Scottish Highlands

September 12, 2021
Eilean Donan Castle

Back in 2020 as Lockdown 26 or whatever number it was we got up to, started to ease, I went on a Porsche Road trip as a recce for a longer shoot. Now feeling a little more protected with a double armful of vaccine, it was time to pack the landscape photography gear and head to the Scottish Highlands.

Day 1

We set pointed the car North, dialled in the SatNav and headed up towards the East side of Scotland. The main destination was Newburgh Beach. This nature reserve is famous for the seabirds but more importantly for us, the Grey Seals that are visible from the shore line. The fish they were feeding on had moved a little further out to sea so the seals weren’t resting on the sands. There were still a few popping their heads up staring at us though.

Grey seal at newburgh beach
Young Grey Seal stares back with huge eyes at Newburgh Beach
A Tern heads off with his sand eel lunch
Tiny Turnstone seabirds use old upturned fishing boat as an island at Newburgh Beach

Day 2

From overnight on the edge of the Cairngorm National Park we continued up the East Coast towards John O’Groats. As mentioned in the Porsche Road Trip blog, this was the return visit to create landscape images for my stock photography portfolio. There were lovely things to see on the way too… even a Highland Cow on the side of Culloden Moor.

Cromarty Bridge
Cromarty Bridge
Highland Cow
It would be rude not to come all the way to Scottish Highlands and not get a photos of Highland Cattle

Green gentle rolling hills and glens on the East Coast now gave way to rugged rocks and cliffs. The seascapes of the Scottish Highlands are simply breathtaking. Galleries of seabirds on the cliffs had mostly left for feeding grounds out to sea, but the were noisy Fulmar dotted on the rock ledges. Duncansby Head is a great location for Puffins… I feel a return trip coming on!!

Duncansby Stacks at Duncansby Head
Natural rock formations, Duncansby Stacks on North Coast of Scottish Highlands
Duncansby Head Lighthouse Scottish Highlands
Duncansby Head Lighthouse
scrabster harbour Scottish Highlands
Busy freight hub for the islands and fishing port, Scrabster harbour

Day 3

With a take-away breakfast bag from our Air B&B overlooking Scrabster harbour safely in the car, we continued West. The North Coast 500 wound its way around the coastal roads of the North Highlands. Next stop was Bettyhill before carrying on 200 miles along narrow roads towards Loch Torridon in the West.

derelict croft cottage
Run down derelict old croft…. a proper Doer Upper!!
Strathy Beach Breakfast
Not the worse place to stop for breakfast… sat on a hillside with Strathy Beach stretched out below

We continued on our way nicely filled with pastries, fruits and yoghurts from our Air B&B hosts in Scrabster. Around every bend, over every brow was yet another breathtaking view that meant stopping the car. Out came the camera kit and more photos, little mileage progress but who cares!

Castle Varrich Scottish Highlands
Castle Varrich Scottish Highlands
Kyle of Tongue Causeway Scottish Highlands
Stone piling at the Kyle of Tongue Causeway
Loch Clair Scottish Highlands
Loch Clair Scottish Highlands

Day 4

This morning our original plan was to drive straight to the Isle of Skye… that lasted all of 15 minutes. Turned a corner and through the trees I saw a mirror!! The car was promptly thrown up a grass verge and the camera gear was out again. This was too perfect to miss… The water in Loch Dughail was ridiculously still. These shots are hand -held at 1/250 of a second, no long 30 second exposures needed here to smooth out ripples…because there simply weren’t any!!

The mirror reflections of Loch Dughail
The mirror reflections of Loch Dughail
Loch Dughail - Strathcarron
Not a ripple on Loch Dughail – Strathcarron
Loch Dughail - Strathcarron
Mirror like still waters of Loch Dughail

We eventually arrived on the Isle of Skye to be greeted by a grey flat featureless sky. I had been told you want Skye wild and stormy skies… I can now see why. As we drove to the top edge of the island the clouds began to gather and boil, the landscapes came alive. It must be amazing creating images here in a storm.

Silgachan Bridge - Scottish Highlands
Silgachan Bridge – Scottish Highlands
Silgachan Bridge - Scottish Highlands
Silgachan Bridge – Scottish Highlands
Neist Point Lighthouse
Neist Point Lighthouse on Isle of Skye
Neist Point Lighthouse Isle of Skye
Neist Point Lighthouse on Isle of Skye

Black and White or Colour…. I can’t decide…

Day 5

Isle of Skye Bridge
Long exposure smooths out the ripples under Skye Bridge

First stop was to find a spot where I could take a long exposure of Skye Bridge. I had a shot in my minds eye to try to capture the peaceful calm of early morning by the sea. I like it…worked out pretty well I think.

The shots safely in the bag we headed off to the next landmark on my list, Eilean Donan Castle. Almost certainly the most photographed castle in Scotland, possibly even more than Edinburgh Castle.

Eilean Donan Castle
The star of more biscuit tin lids than even Monach of The Glen…. Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle Scottish Highlands
Eilean Donan Castle… 30 second slow exposure using a 10 stop ND filter, smooths out the water & enhances the reflections

Low cloud was wrapping itself around the glen and the mountains. You can see why it has been shot from every possible angle over the years. I still had to take my version of it though… I think night time with stars and castle lights would look amazing too.

We drove on a good many miles ahead of us. I wanted to visit the exact spot Bond shows M where he grew up, Skyfall. A few miles down a very narrow track off the A82 to map reference 56°37′10.31″N 04°55′51.23″W and you will find yourself by the 2 stones in Glen Etive. Couple of quick selfies and I was happy… sad I know but I like the films, what can I do! On the way back up the track I spotted some lads white water kayaking. I’m a motorsport photographer, this is action sport right?

White water kayaking in Glen Etive
White water kayaking in Glen Etive

Day 6

Today were were heading South which would take us out of Scotland back into England and the Lake District. Over breakfast we overheard a couple taking about Red Squirrels living wild in the woodlands behind the hotel. Ahhhhh well, best made plans and all that… a quick chat to find out where to go and we were off. Buttermere would have to wait!!

Red Squirrel
Big tick off my wildlife list… Seeing Red Squirrels in the wild
3 Red Squirrels in the wild
Amazing seeing Red Squirrels in the wild. We saw 4 together on one tree… but they’re so fast I missed one of them
Wildlife feeding station in Aberfoyle
Wildlife feeding station in Aberfoyle

Day 7

Crummock Water, Buttermere and a drive home via another awesome ‘driving road’ The Honiston Pass. The Cumbrian hills around the Lake District have a totally different beauty to the West Coast of the Scottish Highlands. Softer, rounder and greener…. The sheep are different too.

Crummock Water footbridge
Footbridge at Crummock Water close to Lake Buttermere
sheep on road
Sheep were released from the yard and headed straight down the land to the field
The Phantom of the Oper-ewe…. I’ll get my coat
Jaguar E-Types at Honiston Pass
What are the chances… we get to the top of the Honiston Pass and a whole pack of Jaguars are waiting for me!!!
Skoda Octavia VRS Estate
Skoda Octavia VRS Estate… perfect car for a photography road trip.

That was it we were home gain. My Skoda Octavia VRS Estate was a perfect car for a Scottish Highlands photography road trip. Loads of space for camera kit and bags. Easy on motorways on cruise control while having power on tap to play a little on this awesome North Coast 500 roads. Finishing on round trip with 1973 miles, 211 litres of varying E5 or E10 unleaded produced a very respectable 42.5 miles to the gallon. Grippy winter tyres already fitted to the front of the VRS and already planning the next visit. This time I think water proofs for me and the Nikon will be required… watch this space!!

By Skelly

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