The Quiraing & Neist Point.

To say my second day on Skye started off cold would be a massive understatement. When I left the B&B it was – 4 degrees. The car was covered in a thick frost and I had to scrape the screens. To be fair, I must sing the praises of the windscreen on the Volvo. It has a barely visible electrical element laminated into the screen and actually clears the frost in a matter of a minute or so. Brilliant! My plan for the day started off with a visit to the Quiraing. The Quiraing is a part of what’s known as the Trotternish ridge. This is a huge land slide that stretches for 30 kilometres all the way to the northernmost point of the Isle of Skye. Apparently the Quiraing is the only part of the area which is still moving and the road at it’s base requires repairs every year. Arriving at the base of the Quiraing I was faced with a long steep drive up to the car park. This entailed lots of tight bends and I was mindful of there being a lot of ice on the road. One large patch of ice in the middle of a tight bend had me moving forward literally at a snails pace as the front wheels spun whilst trying to achieve traction. Finally the tyres bit into the asphalt and I was able to carry on to the top. Mine was one of only three cars parked there, maybe because it was so early and cold. Strangely, when I set off from the starting point of the Quiraing walk it wasn’t long before I came across a group of photographers who I can only assume must have travelled together in one car. I wonder if they were as disappointed with the conditions as I was. Don’t get me wrong, the scenes were fantastic but the sky was absolutely cloudless. I would have preferred more moody atmospheric conditions but nevertheless the place was promising lots of great views and I carried on to look for compositions. The following two images are my favourites from the morning.

Skye 7 (1 of 1)

Skye 8 (1 of 1)
My favourite pic from the Quiraing. I loved the way the light was catching the sharp edge of the peak in the middle of the frame.

The light was a little harsh and there was plenty of contrast. The walk was strenuous and slightly dangerous in places with icy patches underfoot. I was still feeling the effects of the previous days hike to Camasunary and back. I was well into the walk but not as far on as I would have liked when I looked at my watch and realised I’d been out for almost two hours. The problem was that I had only paid for three hours car parking. Consequently I had to set off back to the car, only realising when I got back there in a little over 35 minutes, just how much of my time out is taken with setting up a tripod and taking photos. I was annoyed with myself for not allowing more time but it just means that sometime in the future I’ll have to come back to Skye and do it all over again, not really a hardship is it?  

Back at the car I decided to head back to the B&B and have an hour or so relaxing before setting off for the Neist Point Lighthouse which is as far west as you can go on Skye. Back in Portree I bumped into Nora (the landlady) at the B&B.  She was as helpful as ever and I paid her for the extra night at a reduced rate of £40 by way of cutting out Booking.com. After an hours rest I set out for Neist Point. Once again the route consisted mostly of single track roads with lots of passing places. The Isle of Skye must go down as one of the wildest places I’ve ever been. Everywhere you go the scenery is incredible and there are tiny remote communities scattered here and there. As magical as the place is, it’s difficult to imagine actually living somewhere so remote. When I eventually reached the car park for Neist Point there were quite a few people there. The walk to the view points was a proper path with the choice of a concrete slope or steps side by side. It was so steep that when I moved onto the slope to let someone by on the way up, I almost lost my footing and had to do a weird little run to stop myself slipping on my arse! At the bottom of the hill it was a short walk to where I was under the impression that the viewpoint would be. Unfortunately it seemed it was going to be necessary to climb another steep hill. Having lurched and gasped my way to the top I was hit by the realisation that this wasn’t the view point I wanted either. 😭 I took a couple of photos anyway. I perched very precariously on the edge of a cliff to get those images and I’m including one of them in spite of the fact that this wasn’t the view I was looking for. 

Skye 16 (1 of 1)
Not the view I was after but after a climb that nearly killed me I thought I’d show the image anyway.

After taking that photo I then moved on to another viewpoint where there was a whole gaggle of other photographers lined up at the edge of yet another cliff. I politely asked if they minded me squeezing in amongst them and realised that this was the same bunch I’d seen this morning at the Quiraing. Once again the viewpoint wasn’t the one I wanted and even though I spent a good half hour there I didn’t get anything that I would consider worth including here. At this point I was ready to give up and said my goodbyes to the guys still there whilst all the time thinking I couldn’t really work out what they were waiting for as it was dark now and past even the blue hour. On the way back to the car I then had to climb the steep path which I’d almost slid down earlier. All joking aside, this really did almost kill me. You know that feeling when it’s all you can do to put one foot in front of the other, well, this was a real struggle. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one having problems as there were a number of (younger) people struggling just as much as I was.  It was only as I got to the top that I realised there were still people with tripods set up at the top of the highest cliff off to my left. So, even though it was now dark I decided to have one last try to get my shot. Finally this turned out to be the view I had been wanting all along and it was all of five minutes walk from where I’d parked the car!🤬 This is the resulting image. Taken with a 30 second exposure which just goes to show you must never let a little thing like almost total darkness deter you if there’s a shot you just have to get.

Skye 10 (1 of 1)
Some judicious Lightroom work lifted enough detail from the darkness to make this a worthwhile shot!

So a trip I thought was a failure turned out ok in the end. The drive back to Portree was another matter. Single track roads in absolute darkness and endless miles of them through the aforementioned wildest country I think I’ve ever experienced made for a sphincter twitching hour plus long ride. Anyway, after getting back to Portree I spent another evening at the B&B feeding on pot noodle. The plan for next day was to make my way home and see what I could photograph along the way. I was wide awake at 5.00 am but didn’t want to leave so early. With sunrise on Skye not happening until around 8.45 I was hoping to go to Sligachan in time for first light. The problem was that when I drove down the A87 towards  the Kyle of Lochalsh I managed somehow to miss it. I have no idea how, as I’d been there before on a couple of occasions so this time it was as if it had disappeared off the face of the earth. Next stop along the way was the Eilean Donan Castle. I’m cutting this ramble short as I’m sure you’ll agree it’s getting a bit boring. Here are the pics from Eilean Donan Castle.

