I am not sure if I will still have any readers after offering extensive thoughts on the art of cricket commentary in my last post, but if anyone ever reads this then please know that I am most grateful for your patience.
Having left Snowdonia behind I made my way north and west to spend a few days on the island of Anglesey. Anglesey is a significant chunk of rock (about 715 square kilometres in area) just off the west coast of the Welsh mainland and it can be reached by road using either the 19th century Menai Bridge or the 20th century Brittania Bridge, both of which cross the Menai Strait just to the west of the city of Bangor.
The first location i visited was Penmon Point, at the eastern extreme of the island, here you can find fresh air, sea views and pleasant walks while the Pilot House Cafe can satisfy all your on-site refreshment needs.
Lighthouses can make for interesting photographic subjects, often providing the vertical element in an otherwise level environment and frequently positioned in slightly wild locations, surrounded by rocks, cliffs and crashing waves. This would not be the only lighthouse of my time in Anglesey.
When planning my trip I had decided that two nights would be spent in Anglesey, meaning that I had an arrival day, a full day and then a departure day. My full day in Anglesey just happened to coincide with the arrival of a major storm. There was fairly persistent precipitation to deal with but the bigger photographic difficulty was caused by monumentally strong winds (67mph = 107kmh =30m/s).
Tentatively I headed out into the storm, slightly comforted by the fact that the chances to get my destinations to myself were significantly higher on a day like this.
After a completely miserable "sunrise" at Penmon and a restorative breakfast the first location of the day was the old copper mine at Parys Mountain. At a location such as this, a massive open cast mine, there can be some challenges to understand how to capture the character of the place in a photograph... in essence the location is just a huge shallow hole in the ground. To me the most interesting aspect of the scenery was the amazing colours of the soil and sediment, caused (as far as I can find out) by the presence of metallic oxides.
The wind was far too strong for even a heavy tripod and the driving rain was an impediment for shooting in many otherwise possible directions so I was reduced to capturing quick hand-held shots inbetween attempts to clear the moisture from the front element of my lens. It is both a benefit and a matter for some regret that i have had so many opportunities in 2019 to develop such techniques.
Despite the weather Parys mountain was a most interesting place to visit. I do enjoy being out and about at interesting locations no matter what the weather conditions may be and I expect to encounter a variety of conditions over time, 2019 has however been remarkable for a lack of variety as heavy rain and strong winds have been a constant companion. I shall endeavour to ensure that my posts contain something of interest (ok, ok, no more cricket stuff) in addition to complaints about the weather.
My journey continued and I drove towards Holy Island (a 39.4 square kilometre island located just west of the island of Angelsey, which is located just west of the British mainland which is an island just to the west of the European mainland) from where I intended to photograph the lighthouse at South Stack... which is located on a tiny island just to the west of Holy Island.
The path leading down the cliff side to South Stack from the car park is completely exposed to the worst of the elements. The stone walls to the side of the path protect you well from any accidents, but the wind made shooting of any kind exceptionally difficult, 95% of my attempted pictures ended up as a blurry mess.
I resolved to return at sunrise and try again, despite the fact that I would need to set my alarm for 0345.
I made my way back in a southerly direction along the east coast of Anglesey, towards a place called Llanddwyn Island. The island can be accessed on foot along the nearby beach but it is cut off from the mainland at high tide so some sensible planning is required in order to reach it and leave it again without having to wait around for a few hours at either point. This island and surrounding area have many paths which lead through the beautiful dunes and you can also find yet another lighthouse, the Twr Mawr lighthouse, built in 1837.
The afternoon weather was at least slightly more pleasant, the strong winds persisted but the rain finally gave way to a mixture of sunshine and cloud which can be an attractive combination.
I did make it to South Stack the following morning, well before the sunrise, but I was not rewarded with anything particularly interesting in terms of light or colours. It was at least much easier to stand up and importantly to use a tripod seeing as the storm had finally moved on. I believe that sunset might be a better proposition at this spectacular location on a suitable day.
Leaving Anglesey behind I continued my journey, a few days in South Snowdonia, based in a small village near to the town of Harlech. The weather took a temporary turn for the better and as I had a look round the town of Barmouth in the afternoon it was possible to believe that it really was August in Wales and not November in the Arctic.
