Category Archives: Harris

Project St. Kilda

The island of Dun off St. Kilda

Janet often tells me I can be very negative, but I can also be very tenacious when I set my mind to doing something I really want to do and my pet project of camping on St. Kilda is proving one such project that requires all my powers of determination and staying power. I first visited St. Kilda, 40 miles due west of the Outer Hebrides, on a day trip in 2010 and it left me blown away with the feel of the place, but it was a television program with Steve Backshall marooned for a night on the island of Boreray with a gorgeous sunset in the background that got my mind racing! This was just the place I was looking for, highly atmospheric and little visited, so I did some research about the island and the way of life and became totally hooked. My research also revealed that it was possible for limited numbers of people to camp on the island, so I started making plans for a trip in 2013.

People often ask me why I want to go to such a remote place and in reality my reasons are many and varied, but over the years it’s become a bit like a mountain, it’s there so it has to be climbed, or possibly like an itch that just has to be scratched, but put simply it’s just a place I really want to spend some time. I’ve got so many ideas of things I want to do there photographically, I’m determined to make it happen.

Attempt 1 – 2013

We booked a cottage on Harris as a base and I treated myself to a new tent and sleeping bag along with many other bits and pieces. I’ve done very little camping and most of that has been within walking distance of civilisation, so I was very aware that anything I didn’t take, I would have to manage without on the island. The other problem with St. Kilda is that you need to take a lot of spare food in case you get stranded by bad weather! I have heard of people going for a couple of nights and having to stay for up to 3 weeks. With my camping gear, food and camera gear, I ended up with 35kg on my back and feeling very fortunate it was only a couple of hundred yards walk from the jetty to the campsite.

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The weather forecast for North West Scotland the week before we left looked poor, but with the accommodation booked we were committed to going, arriving on Harris on the Saturday evening. A phone call from Seamus the boatman on the Sunday night confirmed my worst fears that the trip to St. Kilda was definitely off until at least the following Thursday as we had gales and intermittent rain coming our way. Fortunately Seamus rang on Wednesday night to say that we were on for Thursday, albeit only for a day trip. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to stay overnight, but it was an awful lot better than nothing.

Attempt 2 – 2014

So after one failed attempt, I had to do a lot of thinking and try and figure how I could make another attempt. Then by sheer coincidence I met an ex-workmate and got talking and he said that he and another friend were going to try to get to St. Kilda via a boat from Uig on the Isle of Sky. I was due to be on Mull the week before, so that all fitted in well and meant a reasonably cheap trip. Once off Mull on the Saturday I saw Janet on to a train from Oban to home and I headed for Skye in dense fog.

With the boat not due to sail to St. Kilda until Monday, I had a couple of nights to kill on Skye, but that sounded great as it’s a place I’ve never stayed before. After a bit of exploring in the rain, I met up with my friends in the Uig pub and had a meal while we waited for a call from Dereck the boatman. He finally rang to say that the day trip was on, but it would be unlikely we would get back off the island for at least a week! As I had barely enough food and toilet paper to last a week, I had to reluctantly settle for a third day trip.

I have to say that the trip is amazing and one I would highly recommend to anyone with a strong stomach, but sailing from Uig rather than Leverborough adds an hour to each journey. While we were on the island, the weather changed for the worse and we ended up with a horrendous 5-1/4 hour trip back on the rolling and pitching SS Huey and even the cabin girl was sick!

Once back home and over the disappointment of another failure, I went back to the drawing board to plan my next moves…………………

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Options as of 2014

Option C was to volunteer to go sheep counting, but I reckon that I would go to sleep so that one was out!

Option D looked the best bet, volunteering to go on a work party with the National Trust. This would give me two full weeks on the island with alternative days off, so loads of chance to explore and take photos. I duly filled out the long and complex application form and sat back and waited to hear if I’d been accepted.

