I rarely seem to have time these days to read all the magazines that drop through my door; I’m sure it never used to be the case. One headline however, recently caught my eye: “Make the weather in Photoshop”. Apparently, for those who know what’s what, ice, sun, mist and rain can all be plucked from the digital heavens and inserted into an image with no one being any the wiser. Is that what it’s come to? Is that what nature photography is now about?
24th May 1998 was a memorable day here at Ballintean: we welcomed our first guests to the only-just-finished-in time Steading. For those of you who are not familiar with ‘The Steading’, it’s our converted barn, which plays host to our photo-tour guests here in the Cairngorms and it was 14 years ago – almost to the day – when we opened its doors for the first time.
10th May 1998 was another memorable day but for very different reasons. Seemingly every tradesman north of Glasgow was on holiday, had fallen sick or had a more lucrative job on at the time. Our own house was stacked full of furniture, cushions, bed linen, pictures, ornaments – you name it, it was there, all ready to take its place once the work was complete. There was even stuff crammed into our bedroom and although it’s a bit of a blur now, there may well have been a night or two when I parked Pete in the corner bolt upright, coffin-style, to get his sleep. Sam was two and was as demanding as two-year olds inevitably are.
We called in reinforcements. Pete’s favourite helper, aka my mum travelled north with her intercooled, turbo-charged iron and The Irish Sea provided safe passage for Aunty Helen and Uncle Pat who came from Dublin complete with toolboxes in hand. Believe me, we desperately needed their help. Anything at The Steading that is now fixed to anything is thanks to Uncle Pat. Aunty Helen worked wonders with her rubber gloves to clean every surface and mum’s infamous ironing skills took care of 11 sets of curtains and 11 sets of bed linen (Pete’s underwear remained full of creases that month!).
One night I remember looking around the place at midnight and listening to the resident tawny owl sat on the newly completed roof. It wasn’t like this on the telly and I can recall feeling absolute dread at the prospect of definitely (in my mind) not being finished on time. But we managed it…just. Uncle Pat was rewarded with a game of golf and I took mum and Aunty Helen to every tearoom within 20 miles!
In the last 14 years we have welcomed many people from all over the world and from all walks of life. They bring with them stories and more often than not, the foundation for great friendships. That dining table has seen (and heard) many a tale and if it could laugh, I’m sure it would, in the same way that so many other people have laughed sitting around it. It’s a great source of pride for me that not only have we made great friends with many of our guests, but also they have made friends with each other. Here’s to the next 14 years – are you listening Uncle Pat?
I know what it’s like. If you hear the word ‘Alaska’, your mind races to wolves, grizzlies, moose and ice-capped mountains. Any trip there has to include all of these and more. The Cairngorms is the same. It’s the home of ospreys, pine martens, crested tits and capercaillie. These are the wildlife superstars and these are the species people want to see. But what about chaffinches?
Image: Peter Turnbull
We’ve just come to the end of our Winter Wildlife programme and uneventful as the weather was (in the main), we’ve enjoyed the company of four great groups who adapted to the unseasonal conditions and between them, produced some fantastic images of…wait for it…chaffinches! Yes, yes, you can mock but just look at these images. Disappointing as it might have been, there’s been very little snow and our guests were left with two choices: wallow in self pity or make the most of things. Universally they chose the latter and good for them.
Image: Charlie Goddard
Selling a photo tour in the Cairngorms on the back of chaffinches is going to be a tough call for anyone but it shouldn’t be. I’d rather have one of these cracking images in my library than a mediocre shot of an osprey or pine marten. Well done to all of our photographer guests for nailing some great shots and for realising that subject rarity is irrelevant when it comes down to it.
Next year we’re planning some changes to our Winter Wildlife programme and we’ll be uploading dates soon. Thanks to everyone who joined us in 2012 – I hope you enjoyed your time spent in the Cairngorms and I hope you enjoyed your time with the wildlife icon that is The Chaffinch.
We have just 2 places left on our Ultimate Autumn Gold landscape photo-tour in October. The tour, taking in the very best of landscape locations on Skye and in the Cairngorms, is timed to coincide with the height of the autumn colour and the most dynamic of west coast light.
We are offering either a couple (or friends sharing) a deal whereby one guest goes for half price – that’s a saving of over £500! If you’d like to join us in the spectacular Scottish Highlands, drop us a line on [email protected]. Full details of the tour can be viewed here.
Ballhead mount: check. Chest waders: check. Hide frame: check. Hide cover: check. Waterproof: check. Camera: check. Capability to carry all of aforementioned: s**t!
And so it was I staggered through the wood yesterday in knee-deep snow, laden with…well, about half of everything I own. It was snowing and by god I was going to get some pictures: Pictures of whooper swans in a blizzard, oh yes. But there are blizzards and blizzards and in some blizzards it’s so blizzardous you can’t actually see your subject (which I always find helpful). Good conditions to set off in a floating hide. Not.
After 30 minutes and several waves having engulfed the camera, I conceded my ambition had exceeded what was realistic. If it wasn’t for the fact that the water was cold and I therefore knew its source was from the waterfall now cascading over my waders, I might have been forgiven for suspecting premature incontinence. Abandon ship and head for port before a Mayday was necessary. To be fair I had got close to the swans (not easy in this part of the world) but it was nigh on impossible to conquer the force 9 gale sweeping across the ocean that is Loch Insh. OK more of a stiff breeze but still damned difficult.
Undeterred I wandered the forest in my very handsome waders looking like some Arctic Andy Pandy still hellbent on getting some snowy images before the onset of spring. It’s fair to say that if you don’t like monochromatic pictures, the Cairngorms was not the place for you yesterday and you probably shouldn’t read on. But I do and so I persevered in my squelchy pants (I did succumb to ditching the waders) and held out long enough to grab a few PLNs (Pleasant Little Numbers).
The rewards nowhere near justified the effort but the pain of sitting at home and wondering ‘what if…’ would have been much more excrutiating. And besides, another life lesson had been learned – I’ll know better next time. If you believe that…