Looking back to a week in the Scottish Highlands (August 2017)

Having had an amazing week in Assynt, North Highlands, our second week of the holiday was based in Nairn.

I had a few photo projects as a bucket list for this second week. One included attempting to capture the sunrise through the arch of Bow Fiddle Rock, Portknockie, and the other was a wild camp with my dog Willow on some mountain top to capture a sunset and hopefully sunrise while camping.

Arriving at Nairn, the first evening delivered a super sunset that enabled me to get some photos by the pier:

It was then off to bed reasonably early due to setting a 2.45am alarm with plans to drive over to Portknockie to get the planned sunrise shot. The weather looked perfect from the forecast and despite cloud on the horizon while driving over there, the visit met expectations!

The next few days had a real focus on attempting to get some dolphin photos. Not as straight forward as planned, with the unpredictability of nature, along with unfortunate timing on one of the visits. The full story and selection of photos can be see in my Photographing Dolphins at Chanonry Point blog. Here's a taste of the sort of photos I was privileged to take:

After one of the failed dolphin visits, I drove around Black Isle to explore the coastline and scenery and found a great walk with Willow that went up Fairy Glen and included a number of really picturesque waterfalls and streams:

Once again, there was a superb sunset at Nairn on the Monday evening. Discovering a new location further up the beach provided great opportunities for some variety in my 'Nairn sunsets'!

As the week progressed I was slowly running out of time to get the wild camp arranged. However the forecast on the Wednesday evening looked good and so packing the rucksack with tent and other 'essentials' I headed off with Willow to Drumnadrochit to climb Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, a mountain I've climbed both in snow and good weather!

At only 699m, it isn't very high compared to other mountains in the area, but with a 25kg rucksack on my back, camera in a harnessed case on my front and boggy terrain, it was a gruelling 1.5 hour hike to the top - with Willow on a lead due to lack of trust with endless moors and deer/sheep/grouse scent! It was a lesson on redefining 'essentials' when wild camping. Next time I plan to cut back by 10kg hopefully!

It was all worth it by the time I reached the top, with great views in every direction. I set up the tent as the first task, and gave Willow some extra protection from the strong chilly wind.

It was then time to concentrate on getting photos of the setting sun and surrounding landscape. It is tough to beat being in such a location with these sort of views on a clear sunny summer's evening!

With the strong wind rattling the tent, it didn't seem like much sleep was caught during the night and waking around 4.30am with the hope of a decent sunrise was not quite as expected when I unzipped the tent door! The only photo worth taking was with the mobile phone to serve as a reminder of the low lying cloud and lack of view, and the cold! This photo below was taken when there was a momentary glimmer of colour in the sky from the sunrise, before being engulfed again with mist/cloud!

There wasn't much else to do other than pack up and head back to the car, driven on by the anticipation of a big breakfast and hot shower when I got back to the flat we were staying in - along with plans of having a lighter rucksack next time!

So another holiday in Scotland drew to a close, following a fantastic couple of weeks. As we returned home we called into my brother and his family just north of the Lake District to see his work on the excellent Stocks Wood Outdoor Centre business he has started. Then as we started the final leg of the journey home we found a suitable spot to capture the last sunset of the holiday!

A week in the Scottish North Highlands

Over the years we've had the privilege to visit various locations throughout Scotland for holidays. This has included the Isle of Mull, Isle of Skye, Cairngorms, as well as the west coast. This year we visited Assynt, an area to the north west of Scotland in the North Highlands.

The weather forecast for the week didn't look too promising, but knowing the unpredictability of Scottish weather I looked forward to exploring new areas of the Scottish coastline that we hadn't visited before.

The weather over the weekend of our arrival wasn't too good, the photo below being a view with 'typical' Scottish weather as we travelled from Ullapool to where we were staying.

The photo below was on the road north from Ullapool with clearer weather out to the north:

We stayed in Lochinver, a small town on the north west coast. From the house we had great views of the harbour and Suilven mountain which overshadows the town.

Despite the poor weather during the weekend it started to brighten up on the Sunday evening and so I travelled back to a small bay that we had passed on our trip out earlier in the day. It turned out to be a cracking sunset. 

Loch an Eisg Brachaidh

It was even possible to get some great shots using the mobile phone.

It was a similar story the next day, with the weather not being too great during the day, but by evening the skies were brightening and so I revisited the same location as the night before but took up a different position on the hillside by the bay to watch the sun go down and the rising moon.

Loch an Eisg Brachaidh - revisited

The weather did improve during the week and provided opportunities to tour the beautiful coastline and lochs that made up the area of Assynt and Sutherland between Lochinver and Durness.

