After driving 1400 miles in 8 days (and thats starting from Glasgow!) I returned back home appreciating my warm bed. Perhaps unsurprisingly Scotland at Easter is still very cold, especially at night, and waking up to frost or ice on your tent each morning does indeed get old. But wow - why had I never visited before? The snow capped mountains and lining epic glens are stunning sights and a joy to photograph.
This trip was also a chance for me to really give my Bronica a good run out. The Bronica system is pretty big and heavy (especially as I now have 4 lenses: the 50mm, 80mm, 150mm and 250mm and used 3 backs: one with TMax 400 another with Portra 400 and a 220 back loaded with some 35mm film with a DIY adapter). So naturally given the size and weight it can be hard for me to justify brining all this kit on a trip, especially if hiking is involved. I recently got a flight case to help keep all this kit organised and protected from bumps, overall this worked great, but as you will hear later it was not ideal for those mountain hikes. I love the detail the Bronica lenses and medium format film can produce and I really like using a square format. I must admit I recently found the phenomenal aows.co blog which also served to inspire me in bringing this camera along. I brought my DSLR gear too so that was another heavy bag of gear.
With all this weight already I thought what the hell and threw my F5 with a roll of slide film in there too. Go big or go home? Only joking - it can be very liberating to travel with less gear. The mirrorless Fuji XE-2 I recently acquired I think will be a great hiking camera but for trips where many epic viewpoints are near the road the weight of the gear isn't such a big deal.
The one final thing I would say which I'm still trying to get my head around is the notion of having too much choice: does taking several shots in one location on different cameras / formats / lenses impede creativity? I suspect there is something powerful about a single tool for the job and I've toyed with the idea of only taking the Bronica on a trip and only shooting black and white film.
Starting at Glasgow we drove to Glencoe, a small village nestled in some of the most epic scenery the UK has to offer. The planning paid off and it was clear as we arrived in the evening to the chosen campsite, the Red Squirrel, that this was a good choice. There were plenty of roaring fires already but there were still good spots left to pitch our tents.
Waking up for sunrise the next day were were greeted by grey cloudy skies. Undeterred we drove back down the A82 east through the spectacular pass of Glencoe. The scenery is stunning for several miles down this route and after a few brief stops near Buachaille Etvie Mor we proceeded to Lochan na h-Achlaise. There are a couple of good pull offs to park by the bridge there and its possible to walk down the the water edge. Unfortunately, and what we would soon find to be recurring, was the saturated boggy ground that soon also saturated our shoes and socks. Some good waterproof boots would turn out to be useful for this trip! Its easy to spend a day just driving on the A82 and stopping in the several laybys to get some shots. The single track road down Glen Etvie, a popular spot for wild campers, is also well worth spending a couple of hours down. There are a few spots for good photos along the way, often including deer by the side of the road, and the road terminates at a Loch Etive which is surrounded by impressive peaks.
We spent another night at the Red Squirrel campsite, keeping warm by a raging fire, and the next morning we were rewarded with clear blue skies the next morning upon waking at 6.20am. In Scotland the weather can often not cooperate, so spending at least a couple of days in Glencoe is recommended so as you can get more opportunities for better light. We did not do much in the way of hiking which was a regret. There are many great photo locations near the road and this kept me occupied for the two days here but next time I visit I am to explore the mountainsides more.
Isle of Skye
Easter Monday was again a fantastic day of blue skies and sun. We drove through the highlands, stopping to make a couple of roadside coffees with a camping stove. We literally stumbled on a fantastic view of a loch providing a epic mirror of the scattered clouds in the blue sky. Then onwards to the Isle of Skye a place that appeared almost magical in the photos I'd seen before going. It did not disappoint. We crossed the bridge from the mainland and headed straight for Portree, the largest town on the island. As we drew nearer the sky turned epically grey and it was clear we were entering into a severe rainstorm. Normally the Old Man of Storr is visible looming in the mountains behind Portree, or so I'd read, but today it was nowhere to be seen. Stopping in Portree I debated whether to proceed further north or if photographing this landmark was a lost cause today. Its amazing how quick the weather can change in small distances; I correctly decided to drive on and was rewarded with clearing skies as the rain retreated in the opposite direction.
The climb up to the Old Man is a bit of a hike but is pretty easy for most fit people. I must admit that despite this I did temporarily somewhat regret my stubbornness to bring all of the camera equipment particularly with the slippy ground. This was late afternoon - sunrise or morning will provide much better lighting but I unfortunately neglected to take this into account. I thought I'd have time to head back one morning but there is so much to see in Skye I did not end up having chance. As an aside I also missed seeing Melt Waterfall as it was signposted as Kilt Rock and unfortunately had not cemented that these two things were at the same place. Next time!
