The downside of travelling sooth for New Year/Hogmanay is that we're absent from Orkney for the annual Field Club ramble, usually around a stunning bit of Orcadian countryside, and often in bracing conditions. Finding ourselves in deepest Fife, we awoke to discover that 2017 was sunny and frosty, with a biting northerly breeze. Perfect for an amble (the less energetic, and more accurate, word for our method of locomotion).
Beginning in the village of Carnock, we followed a yellow road south east, climbing steadily through a housing estate, before the road turned south and ascended up to West Camps. The tarmac was icy underfoot and the verges held little pockets of crystal-coated leaves and white-edged blades of grass.
Before we descended down the other side of the hill, I took a panoramic shot of the northern horizon (from 1 on the map), looking towards the Ochil Hills.
As we negotiated the steep downhill slope, it was pleasant to be out of the cold breeze and bathed in some comparatively warm sunshine. These Gorse flowers thought so too (from 2 on the map).
We made our way onto a disused railway line which had been converted into a track for use by walkers, cyclists and horse riders, following it west for about a mile. This proved to be an excellent wildlife habitat. Initially, the banks of the track were covered in Hawthorn, Dog rose and Bramble, attracting numerous finches (Gold-, Green- and Chaf-), Redwings, Goldcrests and Yellowhammers. This latter species, I failed to see throughout 2016, so already 2017 is ahead of the game.
As we progressed along the track, the vegetation became less shrubby and more woodland, with Silver birch and Hazel being predominant. The latter looked rather resplendent in the golden Winter light, some of last year's leaves framing the new catkins (from 3 on the map).
Here, too, were plenty of birds. A couple of pairs of Bullfinch fed in the birch trees, whilst a flock of Long-tailed tits flitted through the denser stands of trees, their silhouettes flashing through the light and shade.
As we reached the village of Oakley, we turned off the track and headed uphill northeastwards, on a footpath that was so overgrown that the local walkers had taken to criss-crossing it and using the fields on either side. Cue much shenanigans with barbed wire fences and the precarious decisions of whether to go over or under.
Reaching the top of the hill, the footpath became a muddy farm track, skirting a trig point and several small communications masts. In the company of a tumbling flock of Ravens, I stopped here to take in the view to the south which, although partly obscured by the light of the sun, included the Firth of Forth, its several bridges and, in the far distance, the Pentland Hills (from 4 on the map).
Passing through the farm at Carneil, we returned to Carnock, satisfied with our morning's exercise and the abundance of wildlife in such a short distance.
Happy New Year!