Not a walk in the Park!

Archaeology takes many forms- something I am becoming more aware of since joining NOSAS (North of Scotland Archaeology Society). Last weekend we ventured to the area around Helmsdale to investigate some archaeological sites. One of which was a hill fort on top of Ben Griam Beg. At less than 2000 feet a mere pimple on the Highland landscape.

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Yes that’s the wee pimple up behind the cottage. From where we left the cars to the top it was 6km ‘as the crow flies’, and there was definitely a few times I wished I could have sprouted wings!

The walk to the cottage was pretty easy going and covered about half the distance. It was a beautiful day and a perfect place to stop to refresh ourselves before the ‘push’ to the top.

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The cottage was uninhabited but is used by various people employed by the estate and also as a holiday cottage from time to time. Inside one of the outbuildings there was an interesting record of some of shepherds and workers who had been there.

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Refreshed with coffee and chocolate we started the second, more demanding stage. Before too long we had broken into 3 groups. The super-fit mountain goats, the fit folk and the ‘OMG what on earth gave me the idea to sign up for this’ group. I was in the last group and it was a definite wake up call to do something about my lack of fitness especially as most of the people in the other groups were older than me!

After a lot of huffing and puffing and catching our breath stops, we reached the top!

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and joined the others for lunch.

The purpose for the climb was to examine the wall structures. Although, Ben Griam Beg is listed as the highest hill-fort in Scotland there is some debate about whether it really is a hill-fort. We, especially the more knowledgeable archaeologists among us, were to look at the evidence and put forward our opinions on the matter.

There were definitely a lot of stone walls to consider

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and an interesting stone in one of the walls which definitely looked like it had been used to  grind meal (?) in.

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After a good look around and much discussion the ‘jury was still out’ on whether it had been a fort but most people doubted it. However, no-one could come up with a satisfactory explanation for all the wall structures. More information about the supposed hill-fort can be found at http://canmore.org.uk/event/651911

 

Although it had been a slog to get to the top it had been worth it. It is definitely an interesting site whatever it is.  I was also blessed with a close viewing of a female ptarmigan with 2 chicks and a hare- both now in their summer colours. Some lovely flowers were also starting to bloom in the rocky, heather landscape.

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Yes, it might not have been a ‘walk in the park’ to climb Ben Griam Beg but I’m so glad I didn’t give up and made it to the top. That evening I really felt I had earned my large portion of chips and battered stuffed jalapeño peppers at the well-known La Mirage restaurant in Helmsdale. Washed down with a glass of wine, of course!

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Interesting light in La Mirage restaurant.

 

 

 

 

 

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Over the sea to …..Harris!

I first visited the Isle of Harris in The Outer Hebrides in the 1980’s but it wasn’t until I revisited them 12 years ago that I truly fell in love with this Scottish Island. Over the years I have visited many islands in Scotland and around the world but Harris is one I find myself being drawn to again and again. Luckily, my husband shares this love so I regularly manage to get a Harris ‘fix’.

What makes it special?

I suppose one thing is its beautiful beaches. Even on the dullest, rainiest day the sand has a magical luminescence that just never fails to lift my spirits.

Traigh MheileinThe colour of the water is absolutely amazing and definitely makes one think of much warmer climes!

Harris beach.

 

 

Another is the people who live up to their Gaelic saying:

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– ‘a hundred thousand welcomes’ although to be honest this applies to my experiences of the inhabitants of other islands too.

Added to this is their trust in humanity. Sadly, something that was very evident in my town during my childhood, but nowadays not very apparent. Coming across ‘honesty’ shops lifted my spirits to think that someone had such faith in their fellow humans to be honest and pay for the goods they wished to take.

This lovely food shop had crabs, lobsters, scallops, salmon as well as newly baked bread, rolls, cakes and quiche. Such a joy to find.

Food Honesty Shop at Northton.

Food Honesty Shop at Northton.

and further along the road this little honesty shop stuffed full with all kinds of handmade items including Harris Tweed bags and jackets.

A cornucopia of handmade goods.

A cornucopia of handmade goods.

Even using a camping place is left to your conscience whether you pay or not….

Camping fees on trust.

Camping fees on trust.

As a lover of textiles a visit to Harris is always a great opportunity to add a few pieces of the world famous Harris Tweed to my fabric stash!

Beautiful, Harris Tweed.

Beautiful, Harris Tweed.

I suppose,though, when you have a liking for a place it’s more than a few ‘concrete’ reasons but more a feeling of ‘belonging’ or ‘feeling at home’ that makes it a place that you want to return too. For me, Harris is definitely one of those places and one that I can imagine I will continue to visit for a very long time.

If you’re reading this I would love to hear what your special island/place is:)

First signs of winter.

Living in the north of Saudi and 2000 feet above sea level we experience a few cold months usually from November through til March. This year, the temperature has stayed unseasonably high but now there is a definite chill in the air and signs of the approaching winter months are all around.

The leaves on the pomegranate tree have changed colour.

The leaves on the pomegranate tree have changed colour.


