It was with mixed feelings that I left home in early May for a week on the Western Isles. I’m always happy to be visiting these Atlantic outposts where the only thing to be relied upon is the unpredictability of the weather. I’m always happy for the opportunity to put money into the local economy and to further the economic case for nature-based tourism. In all likelihood however, this was my last visit – the last of many over the years – certainly leading a tour group.
Robin, a very likeable tour guest with an ever-so-slightly over-active analytical gene (de-brains just about anything), recently took me to task over a comment I made in a previous blog post. Referring to our Winter Yellowstone tour, I remarked that we returned ‘wolfless’ having had no sighting of the enigmatic predator. According to Robin this suggested a trophy hunting mentality which took no account of the thrill of being in such a wild place in the knowledge that wolves were out there, somewhere. It’s a fair point, my wrists are duly slapped and it perhaps hints at an increasing tendency towards measuring the success of any trip in terms of images made or sightings bagged. A sign of something I’m sure.
Robin was one of the guests on our recent Wild West Coast landscape tour from which we returned sunsetless. Sure we had brooding clouds, aquamarine seas, sun-kissed white sand beaches and pretty much the place to ourselves but for me, the clouds were the wrong clouds, the sea was the wrong shade of sea and the sky was too clear, and then not clear enough. The fact is that the photographic bar marches inexorably towards the heavens taking expectations (including mine) along with it.
These pictures won’t win any prizes but is that the point? No, no and no again. We were based in the delightful family-owned Harris Hotel (thanks guys), enjoyed great food, good craic and the islands of Harris and Lewis as a spectacular backdrop – hardly a disaster. The fickle Hebridean weather deprived us of a decent sunset but it delivered so much more as it always does. Wolfless and Sunsetless are a state of mind, one which Robin’s analysis has helped me recognise. A good philosophical slapping from time to time does the world of good!
Thanks as ever to our group for their company, to Calmac for getting us home (eventually) and to Lewis and Harris for being such splendid places (too many sheep in my view but that’s another story). Thanks also to Paul and Andy from Aspect2i, a fellow pho-tour company who showed none of the petty rivalries that so often dogs this business – check them out, they’re good guys.
If you fancy getting your fill of the Wild Western Isles, join us next spring for our Island Trilogy tour taking in Harris, Skye and Eigg. Can’t promise any wolves or in fact sunsets, but I can promise a photographic adventure – it’s what we do.
The west coast of Scotland can be unpredictable at the best of times – that’s why we like it so much. But then there’s unpredictable and there’s downright outrageous; the weather this last week during our Wild West photo tour was camped firmly in the latter. Snow, hail, wind, rain and glorious sunshine – we had it all, and most of it in just one day! But if you want dynamic light – and to be fair that’s what this tour offers – the Western Isles of Scotland is THE place to be.
There’s something primeval about standing on a rocky ledge with the angry pounding surf of the Atlantic just feet away; equally there’s no more a soothing sensation than a tranquil turquoise ocean caressing the white sands at your feet. Call it what you will – spiritual renewal if you like – it’s the contrast, the juxtaposition, the ludicrous beauty before you, that is both intoxicating and addictive. You can never have enough of this photographic nectar.
From our cosy bolt hole in North Harris our hardy group ventured out each dawn. Harris and Lewis, our chosen islands for this tour, are not best placed to offer views to the east – they better lend themselves to sunset interpretations, but as I say, this is a place of unpredictability. We photographed Luskentyre every which way and in all weathers and if nothing else, it made our hearty breakfasts slide down that bit easier!
Callanish was disappointing and although the famous stones were obligingly coated in icing sugar snow, they were also coated in tourists making photography almost impossible during the few brief minutes of footprint-free snow cover.
We ventured to the remote rocky shoreline of West Lewis to be greeted by hail that felt like nails being driven in to your face and then, only minutes later, the most glorious sun glistening on the wet rocks. And so it was for the whole tour.
