Back in Ferbruary, me and my better half, Sarah went away for a two week trip to the Isle of Harris and Lewis in our VW T5 Campervan for a holiday and of course to do some photography.
I first stumbled across photos from Luskentyre about 5 or 6 years ago and knew instantly that I wanted to go. Strangely though, I never made it. To get to Harris you need to catch a ferry from Uig on Skye and I always said that I’d do a few days on Harris while on Skye. Every opportunity I had I put off because believe it or not, the weather and conditions on Skye were simply too good to leave at the time.
This year though, with two weeks spare we said we would dedicate a week to Harris and Lewis and then a week to the mountains. First off we travelled up to Glencoe, as we always do because it’s a great place to break up the journey with great scenery to boot. We arrived on day 1 and spent the night near Buachaille Etive Mor and woke up the next day under clear blue skies. This was a real treat in winter and rather than wasting the day travelling we decided to head up a mountain for sunset.
Our destination was to be Buachaille Etive Beag, a relatively safe mountain for a winter ascent (though care should still be taken and the right equipment used). We headed up, making good time which I was thankful for. We got to the bealach (col) and had a choice of either Stobe Coire Raineach, the summit you see from the roadside closest to you or Stob Dubh. I had done Stobe Coire Raineach previously on a winter skills course and knowing Stob Dubh had some exposure as well as a little further away, we chose Raineach for ease. This still wasn’t a bad choice and the views around Glencoe are amazing, with stunning views across to the Three Sisters, Ben Nevis and Buachaille Etive More.
Here are a few of the images from that little excursion:
It felt good to get a mountain under our belts and on our way down we discussed if we would stay in the mountains for a week or head to the Isle of Harris and Lewis. Feeling like we had got our mountain fix, we felt like going to the islands would give us a weeks worth of rest before spending another week in the mountains and with that, we headed up to Skye ready to get the ferry the next day. The beauty of owning a campervan is not only can you sleep near your photographic destination but you have much more flexibility to change your plans on the fly, going with the weather or what takes your fancy.
We camped near Broadford and made our way up to Uig the next day. We got to the ferry port and being winter there were no issues getting on and getting a ticket over. It is a quiet season. We travelled with Caledonian MacBrayne which is the ferry company that heads over to the Outer Hebridies. We arrived in Tarbert at golden hour, however it was absolutely throwing it down and there was nothing golden about it at all! Even though we had landed in Harris, we decided to take the drive up to Lewis to the Callanish Standing Stones, a shot I had wanted for a while and with a good forecast for sunrise the next morning, we parked up and got our heads down for the night.
The sunrise was clear and it was lovely to be up and about. I did take a few shots but my best shot from the morning was around 10am. We had just cooked breakfast in the van and before heading off, the skies had started to become stormy with passing rain, hail and snow showers (oh typical Scotland and a theme for the rest of the trip). Having already figured my composition out from the morning, I literally ran out and handheld my shot to capture the moment as quick as I could. It’s rare I handhold anything but in such good light it really didn’t matter. The end result was one with much more interest in the skies:
Next we headed to Mangersta Sea Stacks for sunset. We had brought Dougie Cunningham’s Photographing Scotland Guidebook with us (courtesy of Fotovue). I knew a lot of the places from prior research but there was the odd hidden gem Dougie introduced us to, such as Mangersta. I was instantly impressed with the location. You drive pretty out of the way, with the Atlantic Ocean appearing in front of you and the wild, winter weather ensured that it looked all the more wild, with the waves crashing against the cliff edges. The sea stacks aren’t too far from the road but are hard to spot while driving along. Once we had found a suitable parking spot (not easy!) we took a walk down. The weather had been changeable all day and we got down to the viewpoint in plenty of time. Once we got there, we managed to grab a few shots in the fleeting light and we thought that might be it for the day. I got some nice shots but didn’t really get chance to dial my composition.
It didn’t look promising after that and despite the changeable conditions thought that would be it for the day. Fortunately, Lewis delivered and a gap appeared on the horizon, creating gorgeous light along the sea stacks with dark, brooding clouds beyond.
Hanging around, I decided to change my composition for something a little less conventional. A heavy hailstorm came in, creating amazing mood, even if it hurt! I stood facing the storm to capture an amazing moment:
It was great start to our trip. I already felt productive but when the weather gods are on your side in Scotland you have to take your opportunities. We headed back towards Callinish with a clear night forecast. We decided to do a little bit of astrophotography at the standing stones which is something I had always wanted to do. Unfortunately there was no aurora that night (we did return when it was forecast but it never happened). We actually lit the stones up with quick flashes of our head torch.
After this we headed down to Harris for a bit. The next couple of days feel like a blur but my next main objective was to get a shot at Luskentyre, the islands most popular and possibly biggest white sand beach. I think we went down for two days where it was either throwing it down or the light didn’t come. This wasn’t to worry though, we had plenty of time and it was great to be away in the van. Sarah captured some great van shots (how can one resist?). For us this is what it’s all about.
