I normally take some leave from my work at the end of October and beginning of November when the autumn colours in Scotland are at their peak, before they quickly disappear in the late autumn storms. This year I decided on something different as Scotland was hit by some early winter snows.
Packed all my photography and climbing gear into the campervan and headed north to Glen Coe, parking in the car park for the Wee Boochle (Buachaille Etive Beag - BEB). It’s probably my favourite Glen Coe mountain as I believe it and Beinn a’Chrulaiste give the best photo opportunities. Many people ignore the Wee Boochle in favour of its big brother, Buachaille Etive Mor (BEM - the Big Boochle), the iconic mountain at the head of Glen Coe. But the Big Boochle is better to be photographed at than photographed from, if you take my meaning. In other words better to look at, than look from (this is a photographers perspective not necessarily a climbers view). However, few realise that the wee Boochle is actually a lot steeper than BEM – 29% gradient as opposed to a 24% gradient.
Anyway, kit on, camera gear in bag (I constantly tell myself I need to reduce the weight of my pack but never do so – 25lbs / 12kg). Along the path of the Lairig Eilde to the point where the paths divide. Easily missed in the dark - been there, done that, but its daylight so I keep left and start on the steep climb up to the bealach. As I’m climbing I see a tall man catching me up so I wait to have a chat (really just an excuse for a rest). ‘Hi John’ says the man. It’s Rob Stevens, another landscape photographer, who I last met on top of Stac Pollaidh in Coigach back in May. What are the chances. We began to climb together.
Halfway up and I see three women coming down the mountain. One of them shouts ‘John’. It’s Lesley McDowall, Ciorstan Shearer and their friend Suzie, who they had guided on her first Munro climb. I worked with Lesley and Ciorstan when we were in the police. What are the chances. Another excuse for a chat and a break.
Onwards and upwards to the bealach (valley) between the two Munros of BEB, then turn right for the higher peak of Stob Dubh. The snow was slushy and slippery underfoot but too soft for crampons. BEB has two Munro peaks (mountain tops over 3000 feet), Stob Dubh literally means the dark peak and the other peak is Stob Coire Raineach. Raineach is primarily a sunrise photo location, with Stob Dubh being a sunset photo location. It’s a steep pull up to the ridge and the wind was picking up. Once we got to the ridge it was icy cold with freezing winds.
This is where age and experience comes into the equation. I knew that some great shots could be had with a climber silhouetted against the skyline and, since Rob wanted to climb to the top, I decided to stay and get shots of him on the ridge. I’ve climbed it many times so I wasn’t phased by not ‘touching the top’ on this occasion, but I wanted a ‘ridge walker’ shot. It’s debatable if I should have carried on as Rob got some great shots from beyond the peak, but such is life.
I waited on Rob coming back and we descended together in the dark, with my knee giving me some ‘gip’ from its various operations. No pain, no gain. I’m just a moaning old git. Said good bye to Rob in the cark park as he headed off to his accommodation and I settled down for the night in the campervan. The temperatures outside plummeted to well below freezing during the night but I was quite warm inside.
In the morning I packed up for the drive to Skye, stopping off at Loch Achtriochtan further down Glen Coe for some photography. I drove on to Fort William stopping at Morrisons Supermarket for their big breakfast (10 items with toast and coffee, great value). Then onwards to Skye, stopping occasionally for photography. My ambition was to park overnight at Neist Point, the most westerly point of the island overlooking the famous lighthouse. Some photos taken on the journey.
Skye is one of my favourite photography locations; I go several times a year but never in mid-Summer when the tourist hordes are there. Over the Skye bridge, up to Sligachan, taking the road to Dunvegan, then a left just before the village and the long single track road to Neist Point. Since I was last at Neist Point two years ago, large additional parking bays on the road side have been built to cope with the tourists and the place was mobbed. I walked down and out to the Lighthouse and took some drone shots looking back towards the Lighthouse from the sea.
There were several photo tours taking place and the area below and on top of the cliffs were mobbed with photographers, there must have been about one hundred all vying for space. I took some shots, but having been several times before you know when to call it quits and a large band of clouds on the horizon out over the Hebrides meant there would be no spectacular sunset. As the crowds left it was just me and another campervan at the location and I made my dinner then sat on the cliff edge with a hip flask of Talisker malt whisky watching the stars appear in the sky above the edge of the world. Time for bed.
I was woken about 2am by my mobile phone showing an Aurora alert. So I got out and set up my camera gear and a faint Aurora ‘strangely’ appeared to the west. Strange because it should be to the north (potentially clouds were blocking me seeing it in that direction). Back to sleep. In the morning I made my breakfast and took some more photos at dawn. Then time to head back to the mainland, stopping enroute for photos.
I stopped overnight at the Glen Nevis camping park, where I could hook the van up to electricity and get an internet connection. It’s the best campervan and campsite in the UK. Decisions, decisions. Do I cook my dinner or head to the Gen Nevis campsite pub and restaurant where I can get a quite superb Venison burger with chips and beer? Not a hard decision. Sat out after dark watching the lights from the headtorches of walkers descending Ben Nevis, with the last of the Talisker whisky to keep the evening chill out. Bedtime.
A leisurely drive back home the next day completed the trip.