I’m guilty of repetition at the best of times but we really are blessed with the good nature – not to mention good humour – of our tour groups and the Wild West Class of 2012 was no different. My sincere thanks to Thelma, Sasha, Roger, Gill, Duncan and Debbie and of course Paul (veteran of many Northshots tours) for their really excellent company and valued custom.
There was a Bohemian monk who went to bed in a bunk…no, on second thoughts best just hold that in the memory banks!!
If you’d like to join us on the Wild Wild West Coast in 2013, details will be published on our tour page shortly.
…and a few images of our hardy group…
Back in April I spent a few weeks for the 2020VISION project just about as far west as Britain will allow. The Outer Hebrides is a challenging environment and for a good part of the time it rained – that was inevitable. One evening more out of hope than expectation (it was raining again) I visited a remote beach bathed in aquamarine waters. Just before sundown, the rain abated and I took my chance working feverishly for an hour or so before the light became impossible. There are lots of images like this one but only this was taken by me, alone on that Hebridean beach.
Sometimes, just sometimes, words (and pictures for that matter) are just not enough. “Can we just stand and look?” came the request from two ladies on our recent Wild Wild West tour to Lewis and Harris. We were perched high above a remote beach with an angry sea boiling beneath us. Occasionally the sun pierced the bank of scudding clouds, lighting the bay and painting the crest of each rolling wave yellow. It was, as they say just across the Atlantic, awesome. But standing and looking is just not on when there are pictures to be taken. Oh no, we were having none of that fluffy nonsense on a Northshots tour.
There is definitely something about islands and yes, the weather can be rough out here on the edge, but for a photographer, it’s a tiny price to pay for a slice of solitude and some truly spectacular vistas. Wildness for me is like a drug; I just have to get a regular fix and it doesn’t get any better than staring out across a sea that stretches almost beyond our limited imagination. Sharing the experience with a truly great bunch of guests…well, it’s just the business.
From our cosy and welcoming base at the Harris Hotel in Tarbert (thanks for the recommendation Paul), we explored all four corners of both Lewis and Harris taking in remote windswept beaches, rocky headlands pounded by the Atlantic, and of course the famous Callanish Stones. For one of our days, the rain was more persistent than usual but we found sanctuary in a charming deserted croft house followed by coffee and cake at Skoon Art Cafe, a perfect respite from the inevitable Hebridean squalls.
We all got pictures of course and I hope you like the images above, but do you know what, our two guests, Julie and Sue were right. It’s the images that have etched themselves on our minds that will persist long after the photographs have lost their appeal. Standing and looking is no bad thing.
Thanks to the Wild West bunch of 2011. If you’d like to join us next spring when we return to the Wild Wild West (and I have to say, I think you should), you can book here
Any photographer visiting Scotland’s Western Isles will set off with two surefire expectations: rain and wind. They’ll also have in the back of their mind a nugget of hope: exciting light. Of course the latter is largely dictated by the former. It is the constant stream of Atlantic weather fronts which bombard these low-lying islands, that give rise to some of the most dynamic light anywhere.
And so it was with expectation and hope in mind (plus a decent set of waterproofs) that I recently set off for Lewis, Harris and North Uist (in that order). It had been 10 long years since I last visited the Outer Hebrides and apart from re-acquainting myself with some favoured sites, I was charged with the task of capturing the essence of the Hebridean coastline for the 2020VISION project. Now the deal is quite simple in these remote islands: wait for long enough (normally in horizontal sleet) and you’ll get good light. And so I did.
It was windy, in fact at times it was extremely windy and of course it did rain. But between the showers, the light at times was sublime. It’s not always a pretty place; it’s not always comfortable. But when it’s good, it’s very, very good.
And now for the capitalist sting in the tail: did I mention we’re running a tour to the Hebs in 2012? No? Well I’m mentioning it now! If you’d like to join me, view the tour here.