Scotland – Part 2: The actual travel

Scotland – Part 2: The actual travel

Day 1 (Manchester-Falkirk)

Our journey went well; the aircraft was on time and our rental car (Enterprise) allready waiting for us.  We started driving on the M6 towards Grangemouth at the „wrong“ side of the road (for us continentals). Driving time was an estimated 3.5 hours, so quite ok. After checking in at the hotel, we wanted to explore the small town of Grangemouth, not really much to see, but there is a lovely pub in an old church, so if you ever stop by there, make sure visiting the old church!

In the evening we wanted to visit the first two locations on our list and thus making our first photos on Scottish soil! On the list where the Falkirk Wheel (a huge boat lift) and the Kelpies, some 30 meter high, horse statues in the Helix Park.

Enclosed is a photo of our lovely, little rental car (with additional finger in front of the lens):

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We drove off in the direction of the Wheel which we wanted to capture during sunset and blue hour. But with parking the photo-holiday really began: on the gate to the parking lot was a sign stating that the gate would be closed at 7 o`clock (pm) and re-opening in the morning.. on the road leading to the gate where houses and you can`t just park in peoples drive ways! So we parked a little further down another street and then walked through a park to get to the Falkirk Wheel. This was, after all, easy to find because of its size, very hard to miss! At first we were a bit puzzled as some cars drove into the parking lot and people went for a walk but soon it was clear to us that the Scots mean what they put on signs! The Gates were closed and some “trapped” visitors were still there when we left! A piece of advice: do not park in gated parking lots in Scotland if you would like to go anywhere after closing time.  But back to the Wheel: during my internet search I liked images from the Wheel while its lights where on, the nice contrast from the lights reflecting in the water and the natural light from the sun seemed to be a nice image. So after we arrived each of us searched a setting he/she liked and then it was off to waiting for the sun to set. My setup was a bit daring, not for the last time during that – or to be honest – every holiday, there`s a making off:

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Long story short: The first location was also the first not to work as planned! No lights that evening. You can do all the research you want but in the end you simply have to take what you get. For that reason I only have one photo I like of the wheel. Thomas was further back where the ships come through a tunnel to get to the lift, I think that’s a less common perspective, but also very nice:

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Shortly after these photos we packed our stuff and headed to the Helix Park. The Kelpies can be seen from the motorway, they`re really large! So again, finding them proved not to be a problem, we parked our car (no gates there) and walked alongside the canal to the statues. On site was a photo workshop, all beautifully aligned in a row. But before making any photos I had a walk around the statues to see which perspectives and angles I liked.  Some of the photos I had in my mind just weren’t possible, as an example I wanted the statues reflected in the little pond just in front of them but I couldn`t get the whole kelpies reflecting in the pond.  But I have two other images that I like:

© Evelyn

© Evelyn

Kelpies

 

As my fellow photographers didn`t really like the spot it was soon off to the hotel.

Day 2 and 3: Doune Perthshire (Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park)

After a delicious breakfast we left early towards our next destination, the Loch Lomond National Park. We quickly found our B & B „Mackeanston House“ (www.mackeanstonhouse.co.uk) which was our base for two nights. If you ever go to this area, this B&B is outstanding! Fiona and her husband are very nice, her home-made breakfast is delicious and the room really spacy! We had a large bedroom + a bathroom with a freestanding bath and everything is lovely. As an extra you`ll get stories about the Queen and Scotland.

Here are some impressions of the B&B (Warning very bad cell phone pictures!) and No, of course the bed was not all messed up from the beginning, that rests solely on my habit to immediately test every bed shortly after arriving – one has to make sure it’s a comfy one!

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This day we spent with driving through the narrow roads of the National Park an ending up on a lake with a steamship on it, and a tiny little café were they serve really delicious shortbread with a caramel topping. Dinner we had in a restaurant Fiona had booked for us: Lion and Unicorn in Thornhill. The pies where some of the best I’ve ever had! Highly recommend that! On a photographers point of view we didn’t find anything especially appealing to us, but that was find. In retrospect, we should have started scouting on there since we only had two nights in that area, but afterwards one is always wiser! We did manage to get 1-2 photos just next to the B&B with some lovely fields, I personally like Thomas version better:

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The next day we wanted to visit the highlands so we set of for Buchaille Etive Moor and especially the famous place where James Bond has his conversation with M next to that little bridge in Skyfall. The drive takes quite some time but is very scenic to see how the green, soft hills change into a more rough and gloomy landscape. Unfortunately there must have been very little rain (yes, in Scotland!) and the river didn`t have much water in it. The strong wind made it almost impossible to get a long time exposure because naturally all the leaves on the trees moved like hell. So no water,  strong wind, not working for me. We had our first date with the midges up there, little annoying monsters.

