The Loch Leven Heritage Trail and a first look at the Samsung NX1000 camera

I’ve walked the Loch Leven Heritage Trail several times, but I’ve never quite got round to writing about it. If you’re a keen hillwalker or backpacker, the almost completely level nature of the walk will be of little interest to you. However, if you’ve got a love of wildlife, it really is an amazing place!

I decided to spend the morning on Christmas day walking the trail from Kirkgate Park in Kinross to Findatie, near RSPB Vane Farm, a walk of about 8 miles in total. There were a couple of reasons for the walk… Mainly to get out from underfoot with the whole cooking of Christmas dinner, etc and to give my new Samsung NX1000 camera a bit of a first outing.

About the camera

The Samsung NX1000 is my first break from the standard point and shoot camera, so for me, there is quite a big learning curve to go through to get to grips with it. Its a Compact System Camera, which basically means it has changeable lenses and a sensor similar to that of a DSLR, but in a more compact, lightweight body. photo below of the entire kit.

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My NX1000 kit includes the following:

Samsung NX1000 body and 20-50mm kit lens
20mm Pancake lens
50-200mm zoom lens
Hoya UV filters for all lenses
Lowepro Toploader Zoom 50 AW carrying case

Pretty much everyone I know will tell you that I like to dive head first into an idea, when I get one.., thus there’s a whole lot more kit there than most people would have right from the offset! Still, it gives me a wide range of gear to play with.

The Walk

I arrived at Findatie at about 9:20am, just before sunrise. As I had a little bit of waiting to do, I figured I’d try and take a couple of shots in the pre-dawn gloom. These are shown below

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Not long afterwards, my lift arrived, and drove me to Kirkgate Park. (There are plans to make the trail a complete circuit, but until completed, you need to organise transport from the start/finish) Now I could get on with the walk itself!
There are signs at every point where you can join the trail (of which there are several), detailing the route, and normally highlighting wildlife that can be seen at the particular time of year, as shown below

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Almost immediately, your eye is drawn to one of Loch Leven’s main attractions… The castle. This is where Mary, Queen of Scots spent a large part of her life, as a prisoner. Boat trips and tours can be had during the summer months, but don’t run at this time of year.

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Already, there was plenty of wildlife to be seen an heard, with Wrens in the undergrowth, Buzzards being flushed from the trees and a myriad of wildfowl species on and around the loch. Only a few minutes later, you reach a sign advertising a wildlife hide… But the hide itself is no longer in evidence. Only a few support struts remain to show that it was ever there.

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Basically, during the colder winters of 2009 & 2010, when the loch froze, the pressure of the ice buckled the supports and collapsed the hide, and it hasn’t been rebuilt. It’s a little annoying, as this particular location was one of the best spots to watch the geese at dawn from, in mid October. You can’t beat watching 10,000 geese taking off all at once just after dawn! It really is a sight to behold!
Sadly, at this time of year, the number of geese is significantly smaller, so there was much less of interest to see.

The path itself was showing signs of having suffered a bit from the recent spate of bad weather, with plenty of puddles, and even flooded in places later on.

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After a wee stretch next to some open ground, the path quickly turns into a patch of woodland, next to the loch. These patches of woodland are amazing places for wildlife… Little pockets of life, which,enduring the spring and summer, in particular, are alive with birdsong! At this time of year, the number if birds is slightly less, but the mosses, etc are vivid in colour (particularly after such a wet year!)

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Once out of this patch of woodland, there’s another small patch of farmland before you cross a river by a wooden bridge.

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It’s at this point where things started to get a little interesting. There’s a bird hide here, with some nice views across the loch… I was happily taking photos with the zoom lens of a distant male Goldeneye when the light changed and the sun started to make a real effort (it was almost 11am at this point, so I’d been walking for a little over an hour at this stage). A quick change to the 20mm lens, and my favourite photo of the whole trip was taken!

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I know my point and shoot simply couldn’t have pulled off the photo above… Really chuffed with it!

The walk continues to Burleigh Sands, past the car park and through a stand of pine trees. It was here I decided to see the difference between the 50-200mm lens and the 20mm lens, so took the same photo at 50mm, then at 20mm with the results below (I forgot to mention… I didn’t bring the 20-50mm kit lens for this trip!)