Harlech itself is a nice old town perched on a hillside with a very beautiful sandy beach which stretches for many miles and a mountainous landscape of dunes covered with marram grass.
The famous golf course played over by the members, guests and visitors of Royal St. Davids Golf Club occupies some beautiful links land adjacent to the dunes and offers some nice views towards the other main highlight of the town, the castle.
There are a few possible vantage points within the town from where you can get a good view of the castle with the mountains of Snowdonia in the background.
Well, that's it for this time, tune in again next week for the final chapter of my report from North Wales.
In early August this year I spent some time in North Wales, a magical area for landscape photography. The area contains some beautiful scenery that reminded me at times of the English lake district and at other times of the west coast of Scotland.
As it was the height of summer my luggage contained both shorts and sunscreen, sensible and appropriate precautions, which turned out to be outrageously over-optimistic. On this trip, and indeed on every trip of 2019, I have been under a dark cloud (literally, not metaphorically) almost constantly.
I have learned over time to embrace whatever atmospheric conditions I am given and tailor my photographic activities to the weather, there are things that work even better from a photography point of view in conditions which you could not describe as pleasant.
When the rain pours down, as it surely did when I was in Llanberis, then the light conditions are often absolutely ideal for shooting waterfalls.
The highly diffused light which results from a blanket of cloud is ideal for this kind of scene whereas strong direct light would create very harsh highlights and overly deep shadows. The incessant rain helps to swell the flow of running water and gives an extra vivid quality to the green foliage, especially when a polarising filter is also taken into use.
The patterns that water makes while descending a steep rock face can often make for an attractive and slightly more abstract "intimate landscape".
I sometimes notice people that seem to equate landscape photography exclusively with grand vistas and wide angle lenses. I do often shoot more expansive landscapes but I have found it helpful to employ many different focal lengths on my landscape photography trips, trying to be thoughtful about how best to capture the things that interest me in a scene. For instance, during this 10 day trip I employed 75 different focal lengths from 18mm to 400mm, a fairly typical statistic for me on such a trip.
I have spent a lot of time in the UK this year (nearly 3 months in total), more than for any year since I moved to Finland 17 years ago, spending time in multiple areas of England, Scotland and Wales. I feel increasingly strongly that the remarkable past of these small islands is a defining factor in much of what is impressive, and also much of what is depressing, about modern Britain.
The huge amount of surviving castles and strongholds which decorate the British countryside are reminders of very different times and a tribute to the people who have made the decisions needed to ensure that they are still (more or less) standing after many tens of generations.
Before this trip I expected that the few days I had in Snowdonia would be my favourite part of the trip, the mountains in this area are not especially high (Wales has only 10 of the 350 highest peaks in the UK) but they are often quite steep and prominent compared to the surroundings which allows for some dramatic scenes.
The relentless rain made me reconsider some of the (not very serious) climbs that I might otherwise have attempted, muddy and slippery conditions make quite a big impact on both the safety of a route and the effort needed to complete it... but luckily there was still much of interest a little closer to the ground.
The various lakes in Snowdonia would have made for ideal photographic subjects in different conditions, but the high winds were killing all chances of reflections, just as they were for the entirety of my visit to the Lake District earlier in the year.
One of my days in Snowdonia did at least offer interestingly mixed weather during the day, with clouds racing dramatically across the sky, something I later realised would have lent itself rather well to timelapse photography.
Despite the generally grumpy weather the area was very well populated with hikers, tourists and the occasional other photographer, many car parks were full at locations across Snowdonia, but the vast open spaces seemed to manage to swallow the visiting hordes quite effectively and it was possible to find relative solitude by following the second or third most popular trail at a given location.
The following day the downpour resumed and I found myself seeking out waterfalls once again. I travelled to my third "Fairy Glen" of the year ( after the famous one on the Isle of Skye and the not so famous one in Rosemarkie).
