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Isle of Mull/Boat of Garten

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Old Friday 15th October 2010, 15:35   #1
Sandra (Taylor)
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Isle of Mull/Boat of Garten

25th September - 8th October

Isle of Mull
w/comm. 25th September

We stayed overnight 24th at a comfortable guest house in Gretna – this was in order to get a few miles under our belt ready for the long drive north. Woke up to a glorious sunny morning, cold & frosty.

Made good time driving to Fort William to pick up provisions. On the shingle shore of Loch Linnhe were a dozen or so pied wagtails (white race). Their faces had a ‘creamy’ colouring. Then to the Corran ferry where we had to wait for it to do two trips before we reached the front of the queue. I think this is the longest wait we’ve had here in many, many crossings. To Lochaline next for the crossing to Fishnish, then onto our cottage on the Gruline estate.

Sunday 26th
While I was looking out of the window of the cottage soon after I got up, I saw a tabby cat walking nonchalantly on the lane outside our garden gate. I took a very bad photo from the window, which was a bit steamed up. The cat did look to have a long bushy tail with a large black tip – but then so has my Spike at home! (Later in the week I asked the lady at the big house (castle, more like) if she had a cat and she hasn’t. She didn’t think a cat lived at the farm either. Hm …………………..

After breakfast we drove straight to the pull-off by the side of Loch na Keal at Killiechronan and looked out over the loch to see a white-tailed eagle sitting on one of the shingle banks facing away from us. We watched it for 15 mins – loafing around not doing much. Oystercatchers , gulls (?) and red-breasted mergansers were in the channel in front of the eagle. (A bit of pressure off us now as we’d seen a WTE on our first morning!)

Next stop was the parking area by the loch through Salen to look for otters. The sun was dazzling us as we peered out to the small sandbanks. Cormorants and shags on a sandbank. Onto the Craignure road then where we pulled up by the cemetery. Piles of chippings had been put in the parking area we had used previously to scan for otters so we turned round in the council storage yard.

On to Grasspoint. No fieldfare flitting about in the trees as there had been last year. Lots of lovely highland cows & calves encroaching on the road. Stonechats frequently seen on shrubs & wires. Two or three buzzards around. Parked at the end of the road and walked to the edge of the water: curlew along the edge of the shore. Bob scanned the far shore and rocks and couldn’t see anything but I must have scanned further round and two white-tailed eagles were sitting on a mound looking over to us. Their plumage was quite pale. Again, they were just loafing about and didn’t take
off. We packed up the scope after a while and left them to it – many years ago if someone had told me we’d walk away from a sighting of WTE we wouldn’t have believed them! There was a good number of grey herons around here.

We drove through Glen More and stopped when Bob spotted a golden eagle over the hills on our right. We pulled off onto a stalker’s track and followed the eagle with the scope across the mountains until it disappeared over one of them. We turned right onto the Salen road at the plastic bus-stop. I saw a head moving in the water and we stopped, hoping it wasn’t a seal. It was an otter and we watched it for 10 mins. as it kept diving them showing itself as it munched on a fish. We pointed it out to a couple driving by and they were delighted. Another 10 mins. further on we’d stopped again to watch an otter on a pile of vegetation in the water. (Somewhere on our travels today we saw a small group of greylag geese but I’ve forgotten exactly where – may have been on the grassy edges of Loch na Keal). Lots of meadow pipits and rock pipits around this area.

We’ve never yet seen a dipper from the bridge near Knock and today was no exception. I think we had to wait until the second week for one. Drove past the entrance to the estate to try and get a signal for my phone, then back to the cottage to be greeted by the resident robin & wren. We admired the big flock of rams in the field opposite the cottage – the ewes are in the adjoining field. All they seemed interested in was eating! A house martin was seen.

Monday 27th
No eagles by the loch this morning. Canada geese in a nearby field. Followed the north shore of Loch na Keal, stopping frequently to scan for anything that moved. As the road went inland Bob picked out two huge birds soaring above the hills to our right. We parked up and watched these two golden eagles as they came quite close to the hill top and soon one came down in front of the hill and we could see the head was paler than the rest of its dark plumage. A buzzard and two ravens were nearby.

