I’m Innocent

Hi, it’s me Willow, the tripawd Labrador, here again.  You know that saying “if you’re in a hole, stop digging”?  It’s true, you see I was literally in a hole and yes, I should have stopped digging.  And now because of that I’m in the dog house.  And my humans think they have enough evidence – hmm, but I have the ultimate rebuttal.  And here is my defence.

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You see I used to have a friend who loved to dig.  She left holes all-round the garden – I think she called them booby traps.  Anyway, my hudad decided to tidy up the garden and has done loads.  But this week it was removing old rosa Ragusa bushes and removing all the dockens, grass and anything else that grew.  And now it’s all bare ground.  But he did something terrible – he filled in the holes!

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 So my friends “ghost” came back and decided to re-instate the holes.  You know the one, the same “ghost” that pushed me off the settee when I was lying in my friends favourite spot.

 Now, my humum seems to think it was me that did the digging.  Well, show me the evidence I say.  Ahh.  Well, yes, that’s correct I was in the garden at the time it got dug – I’ll grant you that.  But you can’t prove it was me that did the digging.

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Yes, my paws are very dirty and covered in gutters.  As were yours when you went over to “inspect” the damage.

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Yes, I know that there’s considerably more gutters on my front paws compared to my back one.  But if you think about it, when I walk I have to put lots more weight on my front paws than on my back one – so they just went further into the mud.  It had nothing to do with digging.

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And, my final ultimate rebuttal?  How could I, with only three legs dig a hole like that?  I need to balance with all 3 legs, so if I was using my front 2 legs for digging that would mean I was standing on one leg.  Dear humum, do you really think I could do that?

So, there you go, all my evidence presented.  Case closed.  I’m INNOCENT!

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Autumn Colours

I guess it’s that time of year when we’re getting ready to wave goodbye to summer and still awaiting winter.  But autumn has its own glories and I was reminded of that on a recent walk round the Botanic Gardens in Inverness.  If you haven’t been – GO!  From the outside it looks really small, and looking at the size of the space it takes up you would be mistaken for thinking it wouldn’t contain much.  Think again.  They have really successfully managed to make the most from the space.  In fact, this will probably be one of a series of blogs about the gardens – this is the outside bit – but I’ll be covering the indoor greenhouses separately.

The Old Boots

Don’t be mistaken in thinking that these places are staid and a bit boring – not here.  There’s always some quirky little corner that always triggers good ideas – and a smile.  This is just that corner – what a brilliant way to use some old boots.  Last time I visited it was fizzy drinks bottles.  Always a good source of inspiration on what to do with left over “stuff”.

The Old Boots low res

We nearly missed out the rock garden.  This is one of these gardens where there are lots of little paths leading here, there and everywhere.  At the front it had all these lovely heathers and behind a lovely colourful rock garden

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Bark!

Too often I forget that the colour doesn’t just come from flowers or foliage – it can be there in the bark of a tree too.  These are 2 lovely examples of these.  What a shade of reddish brown, it looked like someone had been out polishing it to a deep sheen.  That contrasted beautifully with the 3 white trunks. 

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From one area in the garden you can see so many different colours.  There were still a lot of the summer border flowers in full bloom, but the autumn colours were starting to creep in.  So this had the lovely effect of increasing the colour palette of the garden.

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Dahlias

I’ve not had a lot of luck growing dahlias probably because our garden is so wet that it rots the tubers.  So I took full advantage of photographing these beauties.  Perhaps I’ll pick up on their idea of growing these in pots rather than in the soil.

Once we completed the tour of the outside gardens we then enjoyed very different  environments in the glass houses.  But that’s for another post…….

 

 

 

Outlandish

It’s quite nice to go back in time.

It’s a few years since we’ve visited the Highland Folk Museum at Newtonmore – and what a difference, it has a lot more buildings there and has seen a lot of much welcome development. I suspect it’s the Outlander effect as part of the museum has been one of the locations for the filming of the TV series Outlander. In case you haven’t visited, this is an outdoor museum which is spread over an 8-acre site. At one end there’s a 1930s farm and at the other end, about 1 mile away, is a re-constructed Highland Township. On this occasion we only visited part of the site, but are definitely planning another visit to catch up on the rest.

