Glen Coe Trip (Part 2)

I finally got to sleep about 2 and was up again at 5. Still annoyed about the racket earlier I decided to make a brew and generally bang around listening to music. Didn't hear a peep out of them though.

There was a frost on the tent and my boots were very cold. It was nice to get into the car, the heater warming up my feet as drove through Glencoe in darkness listening to Duncan Chisolm. His Strathfarrar trilogy has been the soundtrack to many of my photographic trips, it's beautiful music - haunting and atmospheric and so evocative of the Scottish landscape.

As the sky brightended, I drove round to the Buachaille Etive Mor viewpoint. You know the one…its on millions of postcards and calendars and offers an iconic view of probably Scotlands most distinctive and best loved mountains. It is a fantastic viewpoint, and (as usual!) there were a group of photographers, crouched over their tripods waiting for the sunrise. They’d even camped out next to it! I wandered up the riverside, looking for an alternative foreground as I've shot this scene a few times - never to my satisfaction - probably because my friend Andy Hall has shot the definitive Buachaille Etive Mor scene in my opinion when making his Sense of Belonging to Scotland book. If you haven't seen his work, I urge you to check out his website.

I was trying to find a foreground which had some kind of shape relationship with the peak itself. The closest I came to it was an inverted pyramid formed by the rocks. Not exactly what I’d hoped for, in fact it was rubbish. The sun was coming up now and the granite peak was turning a brilliant shade of red. I made a few more images, one looking towards Creise (usually overshadowed by its more photogenic neighbour) and another looking back to Buachaille Etive Mor with the sun picking out the frosty foreground of grasses.

Buachaille Etive Mor glowing! 


Buachaille Etive Mor

By this time the sun was fully up and I headed to the woodlands along Glen Etive. I have sketched out a drawing for each of the scenes I want to illustrate in the book and managed to make an image, to reflect one of these. I may reshoot this one though – a bit of mist would be nice. Even just a touch of grey cloud in the sky. The weather was almost too good on this trip – clear skies pretty much all the time. 


Original sketch

Original sketch

Image based on sketch (if you flip the sketch anyway!)  

After a while I started to get really tired, and decided to just stop rushing about and enjoy the sun. It's important on trips like these to just stop for a bit and appreciate the scenery without trying to make an image..couldn't help myself making this image of the Wee Buachaille though! I decided to drive back to the tent and move it to a quieter area of the campsite. The kids had all gone by this time so I didn't even have the chance to make a big song and dance about moving my tent. 

I was still keen to make some images along Loch Leven so I headed back up and scouted out a few locations. It's a stunning area, the almost fjord-like loch snaking between the grey peaks of the Mamores and the Aonach Eagach. I wandered along the birch woods which cling to the edge of the hill, hanging over the Loch. I felt lazy and listless, not really in the mood for photos and spent most of the afternoon just ambling along. It was good. 

Had a walk up to the Grey Mares Tail waterfall, looks like there is some sort of via ferratta thingy alongside it so I decided to have a go. No harness or ropes though…got a wee bit up it and clambered over the river on a wire before realising I was on my own and possibly an idiot and I should probably get off it. 


Buachaille Etive Beag 

Loch Leven

Woods along the shore 

By this time it was getting on a bit and there were finally some clouds in the sky. Yes! Clouds! I was excited about clouds! I had a plan for a sunset shot looking over Loch Linhe to Ardgour and hoped for some clouds to pick up the sun. as it disappeared. I wandered the fields above the shoreline - drawn to the "S" shape in the water. I love patterns and lines in the landscape and an S is always a good find. 

The sunset didn't disappoint - it was one of the best sunsets I've seen - fiery shades of pink fading into deep inky blues with the lonely serrated mountains of Ardgour silhouetted on the skyline. Perfect! 


By this time I was starving - I don't think I'd eaten (other than porridge and junk food) all day so I went to to the new Glencoe Gathering. If you're up in Glencoe make sure you stop in for a fish supper - they are very, very good, and I eat a lot of fish suppers! 



Glen Coe Trip (Part 1)

A few weeks ago I went on a wee camping and photography trip to Glencoe. This is what I get up to when I disappear off to the Highlands…

An early start on friday, out the house at 5 for the trip up to Rannoch Moor to catch the sunrise. I love being up at that time, it reminds me of going up to the Highlands as a kid, the cold car, John Martyn on the stereo and a dark, empty road stretching off into the distance. The anticipation of soon being up in the Highlands. I reached Crianlarich and stopped to stretch my legs. Lots of frost on the cars…starting to wonder if camping is a good idea in October. Ach, it'll be fine… 

The sky was a deep petrol blue, with a gradual lighting to the east as I pulled in to the lay by at Rannoch Moor. I've been here a number of times and it is always different. I headed off to the other side of the road, the less photographed side, I wanted to make an image which would attempt to sum up the character of Rannoch Moor - the vastness of the space and the intricate landscape of lochans, stunted trees and bogs. This image was needed for a new book project I'm working on…a secret one for now…
These are the two images i made - I can't quite work out which one I prefer at the moment. I think the first is a more striking image, but it doesn't quite capture the character or sense of space like the second one. Maybe neither will make it into the book. Got to be hard on myself for this project. Be critical. Be selective. 

