Scotlands Highlands 2020: Part Twenty One
13 August 2020
Today was a real pendulum, swinging from low to high!
In the morning I awoke looking forward to the shoot at at the Suidhe viewpoint, but to my utter disappointment I found nothing but mist outside the van. Instead, I slept in further and woke up a few hours later. It was still very flat, although the fog had mostly gone, so I debated whether I should stay put or move on. I had no set plans for today, but I really didn’t fancy just sitting here, so I pulled up my ‘My Maps’ and had a look to see what was nearby. I was just south of Loch Ness, but almost directly over the other side of the loch, was Invermoriston. This looked promising for a grey day, so I sorted myself out with breakfast etc., and took a casual drive round to there. I drove through Fort Augustus, and round the bottom of the famous Loch, trying to keep my eyes open for anything that looked interesting. Loch Ness is a really big loch, so big that the grey sky just made it look like a boring mass of featureless water. From this side, it didn’t really have anything to make it look stunning as I might have hoped – no mountainous backdrop, or small islands to break the water up. I am sure there might be a way to capture this loch, but I suspect it would be with smaller features rather than a great big vista. I kept my eyes peeled as I drove around the waters edge. Urquhart castle might have worked, I considered that as I drove past there before, but there was no where to pull over (a problem I noted most of the drive up from Fort Augustus) except for their own car park… and I wasn’t sure if that was for visitors only, and if I had to pay an entry fee for that privilege (I didn’t want to go into the castle…). With the traffic fairly busy on this stretch of road, I couldn’t stop and dither, so I had just kept going. I didn’t get as far as Urquhart on this drive, but I did try and keep extra vigilant for any other sight that might work for me. None leapt out.
At 10.30 I rolled into Invermoriston’s generously sized car park. Right next to this was a bridge and a forest walk, so I took a quick explore here. I walked first to the bridge, and although the road was fairly busy this morning, I stood and looked first one side, then the other, immediately warming to this location. One side had a gorgeous looking stone summer house overlooking the river and some small falls, and the other had an old double arched bridge, built by Thomas Telford (the third bridge I have come across built by him!) with some further small falls beyond. Excited by these two views, I took River back to the woodland walk, and started towards the summer house first. The forest floor itself was beautiful here, full of rust coloured pine needles, and very soft underfoot, and the gentle trek to the summerhouse took no time at all. This was built as a folly by an old laird of Glenmoriston, who built this as a viewpoint for his guests to watch the salmon on their annual migration up river. The view from here was gorgeous, so I took my camera out and shot the scene through one of the windows towards the two bridges. Although it was cloudy for me today, I imagine this view would look amazing with dappled sunlight dripping through the trees…
From here I walked down the path a little, just following the river, then after practising videoing some vlog ‘b’roll (you never know, I might actually make a proper video for all of you of all these visits!) I went back to the road, crossed over and explored the old Telford bridge. I took a photo of the Summerhouse from here (header pic) and turned my camera to the waterfall that flowed the other side. It looked wonderful, but again, I really wished a little light had fallen on it so it would really come alive. Even in grey light though, this location didn’t fail to impress.
From here I noticed that there were some other falls nearby that were on my list, so once I was finished with these areas I packed everything up, and decided that I might try and find Divach falls. I started off taking a wrong turn somewhere, then re routed myself, and ended up driving up some tight hairpin turns to the road where the very small car park was. It was a little tricky in places, I won’t lie, but it was also strangely fun to have to keep holding my breath and squeeze through tight spaces with the (thankfully occasional) oncoming vehicles. Once parked up however, I was highly relieved, and left the van with River feeling in desperate need for some fresh air. The walk was fairly quick, but very pleasant, the falls were… well… quite frankly… not worth it. I was really disappointed to realise that the summer trees blocked most of the view, and although there was a really nice small area to sit and take in the sight, the view of the waterfall was minimal and didn’t grab me in the slightest… and I truly LOVE a waterfall. I didn’t even bother to take the camera bag off my back, it was that uninspiring – however I did take one photo with my phone just for reference to myself. What I had hoped for, was a way down to the bottom of the falls to get a better, unobscured view. Up here there was a fence blocking any chance of that, and they hadn’t carved any steps down from here to help.
I walked a little of the way back, and noticed a lightly worn path going down to the left. Maybe this was the route to the bottom I wondered, deciding to follow along. It wasn’t long before the path disappeared however, and I ended up battling bushes and branches, getting into several tight areas that all just led to a steep drop. It was a hopeless experience, and I resigned myself to having to head back up to the main path… IF I could find it again…!! I had no idea where I was!! Lost, I basically headed in an upwards direction until I heard voices. Then I followed the sound as much as I could, crawling under one especially big branch, and getting my camera bag snagged most of the rest of the route. Eventually I found a path and hoped it was the correct one! I followed it left and after a few minutes passed a couple heading towards me. I asked if this was the way back to the car park, and on their confused ‘yesss…?’ thanked them and trotted on my way. I didn’t fancy explaining that I had just gone on an embarrassing off trail route into the woods, getting lost for a pointless cause…
As I had no other serious plans, and I was already on the Invernessshire leg of my trip I decided that before I went much further, I really should change my portaloo cassette and grey water before I continued, so I went on a long leisurely drive back to Highland Campervans. I didn’t know anywhere near Loch Ness where I could do a service stop, and at least I knew what the deal was with these guys. At Highland Campervans, I had a chap explain the water release cap. I had battled with this for an eternity… ending up regularly wedging it off with a screwdriver where I couldn’t remove it, and I have been snapping the lock-in lugs in the process. Turns out you put the key in, hold the cap while turning the key, THEN turn the cap, and out it comes… who knew?!!! Apparently if it keeps spinning, you haven’t unlocked it – Ohhhhhhh…… (yes, I felt totally stupid… but there we go… that’s pretty par for the course for me really!)
