The Isle Of Skye – A Magical Week Away

So I returned from the Isle Of Skye around 2 weeks ago now and those that follow me on other social networking sites will have seen me drip feeding some of my images through pretty much day by day. I didn’t want to write this blog until I had got most of the images out there before including them on here. I may not include them all here and no star trail ones as that’s for another blog to be written yet also.

It has also taken me a long time to process the images, in the space of a week I shot over 80gb worth of images, taking into account some hefty shoots from the star trails also. However, it has to be said it has tested even my fairly high spec laptop to its max, but it was well worth it!

Anyway, so where to start I guess? Well I had my trip to the Isle Of Skye planned for quite a while now, it’s always risky planning a trip, you just have to pray and hope the weather gods are on your side. My last trip to Scotland in February didn’t really pay off and to be honest I was wondering whether this one would. The last time I was on the Isle Of Skye, while I had some fantastic light most sunsets it pretty much rained constantly all week. This is the trouble with the west coast of Scotland, it tends to rain a lot taking its weather from the mild Atlantic.

In the week coming up to the trip, I monitored webcams and weather reports for Skye and they were having some grand weather even if a little cold, I thought this couldn’t keep up surely. Forecasts however were looking promising, but forecasts change. We wouldn’t know until we got there.

What happened next though, wasn’t a worry of what the weather at Skye was like but would we be able to make it? As it’s quickly starting to transpire I believe I have quite a knack of trying to go away to the mountains when the country starts to receive heavy snowfall (even if my destination doesn’t have much). Yes, that’s right I had to set off on the Saturday that most of the country was under a foot of snow, with some places having snow drifts as high as cars. Great!

It’s quite a trek to the Isle Of Skye for me, it’s around 8 hours none stop with no traffic, about 9 hours with stops on a good day. People started to say on the Friday I had no chance of getting there but I was determined. My money had already been spent, my holidays had already been booked!

So I set off, it was grey, miserable, still snowing, plenty of snow on the roads and traffic reports showed either most trans-pennine routes were closed or slow moving so I decided to go out of my way and go to Stoke and then up the M6 which put about 30 minutes on a normal journey time but probably much quicker than going the other routes. Once we had got past Stoke though the M6 was pretty clear of snow for the most part and the roads didn’t get dicey again all the way until Glen Coe which was a relief. We stopped off at a pub, had some food and as soon as we were out of Glen Coe the snow was constrained to the mountain tops and not the roads which made getting to Skye nice and easy.

Reaching Kyle of Lochalsh and the weather suddenly changed, it had been drab skies all day but there were signs of the sun, cloud free mountains and a sign of promise. We were excited.

We crossed the Skye bridge at about 4pm, filled up in Broadford and headed to our hotel in Kilbride which we had stayed at before, dropped our bags and headed straight down to Elgol which is 20 minutes max away. I had been here plenty on our last trip but Joe wanted to make sure he got an image from here after missing it last time and it was nice and easy to go to after a long drive and when short on time.

Unfortunately, while the weather was quite nice there was a thick cloud blocking the setting sun and we didn’t get any images. It was good to be back though. We settled in the hotel checking the forecast for the week and it was still looking promising. We decided we would do star trails that night if it cleared up, but it didn’t. Basically we were out to make the most of the weather while it was good because forecasts quickly change…especially on the Isle Of Skye!

The next day we woke up and the weather was quite fair with some broken cloud. We wanted to do a few wild camps in the week so we decided to make the most of it and do our wild camp on Sgurr Na Stri that night which in fairness was a good call because it was probably the best night of the week in the end to do it and one of the only times we had a good sunset and sunrise following each other. More can be read about that wild camp by clicking here . There’s a couple of images below from that trip, it turned out to be our only wild camp that week mainly due to Skye being tough for wild camps, a combination of snow on the tops and Joe didn’t have crampons/ice axe and in truth the first one destroyed our legs and shoulders.