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The difference in colour, let alone scale is massive! It was this point I realised that any landscape photos at all should be captured with the 20mm, where possible!

Below are two more photos from the same stand of woodland. The Kestrel shot was a lucky one, as it flew in just as I’d changed to the 50-200mm lens!

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The walk then continues past some more farmland, then on to the goose roost, where thousands of geese can be seen in the autumn months. It’s at this point where Loch Leven’s Larder can be found, which is a small cafe and farm shop (though if you plan to eat there, be prepared to remortgage your house!). This more or less marks the half way point of the walk.

The second half of the walk is much the same, in terms of immediate surroundings. Woodlands and farmlands, with the loch on your right. Unlike most walks, which would quickly become boring, this one stays fresh and interesting throughout, mainly due to the wildlife content. On Christmas day, however, there was an additional bonus, in the form of Bishop Hill. It was looking rather stunning, with a lingering cloud top!

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With the hill looking so stunning, it was a good time to test the panorama mode of the camera, as seen below

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I have to admit, I’m quite impressed with the results. It looks pretty sharp throughout!

At the entrance to Levenmouth woods, the final straight, I was greeted with something I was hoping not to see.., a suitably flooded path! And yet again, another one (which, unlike the first, was impossible to skirt round) about 500m further on. At that stage, though, there really wasn’t any choice but to carry on (since my car was about a mile and a half away!). Obviously, it wasn’t really an issue for me, but could be for those who come unprepared.

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Both of the above shots were taken with the 50-200mm lens (too lazy to switch at that stage!)

There is another hide in Levenmouth Woods, at the pools, where I stopped for 10 minutes. Sadly, there wasn’t much of note to see. In the past, though, I’ve seen Otter from this hide and a variety of waders, some quite rare for the area. U

On leaving the woods, you cross the river Leven as it flows from the loch. Seeing a Heron along here is almost a guarantee, too. You don’t normally get to see them as close as this, and they really are quite beautiful, in a primitive sort of way.

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That more or less had me back at Findatie, where my car was, but with enough time before going home to unwrap presents and eat Christmas dinner for one last shot in panorama mode of Loch Leven in all it’s glory!

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Walk Summary

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I’ve done this walk several times, and each time is slightly different. I’ve never once failed to enjoy it, though. The wildlife never fails to amaze and impress, and that’s the main focus of this walk, rather than the scenery.
It’s definitely not a walk for the die hard backpackers, as it’ll be a bit too easy and boring. However, if you’ve got an interest in wildlife, particularly bird life, this is a great walk! I don’t think I’ve ever done this walk in less than 3 hours, but I reckon 4 hours is the norm for me. There’s just so much to see!

Camera thoughts

I love the NX1000! It’s as simple as that, really!
I took in total 274 photos while out, but a large proportion of those were burst shots. As the camera can take photos at 8fps, it’s a good way to try and get photos of birds and other mobile wildlife.
I clearly need to get to grips with the 50-200mm lens in terms of getting the right settings, as the photos ain’t turning out brilliantly.

The 20mm pancake lens is producing some stunning shots, though! It’ll definitely be my main lens when out backpacking, with the 20-50mm as backup. I’ll probably leave the 50-200mm at home, unless going somewhere where the main focus is the wildlife.

The Smart aspect of the camera is really appealing to me, too. With the built in WiFi and the Mobilelink app, I can transfer all the photos directly from my camera to my Nexus 7. It’s brilliant, and I can see the uses when backpacking… The ability to write blog posts out in the middle of nowhere, and add high quality images will make blogging so much easier!

And for those that are interested, after taking 274 photos, then transferring them all to the Nexus 7, I only just went beneath 50% battery life. I’ll definitely need a spare for multiday trips, but they’re easy enough to get!

I reckon in time, I’ll get to grips with the camera more (remember, this is the first time I’ve moved from a point and shoot), I’ll be able to improve the quality of the pics. Even more so, if I can find a suitably cheap lightweight tripod that I can use on the hills (suggestions welcome!)

Long story short, I’d highly recommend the NX1000, based on the limited use I’ve had of it so far. As a step up from a compact, it’s very simple to use, and the WiFi features are brilliant (some people see those as gimmicky, but I’ll wager the big brands have wireless enabled phones in no time!)

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