A walk in the snow.

Contrary to the image that most people have of Scotland, where I live we rarely seem to get much snow and if we do it just doesn’t last. Fortunately, as skiers, we only live an hour’s drive from the Cairngorms where there’s a good chance of there being snow at this time of year. Having enjoyed our ski holiday in Austria a couple of weeks ago we have been waiting for the chance to do a little more skiing a bit closer to home. Sadly, although the Cairngorms has been getting some good falls of snow it’s been very windy with low cloud so not the most pleasant of skiing conditions. However, we had it in mind to take a trip up Aviemore way so packed our walking gear instead and ‘headed towards the hills’!

Love the light feature inside the Druie Cafe.

Love the light feature inside the Druie Cafe.

After our drive a coffee and scone was a priority and we stopped in the cafe at the Rothiemurchus Centre.  We both declared the cheese scones were the best we’ve ever had- well besides mine, of course!

The centre is situated in the old Rothiemurchus School and besides the cafe there is a nice shop area which sells a selection of gifts, stationery and food items. Being part of the Rothiemurchus estate you can buy local venison, highland cow and salmon products. Definitely, worth a browse and a refreshment stop.

Over coffee we had decided to walk around Loch Morlich which was just a wee bit further along the road.

The day stayed dry and wind free, but looking towards the ski area we didn’t regret not taking our skis as it seemed to shrouded in low cloud most of the day.

A frozen Loch Morlich with cloudy Cairngorms behind.

A frozen Loch Morlich with cloudy Cairngorms behind.

We came across a number of snowmen around the loch, but this is definitely the most macabre I've ever seen!

We came across a number of snowmen around the loch, but this is definitely the most macabre I’ve ever seen!

The trees looked beautiful covered in snow.

The trees looked beautiful covered in snow.

Half way round we came to the cafe at Glenmore. This had always been a favourite stop after a day’s skiing some 30+ years ago. Apple Strudel was a firm favourite of ours in those days. Was it still on the menu?

Would there be apple strudel?

Would there be apple strudel?

Inside, the cafe looked pretty much the same but the little food shop that had been attached to it is now a small shop area selling outdoor related goods and postcards and books. An extension has been added to this part to make a pub. They advertise live music at the weekends and it sounded more on the folk, traditional type which is often sadly lacking these days. Hopefully, it’s a success.

So did we get apple strudel? We were very sensible and had lentil soup and a roll and then my husband had apple strudel!

You'll be having apple strudel with that cream, Sir?!

You’ll be having apple strudel with that cream, Sir?! 

Sadly, no yummy vanilla sauce, like in Austria, but my husband was more than happy with his double  portion of squirty cream instead!

After all that indulgence a brisk walk back to the car was required. The sun had broken out and it was beautiful walking round the edge of the loch. We came across some very noisy ducks in a stream on the way.

It was lovely walking around the loch.

It was lovely walking around the loch.

imageI had taken the details of a few geocaches that had been hidden around the loch but now that there was snow everywhere it was impossible to find them . All was not lost as I could ‘bag’ an earthcache which, luckily, was back at the car park. All it entailed was taking a photograph of myself with the hills behind and answering a geology question about the last Ice Age! With a little help from ‘mr. google’ I think I cracked it!

So after a very enjoyable walk in the snow we headed home and talked enthusiastically about returning soon for another walk? Ski? Or cross country ski? Depending on the weather and our mood. Whatever the activity I have a feeling cheese scones and apple strudel might be involved again:)

Cycle trip.

Before returning to the UK we promised ourselves that we would make walking and cycling a regular part of our lives. So far we are averaging 2 trips a week, which at the moment with lots to do in the house and garden I feel very pleased about.

We both lived in this area as youngsters and have memories of heading off with our friends on cycle trips to various places in the locality. One of the places we’d both frequented was a stretch of coast called Boar’s Head, after the rocky outcrop just offshore from it.

As not such a fit youngster I wasn’t sure how I’d fair on this 13 mile round trip!

A welcome rest!

After a short spell on the narrow tarmac road we reached Lossie Forest and were pleasantly surprised at the smooth forest track. The sun was warm on my face, the birds were flitting around the trees and we virtually had the place to ourselves. I was glad we had made the effort to get out.

In 1940 it was decided that coastal defences were needed in this part of Scotland as there was a fear that the Germans would invade from Norway. At Boar’s Head you can still see the remains of the Gun Battery that was built here. As a child I always felt a mixture of excitement and eeriness when playing around these reminders of a war that was still very fresh in my parents minds.

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Sitting in front of a pillbox.

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The lookout.

