The final adventure of the holiday up in the Highlands of Scotland over Christmas 2017 and the new year was a trip to the Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve by Loch Maree. This was very much a bucket list location for the holiday - but up to this point the weather conditions were not right to make the most of it for photography.
On new year's day however, everything was right! Analysing the phone weather apps the night before predicted a high possibility of very low wind levels giving opportunities for Loch Maree to show reflections, and the skies looked as if they were going to be clear. So I set off early for the one and a half hour journey from Nairn to the Kinlochewe area to get there before sunrise. One advantage of Scottish winters is that sunrise is around 9.00am, so no need for middle of the night rises like my summer adventures.
As I headed north the landscape around me changed with more snow and road conditions that deteriorated, requiring greater care and less speed! The views however were superb.
Although I felt on a deadline to reach the location by sunrise, I had to stop on a few occasions to get some records of the views - such as the above panoramic looking back down the glen, and the photos below descending towards Kinlochewe, with Loch Maree in the distance
From a distance Loch Maree didn't appear to be still enough for reflections, but you can imagine my excitement as I drove up the road by the loch on the way to the nature reserve car park to see reflections beckoning to be photographed!
Passing a small pull-in area I noticed a jetty that looked ideal for some photos, and after initially starting to walk back with the camera from the car park, I decided to drive back to save time (still not wanting to delay the ascent up to Beinn Eighe nature reserve).
The great regret I have with the above photos was putting myself under time pressure - if I had only thought about it and waited an additional 5-10 minutes I would have been able to have the sun rising over the trees in the distance which would have transformed the photos - but it wasn't to be and is now a plan for a future winter visit. Lesson learnt!
Driving back to the car park I set about getting some photos of the reflections to capture the atmosphere both before the sun lit up the mountains and then again with such different lighting with the sun. The impact of the golden hour sun in transforming a photo is so clearly seen when looking at the first two pair of photos below:
But time was rushing on, and with cloud further north I prepared all the equipment including ice axe and cramp-ons in the rucksack, ready for the ascent up to the nature reserve. Having been here before in the summer I knew the route would be tough, even taking the easier track through the woodland for the first part.
The views were amazing as I gained more height and looked back down to the loch - with the reflections already a thing of the past.
The pathway however was treacherous and at one point I had a nasty fall onto my hand and arm compliments of an icy rock and heavy rucksack. I was not to be deterred, and continued up the path of ice and snow, wondering whether I ought to get the crampons out - especially on the return route. However I managed without them and eventually reached 'level' ground with an incredible winter wonderland before Willow and I.
We continued to follow the path in the snow made by previous walkers on previous days, aiming for a higher point with a wider perspective of the mountains round about us. The conditions were near perfect - what a day!
Looking back at these photos reminds me of the feeling of looking out over such a landscape, with totally calm conditions and no sounds except the infrequent drone of high altitude planes passing over. It felt like being on the top of the world, being in the right place at the perfect time! Willow was good as gold off the lead, such a transformation from what she had been like for the first few years of her life.
With cloud moving in from the north, it was soon time to consider heading back down - with a little apprehension about tackling the icy rocky downhill path. It didn't take long for the conditions to change significantly - reinforcing what a blessing those previous hours had been with the weather.
As I safely (!) descended through to the final woodland stages of the route, it started to drizzle and by the time I was back to the car it was full on raining. It seemed like each part of the day had worked out perfectly with the timing.
This had to be one of my favourite walks and locations, and leaves me with plans for the future to wild camp up amongst those mountains for some summer sunset and sunrise photos, as well as hopefully returning one winter to get that 'missed' shot of the sunrise at the jetty.