Back to My Roots

I went to Scotland in the Fall as I heard it would be the best season for moody landscapes, no midges and not in the depth of the tourist season. I chose a small photo tour group so I didn't have to spend all my time figuring out where to go or how to do it from the left hand side of the road! I've done this several times and love it. While it costs more than going on your own, there is something to be said for letting someone else do all the planning, driving and site selections. I also always tack on before and after time on my own. As usual I tried to pack light and failed... Ha! Even so, I learned to regret not dragging along a pair of wellies! Wellington boots are those great one-piece rubber boots that are tall enough to keep out 80% of the bogs one encounters there! I use them at home for tide pool adventures and nasty sailing days. And this being the internet, those of you who want to know more about Wellies should not have to work hard! Like everything borne out of Great Britain, there is always history and Wellies are not left out!

It was a grand trip that included an "Upper Class" seat on a Virgin Atlantic 747 thanks to Amex points! This provided a great sleeping accommodation on the non stop from Vegas to London and the opportunity to be fully attended to on the daytime trip home. Up in that part of  of the plane in the nose, the flight attendants took on the air of your private butler. No. Really! The ticket also included a black taxi ride from Gatwick to my hotel, St Pancras at Kings Cross; a gentle walk to my train departure the next day. The St Pancras is in this remarkable building opened in 1873 as a train station. The station had to move next door to a larger, modern facility in the late 80's and the St Pancras stood vacant for decades before a very expensive and laborious refit. I think the room went for $400+ a night but I had found an old Marriott loyalty card (from before the internet) and input the card number into the Marriott system to find out the points were still good (at least 20 years later) and paid for the one night entirely! The next day I got up and caught a train to York where I overnighted before riding the train on to Edinburgh where I spent 2 nights right on Grassmarket at a wonderful chic hotel; Apex. From there, I continued by train to Glasgow where I met the rest of the group the next morning.

St Pancras Hotel

Right about then, it began to rain. and rain. and rain. Not anything dramatic. No lightning. Just a very gray sky with a continuous downpour that would soak you in short order. Knowing Glen Coe region could have "changeable" weather in the Fall, our guide had booked lodging that serves this mountain region that is known the world over as backdrop for Harry Potter and James Bond; a rather odd pairing. 

The view from the Kingshouse Hotel...

I'm not sure how i got this photo with sun. LOL I do not recall sun! But there it is. The hotel is close to the mountain isn't it? It's fairly historic too, with the original inn built in 1751. So basic was its presence in this hostile wilderness it was offered rent free to any innkeeper willing to manage it! It can't be beat for getting you out at dawn without a long drive! It stands literally a few minutes drive to the vantage point we had in mind to capture the most photographed spot in Scotland; Buachaille Etive Mor aka Stob Dearg. It is a pyramid shaped mountain and is one of the "Munro's" of Scotland. Like 14'ers in Colorado, a Munro has to be at least 3000 feet high to qualify as one. "The Bookle" as she is fondly called, is 3351 ft and is considered a necessary rite of passage for Scottish mountaineers. In the early 1700's though, the region was not about recreation or sightseeing.  200 years ago the Highlands region held a large population of farmers (30% of the Scottish population) who rented the land they worked and were known as crofters. During a 100 year period back then, what is known as the Highland Clearances occurred when the landowners evicted the renters so they could graze sheep and cattle which was more profitable than renting the property. The crofters were pushed into smaller and smaller pieces of land. This led to the middle of the 18th century when the Jacobite Rebellion culminated in the battle of Culloden, effectively ending the Scottish clans form of a political system when they were wiped out by the royal troops of King George II. These Clearances also brought on the emigration of so many Scottish people to the USA in the final decades of the 19th century. My Scottish ancestors would be included in this part of the story.

Did I tell you how I love history? Or that I am a descendant of the Anderson Clan of Inverness? If it seems I crammed more history into this missive than usual, I hope I didn't bore you with my sidetrack here due to my fascination of Scottish history!


Black Rock Cottage

Meanwhile back to the story at hand! The only other buildings around besides the hotel we stayed at are the stone Lagangarbh Hut and the Black Rock cottage. Lagangarbh was a crofter's home that was converted to a Scottish mountaineering hut and can accommodate 20 people. Black Rock is on the same road to the resort and is owned by the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club which was formed in 1908.