On the route from Lochinver towards Durness

Reflections

Another opportunity for sunset photography came following an early evening ~7 mile run that took me up the hikers trail towards Suilven - a great way to explore! I took a few photos shown below with the phone while on the run, with plans to return later that evening for the sunset by Loch Druim Suardalain:

Loch Druim Suardalain

It was the right decision, with gorgeous colours cast across the loch during the golden hour and at one point the wind completely dropped resulting in the loch becoming almost mirror-like, reflecting the pastel colours of the sky and mountain line:

Remembering the weather forecast prior to our journey to Scotland, I felt well blessed with all the opportunities of what we had seen and the weather each evening so far.

Still more opportunities were yet to come when we took a road trip to Durness, to see Sango Bay along with the evening that followed.

Sango Bay - Durness

I would strongly recommend visiting Sango Bay, an amazing beach with great rock formations and an exciting surf!

With the weather so good, we decided to stay in the area for an evening meal with plans to catch the sunset. Sango Bay facing north wasn't ideal for getting sunset photos so I drove a short distant to the next bay, Balnakeil Bay, and headed off with the camera equipment and tripod to find a suitable spot to capture what turned out to be a stunning golden hour and sunset!

Balnakeil Bay

Below is a panoramic shot showing an unusual cloud formation like fingers extending down from the cloud base:

The weather turned wet towards the end of the week which itself emphasised what an amazing time it had been with so many photos opportunities to capture the North Highlands in all their splendour.

A place we will no doubt revisit in the future.

Photographing Dolphins at Chanonry Point

Visiting the Scottish Highlands inevitably includes a trip to Chanonry Point with the hope to get views of the dolphins. With the unpredictability of photographing nature, little did I know what was in store this particular week.

I turned up on the Monday morning, a few hours after low tide, and had difficulty parking due to limited spaces; it being a very popular location. After waiting 15-20 minutes to get the car parked, I grabbed the camera stuff and walked around the lighthouse to the viewing point to find a massive crowd of people at the water's edge, and to be informed that I had missed the dolphins by about twenty minutes where they had been displays of them jumping etc. I stayed a while, and got a photo of a dolphin in the distance heading out to sea before leaving and making a decision to come back again the next morning.

Tuesday I arrived at low tide (~7.15am) to guarantee a parking spot and settled down on my fold-up chair by the water's edge, ready to wait until high tide (six hours later) to make sure I didn't miss them. Unfortunately they didn't turn up, only showing on the horizon some miles out in the Moray Firth, appearing to have found a good source of fish. As high tide approached it was obvious it had been a fruitless morning.

Not having any particular plans for the next morning I decided to come again at low tide, arriving around 7.30am. Suddenly, around 9.30am there were exclamations from the crowd of people that the dolphins were here. What followed was an incredible near two hours of dolphins jumping, playing, and giving amazing displays of their behaviour.

The challenge to get decent photos then commenced. Not knowing when they will appear, breach, or jump, it was a continual process of keeping the camera pointing in the rough direction of where you expect them to come and then swing around and shoot when the fun starts.

Many shots end up of the fin or tail such as below!

Sometimes success was partial as below, with a sequence starting with the best potential shot having the dolphin partly out of the frame followed by getting the remaining frames aligned!

Early into the 'show' there was an incredible jump from one dolphin which I managed to catch a sequence of frames.... so high!

Having taken over 250 photos over the two hour period I was pleasantly surprised how many successful photos there were amongst the others that needed deleting.

The dolphins so often just seemed to be having fun, playing games of jumping over each other as below:

Or almost as if showing off in front of each other:

Playing with fish also was included in the games!

Here's a collection of some of my other favourite photos from the few hours:

It truly was an incredible day, beyond my wildest dreams of both seeing such beautiful creatures close up in their natural habitat, but also capturing such a range of behaviour in photos to look back to in the future.

Experiencing the Scottish Highlands in April

It has been well over ten years now that my wife and I have had the privilege of visiting the Scottish Highlands and surrounding area each year. Normally this would be over the new year, and then in the summer. Always an opportunity to spend time with the part of the family that moved up there years ago.

This time we had booked a week in early April, and I was unsure how the different season would change the photographic opportunities.

Travelling the 10+ hour trip overnight, as has become the custom, the first day was then spent resting until after sunset when I went out with the camera down to the local harbour. I was hoping for a chance to see the aurora after checking to my phone apps. It was not to be, but still was able to capture the Milky Way as its tail spread across the sky.  

We were staying in Nairn on this occasion, a lovely location east of Inverness, which boasts fantastic beaches and a renown golf course!

It was the beaches which became a frequent subject of the photos. With a limited number of suitable sunsets/sunrises due to cloud cover, I attempted to make the most of getting out at the opening and closing of the day. The first two photos below were from the beautiful location of Findhorn around sunset, then two different sunrises at Nairn itself.

