I've taken a number of trips up to Aviemore over the years, sometimes for work and sometimes to stay with friends. But last weekend as a birthday/graduation celebration, my girlfriend and I made the trip North to Aviemore to spend the weekend having a bit of a well-earned break: albeit a short one involving unbearably early mornings. Such is the life of a landscape photographer!
Given that my previous trips to Aviemore have always been either fleeting, or business related, my knowledge of the area is quite limited. So on my first morning I was up at 4am to the only location I knew from past experience that would be worth a visit: the beach at Loch Morlich with a view up to Cairngorm.
When I left our B&B and joined the main road, I was greeted by a thick bank of fog. Fortunately however, by the time I reached the other end of the town and turned off towards Rothiemurchus and Loch Morlich I discovered that the fog was just clinging to the line of the main road.
Once I found my way to the beach I was delighted to see that mist was billowing off the water. I knew that from a glance at the map the night before that the sun wouldn't be in an ideal position but with the amount of mist wafting about I was feeling hopeful.
I've never had the chance before to photograph a really misty morning, the kind of misty morning I always hope for when I'm out at a loch first thing... the kind my dad always seems to enjoy when he's out with his camera!
The first sign of the sun was a faint purple glow on the hills across the loch which were peeking out above the mist. Thankfully the water was as still as could be and I was able to capture some amazing reflections.
Once the sun was up it began to light up the treeline at the bottom of Cairngorm. The cloud was holding back the sunlight from reaching the tips of the mountains, but the mist was still pluming off the surface of the loch, which made for a great picture. There was even a hint of colour appearing in the sky.
After my promising morning at Loch Morlich I decided to head up the hill to the Cairngorm car park to try and find a view back down the valley and over the loch. By the time I got up the hill the mist that I had enjoyed earlier had burnt off and the day have become quite dull and grey. I quickly made the decision to return to the B&B and crawl back into bed. But as I made my way back to town I had an unexpected chance encounter...
Standing at the side of the road, head down munching on the grass I saw this white fluffy bum which at first I thought was a sheep, but as I passed it I noticed it was in fact a reindeer! I knew that there were reindeer in the area, and that they were farmed, but it was still a surprise to find myself face to face with one roaming freely in the mountains.
I spent a good 10 minutes or so hanging around trying to encourage it to look at me (I won't go into the details of my technique) but once I lost patience with the stubborn little deer I turned back towards my car and was taken aback by the audience that had gathered. In total I spent about 25 minutes with 6 reindeer (which were disappointingly uninterested in me, but still ridiculously cute) and managed to get some great shots of these gorgeous animals.
It's unexpected bonus moments like these that make the early morning slog up into the hills totally worth it.
On the second morning of the weekend I ventured back into the Rothiemurchus estate to a different spot on Loch Morlich. By the time I arrived I was disappointed to see a boring bland sky and clouds shrouding the summits of all the peaks in sight. I made the call that I wouldn't be able to get anything that topped the photos I took the day before and decided to leave the loch side and try out a shot I spotted from the road the day before of a group of trees in a clearing among the woods. The clouds sticking to the tops of the mountains were blocking the sun from casting any light over the estate, but there's still something about this shot that I think is quite enchanting.
I was hoping for another special moment like the reindeer the day before: like a red squirrel on the tree, or a wild cat wandering through the clearing... but alas... it wasn't meant to be.
I went back to Loch Morlich in a last ditch effort to catch some of the sunrise from the spot I picked out earlier that morning. Thankfully the cloud had dissipated slightly and more mist was rising from the water. The moon even made an appearance.
One other note worthy visit we made during the weekend was the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore. As big Outlander fans we found the 18th century village reconstruction particularly worthwhile and interesting.
Fair warning though... the teacher isn't happy if you're late for class!