At this location, I was completely alone and plucked up the courage to record footage for an instructional video with my thoughts about how to shoot such a scene... after recording multiple videos over the course of 45-60 minutes I realised that I really didn't much like the composition I had selected and was therefore making a "how to make make a bad picture" tutorial. Although that tutorial will likely never see the light of day I will try such things again in future in an attempt to get more comfortable on the other side of the camera as I think such content could be of use and interest at least to some of my photographer friends and maybe eventually to a wider audience. It is a challenge for a photographer to build an audience and I think that video content might be a way to expand my reach a little if it is done well.
I continued to another waterfall nearby, the very touristy Swallow Falls, two miles west of Betws-y-Coed.
As is often the case with tourist attraction locations such as this you are funneled (through a turnstile where they relieved you of a couple of pounds in this case) to a certain set of viewpoints and don't have a lot of choice about your shooting positions. Crowds of people also makes it a little harder to set up a tripod. Such places are often not ideal for landscape photography but if, like me, you also really enjoy seeing new places it is inevitable that you find yourself in such an environment now and then.
In this situation I usually try to capture the classic shot you are directed towards (such as the one above) and then look for something which can be more my own. It is always possible to find something that has not been done millions of times before, but it is not always possible to find something which is any good.
Looking at the scene above I thought that there would be a possibility to use a longer lens and capture a more intimate scene featuring just the overhanging branches on the far bank of the river and the cascading water of the falls.
For anyone that finds themselves in this location, the Swallow Falls Hotel across the road from the waterfall entrance provides a cosy place to shelter from the elements and hearty pub meals to restore your energies.
One common feature between this area and England's Lake District is the prevalence of slate mining as an activity. I took the opportunity to spend my final morning in Snowdonia visiting the site of the huge Dinorwic slate mine which is no longer active but at it's peak was the second largest slate mine in Wales and also in the entire world.
This sprawling site has numerous paths running through it and affords views across the valley to the peaks on the other side as well as views long the valley itself.
On this day the cloud cover percentage was reduced to only about 90% which is actually pretty ideal for daytime landscapes as there is the attractive possibility of the sun bursting through now and again and selectively illuminating the otherwise gloomy scene.
This morning also happened to be the first day of the 2nd Ashes test between England and Australia so I was able to tune in, by phone or by car radio, to the familiar sounds of Test Match Special for eight hours a day for the following five days.
The game of cricket, in all it's forms, but especially as a five day test match, lends itself like no other to the science and art of commentary, it is a sport which can be seen in vivid colour without needing to see any visuals. There are a number of reasons for this which are described below... for any heathens that do not already love cricket and are not prepared to be persuaded, I recommend skipping that part.
Back to the slate mine, where some of my fellow humans have seen fit to leave their mark for others to see, the result is an image full of detail and texture.
Well, I think that i will leave it there for this time, please join me next time as i continue to explore beautiful North Wales!
APPENDIX - Why cricket commentary is the highest form of the announcing arts
The first key factor in elevating cricket commentary to the peak of the announcing arts is the perfectly detailed set of definitions. The vocabulary describing field positions is one aspect of this, it is truly wonderful how concisely the positions of the 15 persons on the field (bowler wicketkeeper, 9 other fielders, two umpires, two batsmen) can be described at any time, these definitions work equally well as a reference at all the different cricket grounds in the world and in all possible permutations. Similarly all the bowling styles, behaviours of the ball, batting strokes and outcomes of a ball bowled can be described with perfect clarity (to anyone who also knows the definitions) due to a beautifully complete, but versatile and flexible, set of definitions.
This is already remarkable, but may not be absolutely unique among sports. The second ingredient which plays a key role in elevating cricket commentary to greatness is the element of time. Cricket takes ages!
In a world where everything flashes past at ever increasing speed and attention spans are measured in fractions of seconds (how many of you looked at each one of my pictures in this post for more than a second each?)... a single game of test cricket has the audacity to last for five whole days. Seven or eight hours a day for five days! This is already quite something, but after all that effort there is still (historically) a 30+% chance that no result will be reached and the game will end in a draw. During these 40-odd hours of play (including breaks) the actual activity happens in short moments, a second or two of action about 90 times per hour, with frequent and extended periods where the drama, meaning and excitement (yes, excitement!) is to be found in the relentless overall trajectory of the play and the narratives that are woven around the teams and players rather then any particular ball bowled having an individual meaning.