Skye 14 (1 of 1)

Skye 15 (1 of 1)
I’d never seen the high tide on previous visits to this location but I’m glad I caught it this time. Great reflections!

There were a few stops on the way home during what turned out to be a 13 hour journey but only one which produced photographs I was happy with. Passing through Glen Coe I couldn’t resist revisiting the Etive Mor waterfall. I visited last November but this time the waterfalls were all frozen and although I knew it to be the same place, everything looked totally different. It was another one of those occasions where my fingers did their best to curl up into useless claws due to the excessive cold but it’s such a beautiful location I was determined to work through it! These are the two images. Lookout for the frozen parts of the waterfalls.

Skye 12a (1 of 1) 2
The partly frozen Etive Mor waterfall with an aircraft doing it’s best to ruin the scene.

Skye 13 (1 of 1)

I drove 510 miles home from Skye and the only traffic incident happened three miles away from home when some idiot on the Small Heath bypass decided to overtake on the inside and cut in front of me a matter of inches off my front bumper. When I gave hime a quick flash to let him know I thought he was a wanker he decided it would be a good idea to slam his brakes on. A combination of me, and the car braking for itself led to me just stopping in time. Let me explain, the car occasionally decides to brake for itself thanks to it’s collision avoidance system so this time probably saved the day. It was quite noticeable approaching Birmingham that all the mental cases seem to come out of the woodwork in the evening and I’d just had an encounter with the king of em all. I wish I could say it made me glad to be home but alas, far from it!

I can’t help wondering at times if anyone is finding anything about these blogs even remotely interesting. I’m perfectly aware that they’ve taken a distinct turn towards more photography content. I generally fall short of talking technicalities which I think for anyone not interested would take the boredom to another level. I had a couple of great days on Skye which left me absolutely worn out physically. I often crave being able to disappear and do my own thing but in reality I missed having Lynne with me and I found even one full day of hiking and chasing locations alone to be totally exhausting. That’s not to say I don’t want to do it again but next time I think it would be a better idea to pace myself a little more. Over four days I’ve hiked roughly 15 strenuous miles and driven around 1400 miles. Thoroughly enjoyable but ultimately very tiring! Having said all that, I’ve already been home a couple of days as I’m writing this and in my head I’m already thinking about when I can do it all over again.

Isle of Skye. (Again)

Lynne embarked on her first cruise on Monday, travelling to Madeira, Lanzarote and Lisbon amongst others, so I decided that, as I was going to be home alone, it would be an ideal opportunity to return to Scotland for some serious photography time. Long story short, at 5.45 this morning I set out to drive back to the Isle of Skye. It’s a distance of 505 miles and I expected it to take roughly ten hours. The first part of the journey was the usual war of attrition with slow traffic and a mix of a steady filthy drizzle and the occasional torrential downpour. Couple this with what seems like the entire European continent’s articulated lorry population and quite often you find yourself pointing the car in what you hope is the right direction without actually being able to see very much. This particular version of man made hell was compounded by the ubiquitous 50 mile an hour average speed cameras which run for about 20 miles from just before junction 13, past junction 15 on the M6 which may not sound like much but at 50 mph with uncomfortably narrow lanes and masses of blinding spray from the hundreds of lorries it seems to go on for ever. This set the tone for the duration of the English part of the journey, crazy slow traffic passing every major conurbation, ie, Stafford, Crewe, Manchester, Liverpool, Preston, Lancaster, etc, etc, and contraflow systems everywhere! Can anyone please tell me why our roads have to be so shit?

Thankfully, having left the parts of the motorway that feed into the large towns and city’s the traffic thinned out and the driving became less of an ordeal. Strangely having driven most of the way in that steady fine drizzle which is neither one thing or the other, almost the moment I passed the welcome to Scotland sign where the M6 becomes the A74 the sun broke through and lit up the already impressive Scottish countryside. That definitely sounds like a case of the other mans grass being greener but in this instance it actually was! The journey actually took 11 hours with a couple of stops, once for coffee and another for diesel. Arriving at the Feochan B&B in Portree I was greeted at the door by the host, Nora. She was really nice and extremely helpful. She guessed immediately that I was there for photography and offered to ask her husband, who it turns out is a tour guide on the island, to come see me and offer some pointers for where to go. I’d actually already worked out exactly where I wanted to go for the next two days but he did pop in and showed me some amazing photos on his phone. After a gruelling 11 hour drive, all I wanted to do was to chill out in my small but comfortable room. Nora assured me that there is a beautiful view from the window but it was pitch dark and the the only thing visible were a few twinkling lights in the distance so I’ll have to take her word for it.

Next morning I left the B&B at 7.15 in absolute darkness to drive the 40 miles to Elgol Beach in the south of the island. By the time I reached Elgol it was getting light. I had made the mistake of putting a post code in the satnav and as seems often to be the case it tried to take me the wrong way. Not far from the destination it instructed me to turn left towards a village called Drinan. Thinking instinctively that this was wrong I carried on without turning. A couple of hundred yards up the road I came upon an older man walking toward me. I wound down the window and having exchanged cordial good mornings, I asked if I was on the right road to Elgol? Strangely, he replied that if I wasn’t I was going to be in trouble. I don’t know what he meant by that but it was said with a big beaming smile. He was quite old but with a healthy looking ruddy complexion and twinkly eyes that suggested someone completely happy with his lot. Anyway, he eventually agreed that I was heading in the correct direction and just to carry on to the end of the road. Then he added, just for good measure, “next stop America”. I thanked him and drove on laughing to myself at his good humour. When you consider the traditional Scotland/England rivalry it never ceases to amaze me how really friendly the people are!