The above shot is sunrise at Quiraing. Its at the middle of a pot hole filled single track road between the two coasts. When I arrived around 6.45am there was only one other photographer who was set up near the quintessential tree shot. So I skipped past that and walked on further along the flat the hiking trail thats in the hillside. I'd been camping in Dunvegan which is about a 45 minute drive to the car park so after finishing up here I returned to pack up my tent and then drove south down the west side of the island to the fairy pools.
Like everywhere in Scotland the Fairy Pools have some spectacular mountains around them and driving south along the A863 its pretty epic to have them looming through your windowscreen in front of you. This was definitely the busiest single track road I'd been on to date; I cant even begin to image what this is like in summer traffic. The several waterfalls were cool here although it did seem like the water flow was far below its peak. Carrying on to the end of the road is a campsite right on the bay. It was an epic location but also turned out to be epically windy. Not only did this exacerbate the frigid temperatures at night but due to fear of my tent blowing away I had to acquire some new guy ropes. Luckily this campsite has an excellent shop and cafe with many food and camping essentials.
I spent sunset at Talisker Bay which is about a 30 minute or so drive from the campsite. I'd read in the guidebook that the limited parking at the end of the road could be an issue and so getting there early is advised. This might be true for summer but is not necessary in the early April shoulder season. Its a bit of a walk from the end of the public road through the private grounds of Talisker House (they allow pedestrian access along the lane to the beach). The bay itself is, as expected, very scienic. The beach is mainly rocky with the tide in and there is a rock stack on the side nearest the path and a waterfall from a cliff to the sea on the other. I stayed there for a couple of hours and as cloud on the horizon came in I thought the sunset was not going to be that great. So as there was still a bit of light left I decided to start walking back. What a mistake! I glanced back after getting a few hundred metres down the path and saw the sky illuminated in a glorious shade of light red. I ran back to the beach to get a few shots and just about caught the end of it.
The Far North
So far I definitely felt lucky with the weather. Sure it was cold and had been windy but largely I'd avoided any huge lashings of rain in any of the locations I wanted to photograph. The final day on Skye had a bad forecast so I decided to use this day to make the 5+ hours from here to the very top of Scotland. After a quick stop in Inverness for a coffee I carried on north, stopping at the Waligoe Steps south of Wick and Kiess Castle for some more photos. At the former I did not actually have high hopes for any good shots, as the best photo appeared to be from a cliff overlooking the steps, but this was on private land and there was no access. Anyway I got to the bottom of the steps and did realise I wanted to capture some exposures of the sea battling against the rocks. So up and down again I went.
I felt like treating myself to a roof over my head for a night so I stayed at a very good hotel in Thurso called the Y-Not Hotel that also has a very good restaurant. Despite the grim weather in Thurso a 30 minute drive east to Duncansby Head saw the rain abate. There eroded coast here is very dramatic with several stacks. The ground was waterlogged and the cliffs are fenced off which means a zoom lens is best for the early viewpoints. Further around the fence stops and it provides more freedom in framing the shots looking back at the stacks.
From Duncansby Head I travelled back west along the top of Scotland. I'd been told that Kyle of Tongue was not to be missed and this proved out to be very true. Luckily the sky was blue once more and the lakes were also stunning shade of dark blue. This was a nice contrast to the muted brown foliage. That evening I stopped at a campsite overlooking Sanago bay, an "award winning beach" as the sign boasts. The sunrise here was quite good but would have been much better if the tide were in. There are plenty of large rocks peppering the beach to photograph.
Scotland is clearly photographers paradise although it may sometimes need a bit of luck with the weather. Thankfully for this trip the weather did cooperate and the cold was bearable with some decent Thinsulate gloves, hat and averaging around 5 upper body layers. As for the images captured I'll be posting them soon. I decided to get them processed and scanned at high resolution by Peak Imaging in Sheffield and wow, I'm blown away by the sharpness the Bronica can produce. Unfortunately though it seems there is a fault somewhere that resulted in some blank frames. I'm yet to investigate properly but it could be the shutter failing in one of the lenses. Also one of the 120 backs I recently used appears to have light leaks and I hadn't had chance to try it out beforehand. These are the risks of using older equipment I suppose. Anyway thats it for now, I need to get back to finishing getting the photos ready for the site!