Beforehand I checked out the Geocache site and found there were 5 hidden in the general area. I managed to ‘bag’ 3 so felt a great sense of achievement all round.

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Geocache beside a line of tank defence blocks.

Earlier in the week my father had been telling me how his uncle who had been a builder didn’t think these blocks would last very long as they had been constructed using the beach sand instead of builders sand! 70 years later, apart from a few they look in pretty good shape!

Interesting salt patterns have 'grown' on many of the blocks.

Interesting salt patterns have ‘grown’ on many of the blocks. I think these look like a pair of dancing witches!

After a small picnic of cheese, crackers and of course some chocolate like in days gone by we headed home.

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I was pleasantly surprised at how much energy I still had by the time I got home and ‘touch wood’ I haven’t felt any aches and pains —-so far!

Inspired by our successful ‘expedition’ we are now watching the weather forecast for the next nice day to head off on another ‘memory lane’ trip.

 

Cross country to the canyon.

Using a Bedouin desert track we travelled from the Sharma road to the Duba road. I have no idea how long it would take driving non-stop but with all our stops it took us all day. It’s been a year since we travelled this route and whether it was because the weather was a bit overcast but it was like seeing some of the scenery for the first time, so I ended up taking lots of photos. Our first stop was at a huge cavern where I have placed a Geocache. The last people to search for it had been unable to find it so I wanted to check if it was still there. As soon as I got there I saw the problem- a Bedouin had decided to store some sacks of feed in the same place! Luckily, I could just reach the Geocache and rescue it. It is now in another hidey hole, close by.

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Coffee time.
From there we continued to an amazing rock art site. I believe these figures are representations of deities, but from which era I have no idea. I have found a lot of rock art in the area, but the workmanship of these is exquisite. I just wish I could find out more about them and the people who carved them.

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3 deities or the 3 spacemen as we affectionately call them!
Next we stopped at a large rock pinnacle attached to a huge rock massive. The view from the ‘saddle’ between the two was beautiful.

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We decided it was lunchtime so headed to another rock art site to have our picnic.

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We were just packing up when we had a very strange experience. A vehicle with 2 young Saudis came driving up to us. However, they didn’t get out to chat etc. but the passenger started taking photos and or video of us on his phone! As we started to drive away they pursued us with the passenger still standing up out of his doorway, taking photos!

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We now know how animals in safari situations feel!
‘Our friends’ headed off after a while and we continued our trip to the canyon, passing some amazing rock formations on the way.

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We named this one balloon rock, as one of our group flies a hot air balloon and reckoned it looked just like one.

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A striped tailed lizard.

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Desert apples.
And finally to the canyon!

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Another truly enjoyable trip which will be reminisced about when we leave Saudi in a few months.

Saudi Desert Trip.

Friday dawned with a perfect temperature for a desert trip. The area we are enjoying exploring is about 1 and a half hours drive away and although it’s a familiar route it’s always interesting to be on the lookout for birds of prey soaring over the desert or nearer to town see how various building projects have progressed since last time. Being the holy day in Saudi most people have the day off so there’s very little actually being done and until after the big prayer at noon not a lot of movement of people on the roads. This trip we turned off at a rocky outcrop which was covered with script. There were also a few petroglyphs and the writing looked Arabic but I haven’t had that confirmed by an Arabic speaker yet.

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From there we tried to navigate to a way point one of my husband’s associates at work had given him. It was supposed to be a really beautiful rockscape. However, we are not very good at staying focused and continually have to check out things on the way. Today we never actually got to the waypoint- we came very close, but the area was definitely worth another trip as the landscape was breathtaking.

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We found another spectacular arch.

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But for the first time in many trips we got a little stuck in soft sand:(

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I was still amazed at how green everything is in many places and found a spiky yellow seed pod that I’ve never noticed before.

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I can’t believe we were close to where we’ve been a few times before as everything looked so different and more impressive.
Of course I had to set up a couple of geocaches- one at the big arch and the other at the lovely spot we had lunch at.

20131022-123614.jpgWe are truly blessed to have this opportunity to experience such an amazing place.

Return to the desert.

At last the weather has cooled down and we had no weekend commitments so it was time for a long overdue desert trip.
We headed to an area that we have explored quite a lot but its amazing how driving round a different rock or heading down a wadi the opposite way can result in some interesting finds or beautiful scenery.
As soon as we headed off the Tarmac road we noticed a bird of prey soaring above us. One of our friends has a powerful zoom lens so he took this shot.