Cricket commentators might expect, in the best case, to spend noticeably less than 1% of the time explaining what is happening on the field and more than 99% of the time discussing other matters. Even these figures are over-optimistic, they assume that play will always be possible... but cricket is played ouside, often in England, and rain or wet conditions underfoot are fatal to the chances of play! It is quite possible for an 8 hour cricket commentary day to include not a single minute of actual cricket!
The cricket commentary team must therefore collectively be a master of everything that might happen in the specific game itself, everything related to everything that might happen in the specific game itself, and also a host of other things, some of which may even be completely unrelated to cricket. They also have an unparalleled opportunity for exploration of a wide assortment of topics. The best of them, among which the BBC's test match special team can certainly be considered, manage to excel in this seemingly impossible task with ease and in style, keeping the listener interested from start to finish, again and again.
The pinnacle of achievement among cricket commentary must surely have come last winter when the BBC did not manage to secure the rights to describe the actual cricket part of the cricket. So "the cricket social" was born. In this format the cricket commentators simply skipped the menial task of describing the (1-2 seconds ninety times per hour) of actual cricket and the result was masterful, 100% pure, commentary. Wonderful stuff.
This may sound strange, but with one notable exception I did not find the lakes to be a particularly interesting part of the Lake District... but in fairness I can admit that "the Hills, Trees, Caves and Waterfalls District" would be a far less catchy title for this beautiful area. It may also be the case that visiting on a less windy week would significantly change my thoughts on this matter.
My trip continued with another early morning wake-up and a drive around Derwent Water to Brandlehow Bay where I hoped to photograph one of the old jetties which are still in use as stops for the boats which carry passengers to different points around this large lake.
The weather was quite attractive for a change on this morning but I was a bit disappointed to find that the old jetty was now a new jetty... the fresh clean flawless light coloured wood probably ushered in a new level of comfort and stability but until a few seasons have taken their toll it has been robbed of some of it's character.
My next destination was Rydal Water in the village of Rydal. This lake is another which has good paths allowing you to walk along it's length, either along the edge of the lake or slightly further back from the water allowing you to pass through some attractive woodland, I took the woodland path on an unusually beautiful (but stilll rather windy) day.
Another point of interest in the immediate area is Rydal Cave, another impressive cavern which is man-made in origin having been mined for slate many decades ago. Luckily this time there is no claustrophobic tunnel to travel through to reach it but there was a shallow water hazard to negotiate in order to get to what I considered to be the best shooting position.
After walking for a while at Rydal water I decided it was time for some more hill walking. The weather forecast looked semi-reasonable so I drove the winding road up the Honister Pass to the Honister Slate Mine where I parked my rental car and set off to climb up to Warnscale Bothy, a tiny old hut with clear views down the valley to Buttermere below. I told myself that the darkening clouds and hints of rain were not going to be anything to worry about and also told myself that the place would be easy enough to find based on the simplistic map I had in my guide book.
The walk to the bothy is not very long, about 2.5 kilometres, but the elevation change is quite significant for such a short journey, first you need to gain about 300m as you climb up the shoulder of Fleetwith Pike and then descend 200m town the other side to the bothy.
This route is not however provided with idiot-proof signposts and after completing the required ascent (plus some extra that I later realised was not required) I soon found out that my guide book was not sufficient to navigate to my destination while the offline maps in my phone (no signal here) were not sufficiently detailed to be much help... of course the rain was also falling and the clouds were darkening further. A perfect moment to remind yourself that you may not be a genius.
Although I was not 100% sure how to get to the bothy it would have been very simple to follow the trail back to the car so this was a frustration rather than any kind of threat of being lost in the hills. I continued in a direction which seemed plausible and was relieved to see a hut a few hundred metres ahead of me as the rain further intensified.
As I got closer to the hut it was pretty obvious that although this was a hut, it was not the hut I was looking for, there were no magnificant views down to Buttermere. I decided that it would have to do and took some photographs before retreating down the mountain for some coffee and a bacon roll... much needed if not particularly deserved.
As the storm set in for the evening it was pretty clear that sunset was cancelled so I called it a day and thought I could catch up on some sleep. The forecast was promising that the storm would disappear about an hour before sunrise the next morning so I planned a dawn mission to Buttermere.