Arriving at the beach in Calgary, we had a picnic in lovely sunshine. Pied wagtails around us. We took the road from Dervaig through Glen Aros where Bob said a great swathe of fir trees had been chopped down and cleared since we were last in this area. As we approached the area where forestry was on both sides of the road, a flock of thrushes flew across the road onto the telegraph wires and some rowan trees. My first thought again was ‘fieldfare’ but on close look they were all mistle thrushes. Stonechats were on the wires. Nothing much else was seen until we reached the Aros and the main road. Mallard and teal were dabbling in the bay. Lots of seals were lying around on the small island out from the beached boats (I once thought these boats were very photogenic and have lots of shots of them but now they just look very scruffy and untidy – maybe it’s time they were burnt, or something). Then to Lochdon & Grasspoint. A big buzzard was ‘hovering’ above the heather, holding itself perfectly still in the wind just like a kestrel. A red-throated diver was out on the loch from the point – we almost dismissed it as a shag before taking a look through the scope. Returned to the cottage and I went straight out again to walk into the woods on the private estate on the banks of Loch Ba. At one point I could see over to the row of pines where the first white-tailed eagles came to Mull and chose to nest 25 years ago. We had talked to the lady at ‘the big house’ and after the resident pair moved away to nest last year, another pair had reared young this year not a million miles away. Saw swallows feeding over the loch.

As I was in the kitchen two fallow deer came from the track to the woodshed in front of the kitchen window. When they saw me they scuttled into the copse of trees at the side of the cottage. (They both looked like Bambi – very pale and spotty).

Tuesday 28th
Dull and cloudy this morning. Called at the Red Cross book shop in the village : I’d found the third book of a trilogy on the bookshelf in the cottage and wanted to read the first two as they were about a family who lived on Mull some years ago. I left a book in exchange at the cottage and brought the other back home with me. The other two I’m buying online.

Drove down the main road past Craignure then later turned left to Loch Buie. We’ve never seen much wildlife on this road, except a WTE while we were looking at the standing stones much further on! But it’s such a lovely drive alongside the loch; fields; old oak woodlands. A tiny, tiny mouse scuttled across the road in front of us – looked just like a fluffy button! Bob thought it was a shrew but I thought it was too ‘gingery’ for that. Would have thought a shrew would be grey. We’ll never know! Saw our first goldfinch of the week, and a sparrowhawk. On retracing our journey we carried on through Glen More – the cloud was quite low over the hills. Then onto the Salen road, leaving Loch Scridain behind and reaching Loch na keal. We soon spotted an otter on a mass of vegetation and while I got out my (new) camera Bob watched the otter while I faffed about. By the time I’d switched it one etc. and looked up, the creature had gone. I think you have to be either a bird/nature watcher or a photographer – being both isn’t easy. On returning to the cottage, a big blue dragonfly flew past the window.

Wednesday 29th
Woke up to light rain so we had a full breakfast and weren’t in a hurry to leave. The rain stopped and while we were still on the drive from the cottage, a male hen harrier flew from the trees behind us, flapping slowly and quite low, towards the mausoleum. Sun was out now and we drove to the loch. Saw otters as we approached the end of the loch. Had picnic on a bench near Bunessan. Pied wagtails and chaffinch in good numbers. Drove to Uisken and on the way back Bob saw a WTE above pine trees to our right, before it disappeared over the hills. As we drove back towards Salen we spotted three little heads bobbing about in the water. An adult and two juvenile otters being very playful. We watched as they left the water and joined a heron on an outcrop of vegetation. I took loads of photos (30x zoom) but I’m sure lots will be blurred and useless. Then to cap it all the batteries went to ‘low’ and I couldn’t take any more until I’d switched it off then on again. We watched the otters as they frolicked on the island and in the water. (One of my photos should have had the two otters, a heron & a hoodie in the frame!) We tore ourselves away from these delightful creatures after half an hour. We pointed them out to a passing car then to a wildlife tour bus – but then I wondered if they’d rather find their own! Two gannets were over the loch as we approached Knock and a wheatear flew across us. As soon as we got back Bob went to the woodshed to chop firewood and I had a G&T!


Cont/……….
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Old Friday 15th October 2010, 16:03   #2
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Nice account Sandra and I'll look forward to to the next instalment. You are certainly doing well with both eagles and otters. And I agree with you..........very hard to be both a birdwatcher and a photographer!
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Old Saturday 16th October 2010, 08:42   #3
Sandra (Taylor)
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Nice account Sandra and I'll look forward to to the next instalment. You are certainly doing well with both eagles and otters. And I agree with you..........very hard to be both a birdwatcher and a photographer!
My holiday reports seem to get longer...... at one time I used to do two reports - one for family and friends as a 'holiday' account and a reduced one for BF but now I just post the lengthy one - it won't have enough bird content for lots of readers but they can either read it ..... or not!

Glad you enjoy it Joanne.