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We later identified it as an imperial eagle.
Soon after we found a secluded shady spot for coffee where we were entertained with the calls and aerobatics of at least 3 sooty falcons. Again I have to thank my friend for this photo.
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One of my passions is finding some rock art. I wasn’t disappointed with a couple of good sites.

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And of course there’s the camels! We still can’t resist a photo stop when we see a herd.

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We were amazed to see how green some areas still were after the long hot summer. It certainly make you think that under the wadi there is still some moisture to be reached by the well adapted plants. We found this amazing plant growing up the rock face inthe spring and were interested to find that it was still as green now as then.

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And of course I found somewhere to set up a Geocache- in fact I hid 2!

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Roll on next weekend when we hope to get out again.

Desert Junkies!

It had been 4 weeks since we’d last been in the desert and the weather forecast didn’t sound too extreme- just a mere 36C! – so a desert trip was organised. We are hooked on exploring an area around the small village of Bajda, where the rockscapes are spectacular- so that is where we headed. Our first stop was to show one of the guys the interesting ‘alien’ rock art we’d found a few weeks ago.

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Sadly, some graffiti has been sprayed on top, which detracts somewhat from the 9 figures and other animals which decorate the rock face. It was interesting to see that where some people had been digging down in front that the art continued below what is now the surface. Obviously there has been a huge build up of sand, animal excrement and fodder over the hundreds of years since this rock face meant something special to the local people. The digging occurs because there is a belief that gold can be found and I suppose if the figures are indeed idols then I imagine some offerings would have been left but how much of it would have been gold I’m not sure.
As we lingered at this spot some camels approached and started to have dust baths in front of us- very entertaining:)

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I doesn’t matter how many times we see camels I can never resist taking a few pics.
Our exploration continued in and around the wonderful scenery and we were rewarded with the sight of quite a lot of small birds- rose finches, wheatears, Tristram’s grackles, and a few I have still to identify. The most exciting bird spot was an Egyptian vulture soaring above.

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Rose finches were quite abundant in a few areas.

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Tristram’s grackles seem to like this area.
Wadi areas criss cross this area and water obviously collects underground going by the large areas of plant life and the numerous herds of goats, sheep and camels that we often see. In an effort to collect some of the water we have so far found 4 man made reservoirs.

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This reservoir still had some water in it which had attracted a lot of birds and dragonflies.
The people who look after the animals are sometimes the local Bedouin but we have quite often met other nationalities- Somali or Sudanese who are employed to look after the herd.

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This open air camp is probably ‘home’ to a couple of animal herders who were out with their herd when we stopped by to take photos of a very nice stylised horse petroglyph we spotted.

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A very good day in the desert, indeed! I’ve had my ‘fix’ for a wee while and as we’re going back to UK on holiday soon we’ll miss a few weeks of the hottest weather:)

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My friend took this shot of the vulture with his mega-zoom lens.

Geocaching

About 10 years ago I read an article about geocaching and thought the idea of using a GPS to look for a hidden ‘tub of treasure’ sounded fun. Really enthusiastic I went on the website to see if there were any geocaches in my area of Saudi Arabia. Alas, not a one! And that was the end of my geocaching for a few years.
Going exploring in the desert has been a weekend interest of my husband and I for so long and it was on one of our expeditions a couple of years ago that I thought – ok there are no geocaches here but what’s stopping me from hiding some? Confidence for one thing as I’d never even seen a real life Geocache to get an idea of what to do. Luckily, by now the Internet was on hand to glean some information and ideas.
I set about collecting a few small items to put in the ice-cream tubs that I had decided would be a reasonable size of container for my ‘hides’. Pencils and notebooks were also searched out in the local stationary shops and I put together my first few boxes ready for our next desert trip.
I always try to find a place of particular interest so that the person finding the cache won’t just find the ‘treasure’ but actually experience something more.
After my 7th hide I was surprised one day to receive an email telling me that someone had found my geocaches! He had travelled up from Jeddah – a mere 11 hour drive!- for the weekend just to ‘bag’ them! Since then he has returned on 2 more occasions to search for my hides and always gives me good feedback on his experience – mainly positive but a few times critical of my inaccurate co-ordinates! Now, each Geocache I set up I take special care as I do not wish to disappoint my keen follower who travels so far just for my geocaches!

20130430-204456.jpgMy last Geocache- my 30th:)
Have I ever found one for myself? Yes I have found a grand total of 11- 3 in Jordan, 1 in Saudi Arabia and the rest in Scotland.
Interested? Check out http://www.geocaching.com

Escape to Jordan.