My alarm went off at 0300 and I was on the road by 0310. I was not expecting heavy traffic so I decided to take a very narrow road through farms and a hill pass to shave a few minutes off my journey and be there in plenty time for whatever spectacular sunrise might await me once the storm stopped. This was good thinking and I was in position at Buttermere well before 0400... but the weather was not following the weather forecast.
There was absolutely no sign of the rain stopping so I decided to take a walk around the lake for scouting purposes. I completed the circuit in about 2 hours, including a detour caused by a bridge being out, and got a strong feeling that Buttermere was going to be my favourite of the lakes in the Lake District if only I could get some half decent conditions. I headed back to Netherdene Country B&B for breakfast.
Another strong feature of the Lake District is the pay and display car parks, there are many of them, very many of them. Most of the car parks at popular natural attractions are owned by the National Trust, some by local authorities, some private... but one way or another you are going to do a lot of paying and a lot of displaying. If you are a paid up member of the National Trust then you can park in all their car parks for free but as a short-term visitor from another country an annual National Trust membership does not make much sense.
The way the payment terms work out (e.g. £5 for up to 2 hours, £7.50 for a day) is quite reasonable if you stay in one place for the whole day, but if you want to visit many places per day then it gets very expensive... so after breakfast I returned to Buttermere to use up some remaining parking hours from my failed dawn mission.
The weather was still unpleasant and not very photogenic but by now I at least started to know what I would want to shoot at Buttermere if I got a proper chance... and I had walked 20 kilometres by the time I had lunch.
I continued my journey, deciding to visit Blea Tarn, another potentially lovely little lake near to Little Langdale. First I had to endure a 25-30 minute detour along a horrendous hill road (due to the navigation system in my rental car having some "special ideas" about where the Blea Tarn car park was located) but eventually i got there and paid yet another £5 parking fee. The wind was once again too strong, even in this more sheltered destination, and all thoughts of reflections were removed from the equation, which removed all interest from shooting the tarn itself. The views over the Langdale Pikes were still spectacular however.
Well, that was one of those days, a lot of effort for no reward. It wasn't the first and it won't be the last.
The next day it was rainy again. Instead of imagining for the third consecutive day that the weather would bend to my will I decided to tailor my activities to the conditions (a much more sensible appraoch) and seek out some waterfalls. Overcast conditions are ideal for waterfall shooting. I drove to Ambleside and walked up the hill to Stockghyll Force, a lovely waterfall in leafy green forest.
From here I took a bit of a longer drive to Wasdale Head from where a few other waterfalls can be found.
As the rain continued to fall I decided to climb part of the way up Kirk Fell to get a good view over the sheep fields down below... I suppose that if I had a drone I could have got the same shot with a great deal less effort.
Ritson's bar in the Wasdale Head Inn provided an excellent hot meal for me after I returned to ground level and I reflected on how much better my results had been when I was taking my lead from the weather rather than fighting against it. Hopefully I can put that learned lesson to good use from now on.
Until next time,
Having spent my time over the past couple of years exploring the rest of Europe I started to realise that I had not really seen much of what my country of origin (the UK) has to offer. I have seen quite a few Scottish highlights but things that lie south of the border were more of a mystery to me. As spring started to think of giving way to summer I headed for the beautiful Lake District in the north west of England. I took advantage of the convenient direct flight with Finnair from Helsinki to Edinburgh and made the 3 and a half hour drive south to the Lake District, starting my trip by exploring the sights around Ullswater.
Before my visit began I imagined that I would be spending a good deal of time shooting lake reflections and waterfalls, but in practice both of these things were slightly limited by the prevailing weather conditions. My visit coincided with a period of quite heavy wind causing choppy water surfaces which spoiled almost all hopes of shooting reflections on any large body of water. The weeks preceeding my trip were also unusually dry, reducing many of the beautiful waterfalls to an unimpressive trickle. This was to be one of those trips where the weather was not on my side.
