Happy New Year!

Well, after an oddly warm end to 2015, it’s suddenly the sort of temperature that feels ‘normal’ for early January. We’ve even had snow…

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… and very beautiful it was too. This scene is on the walk round the wonderfully-named Glenmidge, just a mile away. We’ve been much more fortunate than others during the recent floodings and were happy to find that our guests kept coming right through Christmas and Hogmanay, despite the awful predictions of the weather forecasters.

Steve’s wildlife cameras are coming into their own now, with almost daily (that should really be ‘nightly’) sightings of barn owls. We’ve even seen two at a time. Fingers crossed that they get on, and subsequently provide us with adventurous offspring looking for self-catering accommodation – the barn is amply equipped for baby barn owls and their doting parents!

Other interesting sightings include the following:- a ring-necked duck at Caerlaverock; a huge flock of about 140 twite just up the lane (being dive-bombed unsuccessfully by a frustrated sparrowhawk); several cowslips in ridiculously early flower; 3 red squirrels simultaneously in the garden; two deer just outside the back of the cottages. Most exciting of all, we’ve seen blue sky and sunshine, just when we thought every type of weather had been exhausted!

Many thanks to all our guests who kindly sent Christmas cards – lovely to get news from around the world. Enjoy 2016. I’ll keep you posted on news from McM.


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McMurdoston Preservation Society


My favourite Autumn challenge is on… to try to make good use of all the apples from our three small trees! The results can be quite colourful as you can see, using other locally available ingredients such as bramble, rhubarb, plum, rowan berry, quince, mint, crab apple and blackcurrant.


I must have made about 50 jars of jams and jellies so far and I still have a wheelbarrow and a half to go… I always put a sample in the cottage welcome packs, so guests can expect some interesting specimens to try out in weeks to come. Having said that, I also usually manage to store quite a lot of apples over the Winter. The ones which don’t survive intact make a wonderful surprise snack for the blackbirds in the colder months.

We managed another short trip to Caerlaverock at the weekend and spotted not only Chris Packham (of BBC Autumnwatch for the uninitiated) and hoards of yapping barnacle geese but – yes! – the snow goose. Astonishing to think that it could be picked out so clearly amongst all those thousands of other birds, even by us!

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Wild goose chasing


Last week – in the build-up to Autumnwatch – Steve and I visited Caerlaverock’s Wetland and Wildfowl Trust centre which is just the other side of Dumfries from McMurdoston. So far there’s little evidence of BBC activity but what is in abundance is goose activity. There are thousands of them there. We saw mostly barnacle geese (up to 30,000 usually arrive at Caerlaverock at this time of year) – looking gorgeous in their black head-scarves – but also numerous different types of duck, including wigeon, teal, shoveler and tufted. We got a good sighting of a hen harrier over the marshes but failed to see the bittern or the snow goose, both of which have excited recent visitors.

Having said all that we have an interesting situation in the local fields. An unusual number have been left for stubble and have attracted the keen attention of – guess what – geese! Thousands of them; so many, in fact, that I could hear their wonderful cacophony over the car engine the other day and raced round the house just in time to see a massive flock fly over us. For the past two evenings I’ve gone up the hill with binoculars and camera to try and capture the sight. So far my limited photography skills have failed to do justice to what is an incredible sight but I can confirm that there are pink-footed, greylag, canada and even the odd barnacle goose up there.What I’ll never be able to capture, but would sorely love to, is that unbelievable sound as they take off. It builds and builds until you could honestly be forgiven for thinking there’s a train coming… yes, there really are that many of them!

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September already


What an odd Summer it turned out to be. I only have to look at the state of my veggie plot to realise that it has been distinctly abnormal. Other than the potatoes, nothing has grown much. We had a tiny harvest of broad beans and the odd strawberry, but the runner beans are getting nowhere and the tomatoes are flowering (now!) but showing no sign of producing any fruit. However, on the floral side, my yellow buddleia has now gone crazy and the gladiolae are showing signs of a late burst of life – perhaps September and early October are the better months for warmth after all? For years I used to book holidays in Southern Scotland in early Autumn – why forget the habit of a life-time?

On McMurdoston’s bird front, the swallows only appeared to have one brood and seem have left already.  Most of their nests have been recycled by wrens, so we wonder what will happen next year. The swifts came and went at the normal time but it remains to be seen whether they are interested – come 2016 – in the new boxes we put up.  The house martins are still here in number and chatter away all night – a lovely, comforting sound, whatever the weather. The tree sparrows have increased from about 6 in our first year, to around 20. House sparrows are up too, from about 4 to 20 or so. Today I saw 3 nuthatches on the feeder outside the kitchen window and their nutty, insistent calling is all around at the moment. An unusual sighting in the garden was a green woodpecker – its unmistakeable call heard before it made its dramatic appearance. Most pleasing of all is that Steve’s wildlife cameras show regular visits by barn owls to the area of field we are attempting to return to its natural state. At 11 o’clock last night there was one sitting on a wooden post he put up specially.

Human guest-wise we have been particularly delighted to welcome cyclists of all inclinations (pun intended!). We have had competitors in major downhill events at Ae, heroic people on the long journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats, and self-confessed ‘pootlers’, including one with a fantastic electric bike. The last was able to keep up easily with her athletic other half, with no apparent danger of collapse and with a huge grin on her face!


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Flaming June…


Once again this year it would seem that, when applied to June,  the word ‘flaming’ is more of an expletive than an adjective. The weather has been distinctly odd and my veggie patch is as confused about it as I am, although it is now showing signs of life at last. The solar panels go from one extreme to another, producing their maximum so far on a wonderfully bright day just before the Summer solstice (27.5 kW for any solar nerds out there). Today, however, it’s made just over 6 kW – more like Winter.

