Sunday, 26 June 2016

New Life at The Highland Wildlife Park

This weeks blog has been written by Janet Crawford at Glengarry B&B in Kingussie and is all about the wonderful Highland Wildlife Park and its many new arrivals

New arrivals either of the human kind or the animal world are guaranteed to bring an Ooh! Or Aah! from anyone the world over and at this time of the year you can see these tiny babies in the Wildlife Parks, Zoos and on ranger walks throughout Scotland - not the human kind I hasten to add. On a recent visit to the Highland Wildlife park at Kincraig where they have a conservation programme in place for endangered species they currently have a wealth of new arrivals.
A cute 2 day old blonde Przewalski foal, capable of standing on its own just one hour after birth, whose Mum would not let you get a close look, can be seen as you drive round the reserve. The Przewalski’s horse, the only true living wild horse, was extinct in the wild, but zoos around the world helped to preserve a healthy population and gradually reintroduced them to the wild. This is one of the success stories for conservation.

Watch the antics that the Japanese Macaque or Snow monkeys get up to even whilst carrying their babies around. They are the monkeys referred to in the saying “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”. Although not endangered, deforestation causes problems for these troops of omnivorous animals whose main home is in various areas of Japan, where they can cope with winter temperatures of -15 C.

The park currently has a large herd of European Bison and the calves are gorgeous bundles of fur very like Highland Cattle calves and just as cute. Lost from the wild since 1927 with the only surviving animals in zoos, the herd at Kincraig are currently part of the European breeding programme and some of their calves have been reintroduced into the wild. More babies are expected in the coming weeks. 

One new baby is always exciting, but twins are adorable and in the case of the newest arrivals, Eurasian elk twins, born to Dad Bob and Mum Cas they are beginning to find their feet and stealing visitor’s hearts. Like all babies they are very wobbly to begin with, but soon find their feet and run alongside Mum. Elks are the largest of the deer species and can weigh up to 720kg with huge antlers covered in skin, known as ‘velvet’ which can reach 2 mtrs across and 30 kilograms in weight and are shed in the winter. They have long gangly legs and wide hooves for walking in snow and mud and are capable of running at 56 kilometres an hour. They are also very strong swimmers. European elk were around in Scotland up to around 900 AD. They are hunted for meat, leather and bone and have also been domesticated in Sweden for meat and milk. The future of the Elk is considered to be very secure. 

The Scottish Wildcats at the Park have recently produced kittens, but unfortunately they were not on view on my visit, however, Mum was in evidence taking a well earned nap on a branch. Females have 2 – 6 kittens but only stay within the family for around 5 months when they leave to set up their own territory. As meat eaters they spend hours just sleeping and digesting their food and can be found in some of the remotest areas of the Scottish Highlands. They are active at night and around dusk and dawn and are very good at keeping down pests such as rabbits and rodents. The wildcat is rarer than the Amur tiger and true wildcats are very hard to find as they so easily breed with feral cats and this is the greatest danger to the survival of the wildcat population. In view of their rarity they have been identified for targeted management action to ensure their future survival as a distinct native species.

Sadly this year, due to the success of the breeding programme, there will not be any cubs for the Amur tigers Dominika and Marty, but the two previous cubs Murray and Viktor proved a great attraction at the park when they were born and could be seen playfully leaping all over their parents, having a game of tug of war with sticks or falling into a small pond – tigers unusually love water. Both cubs are now in new homes in Switzerland and Germany. The cubs born blind and helpless grow to around four times their birth weight in the first month and progress to hunting and killing from one year old, but remain with the female until 15 months old. Sadly there are more Amur tigers currently living in zoos than in the wild due to the success of breeding programmes. The Amur tigers, previously known as Siberian tigers, disappeared from Siberia and were renamed in the 1990’s. The largest of the big cats, they are now only found in the wild in small populations around the Amur river valley in Russia and the north east border of China. Each one is unique, as no two tigers have the same stripe pattern and these stripes provide fantastic camouflage in their natural habitat whilst hunting at night – they have night vision five times more powerful than humans. They are still under threat from poaching, habitat loss and the continuing need from Chinese medicine, but once again the breeding programmes have proved successful.