One slight hardship when travelling in late May is that sunrise starts to be at a very inhospitable hour. With the sun due to rise at about 0430 I tried to be in place at my sunrise destinations by about 0345 each day... on this trip I seldom got any reward for this, but it is a good habit to get into. I have never found weather forecasts to be a great predictor of whether the weather will look interesting or not so unless it is 100% horrendous I usually try to be in position in case something good might happen.
This first morning was one of the best ones of the whole trip and the sky was filled with a multitude of small clouds in the hours following sunrise. There was some wind but not so much that all reflections were completely ruined, allowing for at least a partial mirror effect in longer exposure photography.
The outcome of the sunrise photography session has a noticeable impact on the feeling of the day. With a decent image in the bank you can feel like anything else that you can take from the day puts you into profit, while a difficult morning can put extra pressure on the rest of the day. I have tried to persuade myself to just accept whatever I get and carry on but that does not always come easily. On my way back to the Great Wood car park I became interested in the flowers on the forest floor and stopped to capture another image before heading back for a well deserved breakfast.
One feature which will rapidly become apparent to Lake District visitors is the network of very narrow roads with tall leafy hedges at either side. When this is combined with large numbers of visitors you very quickly get to the situation where nobody is able to go anywhere in any sort of hurry. A morning drive to beautiful Tarn Hows was a prime example of this, crawling along the roads on a journey which seemed to take for ever.
A tarn (not a word I had encountered before) is a mountain lake which forms in a hollow left behind by a retreating glacier and there are a few tarns dotted around the Lake District. Tarn Hows is a particularly beautiful example, surrounded by small hills and offering wider views towards the Helvellyn range and the Langdale Pikes. The Tarn has a level and accessable path which follows the lake shore in a 2.5km circuit, making for a very pleasant walk.
One of the thing that I was struck by during my first days in the Lake District was the beautiful old trees which were in full leaf all over the area. Trying to photograph these is always an attractive idea but it can be rather hard to find good compositions, especially if there are other trees in the vicinity.
Exploring a sequence of rapids near to the tarn revealed the extend of the drought... but "luckily" there would be a horrendous amount of rainfall in the coming days to restore some normality. Unfortunately while I was able to witness this cure being administered I was no longer around to see the results.
Despite some slight disappointment with the weather and the light I very much enjoyed visiting Tarn Hows and I hope I can return one day, it seems like it would be at it's absolute best with autumn colours so maybe I will try and make my second Lake District trip at that time of year.
After my morning at Tarn Hows I headed for the town of Coniston where I had a quick lunch before embarking on a climb towards Levers Water, a high mountain lake above the village. The guide book i had with me said that it was a fairly easy round trip of about an hour to get to and from the lake... which turned out to be highly optimistic. After climbing steadily for nearly an hour on a pretty warm afternoon I reached a sign telling that it was only another mile, a mile which coincided with the path becoming significantly steeper. Eventually, I made it to the lake... where I took precisely zero pictures as the wind made the surface of the lake completely useless for reflections and I did not see any other interesting compositions. It is always the case on any trip that some locations just don't offer what you hoped for in the conditions of the day.
The walk down again, gravity assisted, was somewhat easier but I was pretty sure that the sheep roaming the hillside were giving me judgemental looks as I went past.
According to my fitbit the walk from Coniston to Levers water and back had taken over 12000 steps... but I was not done for the day. I drove to Lake Windermere and had a look around that area.
With dull and lifeless skies, branches blowing in the wind and disrupted water surfaces it was necessary to find alternative things to point my camera at if I was going to rescue the day.
My final stop on this long and tough day was the lovely stone bridge at Clappersgate. This was my sunset destination and I was treated to slightly better conditions as the sun actually came out for a little while and the well-sheltered, slow-moving river was somewhat calm... it did cross my mind that I could easily have stayed in bed until sunset time without missing too many great photography opportunities, but it is always a lot of fun for me to explore new places even if they don't lead to great photos.
The following day, after observing a miserable and colourless sunrise at Derwent water (the dark grey became medium-light grey), I made my way to the charming, tiny and slightly in-accessable village of Little Langdale. From there it is a short walk to Slater Bridge, an ancient stone bridge over a small river, connecting the village to an area used for quarrying on the other side of the water. The bridge itself was an interesting subject, but I was a bit put off by the metal poles and wires which are attached to it nowadays and also by the metal fences which are in place to keep you from parts of the surrounding area. Not everyone was respecting these barriers but I felt that I should, which limited my possibilities for shooting.