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Old Saturday 16th October 2010, 13:44   #4
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A very nice account Sandra - it must make for a very relaxing holiday when the stars of the show appear around every turn!

Looking forward to seeing some of your pix.

cheers

Mike
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Old Saturday 16th October 2010, 15:26   #5
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A very nice account Sandra - it must make for a very relaxing holiday when the stars of the show appear around every turn!

Looking forward to seeing some of your pix.

cheers

Mike
OOh - er - I don't do pix Mike. I've taken lots but no idea how to put them onto here. I've never thought about doing it although I enjoy everyone elses.

The 'stars of the show' slow down a bit as the holiday progresses but it would have helped if we had not gone to Findhorn on a very windy, squally day when it was high tide. That cut down our list of waders somewhat!

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Old Monday 18th October 2010, 11:36   #6
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Wildcats have been seen on the north of the island it is not clear how they got there but there are good photos of them around

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Old Monday 18th October 2010, 13:39   #7
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Thanks Mark - that's interesting.

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Old Monday 18th October 2010, 13:55   #8
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Isle of Mull trip

Cont/.............

Thursday
We had booked on the Eagle Watch for 1.00pm today and were late leaving the cottage 10.15) so we drove along ;the north shore of Loch na Keal as far as the Ulva ferry. On the way we spotted two golden eagles over the hilltop where we saw them the other day. Great views again. Two Germans stopped to see what we were looking at and were excited when we told them, but the birds didn’t appear again and they drove off. We saw them again a little further down the road. Of note was a dozen or so rock doves sitting on shrubs right against the hillside – I think they were taking evasive action from the eagles!

Drove then to Aros and onto the forest track to wait for Debby, the RSPB lady. To lead us in convoy to the hide two miles into the forest. Two golden eagles & three buzzards were seen in the sky. After a while Debby took us further up the forest track and we saw two white-tailed eagles. They were soon lost to sight but then one of them – Frisa – was spotted sitting on a grassy knoll on the opposite hillside. Saw ravens too. As Frisa wasn’t going anywhere fast, we retraced our journey to the hide after half an hour. A coal tit on the feeders outside the hide was a new bird for the week and a peacock butterfly was a good photo opportunity as it posed on some ragwort – but my camera was in its bag. This trip is well worth the small charge we paid. Debby is a very good speaker and puts over her knowledge and enthusiasm very well.

When we got back to the cottage I strolled up the drive and took a couple of photos of the ‘big house’ at the end of the drive. Rain is forecast for most of tomorrow. We’ll see………………

Friday
The rain started after breakfast so we didn’t hurry to get out – did some packing. Later we drove to the end of Loch na Keal then up through Glen More in a monsoon. Visibility was bad with water all across the road in many places. The rain stopped as we approached Salen. Went to the Glen Forsa Hotel for lunch. It hasn’t changed at all since we stayed there for a week for a special birthday treat 7 years ago. The lady there was telling us that she’d lost c20 laying hens to mink recently. Half of them were killed outright and half died the next day. We parked up afterwards by the camp site and a speck out on the shingle materialised into a WTE when the mist lifted. It was intent on tearing at something on the ground and wasn’t going anywhere. We watched it for 15 mins, one of us using the scope while the other held the brolly. Returned to finish our packing. We’re aiming to catch the 9.10 ferry in the morning from Fishnish.

Saturday 2nd October
Caught the ferry with plenty of time to sit around and see what we were leaving. Au revoir, Mull – a bientot! Always difficult to leave this place.

We drove via Fort William; right at Spean Bridge; Loch Laggan (Glen Bogle). Called at a house in the village – Boat of Garten – for the key and were settled in the house by 1.30pm. We ate that evening in the Cairngorm Hotel, Aviemore, which is our favourite eatery in the area. Phoned our friends in Tulloch to see when they could meet us and they suggested Monday – again at the Cairngorm Hotel as it’s their favourite eatery too.

Sunday 3rd October
Rain first thing but it soon stopped and the sun came out. Went to the Black Isle. In Munlochy Bay were dozens of wigeon; curlew; mallard; oystercatchers; lapwing; rooks; hoodies and a buzzard. No kites! Then to Udale Bay. The tide was out but there were thousands of pinkfoot geese out on the water’s edge and in front of an oil-rig out in the bay. The wigeon numbered 100s. There were the usual gulls; a red-breasted merganser, starlings, lapwing, mallard & teal.

