Having booked onto a photography workshop on the Isle of Skye for the end of October, I decided to make the most of it and visit the highlands for a few days as well. It had been many years since I had visited Scotland but I had not forgotten the feeling of awe experienced when travelling through the highlands during holidays or field trips.
With only three days planned for my road trip, I had a look through two fantastic books for inspiration (see links below). I had visions of calm misty lake reflections with the odd castle or two thrown in for good measure but as always with photography, luck with the weather plays a big part and as the trip drew near, the weather forecast was looking a little changeable.
Indeed, the day I arrived was grey and breezy so I opted to visit some waterfalls, where an overcast day would be preferable to the glare of sunlight and harsh contrasts. In the end, I couldn't have been more grateful for the dull weather. My first location was Finnich Glen, an absolutely magical place and well worth the rather steep and uneven descent to the bottom (not for the faint hearted!). The water flows rusty red from the exposed red sandstone bedrock and an unusual rocky outcrop called the 'Devil's Pulpit' is framed perfectly in the view upstream. I could have stayed here all day, but with only two views to be photographed (without getting rather wet), I stayed for a hour or two before back to the car.
Next stop was Bracklinn Falls, a stunning wide fast flowing river which roars through narrow gaps in the rocks in a torrent of white water. It is impressive sight, particularly in Autumn surrounded by a feast of colour. The walk to the falls from the car park takes you past some beautiful beech woods which are a photographic treat at this time of the year in their own right. I stayed here a while before heading to my first stay at Dalmally Station, an actual working station and B&B with bedrooms along the platform where the waiting rooms used to be. The hosts Graham and Liz offered a very warm welcome with tea, and a platter of cheese and biscuits on arrival and a very comfortable room.
I had chosen Dalmally to stay for the night due to its proximity to Kilchurn castle and I felt extremely lucky to experience calm conditions at dawn the following morning. Snowfall had arrived a few weeks earlier than normal and I was blessed with a dusting of snow on the mountains and a stunning view greeted me at the loch edge. The blue pre-sunrise light on the castle and hills created a beautiful calm atmosphere and I stayed until the light turned golden and it was time to move on.
Glen Orchy must be one of the most picturesque shortcuts around and was a treat to drive alongside the river on route to Glencoe. I couldn't help but keep stopping to capture autumn reflections and sunlit colours making it not a particularly 'short' cut at all. When on a photography trip, it is easy to be drawn only to the famous well photographed views but it is often well worth those spontaneous stops as you never know if the famous 'planned locations' are going to work out.
As the day went on the weather closed in and the drive through Glencoe was an ever changing cycle of sun, rain, wind, clouds and rainbows (although typically the latter occurred at the most inopportune moments such as when I had stopped for lunch and left my camera in the car!). I had hoped to drive along Glen Etive to photograph the beautiful loch but the wind had picked up and there was little chance of the stunning reflections I had hoped for. My first photography stop instead was of Buachaille Etive Mor with the somewhat dwarfed Lagangarbh Cottage. Shooting straight into the midday winter sun is not particularly easy, especially when faced with wind, rain and blinding sun all at once directly into the camera, and although I tried not to over expose the sunlight, it was tricky and inevitably I had some very mixed outcomes! However, I do think we can be too hard on ourselves as photographers making sure everything is technically perfect. This is not always possible and sometimes when the elements speak for themselves, the resulting picture can tell a far more interesting story of the moment captured in time.
The mountains are truly breathtaking but capturing their true majesty eluded me somewhat. I walked up to a ridge called the Study in the hope of capturing Glencoe at its best but hailstorms had other ideas and after 40 minutes spent huddling behind a boulder and taking some hurried snaps between showers, I decided to call it a day and head back to the car. Landscape photography is certainly a frustrating game and often the more you try to plan the more disappointing it can feel. It was as usual a case of being in the right place at the wrong time and some of my favourite photos were actually the impromptu side of the road stops rather than the iconic scenes.
The next night saw me staying at Caol with the plan to visit the Old boat at Corpach in the morning. The rain put paid to that plan (a cup of tea in bed however is always a welcome plan B) but I decided to make the most of being so close to Ben Nevis and walked up Glen Nevis, a stunning valley with incredible views and the striking Steall Falls at the end (if you get that far that is - first you have to cross the rather precarious rope bridge!).
Next up was the the very famous Harry Potter location at Glenfinnan. Popular with the tourists, I wasn't sure if I would enjoy it but the loch itself was absolutely stunning with some interesting skies and I'm glad I went, if nothing else for the delicious very warming Macaroni Cheese lunch in the National Trust cafe!
I had a most enjoyable drive from Glenfinnan up to Dornie where I was to stay for the last night of my road trip before joining the workshop on Skye. The light was changing throughout the afternoon and I couldn't help but hop out of the car a few times to photograph the scenery on route.
Dornie is the home of the famous Eilean Donan castle, as well as not so famous Salty Towers, a most welcoming bed and breakfast which was just what was needed after the long drive. The hosts Lesley and Ali had thought of everything to make it feel like home from home and it was the perfect base to explore the edges Loch Duich, including the Five Sisters of Kintail first thing in the morning before heading across the bridge to Skye.
My mini road trip had come to an end and I went off to meet the Dawn2Dusk workshop leaders and fellow photographers and spend the next three days visiting breathtaking coastlines, volcanic scenery, rivers and lochs of this beautiful western isle. I love the freedom and flexibility that time alone on the road can bring, but there is something very reassuring and enjoyable about being part of a group of like-minded photographers with experienced tutors taking the decision making out of your hands, and with some of the locations rather remote and requiring long hikes in the dark I was very glad to not be travelling alone. It was a fantastic workshop group and as always there is much to learn.
Photographing Scotland by Dougie Cunningham
The Photographer’s Guide to Scotland – Skye, Glencoe & The Trossachs by Ellen Bowness
Recommended Bed and Breakfasts
Dalmally Station - Dalmally
Salty Towers - Dornie