When photographing, nothing is too much, the colleague is not vomiting in to the pond but rather protecting his filters from the occasional raindrop

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And here you have proof: not much water around!

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As the location didn`t work for us we headed quickly on to „James Bond Bridge“. Finding it proved not to be a problem with the GPS coordinates found on the Internet. There is a river flowing over some very nice colored red rocks, some steep edges and little waterfalls. As a bonus you get some little birch trees, very pretty! But as soon as we`d set up the rain began, we fled to the car and had a quick lunch (typical.. bananas, bread, cheddar and potato crisps, so much crisps). After checking the weather app and seeing more rain we left.

In the afternoon we visited the Wallace Monument, which is rather historical than photographically interesting. In the evening, my first priority was one spot on the program, the so-called „Lonely Tree“ in Loch Lomond. Looks good in pictures, should be easy to find. That is the theory of it. My research also had showed up with the coordinates of a parking lot. The problem started there once again. The parking lot again had a gate and closed at 6 o`clock pm just at the minute we arrived. After the first experience at Falkirk Wheel we didn`t want to try our luck. Nevertheless, we wanted to see if the location is worth a visit and went out briefly, but where was this Tree? We search the pebble beach up and down but there was no lonely tree in the water! A tree standing in the middle of the gravel but “our” tree was surrounded by water! As the parking lot guy wanted to close the gates we went looking for another parking space, but that was impossible. The street was flanked by little stony walls and on dirt roads there were already towing other vehicles. So after some time we came to the simple conclusion that there, again, is simply not enough water and that was why the tree was in midst of the gravel and not in the lake.

But I wasn`t ready to give up on my dream: a little tree, surrounded by water. I told myself – and my fellow photographers- that where there is one tree there have to be others! After another one and a half hours of looking around we found nothing, except a party of Scottish teenagers in a small side street near the lake. Well then another day with a picture! On the way back to our B&B I asked myself would that be the way these two weeks will continue? Us searching for spots or finding them, just in the wrong condition? I really started doubting myself. As you can imagine the mood was not the best that evening!

Day 4 to 8 – Skye (Portree)
The journey to Portree on the Isle of Skye led us again through the highlands and then via Fort William and the Skye Bridge on to the Island. We stopped at the restaurant at the Sligachan bridge for some lunch and then continued on our way to Portree. We`ve chosen Portree because its quite centrally located and simply because it had the only free self-catering cottage during that time.  We stayed in the “Garden Cottage” at Kiltaraglen House (www.kiltaraglen.co.uk). There are two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen + bath and it`s really beautifully decorated. The hosts Pam and Kevin are super nice and welcoming. After unloading our stuff we went off to a stroll around Portree. There isn`t much to see, some shops, a beautiful harbor with some entertainment: the local fish&chips shop is closely watched by seagulls, really huge seagulls. They pray on naïve tourists to buy some fish&chips and then shoot out of the sky and onto the little trays. So it was no wonder these seagulls looked the way they did! We watched for about 30 minutes as they relentlessly hunted tourists for food, wings, foots everything they had, they threw in the game. And yes I admit, a few days later I bought some fish&chips and handed some of it over to the hungry seagulls.

That evening we decided to try a restaurant named “Well Plaid”. Although we should have grown suspicious of the lack of locals, we did order. It was just disgusting. Starting there, we only called the place “Well Played” which soon became a sort of a saying during the trip (and still is until this day).  Luckily, for us, next to that restaurant is a Mark&Spencers so we went off to buy some food and therefore didn`t died an early death by starvation. As we had arranged to meet Marcus Mc Adam the next morning, 5:00 on the Quiraing parking lot – sounds more like a place to hand over a ransom – we went to bed early.