Wandering around the Wildlife Park there is so much to see and currently the park rangers are hoping that their two polar bears Walker and Victoria have been successful in their mating and will provide the park with a fantastic attraction in the form of a baby polar bear in the future.

The range of animals at the park is tremendous, with over 240 roaming the beautiful landscape. Snow Leopards, Deer of numerous varieties, Camels, Arctic Foxes, Owls, Wolves, Musk Ox, Lynx, Red Pandas, Vicuna, Wolverine, Yaks and Turkmenian Markhors can all be found wandering around this fantastic park in such a natural setting and many of them will be producing their own babies over the next few weeks, so do pop along and take a peek. 

You can find out more about wildlife all over the Highlands and where you can see it, by visiting the dedicated 'Wildlife' pages on our website.  If you want to visit the Highland Wildlife Park, our nearest B&Bs are Glengarry B&B and Slemish B&B in Kingussie

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

A Golfers guide to North East Scotland

Here it comes again – the Scottish Open returns to Castle Stuart between the 7th and 10th July 2016.   Castle Stuart has hit the headlines since becoming one of the most sought after new courses in the North of Scotland.

This area has often been called the Northern Mecca of golf being visited most frequently by golfers who have already enjoyed the delights of St. Andrews, Carnoustie and the Ayrshire coast. The scenery surrounding Castle Stuart and the many other championship courses within one hour, has to be seen to be believed.  Backdrops are special and uncluttered showing off mountains and lochs and open water.  It is as dramatic as a film set, which is actually what can be seen in the Outlander series one! (see our Outlander Blog)
Castle Stuart
Whilst many golfers stick to well known big hitting courses such as Nairn and Royal Dornoch, more and more a trend has been noticed that the smaller ‘hidden gems’ are being visited.  It has to be said that the quality of golf courses in Scotland is extremely high and therefore it comes as no surprise that some courses in more remote areas, or competing against a big course, have not had the attention they deserve in the past.  This blog will highlight favourite courses in striking distance of Castle Stuart, which sit patiently waiting for the golfer's opening tee shot on the first hole and their sudden realization that this is what the game of golf is all about.

Heading East from Castle Stuart – towards Nairn – just 6 miles
Nairn Dunbar
Just 6 or 7 miles from Castle Stuart lies the town of Nairn and here two courses have vied for position for many years.  The lesser known Nairn Dunbar is a links course that has been improved and perfected over the past fifteen years into a challenging (it's longer than Nairn) course with true links features but just shy of the seafront leaving a line of sand dunes between it and the water.  It's tough and demanding and the three ‘new’ holes, which replaced the wee ones that left the course and ventured up the escarpment, are quite unrecognizable as new.  Lovely stone bridges and immaculate fairways and greens give the golfer a true challenge but one where each and every hole can be remembered by its uniqueness

Proceeding still to the East and about 25 minutes further

Signature Hole at Hopeman
Now as a wee special visit, try Hopeman – it’s not long, but it is tight and linksy with a signature 12th par three short hole. The green is just about on the beach and one drives from the top of the escarpment.  The first nine is superb and the second a newer addition in 1985 compares favourably as so many other courses in Scotland that were created first as nine holers.  Thanks to ‘Trevor” who immediately abandoned his job in the clubhouse to drive out to the spectacular 12th to help with pictures.  What a welcome one gets at this lovely course.