The Old Cottage and garden lowres

As we visited in September we had a mix of sunshine and showers – what had started as a dreich looking day, had brightened up nicely as we started our wander around the museum. So, we headed for a leisurely stroll through the Pinewoods to Baile Gean which is the museum’s re-constructed Highland township.

We took our time – looking at the animals carved into the tops of tree stumps, and watched live red squirrels scampering up nearby trees. Far too fast for me to even think about photographing them. We saw lots of other reminders of how Highlanders used to live in the past en-route.

The Travellers Camp lowres

One of these is the Travellers’ Camp. The one at the museum was built by in 2008 by Essie Stewart who had travelled Sutherland with her Traveller family in the 1940s and 1950s. The framework here is built of hazel poles and is covered by a tarpaulin.

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Nearby there’s the Curling Pond. You may know of this sport from the Olympics but Curling was invented in medieval Scotland, with evidence of it dating back to at least 1511. The hut at this curling pond is an original which has re-constructed at the museum.

The Mill Workshop lowres

This guy is really realistic, especially when you just catch him out of the corner of your eye. I wonder how many people have spoken to him over the years? His workshop is located just before you come to the township. Look carefully out of the window and you will see the outline of the top of the waterwheel. Outside, you can see the water wheel and the lade that would have carried the water to the wheel.

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And now we come into the re-construction of a 1700s Highland township. This is a group of 6 different buildings and successfully shows how they would have been inhabited and used during that period. The first thing that will probably hit you as you approach the township is the smell of smoke. This is the really distinctive peat that was burned in many homes in the Highlands and Islands. The next thing that surprised me was the birdlife – a couple of ducks and 3 hens were quite happily wandering around their home. Now, that made it feel really authentic.

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Do take some time to visit the buildings – they are open and you can wander in to have a good look round. It’s not like visiting a modern day house – there are no windows so the only light is from the doorways and your eyes do have to adjust to the dark. Add to that the smoke from the open fire in the middle of the house and you get a real feel for how life was lived in the 1700s. Fortunately, the animals who would have shared one end of the house in those days weren’t around – I dread to think what the smell would have been like.

Inside a smoky house lowres

We took the path through the woods back to the visitor centre, which is conveniently located in about the middle of the site. We stopped and had a picnic lunch – yes, it really was that nice in September in Scotland. So, what else is there to do at the museum? Well there’s a café, gift shop and picnic tables at the entrance. Then there’s also a 1930s working farm and a community of buildings which have been re-located from different parts of the Highlands. We will definitely be back to visit that part of the museum as it looks as if it’s grown considerably since we last visited.

Pond in Trees lowres

Hot and very Muddy

Normally my humum writes these blogs – but I decided I’m taking over today.  Hello, it’s me, Willow, the 10 and a bit year old tripawd Labrador.

Well the other day my humans came up with a great idea – lets take Willow to Contin for a walk.  I think my hudad mumbled something about there not being any water there for me to swim in. Hmm. 

Anyway we arrived and it wasn’t too busy.  So off we hop down one of the paths.  But I’m not stupid, I know that’s just a short 15 minute walk, so you can forget that.  With lots of cunning I just carried on one path and hoped they’d not click that we had now deviated from the “official” path.  See, if you brazen it out and pretend you know what you’re doing you will get away with it.

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Oh, what’s that sound?  Waterfall!  Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes – swims.  Oh no.  Do you know what they did?  They wouldn’t let me go and have a splash – something about it being “too steep”.  Aye, perhaps for them, but for a skilled 3-legged explorer like myself – not a problem, let me assure you of that.  Not like my humum, she was told to be careful too, when she was taking her photos, but then she does sometimes fall in the woods – you know the excuses “it was muddy, I slipped”, “the bit of grass I landed on just gave way”.

Waterfall at Contin

What are they saying?  Oh, the path is closed for logging works.  Go back the way we came or go the longer route?  You know me, always happy to explore – lets just go the longer way. Oh, the obligatory photo to prove I am sometimes clean – what a cheek, just because I like a fully immersive experience on a walk.

