Scotlands Highlands 2020: Part Eighteen
9 August 2020
I awoke to the sound of a slamming door.
It was 4am, and time to take some pictures! I bounced out of bed (yes, I bounced! – and yes I know it was 4am… but that’s how dawn photography gets me sometimes…don’t judge!) I left River to sleep, and made my way down to the little cove to find the tide was 3/4 of the way in – or rather, as it transpired, a quarter of the way out. There were 5 other men on the beach with their cameras and tripods, including Older Gent, Camper Guy, and one that seemed to be a Pro. I wont lie, I felt I was a little late to the party! The sky was totally clear without a single cloud, so I found a spot in the middle of everyone, and took a few pre dawn photos. None of the guys were talking, and me being me, I tried to spark up light conversation by casually remarking that I felt a few clouds in the sky would have really made this shot, especially if the early sun could have caught them. The Pro immediately snapped back ” You don’t want much do you?!!”. I was a bit taken aback by this response, and several of the other guys threw him a sharp look to demonstrate their shock at the harsh retort. I remained silent after that – maybe this was why everyone was so quiet!!! As one fella moved his tripod behind me, he spoke kindly, and told me that the sun was due to rise in the arch of the Rock this morning, and we discussed how hard it was going to be to predict exactly where we needed to be standing to capture it in the right position. A little to the left… a little to the right…?! I was totally surprised, and excited, not least because of all the mornings I rock up – this is the one I pick! No wonder there were several of us here… but I was even more amazed to realise that this was the second time I had, by pure chance, turned up at a location where both the sun and the sky were perfect for a rarer dawn shot. (the first time was at Durdle Door in 2019). When the sun did appear, I was the lucky photographer in the perfect spot… however, despite the growing anticipation as the minutes to sunrise approached, I found myself quite decidedly underwhelmed. As it emerged over the horizon it looked a bit, well… pants if I was honest! On top of this, all my shots suffered from ugly lens flare spots, and the tide was well on its way out. This morning didn’t seem to be panning out as I hoped and I was terribly confused as to why it wasn’t working for me. I looked at Pro – but didn’t dare ask for his advice (!!) He snapped a few pictures, then spotted a girl coming down the beach, who, from what I could gather from their loud conversation, had previously been on a workshop run by him. He quickly finished up, and after chatting for a while, left with her. The rest of us tried several shots in a few positions around the small beach, but one by one, as the sun rose above the Rock, everyone drifted off, happy, I assume, with their shots. I kept trying, but no matter what I did, I ended up chronically frustrated and disappointed. The pre dawn shot was definitely my favourite.
I loved this early morning shot… SO much nicer than the actual moment of sunrise one for me.I finally left here and tried to find an interesting looking derelict cottage overlooking the ocean that I had seen in another snap by someone else. I drove up and down roads in the area but couldn’t pinpoint it, and ended up instead at Findlater castle a little further along the coast. I parked up in a small car park, and decided to simply take River for a nice walk in the sunshine to help rid me of the mornings stress so far. This location was really nice, the walk being both beautiful and peaceful. When I got to it, the castle looked like it had disappeared into the rocky outcrop where it had become so derelict. it lacked any drama or real photographic interest from up here on the cliff, however, I suspect that a shot looking up from the beach (if it’s possible to get down to the little bay there) would really help make it look a little more imposing. The sun right now was very harsh though, and I just felt like a gentle explore from up here before I left to get to my next location, so I didn’t venture down there to check. Another mental note for a future visit was plotted in instead…
Next stop was Craigmin Bridge. Now here was a bridge I was excited to see in person. It looked to me like two bridges built one on top of the other, but there’s no recorded history so it’s unknown whether this was the case or whether it was built all at once with this unusual design. Parking proved a little difficult here since my sat nav kept trying to get me onto private land, but I found a spot and walked back to the beginning of an adorable woodland walk. The first bit had lots of really cute fairy houses dotted along the edges of the path, some obvious, many secret and hidden. It was great fun trying to spot them! The bridge was a bit further along from here, and you can cross it without even realising what you are standing on. I suspect many do! Just over the bridge there were small worn footpaths, one off to the left, and one to the right, so I explored the left one first. It took me down alongside the top tier of the bridge, and you can actually climb onto, and walk under, the twin arches of the upper level. I found a small room (no idea what that might have been used for!) and a small ‘corridor’ through the central column to the area under the second arch. I really wished I knew why it had been built in this fashion – it had me most curious! I couldn’t get down to the river from here so I headed back up and followed the right footpath down instead. This was a much nicer position, but disappointment hit again when I realised that much of the bridge was hidden by the trees, and the bit that was visible, was being whited out by the bright sun shining on it from this side. I tried anyway…
I also wondered if this might be a better Autumn/Winter shot… do the leaves drop revealing more of the bridge?? – so this was also marked in my diary for a return visit alongside those marked so far on this trip (this list is growing quite extensively!!) I tried what I could anyway, finished the first side, re crossed the bridge, and dropped down a much steeper slope to try the other side. Once finished I returned to Fred and decided that I would now try a second attempt at the Cullen Skink. So far this morning hadn’t been particularly fulfilling, so I hoped a bit of food would help.