As January finally arrived, I got the bad news that they were oversubscribed and I’d only made the reserve list. It’s knock backs like this that made me even more determined to have another go so I started to plan for a 2015 attempt. My options were limited and after swapping a few emails with Seamus, I settled for a flying visit in May. The big problem is that whichever way I go, it’s still two days travelling to get to Leverbrough and the next problem I encountered was not only the cost of B & B accommodation on Harris, but the island was very busy in May and pretty solidly booked. I did manage to get accommodation booked, but I would run into problems if I had any slippage.

I arrived on Harris on the Sunday evening after two days of gales and occasional rain, then had a quick meal and waited for a call from Seamus. When the call finally came through it was the bad news I had been hoping not to hear, the trip was off due to a big swell out at sea. However, some other guests in the guesthouse had just had a call from Angus in the other boat and told that they were going, so clutching at straws I gave Angus and ring and he suggested I come along in the morning and see how the conditions looked before making a final decision. I sorted my kit before retiring to bed and read an interesting article by Chris Weston in Outdoor Photography magazine on positive visualisation of your goals in life to help make them happen. I slept soundly full of positivity about finally getting there and woke to a beautiful bright, crisp clear day. The gale force winds of the days before had abated and the sea looked calm as we all waited on the quay ready to board the boat. We then heard that Angus was ringing the warden on St. Kilda to get a weather report; 20 minutes later we got the disappointing news that the trip was off due to 5m swells out at sea and no chance of landing on St. Kilda. So very tantalisingly close this time, but I’ll get there one day!

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Options for the Future

I’m still determined to have yet another go, despite spending many, many hours thinking about my options, in reality they are very few.

A flying visit using B & B like on this trip is fraught with limitations and lacks the necessary flexibility to cope with delays, so I don’t think that is a viable option again.

Renting a cottage is a better if expensive option, but even having two weeks may not guarantee success.

Renting a camper van for two weeks would give the requisite flexibility, but is also expensive and would be very embarrassing if I got stuck on the island and couldn’t get it back at the end of the second week!

Right now applying to the National Trust again looks like the best option, though one or two other ideas are staring to percolate into my mind, so watch this space, I may get there yet……….

There again if someone would like to lend me a holiday cottage for a month in high season, I’d be happy to accept.

Islands in the Mist / Sun

With the surge in interest in landscape photography in recent years, all us landscape photographers are in danger of following each other around the same iconic locations in the world, so the opportunity to find a location that is truly original is getting ever harder. With this in mind I spend most of my time doing my own thing photographing within 20 miles of my home, but a couple of recent trips to Norway have wetted my appetite for ever more wild and remote places.

Almost everyone has tried places like Glencoe and the Isle of Skye and locations such as Iceland and Norway are seeing a huge increase in popularity, so finding a place that is not familiar is getting ever harder. I’d been on a day trip to the island of St. Kilda (40 miles due west of the Outer Hebrides) in 2010 and was blown away with the feel of the place, but it was a recent television program with Steve Backshall marooned for a night on the island of Boreray with a gorgeous sunset in the background that got my mind racing! This was just the place I was looking for, highly atmospheric and little visited. I did some research about the island and the way of life and became hooked. My research also revealed that it was possible for limited numbers of people to camp on the island, so I started making plans.

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We duly booked a cottage on Harris as a base and I treated myself to a new tent and sleeping bag amongst many other bits and pieces. I’m used to camping within walking distance of civilisation, so I was very aware that anything I didn’t take, I would have to manage without. The other problem with St. Kilda is that you need to take a lot of spare food in case you get stranded by bad weather! The weather forecast for North West Scotland the week before we left looked poor and a phone call from Seamus the boatman on the Sunday night confirmed that the trip to St. Kilda was definitely off until Thursday as we had gales and intermittent rain. Fortunately Seamus rang on Wednesday night to say that we were on for Thursday, albeit only for a day trip. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to stay overnight, but it was an awful lot better than nothing.