Arriving in Elgol I found there was plenty of parking right next to the beach and it was obvious I was going to have the place all to myself. The following photographs are the result of my spending almost two hours wondering up and down the beach looking for different compositions all featuring the same group of mountains across the water. The sun was just coming up and casting it’s first light of the day on the distant mountains.

Skye 2 (1 of 1)
A 15 second exposure created some weird reflections. Not really sure whether this one works. Nice light on the mountains, but the foreground is a bit boring I think.
Skye 3 (1 of 1)
Getting better but still not quite a great foreground.
Skye 4 (1 of 1)
Finally, an image I like. A 204 second exposure achieved that slightly ethereal misty effect on the rocks in the foreground. You need to view the image quite large to be able to see this!

Leaving Elgol, I then made my way back three miles to a car park I’d seen along the way which was the start of the walk to a place called Camasunary. The sign at the start of the walk said Camasunary was 2.5 miles. I set off on foot at about 10.20 am. The walk started off easy but soon became an uphill slog. I was mindful that at some point I was going to be going downhill to get to Camasunary at sea level. What I hadn’t anticipated was that for long stretches the path was made up of millions of fist sized rocks which weren’t kind on the feet. The walk back to the car proved to be pretty strenuous and I wasn’t completely convinced it had been worth the effort. The following two images were taken on the downhill stretch into Camasunary. As you can see it’s a happening place with the tiny white building at the far end of the beach, one only of two dwellings. Unsurprisingly neither one of them looked inhabited as there doesn’t appear to be any vehicular access to the area. Having said that, I’m sure the track I walked along would be fun to drive in an off-roader.

Skye 5 (1 of 1)
10 image panorama stitched together in Photoshop. Looking at it now, I do think the walk was totally worth it!
Skye 11 (1 of 1)
The nearest I’ll ever get to a selfie!

The whole hike took over three hours including the obvious stops for photographs. I only saw one other person the whole time. A young guy, maybe mid 30s passed me twice, in and out, running! His dog, a beautiful Irish Wolfhound trotted dutifully behind him. By the time I got back to the car I was well and truly knackered and more than happy to see the car. After a brief rest and drink I set off in search of Talisker Bay. This is a huge beach with a large sea stack at one side. After parking the car I set off on what would turn out to be another 30 minute walk to get to the beach. Thankfully it was flat most of the way as my feet and knees were beginning to send painful little signals to my brain that they’d had  enough. The path passed through a farm yard with a barn on one side and the farmhouse on the other. They both looked extremely run down and I couldn’t see any signs of habitation. It did occur to me that maybe the owners might not be too friendly, judging by the sign at the beginning of the driveway stating that ‘Dogs may be shot due to livestock!’ Due to livestock what? Livestock suffering from dogrophobia? Who knows? On a serious note, I know all about dogs and sheep and I suppose the farmer has every right to protect his livestock but the sign just seemed to set a slightly unnecessarily unfriendly tone. On the way back to the car, I walked through the farm again but by now it was getting dark and I couldn’t help looking at the farmhouse a little nervously as it seemed quite spooky. I half expected to see a pale ghostly face at one of the upstairs windows. The second this thought had flitted through my tiny mind, a car pulled up at the gate about 50 yards ahead and the driver, who I can only assume must be the owner of the farm, got out to open the gate. As he pulled his car through the gate and got out again to close it, he asked me if I’d got any decent shots. We had a short conversation about the beach and how beautiful it was and I have to say, he didn’t seem like a character from the Adams Family at all. In fact he was very well spoken and quite polite which just goes to show, you really can’t judge a man by the house he lives in!

Skye 6 (1 of 1)
I used 7 shots to achieve this image using HDR. I don’t usually use HDR  because more often than not I end up liking the effect, but edited sympathetically it can work well. Without it the sea stack would have just been a silhouette.

I drove back to Portree in total darkness and couldn’t help noticing how polite all the other drivers are. Most of the route consists of single track roads with passing places. Whenever I stopped to let another car past they would respond by giving one blink of an indicator. I don’t know how they manage that one blink, I’ve tried it and can’t get anything less than a full turn indication. On that full-blown waffle, I think it’s time to conclude this blog before I lose my (tiny) audience. My first full day on Skye and it was a full day of photography and hiking which left me exhausted and I couldn’t wait to get back to the B&B for a shower and a much anticipated Pot Noodle! Yes, I’m living on Pot Noodles. Probably just as well I’ll only be here for a few days!

Edinburgh.

We’ve been in Edinburgh for a few days now and my photography activities have been severely curtailed. All we’ve really done is wonder around the Christmas market and then the Royal Mile. We’ve been spending time with Lynne’s brother Jet and his wife Jean. Subsequently I thought it would be rude to be on a photography mission where I’m stopping every five minutes, when all they really want to do is mooch around the shops and market. So, nothing much to report from Edinburgh except to say I don’t recall the bus journeys to and from the city taking quite so long last year. Each journey seems to have become progressively longer to the point where it starts to feel a bit like a Chinese water torture. Last night we got on the wrong bus away from the city centre but only realised our mistake around 15 minutes into the journey. When I asked the driver if the bus would eventually go to our intended destination, his answer was “yes, but it will take about two hours, the best you can do is get another bus back from the other side of the road”. So we got off and went to wait on the other side of the road. We waited about twenty minutes until the bus we’d just gotten off came along and we got back on. The driver  asked if there had been any other buses along before him. I was tempted to say, “don’t you think we might have got on one if it had come along” but we just got back on and prepared for the longest and most boring bus ride ever. By the time we got back to Edinburgh’s Caravan & Motorhome club camp site an hour or so later I was well and truly pissed off and we went more or less straight to bed. So Edinburgh was a story of long boring bus rides and, incidentally, the one I just wrote about wasn’t the last or even the worst! Most of the time which wasn’t taken up with endlessly tedious bus rides was spent at the Christmas market and strolling up and down the Royal Mile. I really do like Edinburgh but one shop full of cashmere is pretty much the same as the next shop full of cashmere, and believe me, there are lots of them.