Despite the weather apps showing cloudy weather each day, more often than not it turned out sunny, with opportunities to get out further a field with Willow into the mountains.

One such trip was to Loch Glass, a long loch tucked away in the wilderness near Ben Wyvis. I have great memories of an adventure with my boys six years ago at the same location. It was in the middle of winter with the loch totally calm and displaying incredible reflections. Back then we walked the length of the loch and then made our way back over the snow laden mountains in the dark, nearly getting lost in the process! No such adventure or reflections on this occasion, but a great time with Willow enjoying playing in the loch.

Below is a comparison of a photo from those years ago and this visit!

On another day I headed out with Willow to my favourite area of Glen Affric. Although a cloudy morning, the weather apps gave promise of brighter weather during the afternoon. Rather than just take photos near the car park, I decided to head off over the mountains, about a 9 mile hike. The route chosen took us up past the mountain Sgurr Na Lapaich that I hope to scale one day, and over the moorland towards Gleann Nam Fiadh, reaching a river about 4.5 miles from the car park. Willow had the time of her life, demonstrating her true stamina as she covered vast areas of the moorland running and chasing down the scents she was picking up.

Another day, another trip, and this time it was to Portknockie. It was very much a recce from a photographic perspective, as it would be the ideal location for sunrise and sunset photos when the lighting is always much better. However, it really gave me a taste of the potential. A location I plan to visit again for sunrises in the summer when we are back up in the area. It was also great to meet Neil Hamilton, another photographer while I was there. Neil has a place locally and if you check his superb images on his website, they demonstrate the true potential of the location for stunning photographic opportunities.

Below is a selection taken as the tide started to come in:

As always is the case, it was a great week and has stirred up ideas and thoughts about the next trip in August. To finish off, here is a evening photograph of the pier at Nairn Harbour looking east as the sun was setting, with the gulls riding the strong stormy winds:

A cold weekend

It had been a week of cold temperatures and hard frosts. With sunrise being around 8.00am it was too late before a working day to be out with the camera, so I was really pleased when checking the weather to see that the weekend was going to continue the same way! Wishing to make the most of it I was out with the camera Saturday morning soon after 7.00am - a very civilised time for starting the weekend compared to later in the year!

My first brief stop was at the river, in order to capture the stillness and glow of the pre-sunrise golden hour:

The main aim however was to get to a location I've visited a number of times in the past in order to get the sun rising over Windsor Castle. As I parked up on the eastern side of Eton Wick, the mist was lying like a cold blanket over the frost hardened fields. Windsor Castle could be seen in the distance as Heathrow airport air traffic disturbed the quietness of the early morning.

Gathering up the camera bag and tripod, I headed off to 'the field' for the main photoshoot and waited patiently for the minutes to tick by as the moment of sunrise approached. It was a perfect spot to capture the sun as it broke above the outline of the castle casting its limited warmth across the field, the glow of orange disguising how cold the temperatures actually were:

Before heading back to the car I took the opportunity to capture some records of the frosty environment with the field coated in icy white crystals under the clear sky where the crescent moon was still visible:

It was then time to move on and return to the car and enjoy the rest of the weekend. But that wasn't the last time I would be out with the camera. As Sunday afternoon drew to a close I was back out down the river wanting to make the most of the still conditions to capture the sunset and reflections.

Taking the opportunity to enjoy the quietness of the moment, I took a walk down the river and by the time I returned as the last light of day ebbed away, Venus could be seen up above ushering in the night sky. A fitting end to the weekend!

Llyn Ogwen and Y Garn Experience

Visiting North Wales over the Christmas week of 2016 had the potential for some great photo opportunities, but as always would be dependent on the prevailing weather! Arriving on the Friday before Christmas, the weekend looked like it was going to be very wet, and followed true to forecast! However, by Monday the weather was on the turn and some great photography outings ensued with visits to Llyn Ogwen bringing my favourite moments.

Llyn Ogwen is lake about 9km north east of Snowdon, part of a welsh valley hemmed in by Tryfan (917m), Pen yr Ole Wen (978m), Y Garn (947m), Glyder Fawr (1001m) and Glyder Fach (994m). It is a lake known for great reflection photos under the right conditions, reportedly sunset being the best timing during winter.

On the Tuesday we headed there mainly as a scouting trip to judge opportunities for later in the week. As we passed the lake, the wind was rippling the water with no sign of good reflections and so we parked up and headed up the path towards Llyn Idwal, a lake in the basin of Y Garn and Glyder Fawr. I didn't get very far, being distracted by a really pleasant waterfall under a bridge where I spent all my time as the family continued up the path.

As the sun dropped lower in the sky and we headed back in the car past Llyn Ogwen again, I noticed signs of some reflections and so parked up. I was well pleased to have what turned out to be a window of stillness on the lake that provided some great moments:

I couldn't resist the obligatory panoramic before heading back to where we were staying!

