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...

Devon - Summer Ends With A Bang!

This summer has been an amazing few months full of travel, photos, camping and adventures. After an exhausting adventure in the highlands of Scotland last month I was looking forward to a week in a warm comfortable flat, with a bed, a great view decent meals and a shower! My parents were on holiday in the harbour town of Brixham, in Devon, and offered me a free bed as a chance for me to tick off another location on my list of places to shoot.

I didn't plan on going out with my camera the night I arrived, but after a little persuasion I joined my mum and dad on their evening walk down to the harbour. It was only a 10 minute walk from the flat to the start of the breakwater and by that point the sunset was in full swing and I had to rush to get set up. It always feels good to get a decent start so early on in a trip.

The following day I was ready and rearing for a day exploring Dartmoor and finding all the locations I had spent the previous weeks researching. The first thing that struck me about Dartmoor was how vast it was. It took me the whole day to find just a couple of the locations I had researched.

That night on our evening walk I decided to stay nearer the harbour. It turns out that was a good call! The sun disappears quite early on in the evening behind the steep, crowded slopes surrounding the harbour which made it seem to me that the sunset is over in a flash! I was able to capture just a few photos before the colour in the clouds vanished.

Once the sun had set I stayed behind with my dad to wait for the lights of the town to bring the place to life. For the next hour or so I hung around the harbour as my camera made its long exposures. I was able to make the best of the “blue hour” that comes at twilight.

The next days forecast for Dartmoor was still poor. I decided that my best bet would be to stay in Brixham for the sunrise. I was quietly relieved that I didn’t face a really early start.

At the breakwater I kept an eye on the horizon, looking for the sun. Some light cloud picked out some lovely colour and I was able to capture this set of photos looking out to sea. These images really capture the peacefulness of the morning.

As the morning went on and the sun grew closer to the horizon, I turned my attention towards the marina. The stillness of the water made some great reflections of the boats and the clouds. The colour in the sky was certainly getting stronger every minute, but I love the subtlety and muted tones in this shot.

When the sun was up, I started to make my way home but I couldn’t just walk past this shot of the town. I felt really pleased to have had a positive start to the day and felt good about going out later to find more locations on Dartmoor. Little did I know that soon, everything was about to go horribly wrong.

When I set off in the car later that morning I didn’t even make it onto the moor before disaster stuck. I’m not sure what exactly I hit, maybe a rock or a piece of stray farm equipment on the road, but all of a sudden I heard a loud “pop” and felt my car start to wobble. After several hours of waiting with the police for a recovery van, one badly dented alloy and a ruined tyre, I was finally on my way again. Long story short, I had lost a full day of exploring Dartmoor.

Feeling pretty deflated and frankly fed up, I collapsed at home at the end of the day with no intention of going out for yet another sunset of the same harbour I’d been at every day since I arrived. That said… with a bit more persuasion I found myself out with my dad, above the harbour waiting for the sunset. And once again, it turned out to be worthwhile. I had to remind myself that it’s when things go wrong that you need to dig deep and make the most of every opportunity, otherwise you'll regret it.

Even though I still felt pretty unenthused about going out with my camera, I dragged myself out of bed the next day and along the coast to Paignton for a sunrise shot of the pier. The sunrise turned out well with some nice golden light, along with the bonus of a kayaker and swimmer in the sea to add some interest to my photos. But more importantly it helped me feel revitalised about my photography. I spent the remainder of the day at Paignton zoo with my parents.

It was frustrating that it had taken so long to find the shots I was looking for. But the following day, with a bit more enthusiasm, I was able to really sink my teeth into Dartmoor and was able to find the remaining locations on my list. I had been looking for a village surrounded by fields with a church steeple rising above, and that was exactly what I found at Moretonhampstead. It had been bright and clear all day but the evening turned out extremely hazy. I chose to leave early for some well needed dinner and try some shots in the morning.

I knew that the shot I wanted required the sun to be up and shining on the village so I decided not to get there long before the sunrise as I normally would, and gave myself some extra time in bed. I got my hopes up on the drive out when I passed through several stretches of lovely morning mist. Unfortunately, when I got up the hill overlooking the village there wasn’t enough mist to create the sort of effect I was hoping for. After a while the sun began to peek over the hill behind me and I was able to capture the pictures I’d been after all week!

By this point it was apparent that I wouldn’t have time to shoot all of the locations I had planned to, but I was happy with the places I had left to try. So that afternoon I went along the road at my dad’s recommendation to Goodrington. The beach at Goodrington is lined with some quintessentially picturesque beach huts and also one very unique feature - a steam train!

The last day of my trip was a bit of a washout but I wanted to make the most of the last sunset before I went home. I had to decide between the two Tors that I had scouted earlier in the week. I made the decision to go up Cox Tor and photograph the array of wind swept Hawthorn trees that are strewn across the hillside. Traffic had really held me up and I had to rush to get into position. The cloud blocked out most of the sunlight for the duration of the evening but I was able to make some dark and moody images of the battered trees. It wasn’t the grand finale to the week that I’d perhaps hoped for but I’m actually quite pleased with the final results.

Whenever I go away on a trip like this I always try to find a few locations that would work well in poor weather conditions. These are normally woodland areas under a lot of cover or waterfalls. For this trip, that shot was Hisley Bridge – a small stone bridge over a river in a nice wooded area. Perfect.

This summer has been an incredible adventure. I feel privileged to have been able to spend the past few months travelling to some of the most beautiful parts of the country. I’ve had an exhausting and extremely trying time, but it’s overwhelmingly rewarding. What’s more is I’m feeling even more enthusiastic about my photography than ever.

I can’t wait for autumn to arrive!