Surrounding my last visit to the Faroe Islands, I had the chance to explore several distinct areas of the Scottish Highlands. Arriving in Edinburgh International via a long, multi-legged flight from Las Vegas, I was eager to get to my stopping point for the evening - Inverness - where I would meet up with the super talented wedding and landscape photographer, James Kelly.
To get from Edinburgh to Inverness, I opted to travel by rail. When I don't have time (or budget) to drive and explore a new area extensively, travel by rail gives me a good idea of what the countryside looks like while still being economical in both cost and time. Plus, in Scotland, the public transportation is well run, clean, and comfortable.
It was about a three and a half hour journey via Perth. During this trip I soon realized that my preconceived notions of Scotland being green and rocky were slightly off. Arriving in early October as I did, the grass was still green but the trees and shrubs were turning all sorts of beautiful golds, oranges, and reds! And I had been totally unaware of catching the country in this state.
The train ride only ramped up my excitement to see more of this country. Upon reaching Inverness, I meet up with James. For those who may not have read my Faroe Island post, James Kelly is a Scottish photographer who specializes in wedding and landscape photography. I met him the first time I was in the Faroe Islands as he was our guide. Having been shooting the Faroes for over six years, he knows the area better than almost any other photographer offering tours there. Since I was returning to the Faroes, he graciously offered to show me a bit of Scotland if I decided to come through his home country (one of only three options for getting to the Faroes). So, there I was, in Scotland, ready to get a taste for yet another new-to-me country.
We had basically four days before we had to be in Edinburgh for our flight to the Faroe Islands. During those four days, Scotland lived up to its reputation for having overcast, rainy weather. No matter, we still found ways to make some images and for me to scout out the area.
One of the first areas James showed me was some of the coastal areas along the northwestern coastline. This area is filled with beautiful cliff lines, round pebble beaches, and small historical fishing ports. On an overcast day, we had a bit of cloud definition, which is what you want if you are shooting grey skies, and decided to visit Bow Fiddle Rock for some black and white compositions. Using long exposures in between sprinkling rain showers, I managed to capture the image below. There were other sea stacks in the distance but the storm was moving in quickly so we decided to try our luck elsewhere.
Pulling into another fishing town, we made our way to the small harbor to see what we could see. Low and behold there was a harbour seal just relaxing and sleeping in the clear waters next to the harbor wall. Watching it for a bit, it caught on to my attention and woke up to move down to the sandy cove at the corner of the harbor where it proceeded to just slowly swim around, climb out on the beach, and then flop, belly up in the shallows to nap while the tide kept it pushed against the sand.
The second area I was able to explore with James was a small area of the Western Highlands near Ullapool. Making a long day drive of it we were able to explore various stops along the way including, my favorite stop, of Corrieshalloch Gorge National Nature Reserve. A small walking path takes you down across the massive suspension bridge where you can take in the power of these falls from directly overhead. It was a heady experience to stand there and feel the rumble resonating from the power of the water rushing over the cliff as it tumbled down to the gorge floor. From the bridge you can follow the trail down to another suspended observation deck and view the waterfall in its entirety.
Visiting during fall foliage and after the area had several days of rain, gave me the best conditions as the leaves were gorgeous colors, saturated from the moisture, and the waterfall was at full capacity, tinted by the sediments and runoff from further upstream.
Close to sunset we were far into the Western Highlands off a one lane track when we came upon a small waterfall. Unfortunately, the light wasn't quite right for a shot there but, climbing to the top where the falls flow originated, we discovered this scene. Fighting some powerful winds and after days of grey, we finally had some good light and blue skies with a few clouds for character.
On our last shooting day, we visited one of the lochs in Cairngorms National Park for sunrise. The water surface was calm while mist rose between layers of trees surrounding the loch. The collection of small boats added an element reminiscent of a simpler time to the scene.
After that James and I headed to the Faroe Islands for eight days, meeting up with a Canadian and another Scotsman before we went our separate ways. I returned to Scotland for another five days of exploration, this time in the tiny town of Dalmally on the banks of Loch Awe.
Arriving by train, I was able to walk off the train and directly to the door of my AirBnB. Liz and Graham, the proprietors of the now private residence station, have turned several of the old station rooms into guest rooms. Super comfortable, you cant get any closer to public transportation than this. Not only do they own the station, but they run a small farm and are textile artists with a gallery and studio in the station. I cannot say enough good things about my stay here. This is one of the first places I have ever encountered on my travels where I truly felt like I had found a second family.
If in the area, I highly suggest a stay here and ask Liz about trying your hand at the art of felting. Due to rain arriving at the same time I did, I had several days where I just hung around the station. In doing that Liz invited me to join them in the studio. Here she showed me various techniques needed to create and work with felt. By the end of my stay I had created two pieces of felt art that I will treasure. Looking back, this was an amazing way for me to take a breather from photography while extending my artistic talents. It also gave me an almost refreshed feeling when I did pick the camera up again.
Anyway, I did get out and shoot a couple times while there in Dalmally. Only about a mile and a half from the station, on a peninsula that sticks out into Lock Awe, sits the ruins of Kilchurn Castle. A quintessential Scottish castle scene unfolds as you walk along the eastern bank of the loch.
Location tip: Drones are prohibited from flying in the vantage point area. It is posted at the road where you can park before walking into the fields that lead to this view.
Along the walk to the castle, I encountered the most famous of real Scottish beasts, the highland cow (pronounced HE-land Coo). These generally docile creatures were too cute to pass up without taking a picture.
This trip was a quick and very superficial visit of Scotland. It gave me just enough of a taste to know I want a lot more. As of now, I already have plans in the works to revisit in October next year for longer and with a specific list of shooting locations.
Location tip: For those with significant others who enjoy golf, whisky, fishing, or hiking Scotland is an ideal place for a couples trip as you will both have a multitude of places to explore.
Until next time, enjoy!