 

The Clean Willow

See, I am clean, sometimes

 

Bit of a boring path this, for an intrepid explorer like myself, but then normally this would be used by vehicles not just dogs.  Ah, wait, stay cool, pretend it’s not there.  They haven’t noticed.  Take them by surprise, that’s the best strategy.  Yahoo, splash!  Great, lots of mud.  You know, they’re right, you just can’t beat a mudbath.  Willow, that’s right, that’s my name, stop wearing it out.  I can hear you hudad, you don’t need to shout.  Yes, humum it is muddy.

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Great, I come out and humum wants a photo.  I think its to show just how muddy I was.  Do you know, it really was a great pond.  Hmm, I wonder.  Go for it girl, you can do it, hudad hasn’t realised and humum is taking photos.  Splash.  Ahh bliss.  I don’t know why they don’t join me, you don’t often get mud this good.  Yes humum I am very cheeky, but just let me have a wee shake.

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Another path, an interesting through the woods type path, I wonder where it goes?  What do mean, I can’t go.  The sad, pleading face, isn’t working.  Oh well, back to the road.  Still, there are some beautiful trees and plants around here.  

Now, what’s she saying?  Ah, yes, now she’s talking – the stones in the road are very nice, yes, that’s correct humum, they are loaded with mica, and yes, it is glinting in the sun.  Go, on get a photo.  Well done, now, have you noticed that slivers of mica there?  Good you have.  Happy to oblige.

 

 

Mica encrused stone

Well it was here, of course I was going to jump in.  What’s the problem?  It’s lovely, and refreshing, and really cooling too.  Oh, so it’s muddy.  Big deal.  Yes, you are right, I could find water in the desert.  Anyway, I had to jump in as my humum always says how much she wants photos of my pawprints.  OK, it’s not along a sandy seashore, but what’s wrong with muddy pawprints on a path?  Anyway look how many there are, loads, that’s probably because there was lots of mud.

 

Pawprints on a path

Pawprints on a path

 

Now, that’s what I call a proper pond.  Mind you, it does look a bit clean.  And I know, you aren’t going to let me in are you?  Aw well, perhaps later.

 

Wishful Thinking

Wishful thinking

 

Great, there’s the car.  That really was a long walk, and for the last bit there were no muddy ponds.  Lots of promising dips, but no water in them.  What does your fitness tracker say?  90 minutes, that’s pretty good, the route map says 2 hours.  Oh, you didn’t know it was that long, perhaps that’s because I carefully steered you away from the route map at the start.  Home now for my next 2 favourite pastimes – food and sleep.

Loch Affric – A Willow Adventure

We haven’t been up Loch Affric in over 20+ years but up we went a few days ago.  I hate single track roads so vowed it would be at least another 20 years before we came back. 

Willow has never been there, so somewhere else for her to explore.  Although it was an overcast day, it was stunning – and Willow was so excited.  We parked at the top carpark and did the couple of walks there – well in Willows case, run as far as her lead will let her and then wait impatiently for us. 

Willow viewing Loch Affric from afar

I’d forgotten how stunning Loch Affric was.  If you look carefully at the right hand side, about the middle of the picture above you will see “Willow the Explorer” popping her head up above the heather – I think trying to work out how to get down to the loch.  She does love these big panoramas – you see her just standing, looking around, working it all out and absorbing her surroundings.  We all should take a lesson from her.

We really picked a lovely time to visit.  The heather was out in full bloom and was a beautiful shade of lilac.

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We were full of great intentions – find a bench and sit out and eat our picnic lunch.  The warning bells should have gone off – there were loads of benches free.  Within seconds we were under attack.  Water, trees, why didn’t we work it out sooner – midgies!!!  Thousands of them. So back to the car it was.

The afternoon stroll was along the River Walk.  While not giving the huge panorama of the viewpoint trail – it still had some fantastic scenery.  The heather was providing a carpet of lilac, interspersed with pine trees.  I’ve walked through many woods but this was really different.  It really did feel like walking in an ancient pinewood.

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Our first glimpse of the river was of a dark almost glass like wide ribbon cutting its way through a swathe of heather and Scots Pine trees.  It had a white film on the water, giving an amazing pattern as it flowed down the main river, and then congregated at the riverbank.  The rest of the water was fast flowing but calm, not like the view you would get a short distance further on.  There was the river in full flow cavorting over small rocks and creating lots of white froth.

