During my time living in London in 2011, I had the opportunity to visit some incredible places. Scotland and the Isle of Skye was a place I longed to visit for so many reasons and I finally had the chance to do that in August 2011. Hope you enjoy the read below.
Over the course of my traveling so far this year I think there are a few things that I realized. One prominent thing I came to recognize was that while I enjoy going to the big and showy metropolitan cities, I really came to enjoy being in the peace and quiet of the country side. This coming from a person who was born and raised in Vancouver, I realize that this might come off as being a little strange. The thing is, every city to me is just that... another city. You don’t get the raw differences and characteristics that are unique to the countryside. It might have been after going to Ireland that I realized how much I enjoyed it, so with that in mind, I decided to go to Scotland following my trip to Turkey.
Saying that, the first place that I flew into was Edinburgh, another big city ... But we had plans to go into the country side a few days later so that's ok. It was the Fringe Fest in Edinburgh when we got there. This is a huge event that takes place every year in the month of August in which performers of all kinds set up shows across the city. Stand up comedy and musicals are primarily the hit attractions I think but it seemed like there were huge amounts of people taking part in this. It’s too bad that by the time I got there, it was the last few days of the festival already and most of the tickets were selling out like hot cakes (I can’t believe I just used that reference?). That and I was suffering from food poisoning from my last night in Turkey..... Wanting to hurl every 2-3 hours was not conducive to enjoying the festival in the cold weather that was easily 20 degrees lower than in Turkey.
I’m going to sidetrack here but I had to pack a huge bag for this 2 week trip through Turkey and Scotland because I knew the temperatures would be different but I didn’t know I was going from 35+ degree weather in Turkey to about 7 degrees in Edinburgh! So... food poisoning turned into general sickness and flu afterwards. Oh well. All part of the experience!
Moving along... I met up with a friend, Elsa, and we explored Edinburgh together, seeing all the major sights. We took in the views of the city from The Scot Monument (the stairs were extremely narrow mind you. My whole 145lb body barely squeezed through one of the corridors near the top). The thing about Edinburgh is that although it is a big city, you can clearly see the distinction between the Old Town and the rest. The old town was almost medieval looking and needless to say, perfect for picture taking. It also had an abundance of greenery all around as well. People who go to Edinburgh should definitely make the effort to go up to the top of the Arthur’s Seat. Situated on the east end of the city, the Arthur’s Seat is a very popular exercise and leisure activity as people will job, climb, or waddle along. The views from up there are magnificent. Though a little cold and sick, the view made the climb well worth it. I hear it can be very muddy going up the track during days of rain though so be careful and wear appropriate exercise gear. If you are wearing jeans or nice clothing, you’re bound to get dirty.
After staying 2 nights in Edinburgh, we travelled north by train to the city of Aberdeen. There isn’t much to see here in terms of tourist attractions but we needed to get up here to rent a car which we had prebooked from the airport. From there, we started our road trip towards Glencoe, Ballachulish, Isle of Skye, and the Loch Ness.
Glencoe and Ballachulish
Because the two locations are about 1 mile apart, it just makes sense to put them together. I had seen pictures of the Glencoe on google and couldn’t believe my eyes. With that image in mind, we had to drive south west and go through that area for sure. The views didn’t disappoint despite the cloudy weather we had. There were mountains on either side of the road whose scale really made you feel insignificant in ways that you cannot imagine. The glen converged on the road as well so it was like you were driving straight through a mountain pass. It was pretty incredible and so amazingly grand in scale. I can only imagine what this would look like during a nice sunset (which we did not have unfortunately). We only spent a night in Glencoe but we did take a photography safari from 6-9pm in hopes of catching the sunset. We were driven around by a local who is a fairly well known photographer in the area and he took us to some spots that he believed would give us some good photo opps. I am happy to say that we were not disappointed. Karl is a great guy who is patient, knowledgeable and keen to teach. He had a group of 4 including us and we all varied in experience but he had no issues with making sure that we all received some attention. In total, I think we shot at about 3 locations in the 3 hours but he did spend a good amount of time talking about technical skills, composition, and just general approaches to landscape photography. I came out of it with a deeper understanding of composition and dynamic range through bracketing so it was well worth it for me. The following pictures were taken during this safari.
If you are in the area of Glencoe during your stay in Scotland and want to learn more about landscape photography, definitely contact Karl. You can find his website here. I would highly suggest you ask for a sunset safari because if the weather cooperates (big IF), you are primed to get some amazing shots no matter what your skill level. Karl will take you to spots he believes provides you with good viewpoints for the kind of light you’re getting so at £35 for the evening, even 1 good shot will make it worthwhile. Unfortunately we had dark and cloudy weather but you make what you can from it! Hence why all the pictures above are black and white or heavily desaturated haha.