One of the things I really hoped to try in my travels, were some local dishes and treats. Cullen Skink had come recommended, and it peaked my curiosity, so it had been added to my list of things to try! I drove back to Cullen, and was really pleased to find a parking spot right outside Lily’s Kitchen Cafe… the spot in Cullen which came highly recommended by folks on the NC500 Facebook group as being the best, (award winning, no less) Cullen Skink. Well I was about to find out for myself – and wow – just WOW! In case you didn’t know Cullen Skink is a delicious creamy fish and potato soup, traditionally served with Scottish Oat Cakes (or you can have a bread roll if you prefer) and it was developed right here in Cullen in the North East Scottish coast. I had it as traditional as possible of course, with the oak cakes complimenting the soup perfectly – and I wont lie – it was gone in minutes and I was incredibly tempted to walk right back in and get a second helping! Fish worries me because of the bones, but there were none, and the smoky haddock complimented all the other flavours so perfectly, that I wished these guys were more local to me in Kent! I must work out how to make this for myself I think!
Lunch happily consumed, I decided to travel onto Craigellachie Bridge. The weather was glorious, beaming sunshine, not a cloud in the sky, and hot – boy was it HOT – so much so, the camper was turning into an oven!!! On arrival I found myself a parking spot, and tucked Fred under some trees in the vain attempt that the shade would cool the camper down, and I just took River out for a walk for a quick explore. This bridge was a single span cast iron one, built between 1812 and 1814, and was (at the time) a revolutionary design by the famous engineer Thomas Telford. It crossed the River Spey at a rather odd point where on the northern side, a rocky cliff forces a very tight turn. Lorries occasionally hit the striking mock medieval stonework it was so tight, but now, its just a pedestrian bridge and icon. (I read a rumour that the funding ran out, and so this was as far up the river as they could afford to take it!!) When I got down to the beach area, I found it packed with people, and even a few tents, which sadly turned it into a bit of an eyesore. A shot here right now would clearly be very complicated, so I just left it for now. River loved her paddle in the Spey however. The flowing water was gentle and she had no issues going for a long dip in the cooling stream. When she got bored of it, we went back to the camper and had a nap. The early start, the food and the hot sun had all taken their toll. I was asleep in seconds and out for nearly 2 hours. By the time I awoke, it was 5pm, the crowd had thinned and I decided I might try some shots anyway.
Sadly, the sun was still harsh and the shadows cast, really unpleasant. After a few feeble efforts at pictures, I really wasn’t feeling it any more, so I gave up and decided to try a waterfall nearby instead. These bridges were proving far too frustrating today.Not too far away was Linn Waterfall, and as there were still a few hours of daylight left, I thought I would give this a try instead – after all, as a woodland location, this may be easier to photograph today with less sun over the scene, and more shade to keep us cooler. The walk to the falls was really lovely, and no-one was around. By the time I got to them there was just a touch of sunshine on the top bit, delicately lighting the view really beautifully, and magnifying the charm of the whole scene. It took me mere minutes to set up and start capturing this beautiful sight in front of me. As I concentrated on what I was doing, I suddenly realised that River was being terribly quiet, so I turned to see what she was up to – to see her intently watching what I was doing. I hadn’t seen her look at me like that before, and as I giggled at her expression, I quickly snapped a photo of her (header pic) before going over to pet her, and tell her what a good girl she was being. Maybe that was a bit premature – as I focussed on a new position a few minutes later, she suddenly dashed off into the woods barking madly as she ‘chased off’ another couple and their dogs (to my loud apologies!!)
I finished there with just under an hour before the sun was due to go down – should I try another sunset at Bow Fiddle I wondered?? I hiked back to Fred at pace, drove back to the same spot as I stayed last night, and hotfooted it down to the beach. I didn’t notice any sunset as I drove, but I think I may have missed it by the time I got to the waters edge, as the sky had started to go a shade of blue I recognised as ‘Earth Shadow Blue’. I know this as a darker blue strip of sky on the eastern horizon – just under the pinkish section of a sunset (if the pink is present). If you have ever noticed that lovely rich, dark blue sky on a clear summers day, this is much flatter shade of colour than that, and this was the colour I saw on the horizon tonight. There were two other photographers here tonight, and though pretty sure I had missed the light, I still got my camera out just in case. The male photographer there wondered aloud whether we had missed the sunset, and I suggested that perhaps we had. The girl there however loudly declared that we hadn’t because the sky on the horizon was still blue, I didn’t contradict her since she seemed so sure, and I wasn’t 100% myself at that point. I did explain to the fella that I felt it was the ‘wrong’ blue (I forgot the correct term) and ten minutes later he left… I guess he agreed with me. I too packed my kit away, but sat for a while just soaking up the peaceful atmosphere, and watching the girl take her camera all over the scene. She was still there when I eventually left to go back to the camper. By then it had become clear to me that I had actually managed to read the conditions correctly, and that the sun had indeed, set. An absolute bonus I felt, because it meant I was actually learning and something had settled into this old noggin of mine!