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Now, we did get a choice here.  Take the Easy Route, or that the Rocky Route.  The rocky route followed the river.  We were not going to go that way with a very excited, 3 legged Labrador.  She may well have been able to swim happily in the river – we weren’t!  Right at the end of the Rocky Route I saw this lovely flat waterfall and decided to photograph it.  I struggled to pick a way across to a stone platform, but no, couldn’t find a way up.  After all that effort all I heard from Ian was “can’t you just go back along this path?”  And yes, if I did walk along the end of the Rocky Route path it did take me straight to a great viewpoint.

Small Waterfall lowres

So, a short walk back to the carpark and one very excited dog back into the car.

Oh, and the resolution that it’ll be at least another 20 years before I visit – forget that – there’s Affric in autumn colours yet to come, and another 2 carparks with walks for Willow to explore.  We may be a regular visitor.

Love is Like a Butterfly

Do you remember that song from the 1970’s/1980’s? I think it was the theme tune for the TV sitcom Butterflies. This, in a way is very apt that I should think of a program from the 1980’s, as it was in 1987 that the first Red List assessment of butterflies of Great Britain (by Shirt) was produced.

Why is this important?

This Red List assessment allows us to see the trends within our butterfly populations, especially long-term and 10-year population trends. And, it’s not great. In 2010 a new Red List of British Butterflies was produced and it has now got over 30 butterflies listed.

What Did I do to Help?

A few years ago I decided to re-do my front garden and made the conscious decision that any plant that was going into it would have to be good for bees or butterflies. Well, that did work for the bees, I have regularly seen loads of bees on my plants, especially the Sea Holly.

Red Admiral on wood low res

Red Admiral on planter

But it wasn’t so great for the butterflies. I really hadn’t cracked that – there were one or two but nothing spectacular. Then, some of my Hebe’s died off and needed replacing. I did try planting a Buddleja a few years ago but it died too. So last year, I bit the bullet and planted 2 Buddleja in the front garden. This year they seemed to have grown but no butterflies. Then suddenly, at the start of this month – both plants were alive with butterflies.

Small Tortoiseshell low res

Small Tortoiseshell on Buddleja

The whole garden has been transformed. Apart from the colour of the plants there’s a riot of colour from the different types of butterfly. I’ve now spent some time out inbetween the two plants studying and photographing them. Actually, it is a bit freaky doing that, as they really do not care about me being there, and flutter right up to me. And it’s great, as they don’t seem to mind me photographing them either.

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Even when we’re inside we see butterflies fluttering up to our windows – something we’ve never done in the past.

Peacock Butterfly on purple slate low res

Peacock on Plum Slate

So – what about the species that visit me? So far I’ve seen:

  • Small White,
  • Red Admiral,
  • Small Tortoiseshell,
  • Peacock

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None of these are categorised on the Red List, and all have the category Least Concern, and many of these have been downgraded from Vulnerable due to the 10-year population decline not supported by the long term trend.

Next Steps

Well, we are planning an overhaul of the garden at the side of the house, so perhaps a bit more investigation to see what butterflies are native to this area, which are on the endangered list and try to identify any plants that will encourage them to my garden. Oh, and probably at least another buddleja.

And As for the Moth

And, as a completely accidental find. On the floor of my garage, was this beauty. Actually, I thought we might stand on it when we were cleaning out the garage, so I carefully moved it and then came to the conclusion it was dead. So again carefully (fortunately) moved it into the garden to photograph it. It’s only when I did that that I realised it was moving its antennae. So, back it went to the garage – and has now flown away. After a bit of investigating it is a moth and it’s called a Large Yellow Underwing.