Next stop was Chanonry Point where almost immediately we saw a bottle-nosed dolphin moving slowly round the bay right in front of us. It’s fin seemed to stay out of the water for ages as it rolled back almost in slow motion. But then it swam further out to sea and just gave distant views. Two more showed out to our left and a seal bobbed about, wondering what everyone was looking at! On the shingle beach were pied wagtails and a rock pipit with house sparrows sharing our lunch in the car park. A dozen swallows were gathering on the telegraph wires near the lighthouse.

We returned to Munlochy Bay via a ‘white road’ higher up the hill, hoping for the kite that didn’t appear.

To be cont/........
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Old Monday 18th October 2010, 18:01   #9
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Very interesting account of your trip Sandra, we went to mull for the first time this year and enjoyed it so much that we have booked for next year already. Its nice to hear places you have been and the wildlife you have seen, we were novices and just muddled on.After saying that we managed to see sea eagles more by luck then planning, will look forward to following your report.
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Old Monday 18th October 2010, 20:12   #10
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Very interesting account of your trip Sandra, we went to mull for the first time this year and enjoyed it so much that we have booked for next year already. Its nice to hear places you have been and the wildlife you have seen, we were novices and just muddled on.After saying that we managed to see sea eagles more by luck then planning, will look forward to following your report.
To make things easier for some of us - someone has started doing a boat trip from the Ulva ferry base and he boats up Loch na Kael and feeds WTE if one happens to be around. Apparently he just throws one or two fish out - isn't actually supplementing their diet to a great extent but it brings a few birds out now they've cottoned on to it - I was told all this just before we left the island so haven't first-hand knowledge. There is a board outside a house in Salen where you can make bookings.

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Old Tuesday 19th October 2010, 07:38   #11
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To make things easier for some of us - someone has started doing a boat trip from the Ulva ferry base and he boats up Loch na Kael and feeds WTE if one happens to be around. Apparently he just throws one or two fish out - isn't actually supplementing their diet to a great extent but it brings a few birds out now they've cottoned on to it - I was told all this just before we left the island so haven't first-hand knowledge. There is a board outside a house in Salen where you can make bookings.

Sandra

Hi Sandra,

Will you stop writing such interesting reports - you're doing me out of a job

ATB

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Old Wednesday 20th October 2010, 14:42   #12
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Isle of Mull/Boat of Garten

Sunday 3rd (Cont…)
We visited Culloden on the way back and spent an interesting couple of hours, walking round the site with a commentary and looking at the displays in the centre. This is one of the best National Trust places we’ve visited. Very well planned and laid out.

Monday 4th
Our first stop was the black grouse site but no birds to be seen.

Drove to the funicular and travelled up the mountain. Bob saw a group of 6 or 7 red grouse on the way up. It was very windy and cold on the observation platform and there were no birds to be seen. Our targets were snow buntings & ptarmigan. On returning to the car park it was a “hang on to the doors” day. Part of the reindeer herd was grazing by the roadside as we came out of the main car park. For once my camera was in reach!

On the way back down the road we were looking for a pull-off area at the side of the road “between Rothiemurcus centre & Loch Morlich” (as per Gordon Hamlett) but not for the first time we missed the turning. We would have been looking for crested tits, by the way. On reaching the junction, we took the ‘back road’ over Tulloch Moor and had coffee and butties in the heather. It was a lovely day at this low altitude – blue sky and sunshine. No grouse seen on the hill. Next stop was the car park for Loch Garten & Loch Mallachie. E set off on our walk and halfway to Loch Mallachie we heard sounds above us. Great tits, coal tits and 3 new birds: goldfinch, treecreeper ;and a crested tit (just a single, but one’s as good as a feast!) hen we had no pressure to do the circular walk and soon turned back to the car. As we passed the trees again, the birds had vanished.

Called at the grebe car park in the village where there is now a splendid squirrel proof feeder (cage) with nuts and apples (presumably kept filled by the badger man Allan Bantick). Lots of coal tits and chaffinches. Bob walked back to the car whilst I had a last look and a crested tit appeared. I rushed back to the car park for my camera – and Bob – in that order. But on returning the bird had gone and didn’t re-appear after 15 mins.

Got home to welcome drinks. Meeting our friends from Tulloch tonight at the Cairngorm Hotel. One of them works occasionally for one of the wildlife tour companies in the area so we always have lots to talk about.

Tuesday 5th
Showers and sun as we drove to the Moray coast via Lochindorb. Amazingly we didn’t see any red grouse as we drove towards the loch. Six tufted duck were on the water. A probable short-eared owl was in view very briefly before it dropped into the heather in a dip and was never seen again. We carried on toe Findhorn via Forres, home of one of my wildlife heroes! We had visited here at the wrong time & the wrong day. There were very strong, gusty winds and a high tide. The water was very choppy and there was nothing around at all. Even the Nimrods seemed to be grounded.