Having crossed the famous old bridge I continued onwards to the old quarrying area, suppressing my discomfort as I ventured through a narrow tunnel into Cathedral Cave, a large chamber with a hole in the roof which lets the daylight stream in.
For sunset on this day I walked to Friar's Crag, a viewpoint over Derwent water which was described by 19th century writer and art critic John Ruskin as offering one of the finest views in Europe. With all due respect to Mr. Ruskin... I somehow doubt he would have been similarly moved on this particular evening. While the view itself (not helped by the deeply unattractive light which was on offer despite the sunset hour) left me rather cold, I found something more interesting at my feet, a single red rose which had been discarded and trodden into the dust. This hinted at a million possible stories of rejection and heartbreak (and a few million less interesting tales), perhaps a earnest proposal of marriage or a devoted declaration of true love had been rejected in a cruel manner, crushing someones dreams for eternity. Whatever the unknowable story, I deemed this to be a more interesting subject than the famous view in front of me.
In the hope of avoiding reader fatigue I think I will sign off for this post and return to the lake district once again in my next blog.
Thanks to everyone who reads this, I hope that you have enjoyed this post. Please feel free to comment in the comments section below or via my Andy Fowlie Photography facebook page.
Until next time,
As my Scotland trip neared it's conclusion I decided that I wanted to spend those final days back on the beautiful Isle of Skye.
On my way I decided to visit Eilean Donan castle, a 13th century stronghold which was destroyed in 1719 after a failed Jacobite uprising. An early 20th century restoration project brought the castle back to it's former glory and it has operated as a tourist attraction since 1955.
I approached the castle as the sun was going down and the waited for the time when the declining brightness of the sky matched the brightness of the artificial lighting on the castle, allowing for an even exposure. I used a 6 minute exposure to give the sky a more dreamy appearance.
Accomodation was not that easy to find on Skye at very short notice during the off season, which gave me a good excuse to stay at the excellent Cuillin Hills hotel even though it was (deservedly) a bit more expensive than I would have normally wanted. The location of the hotel on the north-east of Portree was a good fit for my purpose as I wanted to focus on shooting the Trotternish peninsula on these few final days.
The Trotternish peninsula is the northernmost part of Skye and it's unique features were sculpted by massive landslides (the largest known to have happened in the UK) which occurred after the last ice age.
As you leave Portree and head along the coast of the peninsula one of the first attractions that you come to is the Bride's Veil waterfall, a small series of hillside cascades which offer a view with the Old Man of Storr in the background provided you are willing to jump across the stream.
Continuing the journey you come to the beautiful Loch Fada with it's single lonely island.
The Storr (the mountain in the left-centre of the picture above) is the highest point on the peninsula and the iconic rock pinnacle on its lower slopes is known as the Old Man of Storr. The Old Man is clearly visible as you approach Portree and is recognisable feature from many vantage points in the area.
To the north of the Storr there is a vantage point where you can view Mealt Falls cascading down Kilt Rock. The vantage point is somewhat limited when it comes to photographic compositions, this is one spectacle which might be better viewed from the sea or the air.
Before visiting Skye one of the places I was most looking forward to was the Quiraing, possibly the most dramatic of the areas sculpted by those ancient landslides. It is unfortunate that the weather turned instantly unpleasant on each occasion when I made the meandering ascent to this spectacular location. I still spent many hours walking here with my camera but when the light is really against you there is not always a huge amount you can do about it.
I hope, one day, to be at the Quiraing in some better light as it was a truly stunning place.
On the opposite side of the Trotternish peninsula you can find a zone known as the Fairy Glen due to it's interesting but relatively small features, almost like a miniature Quiraing.
My short visit to this place was a bit odd. Firstly I was a bit concerned about ending up trapped there - the narrow winding road passed over a cattle grid and there were signs saying that the cattle grid would be replaced, causing significant delays for traffic, and indicating that the work would happen on that day... this contributed a bit of a rush to proceedings as well as a "this could be a bad idea" feeling. One of the things I like most about being out in nature is the peace and quiet, but my visit to the Fairy Glen coincided with the visit of an extremely loud family and their similarly high volume canine companion. I could hear every word of their exchanges from at least 300 metres away and that added to my irritation.