We were going to be back here sooner than I expected! My brother was visiting North Wales that evening, with the intent of wild sleeping on top of one of the mountains, as he had seen the potential for a cloud inversion the following morning with the temperature conditions overnight. The decision was therefore made that Joshua (my son) and I would get up early and meet him at the top of Y Garn before sunrise!

So leaving our accommodation before 5.30am the next morning, and well before any sign of morning light we were back to the same location. While in awe of the amazing starry night we made the gruelling walk to the top of Y Garn! My backpack loaded up with camera gear and a good sized tripod, the climb was tough and totally exhausting but ultimately well worth it!

This was a shot taken about half way up after an innumerable number rock steps. We were already getting a taste of what it would be like from the top and then the pressure of getting there before sunrise kicked in!

Although my legs and body were screaming to stop we pressed on,  speaking to myself frequently to just keep on with one step after the next! We finally reached the top, to find my brother relaxing there in his fold up chair waiting for us!!

The views truly were worth the pain, as we watched the sky brighten up by the sun rising:

We spent a good while at that location, taking photos, consuming food to replenish energy and hot drinks to keep us warm!

The decision was then made to not return via the route up but head off towards Glyder Fawr to make a descent via Gribin. Seeing the quality of light over the mountains in the distance provided the motivation for further uphill labours, to get the shots below!

From the slopes of Glyder Fawr the views were breathtaking! As well as the layers of light seen in the photos above, we had great views across to Snowdon:

Finally we headed back down along what was a reasonably 'challenging' (understatement) route down the Gribin ridge! On the way down we were able to get some good views across to the route we took up Y Garn:

Totally exhausted, we returned safely to the car, but that was not the end of the day! Heading back to our accommodation and knowing how clear the night was, a few hours later we packed up the camera stuff again and headed out to return to the small waterfall. Checking some photography apps on my phone about the Milky Way position before we left, I hoped to get some shots of the waterfall with the Milky Way behind it. It was a fitting end to a great day!

Shifting Shadows of Autumn

I thought I was going to run out of time this year to find a window of opportunity with the weather to get out and record the autumn colours, before all the leaves left the trees. After a very wet day yesterday (Saturday), the forecast looked good for the Sunday, so another early alarm and out I went will Willow in tow!

I first headed off to the fields where I train/run Willow, so that I could capture some shots of the sun rising by Windsor Castle on this Remembrance Sunday. A very atmospheric start to the morning with the low lying mist dissipating as the sun rose

I then headed off to Burnham Beeches with the objective of trying to capture some early morning light and shadows.

While walking around the woodland, I had some ideas of what the area might look like with the sun in a different location, so decided I would probably come back in the afternoon after church to see what changes in the shadows and lighting would occur with the sun further across the sky.

I wasn't to be disappointed. With the shorter daylight hours after the clocks went back a few weeks ago, the sun was already lower in the sky and casting new shadows across the woodland.

Early Autumn Sunrise

I always enjoy the autumn months, they provide great opportunities to capture the landscape around us in different light to the rest of the year. This morning was one of those opportunities. Waking with the alarm to get out that bit earlier before sunrise (which is much more reasonable that a few months back), I headed off with Willow down to the river.

I was initially disappointed that some low cloud obscured what would have been a spectacular display of cloud colour about twenty minutes before sunrise, but as the minutes passed the disappointment was replaced with the enjoyment of catching the changing colours around me with unusual cloud structures, and the usual gaggle of geese heading off to their feeding grounds after a night on the river. 

Below is a gallery of the photos showing the progression of the sunrise and changing light. It was definitely a special morning!  

Best moments of the Isle of Skye visit 2016

Here is a gallery selection of my favourite photographic moments from two superb weeks in the Isle of Skye during August 2016. The weather was beyond all expectations, enabling multiple early morning outings to catch the sunrise and then trips out again in the evening to get the sunset - catching some of the best light that the days had to offer. Staying up near Staffin Bay was an ideal location for reaching the north west side of the island as well as the Old Man of Storr, and the Quiraing range.

Some of the locations needed panoramic shots to get the full impact of the view:

My dog Willow even had a great time getting some sprinting exercise on the beach at Staffin Bay most days!

Sea eagles and dolphins - Isle of Skye

As our time on the Isle of Skye approached its end, we booked a photographic boat trip from Portree, with the hope of being able to view some sea eagles (white-tailed eagles).

The weather was perfect: sunny, very little wind, and as we headed away from harbour we had great views across to the mountains.

It wasn't long before we had our first sighting of two sea eagles, sitting in trees high up on the cliff face. They didn't seem very interested in the fish that was cast over board, maybe not surprising as it was a late afternoon boat trip. So we moved on and started to cross the Sound of Raasay when we suddenly caught a glimpse of two porpoise. We were told they don't like boats and so they dropped below the water surface shortly after, but I managed to get a shot of the dorsal fin in the distance!