Returned south and drove down Findhorn Valley. Had hoped to see newly arrived redwing or fieldfare. We just saw ravens, buzzard and a herd of deer. Sounds of gunfire in the distance…………

Wednesday 6th
Had a lovely walk in the woods from the car park at Loch Morlich. There were great/blue/coal & crested tits in the pines. A treecreeper in the same area. A grey heron in the river. Then took the back road to Forest Lodge where Bob had a snooze in the car and I walked into the forest. I really do love this special place – the huge ancient pine trees; the carpet of bilberry and heather; the remote possibility of seeing a capercailzie and the wilderness past the shooting lodge(s) where the scenery opens out on the edge of the moorland before you begin the walk back in a circle to the car park. When I got back I must have just missed one of the gamekeepers bringing in a deer he had shot – he was working in the deer larder. Went to Dulnain Bridge on the way back but the water was too fast flowing to see either a dipper or grey wagtail. Lots of (white) pied wagtails around.

Thursday 7th
Along the Findhorn Valley then onto the Farr road. Lots of red grouse up there and a meadow pipit! But what a delightful route this is.

N to Loch Ruthven where we were lucky enough to see two adult Slavonian grebe and, in another part of the loch, two juveniles. Two little grebe; 20 mallard; teal; a deer (white bum – roe?) was feeding along the edge of the vegetation on the far bank. As we came away from the hide a flock of tits flew through, mainly long-tailed and great tits. Ten swallows were feeding over the water. This loch is in such a beautiful setting – I love it here. We retraced our journey and saw more grouse on the moor. Turned right when we got to Findhorn Valley and drove to the end of the road. Again, what we thought was a flock of fieldfare were mistle thrushes. We had three buzzards and four kestrels with a few hundred yards and a dipper in the river. A golden eagle was high up above the hills to our left. From the parking area we saw a big herd of stags & hinds on the hillside but no birds!

Fish & chips for tea from the travelling chippy in Boat.

Friday 8th
Help! Time’s running out! First visit of the week to Glen Feshie and first stop, after taking the wrong road first time, was the Uath lochans. This is another lovely spot. We did one of the walks – in warm sunshine - and although Bob thought he saw two crossbills fly from the top of a pine tree, he couldn’t be certain of the ID. Goldcrests were calling from the trees.

Then we drove on the other side of the river to Aclean – the parking arrangements seem to have altered since we last visited some years ago when we slogged part of the way up that mountain at the end – boring! All I remember is we disturbed a deer lying in the heather (the deer was lying in the heather, not us!!) and it scared us to death as it erupted from the undergrowth.

Last visit to Loch Garten where we did actually manage to see a female goldeneye.

Saturday 9th
We caught the after-8am ferry from Fishnish – I never like leaving Scotland on a glorious day, but that’s what it was today. Had to wait half an hour or so for the Corran ferry because of the queues but that was no hardship. Then we made good time and after
7 hrs. driving we were home.
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Old Thursday 21st October 2010, 07:03   #13
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Isle of Mull/Boat of Garten


On the way back down the road we were looking for a pull-off area at the side of the road “between Rothiemurcus centre & Loch Morlich” (as per Gordon Hamlett) but not for the first time we missed the turning. We would have been looking for crested tits, by the way.
The Mhor-mhor picnic site/car park has been well and truly blocked off and closed, with large mounds of earth across the entrances when we were there in May. Pity - it was a cracking little site.

Must remember to take it out of the next edition

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Old Thursday 21st October 2010, 09:22   #14
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We thought that must have been what we were looking for. I suppose it's possible to get to the river on foot. There looked to be gaps between the mounds. But I guess parking isn't allowed on the roadside there. Wonder what has made the authorities block it?

S
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Old Thursday 21st October 2010, 11:50   #15
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Isle of Mull/Boat of Garten Report

Another evocative and enjoyable report Sandra.
We recently met a Birmingham couple in the Algarve who were singing the praises of the
Highlands & Islands.
Best to you and Bob.
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Old Friday 22nd October 2010, 07:38   #16
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We thought that must have been what we were looking for. I suppose it's possible to get to the river on foot. There looked to be gaps between the mounds. But I guess parking isn't allowed on the roadside there. Wonder what has made the authorities block it?

S
I've no idea but a cynic would say that it was the only car park along the road that didn't charge you for parking

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