My pet project to camp and photograph on St. Kilda is proving to be a much harder nut to crack than I imagined. My first attempt in September 2013 resulted in us sitting in a caravan on the Isle of Harris for 4 days waiting for gales and lashing rain to blow out. The weather finally cleared on the Thursday, but all I got was a day trip to the islands on an uncharacteristically bright sunny day, so it was back to the drawing board and time for plan B.
Soon after I got home, I got an email from an old friend saying he had found a boat going out of Uig on the Isle of Skye. This would mean a shorter and cheaper trip overall, so we duly booked for a trip in May 2014. This fitted in nicely for us as Janet and I were already due to be on Mull for a week, meaning I could go direct from Mull to Skye and have a couple of days photographing Skye.
We left Mull on the Saturday in glorious sunshine, but with the promise of worse to come. The weather was due to be wet on Saturday and Sunday (Which it was) and clear on Monday, which it did. I put Janet on a train to home from Oban, then headed north into the rain. I arrived on Skye mid-afternoon in heavy rain and cloud so thick I couldn’t see the old Man of Storr from the road as I passed. I pressed on to the Quiraing for a quick look, which is another truly amazing place, then headed for my digs and something to eat.
The alarm went off at 4 am the following morning and I rose to dull, drizzly morning, with a faint promise of the sky clearing on the horizon. Once up at the Quiraing car park, the drizzle had turned into persistent rain and only one other car load of photographers (From the Czech republic) had been daft enough to turn out on such a morning and at least they had the sense to be tucked up in sleeping bags. I waited until 5 am then set off along the track to find the famous Quiraing tree. The wind and rain was lashing down and streams of water were running down the track. Once in position, I used the umbrella to shield the camera from the elements, but it was a right pantomime trying to get an ND grad onto the camera without it getting wet. Once set up, I was able to lift the umbrella briefly and get the shots. With a few shots in the bag, I returned to the guest house for a couple of hours sleep before enjoying a hearty breakfast.
After breakfast, I headed back down the island towards Storr and what an amazing place! As I continued the long climb, the pinnacles finally started to appear through the gloom. I had planned to climb on and get above the pinnacles, but with the rain blowing into my face, I had to descend and hide in the lee of some hills to get some shelter to keep the lens dry. My efforts to work with the umbrella causing much amusement with the climbers!
Once back down I headed in search of lunch, only to run foul of Sunday closing on the island, so I headed over to the ferry terminal at Uig. I met up with a couple of non-photographer friends in Uig that evening and they dropped the bombshell that the weather was changing and a low was blowing in. A quick conversation with Dereck the boatman confirmed that Monday was due to be good, but Tuesday would be poor, with only a 50/50 chance of getting back off St. Kilda on Wednesday and very little chance after that until the following week. This left me with the choice of yet another day trip, or take the chance of being marooned on the island for at least a week! As I had commitments in Yorkshire at the weekend, I reluctantly chose the day trip.
Monday morning dawned clear, bright and calm as we made the 4 hour trip out to St. Kilda. An hour clear of Harris you can see St. Kilda in the distance, but I doesn’t seem to get much bigger for the next couple hours, then suddenly you are there! The sea got quite choppy as we neared St. Kilda, so any shots of the islands shrouded in mist would have to wait until later. Once on the island the scene was as amazing as ever (This is now my 3rd day trip, so it starting to look quite familiar). As we walked up the main street the whole area was full of the cutest tiny Soay lambs, but as we were only due to be on the island for 3-1/2 hours I’d made the foolish decision to travel light and had taken my 70-200mm lens out of my bag at the last minute. This would have been really useful as the sheep are really wild and quite hard to get close to.
The weather was reasonable, so I headed for Dun to re-visit my Dun island shot. Whilst over there the sheep kept unexpectedly running into me, so I managed to get some nice shots using the 24-120 lens. After a quick lunch, I headed back to the main street to shoot the village and the beach. A short, but heavy rain shower sent us all heading for cover and the first signs of the weather changing were very much in evidence, as the wind was getting up. Our trip round Boreray was now very much in doubt.
After a quick tea and cake break on the pier, we all trooped back onto the boat for the sea stack tour. The tour round Boreray and the sea stacks is normally a highlight of the trip, but the wind had risen and the sea was already quite rough, making photographing almost impossible. After an hour of battling round the sea stacks, we headed off into the swell of the open sea for the 4 hour trip back to Uig.
I have to say that the trip is amazing and one I would highly recommend to anyone with a strong stomach, but the prospect of the 5-1/4 hour trip on the rolling and pitching SS Huey is a pretty daunting one and even the cabin girl was sick! Now I’m back home and over the disappointment of another failure, so it’s back to the drawing board and time to put plan C in action…………………