The wildlife don’t care mind you and McMurdoston is now home to gangs of baby tree and house sparrows, goldfinches, greenfinches, greater spotted woodpeckers and buzzards. We spotted a family of redstarts up the hill too and I had the pleasure of watching them dive-bombing a stoat which got too near their territory. Several of our guests have visited the fascinating osprey nest at Threave and here we had regular visits from red kite during the period when the farmers were cutting the silage.

Steve’s big success has been filming a barn owl in the roof space of the old cottage in the yard. We’re doing everything we can to attract it back again. He’s also made a spectacular film which we decided to put on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BZqNBfaxKA. Have a look and please ‘like’ it – if you  like it (just make sure you watch the first 40 seconds)!

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Saturn from McMurdoston


Amongst many interesting and highly energetic guests recently (two of whom were well on their way to John O’Groats from Land’s End by bike), we were lucky enough to have an amateur astronomer staying in Swallow Cottage last Friday. Apparently on this day there was the best possible chance of seeing the rings of Saturn – not something I’d ever expected to be privileged to witness. However, sometime around midnight I tip-toed out into the darkness, where John had his enormous telescope set up in the garden (pointing South-ish), peered in… and ta-dah… they were were, clear as a bell, the rings of Saturn. I was impressed. John was delighted!

Here is the link to John’s website where you can see his photos for yourself. I can back him up fully on his claim that the reality through the lens was even better.


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Spring has sprung!


Spring at McMurdoston only officially arrives once the swallows are back… and I’m glad to say that they arrived a couple of days ago. They seem to appear in the area, disappear tantalisingly for a day or two and then gather in greater numbers, before actually beginning the breeding process. Tonight they are back in the bike shed – my bike has been relegated to the gardening shed!

Other welcome Spring sightings include sand martins starting to build their nests in the banks on the Cairn River, a redstart  in the small woodland at the top of our drive (along with a blackcap, garden warbler and willow warbler) and hundreds of tadpoles in the pond. Best of all, today we drove to Glenkiln where we saw Beltie calves, a crested grebe and heard a cuckoo.



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The sun has got his hat on…


The clocks go forward tonight and here at McMurdoston there are all sorts of encouraging signs that Spring really has arrived. The primroses are starting to flower, with the odd cowslip leaf also in evidence, and we were delighted to find some frogspawn in the little pond, being guarded surreptitiously by what we presume is its creator. There are cavorting lambs up the hill – this year sporting unusual orange plastic macs – and spindly calves in the next field. The tree sparrows are staking their claims on many of the 31 nest boxes and the tree-creepers and pied wagtails have reappeared from their Winter hideaways. The house sparrows are doing their best to recycle last year’s house martins’ nests… there could be war in a few weeks’ time.  Now we’re preparing to keep our eyes peeled for swallows and swifts, not to mention listening out carefully for chiffchaffs and cuckoos.

Oh – and for any of you sceptics out there… over the next few days we’re having solar panels installed in the garden. Yes – the sun does indeed shine in Scotland! I’m that confident I’ve even dug over a veggie plot and planted some lettuce and beetroot. We had to build a fence to keep the deer out mind you but I’ll keep you posted as to my horticultural success – rabbits/hares/deer/pheasants notwithstanding! – and also as to our kilowatt production.

Lang may yer lum reek.

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Big Garden Birdwatch


Happy new year!

We did our usual bird count last weekend and thought you might like to see the results. We did our count between 11.30 and 12.30, so missed the big feeds at either end of the day, when we would expect to see a great many more birds on McMurdoston’s numerous feeders. It’s always tempting to cheat but that’s not the point of the count is it!

crow – 4, chaffinch – 31, blue tit – 5, goldfinch – 20, great tit – 2, coal tit – 2, tree sparrow –     2, redpoll – 2, blackbird – 2, wood pigeon – 30, greenfinch – 3, robin – 2, dunnock – 2,             magpie – 1, buzzard – 2, jay – 2, common gull – 55, rook – 40, twite – 35, house sparrow – 1, raven – 2, greater spotted woodpecker – 1

During the hour we also saw the following flying over or in the distance: red kite, approximately 100 barnacle geese.

Just to show off, over last weekend we also saw: sparrowhawk, pheasant, wren, merlin, redwing, fieldfare, nuthatch, treecreeper, jackdaw, mute swan, song thrush, mistle thrush, long-tailed tit, snipe.

Every evening now seems a little lighter for a little longer. We can start to believe that those wonderful Spring and Summer visitors will make their appearance before too long. With luck they will all find a place here – we now have 31 nest boxes made and erected on site. Mind you, we have more than enough to look at right now – there are well over 20 goldfinches on the feeders outside the kitchen window as I write!

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Mud is good…!


The Tough Mudders are returning to McMurdoston!

On June 20th and 21st 2015, Drumlanrig Castle is hosting a gruelling event, designed for anyone who likes a bit of a challenge – a challenge, that is, of the mud-splattered/bone-crunching/nerve-wracking kind. The course offers some 12 miles of pleasure and pain (more the latter I would hazard a guess) and entry is open now. Have a look at the website for more details: https://toughmudder.co.uk/events/2015-scotland.

Drumlanrig is less than half an hour’s drive from McMurdoston. We still have availability for that weekend, but get in quick if you’re taking part, as accommodation in the area was packed out when the Tough Mudders last hit the area.

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