Sgurr Na Stri Sunrise - Isle Of Skye - Scotland Photography

Sgurr Na Stri Sunrise – Isle Of Skye – Scotland Photography

Bla Bheinn and Marsco Sunset from Sgurr Na Stri - Isle Of Skye - Scotland

Bla Bheinn and Marsco Sunset from Sgurr Na Stri – Isle Of Skye – Scotland

After returning from our wild camp, weary we wanted to make the most of the weather, still convinced it wasn’t to last. We were actually in awe the first view days seeing Cuillin cloud free all the time, seeing blue skies, it just seemed surreal when the rest of the UK was drab and grey. Anyway, we decided we needed to give our poor legs a rest and ended up going to Talisker Bay, somewhere I hadn’t been before but it just shows the diversity of the Island from high up mountain vistas to calm coastal scenes:

Talisker Bay Sunset - Isle of Skye - Scotland Photography

Talisker Bay Sunset – Isle of Skye – Scotland Photography

I spent a long time with the composition, taking many shots trying to get the water to drag around the rock correctly while the sun was going down and this one ended up being my favourite out of all the shots.

That night we did some star trails but the forecast for Tuesday wasn’t amazing so after a late finish decided to give the sunrise a miss to try and catch up on some sleep and to be fair when we did wake up it was a little iffy. That evening we went to Elgol again but again a thick blanket of cloud on the horizon stopped any kind of light.

The next morning we decided to get up really early to go to the Quairaing up on Trotterish. I hadn’t been before and to be honest I wasn’t that fussed. It’s a location that has been shot countless times and I wasn’t sure my image could bring anything to the table that hasn’t been seen before even though I like to put my own take on things where possible. However, after hours of map reading and searching online I simply couldn’t find many locations suitable for sunrise that wouldn’t be a risk, so in favour of actually catching some light we headed there. I’m really glad we did though because the light was sublime, perhaps the best sunrise all week and some images I really like.

This first one is the traditional shot:

Next off I tried something a little different, point my camera up to the Quairaing itself shooting into the sun giving a dramatic resulting images which I was very pleased with again:

The Quaraing Sunrise - Isle Of Skye - Scotland Photography

The Quaraing Sunrise – Isle Of Skye – Scotland Photography

The Quairaing - Isle Of Skye - Scotland Photography

The Quairaing – Isle Of Skye – Scotland Photography

In the day it clouded over again quite a bit, we decided to go to the Fairy Pools to take a look but I’m not 100% sold on the resulting images at the moment. It wasn’t dramatic enough skies or enough passing light to create something I’m pleased with. Also the waterfalls were not much more than a mere trickle due to the lack of rain for what must have been quite a while, I’ll have a revisit though. Late afternoon though it seemed to be clearing up so we headed to Neist Point to see if we could capture anything. It was clear on Skye but it would seem the cloud from earlier on hadn’t moved out enough and was blocking the sun again.

Checking the weather forecast for Thursday vs Friday it seemed Thursday would be the better day. Reluctantly but forcefully I set my alarm for 03:30 to make a sunrise trip to The Storr. This is another iconic location of the island, very well shot before but it’s not a by the side of the road job so anyone who makes it up for sunrise has my respect. We headed out on perfectly clear skies and started our ascent up to the Storr in the dark. It was different to the last time I remembered it, with a lot of the trees now cut down at the base it was a lot more barren.

Strangely, me and Joe both agreed we felt last time the initial ascent was the hard part last time but this time it was about half way up things got tough and we had to push on. Unfortunately, as can sometimes be the case it was becoming quite obvious by this point there was a lot of cloud building on the mainland blocking the ascent of the sun. It’s never wise to turn back though and to always hold out, so we did.

We arrived at the top without 30 minutes to spare, puffing and panting wishing I had used them extra 30 minutes in bed….now it was time to wait and see if any magic happened. Well…it did, but just not where we were stood. The cloud had moved further inland and was directly above us now. It was becoming very apparent there would be no light to speak of, which was a real shame after the effort put in and the promising forecast. Instead, what we had to witness was a fantastic sunrise happening on the Cuillins about 10 miles away going from warm red Alpenglow all the way through to some rich golden light. It’s always very frustrating when you’re in the wrong place, especially when putting in so much effort when it would have been a later alarm clock and easier drive with no ascent to catch a sunrise somewhere else. Oh well, you win some, you lose some (or most!).

