Despite having grown up in Scotland, I had never really spent any time in the west of the country. On my recent trip to my home country I tried to make up for lost time, visiting some of the beautiful places in the area between Stirling and the Skye bridge. Waterfalls, mountains, castles, wildlife... this part of Scotland has a huge amount to offer.
My first stop was at the Loup of Fintry, a series of waterfalls on the River Endrick, set in some lovely rolling countryside.
Waterfalls were a strong feature of my Scotland trip and are always interesting photographic subjects, any scene with a combination of moving and stationary elements provides additional possibilities as you can decide whether to freeze the motion with a short shutter speed or blur the motion with a longer exposure. As ever at these popular (and heavily photographed) destinations it is my hope to find a more original composition, often the best chance for that lies with a more intimate scene.
I continued my journey, staying the night near to Aberfoyle. This area would have been full of interest for me under normal conditions but the weather was at it's most uncooperative and any more expansive views were obscured. I decided to change my activities to fit the conditions and spent my time hunting for moody scenes on the edge of a forest.
I have found that having a solid plan for what to photograph can be a great benefit, but only when accompanied by a willingness to totally disregard that plan when prompted to by the conditions or the light. It is easy to spend a great deal of time and effort chasing something that isn't really possible just because you get too set on a pre-conceived idea.
Leaving Aberfoyle behind, but bringing the dismal weather with me, I decided to head towards Glencoe for a few days. On the way I sought out some waterfalls - overcast and miserable weather is highly suitable for waterfall photography. My favourite of these was the Falls of Falloch.
My base in the Glencoe area was the nicely situated Isles of Glencoe hotel in Ballachulish, on the shore of Loch Leven. This location was perfect for exploring the surrounding territory and also offered some photographic opportunities without needing to get into my rental car.
During this section of my trip the days took on a certain similar rhythm as the weather was variable at best and miserable at worst. Go out, explore, get wet, try to get things dry, sleep, repeat. I tried to take advantage of the occasional moments where there was a break in the gloom and otherwise alter my ideas such that I was embracing the conditions rather than fighting against them.
When I visited the shore of Loch Laich the conditions were exceptionally miserable, but perhaps this was appropriate when visiting the Castle of Aarrgh from Monty Python and the Holy Grail (also known as Castle Stalker in real life).
The gloomy conditions were still prevalent by the time I made my way to Kilchurn Castle, a ruined 15th century structure on the banks of Loch Awe.
When the water level is low it is possible to see this castle from up close but I found that the most attractive views were to be found from the other side of the Loch. As I was exploring these possibilities I noticed that the sun had found a small window in the fast moving clouds and a golden beam of light was making it's way along the hillside in the background. I was hoping that the light would fleetingly illuminate the castle itself but I had to make do with it painting the hills behind in gold.
The lovely Glen Etive can be found just up the road from Glencoe. There is a very popular photography spot near Glen Etive where a small waterfall provides the foreground with the iconic triangular peak of Buachaille Etive Mor dominating the horizon. This was one of those spots where, for me at least, the experience of visiting this spot was more depressing than inspiring - the procession of photographers and tourists all heading to the same spot had created a huge mud bath where the path used to be and the activity was clearly detrimental to the area. I still captured some images there, but without the good feeling that I often get from new places.
Over the past months I have been somewhat in conflict about my activities. I very much enjoy visiting new places, being out in nature, and trying to capture my own interpretations of the places that I find inspiring. I try to conduct myself sympathetically towards the places I visit and not leave any detrimental traces behind. On the other hand I hate to see beautiful locations getting spoiled by careless human activity and on occasion there are places like this where the sheer scale of traffic is very damaging even if all the visitors behave responsibly, just the act of going to such a place has a negative impact.
Photographers are not the only animals that can be found roaming in Glen Etive, a number of beautiful native red deer can be seen, if you are lucky, wandering around on the hillsides.
As I continued up the glen, on a single-track road with passing places (of course), yet more storm clouds and the setting sun were locked in an apocalyptic struggle.
Back in Ballachulish it was finally possible to get some reasonable morning weather as the early cloud gradually gave way to a brighter and more promising day.
The mixture of clouds and sun can provide some of the most attractive conditions, I wish there had been a bit more of this kind of weather during my trip - but Scotland in any season is always likely to mean you will have at least some unfavourable conditions to deal with.
The terrain of Scotland has fostered quite a tradition of climbing. There are no particularly high peaks (Ben Nevis is the highest at 1345m / 4413ft) but there are 282 separate summits of 3000ft or higher. These 3000ft peaks are known as Munros, after Sir Hugh Munro who produced the first list of 3000ft peaks in 1891. The Ladies Scottish Climbing Club was formed in 1908 by a group of lady climbers whose gender prevented them from joining the Scottish Mountaineering Club.
Although Ben Nevis is the highest peak in Scotland, it is not the most spectacular looking when viewed from Fort William (the nearest major town) as the peak appears to be part of a wide and gently sloping dome rather than making a vertical reach for the sky such as you might see in more spectacular ranges. The mountain provides a stern challenge for climbers despite the benign appearance from a distance, each year it requires a few dozen rescues to be performed and claims a handful of lives.
As I made my way from Fort William back towards the Isle of Skye I passed through some beautiful scenery.
A heavy snowfall coated the landscape in a white blanket and gave a very pure look to the scenery, conditions for driving were quite manageable on the main roads but it would have been easy for an unwary motorist to get stuck when entering lay-by's or side roads.
As I drove through the beautiful Glen Shiel all trace of colour left the sky as the white clouds dominated, the fresh covering of snow made for a completely monochrome scene.
