Coming Full Circle - Perthshire

The last time I wrote about my work in the area of Perthshire was two years ago when my family and I carried on a long tradition of spending the Easter holiday away together.

It was during that week, staying in an old hunting lodge near Dunkeld that I decided I wanted to move my life to this diverse and beautiful place. Last summer I did just that. You can read about my experiences since then in the May edition of the excellent Perthshire Magazine

This year we returned to the same house to spend another fantastic week. It has given me a great opportunity to explore a small and specific area in more depth, something I wouldn’t have chosen to do had I been travelling up from my home in Glasgow.

From my last visit I remembered a couple of spots I had thought worthy of revisiting on the hills above Butterstone. I thought this would be the obvious place to start the week. When I wokr on the first morning and peered out the window I was surprised to see... well... not very much. A thick layer of fog had appeared, obscuring the view down the valley. I ventured out anyway in the hope of capturing some atmospheric and moody photos.

High Upon the Hills, Buttertone


I could see a faint ball of light through the fog. I knew that if it were to break through the high layer of cloud and shine through the fog it would flood the valley below me with beautiful golden light. I also knew that if the sun were to appear it would cause me massive contrast problems. I frantically ran around the fields to find some sort of subject that would work with the conditions. I set my camera up positioning the sun behind a tree to partly hide the sun. I simply had to wait and hope that as the sun rose higher it would burn through the mist and light up the scene. Fortunately that was exactly what happened.

As the fog began to burn off and more of the landscape came into view I finally found what I had been looking for. Two years ago I found this old derelict farmhouse but hadn’t been able to make a picture of it but now conditions were perfect. I was able to capture the moody and misty photo I had hoped to.

As the sun shone through the layer of mist it created beautiful, ethereal colours with subtle streaks of light across the maze of stone walls that were draped across the farmland. 

The remainder of the week was fairly bleak - weather wise. Apart from the fantastic session on the first day I had struggled to get any great photos. One morning towards the end of the week, as I woke early to complete the daily peek out the window I saw the usual low cloud and flat light; a half hour later the same conditions cursed the view. Another hour after that and I was ecstatic to see that the scene out of my bedroom window had completely transformed!

I was lucky enough to have the loan of my dads super massive 600mm telephoto lens. With this awesome toy (finally) in my arsenal I quickly gather my gear and ran out the door. I spent the morning trying to pick out details in the landscape.

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Besides the awesome time I had photographing this little area, and despite the weather hindering me taking any more photos, the week was a special one. Its always special to spend time with family, and I'm so fortunate and grateful to have a family, every one of whom cares enough to travel (in some cases) the entire length of the country to spend time together. But this week was special in a different way. It was during that first holiday to Perthshire, when I spent the whole week driving around, exploring everywhere I could, that I vividly remember thinking how easily I could see myself living and working in this area. So to return two years later, having come full circle - still gives me goosebumps!

The Wild West Coast - Kinlochbervie

Last time I ventured so far into the North West Highlands was in the height of Summer. Blue skies never ceased, the temperature soared and without a breath of wind to create even a little bit of drama, I'm sorry to say I left a little disappointed. Last week however, I returned to Sutherland and discovered Scotland's very own Wild West. 

I knew this trip would bring a sense of exploring the unchartered, and so I wanted to approach this project with as few preconceived ideas as possible. Beyond sunrise and sunset times, weather forecasts and tide times I did little to no research for this trip, which is why I thought it best to employ some local knowledge.

A friend of mine, Nathan, grew up in Kinlochbervie from where he recounts stories of climbs with his dad and camps with his brother. I thought it was about time to slyly instigate an invitation and enjoy the benefits of a local guide.

After arriving at our digs at midnight the night before, first stop on my tour of the Sutherland coast was Oldshoremore beach - a typical, albeit modest, stretch of stunning Scottish sand. The scene was filled with enormous breakers rolling in off the Atlantic and was topped off by the striking outcrop of rock rising out of the ocean. This would call for a return at sunset.

We spent the day exploring the hills over the beach and being battered by the wind. It's been a long time since rain has stung my face. Needless to say that when it was time to venture out for a sunset shoot and the wind had considerably subsided it was a great relief. 

Day two began wet and wild  with a wander down to the bottom of the croft we were staying. A short jaunt up the adjacent hill lead to a cracking view up the loch to some of the peaks on the horizon. I found a cool composition but the low cloud prevented me from getting a decent shot. I gave up when the hail arrived.

Later that afternoon however couldn't have been further from my morning experience. Nathan and I decided to  walk round the coast to Sheigra. The views round the coastline were stunning and was littered with amazing cliffs and rock formations. 

As we rounded the headland and I got my first glimpse of Sheigra, the cloud broke up, the golden strip shone in the sunlight and the blue waters glistened as they crashed onto the shore. 

When we reached the tide line I found the large rocks contrasting with the soft golden sand a really interesting juxtaposition.

Following a walk up the peat road and cross country to find a waterfall and some pretty awesome sea cliffs we rewarded ourselves with the best hot chocolate in the world at Cocoa Mountain in the Balnakeil Craft Village near Durness. On the way back to Kinlochbervie we stopped off at the Kyle of Durness Estuary with the hope of some evening light on Beinn Spionnaidh and Cranstackie.

Our last day we spent visiting the daddy of Sutherland beaches - Sandwood. This isolated beach is at the end of a four and a half mile walk and although my blistered feet were screaming by the end, every step was worth it. 

The mile and a half stretch of pure seclusion, had so much to offer. What strikes you first in the sheer vastness of blue sea and golden sand - another gem of the Scottish coast line. As you approach you begin  to get lost in the seemingly endless dunes before emerging out onto the beach where it finally gives up it's crown jewel - Am Buachaille.

What perhaps struck me the most was the view looking North. During momentary breaks in the weather it was possible to see all the way to the Cape Wrath lighthouse - the most North-Westerly point of the British mainland.

On our final morning I had to make the hard decision of which sunrise location to shoot. So far a sunrise had eluded me and I wanted to make the most of my last chance. 

I decided  on a cliff top viewpoint looking across the sea to the peaks of Foinaven, Arkle and Ben Stack. With barely a minute to spare, I battled against the wind coming in off the sea to set up my camera and tripod looking down onto the rocks below as the swell surged over them. The glow to the East that I had been watching from the car as we raced towards my location of choice was intensifying by the second and I managed to catch this shot before the sun rose into the cloud about the summits. 

This was definitely the best conditions I had been able to shoot during the trip and feel I was able to make something special with it. That morning we began the long trek back home: right through the heart of Sutherland (stopping in Ullapool for a chippy on the way)

It's fair to say I saw a completely different side to the area than my previous trip. A side that made it even more alluring to return to and explore again in the future...