The next morning we arrived on the Quiraing just in time and met Marcus.  We thought, as the sun rise was at 5:30, Marcus would lead us to a nearby place, we would totally relaxed set up our gear and make some nice photos of the sunrise. Well.. Marcus asked us if we`re fit, our response was “a bit” and then he started walking really fast alongside a small path. We walked, an walked, and walked some more.. we wondered if he was going to dispose of our bodies over a steep cliff and steal all our gear, but we kept going nevertheless. After quite some time and a  steep climb we arrived on a ledge with a beautiful view. Or at least it would`ve been a beautiful view if there hadn`t been tons of thick, heavy clouds, sometimes covering our view completely. After we made a few pictures when the clouds lifted a bit he showed us the way to the “needle” and “table” but we didn`t make the climb as it just wasn`t worth it. On our way back to the parking lot we almost got eaten by midges, our NASA approved nets from the gas station came to use. You won`t win any sort of beauty contest but you rather look stupid than to have those little buggers in your face!

Next stop was the Bridal Falls. I`ve imagined a large waterfall but when we arrived it was rather small and more of a trickle. It quickly became clear how to work the fall, you mount a tele lens and go for it. I tried to make a good picture there but didn`t really succeed, I think the image in my head of a huge waterfall just blocked any creativity. We agreed to meet Marcus somewhat later that day at the parking of the Fairy Pools. And so we headed back to our cottage to get rid of all the midges in our backpacks and to have some lunch.

In the afternoon we met again at the Fairy Pool parking lot. Of course there was a nice sprint over some wet grassland to the actual river but one has to keep in shape and what better than to run around with all your gear and tripod? On the plus side, I had quite warm and that proved an advantage a bit later on. We searched for a nice perspective and started getting our gear ready, some of the perspectives I wanted to do were only possible if you stood in the water, so I disposed of my shoes and stepped into the water. At first I didn`t notice anything until more and more people stared at me. And then one of them asked me, where i`m from that I was standing barefoot in this ice cold water? The answer: Switzerland, seemed to please them as, for them, it was clear that I must take a bath in some glacial lakes ever morning, of course I don`t, there aren`t any around, but to get a good photo you need to leave your comfort zone.  We also watched some people taking a bath in one of the various pools there, it looked like good fun! But I didn`t have my bathing suit with me and without a neoprene I wouldn`t try the natural water-slopes. But if you intend to go there in summer with kids or just enjoy a good swim, I would definitely do it!

On our way back to Portree Marcus showed us some of his favorite spots and gave us some more GPS coordinates. The weather was totally inconsistent so there was just no point in trying to get a good sunset photo. For the days after I can`t remember the exact schedule but the problem was, it rained a lot. On some days it wouldn’t clear up and stop raining for a minute! We tried various spots and some more than once but it was a bit frustrating getting up at four in the morning just to find more clouds and rain. We only had one really good day, but on this day we achieved some very good photos from Neist Point, the Quiraing, and a little boat somewhere on the road to the fairy pools which Thomas spotted earlier this week. As we grew more and more tired of watching TV and waiting for the rain to stop we searched for things to do. I mean watching Judge Judy, The Gread British Bake Off and TOWIE is ok to a point but we came to make photos and not to watch TV. So we booked a sea eagle tour form Portree and a speedboat trip from Eglol. Both where good fun but I would definitely go for the speedboat! Ok not that funny when the raindrops hammer your face but one must suffer a bit to see the small isles just off the coast of Skye. And of course a hot chocolate with marshmallows helps to forget the pain in your face. On the trip to the small isles you`ll get to hear some interesting facts and see nice photo spots, a nice ship wreck and an isle solely inhabited by dear but sadly it’s all private property! We also met some of the inhabitants of Elgol on our arrival, I mean the animals, I was quite amazed when we saw a herd of cows on the beach chewing on ropes, fishing nets and stuff, but nice boatmen explained to me that the just want the salt stuck on the items. I have to tell that to my horse, from now on no more fancy Himalayan Salt Stone but some ropes!

The cows took some interest in our little car, we hoped they wouldn`t push it down the mountain, as it definitely wobbled a bit when one of the cows leaned against it.

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At Talisker Bay we watched an Italian couple totally ruining their Fiat 500 by driving it into a ditch. Form the beach itself I only have a few detail photos because the weather wasn`t good, everything grey, no structure in the clouds.

