Home, Home On The Ranch!

Being a devoted traveler makes for a meticulous host.  And this is the time of year that we put away the suitcase and set out the welcome mat.  As spring eases into summer, the landscaping projects at Newton Fork Ranch advance at a measured pace. But, the advancement is measured by weather as storms pass through just often enough to keep things emerald green.

One of the first projects, before, during, and after the continual mowing of the meadow and surrounding green spaces is the upkeep of Aspen Grove.  The grove, which used to encompass Grandma’s vegetable garden, was reclaimed two years ago.  It had fallen into disuse and was overgrown with tall grass, bushes, and thickets of quaking aspen.  Even the horses that were turned out in that area couldn’t keep up with the grass.  So many hours were spent weeding (with the exception of Dame’s Rocket which was too pretty to rip out), pruning, and thinning to create a horse pasture for guests traveling with equine family members.  It’s an ideal location, especially for guests who rent the Forest Haven cabin that overlooks the pasture.

Every spring ushers in a formidable task to keep that area under control.  While working in there last week, we noticed a lot of activity from the animal kingdom.  There’s a Hairy Woodpecker who has taken up residency in one of the aspen trees.  And we were much relieved to see that he changed his living area.  Last year we had to patch the ranch sign at the entrance where he tried to settle in!  He (and we know it’s a “he” by the red patch on the back of his head) doesn’t seem to mind human company either and will land on trees a few feet away.   Snapping a photo though is a challenge since he is constantly in motion.

A robin that was guarding a nest nearby also periodically stalked us.  To add to this, in the early morning, deer are using Aspen Grove for a gathering place as well.

So now Aspen Grove is all tidied-up and ready for occupancy.  Be it horse, flora, or fauna!

Before Aspen Grove was weeded and thinned, we relied on the horses for landscaping help.

It took several horses to work on keeping the tall grass down. Note how tall it had become in that thicket of background trees.

Of course, the grass is always greener…

Look at the difference in Aspen Grove after the trees are thinned and the grass is cut down. The area looks so much larger now.

And, with the addition of two heavy-duty 12’ x 12’ paneled corrals, we are ready for equine guests!

No more leaning over fences looking for greener pastures!

Here’s a close-up view of our resident Hairy Woodpecker’s home. It’s a duplex.

It took quick reflexes to capture this shot and note how his feathers match the tree. It’s ingenious!

Of course, the deer miss the tall grass.

On a sun-dappled afternoon, a view of the Forest Haven cabin from Aspen Grove.

Dame’s Rocket is a weed but the beautiful colors make it very hard to cut down.

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Heather, Highlands & Haggis: It’s All in Bloom This Time of Year in Scotland!

Okay, true confession: the theme of our recent trip to Bonnie Scotland (aye ‘tis true, it is truly bonnie), was a tour of the whisky distilleries.  But one can only sample so many “wee drams,” so our secondary theme was to get out and see the countryside.  As you may know, nature, quiet, and seclusion are an on-going theme at Newton Fork Ranch.  So naturally, when we travel, that’s usually what we search for (Paris, ah Paris, not withstanding!).  Anyhoo… we found those qualities in abundance in Scotland.  A few miles outside of any city seemed to put us squarely in the country.

The adventure began with the flight touching down in Edinburgh and soon had us on a northerly trajectory.  Following a costal route, our tour wound through stately St. Andrews (sorry, no golf for us), Arbroath, Aberdeen, Buckie, Elgin, Findhorn (made famous in the 1960s commune era), Inverness (no sign of  the Loch Ness Monster).  Following the heather, we lodged at a castle hotel in Dornoch, across from the cathedral where Madonna and Guy Ritchie had their baby christened (no sign of Madge either).  Journeying up the rugged coast to John O’Groats, the northern most point in Scotland (hoping, but unsuccessfully, to see the Northern Lights), we then pointed our car west.

I should mention the food here because, for so many of us, travel is all about sampling different foods, isn’t it?  And if you love fish, this is your country.   We lived on fish: salmon and eggs for breakfast, fish chowder for lunch, and every manner of preparation of fish for dinner.  And each time, it was as if the fish had been caught and instantly cooked.  It was that fresh!  Oh yes, and the haggis: about the haggis.  We stopped in a lovely little restaurant in Dufftown whose wildly animated chef wanted us to try it.  We declined.  He said we couldn’t.  We said we could.  But, we lost.  Would you like to know how the haggis tasted?  It was very, very good, a bit like meat loaf.  Our strong-arming culinary ninja of a chef was right.  It was tasty and was served in the traditional way: on an oatcake with “neeps and tatties” (potatoes and turnips).