Credit to SLP Photography , we often vlog and document our travels. You can keep up to date with us on Facebook and we have vlogged this whole trip, It’s not out yet but do check out our channel and so you don’t miss it, hit the subscribe button and turn on notifications. Here is the YouTube link, it’s not a photography vlog by any means, just videos just of us out in the van, taking photos and trying to show off these amazing places.
Anyway, back to Luskentyre, we managed to get a nice day a few days after we first visited. In hindsight, winter isn’t the best time for here as the sun is in the wrong place, causing your own shadow to be in most shots but we had such amazing conditions, with fleeting light, moody skies and rainbows. I managed to grab this shot though, showcasing the lovely sand dunes, turquoise sea with views to the mountains of Harris. Sublime.
Once I had got that out of my system, I felt like we had much more time to explore the islands. Our next stop was Reif Beach/Reef Beach on Lewis. I was actually really taken by this location despite being one of the quieter beaches. The sand dunes were fantastic here with amazing textures and a closed in bay felt really nice. It was a shame we didn’t get the light but the moods of Harris often work well. The shot was a hard one to edit, it looks a little blue but was taken in the blue hour….so it’s quite true to life.
We headed back down to Harris after this and we would spend the rest of our time there. I should say at this point we were meant to head back to the mainland but the mountain forecasts hadn’t looked good at all. We kept checking them but in the end we decided to stay on Harris for our whole trip. The conditions were so good there and we fell in love with the place. It made such a change to do some coastal work and despite a love for the mountains, exerting less energy was definitely appealing.
It was my birthday and a big one at that, the big 3-0. We always head away for my birthday and we always love to go to Scotland. We spent the day actually just getting from Lewis to Harris. It had snowed overnight and the roads weren’t gritted, meaning the mountain pass was a little interesting! We finally got to Tarbert and things became easier, we drove past Luskentyre for the first time and realised we had missed a good section of the island with such a dramatic coastline.
We went to the Salt Flats at Scarista but the conditions never really materialised, with clouds coming in for sunset. We would however return a couple of days later. Before then though, we decided to visit the beach at Scarista, the second largest on the island. Getting to the beach wasn’t obvious, driving up a farmers track by accident at first. However when we finally found our way, it was a surreal experience to walk across sand dunes in the snow. The day had been beautiful but a veil of cloud had moved in and stopped any sunset from happening.
However, it gave me plenty of time to practice long exposures, capturing different waves as they hit the shoreline. It was super windy meaning getting a sharp shot was difficult nevermind with the waves hitting the tripod but I got a few that worked out. This was my favourite and despite the lack of light I really like the vibrant colours that Harris produces.
The next day we would return to the Salt Flats at Sacrista (ok, just past Scarista). The salt flats don’t look much from the road but make the effort to get down to them and they offer superb leading lines looking towards a distant hill. We made a conscious effort to get there super early, knowing the light could come and go. Even still, driving along we felt like we had missed it. We got down the flats and had to endure at least an hour of rain and snow. Our feet were freezing, stood on the snowy marshes and it felt like it wouldn’t happen again. For me, I loved the location because I hadn’t see a shot of it with the snow before. A break in the clouds started to appear and it was a case of tracking the gap with the sun. It finally broke through, unfortunately slightly too late to hit the flats but the light on the hillside to the right and the distance was lovely and it also gave the sky a nice colour. Overall this is probably one of my favourite shots from the trip.
It felt incredibly good to get that one in the bag after the conditions endured. At this point, I’ve got to admit I felt pretty photographed out. We had been out pretty much every day, chasing the conditions, even if you don’t see a shot from every day. I felt like I had well and truly got my fix but it felt hard to have a rest day when the conditions were to just keep giving.
We headed up to our last spot of the trip which was Husinish, another quiet and secluded beach on Harris with an interesting drive to get there. On arrival we instantly fell in love with it and could see its potential. At this point we didn’t mind if the conditions didn’t happen but we could tell they would, so we got our cameras out and headed down to the beach early again.
We got lucky here, the tide was coming in at the perfect rate for the location. Our first spot was lovely and a big rain cloud drifted over, along with the sun just peeking through. I really wish I had thought to wet the whole of the rock first though:
Then once the sun had gone in and the tide had really come up, we swapped positions to this spot:
Hushinish turned out to be our favourite beach from the whole two weeks. There was just a nice feel to it and it really surprised us when you hardly hear anything about it or see any photos of it.
The day after we decided to head back home, getting up early to catch the first ferry and make the long trip back down to Derbyshire. The whole two weeks had been amazing. In the first week we talked about returning to Harris, perhaps in the summer because we loved it that much but after two weeks there we are no longer in such a rush, knowing we’ve seen it in some amazing conditions. I think I will eventually return to run a workshop, so keep an eye out or sign up to my mailing list.
On a side note, a lot of these shots were taken using KASE filters which you can also purchase through my website.
Thank you for taking the time to read through this very long blog!