Category Archives: Meadows

North Uist From Richard’s Perspective

If you were to say to me “You were thinking of going to photograph the Outer Hebrides, but didn’t know where to start”. Then I’d say, “begin on the Isle of Harris, it’s wall to wall photo locations”. However, I’ve been to Harris three times now and whilst I’ve returned with lots of nice images, I don’t feel as though I’ve captured the true character of the place, there’s something missing and I’m not proud of any of my images.

Last year we felt we needed a change, so we decided to go to North Uist. Our primary driver was to see the machair, but that’s another story, as they say. Uist may be physically very close to Harris, but it’s a different world. It’s a very traditional island, that’s very much un-developed for tourism and still has it’s crofting way of life. It’s also a very sparse landscape and it’s this minimal look that first caught our attention.

Last year we rented a cottage near Balranald nature reserve last year and whilst it was very nice, the location was much more suited to bird photographers, rather than landscape. Add in a hefty dose of very wet, grey weather and we only came back with a couple images between us. However, all was not lost, we both felt we’d seen the photographic potential in the island, we both really felt we “got it”. We’d also spotted a fabulous location complete with a cottage sitting overlooking it, so it was game on for 2017.

The cottage at Gearraidh Iain was expensive, but the location overlooking Traigh Vallay was perfect for us. We marvelled at the colours in the water and the ever-changing shapes as the tide came in. We were in photographic heaven, the location offered so much photographic potential, but as the tide came in, everything happened so quickly it was hard to know what to shoot.

As we drove home after a very enjoyable week, we both felt that the time was right to explore another island, but now we’ve had time to reflect, we both feel we’ve only just scratched the surface of Traigh Vallay, so who knows, we may just back again one day soon!

 

North Uist from Janet’s perspective….

Our home for the week overlooking Vallay Strand

Every year we like to visit the Hebrides for our annual holiday. It’s a place to be refreshed, renewed and feel at peace.

We’ve been visiting the Isle of Mull for many years and in recent years we have also expanded our travels to other islands such as Eigg, Harris and recently North Uist.

Mull is like a second home to us, a familiar place where the pace of life slows and we can immerse ourselves in our passion for wildlife and the outdoors. We both love the island and I’m sure if we had been younger we would have moved there permanently.

Last year we discovered the Isle of North Uist, we’d visited Harris a number of times and expected North Uist to be similar but it was completely different in character and it captured our hearts in the same way that Mull had all those years ago.

Primarily a crofting community it is slowly opening itself up to visitors. A haven for wildlife and famous for its wildflower meadows (machair), it suited us down to the ground.

Last year we booked a week at the end of June in the hope of coinciding our visit with the machair being at its best. Unfortunately for us it had been a cold spring and the machair was barely ready to flower. Though it gave us an opportunity to explore the island and get to know the place a bit better and we decided to go back this year. It’s always a bit hit and miss booking cottages and while we had a lovely cottage near Balranald nature reserve last year, the view wasn’t great, so we did a bit of scouting around and found a fabulous cottage overlooking three square miles of tidal bay at Malacleit.

Getting to North Uist is a bit of a trek for us, it’s just far enough away at 450 miles to warrant an overnight stay at both ends of the holiday. Fort William on the way there and Ballachulish on the way back. We catch the ferry from Uig on the Isle of Skye and cross the turbulent waters of the Minch which takes about two hours. We have only been across the Minch once in calm waters and were really happy to see whales and dolphins from the ferry as well as countless seabirds.

We’d travelled from Fort William in a storm and it continued as we crossed on the ferry in into the first night on Uist. Really heavy rain stopped us going out to explore, so a night in with a glass of wine was called for. The weather was due to improve for the rest of the week so our spirits were high.

Sunday morning dawned clear, bright and calm. Traditionally Sunday is a day when the car stays parked and we explore our immediate vicinity and stretch our legs after all that travelling, but Richard had booked the boat to St. Kilda to camp out there for a few days. A quick trip to Berneray to drop him off then I was free to do some exploring and getting to know the area. 