My time there was more based about maintaining maximum distance from the loud people than it was about photography, and the impact of that was obvious when looking at the images later. This is another place I should revisit in different circumstances, but I did at least have a bit of fun processing the images.
During all my time on Skye I was very much hoping that at least one morning would give me suitable conditions to take best advantage of the 45 minute climb up to the Old Man of Storr. On one of the days, early in my trip and very early in the morning, I made my way towards the Storr, hoping that the cloudy twilight would give way to something interesting.
An hour before sunrise, as I was approaching Loch Fada, there were some beautiful pastel colours in the clouds and heavy snow on even slightly higher ground.
The climb up to the Old Man of Storr is not a particularly challenging one, but it is steep enough for long enough that you certainly notice that you are doing some exercise, the elevation gain is about 300m to the Old Man himself, perhaps closer to 400m to get to the higher vantage point that offers some of the best views.
The climb starts from the car park and goes through an area where a non-native forest has recently been felled in order for indigenous vegetation to be re-established in it's place.
The path makes it's way steadily upwards, sometimes over rather boggy ground and sometimes requiring more of a scramble over loose rocks.
The sun rose as I was still climbing, but the most interesting light was still to come as the cloud and fog which were gathering over the area continued to act as a giant diffuser for the golden light of rising sun over the next hour or so, an effect which varied in intensity from minute to minute.
The rocky pinnacle of the Old Man of Storr is 164 feet (50 metres) tall and stands proudly on the hillside. The area around it is surrounded by warning signs suggesting that one should not get too close due to the danger of rock falls. I usually pay attention to such signs but obviously not everyone takes the same approach. As I was loitering near such a sign a runner appeared around the base of the Old Man, coming towards me at a fair speed, dressed in shorts and a singlet (the temperature would soon be above zero after all), and rather irritated that some stupid photographer was standing on the narrow ledge which he had designated as his running track. He sprung off the path and proceeded through the boulder field without noticeably reducing his speed.
In order to get the best vantage point it was necessary to continue the climb up to a high plateau, slightly above the Old Man.
While making my way up to the higher ground there was a short period where the cloud intensified and the light was at it's most stunning and I was able to get the kind of shots I had been hoping for.
From the top of the plateau you can get a very good angle to see the individual rock towers, and the presence of other mortals helps to show the scale of the scene.
As you move closer to the towering rocks you can get a bit of a different view, but it is probably wise not to get too close.
Despite the early hour, and the snow, and the fact that it was very much out of season, I was not alone on this beautiful morning. A number of other photographers and a few tourists were also able to witness this beautiful spectacle. A visit to the Old Man of Storr in the summer would mean that you share the experience with many hundreds of other people, assuming that you could find a place to park your car in the first place.
Before bidding farewell to Skye I decided to make one more trip to the remote village and beach at Elgol. I always enjoy shooting at beaches and trying to make good seascapes, but it is also something that i am very much still learning.
Some of you may have noticed that I keep finding excuses to use very long exposures in my photography. At Elgol, as the weather deteriorated towards a dreary sunset, I became interested in the slipway beside the beach and decided that a 250 second exposure woudl calm the waves and the clouds to give me a peaceful and minimalist view.
My time in Skye was at an end and I had to start making my way back to Edinburgh airport to return to Finland. In a moment of nostalgia I decided to spend my last night on the other side of the country at the home of golf, the city of St. Andrews. I have played golf at St. Andrews dozens of times and visited on a few other occasions to observe professional tournaments, it is a place which is special to me, as it is to many other golfers across the world. At the same time my visit was tinged with a certain sadness as my back no longer lets me play golf on a reasonable level and I still feel that loss whenever I bump into reminders of my former hobby.
For the last hours before heading to the airport I left my cameras behind and took a long walk on the beach at St. Andrews, reflecting on the experiences I had enjoyed on what had been an excellent trip to my homeland.
Thanks for reading.
Until next time,
Enter your email address to receive notifications of new blog posts