Anyway, this is my boring attempt to wrap up the blogs from our Scottish trip. Edinburgh didn’t give me much to write about as nothing of note really happened although we did indulge in a quite exceptional meal at a restaurant near the castle called The Witchery. This is a beautiful restaurant at the top of the Royal Mile. We booked a couple of days ahead as it definitely doesn’t seem like the kind of place where you could just walk in off the street and expect to get a table. Anyway, we had a wonderful evening, the food was exceptional and the company excellent. The only down side was the inevitable bus ride back to the camp site. To anyone not interested in motorhome/caravans, you would be amazed how many you’ll see as you travel around Scotland and the campsite was constantly full with people leaving and quickly being replaced so that there were rarely any spaces vacant.

To sum up, there are no photographs from Edinburgh because I didn’t take any but with Lynne going off on a cruise with her sisters not long after we return home, it is my intention to return to Scotland in the next week or so.

PS. By way of a confession, As I just finished writing this, I’m already back in Scotland, or more specifically, Portree on the Isle of Skye. Today I drove 510 miles so now I’m so knackered I’m not even going to attempt to write a full blog, but hopefully I’ll be rested tomorrow and with any luck there’ll be some photos to share, (always assuming anyone is interested). Once again, watch this space!

 

Glorious Glen Affric

After leaving the Kyle of Lochalsh we drove east and headed towards Loch Ness. Having wild camped for three nights we’d decided to try to find a camp site where we could have electricity and also fill up with drinking water as we were getting really low. Personally I was in desperate need of a shower and although Lynne was kind enough not to complain I’m sure I must have been smelling pretty funky after three days of wild camping. I called a camping and caravan club site in a small village called Foyers and booked a pitch for one night. I thought the cost was pretty steep at £28.90 for the night. The lady on the phone sounded really pleasant and told me that they were very quiet at the moment. Not surprising really, given the cost. It’s hardly the height of the season is it? Anyway, after what had been three or four days of driving mixed in with some pretty strenuous hikes all either of us wanted was to get showered and spend an afternoon relaxing. The day had started off overcast with a steady drizzle and seemed to continue in that vain for the rest of our journey. We did have one stop along the way at a small village called Invermoriston. I’d seen photos of what’s commonly known as the Old Bridge at Invermoriston and thought it would be good to go there but our arrival there was pure coincidence. Anyhow, while Lynne waited in the van, I went off in search of the old bridge. I’d barely walked 200 yards when I came across a wooded area with the most amazing autumn colours and couldn’t resist photographing this tree and the wonderful autumn colours surrounding it. The second image is the Old Bridge at Invermoriston although it is partially obscured by what I can only assume is the New Bridge at Invermoriston!

invermoriston 3 (1 of 1)
Fabulous autumn colours in the woodland at Invermoriston.
invermoriston 2 (1 of 1)
The Old Bridge at Invermoriston (behind)

Moving on with our journey towards Foyers and the campsite where I was looking forward to having a shower and de-stinking myself after three days of rationing water whilst wild camping. The road to Foyers took us through more amazing scenery with vast vistas and mountains along the way. I must say that this trip has been my most satisfyingly intense period of landscape photography and I’m thankful to Lynne for her patience regarding the countless number of times a simple journey from a to b was interrupted because I’ve seen something I can’t live without pointing a camera at! Arriving at the campsite at Foyers at 1.30 pm we checked in at the reception only to be told we couldn’t actually move on to the site until 2.00 pm. Some kind of weird Scottish regulation they have to adhere to. Personally I couldn’t see the point, I mean, who do they think is watching? To say the site is in the middle of nowhere would be a huge understatement! While we waited I used the time to fill up with drinking water. When we were finally admitted to the site I headed straight for the upper tier in the hope that the higher ground would give us a better wifi reception. Scotland has been slightly sketchy where Vodafone’s  mobile broadband is concerned. There have been numerous places where we couldn’t get any internet. When you consider that last year we travelled all the way north in Norway and never once went without internet I find it surprising that in Scotland it’s not so good. I know it’s a sign of the times and Lynne always tells me I would die without the internet which is a bit of a stretch, but when you’re camping in the wilds of Scotland it’s great to be able to plan your next move using Google maps/earth. So, having settled in and done a few chores, like emptying the toilet, and getting the gas switched on we both went for our much anticipated showers in the commendably clean shower block. It was so nice to feel human again after a good hot shower and we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening relaxing as planned. The higher ground did indeed give us a good enough wifi signal and the tv worked too so we were spoilt for choice on the entertainment front. The campsite was nice although not terribly busy but part of the attraction had been that it was situated on the shores of Loch Ness. Unfortunately the shores of the Loch were all fenced off so the only access would have been to walk back beyond the entrance and out of the site. Lynne and I were both so knackered we couldn’t be bothered!

The following morning we stuck to our usual routine of being up at roughly 7.30 am and watching three episodes of Frasier, I can’t really explain why as I’ve seen them all a dozen times or more. Afterwards we set off in the direction of a small village called Cannich with the intention of carrying on to Glen Affric. Having passed through Cannich we quickly found ourselves on a single track road with passing places. This went on for miles. Eventually we came to a turning with a dead end sign at it’s entry. Lynne said, “that can’t be it, it’s a dead end” so I drove straight past. Then I realised that the road I wanted for Glen Affric was a dead end albeit a long one! After doing a fifty point turn, even a smallish motorhome is not something you can throw around, we went back and found ourselves on an even narrower road passing through an ancient woodland with a combination of gnarly beardy old trees and Scots Pine. The road seemed to go on and on endlessly and we didn’t see more than a handful of other cars along the way. Amazingly we did see a tractor towing a gritter so it was obvious we could look forward to another cold night. Eventually reaching the end of the road we got to the car park at the far end. I had planned to camp there but unfortunately there was a sign indicating no overnight parking. I would have ignored this as I couldn’t imagine anyone being up there in the middle of nowhere to check on it but Lynne being a stickler for the rules, simply refused to consider staying there in case the bogeyman came knocking in the middle of the night! Consequently we headed back the other way and soon found a piece of flat land where there was one other camper van parked. The only problem was, there was no TV or wifi reception and while I love being out in the wild I do have my limits and a whole evening with no internet fix was more wild than even I could stand! Imagine the horror of Lynne and I having to spend an evening conversing with each other for the entire evening, unthinkable!! At that point we decided we needed try to find a phone signal so that Lynne could at least call Jean (sister in law) to let her know we reached our destination safely. The reason for this was that we were planning to meet them in Edinburgh and had been in touch every now and then to compare progress of our respective trips. So off we went back towards Cannich in the hope of finding a phone signal but not before I’d walked up the road to photograph a magnificent Scots Pine which I’d seen from the road earlier.