Rannoch Moor 1

Rannoch Moor 2

This image made from the other side of the road looking towards Black Mount won't be in the book as it doesn't fit, unfortunately, because I think it's probably the best one from the trip! As the sun crept higher in the sky my thoughts turned to breakfast. Glencoe passed me by in a blur as I drove to the cafe at Ballachulish. I was too early though so spent a while wandering along the Loch Leven shoreline looking at the reflections over the loch. I popped on the 70-300mm lens and made a few images, homing in on the interesting areas, trying to find the essence of the scene. 



The Black Mount

Loch Leven reflections


After breakfast and a frustrating attempt to access the internet on my phone (seriously O2 - sort out 3G in the Highlands) I wandered along to the Ballachulish Slate Quarry. Apparently quarries are the big thing in photography this year…There were some nice colour contrasts between the slate and the scrubby birches clinging to the slopes but the leaves hadnt changed enough so I left and headed on a wee drive around Loch Leven. Had a few wanders about in woodland but nothing was that interesting - it was still a bit early for much autumn colour in the trees. The bracken was looking nice though and I made a mental note to head round to Loch Achtriochtan in the afternoon.

Ballachulish Slate Quarry 1

Ballachulish Slate Quarry 2

Does Kinlochleven get any sun ever? It seems to be permanently in shade, even on a sunny day. In fact, they should have a look at the Norwegian town with the massive mirror that reflects sun into the town square…it might liven the place up a bit. They could make it out of aluminium…Anyway, it's got a nice Co-Op with very helpful staff who rummaged around out the back and found a disposable BBQ for me. I've got 3 BBQs and left them all at home. 

I had an idea for a shot looking from the back of the Pap of Glencoe across Loch Leven and had scouted it out on GoogleEarth. It's a great tool the old GoogleEarth…you can pick out paths and everything…or so I thought until I was floundering about on a pathless boggy slope in amongst heather, invisible burns and rocks. It wasn't much fun so I gave up. This is supposed to be fun right? It wasn't even the right light for the shot. Too much haste…Made a quick image looking up the burn, but it's not what I wanted for the book. 


Kinlochleven - the town that sun forgot

Looking up the burn to the pathless bogland

It was time to set up camp and chill for a bit. I had planned to camp at Caolasnacoan (pronounce that!) - a lovely site on the banks of Loch Leven but it was devoid of tents. That to me would feel a bit weird. I wouldn't mind being out in the wilderness on my own but something about being the only camper in a campsite freaks me out. So the new plan was to head to Red Squirrel Campsite in Glencoe. I've camped here many times. It's a brilliant location, nestled beneath the mountains and surrounded by trees, right in the heart of Glen Coe. Total midge-fest in summer but in October it's ideal. Got a nice quiet spot down by the river, put the tent up and lounged around playing my guitar feeling vaguely self-conscious.


The Narrows,  Caolasnacoan

Later on the sun began to slide westwards and the shadows began to lengthen. I headed round to Loch Achtriochtan hoping that the loch was still. It was! I'd planned this out before and it hadn't come off but today it was like glass, the mountains reflected perfectly and the slashes of bracken and rocks created a fine pattern across the water. I wandered along the shore making some more images of the cliffs of the Three Sisters reflected in the water…this might feature in the book. Not sure yet.


Loch Achtriochtan

The cliffs of the Three Sisters

One of the Sisters

Teatime - steak on the BBQ and whacked in a roll with a massive dollop of horseradish. This is what i love about camping - good food, cooked outside under a nice sky. It was soon dark and I turned in to watch Alan Partridge on the iPad. It wasn't too cold, maybe 4 degrees or so but I was toasty warm in the tent and i drifted off to a peaceful sleep at about 10. 

It didn't last. 

At 1pm a group of 30 teenagers decided to pitch their tents rough next to mine. A whole campsite to choose from and they pitch next to me. Typical. I was livid. I got up and stomped around making sarcastic comments like "could you pitch your tent any closer?" and "how about just sleeping in my porch?" but they didn't care and pretty much ignored me. There wasn't much I could do, but they would be getting a rude awakening the next morning..oh yes. 

To be continued...