I spent the night in the cosy Kintail View bed and breakfast in Ratagan, a small village on the shores of Loch Duich. My thought was to photograph the mountains opposite (the "Five Sisters of Kintail") the next morning, reflected in the loch... but as is so often the case the shot that I was planning for just wasn't on the cards. The wind was rippling the surface of the loch and ruining the reflections while a heavy snowstorm was blotting out the rising sun. After enjoying a cooked breakfast (featuring a duck egg instead of a hen's egg) I walked up the rather steep old military road towards Glenelg, hoping to find a good vantage point. At this point the snow became increasingly heavy and visibility was reduced to a minimum, providing a different kind of opportunity.
As I made my way back down to the village the sun started to fight it's way through the snowstorm which made for some very beautiful light, allowing me to capture one of my favourite images from this trip.
That's it for this time, thanks to all who have read this far and to any who like or share this post on social media, I appreciate the support.
Until next time,
Summer is finally here and we decided to make doubly sure of the seasonal feeling by heading to the Adriatic coast for a short family break. The destination was the rather luxurious resort of Portopiccolo, about 20 minutes north of Trieste in Italy.
We flew to Ljubljana and in a departure from my normal practices I had booked a rental car from Green Motion instead of the ever reliable Sixt and I immediately regretted that when picking up the car. I remember that the asking price was a bit lower, and that had influenced my decision, but while checking in the "not included extras" started to rack up fast. You want to drive in a different country? €40 extra. You want to go on the motorways in this country? €15 extra.
Finally on the road, it is safe to say that the weather was not quite as good as expected - thunder, lightning and a "consider building an ark" level of rain accompanied us on the 90 minute journey to Portopiccolo.
Turning into the private parking hall at the Falisia Hotel was quite a relief and I felt only minor inadequacy as I parked the tiny 1.2L Peugeot 106 in an enormous parking space, in-between a Porsche Cayenne and an Audi A8.
Portopiccolo is a small, beautiful resort with a harbour and a large private beach area, near to the town of Sistiana on the Adriatic coast. Thankfully the storm of the day before had long since departed and beautiful blue sky was a feature of the new day. The area has something of an exclusive feel to it, the sailing boats in the harbour were rather enormous and the whole village is constructed in a similar style, giving a harmonious feeling.
The hotel breakfast was an experience in itself, naturally the eggs were cooked perfectly to order and the coffee was superb but the most impressive part was the 10 or 12 different kinds of delicious cakes and pastries that were laid out. Finally I found a place which shares my philosophy that it is always time for cake.
An exploration of the small Portopiccolo village followed breakfast, checking out the beach club, the spa, the selection of shops and cafes and the hotel itself.
The prevailing colour scheme, orange buildings with blue sky, was a welcome change from recent conditions in Scotland and then Finland.
The Falisia hotel provided some good opportunities to add to my collection of staircase photos.
It is often the case that you can find quite different looks depending on whether you shoot the same staircase from the top looking down (as above) or the bottom looking up (as below).
After spending a day within the sheltered environment of Portopiccolo, it was time for a small adventure. The destination of choice was Miramare Castle. The little Peugeot was retrieved from the car park and we made our way along the coast road.
Without having to focus so much on the road conditions it was possible to pay more attention to the car and its performance. The Peugeot automatic gearbox seemed to frequently get lost... as if it went into neutral for a second or two before deciding just to go back to the gear it was already in... it was not a problem, but it was a noticeable difference to any of the other cars I have driven. The low power of the engine was also rather noticeable, pressing down the accelerator made a big difference to the noise level and the r.p.m. but only a tiny difference to the car's velocity.
This was my first time driving in Italy and it took some time to work out the local driving customs. As far as I could tell, the speed limits were just a weak suggestion... the stream of traffic maintained a solid 70km/h while the limit oscillated between 50 and 90.
The castle is situated at a perfect lookout point on the coast and is surrounded by large gardens with various small buildings, sculptures, ponds and fountains.
The ponds were home to some very contented looking ducks and a number of dragonflies which spent their time chasing each other in endless circuits of the pond.
The rich interiors of the castle were fascinating to walk through. Each room had a different fancy chandelier and a different ornate ceiling design.
Miramare is a very interesting place to spend a few hours, I recommend it to anyone who is in the area.
Back in the hotel, there was time before dinner to check out the small staircase which leads from the reception to the car park.
The following day it was time to visit another castle, this time in the village of Duino just up the coast in the opposite direction from Miramare. This 14th century castle was not quite on the same scale as Miramare, but it was in just as nice a location and offered a great view of the ruins of an earlier 11th century fortification a few hundred metres away.
Duino Castle is home to a number of barn swallow families, their nests were to be found in many doorways and arches.
The main tower of the castle had a number of holes in the aging brickwork and these cracks seemed to be used as nesting or resting places for a squadron of common swifts which provided a an aerobatic display (with constant sound effects) overhead during our visit.
I also found an ornate staircase winding its way up the smaller corner tower.
The next morning we faced our final full day in Portopiccolo. We once again made a small expedition to the outside world, heading along the winding country roads to the Sanctuary of Monrupino, a 16th century church and hilltop fortification.
This was another peaceful and beautiful place, and we had it to ourselves apart from a cat, the small birds he was hunting, and a multitude of butterflies.
Back at the hotel it was time to make a final visit to the beach club... but the weather had other ideas as the relentless sunshine and blue sky prepared to give way once again to a gathering storm.
So it was that our stay in Portopiccolo was bookended by spectacular electrical storms.
This coastline, whether you are in Italy, Slovenia or Croatia is a very beautiful part of the world.
Until next time!
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