As a non-Muslim living in Saudi can be a bit restricted at times so it is thankful that only 3 hrs and a border crossing is the more relaxed beachside resort of Aqaba, Jordan. A few times a year we make the trip for a weekend of r&r i.e. a few alcohol drinks, some nice food and if I wasn’t a vegetarian that would not doubt include some pork products.

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The first evening it’s just so lovely to sit on the balcony with a wee drink and watch the sun set over the Sinai. Aqaba is in an interesting locality with Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia all within view!

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Although the hotel is a lovely place to spend the day lazing on the beach or by the pool we always take a walk uptown to check out the couple of food shops that tend to stock some imported goods that we often can't get in Tabuk. This time I also hoped to bag a new Geocache that had been set up in a very public park area in the centre of the town.

20130406-224055.jpgIt proved impossible to find as there were so many people in and around the water feature area and sitting on the benches eating and drinking late breakfast, early lunch or just snacks. Being the only non-Arabic people in the whole park we were a bit of a novelty and were well observed by everyone!

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I love the sand bottle art that is so much a part of the tourist scene in Aqaba. It is quite skilful and although the coloured sand isn’t natural after visiting Petra and seeing the amazing range of colours in the rocks there it is quite believable that many of the colours could be found in nature.

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In the evening we enjoyed a mezze style meal in the hotel Lebanese restaurant. It's ages since I had tabbouleh, moutable and stuffed vine leaves and they didn't disappoint sooooo yummy:)

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After a stroll around it was getting a bit chilly so it was time to head back to the room and crash out after an enjoyable day.

Desert camping Day 2

I love a long lie-in usually, but there’s something about camping in the desert that makes me wake up early and be ready for a new day of adventure. However, I was still last to get up and about!
It was a perfect morning and lovely to sit on a rock and enjoy a cup of tea and a piece of toast- slightly charred from holding it too close to the gas stove!
After packing up and making sure we left everything as we had first found it we set off to explore further.

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Further down a wadi we came to an area of cultivation. The lush dark green contrasted starkly with the sandy desert and the brown rocks.

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On top of a hillside we noticed some man-made walls so climbed up to take a closer look. The walls were nicely built and the dome shaped mounds in the centre of two of the enclosures were reminiscent of tumuli graves. Frustratingly, it’s very hard to find out much about the ancient remains that are to be found in the desert.
We headed out of this amazing area and drove down towards Al Ula to fill up with petrol, before beginning the journey back up to Tabuk.

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We stopped for coffee at the Easter Island rocky outcrop where we have stopped a few times on trips up and down the old railway route. I had set up a Geocache here a couple of years ago so checked it was still there and in good condition. It was, but had only been visited by one person -Tulak who is a very keen geocacher from Jeddah who seems to keep a vidual on new geocaches and drives up as soon as there are a couple of new geocaches to bag!
We spent a pleasant half hour taking photographs and soaking up some sunshine before resuming the journey.
With time to spare we stopped at Muazzam station on the old Hejaz Railway and the fort close by- really interesting:) -and for the first time ever the water reservoir was completely full!

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Continuing home after a great weekend spent in an area of outstanding natural beauty there is much to reflect on and give thanks to have had the opportunity to see a part of Saudi Arabia virtually unknown to most ex-pats.
However much I enjoy these weekends there is nothing more welcome at the end of it all than a lovely long soak in a bath- perhaps I’ll never quite be the explorer Gertrude Bell or Freya Stark were!!

5 camp in the Saudi desert! Day 1

Bright and early on Thursday morning Viv, Paul, Thez and us set off in two 4wds to explore and camp in a totally new area- Al Shahran close to Medain Saleh, famous for its Nabatean tombs.
It was a 2 and a half hour drive so we stopped off at a rocky place where we knew there was some rock art and inscriptions for a coffee break, take some photos of flowers and set up a geocache.

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On we travelled to the Al Shahran area and turned off into the desert after 20km on the new road to Al Jaharan, letting some air out of the tyres as there was almost certainly to be some soft sand in places.
As we drove on the scenery just got better and better. We couldn’t believe how green some areas were and the swathes of daisy type flowers that were practically everywhere! Beautiful:) unfortunately, there just wasn’t time to stop at as many places as we would have liked or we would never have got to complete this first exploratory trip.

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We encountered some quite ‘hairy’ driving experiences- narrowing gorges that we were unsure would take us anywhere; stretches of soft sand that seemed to go on for ever, twisting and turning past rocks and bushes- definitely driving by the seat of his pants for my husband and me just hanging on for dear life and urging on our car to get us through!
Soon it was time to find a campsite to relax and spend the night. It took a while to find one we liked and I was beginning to think we were being too fussy when we found the perfect spot.

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My bed for the night- and very comfortable it was too!