Trying not to be bitter, I headed back down but before going back to the hotel we decided to check out Loch Slapin and the view to Bla Bheinn. The water was calm, which is strange for a sea loch allowing me to capture this image:

Bla Bheinn Reflections - Loch Slapin - Isle Of Skye - Scotland Photography

Bla Bheinn Reflections – Loch Slapin – Isle Of Skye – Scotland Photography

It just shows you how changeable the weather can be in a relatively small area. Especially where the mountains are concerned. I spent some time in the afternoon researching some potential sunset locations. We had been to Elgol twice now and failed and it was looking a bit patchy for sunset on this evening. I wanted to go somewhere new, somewhere fresh, but where? Well, a little location called Ord had caught my eye. It is on the Sleat peninsula and is essentially in line with Elgol but further south. It looked like a promising and different location with good views to the Cuillin still. I thought it may give me the chance to shoot a scene not many have shot and come up with some original compositions.

So off we set, we got to Loch Cill Chriosd which was 5 minutes from the hotel and way before the golden hour some of the weirdest light started playing out. It may have been due to the heather burning with a slight smog in the air, but about 2 hours before sunset the sun was already glowing orange above Bla Bheinn, dipping in and out of cloud casting some lovely light on the hills. We couldn’t help but jump out of the car and fire off some shots….like about 10 other cars meaning the road quickly had no passing places!

Anyway, this is the image I came up with looking to the Red Cuillin with a dab of light just tipping the top:

Loch Cill Chriosd - The Isle Of Skye - Scotland Photography

Loch Cill Chriosd – The Isle Of Skye – Scotland Photography

The only problem was though, this had quickly taken away our driving time to get to location as planned. It was quite obvious at this point Elgol was really the only option and the drive would already be eating into golden hour. It was a very spirited drive to get there, passing people who had left the loch before us. We arrived and everything was already basked in a golden glow. There was still a slight haze to the air though due to the smoke of the nearby heather burning but we would have to work with it.

This was the first shot I took, perhaps one of the easiest shots to aquire in the world as you don’t have to go far from your car to get a smashing view with a photo that sits well in anyones portfolio. This is with the beach pebbles and the infamous sandstone overhang in the shot looking over to the Cuillins:

Elgol Beach - Isle Of Skye - Scotland Photography

Elgol Beach – Isle Of Skye – Scotland Photography

The next shot is another traditional shot, it was taken from the infamous boulder where Joe Cornish made his famous shot for the cover of first light and many have followed since. The tide was high so getting further around the coast would have been a struggle/impossible and in fairness I’ve shot Elgol before from around there so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to have this shot from here plus the closer I was to the car the sooner I could have tea and get our for star trails:

Elgol Sunset - Isle Of Skye - Scotland Photography

Elgol Sunset – Isle Of Skye – Scotland Photography

The colours were very nice by this point, with the smoke in the air probably actually adding to the effect, I took a final image, something a little different looking into the sun keeping the Cuillins to the right of the shot:

Elgol Sunset - Isle Of Skye - Scotland Photography

Elgol Sunset – Isle Of Skye – Scotland Photography

So that was Elgol, a glorious sunset which made Joe very happy because he had managed to get some shots from there. I think we can both leave it alone on our next visit now.

The next morning it was another early rise, but a relative lie in for us getting up at 05:30. We headed to the Isle Of Ornsay to see how that would pan out. It was quite a nice sunrise, but the sky was a little featureless (we should have done the Storr on the Friday afterall!) but we made the most of it. We made the most of the location but it’s a relatively 2D image compared to the rest of the week:

Isle Of Ornsay Sunrise - Isle Of Skye - Scotland Photography

Isle Of Ornsay Sunrise – Isle Of Skye – Scotland Photography

On the way back, it was really calm again and some still water so it was time to stop at Loch Cill Chriosd again. Usually I don’t like clear skies but for shots like this where there’s reflections it can work in favour. While not in golden hour the light was also still quite crisp so I was pleased with the shot. I like how the reeds break up the reflections and Bla Bheinn adds contrast on the left with the snow on top:

 

Loch Cill Chriosd Reflections - Isle Of Skye - Scotland Photography

Loch Cill Chriosd Reflections – Isle Of Skye – Scotland Photography

It was Friday, our final full day so we knew if we wanted to get that Neist Point shot which had eluded a year and a half before and once this week, we had to do it. It’s not close though, a hour and a half away but it had to be done. We turned up in plenty of time. We wanted to get some shots of Waterstein head and spent a bit of time shooting in in pre-golden hour light quite happy with the results but what to follow would have me running around like a kid in a candy shop.