The mandarine oranges are ripening.

The mandarine oranges are ripening.


And in the downtown shops the traditional Arab coats, called Farwa, are on sale.
This year's range include some bright colours.

This year’s range include some bright colours.


I went with the intention of buying 1 to take home and ended up buying 2!
My bright Syrian farwa.

My bright Syrian farwa.


And the back view.image
And also from Syria a more conservative farwa.image
I doubt that I will ever wear them out and about in UK unless it’s to a fancy dress party but for summer evenings in the garden they will be great to keep any slight chills at bay:)
So how cold does it get in Tabuk? Today it was a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 19, but later in the week they’re forecasting 0 degrees! Time to put the sandals away for a few months I think!

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.

In my garden

Even after living here for many years I’m never totally confident about when to successfully plant seeds and get results. This morning I tended my little herb/veg patch with the hope that in a few weeks I might have some fresh salad leaves to pick. This would be very welcome as apart from long lettuce, very occasionally iceberg lettuce and sometimes rocket there isn’t much choice in the salad leaf department to be had in the supermarket.
Whilst preparing my small patch for planting I dug up some insect larvae. I’m not exactly sure what they are- beetle things maybe? Any suggestions welcome:)

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When I went to get some potting compost I remembered the tiny gecko eggs I’d found there a few months ago. Here is what I found.

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🙂 they’d hatched. I was so pleased that I hadn’t caused them any harm last time. When I moved the canvas covering the potting compost bag this gecko ran out.

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Perhaps it was one of the hatchlings? It looked a bit big, but then I don’t know how quickly they grow.
My garlic chives are flowering at the moment and are proving to be very popular with the bees.

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As well as a beetle that I haven’t noticed before.

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Although it’s still 35 deg C here it’s lovely to find a shady spot and enjoy a little time noticing the wonderful nature that exists here.

Spiders!

Today I took my class (yes , in my other life here I am a primary school teacher!) to see some spider webs in a garden near the school. For nearly 2 years we’ve had a spider web frame in our school garden and its failed to attract a single spider to spin a web for us to observe. One of the mothers knowing about this had noticed lots of webs in her neighbours garden so arranged for us to walk over and take a look.
Now although I am very keen on nature and encouraging a love of it into my class spiders just aren’t my thing- I tell a lie – there are one small jumping type that we get here that I think are quite cute and don’t fill me with panic like most if the others.

Our visit was very successful, I don’t think I showed any fear at all to the children! The only spider I saw was quite small and delicate and in fact I was so fascinated watching it wrap up its prey and then squirrel it off to its ‘spider cupboard’ to the back of the plant that I didn’t really think about feeling anxious at all.
Some of the children were a bit uncertain about getting close to the webs or spider but although I was happy for them to overcome their fear I was also keen that they remember that some of the spiders they may encounter may do them harm.

The red back spider is one of the spiders that is most likely to cause injury. Many have been found in people’s gardens and luckily no-one has been bitten. Interestingly, some of the children at school have been the ones to spot them and warn others- including some adults who were unaware of the danger lurking in their garden!
The infamous camel spider- which isn’t technically a true spider, aren’t that dangerous- they just look threatening, can be as big as a hand and totally freak me out! They’re nocturnal so unless I’m out in the garden after dark there’s little chance of an encounter, thankfully.

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The dreaded camel spider!

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20130522-234733.jpgthe cute little jumping spider.

A plague of locusts.

A regular event in my childhood was the Sunday mornings spent at church and Sunday School. So before coming to the Middle East my idea of this part of the world was based on the impressions I had made from reading the Bible. Stories such as Joseph and his coat of many colours and John the Baptist’s time in the ‘wilderness’ were brought back into mind this last weekend when I took a trip in the nearby desert.
The area of massive rock structures, sand dunes, sparse trees and after the recent winter rain bushes and desert flowers has a certain beauty and wildness about it. Initially, it seems there is very little wildlife about, but if you take the time to stop and listen and watch it becomes apparent that you are not as alone as you thought. I have been amazed at the different birds we have spotted on different trips but one bird always seems to be about- the raven- friend to John the Baptist, bringing him food when he was alone in the wilderness and there was nothing for him to eat.
On the way home I spotted 2 birds of prey and we pulled off the road to get a closer look. However, something else caught my husband’s eye- the ground was alive with small hopping things! We stopped and were amazed to find they were hundreds of baby locusts! They were only about 1-2 cm. long and I imagine they had only hatched out and would technically be called ‘hoppers’.

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A few weeks ago we had travelled 150km further south and while exploring the desert there had driven through a couple of swarms of yellow locusts – I’d never seen yellow ones before!

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Soon after that I read in the newspaper that Saudi Arabia was to experience plagues of locusts after the recent rains.

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However, unlike the Egyptians in the story of Joseph, many local people are happy for there to be an abundance of locusts. That is because locusts are regarded as a delicacy and can be found for sale in the market.
So, thousands of years after the events in the bible are supposed to have happened I find my local surroundings could still provide a backdrop to them which appears virtually unchanged by the passing of time.