Moray Old Course
 MORAY – (Lossiemouth)
Then turning towards the coast the keen golfer will find Moray – not just one but two courses.  Moray Old and Moray New.  Now don’t think ‘new’   course is brand new. Previously a relief 7 hole course, it became an eighteen holer in 1979 and a very worthy sister to the more established course built in 1889.  The writer has always felt the 18th hole on the old course culminating in front of the wonderful clubhouse and surrounded by Scottish stone buildings has a look of the Old Course in St. Andrews but actually this hole is truly fantastic with the last shot rising up to a plateau green to the applause of the terraced watchers.
Moray Closing Hole

Going further in land still East but 10 miles from Nairn -
18th Hole Forres
For those weary with tough round on the Links courses and perhaps a day of opening the shoulders and getting the confidence back – turn inland and try Forres.  A parkland course with many superb holes.  The opening hole has the golfer elevated way above the fairway so any scuffed ball tends to look in flight.  It’s undulating and the closing holes are very special with tricky tee shots to secure placements for the important shot to green.  Lovely views and spectacular trees enhance this inland course and make it a very enjoyable day.

ELGIN – East and 10 miles from Forres
Duly fired up and with the knowledge that you can play well on parkland courses then try out Elgin just another ten miles East on the A96.  Heathland and Parkland make this a hybrid course but again a course that allows the ‘opening of the shoulders’ and another confidence boost.

Going South – across the spectacular Dava Moor – about 25 minutes from Nairn
Heading south now and towards the lovely and picturesque course of Grantown upon Spey.  This course offers itself to the writer as if in three sections.  The first section is to give confidence with relatively easy opening holes but beware – a cross of the lane and into the forest and a spectacular signature par 4 hole – downhill all the way surrounded by the silver birches and the soft sound of woodland wildlife helps to ensure an inspired drive as the first part of a par or even a birdie!  Climbing up towards the end of the forest holes and then out again into rolling and undulating fairways the last holes whilst challenging are different but nonetheless enjoyable.  Interesting to note around the turn before back to the clubhouse an old outdoor curling rink can be seen.  Fair warning that this Highland course can be challenged with the climate and the writer did once finish a round here in a blizzard.

BOAT OF GARTEN – 12 minutes from Grantown
Dropping a little further to the south and we find Boat of Garten a strange name but created for the little ferry that used to ply across the Loch here.  The first hole at Boat sometimes greets the golfer with a little disappointment but climb to the second and expect to be wowed!  In addition to the spectacular scenery, the lovely undulating tight fairways and testing greens there is by way of reward should you be playing badly, the possibility of seeing the steam rain puff past en route from Aveiemore to Boat of Garten.
Boat of Garten

Going over the Kessock Bridge and driving further North
FORTROSE AND ROSEMARKIE – along the Northern side of the Moray Firth and can be seen from Castle Stuart
One of the author’s most favourite courses with a nine out to turn at Chanory Point and a possibility to see the dolphins at their favourite stomping ground has to be something to write home about.  A wee par three on the turn will test the golfer with club selection and can vary from wedge to some sort of wood depending upon the wind.  Double greens and sharing fairways – its golf as it was played years ago and of course it’s James Braid course designer again.

One and a half hours from Castle Stuart lies a course, which will take the golfer back to the true meaning of a Links course.  Brora is 20 minutes past Dornoch along the A9 but so well worth those extra minutes travel.  Whilst lacking trees it opens up greens from just about anywhere and follows the usual nine out and nine back.  Another  James Braid course as with so many in this area but it is different and demanding and at the same time quaint and quirky.  Yes this is the place where the sheep are kept away brilliantly by the small electric fence around the greens but you can sometimes find the odd ‘coo’ lying contentedly in a bunker.

It is hard to select from the plethora of courses available to the golfer in the North of Scotland and these are just a few which have been played and enjoyed immensely by this blogger.
Castle Stuart Club House

This Blog was written by Rosemary Young, our current Chair.  Rosemary has played golf since the age of five and represented Hertfordshire County as a Junior Organiser as well as playing for the team and holding a single figure handicap.  She came to Scotland to run a Golf Hotel and received the best small golfing hotel award in 2006 for Claymore House Hotel.  Rosemary also became an Industry trainer and wrote and delivered a training package called "NO ROUGH EDGES" throughout Scotland as part of Golf Highland.  Nowadays Rosemary just plays for fun whilst running her 4 Star GOLD B&B Inveran Lodge in Nairn.

To find out more about Scotland's Golf Courses, visit our website and search for golf courses by region