Lagangarbh Hut

We were not here to climb though. We were here to get our shots. The evening was generally a bust. I spent most of the time hiding under a bridge where the River Etive and the River Coupall come together at the base of the mountain. If I recall correctly, I didnt even walk up to the waterfalls. The light was beyond moody and I dreamed of a hearty meal and real ale which I got soon after. I set out to dry my "waterproof" boots and all manner of outerwear while I slept.



Its funny how a still photo doesn't convey the actual reality of catching the image! The next morning we got up before light and went to another location for sunrise that never came. Fortunately though, soon the clouds began to take on contrast and we had splotches of sunlight. Making our way to the location it soon went back to an intermittent drizzle with some sun. I waited, I watched and then I snapped away when the light was right! It's always amazing to shoot an iconic location. Except for very rare moments you usually share them with a menagerie of global nomadic shutterbugs! It became a game of shoot and retreat. Fortunately most photographers know the implications of their positioning when shooting with others and carry on with respect, But there is always one or two who either don't adhere to the code or don't know it at all. With a little cooperation, everybody can get their shot and then move out of the way for others. When this becomes difficult, I will usually retreat to another location which usually leads to finding a more unique composition, anyway.


River Coupall - Ok I'm hiding under the corner of the bridge here!

As soon as I stepped off the road here I experienced my first true peat bog. I think I mentioned it had been raining... In fact when it rained hard on the mountain. not long after, the river and its waterfalls would surge with the increase. This also made the bog exceptionally muddy. If one was lucky one found footing where it sank only a few inches. Sooner or later though, luck surely ran out as the step found mid calf depth akin to postholing in snow without snowshoes... While I didnt have Wellies, i was wearing a good pair of high top weatherproof hiking boots. To this I had rain pants with a strap that went under the boot heel and then applied gators over all of that. It worked as well as it could but these elements were extreme. One morning on the Isle of Skye we even got turned around by driving rain. It was not possible to proceed! Amazing. Bogs cover 23% of the land area of Scotland. Known as Blanket bog, it dominates the Highlands. Sphagnum has grown in this region for 10,000 years or more. In so doing, Blanket bog in Scotland has stored 3x more carbon than all Britains woodlands. One square meter of peat takes 1000 years to form!



I got some of those moody shots i dreamed about. We were patient and we were lucky. The exciting part was it was only the beginning of an adventure that would take us on up to the Isle of Skye and then The Cairngorms in the Eastern Highlands, to the North of this stop. The hard part comes later, when only a few photos can represent the time spent.



This is the image I chose from all the others to offer from my time in Glen Coe at my online fine art gallery here. I like it because it was an imitation blue hour when the rain had stopped mid morning and the light was trying to break through. The shadows on the mountain with the fall colors all aglow and glistening, creates that sense of serenity even though it was blowing for a three dog night! I was using my trusty setup of Canon 5D3, Tamron 24-70 @24mm, ISO 200, f9 and a half second shutter to optimize the little waterfalls. I had a 3-stop ND filter on to accomplish all that. This lens is on this camera 80% of the time. If i want a telephoto I usually mount it on my Canon 80D with a crop sensor that gives the telephoto even more reach. I've also got the Sigma 20 Art lens that has been known to spend entire days looking widely but not on a long distance travel situation. I make due. The other two photos of "The Bukie" I present here made the podium. I just felt the panoramic view versus the vertical view was the final verdict. What do you think? When it rained, the ground just opened up and weeped into these little rocky canyons where it found its way to the main river channel. People there said they had been in the same spot when no water was running through at all. I've seen winter photos of this spot covered in snow too.

So, I guess this became sort of a travelogue as well as a discussion about a specific photo or mood that one evokes. It brought back plenty of memories including some of the faux pax timelapses that would have been so great! Cie la vie

If you didnt get to see my short video from Scotland in an earlier blog post it gives you another glimpse form my lens into this magical land



Much like American blues, bluegrass and folk, there has been a resurgence of artists and interest in traditional Gaelic folk music over the past two decades, I seriously believe there is more and better roots music being created now than ever before and case in point here is Breabach who is one of my favorites, Music is everywhere in Scotland. It seemed every pub I popped into had at least a singer with a guitar!uv

Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you enjoyed the ride. I obviously had another hot spell that prevented me from working on my encaustic photography, thusly opening up time to do this. But never fear. The fire is burning brightly and the studio will be even better in the winter!