Glen Affric 2 (1 of 1)
Why do some Scots Pine have these naked reddish branches and others don’t?
Beardy (1 of 1)
Treebeard!

We eventually found a signal eight miles down the road and along the way I saw another place  where we  could camp. It was in a remote place just above a dam on the River Affric and the biggest bonus was that we had wifi again, oh bliss! Once again it was bloody cold overnight which meant everything was coated in a thick white frost in the morning along with a heavy mist as I ventured out with the camera. I quite liked this spit of land jutting into the water behind the dam and the thick mist meant you couldn’t see anything beyond it.

Affric (1 of 1)
Misty morning reflections.

After what passes for breakfast we set off back to the car park at the top of the road and got there in good time. We had made an earlier start than usual because I had one photo in mind and given the fact that there was thick mist about, I wanted to get there before it disappeared. On reaching the car park, we duly slotted in the two pounds for the days parking only to find that, presumably because the machine was totally frozen, it made all the noise having accepted our coins and then decided not to give us a ticket. Once again the stickler for rules, yes madam, you know who you are, was not happy about leaving the van without a ticket displayed. That was when she who must be obeyed decided to stay there while I did the walk on my own. As it turned out the walk only took me about ten minutes to get to the viewpoint I wanted, and the view was everything I’d hoped for with the mist and all! This is the resulting image and for me it makes the whole trip worthwhile so as you might have gathered, I’m more than pleased with it. I suppose I could have wished for more drama in the sky but hey, you can’t have everything!

Glen Affric 3 (1 of 1)
Mist over Loch Beinn a’ Mhaedhoin. Try saying that when you’re drunk! 

I was back at the car park in just over half an hour and ready to move on to other things. There were so many incredible scenes and trees to photograph I was starting to feel, and behave, like a kid in a sweet shop! I don’t know how interesting any of this is for anyone reading, but just to reiterate, this is primarily a record for our own personal benefit. The following image is another characterful Scots Pine which I couldn’t resist including here.

Affric a (1 of 1)
What an amazing character!

Once again, an amazing location with lots of incredible subjects for photography and one I fully intend to visit again in the near future. I spoke in a previous blog of having to travel a hundred miles to find suitable landscape locations to shoot and the fact that I needed to find places closer to home. Unfortunately a hundred miles just got extended to two hundred because after Scotland I can’t imagine where I’ll ever get the kind of buzz I’ve had whilst being in Scotland! I reluctantly drove away from Glen Affric with the intention of reaching the Pitlochry area and finding somewhere to camp the night. Once we were on the A9 heading south and it started getting dark we were lucky to find a place called Raily Cafe which had a large car park and after asking in the cafe if it was ok we stayed the night waking to another hard frost in the morning before setting off for Pitlochry.

 

 

 

The Isle of Skye

Leaving Loch Lochy to make our way to the Isle of Skye we headed north and then west towards The Kyle of Lochalsh. along the way we passed through wonderful mountainous valleys full of autumn colours. Its easy to forget when living in England, that we have this incredible beauty practically on our doorstep. The only problem is that if you visit in summer there are the Scottish midges to contend with. This is the reason Lynne and I will only ever visit during autumn/winter simply to avoid the millions of flying teeth! On reaching Kyle of Lochalsh we drove right through as there is very little to see or do there as we’d found last year whilst stopping over for one night. Crossing the Skye Bridge I was, not for the first time, reminded of our time in Norway last year where we crossed countless bridges of the same type. Arriving on the Isle of Skye though, was at least initially, slightly underwhelming as we drove for the first few miles through fairly unremarkable landscapes. Happily they soon gave way to more interesting features as we approached Portree. The plan had been to walk up to the Old Man of Storr the day after arriving in Skye but after we had driven past Portree and arrived at the Old Man Of Storr Parking place it was 2.00 pm so we decided to do the walk as soon as we got there. 

The walk starts out as a fairly civilised path but is actually very steep in places. Lynne and I made good time but as we ascended the steep path it became obvious that the path further ahead was going to be much more difficult. When it became apparent that the path ended and the only way up was by climbing treacherous slippery and muddy grass banks, Lynne decided that she wouldn’t attempt to carry on so I continued on alone. Lynne’s intention was to wait for me there but I had no idea how long the remaining climb would take. The rest of the climb turned out to be as far again as we had already travelled but by comparison to the first half was a real slog to get up. As it turned out it took me about an hour and a quarter to do the full walk but that got me high enough to be at least level with the Old Man and while I was there I only saw two other people get up that high. It certainly was hard work getting there and it certainly gave my heart and lungs a good workout before I finally reached the top. After taking a few moments to recover from my exertions I managed to take a number of photographs and I’m including what I think is the best of them here.

Storr 1 (1 of 1)
The spectacular Old Man of Storr.

