Scotlands Highlands 2020: Part One
22nd July 2020
The adventure begins! A month to tour the highlands, what will it bring?!
With Daughter all settled into her new digs in Glasgow, it was time to leave for the Big Tour! Using the NC500 route as a basic starter for all the locations I was hoping to try and find, all I had to decide was which way to do it. East or West. I actually had no idea, so decided to try and retrace my steps from a family holiday from back in 2012, in the hope of identifying a loch I had photographed that I desperately wanted to re find. I wanted to retake this picture as a RAW file, so that I could enjoy a better quality version. This meant that if I started in Fort William, and drove towards John O’ Groats, I would hopefully recreate the route I took back then and come across it. As it goes, I didn’t, so that mystery remains unsolved, and I am still confused by where it might be! – but at least it gave me a start. East to West, with Caithness being the first Highland county to cover.
As I got to Fred, I picked up a bit of litter by his front wheel, and saw it was a £20 note (!!) so this felt like a fantastic start to the day… yes it was raining, but it didn’t bother me one bit. Off I headed, with a big happy and excited grin on my face. The drive was easy, with some lovely sights by Loch Lamond (I really need to work out what that big stunning waterfall is that you can see across the Loch between the trees), and before I really knew it, I was driving through Glencoe. I had had a pretty grim time here in January, but I felt no bitterness or reluctance to visit here again, although it didn’t look much different today from how I left it back then!! Only the strong winds were absent. I drove past a little white building I hadn’t notice before, with a gorgeous reflection in the loch next to it, and I imagined the shot in my head, then the edited version, then I stopped myself. Why on earth was I only thinking this?!! I was on no time limit, or restrictions of any kind, so I stopped the camper, turned round, and went back to actually take the photo!
With the weather having been so poor last time, it was probable that I hadn’t noticed this beautiful reflection, so when I stopped at a good parking spot, I took the dog and my kit out, and walked back to it. I found it to be both an enjoyable walk and a very beautiful sight.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was Achnambeithach Cottage, one of the cottages I had been trying to locate when I first visited Glencoe. I had gotten confused, and mixed the name up with what I now realise was the equally photographic Lagangarbh hut. Achnambeithach Cottage dates back to around the 1900, but I can find nothing else about it! Is it a home? is it a rented holiday cottage? is it a bothy? I will have to see if anyone else knows!! Whatever its history, this area was SO peaceful today, that I took some time to just stand and take the scene in before I picked a couple of spots to take some pictures. As I started to set up the tripod and camera, I framed up and took the scene in again, before turning to River to say ‘isn’t this just the most beautiful sight?’ to find my dog nowhere to be seen. In a slight panic, I strained my eyes looking in every direction, fearful she might have wandered to the road while my attention was diverted. I stopped and really considered the options, then realised I needn’t have worried – I just needed to look at the obvious spot…and sure enough a moment later I saw where she had gone. My perfect flat reflection started to slowly disappear in a growing cascade of ripples coming from one spot. Aha… there’s water – and if this dog loves one thing over anything else… its water.
I snapped the shot quickly before the ripples affected my framing and called her name. A second later her head popped up from behind the reeds and she bounded back to me all happy and dripping. I kept her near me while I took some other shots, and prayed hard that the cloud would lift just a little to reveal a hint of the mountain behind. When it did, just for a couple of minutes, I really felt my luck was in, and finished when both a truck pulled up outside the cottage, and the cloud started descending again. I walked down to the waters edge, and allowed River a proper swim until she was happy. This felt like a good start.
From there I drove to Corpach, just a bit north of Fort William and had a look at 2 shots I hoped to take here. The boat was as boring to me as the photos I had seen, and had lots of people milling around it. However, as a ‘bucket shot collector’ I knew this was one I would need to pick up on. I saw a nice possible shot by the nearby waterfall which I’d not seen before in photos (or hadn’t noticed it) so was pleasantly surprised to see it. As I tried potential shots with my phone, I realised I would need to navigate weeds and chicken wire holding rocks in place, but thought I might be able to make something of it if the light and tide were right. I also found the little lighthouse/pier bit, and worked out how to get the nicest viewpoint. I found the spot but was disappointed to see there was building work going on, so diggers, and fencing, and piles of hard core littered the view. This might spoil the final image I hoped to get in time, but I would just have to work with it, or come back another time completely. I decided I would try again on my way back through at the end, as right now both shots needed a high tide for the best view anyway (or one that wasn’t fully out as it was right now), and the light was looking pretty flat and lacking. I noted it all, along with a good parking spot for them and went back to the camper.
I pointed the sat nav to John O’Groats, and started the drive to Caithness to start the first leg of this trip proper. I hoped to pass the loch I was looking for so drove back through Fort William, around Loch Ness to Inverness, and all the way up the coast road towards Wick. I didn’t see it anywhere along that stretch, but loved the coastal views that I had going this way. The temptation to keep stopping was huge, but I kept going very mindful of the time and my aim to cover each county in turn, rather than darting between several. I hadn’t really thought of a specific location I wanted to start with, and as I approached Wick I saw the time was getting on, so plumped for Castle Sinclair Girnigoe. I picked this simply because it was out of a town, and more likely to have a parking spot where I might be able to rest up after the long drive. I got there easily enough, but it was nearly 9pm by the time I arrived, so after parking up, I decided to just stretch my legs with River, and simply scout the location for this evening. If I was lucky, there may be a nice sunrise that would give the ruin a nice glow in the morning. The castle was very easy to get to, and really nice to look at with several boards showing how it used to look in its day, and giving a good idea of the history of this place. I read each one, and walked all over the location, finding some nice points of view that offered a variety of shots. As I did so, I realised the sun was setting, and that it might actually be visible from under the blanket of clouds, with some colour off to the far horizon. Gutted I hadn’t brought my main camera, I took what I could with my mobile and hoped the file size on this new phone would be good enough to work with. It seems the castle had a warm glow after all!
Back to the camper for some well earned food and sleep followed and noting a couple of other campers here, I felt safe. With my first night on the road, my latest adventure began.