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For the trip out to the islands, imagine a 700hp mini bus travelling at speed over continuous hump back bridges for 2 ¾ hours and you get the picture! Once on the island I was blown away by the feeling of the place and keen to try and capture the look and soul of the place, but the clear blue skies and harsh sunlight were hardly what I had expected! I spent some time capturing the deserted village and the almost unique Soay sheep that have inhabited the islands for 1000’s of years and then decided to try and capture something of the landscape. The light was looking promising over the island of Dun, so I took the long steep hike in that direction. The relatively  harsh light dictated the use of a polariser and a 3 stop ND grad to kill the glare and made me yearn to able to stay for when the light cooled in the evening.

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My next stop was the “Mistress Stone” where the young men used to prove their manhood by standing on one leg on top of the rock, but this practice was eventually phased out when they started to run out of young men…….It was a very precarious place to be and I was very careful with both myself and my camera gear as neither of us wanted to end up in the sea hundreds of feet below!

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Once back at the boat at 4pm we were treated to a trip around the sea stacks where we marvelled at the 10’s of thousands of seabirds; a great challenge for any wildlife photographer!

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All in all a great trip, but now the challenge for me is to figure out how to achieve my goal to get myself out there to stay for a few nights on what is proving a logistically very difficult place to get to.

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Isle of Harris

Traigh Bhuirgh Sunset 1

Traigh Bhuirgh Sunset 2

I had an interesting lesson last night. The weather had been great all day with blue skies and interesting white cloud (Great for stock photography) and as evening approached the warm low angle light looked great and another super sun set looked very to on the cards. I’d done some more exploring during the day and decided to try Traigh Bhuirgh.

However with an hour to go, clouds started to gather and it looked a lot less promising. We sat in the car at Traigh Iar with closed minds and all we could see was heavy cloud on the horizon, but I decided I’d still give Traigh Bhuirgh a try. As walked down the beach I spotted some great rock formations,  so despite the negative feelings towards the sky I decided to take a test shot and was blown away with the results. The light on the rocks was good and the use of a wide angle lens (24mm) had rendered the narrow band of heavy cloud fairly insignificant in the photo.

Moral of the story is to always keep your eyes and particularly your mind open to the possibilities around you, for they may prove better than you expected.

Flying Teeth!!!

Luskintyre Sunset

Sunday evening and the sky looked really promising, so we headed out to the end of Luskentyre bay, but the midges were out in force. I did some exploring on the beach, then got set up, but was driven away from the camera by the midges. I took refuge on the beach until the sun started to set, but had to move the camera on to the beach because of the midge problem. As the sunset strengthened, the midges gathered and we had the ridiculous scenario where I would dive in, take a quick photo, then run off shouting in agony and waving my hat in the air. Every five minutes I would run in, snatch the camera and run off to a new vantage point, only to be followed by the little b******s! I ended up barely able to stay long enough to review each shot after I’d taken it and the last few shots were blurred. It must have looked really bizarre to any onlookers seeing me running round in circles, waving my hat in the air and screaming at the top of my voice. I ended up sweating profusely I was so stressed!

In the end I don’t feel I did the sunset justice.

Isle of Harris

Dawn at Fort Wiliam

Dreich moment at Eilean Donan Castle

6.03am on Seilebost Beach

 

 

 

 

 

The first week in September (The season of mists and mellow sogginess) saw us head off to the lovely Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, stopping off at Corpach on the outskirts of Fort William on the way north.

Saturday morning at Corpach proved a little dreich, (A combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least 4 of the adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich) however the atmospheric conditions still lead to a lovely dawn shot of Fort William emerging from the mist. Arriving at Eilean Donan later that morning and the conditions were still rather atmospheric, but still very photogenic in their way.

As the day progressed, so did the weather as we travelled up the magnificent Isle of Skye in glorious sunshine, arriving on Harris just before sunset.

Dawn on Sunday proved a little dull, but lead to a beautiful day in a most wonderful place. The weather is set to be changeable throughout the week, which is ideal for photographers…………