The other two people at this height were a young French couple and after obliging them by taking their photo standing precariously close to the cliff edge overlooking the Old Man of Storr I started to make my way down. The descent was more difficult although much quicker than the ascent. The obvious paths down were slippery and muddy and a couple of times I found myself unintentionally mud skiing which certainly sped up my descent. Once back on the more recognisable path I passed a family who were also on their way down. Dad was slightly overweight and lagging behind his young family. As I caught up with his wife, a Chinese/American woman with her two children I heard one of the two kids say in a strong American accent, “look mom, he’s an old man and he can still hike”. Kids don’t do subtlety do they. I looked around at the woman and she smiled at me apologetically while I just laughed and carried on walking. I suppose the only way to take it is as a kind of compliment although I really don’t need reminding of my age! In the end it took me 35 minutes to get back to the motorhome where Lynne was waiting for me having gotten tired of waiting at the half way stage. I hope you’ll agree that the photograph of the Old Man of Storr was well worth the gruelling climb.

I’m including the following photo to give an idea of the kind of conditions on the way up. I would estimate that this is the end of the proper path and the dark well trodden so called path you can see going from the bottom middle of the frame up towards the right, is the trail to the point the photograph was taken from. I’ve marked the spot with a small black dot on the top of what looks like a small peak to the right of the frame.

Invermoriston 2 (1 of 1)
Black dot marks the spot.

What you don’t see from this photo is that at one point well into the climb you actually go downhill for about 500 yards and then have to start climbing again. That really knocks the stuffing out of you when you feel like you’re about to draw your last breath!

As I was near the bottom of the trail there were still people starting the walk up and I couldn’t help wondering if they realised it was going to be dark in about half an hour. Back at the van we decided to look for somewhere to camp for the night. About three miles up the road we came across the Lealt Falls car park. There were still people parked there but I guessed that as darkness descended they would all disappear which is exactly what happened. We set up for the night and as soon as we had the car park to ourselves I set the generator working so that we could charge my computer amongst other things  and not worry too much about the battery running down.

Next morning I looked out to see a lovely sunrise developing. I dressed quickly and went out to see what the Lealt Falls looked like. I ended up looking over a huge cliff at the ocean and various islands out to sea. I did take some photos none of which were very inspiring but within ten minutes my fingers were so cold my hands literally wouldn’t function so I made my way back to the van. It was only when I opened all the blinds in the van that I realised that the windscreen had a thick layer of ice on the inside. Lynne and I had been warm and toasty in the bed but hadn’t realised quite how cold it was outside. We had woken to a beautiful crisp cold morning and I have no idea how cold it actually was but later as I was photographing the bridge at Sligachan I noticed that there was thick ice on the running water of the river. How cold does it have to be for running water to freeze? This following pic is the bridge at Sligachan and below it a close up of the weird ice formations with the river running underneath it.

Sligachan 1 (1 of 1)
The old bridge at Sligachan.
Sligachan 2 (1 of 1)
Ice formations on the River Sligachan.

After Sligachan we headed for the famous fairy pools where we payed £5 for parking along with the hordes of other people. It was another long uphill walk to the fairy pools with lots of waterfalls along the way. It’s easy to see why they’re called fairy pools as there are pools under the numerous waterfalls which are an amazing blue/green colour. Lynne and I took roughly an hour to get to the top where the best shot was. Most of the other people there didn’t get this far up so I had the place pretty much to myself. It’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for such a long time and I’m really not sure about the resulting image. I can’t help feeling I could or should have done so much better.

Fairy pools 1 (1 of 1)
The Fairy Pools.

So there we have it, three more bucket list items ticked off and our flying visit to the magical Isle of Skye was almost over. There is so much more to see and do on this fantastically beautiful island and I’m certain I will be returning before too long. To say its a landscape photographers paradise would be a massive understatement and I can’t wait to return! After two brilliant days on Skye we were heading back to the Kyle of Lochalsh we we found ourselves wild camping for the night in exactly the spot we stayed at the same time last year.

Scotland

We’ve now been in Scotland for two full days. We arrived in Gretna on Wednesday evening after an uneventful four and a half hour drive. I have to say, the nearer to Scotland you get the more pleasurable the driving. Obviously the further north you drive the sparser the traffic becomes with the exception of Glasgow. It rained on and off for the whole journey and was still pretty damp when we got to Gretna. Having checked in at the reception at the Braids caravan park I proceeded to ignore their directions to our pitch and got hopelessly lost within the confines of the aforementioned caravan park. You wouldn’t have thought that possible would you? Well, this is me we’re talking about so anything might happen! Once we were settled in our spot, which incidentally, I’d driven straight past within 20 seconds of leaving the reception, we went for a walk down to the local outlet village. I haven’t checked, but this might sound very much like something  I wrote last year as we did exactly the same thing back then! So a little bit of Deja Vu, but in our defence there’s very little else to do in Gretna which is why we always choose it as a simple stopover on the way north. 

Next morning we took it easy, making full use of the electrical hook up and the camp sites’s excellent wifi before leaving at 11.30 am to make our way to Glencoe. Back on the motorway it felt at times as if we were the only ones on the road but needless to say that as we passed Glasgow this feeling soon disappeared. We drove without incident all the way to Glencoe and headed straight for the Glencoe Mountain resort. I’d heard about this place in a Thomas Heaton YouTube video and thought it would be a good place to base ourselves for one night so that we could do some walking in the Glencoe mountains the next day. We checked in and it cost us £15 for the night. We decided not to make use of the cafe as one glance at the menu on the wall was enough to convince us both that we didn’t want to pay £5.80 for a baked potato and beans amongst other things. Before darkness fell I took the following photograph of a nearby mountain the name of which escapes me but I liked the fact that there was snow on the peak so much that I promised myself I would get out of bed early in the morning to see if I could catch some sunlight on that peak with the sunrise.

Glencoe 1 (1 of 1)

The following image is the result of my early rise the next day and as luck would have it we had quite a bright sunrise.