But I have a mobile phone picture for you: maybe you have already noticed that I enjoy making postcard photos of hearts, if you haven’t, take a look in my Gallery “Details”

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What I liked best at Talisker Bay were the inhabitants: peacocks. Very nosy birds and they like bananas! I wasn`t sure if they`re supposed to eat bananas or if it might be toxic for birds, but they are well, so you`ve got lucky my little peacocky friends!

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Actually all photos that I think are “poster-shots” were made on the single good day we had on Skye. I mean there are some pictures that are nice, but not more. I found it really difficult to do any photo in the pouring rain we had. Quite frustrating! I think if we visit Skye again we would definitely go in winter. The light has to be stunning and de midges aren`t a problem. Skye is undoubtedly a very beautiful piece of earth and worth a visit. However the weather proved difficult and demonstrated the limits of the research of spots. You can`t change the weather and a rainy day is quite normal but practically a whole week of rain, not funny.

Day 9 to 12 – Elgin

Our next destination, Elgin, is located on the north coast of Scotland. Its also part of the whiskey trail. Naturally we wanted to see at least one distillery and therefore visited the Strathsila Distillery and the Speyside Cooperage.

The Strathisla Distillery is very nice to look upon and they offer an exciting tour and tasting!

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The weather hat thankfully changed somewhat but the usual short gust of rain remained. We visited Chanonry Point where you can watch dolphins hunting from the beach! We actually saw some of them hunting fish right where the river Spey flows into the sea. One evening we wanted to photograph a lighthouse next to a RAF base, which proved almost impossible because the lighthouse was fenced and you couldn`t park anywhere. When we tried to get there by walking over a golf course we really stuck out and got some weird looks, so we didn`t go on and focused on a stretch of beach with some rocks. Thomas has made this photo there:

© Thomas

© Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the second evening we wanted to capture the so called Bow Fiddle Rock, that was easy to find, hat a parking lot and for once the light was with us! It didn`t last long but we managed to make a few good pictures before the rain started again. Finally we visited the famous whiskey shop Gordon & MacPhail to buy some gifts for the one left at home.

Bow Fiddle Rock:

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Day 13 to 15 – Lake District (Yorkshire)

The last two nights we spent in the Lake District. During my research it all looked very nice, but proved to be a difficult area. We just had no time left to go scouting for the locations and the rain didn`t help either. The little town of Keswick is full of outdoor stores and we bought ourselves some new rain jackets, otherwise there was nothing to see or do and the mood was quite down after all that raining and grey sky!

Conclusion

Scotland is a great country, the people are very friendly, the humor is absolutely my thing, the weather was really bad, I mean some clouds are a good thing, even no sun can be of an advantage as a landscape photographer, but low hanging clouds without any structure and ongoing rain is a pest. We had a few really good hours of light which made worth the whole trip. In retrospect, we should have shown more patience and should perhaps stayed longer at some locations, but here was always the fear to miss anything somewhere else, especially as the weather wasn`t good on most days. But I certainly hope that with experience we get more relaxed and take the time we need. The research I did from home wasn`t bad but a the situation on site can be very different and only if you go you will know if it was worth it or if there is just “that one photo” possible that everyone makes. And then there are just the things you see on the side of the road like the little boat which now is my favorite photo from this travel so I think you have to stay open minded, if you see something in perfect light and condition, stop and take that photo instead rushing to another point on your to-do list. In the future I will certainly do even more research, search more spots for bad weather, look up all the GPS data, look for a parking space and consider more than one report on a location. As we are traveling to Iceland this September we`ll see how that is going!
My version of the little boat:

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And the one from Thomas:

© Thomas

© Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that was my very extended report on our photo tour through Scotland. My key findings are to stay open to scenes that leap out and be more patient (not my strength at all). Clearly we too wanted to get these classic shots like Neist Point, the tree up on the Quiraing, etc. but personally I like the photos most that are different, or show a special moment and these are the pictures I look upon the most. When I accepted that some locations like Talisker Bay just “don`t talk to me” I think some of the stress went away and instead of trying frantically to make a picture I sometimes just watched and enjoyed the tranquility of the place, and that’s what making landscape photos is about, at least for me, enjoying the day out in the nature, no stress being there.

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