We spent the evening in the Ardno House in Ballachulish. It took us a little while to find this place in the dark but when we did, we were pleasantly surprised. After being in hostels for the past 1.5 weeks, it was so nice to come into a warm and cozy home with a huge bedroom, comfy bed, and enormous private bathroom. Alan is the owner of this place and he was nice enough to bring in an extra bed for the floor as the room was only a double and we need a twin. At only £72 for the night, it was a steal honestly. The breakfast was plentiful and incredibly filling. Alan did a great job in suggesting places for us to go along our drive to the Isle of Skye the next day as well. This Bed and Breakfast was only about a 10 minute drive from the Glencoe region so it’s very convenient if you plan to hike or explore this area further.
Isle of Skye
We had both heard about the Isle of Skye from a number of people and the resounding opinion was that it was gorgeous and that it was a beautiful place. We knew we had to go there considering the reviews and the pictures we had seen. So from Ballachulish to the Isle of Skye we drove. It took about 5 hours to get to Portree in the Isle of Skye but the drive was stunning. We were told by Alan that there was a very nice view point if we took the ferry from Glenelg instead of taking the highway so we decided to head for that route. We made the left at the Shiel Bridge and looked for signs for Glenelg. As we drove, the roads got very narrow (only one car could fit through many of the passes and there were winding corners as well). Though, that’s what it is like driving in the UK in the countryside. It was the same in Ireland as well. Roads were fast, narrow, and there were a lot of blind turns so that you have no idea what is coming at you – it was great fun! Not sure that Elsa shared that enthusiasm with me though!
We followed the road until we saw some stops with high vantage points. There were a few amazing stops for overhead viewpoints of the land and water below. We even ran into some highland cows! They seriously look like the rocker version of our North American counterparts. Too cool right? :)
After spending some time taking pictures like crazy people, we headed back down towards the ferry. It was a little sketchy to be honest. The platform to get on the ferry was barely on connecting bridge and you just had to think that a slight turn the wrong way and your car would have fallen or tipped over into the water. Anyway, it was only a short ferry ride and we were officially on the Isle of Skye. From there, we drove along a path that was just filled with more opportunities for photos. We stopped more than a few times along the way to Portree as we kept snapping away.
We spent 2 nights in the Isle of Skye because we knew that there was so much to see here. We really just roamed around the island for the two days and stopped wherever we saw fit. If we spotted a location that could potentially be a good spot for photos come sunset, we made a note and came back. Luckily, we did get a sunset on one evening after it had chucked down with rain. It goes to show you that just because it rains, it doesn’t mean that you won’t get some good weather for photos afterwards. I am still a newbie at landscape photography but one thing I know that I enjoy is clouds and the sunset colors. I would take clouds over a clear day any day, it just adds so much more drama to the photo. So we stuck around in the car and waited for the rain to stop... and when it did, we quickly ran outside to catch the last bit of light...
We spent the two nights at the Cruinn Bheinn just about 7 miles out of the town of Portree. The room was large for the two of us and the beds were so comfortable! I had no trouble sleeping those two nights that’s for sure. The breakfast portions were huge and the food was quite good – just about everything I could ask for! I even got a lot more grapefruit bits than I requested and who can complain about that? :) The price was only £34 per person per night with breakfast included and for a 4 star bed and breakfast, I would come back here again and again.
Most people who know about this place know of it because of the reference to the Loch Ness monster. As children we pictured the monster as being a mysterious brontosaurus (Land Before Time?) like creature who roamed the Loch and scared the jebeezus out of the people who encountered her. Well we didn’t see the monster I’m afraid but we did see a great sunset. After finding our bed and breakfast in the very small town called Foyers, we drove out to eat at the local pub in White Bridge. The food was probably the best we had in Scotland – I had a huge craving for steak and Elsa had some haggis and they were both very good and just what we needed after spending hours on the road. After dinner though, we had seen that the sky was opening up and that we could be in for a sunset so we drove along the Loch Ness until we saw a bit of an opening. Sure enough, we got a beautiful sunset that night ... Though we did encounter a swarm of midges out there (pesky little fly looking things that sucked your blood much like mosquitoes...).
We stayed at the Foyers House for the night. Foyers itself is an extremely small village/town and there isn’t much there to do or see. There are certainly more populated towns to visit if you are staying in the Loch Ness area including Fort Augustus. It was good for us because we really just wanted to put our heads down to sleep here and head back out in the morning but for those looking for a place to stay and to relax... this may not be the spot. We paid £58 between the two of us that night so it was cheap but again, not much cheaper than the previous two places we stayed at and those were much nicer.
What did I think?
After our night in the Loch Ness, we had a long drive ahead of us towards Aberdeen where we had a flight to catch back to London. On our way back we passed through Inverness and we stopped for a few pictures along the way. The sun was out and we found a wheat field so who can complain? :D We even had McDonalds for lunch. Made my day (it was just one of those cravings that comes every month or so but it was so satisfying... until I finished the meal). When we got to the airport, we were both exhausted. I had been on the go for about 2 weeks and we had driven over 700-800 miles through Scotland. While it flew by I think I was tired enough to go home and get some rest. It actually startled me a bit but I looked forward to getting back to London. Great... just when I am about to leave :/