Glencoe 4 (1 of 1)

I love the way the sun is just kissing the tip of the mountain but unfortunately the boring blue sky adds no interest to the scene at all. It had been quite a night on the campsite at the mountain resort in Glencoe. We had no internet as the reception on my mobile broadband was down to 2G and completely unresponsive, also the area we were in was very remote with hardly any signs of life anywhere. Thankfully the satellite TV was working so we did manage to watch Young Sheldon! We certainly do live life on the edge don’t we.

Later in the morning we moved on but only a short way down the magnificent valley where we managed to park the motorhome before setting off in search of the days photographic subject. Lynne and I picked our way up the hillside in search of The Ralston Cairn. The story goes that Ralston Claud Muir was a train driver who loved to hike the glens. It seems Glencoe was his favourite. He fell ill on Christmas Day 1999 and died 16 days later of multiple organ failure caused by a rare form of leukaemia which he was unaware he had. He was 32! The cairn was placed in his memory by his friends and family in a spot overlooking one of his favourite views of the glen. We hadn’t walked far when I realised we were on the wrong track and we doubled back almost to where we had joined the path and once again started walking uphill to where I imagined the cairn must be. There were two Scottish guys up there flying a drone and I asked them if they knew where The Ralston cairn might be. They had no idea but as they packed up and left they hadn’t gone more than 30 or 40 yards downhill before they called out to me and pointed the cairn out! The following is the resulting image with the cairn playing a very minor role in the overall composition. It does however show clearly the sheer majesty of this wonderful Scottish glen.

Glencoe 6 (1 of 1)
Ralston Cairn, The plaque reads, These are my mountains, and I have come home.

Having ticked off this bucket list item we made our way back to the van and set off for Fort William although we had no set plan to stay there. A few miles up the road we saw what looked like a nice campsite and decided to stop by and see if we fancied staying the night. As I pulled up outside the reception a man drew alongside me on a bicycle and asked if he could help. They had vacancies but the price for one night was £27 which Lynne and I both thought was too much so we declined and carried on with our journey. Before long we were in Fort William and decided to stop for some shopping. We wondered around a Lidl and couldn’t help being impressed with how nice it was compared to our local one at home. The main reason for the shopping trip was to get a plug to charge the toothbrush so that we could both keep our pearly whites in pristine condition! Cutting a long boring story short we had to go to Morrison’s for the plug and then we set off for another photo opportunity. This time it was an old boat stranded on the shore called the Old Boat of Caol. This is another iconic photo spot and when we got there, there were three other photographers already in place including one with a massive old fashioned large format camera, you know, the type where just before they take the photo they though a large sheet over their head to cut out the light in the back of the camera. (I think).  This is my attempt at capturing the atmosphere around this grand old boat falling into ruin.

Glencoe 8 (1 of 1)
The Old Boat of Caol with Ben Nevis in the background.

Two bucket list items in one day, woohoo! By now time was getting on and we thought it was time to look for somewhere to wild camp. More or less this time last year we had taken a break in the middle of the day outside an old ruined castle called Old Inverlochy Castle. This seemed like as good a place as any to spend the night so we headed there and parked up. As we sat there long after dark, a car pulled up and stayed alongside us for a few minutes which had us both wondering what the hell they were doing, given that it was a dead end road and there was no apparent reason for anyone else to be there. Not long after they left another car pulled up alongside us and did the same thing. Had we stumbled upon some kind of drug dealers rendezvous? Or worse still, a dogging spot!? Strangely it wasn’t long after I offered up this second alternative that Lynne decided we should move on! So, at 9.00 pm we packed up and headed for a place called Loch Lochy where, on Google maps it looked like there were a few decent lay-bys where we could stay. We soon found a suitable place which we had all to ourselves tucked well away from the road. This was the first night where we used the generator. Previously we hadn’t had much luck with it but as we were using the heater in the van, and I was aware that this quickly runs down the leisure battery I thought I’d give it a go. To my surprise it started quite quickly and ran faultlessly so that we could use the electrics without worrying about the battery. Unfortunately the Satellite dish couldn’t find a signal so we settled for watching a couple of Netflix and Amazon Prime comedies via the internet which was now functioning perfectly.
Next morning I was up with the lark and ventured out to see exactly how close we were to the Loch as, during the night we had been able to hear waves lapping the shore. I’m including a picture just to illustrate the kinds of places we sometimes find ourselves waking up to after arriving in complete darkness the previous night.

Fairy pools 2 (1 of 1)
Wild camping by Loch Lochy.

Next destination is the Isle of Skye but I’ll be covering that in my next blog. Thanks for reading, always assuming anyone is!

 

Home.

It’s been roughly five weeks since we returned to the UK and it’s like we were never away. The last week in KL was spent avoiding being outdoors due to the unpleasant haze apparently caused by fires in Indonesia. These fires resulted in visibility being severely restricted and the government recommending schools close and people work from home if possible due to the poor air quality. Consequently we weren’t sorry to leave for home. Unfortunately the reality of being home is that we both miss everything about being in Kuala Lumpur. Nights out, food, warm weather, even the daily thunder storms!

Having said all that, the reason for this blog is really just to share some photographs taken since returning to the UK. As the countryside is displaying all the wonderful colours of Autumn I find I’ve taken to woodland photography. Having followed Simon Baxter’s woodland photography on Youtube for a couple of years now, I decided that the time was right to have a try myself. The first obvious benefit from trying woodland photography is that there are opportunities closer to home. I always seem to have to drive a hundred miles or more to find landscapes I think worth shooting. One of the images I’m sharing here was taken at Hay Woods which is less than ten miles away from home. However by way of a contradiction of everything I just said, the first image is from a trip to the Lake District. Lynne and I left home at 4.00 am to be at Blea Tarn in time for sunrise. Unfortunately the light wasn’t great and there was a slight wind creating ripples on the water so the reflections I had hoped for never materialised. Hence those photographs were consigned to the digital bin! Instead I’ve decided to share this image from the River Brathay just outside of Ambleside. It has the reflections I was after but I missed the best of the mist by about two minutes, seriously, there was a beautiful mist when we got there but in the two or three minutes it took me to set up, it was almost gone, just a tiny wisp remaining in the far left of the frame.