As we continued the trip, we had some great views of common seals on the rocks, as well as the cormorants that were sunning themselves:

We continued to another potential sea eagle location and scoured the cliff edges and trees for any occupants. It looked like it was going to be unfruitful when we noticed a lone sea eagle flying in and landing in a tree. This one also didn't seem interested in food, but at one point it left the tree and flew around for a while giving us some really nice views (although from a distance):

The most exciting part of the trip came as we headed back across the Sound, when in the distance we saw a pod of dolphins approaching us at great speed. Leaping out of the water as they came, it was a great moment.

With the boat bobbing up and down in the water, it was a real challenge to get an accurate focus point on the photos, but fortunately I managed to get a few shots which were almost right:

The dolphins came right up to the boat and swam around it before heading off - a very cool moment!

As the boat engine was started up again, I noticed a couple of gannets close by and managed to snatch a few photos as they took off and past behind us

As we headed back to Portree we passed the spot where we saw the first sea eagle. It was still sitting in the same tree, showing no interest in the fish that was cast out for it! 

Soon we were back on land after a very enjoyable couple of hours, and would very much recommend such boat trips, especially if taken in the early morning when the eagles are likely to be more interested in the food.

Sgurr Na Stri hike - Isle of Skye

Some photographic plans don't turn out quite as expected, and this was the case on the day we chose to do the Sgurr Na Stri hike, which had promise of one of the best mountain top views in the country (and even wider). The hike itself entailed leaving from Sligachan and involved a 20km (~13 mile) round trip to the top of Sgurr Na Stri (497m) with a view across the Cuillin Hills.

Checking the weather the night before it appeared we had the potential for the perfect day, and with a 4.35am alarm the day started again - the body reeling from a couple of weeks of multiple extremely early starts and late evenings.

As we arrived at Sligachan, the moon was high in the sky and the sun was starting to light up the tops of the mountains. This created some great atmospheric views as we started the first stage of the hike which was a long walk up the glen (6.5km).

A few hours later, making good progress, we reached the end of Glen Sligachan and started to ascend towards Sgurr Hain (the mountain before Sgurr Na Stri). From the glen we had seen the Cuillin Hills clothed in a low cloud base and clouds were blowing over the ridges around us - we could only hope that with it being early morning, that the continuing rising sun would push up the temperature and help lift the cloud.

As we continued up the track, suddenly a red deer crossed in front of us. It didn't seem at all bothered by our presence and continued to graze and moved down the mountain slopes with the sun light hitting it at one point, bringing a contrast to the shadowy landscape below:

Finally we reached the initial slopes of Sgurr Na Stri, and had a view across to Loch Coruisk and the sea beyond. Unfortunately the cloud base looked like it was there to stay:

We continued on, skirting around the slopes of Sgurr Na Stri, until we found a suitable point to start the ascent. Unfortunately the peak of the mountain was under cloud so we stopped for a break to absorb the view, which was still stunning. Shadows moved across the landscape, changing the light over the loch, and giving a taste of what might have been the view if the cloud base had not been so low!

We couldn't come this far without reaching the top of Sgurr Na Stri, so we continued on into the cloud and finally made it. After getting some photos we settled down behind a large slab of rock, sheltered from the wind, resting, hoping the cloud might miraculously lift.

It wasn't to be the case, for the time being. We caught a few glimpses of the loch beneath us as the cloud blew across the rocky landscape, but decided not to wait for a few hours that might be needed to get a chance for any change:

It was time to return, knowing we had a very long walk back before we could reach the car. As we headed down into the glen we could see a white spot in the distance which was Sligachan Hotel, near to where the car was parked! (So small it cannot be easily seen in the photo below!)

On and on we went, the hotel not really seeming to get any closer (the same feeling I had read about in a few reviews of the hike). Looking back we saw the peak of Sgurr Hain had cleared which left us with a tinge of disappointment. The Cuillin Hills were still under cloud, but the view would have been so much better from Sgurr Na Stri if we had done the hike a few hours later. Maybe another time in the future...

As we slowly but surely progressed down the glen and passed Sgurr Nan Gillean,  there was a major contrast in the lighting from early in the morning. The mountain looked so dark and foreboding...

..compared to eight hours before with the early morning light:

Finally we reached the car - tired, aching, and thirsty (I had run out of water on the route back). Samuel's Fitbit had recorded 38000 steps, 13 miles, 3800 calories(!), 6hr 45mins walking time, and it was still mid-afternoon!

