I’ve been in a bit of photographic rut recently. Haven’t felt inspired, haven’t bothered to get up early and basically just had the feeling that I needed a break from photography. I can’t put my finger on it really, I think sometimes the pressure to come back with something amazing can stifle creativity. I’d even gone to that ridiculous extreme of blaming my camera, thinking “maybe if I got one of these…it would help”…which i knew even as I was thinking about it that it was crazy.
Anyway, a trip on saturday up to Glen Etive changed that. It was one of those magical days where you come back exhausted, with a bagful of images which hopefully amongst them, there could be some real gems. However, it’s more than that, you come back energised and invigorated by spending a day out in the hills.
The plan was to get up at 4am and drive up to Glencoe, stopping off at a few places depending on what the light was like. I’ve recently got a new bike, so I was aiming to cycle down Glen Etive (and back up) with all my photo gear, stove, food etc and spend the day stopping off at the all the spots which I normally whizz past in the car going “ooh, that looks nice,” So I was on the road, by 4:30, cruising up the side of Loch Lomond as the sky began to lighten, and I remembered how much I enjoy driving at this time of day.
My first stop was on Rannoch Moor. I always stop here, it’s a fine spot for a sunrise and it’s different every time. On saturday, I watched the mist roll across the top of Clach Leathad and gather in the air between the peaks, with the first sunlight illuminating the top of Stob Ghabhar. I doubt anyone else will see this in the image, but I see a dragon, it’s sinuous neck craned across the glen breathing fire onto the summit. Maybe…
After the sun came up the light became a bit too fiery for my liking and I moved across to the birches nearby for some detail shots and then wandered up to another loch which I’ve photographed before. I do love this spot, the boulders, half submerged in the loch, reflect the forms of the Black Mount behind and in still conditions it is idyllic. Despite the lorries hurtling by about 5m behind.
The next stop was at the bridge over the River Coupall in Glen Etive to park up and get the bike out. The sun was fully up now and illuminated the face of Buachaille Etive Mor. It’s probably the most iconic mountain in the UK and as such it's been photographed many, many times, but I still like to stop when I'm around Glencoe. I love the simple, graphical, almost symmetrical lines of it. I love to trace routes up the face, wondering whether it's possible to link them up.
But, it was time to go. I had a huge downhill to look forward to…and what a ride it was too. Swooping down the undulating road, huge mountains either side, tears streaming from the wind. It was awesome. I nearly missed all those places I had wanted to stop at! In amongst the shaded glen, it was still very cold as i picked my way down to the river. The rocks here are scoured smooth, pinks and greys, the river a constant clack-clack as meltwater dislodges boulders. It’s a bleak spot, but lovely at the same time.
I carried on my cycle, reaching the level area around Alltchaorunn and cruised along past Dalness. I couldn’t believe I was already half way! The next stop was in the coniferous plantation. The low sun backlit the forest here and illuminated the wonderful chaos of trees.
Before I knew it I was down at sea level, cycling alongside the River Etive as it spreads out into a wide braided channel. It appeared very alpine in these conditions with the north face of Ben Cruachan resplendent at the end of Loch Etive in the spring sunshine. I stopped to brew up some noodles and chilled out for a while beside the river before heading to the halfway point at the shore of Loch Etive.
I couldn’t believe how still it was. It was like glass, the sweeping slopes either side reflecting perfectly in the loch. It was staggeringly beautiful. Depressingly the area was stewn with the detritus of ignorant folk who can’t camp in a place like this without hacking down live trees to burn and leaving their cans and bottles everywhere. It’s shocking, and probably a byproduct of the Loch Lomond camping ban. All the neds just go a bit further north now.
Anyway, it was still good, and I lingered for a while shooting reflections and putting off the time when I had to get on my bike. I was kind of dreading the return leg as it was going to be all uphill. I creaked back along the road, wheezing and puffing up the hill like I was carrying a fridge, but eventually made it back to the highpoint overlooking Lochan Urr. I fancied going down and exploring the loch side but the shoreline is guarded with a fearsome wall of rhododendrons…a glutton for punishment I went down and found a tiny path through them which opened out on the loch. It’s very pretty! Looks almost man made (maybe it is?) with the small islands with gnarled pines and the distinctive cleavage between Stob Dubh and Stob na Broige reflected in the loch. Almost too perfect…maybe the rhoddies are a ploy to stop cliche shots of the highlands?!
After this I toiled back up the glen, stopping very often to rest. It was pretty hot by this time, hard to believe it was March and I even managed a snooze on the smooth granite beside the river. By the time I got back to the car I was fairly exhausted and decided to head home, with maybe the chance of a sunset on Loch Lomond.
All in all it was an awesome day and reminded me how much I enjoy doing this. Cycling is a great way to experience the landscape as it allows you the freedom to stop wherever you want without cluttering up passing places, and if you are as unfit as I am, it makes you slow down and stop. A lot. And that leads to opportunities!