Large Yellow Underwing low res

References:

Fox, R., Brereton, T.M., Asher, J., August, T.A., Botham, M.S., Bourn, N.A.D., Cruickshanks, K.L., Bulman, C.R., Ellis, S., Harrower, C.A., Middlebrook, I., Noble, D.G., Powney, G.D., Randle, Z., Warren, M.S. & Roy, D.B. (2015). The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015. Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wareham, Dorset.
Available at: http://butterfly-conservation.org/files/soukb-2015.pdf

Fox, R., Warren, M.S., and Brereton, T.M. (2010). A new Red List of British Butterflies, Species Status 12; 1-32. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.
Available at: http://butterfly-conservation.org/files/red-list.pdf

My Unsung Favourites

Arctic Fox

The Arctic Foxes have always made me think of my old Labrador, Bramble – she too was neat, small and as wily as a fox. But this Arctic Fox is just a wee bit special. He has very bad eyesight – and often has a bit of a bemused look on his face. When you see him walking around you do get a feeling something isn’t quite right, but you probably wouldn’t think he was nearly blind. However, the longer he has been in his enclosure the more confident he seems to have become. Perhaps a good lesson there for all of us.

Male Arctic Fox Summer Coat

Billy Goat Gruff

Well, I mentioned the tale of Little Red Riding Hood in a previous post (Sleeps, squabbles and just lazing around) , but the male Turmenian Markor makes me think of the Norwegian fairy tale of Billy Goat Gruff – with his big beard and large twisted horns.
The Highland Wildlife Park has separate enclosures, one for the males and the other for the females and young goats.

Just spend a minute before you continue to look at the geology of this place. Look at this cliff face – the unevenness of the layers, the tilt of the rock.

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Amur Tiger

I confess. I never really “got” what people saw in tigers. Yeah, OK, apex predator, susses out the weakest in a group and will take them if given half a chance.  And all this before you even know the tiger is there. On the other side there’s also the prettiness of them.  But I still never got it. Until I visited these Amur tigers. Dominika, the female had been resting on her feeding platform, and just turned and looked in my general direction (OK, she probably was thinking – I’ll have you as a snack). Stunning, majestic, powerful, knowing – the adjectives just kept coming.  On another visit, I was really lucky to come face to face with Marty the male.  Obviously there was protective glass between us (or I wouldn’t be here now).  And what struck me was the size of his head.  You couldn’t look him in the eye because his eyes were so far apart.  What a truly stunning animal.

Amur Tiger Male Marty

European Bison

These are spectacular beasts.  They wander around the main drive through reserve, and you never really know where they’ll be.  But once they appear the whole herd will be there – from the big male down to the little newcomers.

European Bison Male

Birds of a Feather

Well these two don’t flock together, they are in separate enclosures in different parts of the park.  They are both owls but look very different.  The Great Grey Owl has this amazing circular shaped face with its concave circle of feathers round its eyes which helps it collect sound waves and then direct them to the owl’s ears.  One of the other species of owl at the park is the Eagle Owl.

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Snow Monkeys

Normally I photograph these up close, but decided to something a bit different this time.  Some of the monkeys were located on the mound in their enclosure so it was a great excuse to capture not just them, and part of their very large enclos

ure, but the stunning Cairngorm mountains that overlook the park.

Snow Monkey mound

As I’m on the subject of the stunning Cairngorm National Park I thought I’d leave my last shot of this blog to be of the countryside surrounding the Highland Wildlife Park.

View from Park

Bringing In The Harvest

For weeks I’ve been walking past the same field of linseed rape gradually getting ready to harvest.

For weeks I’ve been saying “I must get photos of the combine cutting that crop”.

For weeks I’ve being doing this and….. I nearly missed it. I was away for the day.

My husband rushed in from taking the dog for a walk. “If you want to photograph that field, go NOW”. Well, no second telling was needed. Grabbed my camera and monopod and off I went. Normally it’s a 10 minute walk – I made it in less than that (admittedly every muscle I didn’t know I had in my legs are complaining today).

In my mind – where I’d stand to get the best shot. Hmmm. Not exactly where I expected them to be. But all wasn’t lost, the good thing about a dog – you learn all the escape routes into the field. So I picked one of the more accessible areas and got my first pictures.

Taking in the harvest

Then I decided to move around a bit further – I knew another escape route. How many times have I shouted at Willow to come back when she used that route for a wee nose in the field to see what they’d been doing. And now, here I was, using it myself. Delighted, facing the combine harvester straight on.

Combine Harvester

Another successful day.