Ambleside 4 (1 of 1)

Most people love a blue sky but for landscape photography it’s pretty boring. This photo could have been so much better if there had been cloud in the sky to add a little drama to the scene. The next picture is from the same location, just a little further up the river.

Ambleside 6 (1 of 1)

This is taken around nine in the morning and because of the lack of cloud the photography is already a bit of a battle with the really harsh light. The top left hand corner is dangerously close to being completely overexposed and burnt out. Later in the day we climbed Loughrigg Fell to reach a viewpoint over Windermere. I’d seen this many times online and there was always a stile over the wall which people used as a focal point for this image. We got there after a long circuitous route which at one point entailed us both climbing over a high dry stone wall only to eventually get to the location and find that the stile which I thought was so important to the image I had in mind is gone! They seem to have replaced it with stone steps let into the wall which provide no visual interest whatsoever. This photo was another battle with the harsh light as the sun was in completely the wrong place and it was difficult to avoid lens flare.

Ambleside 3 (1 of 1)

It turned out almost ok in the end although normally you wouldn’t bother given the relatively awful light but having almost killed ourselves getting up there, I was determined to come away with something by hook or by crook! Annoyingly, we tried a different route for our descent and found that by following a tiny path that slowly turned into a stream we got back to the car in a quarter of the time it took us to get up.

This next image is from Hay Wood in Warwickshire. I had driven by in the past but never thought to take a walk through the forest. This is a mental block I need to get over as I seem to have a mindset that says there is nothing worth photographing close to home. Well, as you can imagine, a three hour drive to Wales or the Lake District or even a two hour trip to the Peak District starts to work out to be pretty expensive once it gets to be a regular thing. Hence I’m quite happy with my new found passion for woodland photography because as I already said, there are plenty of opportunities for that within a relatively short distance from home. It’s just a matter  of finding them!

Hay Wood 2a (1 of 1)

So, my first real attempt at woodland photography. I was really quite pleased with this image. I was there really early and because it had been raining everything was wet which I think gives a nice sheen to the foliage. Added to that the flash of Autumn colour in the ferns in the left of the frame and the leading line of the path disappearing into the distance gives a nice depth to the image.

The next few photos are from the Peak District. My intention had been to be at Mam Tor overlooking the Hope Valley in time for sunrise but after a tedious drive following a long line of lorries through the countryside I arrived just a few minutes late and missed it. There were some other photographers there who very kindly informed me that it had been the best sunrise they had ever seen there and that the mist in the valley had only just dissipated a matter of minutes ago. Thanks for nothing guys, another missed mist! I did get lucky though because not long after sunrise the sun disappeared behind a cloud and gave the following amazing affect.

Padley Gorge 1 (1 of 1)

So all was not lost and I’m quite happy with this image. I particularly like the sun rays popping out from the top of the cloud. These are actually known as crepuscular rays in case anyone is interested. The following photo is at the same location but using a longer focal length to show the Hope Valley Cement Works. I know it doesn’t sound like something you would want in a landscape photograph but it’s been there for so long now it’s widely accepted as part of the scene. I’ve photographed it many times and I have to say I actually quite like it!

Padley Gorge 6 (1 of 1)

I like the fact that the sun is casting shadows from the trees throughout the valley and also the cement works chimney!

Next is the view in the opposite direction from the great ridge at Mam Tor. I’ve tried on numerous occasions to get this shot but with limited success thanks to the weather. The most notable occasion being in a snow storm with the snow coming in sideways directly in my face making photography impossible when that was specifically the shot I had driven all that way for! The road is really the main point of interest here as it winds away into the distance.

Padley Gorge 5 (1 of 1)
Spot the tiny moon.

Here are three more examples of my attempts at woodland photography taken at Padley Gorge in the Peak District. Two of them are quite dark and spooky and I couldn’t resist the ubiquitous waterfall image with a splash of Autumn colour.

Padley Gorge 2 (1 of 1)
Looking like a scene from the Lord of the Rings this tree is full of character.
Padley Gorge 3 (1 of 1)
In many places in the Peak District you will see mill stones like this one in the forest at Padley Gorge.
Padley Gorge 4 (1 of 1)
Not a waterfall as such but I couldn’t resist thanks to that splash of Autumn colour.

The last photos in this blog were taken in Savenake Forest. This forest is ancient woodland with lots of huge ancient oaks. There’s another bonus from shooting woodland in as much as you don’t necessarily need to be out at some ungodly hour in order to catch the sunrise. We left home at about 7.15 am and as a consequence of going out of our way for cheap petrol we didn’t get to the Savernake forest until about 10.00 am. However, it didn’t take long to find my first photo.

Savernake 3 (1 of 1)
Beautiful light makes all the difference!
Savernake 2 (1 of 1)
More beautiful light with a little help from photoshop.
Orton 2 (1 of 1)
I didn’t think this one would amount to anything but with a little editing work it turned out to be one of my favourites from our trip to Savernake Forest.

 

Savernake 1 (1 of 1)
I asked Lynne to walk ahead to provide an element of human interest, even from behind and at a distance she manages to look as if she’s about to box someone’s ears!

Well, this was my most self indulgent blog yet focusing entirely on the photography I’ve enjoyed since returning home from Kuala Lumpur. It’s been a relief to be able to get out with the camera and indulge in some proper landscape photography. Lynne and I both love life in KL but from my point of view it doesn’t tick all of my boxes photographically! As much as anything this was also an attempt to fill the massive void since my last blog which was a classic Brummie whinge from Thailand 5 or 6 weeks ago. Hopefully there’ll be more in a little over a week as we are preparing for a trip to Scotland in the motorhome. Watch this space!