We decided that it would be best to head up to our position early, it was busy in the car park and we suspected we wouldn’t be the only photographers out this evening. Strangely though, all evening we were the only two photographers with a couple of spectators just leisurely watching the sun go down.

We snapped off shots throughout the golden hour, watching the sun get lower and lower trying to make the most of the light at each point not sure if it would last as there was broken cloud on the horizon. It got better and better though, this image is my first image of the evening, in really good light:

Neist Point Golden Sunset - Isle Of Skye - Scotland Photography

Neist Point Golden Sunset – Isle Of Skye – Scotland Photography

We continued to watch the sun dip down, I then got this image a little later on when the light had become more of a glow across the whole landscape:

 

Neist Point Sunset - Isle Of Skye - Scotland Photography

Neist Point Sunset – Isle Of Skye – Scotland Photography

I was really pleased by this point, this is light you dream of anywhere…never mind on the Isle of Skye and I was ecstatic, I felt really lucky and it was hands down the best sunset of the week. What happened after though was the light turned really red, Waterstein head lit up as if it was Ayers Rock, Neist Point itself took on a radiant glow and so did the landscape, it was unreal. The next shot is of Waterstein Head and some of the foreground rocks glowing red, I had to tone down the picture in truth from what it was in camera but i’m still very pleased with it:

Waterstein Head - Isle Of Skye - Scotland Photography

Waterstein Head – Isle Of Skye – Scotland Photography

So yup, that was my week. I couldn’t really have asked for much more except some more sleep! It was a week of generally fantastic light and conditions. We did every sunset, all but one sunrise and star trails most nights. People have said to me I must be really dedicated but the truth is you don’t travel for 9 hours to not make the most of it when it’s ripe, you go out and get what you can while you can because coming back isn’t easy.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the pictures as much as I have taking them.

 

 

By |2016-11-02T23:14:38+00:00April 15th, 2013|Scotland|6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Andy Keeble April 15, 2013 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    James, have you considered writing a book about your travels in Scotland? I ask because you have a really easy to read writing style, not to mention some superb images.

    Anyway just a thought and back to your post which, as with the last, I thoroughly enjoyed. Your images are superb, I can almost smell the heather!

    Just out of interest, what does a week cost, I appreciate if you would prefer not to say of course.

    I don’t know what you do as a day job but I would think that some sort of sponsorship, should you decide to put “pen to paper”, would be well within your reach.

    Keep up the excellent work buddy, oh and start saving for that Phase One set up!!

    Andy

    • James Grant April 15, 2013 at 7:12 pm - Reply

      Hi Andy.

      I’d love to write a book one day. Not sure if it will be Scotland though – would need to do plenty more travelling and get many many more images. Thanks for your kind words.

      The hotel we stayed in was just over £200, google Kilbride Self Catering. It’s really good especially as you’re not constrained as to when you have to be in the hotel to get breakfast. Then there’s just fuel and food. If you go with someone it can be fairly reasonable.

      Thanks again,

      James 🙂

      P.S A Phase One may be a little heavy for some of places I go!

  2. Andy Keeble April 16, 2013 at 12:43 am - Reply

    James,

    thanks for the reply. I’m off to Cumbria in July but really fancy a week in Skye so I may even tag that onto the Cumbria trip.

    Lol re the Phase One, I don’t know how Joe Cornish et al get this kit into the wilds!

    Take care mate.

    Andy

  3. Mark May 30, 2013 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    Don’t think I’ve chatted to you since going to Scafell Pike with you a few years back….. but looking at these photos, may I take the opportunity to say how insanely jealous I am! World class photos!

    • James Grant May 30, 2013 at 3:49 pm - Reply

      Thanks mark 🙂 it has been a while!!! Do you ever get out at all?

      • Mark May 30, 2013 at 5:30 pm - Reply

        Haven’t been out walking for a long time however I’ve just got myself a pair of new boots and I’m making plans to put them to good use! Going walking in Dovedale on Monday, and plan to do Tryfan horseshoe and Mosedale horseshoe later in the summer. I’m itching to attempt Liathach too but not sure whether I’ll get round to it this year. Oh, and I’m contemplating the Brecon Beacon 10 peak challenge in September.

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