Linseed-harvest-at-Brahan

Sleeps, squabbles and just lazing around

Yesterday we paid another visit to the Highland Wildlife Park.  We often visit and on this occasion there were a couple of surprises

Sleeps

There’s one animal that always makes my heart skip a beat.  I feel the excitement building just walking to their enclosure.  It’s the Lynx.  Normally, they’re sleeping under the vegetation, or on full view sleeping on top of one of the shelters.  But for a first for me, yesterday one of the lynx was sound asleep in the shelter.  I don’t know what it is about these lovely animals, is it their secretiveness – hiding away in the undergrowth, or their really wise faces.  But there goes my heart – skipping a beat yet again.

Sleeping Lynx

Squabbles

As a dog owner I find the wolves fascinating and could stand and watch them all day.  So many mannerisms that I’ve seen in my own dogs over the years. And normally, they are pretty chilled.  Not yesterday.  What squabbles, and mainly because they were pinching bones.  Then, one little wolf, just a few weeks old, sneaked in and grabbed one of the bones and innocently strolled out with it.  And, if any of its much older siblings went near – oh, the lips were curled back in defiance – “My bone, don’t even think it”.

Wolfcub chewing bone

An animal that has been much maligned over the years – think of the bad “image” from films, novels and even fairy tales.  And there it was – the photo that reminded me of the phrase in Little Read Riding Hood – “ooh grandmother, what big teeth you have”.  Obviously, this is a shot of the wolf moving its head – it’s teeth aren’t really that big.

Wolf fight showing exagerated teeth

 

Lazing Around

I don’t think anything can quite laze around like a polar bear.  The 2 boys were lazing – one under a tree (Arktos) and the other (Walker) was amusing himself in the pond, it looked like he was trying to blow bubbles.  To be honest, anytime I’ve been, it’s Walker who is finding some way to amuse himself whereas Arktos tend to conserve energy.

But this isn’t either of them, this is Victoria, at the top part of her enclosure.  I guess it’ll be a few more months of guessing of whether we’re going to see a small cub.

Polar Bear female Victoria

 

It’ll Only Take 5 Minutes

It’ll only take 5 minutes. Never let me say that again.

We have a back garden that is seriously out of control. I admit it. No one really sees it but us – so what if it is a bit wild. We have one path that we haven’t seen for the last 15+ years. To be honest we weren’t really sure where exactly that path was. And another path – well that’s so overgrown with grass and weeds we walk on the grass next to the path as it’s less mucky.

But, in May I decided to clear the weeds off that path so we could use it again. So the hoe came out of the shed and, to be fair, that did only take me about 5 minutes. If only I had left it there. But no, I couldn’t – I was looking at a bed of ground with a puckle of stones on top. The penny dropped, if I left it like this it would be just as bad in a months time.

So what do you do? Well to me, pretty obvious – you dig the lot up. Now, you don’t have to be a genius to work out – that IS going to take more than 5 minutes.

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Now the fork and the spade came out of the shed. And serious destruct mode got switched on. Hmm, that’s odd. This path doesn’t seem to have been constructed in the “traditional” manner – this one has about 1” of stone chips, ground and builders rubble. Yep, this wasn’t the path my husband had constructed (the bit he added didn’t need any work) this was the bit the developer had “created” (I use that term very loosely). No wonder we had problems with it.

So, out came the stones, we cleaned them, and then replaced them on a properly constructed base against a new path edging. Well, when you’re in the middle of doing this you may as well do the job properly and sort all those niggly little things – so a hard standing area at the bottom of the back door steps was added, along with an extra piece of path to the shed. Plus, 2 tonnes of new stones to make up for the lack of stones originally laid.

You would think that would be enough – but, oh no, not by half. You see, that only made the rest of the garden look even worse. So that was it – another “5 minute” job to remove all the grass and weeds on the bed bordering the patio. And whey, hey, we found the lost path! So obviously, that was going to have to be cleared as well. So a repeat performance on removing the stones, replacing the path edging, cleaning and replacing the stones (all 4 – 5 tonnes of them). Plus rerouting the path slightly. Now we have a second path to walk on, and a weed free shrub/plant bed between the patio and the path.

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So what have I learnt:

  • Always have a good bottom to a path
  • The geology textbooks are absolutely correct – the roots of plants do break up stones, even granite
  • If a tree root meets a path border it will change route (see below)
  • And…. I must NEVER, EVER, EVER say “it’ll only take 5 minutes”

Tree root meets path

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