While in the car park, I went back to my map to try and work out a route for the rest of Inverness-shire, and closest to me that I fancied right now was Glen Affric. There were a couple of spots I wanted to see, but mostly I was most curious about Plodda Falls. Another waterfall… I really hoped the view here was a better one…(!!) I went on another leisurely drive and found myself driving up a long forestry commission road to the car park near the falls. Excited for this one, I parked up, looked at the map on the board, spotted a sign that said ‘to the falls’ and walked in that direction… and walked…. and walked. Eventually I had to stop and listen, and I realised that I couldn’t even hear the river any more. I realised I must have gone wrong somewhere, so had to trudge all the way back up the hill I had hiked down. In the corner of my eye I spotted a figure that made me jump for a second, and when I turned I spotted this:
Looking to all intents and purpose like a wild horseman of the apocalypse, I had to stop and take a picture. It didn’t look like it was a sculpture, or even a deliberate gathering of dead wood and twigs, but the grasses and moss couldn’t have been growing any more perfectly to give this creepy image!
When I was most of the way back up the hill (!!) I spotted a small red arrow on a tiny post and decided that I would follow this. I checked on google maps, and it did seem to indicate that I was standing at a path that was going to lead to the falls, so off I went. I got to a T junction, turned right, and ended up going downhill again… I found a viewing point at least, but what it was a view of, was beyond me, as I couldn’t see anything specific (trees..?) I was at the river at least, so decided to follow the route back again and see where the left turn of the T junction might lead me. This time I was successful, and I found myself at the top of some fall. I was very confused though, as these were definitely not the ones in pictures I had seen online. I decided to pause here for a bit to let River have a paddle in the waters, and to take a photo here, before following the path further. This lead to a viewing platform, so I very gingerly started across it, before I realised a) how high it overhung the falls and b) how far it jutted out away from the path. This was the falls alright, but could I get to the end of the viewing platform? Nope.. Nope… NOPE!!! My brain screamed in terror and I had to gently walk backwards to solid ground and wait there for a bit for my heart to return to a sensible beat.
The path continued straight on. or, as I saw, to the left – so I followed that one, and found myself going downhill. It was very steep, but the route was pretty clear, and before I knew it I was at the waters edge sharing the space with several tourists. A young couple were just leaving, and I spotted another couple coming towards me across the river, carefully stepping on some large stones that made a good route across. Once they were my side I decided to go the same way over, but I found myself really struggling with some of the larger steps across. I couldn’t quite work out why, but I battled to balance properly on these rocks. Eventually I had so much trouble, I literally couldn’t get the last quarter of the way over. I was stuck. Standing uncertainly and wobbling fearfully on a stone in the middle of the fast flowing river, I felt lost, confused and really embarrassed. A French family on the other side saw my struggle, and bless him, a man in the group made his way across with a big stick, offering it to me so that I could balance easier. This was such a massive help! I made it the rest of the way, and thanked him profusely. The family left shortly after, and I was really pleased to find I had the place entirely to myself. I made my way to the bottom of the falls and my breath was taken away with the sight.
A huge fall (over 150 feet if I am reading things correctly online) left the cliff in one long stream of water to a deep pool (I assume, as I couldn’t see from where I was standing here) then spilled out to some stunning smaller falls that lead to the river I had just crossed. The view was incredible. It took me a few minutes to just gaze at the sight before I became quickly aware that the light was beginning to go. It was 7.30pm.. and I had very little time to get this shot and get back out safely. I spent the next 45 minutes quickly grabbing shots, being pestered continually by midges. (Damn.. forgot these little sods!) In the end the midges and the light (or lack of) started to get to be too much to work with, and I packed up. There were other shots I wished I had gotten, but this was definitely a place I wanted to come back to, so I was content with the shots I had, and didn’t worry about the short time I had spent here.
Once moving the midges left me alone, and I very, very carefully made my way back across the river. Again, my balance was terrible, and I have since looked into this. It appears it’s a hazard many photographers face… and it is of course due to the unusual weight we carry on our backs to locations we aim to photograph. On flat even ground where we get a solid footfall, we don’t notice it, but on uneven terrain, where fine balance is necessary, it throws us off. I was so relieved to find it wasn’t just me getting too old for all this! Though I struggled to cross back, the stick proved to be a huge help again, and even after it snapped I continued using it as I clambered back up the steep slope. Its still in Fred to this day. Too short now to be of any further help, it serves as a reminder of the kindness of others, and the wonderful support you occasionally get from random strangers.