Not all photographic sessions end with the desired results, and this was one of them. But no complaints. With the weather we had experienced the past ten days on the Isle of Skye, it had exceeded all expectations, with the sunrises, sunsets and landscape we had seen and recorded. And to round off the day, later that evening I was able to capture the final colours from the sun setting down at Staffin Bay.

Sunset from the slopes of the Quiraing - Isle of Skye

Some of the best moments of photography are the unpredictable ones. This particular day had been one of low cloud over the mountains, rain, and generally grey, overcast weather. A contrast to the previous week that had provided so much good weather. Yet as the evening went on, there were signs of some breaks in the skies to the north, and evidence of high altitude cloud (the type the generates great sunsets!).

Atmospheric photos can come from changeable conditions, so I decided to take the chance and head out in the car up to the Quiraing ridge. On arrival, getting somewhere high would provide the best vantage point and so I started the ascent of the slopes of the Quiraing. Finding a sheltered section from the wind, I settled down and admired the view, although at that particular stage there wasn't any promise of much happening!

The views to the west did show some light behind the clouds, and as I looked more closely I was certain I could make out a line of blue in the distance, like the edge of a weather front. If that was the case, it meant that the sun would soon appear to spread its light across the upper moorland, so I waited...

...sure enough, eventually the sun crept from under the clouds and started to transform the scenery as it cast its glow across the landscape.

By this time the wind had died down a bit, and I just sat and enjoyed the changing light as the sun continued to descend below the mountain line.

But the best was yet to come! The high altitude clouds that I mentioned earlier were still present and as the sun continued to set the colour display started, accentuated by the stormy clouds that were blowing across the mountain ridge.

Even the sheep enjoyed the view!

It was definitely the best place to be at that moment in time as I just watched the horizon light up with colours.

Soon further cloud was blown across the mountains obscuring the view and signalling it was time to descend to the car. It was another one of those moments of being glad for the prompting to get out and 'see what happened' with the weather. 

To finish off the day, the skies cleared an hour or two later and provide a great opportunity to get a few photos of the night sky above where we were staying. A fitting end to the day, and ready for bed!

Old Man of Storr revisit - Isle of Skye

My previous 3.00am rise for the Old Man of Storr had been a solo experience as my boys had arrived here late the night before - too much to then expect them to accompany me so early! However my youngest son Joshua (@joshua_earle) after seeing my photos was very keen to have opportunities to get his own photographic record of the location. So after studying the weather apps, I set the alarm for 3.40am this time, and after waking everyone up at that unearthly hour we headed off for another pre-dawn start to the day!

The moon was still out and brightly shining down over the Old Man, which provided a good excuse for a few minutes rest on the way up!

This morning was completely different to the previous visit earlier in the week: The wind was much gentler, but in particular the storm clouds from the overnight wet weather were still hanging around the horizon muting the colours as the sun rose.

But it didn't take long for the sun to start breaking through the clouds, casting its orange glow across the water and onto the Old Man:

I decided to set up the tripod on a different high point to the previous visit to provide a slightly different angle to the shots, while leaving Joshua up on the previous spot that can be seen on the middle right of the above photo. This was until he noticed that I wasn't around and came running down the hill with his camera to check out the new perspective, not wanting to miss out!

Inevitably it was soon time to head back down to the car, diverting via a small loch to capture reflections of the Old Man in the still waters:

On the descent to the car, I saw the lochs down by the roadside were very calm with some reflections noticeable on the far loch. I had been waiting for the right conditions to get a particular reflection photo there looking back to the Old Man, and although not exactly meeting the criteria, we headed off so I could see what shots were possible:

So another start to the day was complete, almost! Taking Willow for her morning walk and exercise down to Staffin Bay, I noticed the loch by Kilt Rock waterfall was reflecting like glass, so pulled up for a few photos! It was just in time, as shortly after getting the photos a breeze picked up rippling the water's surface and the moment was gone.

The haar and cloud inversion - Isle of Skye

This particular morning I had set the alarm at 3.45am and then 5.00am, each time checking the views outside to see whether it was worth venturing out early. On both occasions it looked like the weather wasn't going to give a decent sunrise, so I drifted off to sleep.

Waking again just after sunrise, I noticed what appeared to be sunlight on the tree outside and lay there half asleep working out whether it was the sun or not! So I got up, peered out the window and looking across to Wester Ross I realised that it wasn't water I was looking at but clouds hanging over the sea! I was indeed looking at a haag and cloud inversion! In lightning speed I pulled on the clothes and grabbed the camera stuff and disappeared off in the car, not knowing how long the phenomenon would last.

I had missed the actual sunrise, but the sun was still low enough in the sky to leave some colour on the horizon as it reflected off the haag.

After getting the few photos above, I moved on to Kilt Rock Waterfall, with perfect lighting for capturing the views across the cliffs. Normally buzzing with tourists the place was pleasantly quiet, just a few people were there who had got up early enough to enjoy the spectacle.

