coquet nature lover

Friday, 6 January 2017

Simply the Solway in the southwest of Scotland

The Solway is a region that wildly exceeded my expectations. In fact, I first visited this unspoilt part of Scotland by accident a couple of years ago. The intention had been to spend a day in the Lake District but, as it was absolutely heaving with traffic and tourists, I decided to head back to the M6 and drive north to Gretna Green instead - yes, over the border to Scotland! From Gretna, you head for Dumfries then west to Galloway. What a great decision it was too! 
(Keswick in the Lakes to Dumfries by car takes approx 45 minutes - 45 miles/72km)

Unlike the Lakes, the Solway coast is sparsely populated and has few visitors so it's a great location for both wildlife and nature lovers who want to spend a few moments in time away from the everyday hustle and bustle and enjoy the peaceful coastal walks and stunning sunsets.

The photos in this post, with the exception of the greenfinch, were taken on my visit just before last Christmas.  

Winter sun at midday over the Solway


rosehips in the hedgerow
greenfinch eating Japanese rosehip seeds  
(Fr-verdier  D-grünling)
perfect perch for a goldfinch  
(Fr-chardonneret   D-stieglitz) 
great tit   
(Fr-méssange charbonnière   D-kohlmeise)

Hedgerows clothed with a rich carpet of lichens
Usnea subfloridana
unidentified lichens 
(Fr-rougegorge   D-rotkehlchen)
mistle thrush   
(grive draine   D-misteldrossel)

Barnacle geese and pink-foots

Although some Barnacle geese winter here in the north-east, the majority leave Svalbard (halfway between Norway and the North Pole) in late September/early October and head for Islay and the Solway where they stay until April. The journey is 3,000 km journey and it is reported that they may fly non stop in under three days.

Here are photos of the geese taken at RSPB Mersehead nature reserve. The barnacle geese grazed in the fields and didn't seem to be disturbed by visitors on the nearby footpath until a helicopter flew overhead.

Barnacle geese   
(Fr-Bernache nonnette   D-Weisswangengans)
taking off
up, up and away we go
A flock of pink-footed geese were also on the move
(Fr-oie à bec court   D-kurzschnabelgans)

Northumberland is also a destination in winter for pink-footed geese and the photo below (taken on New Years Day) shows part of a flock of over a thousand feeding on fields near Wooler. It is estimated that between 6-12,000 pink foots winter in the county. The main areas also include Lindisfarne and Druridge. If you are a regular reader, you will have seen my post on Lindisfarne (Holy Island) last October.

pink-footed geese near Wooler, Northumberland


Here are a couple of birds of prey - also known a raptors. Out of interest, the word 'raptor' has a Latin origin and is derived from the verb 'rapere' meaning to seize or take by force. Not great photos of birds in flight but I was happy to get them in the frame! The geese in the photos above were much easier to take!

(Fr-buse variable   D-mäusebussard)

Red kite   
(Fr-Milan royal   D-Milan roter)

This red kite was hunting near Loch Ken
gorse flowering in December - Port Patrick


The next three photos are of fulmars on the cliff face at Port Patrick. The word 'fulmar' has has an Old Norse origin - fúll (“foul”) and már (“gull”) - in reference to the foul smelling oil they spit out when disturbed. The second and third photos show a pair greeting and bonding with each other with much head bopping and bills wide open. This is typical behaviour of this grey and white seabird, related to the albatross.

Fulmar in flight   
(Fr-pétrel fulmar   D-eissturmvogel) 
pair bonding with open beaks

strengthening bonds

Back on the subject of etymology, the name of the elegant seabird in the next photo can be traced back to french - no surprise there! With its long legs and long slender down-curved bill, the origin of 'curlew' could date back as far as the mid-14th century from Old French courlieu. The french verb 'courir' translates 'to run' and these birds can run fast! 'Lieu' translates to 'place' so it does seem plausible. (13c., Modern French courlis), said to be imitative of the bird's cry but apparently assimilated with corliu 'runner, messenger,'  from corre 'to run') ( 

(Fr-courlis cendré   D-grosser brachvogel)

At the end of the blog, you will find the poem 'The Horses' by Ted Hughes. He was a great nature lover and many of his poems explored his passion for nature. In The Horses, the curlew is used as a symbol to interrupt the silence of the morning (line 17) as well as to represent the noise of the city in the penultimate line.
Click here to listen to a curlew on the Solway estuary

 Sunset on the Solway - Rockcliffe

The Horses 
by Ted Hughes

I climbed through woods in the hour-before-dawn dark.
Evil air, a frost-making stillness,

Not a leaf, not a bird -
A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood

Where my breath left tortuous statues in the iron light.
But the valleys were draining the darkness

Till the moorline - blackening dregs of the brightening grey -
Halved the sky ahead. And I saw the horses:

Huge in the dense grey - ten together -
Megalith-still. They breathed, making no move,

with draped manes and tilted hind-hooves,
Making no sound.

I passed: not one snorted or jerked its head.
Grey silent fragments

Of a grey silent world.

I listened in emptiness on the moor-ridge.
The curlew's tear turned its edge on the silence.

Slowly detail leafed from the darkness. Then the sun
Orange, red, red erupted

Silently, and splitting to its core tore and flung cloud,
Shook the gulf open, showed blue,

And the big planets hanging -
I turned

Stumbling in the fever of a dream, down towards
The dark woods, from the kindling tops,

And came to the horses.
There, still they stood,
But now steaming and glistening under the flow of light,

Their draped stone manes, their tilted hind-hooves
Stirring under a thaw while all around them

The frost showed its fires. But still they made no sound.
Not one snorted or stamped,

Their hung heads patient as the horizons,
High over valleys in the red levelling rays -

In din of crowded streets, going among the years, the faces,
May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place

Between the streams and the red clouds, hearing the curlews,
Hearing the horizons endure.


  1. Stunning views of the fulmars on the cliffs. Not to mention the beautiful wintry sun photos. Scotland has lovely rural coastlines.👍

    1. Yes, the west coast is renowned for its isolation and rugged landscape. The fulmars were great to watch. I think they had just met up again as this can take place a few months before the breeding season. Although fulmars are monagomous, studies have reported that they do 'visit' their neighbours so true fidelity is questionable! Glad you enjoyed the post. xx

  2. Northumberland fan15 January 2017 at 21:01

    Some great sunset photos 📸 Love the fulmar pair as well 💕

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it Northumberland fan. Thank you also for commenting, much appreciated. xx

  3. Reading this in Switzerland - a long way from the sea - love the West Coast gorse!

    1. Thank you for commenting. You should arrange a visit - I'm sure it's much warmer on the Solway than where you are! xx

  4. A wonderfully interesting post with some great photos. Love the series of hedgerow photos especially the lichens :) I've never been to the Solway (sounds very attractive being unspoiled and quiet!!) . We are hoping to visit Northumberland for a holiday one day so it is great to see your posts. Beautiful poem too :)

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment. I post mainly on Northumberland but it's great to get out and see nature and wildlife in other parts of the country too. It's the first time I've photographed lichens but I was looking for something a bit different and the winter light seemed to improve the shots! :)

  5. Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. We visited Dumfries and Galloway a few years ago and loved the tranquility and beauty of the area. We visited several nature reserves and saw red squirrels which was wonderful. I'd love to return one day:)

    1. Thank you for your comment and I am glad my post brought back special memories for you. I've added you to my follow list so I hope it has worked as I had some technical problems with my blog not updating. This has now been resolved thankfully as I am trying to grow my audience. Your blog is certainly informative and lovely photos too :)