Harris in the Summer

I’ve not been to Harris in the summer for a while. The last time our tent blew down during the night, was totally wrecked and resulted in an undignified retreat to the ferry. 

This time it was a bit different. An area of high pressure had sat on Scotland for about a week, providing an actual heatwave. It was magic. It was a proper summer. It was 32 degrees in Glasgow. 

We had to go to Harris! 

And so we did. We drove up to Skye and into autumn. Gradually the weather got worse. A wee bit of haze. A cloud. Darker cloud. Can't see the mountain tops anymore. Spots of rain. Drizzle. Shit, this is cold. I’ve not brought a jacket....Ah well. It’ll be an experience. 

Dinner at The Three Chimneys (fantastic) and a snooze in the lay-by above Uig (miserable). Then it was on the ferry to Harris. The summer was back! It was hot. At 7 in the morning! 

The rest of the week was absolutely brilliant. 

St Abb's Head

Here are a few images which weren't part of the Summer Solstice series which I shot at St Abb's Head. These were made during the times when I wasn't trying to sleep/escape from the wind/get the stove to stay lit. St Abb's Head is a National Nature Reserve managed by The National Trust for Scotland in Berwickshire, Scotland. It's a fascinating spot -  huge rugged cliffs, a Stevenson lighthouse, a foghorn and a massive seabird colony. 

The Summer Solstice

Twenty four images, taken on the hour, every hour through the 21st June - the summer solstice. 

For some time now I’ve wanted to do a project which follows the light over this period. The longest day. The shortest night. To sit in one spot and photograph a simple composition of sea and sky as the light changed. I knew that I wanted to shoot looking north, I didn’t want the sun in any of the images and also it had to be on a cliff above the sea with a clear, empty horizon. There were a few spots that I thought of  - the north of Lewis, Durness/Cape Wrath, or the coastline near Peterhead. All miles away from me. So, using google earth I found another spot which was reasonably close - St Abb’s Head. I’d never been there before but it looked ideal - big dramatic cliffs and a clear view north over the sea to, well, nothing. Just a horizon. Perfect! 

They say it never really gets dark in Scotland at the summer solstice. It does when it pours with rain at about 1:30am. Very dark and somewhat spooky, as the lighthouse beam swung round, cutting through the lashing rain. I was planning to camp, but on reaching the lighthouse it was so windy that I decided camping next to a cliff wasn’t a very good idea. So I tried to sleep in the car. A small car which shook in the wind like the back legs of a shitting dog. 

Sleep didn’t come. The light gradually faded, the dark tucked in around me. The rain stopped, the clouds barrelled into the distance. Red sky glimmered in the north. A cargo ship slid by. The lighthouse beam began to illuminate less. The land lightened. The sky cleared. Night was over. A creel boat pitched on the waves. The birds awoke and noise surrounded me. The wind remained constant. 

And every hour I went to the same spot on the cliff edge, pointed north and shot a frame. As the day rolled on the light began to change, hardening and flattening out shadows. Wave tips silvered and the horizon sharpened. Birds flew out to sea and returned. The clouds rolled back in, a grey lid over a grey sea. Then they began to break, finally relenting to the wind. Dissolving into smaller and smaller pieces until they were gone and all that was left above the horizon was colour.  

A Deserted Island

Who wouldn’t want to go to a deserted island?

Tom Hanks’ character in Castaway? Piggy from Lord of the Flies? Fans of Lost? Well I’m none of these fictional characters so I’ve always wanted to camp on a deserted island. After scoping out how far we could get in my pals speedboat we settled on this particular little island. It met all the requirements - a beach, fresh water and no people. Not that I’m going to tell you where it is. That’s a secret. I’m sure you could work out where it is if you really wanted to. I’ll give you a clue - it’s surrounded by water and you can see Jura from it. 

I say speedboat. This makes it seem more glamorous than it is. It’s called The Admiral. Or Scabby to those in the know. It looks great from a distance: Sleek, modern and cool but close up, it shows it’s age. It’s a bit of a wreck actually. Like it’s owner. Boom boom. 

The Scabby Admiral carried us, our gear, food and the dog at high speed, skipping over a flat calm sea to the deserted island. Once there we indulged in the usual pursuits of trying to fish, building driftwood fires on the beach and cooking steak on a hot rock. Try it, it’s bloody good! 

The island itself was very interesting, and without the shoulder height bracken and clouds of midges it would be a great place to explore - we will definitely return in the autumn once both of these have gone. It’s an unusual island with some fantastic mature woodland, particularly the three trees by our campsite which were magnificent specimens. 

However, the most striking thing about the island was the stillness. On the first night, lying in my tent I didn’t hear a thing. Not a flutter of birds, not a rustle of wind, not a ripple of water.

Just complete and total silence.