Back on the road, after Thurso, at times the road turned to single track and the scenery changed from rocky and desolate to more pastoral.  At Durness, we commenced heading south towards the Isle of Skye.  It felt like at that point, all of Scotland heaved a collective sigh because everyone kept telling us that the west coast was beautiful.  Go west, go west!  And it was; still, the charm of the rocky isolated, wind-blown northern coast was a strong draw.  But, the many sheep with the adorable freshly-minted lambs, angus cows, and Shetland horses on the narrow road kept us alert and smiling at all times.

After the Isle of Skye, it was back up into the Highlands to visit a few more villages.  We couldn’t resist hiking the highest mountain range, Ben Nevis.  After stopping for fish and chips, we drove the length of Loch Lomand (singing the famous “You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road”).  The Trossachs National Park took our breath away!

One last B & B, Fernbank House in charming Aberfeldy, had us coveting our two full Scottish breakfasts with to-die-for oatmeal made with milk, honey, whisky and cream floating on the top. We returned to Edinburgh on full stomachs via a quick stop to visit the lovely, and magical Rosslyn Chapel of, more recently, “Da Vinci Code” fame.  Would we go back?  In a New York, no wait, make that a Moray Firth minute!

Spring in the City of Edinburgh

The first stop was the City of Edinburgh where spring was in full bloom.

 Mother Church of Presbyterianism

Interior view of St. Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile between Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Loch Ness Ruin

Ruins were in abundance with this one standing on the shores of Loch Ness.

Highland Resident

This Highland bull was built for the heavy rainfall and strong winds that are the cornerstone of Scotland weather.

Change of Weather

Speaking of weather, here comes a change!

Well-Dressed Horse

This horse was well draped and ready for the wind and rain.

True Scottish Breakfast

Ah, just another lovely start to a tour of Scotland.

The beautiful Highland heather in all its glory.

Highland Lamb

Needless to say, the grass is always greener…

Sign at John O'Groats

The most northernly point, per the locals, on mainland Great Britain. It’s also the beginning or ending point of the renowned John O’Groats to Lands End walk.

Ruins Everywhere

Truly, it seems there are ruins around every corner.

Exploring Ruins

And some ruins just beg for exploration.

Boots & A Bike

The perfect image of a rural life, close to the sea, in Scotland.

Pristine Beach

A pristine and uninhabited stretch of beach along the northern coast.

Steall Gorge

Ben Nevis, at 4,409 feet, is the highest mountain in the British Isles and abounds with hiking trails.

Reflections in a Lake

On the way to Skye Bridge, we just had to stop and take photos of the area foliage reflected in a lake.

More Reflections in a Lake

And yet another reflective photo (you are being spared the other half dozen!).

Sheep on the Isle of Skye

So… can you find the sheep in this photo?

Ancient Stone Hut

It must have been a simple and solitary existence.

A Cow on the Isle of Skye

The life of leisure.

Fisherman's Cottage

The requisite photo of a fisherman’s cottage, yes?

Horse on the Isle of Skye

Just look at this poser!

Rural Call Box

We assumed this was the nearest “land line” for area inhabitants.

Passing Place

Perhaps the sheep follow the signs too?

A True Scotsman

Is this a quintessential photo of Scotland, or what?!?

A Painted Window

Clever window decoration in the charming town of Pitlochry.

A Gate in Stirling

A decorative gate near the castle in Stirling.

Sterling Castle Garden Scene

Spring was all abloom in Stirling Castle.

Another landscape scene watched over by an ancient oak.

Watchful Eye

Speaking of watchful eyes, they were everywhere in the castle.

A Study in Chimneys

Many chimneys and many reasons to stay warm during a long winter.

Daffodils in Aberfeldy

A spring view of Wade’s Bridge over the Tay in Aberfeldy.

Rosslyn Chapel Entry

Photos are not allowed inside Scotland’s famed Rosslyn Chapel but here is a lovely entry into the church.