticised for creating the beginnings of a country where a penal settlement was intended and thereby undermining the deterrent effect of transportation. The Exclusives lobbied like-minded persons of influence in England and eventually Macquarie was driven from office much to their satisfaction. But the people of NSW loved Macquarie then and we love him now, for it was he, who provided the vision for the land that Australia could be. The land of the “fair go” that we still aspire to be, albeit that ambition is increasingly under threat. Others picked up the torch in the years following Governor Macquarie’s departure and the Exclusives ultimately did not achieve their ambition.
People who want to upset Australians often sling things like “You’re all descended from convicts” well, actually we aren’t but in any case it’s not our weak spot. We’re proud of our beginnings. It was Lachlan Macquarie who taught us we need not be ashamed. That a debt of penal servitude paid, a person should be restored to their place in the community. Thank you Lachlan Macquarie. We’ve come here for you. You are not forgotten.
Our purpose here on Mull satisfied we return to the car, make our way back through the many gates and head home for a rest until dinner. When we come into our room we find Teddy is sitting on the window sill with his binoculars ready.
Tonight we dine at the Galleon Grill. Parking down in this area is pretty easy, but before we go in, I take some pictures of the Tobermory waterfront with its pretty and colourful facades and harbour with moored fishing boats. Tobermory is a beautiful little town and I’m really sorry we won’t have more time to just hang out and explore it and visit some more of the attractions here and elsewhere on Mull.
We are greeted on entering the Galleon Grill by a couple of attractive and friendly young Scottish lasses. The ambience is pleasant and there’s some funky red lampshades picked up by the fresh red rose on our table forming a characterful still life against the stone wall. 
Despite having skipped lunch, we’re not up for a huge meal or lengthy time for the eating of it. Hubby opts for one of the specials: Fillet of Beef Stroganoff, served with grilled tomato and mushroom £19.95. It also came with rice and he tells me it is lovely. I just want something as simple and straightforward as possible. I choose Breast of Free Range Chicken, chargrilled chicken supreme, marinated and butterflied, served with hand cut chips, a vegetable skewer and a pot of Galleon Grill BBQ sauce. £14.45. Chicken breast is easy to overcook and awful when it is, but this is nicely moist and tender. The chips could be better, but then everything is now compared to the superb chips in Anstruther, so that’s a pretty hard benchmark to meet.  For beer Hubby selected Galleon Gold which is reported as very good and like most beer we’ve had this trip, it’s chilled.

We slink home to rest up and prepare for another big day tomorrow. So much for resting on Mull!

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