Unlike the previous days where it had been fairly blustery, there was almost no breeze at all, leaving great reflections in the small loch by the waterfalls car park:

I then moved on up to the Quiraing range again, with a desire to capture the views of the haag from much higher up.

I sat watching the view for a long time, just taking in the quiet, peaceful environment, enjoying the special moments that such opportunities bring - no pressures, no rush, no noise, just the calling Ravens and the wind.

It was time then to return to the cottage, capturing a great view of a small fishing vessel leaving the haag as it returned to port.

The Talisker Bay sunset - Isle of Skye

This was the third morning where the previous two had been very early rises. The weather forecast predicted a cloudy start to the day and so I decided not to set the alarm and get some needed rest. However being woken just before sunrise and Willow our dog starting to whine as she needed the 'bathroom' I got up to take her outside. I was confronted with a sky full of pastel colours pending the sunrise and hastily returned to grab the camera!

This was a pleasant unexpected start to the day, but only lasted a short while before cloud and mist moved in and clothed the landscape in grey, hiding what had gone before.

The grey overcast weather resulted in a lazy rest of the morning, but eventually we made a move and headed to Talisker Bay on the south west side of the island.  As we headed south down the island the low cloud and mist soon cleared and left bright, clear, sunny weather resulting in a super afternoon.

We decided to make Talisker Bay the next sunset photo shoot. Firstly however, I drove back to Sligachan to leave some of the family at the hotel for them to get a meal, while also getting some more photos on the way and then heading back to the bay with my son Joshua!

Sligachan is a great location and the planned start point for a hike later next week:

Returning to the bay, the sunset met every expectation.

After the sun disappeared below the horizon it gave a chance to try out some long exposure shots, with the black rocks giving a very dramatic feel to the water's edge.

Once again it was time to be heading back, this time to pick up the rest of the family before driving back to the cottage. On the return route the moon (which had been a full moon earlier in the day) started to appear from behind the clouds and created a fitting end to the adventure! 

 

 

The Quiraing sunrise - Isle of Skye

Another day, another sunrise! This time it was to be the Quiraing mountain range, and an early rise again - 4.30am, much more reasonable than the previous 3.00am!

Arriving at the car parking area, it became obvious that we needed to get to a high point on the ridge to get a decent view of the sunrise. This entailed a reasonable length walk along a narrow path which eventually led to an ideal spot for getting different views of the rising sun.

Once again it was a privilege to be here at this particular moment in time to enjoy the spectacle.

As time went on, the light changed with the sun casting streaks across the sky, and bathing the mountains on the horizon in a pink/orange glow.

It was time to move on, and make the return trek to the car, getting great views of the Quiraing ridge in the process.

But it wasn't quite over yet! Driving back to the cottage and looking over to Wester Ross (the north western tip of the Scottish mainland), the bright white light of the sun cast a blueish haze over the mountains and was a fine end to a great start to the day.

Neist Point road trip and sunset at Staffin Bay - Isle of Skye

After my 3.00am rise for the Old Man of Storr dawn visit, following breakfast we decided to make a road trip to Fairy Pools in the south west of the island. This meant passing the Cuillin mountain range again which was beautifully clothed in heat haze:

Arriving at Fairy Pools in Glen Brittle we were confronted with the realisation of this being a major tourist location! Car parking challenges, along with an abundance of people swimming in the pools didn't make it ideal for photography, so I only managed the shot below, but planned to return to the location for a sunrise shoot - weather permitting!

Returning to the car after visiting the pools, we decided to head off to Neist Point to get a view of the lighthouse:

It was then time to return to the car for the journey back to our temporary home, before heading out again for the sunset.

As the sun was getting low in the sky I drove up to Quiraing to check out the view...

... and then returned down to Staffin Bay to capture the golden moments of the sunset and ensuing colours as another day faded into night.

Elgol road trip and Duntulm sunset - Isle of Skye

On this particular day with the sun shining, we headed off for a road trip to Elgol on the south west side of the Isle of Skye. 

The Isle of Skye is a beautiful island, and with such weather it provided an excellent opportunity to enjoy the views of the surrounding mountains and lochs:

Driving down the steep descent to the car park at Elgol revealed stunning views across to the Cuillin range of mountains, and looking out to the west gave clear views of the Isle of Rum:

While taking the photos, I noticed in the distance towards the Cuillin mountain range the golden sands of a beach (middle right of the upper photo) which looked like a great place to try and get to. So after reviewing the OS map and finding a parking spot opposite a path that headed towards the area I packed the camera rucksac, strapped on the tripod and headed off. By this time I had the sunset in mind (which I wanted to take from a spot in the north west of the island), so decided I better jog sections of the route to the beach, which was an interesting challenge with a good amount of uphill stony path to follow as well as the weight of the rucksac! Time didn't permit me to reach the beach on this occasion, so from the top point of the path I grabbed some photos to put together a panoramic later (photo below), and ran most of the way back to the car - burning plenty of calories and completing the 'Monday run' that I would normally do at home!