The cottage proved to be in the perfect location overlooking Vallay Strand. The tidal bay empties to leave a large expanse of beach twice a day. The colours of the ebbing and flowing tides are a wonder to behold, it ranged from slate grey to brilliant vibrant turquoise. The sand is a creamy white and as the tide ebbs and flows the reveal ever changing shapes and layers of colour.

The main reason we went in July was to see the wild flower meadows that the island is so famous for and we weren’t disappointed. A walk through the accessible meadows (most are behind fences to keep the sheep out) is a joy for the senses, the heady scent of the flowers transports you to an era when meadows were the norm across most of the country. Bees, butterflies and insects abound as well as insect eating birds. An ecosystem at its best, long may it last. A worry about the viability of it all is that the islands rely on EU subsidies to keep this way of life going. What will happen when we leave the EU is anyone’s guess. I truly hope this unique way of life is not lost.

As well as the meadows, North Uist is all about wide open spaces, big vistas and turbulent weather. There are hardly any trees on the island to stop the westerly gales scouring the land in the winter time. The storms must be a sight to behold. The folk as well as the sheep and the wildlife must be incredibly hardy.

The people are some of the friendliest you are likely to meet. At the very least you get a wave, and they love to talk. I got talking to a lady who was telling me that living in paradise does have some downsides, the weather was top of the list! The other was the work involved for the peat fires, cutting, stacking, drying the peat is back breaking work.

All in all, a fantastic week, the wild flowers and wildlife were glorious, the weather was decent and the place worked it’s magic as always.

Would I go again? You bet I would.

Could I live there? No, it’s very remote and the weather in winter would drive me bonkers.

If you haven’t yet been to the Hebrides I can highly recommend North Uist, a truly fabulous, unique place.

A Stroll Down Pickering Beck

A stroll along the banks of Pickering beck is one of my favourite local walks, but one I’ve neglected for a long time, so when I spotted a patch of bright yellow in the distance, I just had to investigate. We’d just returned from a day out in Swaledale shooting the wild-flower meadows, so it came as quite a surprise to have such a riot of colour on my own doorstep. Much as I do enjoy travelling, I derive a great deal of pleasure from finding scenes like this in my own patch. One of the many things I enjoy about photography is that it does teach you to “see”, so you can derive a great deal more pleasure out of your surroundings.

Pickering beck

Muker Wild Flower Meadows

I must admit that shooting iconic well known scenes is not my favourite photographic genre, I tend to do it more for commercial reasons than artistic fulfilment. However, our continued association with The Old School Gallery in Muker has seen me grow to enjoy the delights of Swaledale more and more, so I couldn’t resist the chance to have a go at shooting the wild flower meadows.

We tried shooting the machair on Uist last June and found it a very hard subject to master and we’re finding the same here in Swaledale, it takes time to adjust to an unfamiliar environment. But hopefully with a bit more familiarity we’ll get further into it and produce some work that we are pleased with and by the time the winter comes we should be sufficiently au fait with the area to produce some of the simple monochrome images that we love to shoot.

Wild Flower & Cotton Grass

Aren’t fields full of wild flowers brilliant? Fortunately it’s been a great year for wild flowers this year with huge swathes in the fields all around Ryedale. Normally we would have to travel over to places like Wensleydale to get any quantity of wild flowers, but this year we’ve been able to capture them locally.

Buttercups have been everywhere and the Wolds are alive with Cow parsley and red & white Campion, and now the Poppies and Oxeye daises are bursting through. Traveling back from an exhibition we spotted a glorious bank of Oxeye daises in the middle of a village, so we just had to return to capture them. After that we pressed on up to Danby Rigg which was covered in cotton grass. We normally get some cotton grass on the moors, but this year there are literally acres of them.

Traveling back from Danby Rigg, we spotted another bank covered in Oxeye daises, so we just had to stop and record them as well. Swathes of wild flowers like this don’t occur every year, so we are working hard to make the most of them while they last. Poppies seem to be the one wild flower that is in short supply so far, but who knows, they are popping through all the time, so we might just get some yet.