Scotlands Highlands 2020: Part Nine
30 July 2020
Today was the day I had most been looking forward to. I regularly watch several photographers on You Tube, and one of them, Gary Gough, had shown a set of videos of his photography experiences in the Assynt. Usually he tells us where he is, and then goes on to discuss the photographic aspect of the locations or his shots. In video one of the 3 however (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_Zi76OOGko&ab_channel=GaryGough), less than 2 minutes in Gary shows us the waterfall, and simply say ‘as waterfalls go, this isn’t a bad one… time for a selfie!’ and that was it! I was beside myself. I LOVE a waterfall, and that one looked especially awesome! Did he tell us where he was though??!! Not in the slightest…! So I began the hunt to find out what it was called, and where, exactly, it was… and that became the basis of this photographic trip. I wanted to visit THAT waterfall, so I needed to visit Scotland, and I ended up growing my list of locations from this one place. The falls, I eventually found out were called Wailing Widow falls, and they have a couple of stories to explain the name. The one I think most likely, is the story of a widowed mother whose son, a goat herder, fell from the top during a very stormy evening as he was trying to gather his goats together. When I got to look at this place, I could see such an accident easily happening!
Anyway… today I was finally going to visit these stunning falls, and I couldn’t wait!! I got up, quickly snapped the view from where I had stopped the night (more for record, as the shot didn’t end up particularly great), and plotted the route to the falls into my sat nav. As I got close, I found myself driving right past the gorge that led to it, up to the top of the hill, and to the loch that supplies the water. By the time I got to that point and realised where I was, I suddenly realised that I had missed the spot totally! These falls are not signposted in any way, so I carefully drove back down the hill and spotted a single car parked up in a small spot big enough for just 2 vehicles. Pulling in next to the car, I prepared myself for a sturdy hike, and a couple of minutes in, passed a family heading back towards me. ‘Its not far’ they told me, ‘only 10-15 minutes, though be careful, some of the rocks in the middle are loose and the mud can be very slippery’ This was no exaggeration, but even given my poor fitness levels, it didn’t take long for the falls to come into view… and I was not at all disappointed.
They took my breath away, as they were so high, and fell in such a beautiful way, hitting several rocks at different levels. I stood for ages before I finally started to look for nice compositions of it. I started off nearby, in a couple of obvious spots, then decided that maybe the best shot would be across the river. I gingerly made my way across, and started to explore all angles from the other side, practising shots at a variety of different exposures to see what I liked best. I thought that maybe a shot further down the river on this side might be nice, so I very carefully made my way down the other bank. There was no path this side, and in fact, very little space to walk at points, but River and I eventually made our way slightly down stream to a fairly nice spot. It was a bit high though, and I really wanted to get to the rocks in the middle…so I sat down and slipped over a metre down off the ledge to a nice rocky base, that enabled me to get into a good spot to cross to the middle of the water. In the back of my head I wondered how on earth I was going to get back up that ledge, but I decided to worry about that later. For now, River had managed to find her own way down, and we set up in a great spot to shoot. As I finished the set up, another tourist came into view, and stood dead centre to my shot. Flipping typical, I thought, but I was loving it here, so actually, I really didn’t mind waiting. She took her time looking, she took some photos, then she took some more, and then just stood looking again, and then took even more photos. It felt like an eternity, and eventually I decided the wait was long enough, so I simply snapped a shot with her in it, mostly as a tester for seeing how my shot would look once she had moved. Unexpectedly, I really liked the shot. I am not a fan of people in my shots, but part of me felt she actually made this one!
By the time she left, I had already checked the picture, and on liking it so much, I called across to her to ask for a contact number so I could send it to her. When she got it, she was over the moon and shared it with a number of people, so I am quite pleased I bothered!
With the shot from this angle in the bag, I made my way back to the side, scrabbled back up the drop, and carefully plotted my way back. As I got nearer the falls, I decided to carry on and get as close as I could on this side. I found myself balanced in quite a precarious position, but I had the tripod set up securely enough to focus on what appeared to be a really nice shot. As I put the camera on and rummaged for the ND filter I wanted to use, my polariser and ring slipped from the bag, and before I could grab it, it feel right down into a deep pool where I had no hope of fishing it back out. ‘NOOoo!!!’ I cried giving River quite the cause for concern. I calmed her saying everything was OK, but inside I was gutted! With no other option, I just focussed on the shot I wanted and carried on – there wasn’t anything else I could do now really. Once the shots were taken, I just sat for a while and enjoyed the bird song from a grey wagtail, heard well before I spotted him. He didn’t seem too nervous of me or the dog, as he eventually happily sprang into view, hopped over the rocks, and then around to have a happy splashy bath in the waters between them. This ended up being a really happy place, and one I have taken home with me, in multiple senses of the word.
Having milked these falls for every angle I could think of, I carefully made my way back across the river, and hiked back to the camper. These falls were every bit as gorgeous as I hoped, and my day felt totally complete!
With some hours to go until dark I thought I might make my way to Ardvrek Castle for the evening, maybe have a walk around there, or try and find a simpler, smaller fall near Inchnadamph that was on my list. I found my spot for the night, then continued the drive on for a little bit, finding a car park in Inchnadamph, where I left the camper. River clearly didn’t want to walk any further, so rather than drag her with me, I decided to let her stay, and I set off alone. I started the walk following the river, but found that it didn’t lead anywhere, so walked back, crossed a bridge, and tried again the other side, following a path that seemed to follow the water. I assumed that the waterfall I was looking for would be somewhere along this river, but as the time progressed the river faded first from my sight, and eventually from my ears as well, until I realised that I was nowhere near any running water at all. It had been over an hour, and the daylight would be gone in another hour, so I had to stop and rethink this plan. I checked Google maps to see where I was. To my dismay, I was somewhere between 2 rivers, but not near either, and I had no idea which one might have the waterfall on. I was clearly nowhere near where I hoped to be, so reluctantly had to turn around and give up this one. I was very disappointed, not to mention, exhausted, but since I had no idea where I even was, it seemed to be the only sensible call I could make. When I turned round and began the long walk back I was faced with this sight:
For a moment I just stood and stared. How on earth did I not see this on the way up?! It was a perfect photo just staring at me right back, and it took a little while before I took my bag off my shoulders and set the camera up for a shot. A couple of hikers strolled by, with a cheery ‘Hello’, commented on the pretty sight in front of us, and then wandered on their happy way, leaving this for my eyes to enjoy. I have no idea what the house is, but I loved how it reflected the shape of the monro behind it, and how it sat right at the end of where the winding path turned to make its downhill trek to Inchnadamph. I couldn’t NOT take this could I?! Once done, I felt happier and less like this hike had been a total waste of time, and I found the walk back to be far quicker. Whether it was because I was happy at having seen that sight, or whether my sense of time had been elongated by my tiredness and the uphill hike (on top of the starting misroute I had turned back with) I don’t know, but I was back at Ardvrek castle quicker than I had expected, and made it with a little daylight left.
I took River out for a short tour around the castle, snapping a few ideas on my phone ready for tomorrow morning, and she found something that really got her nose excited. Sniffing and following a trail of something, she was happily bounding around the hill for ages before we finally went back to settle in for the night. Today had ended up a perfect one.