Skye 2019: Part Twelve
24/25 June 2019
As I left Skye, I felt a weight lift. I am not at all sure why that happened, perhaps I was loosing the pressures I had been putting on myself or maybe it was just that I would be heading home. It was half past 7 in the evening when I left Portree, and after an hour and a half of driving, I passed by Eilean Donan castle.
The first time I had seen this castle in person was on my way up to Skye. I had only stopped off then for just under an hour, to see what this place was about, and it had totally captured my imagination. I can see why so many people photograph it. It’s set in an absolutely perfect photographic setting, jutting out into the loch, with a fantastic backdrop of the hills behind. The first flyby visit, saw the tide fully out, and masses of tourists… but as I headed towards it tonight, I could see that the tide was in, the sun was setting, that the castle lights were alight and it would likely be tourist free. I had to stop to investigate! I took a quick walk around, and realised that although I had just missed sunset, the shot that I wanted most was going to be a blue hour one (the name given to the period of time after the golden colour of a sunset had gone but before pitch black of night sets in. This happens just before dawn too). I had seen a number of these shots and really wanted to try one for myself. Another photographer pulled up, and also walked around for a bit. The light was still a bit too bright for me at the moment, so I thought that now might be a good time to grab a quick bite to eat and make a cuppa. Food at last… my body was extremely grateful – and as I calmly waited, I felt the whole world come to rights again.
I watched the other photographer for a bit, he took a few shots, disappeared into the back of his van, then reappeared in what looked like a complete beekeepers kit. When I eventually got to speak to him, I questioned the outfit. He explained it was to keep the midges at bay, as they normally cover him with bites and he suffered a lot with them… damned good idea that one, I thought, as I started scratching at my newest bites for this evening. I didn’t seem quite so plagued by them however, as I had been that morning, so maybe as the sun sets, they also drift off… anyway, as the sky darkened, I eventually got my kit out and walked over to my chosen position with River at my heels, firing off shots that I loved. This reflection was awesome, and the blue light just made it all the more magical. It was an easy shot to capture for once.
I think my only disappointment was that one of the lights seemed to be out of order, putting one of the buildings into darkness. It didn’t spoil my time though, and after my fill here, I wandered around to the other side, and took a few shots from there. Unfortunately, although this would have been nice too, there were a small group of teenagers there dancing around in front of the beams of light. This cast great big people shaped shadows across the building, which although, quite fun, wasn’t really a shot I was after! As I finished my wander around the second side, I went back to the car park side, and joined the other photographer again. He was out of his midge prevention kit by now, and looking a little more like a regular photographer, perhaps the net facemask had been getting in his way. He told me he wanted to try something different, that this location would be perfect, and on seeing that my curiosity had been peaked, asked if I could I watch his camera while he picked up a few bits from his van. I did so, highly intrigued by what he was hoping to do. When he came back, I knew immediately what he was hoping to do.
Now I have experienced this once, as part of a big group some time ago, so I recognised his equipment… a balloon whisk, steel wool and a rope. Oh yeah, all highly technical equipment in this game you know! I was most fascinated with his set up in doing this alone. He sorted out where he hoped to focus, set his camera on a timer, and did one test run. He used a lighter to set fire to the steel wool (which he had stuffed into the balloon part of the whisk), jumped into position, then started spinning it in a big circle. Where his camera was set on timer it meant he was in full spin when the shutter fired. Once lit, the steel wool burns in seconds. By spinning the whisk that you’ve tied to a rope (or dog lead), tiny hot embers flick out, giving us these awesome photos… but the time you have is very short, so working on your own is very difficult! How he managed this all on his own, was quite interesting, and it actually amazed me! I always assumed this needed to be a two person job but he proved me wrong here. I bet this wasn’t easy the first few times he tried! He repeated this twice more, and seemed happy with the shots, then as he loaded the last bit of wool into the whisk, he asked if I wanted to take a photo of my own. I had been so mesmerised, I hadn’t thought to ask! I said a grateful ‘OH! Yes please, thank you!’ and then realised I had no idea what I needed to set the camera to. With very little time to work it out and only one shot, I hastily set my camera up next to his, fumbled my way through the settings in the dark, guessing mostly, and pressed the shutter. I feel my shot should have ended up a longer exposure than I did, (15 seconds) and maybe it would have had more drama at the top of the circle, perhaps a 20-25 second exposure…and maybe a lower ISO at that speed to help keep the background dark enough to highlight the embers. (I took this with an ISO 0f 500) but all in all, for a sudden rushed shot, I cant say I was unhappy in the slightest! Perhaps I WAS learning after all!
Once the last of the wire wool had gone, he packed up, said his goodbyes and went on his way. I had the place entirely to myself by now, so I took a few more photos from the car park, wondering whether the castle lights stayed on all night. As I wandered up and down, I decided to see what a low to the water shot might look like, so carefully stepped down the rocks to the waters edge… A few seconds later I heard a massive ‘SPLASH!’ to my left, and realised that River had decided that now would be a good time for a midnight swim. In any other lake, ocean or river this might have been OK, funny even – but this place was just FILLED with seaweed. Apart from feeling concerned that she might get snagged by weeds in the now, nearly pitch black, this place smelled anything but fragrant…!! I called her back out and as I did so, saw the lights at the castle wink out. Oh, OK, I assume the lights go off at 11 then! I looked down at the stinky dog that I assumed was next to me (judging by the smell) and packed everything down. I made my way back to the camper, and moved to a spot for the night. As I settled down into bed, I considered going back briefly in the morning before leaving for home. I was hoping a high tide may give a pretty daytime reflection. As I turned off the lights, River decided that I might need some extra company, and tried to jump on the bed. Wet and stinky, she had an almighty shove in the opposite direction… NO WAY was she getting in MY bed tonight!!! Sorry little girl…
I got back to the car park very early next morning, feeling fully refreshed (even with just 6 hours sleep) and was disappointed to realise that the tide had gone completely out. We were back to a castle surrounded by a bed of seaweed and mud. (I really should check these things out !!) Nonetheless, I took the opportunity of an unpopulated scene, and took photos from every angle. Where the tide was right out, I was able to get down under the bridge and on both sides, even crossing where the water would have been, onto a small bit of raised land. Whilst taking this shot, the sun beamed through the overcast morning clouds that hung behind me for a brief moment, to shine directly onto the castle with a soft diffused glow. I was grateful for that, as the castle had looked a little dull in front of the blue sky behind it. I finally felt that things were working in my favour again, and that maybe this photographic lark was a good thing for me to be doing after all…
The great joy of photographing Eilean Donan was that there are still other opportunities I could try at another time – A daytime with a high tide, views from two other spots that I have since discovered, a proper moody, misty shot perhaps. I ended leaving on a high, and although very tired as the day drew on, I didn’t have a repeat of the mood overload I had suffered the day before.
I felt this trip had, after all that, been quite a success.