Returning back to the cottage on the north east of the island, there was just enough time to eat before heading off again to Duntulm. This was a location I had visited a number of years ago, also for a sunset! I was in for a treat again, other than battling an abundance of midges that warranted wearing a midge jacket to try and avoid their feeding frenzy!

As the sky started to darken while driving back to the cottage it brought an end to a super day. Little did I know it had laid the groundwork for the next few days which brought some further excellent photo opportunities that started the following morning with a 3.00am rise for a visit to the Old Man of Storr (see The Old Man of Storr dawn visit).

The Old Man of Storr dawn visit - Isle of Skye

This particular day started the night before! Having arrived in the Isle of Skye during the weekend with total cloud cover, I was looking for the first opportunity to get out with the camera for a good sunrise session. The previous year when we visited the north west Highlands of Scotland for two weeks, the weather hadn't permitted any sunrise excursions (where the sun would be seen!). So when I checked my weather apps the night before and saw that the next morning was going to be clear, I decided that the 3.00am alarm would be worth it to head off to the Old Man of Storr before dawn in order to get photos at sunrise.

Getting up that time of the day (or rather night!) was a real struggle, but bleary eyed I drove down to the parking location at the bottom of the The Storr, and headed off up the track, laden with camera gear and tripod (I can definitely recommend that level of exertion in the early morning for waking you up and getting the heart rate going!).

As I ascended the rough, rock strewn path, I looked across at the first light of day and knew that it was going to be a good one. 

I found it surprisingly tiring as I continued up the path, struggling at points to work out where the track went in the dark, and at one stage staring at a rock that I had to step up over, summoning the mental will and energy to carry on! So much for all my 5-7 mile runs in recent months, they didn't seem to help at that particular moment!

However once I had reached the viewpoint where I was going to take the photos, the memory of the tiredness faded away! Even in the pastel light of the blue hour the view was stunning - the photo hiding the fact of the gale force winds that battered the tripod!

But I wasn't the only one who had made the early morning trip. I first met Riccardo (@riccardozambelloni), a great guy who combined his love of hiking with photography. There were also two North Face tents pitched on the top of this windy high point - I was later to discover that Chris Burkard (@chrisburkard) and some friends who were up in the location for photo shoots were sleeping there overnight and joined the line of us watching the day dawn. Only later did I discover the legend of a photographer that Chris Burkard is.

Soon the first signs of the sunrise arrived, as the sun poked above the mountains on the horizon:

As the sun rose higher in the sky it cast its glow across the waters, and onto the Old Man and brought to life the scenery before us:

It doesn't matter how many post cards are seen, how many photos in the books are viewed, there is nothing quite like 'being there' when this sort of moment arrives and just taking in the view, the colours and the beauty of creation. The light was amazing and showed the Old Man of Storr in all its glory.

Soon it was time to head back down, thankful for the day, the strength to make the trip and catching a few more photos on the way down!

After the rain

It seems to have been a week with a significant amount of rain and storms here in the south east of England. One night I was woken with the loudest explosion of thunder overhead that I can remember for many years. The term 'rolling thunder' didn't even cover the experience suitably, with it sounding like a huge cannonball bouncing down the wooden deck of a ship as the thunder echoed across the sky into the distance.

Yet, amidst a such a week there has also been moments when the sun was painting the skies with colours and disguising the weather that had gone before. 

One such evening was mid-week where I discovered a new local spot for getting photos while going on a long run with my dog Willow after work. Running past a particular point along my local river I looked behind me towards a weir, to see reflections just like a mill pond and decided I must come back on a suitable evening with the camera. I didn't suspect it would be so soon, when a few hours later I was standing by that same weir getting photos of the sunset.

It was a particularly pleasant part of the river, with ox-eye daises covering the grassy areas like a blanket, along with large open views of the sky and horizon.

As the sun dipped lower under the horizon and clouds drifted over, they painted patterns across the sky, with ever changing colours and shapes as each moment passed.

The stillness of the evening (such a contrast to earlier in the day and week) was a pleasure to experience and even more so watching the resulting reflections in the river.

A few days later I was rushing back to this spot again. Looking out of the kitchen window at one point in the evening I saw the colours in the sky and realised the sun was shortly going to set!

I managed to reach the spot just in time, as the colours peaked in their saturation and splendour.

But on this occasion, it seemed to be only a matter of minutes before the colour was starting to fade and disappeared leaving no trace of the fiery display I had just witnessed.

No doubt I will be returning to this location in the future!