Editor’s Note: Für diesen Artikel liegt auch eine deutsche Version vor.
In June I was planning a several week trip through Scotland for the following month, which means I would be on tour at the same time when Le Tour is taking place. So I would not only miss the Soccer World Cup but above all my beloved Tour de France. You do what you can for photography, huh! In the screenshot (image below) you can see the planned route. This rough route stretches for about 2200 kilometers. With all the sightseeing, scouting and the distance Leipzig-Amsterdam-Leipzig the length of the trip was about 4500 kilometers.
Scotland Photo Tour - Route
A lot of planning and preparation took place ahead of the start. I scouted possible photo spots online (e.g. on 500px, deviantArt, Flickr, Google), checked the sunrise and sunset times in The Photographer's Ephemeris and according to these aspects I planned the rough route. In order to be able to react as flexible as possible to the ever-changing weather and my own motivation I only booked the ferry going to Newcastle. I booked no hotels, hostels or bed & breakfasts and no ferry for the return passage. Even the time frame for this journey was only roughly defined from two up to four weeks (only because the following trip to Spain was already booked). Since in Scotland you can't pay with Euro but with British Pounds and because some remote gas stations in the north of the country only accept cash, one should exchange money before starting the trip. Only having your credit card with you is not enough. You also need a power adapter for the UK to charge the batteries in the hotels or on the ferry. I had an inverter in the car so I could charge the netbook, camera and mobile phone batteries all the time while driving. This worked flawlessly. Of course, I also had to check all the usual paperwork as with any trip abroad. That is e.g. health insurance, mobility warranty for the car, insurance card, identification papers / card (and copy) etc.
Quiraing - Car Camping in the North of the Ilse of Skye
Since this trip was planned to be a car-camping road trip and I mostly wanted to sleep in the car I had to additionally take a thermarest mattress, sleeping bag, tent, blankets, tools, air pump, camping stove (+ enough camping gas) and of course most of the food (water, coffee, tea, canned food, cereals, bars etc.) with appropriate dishes and some useful kitchen and household utensils you need for such a trip. Beside all the camping equipment, food products, clothes, toiletries (very important bug spray) and reading material I still needed enough space for my camera equipment and for me to sleep in the back of the drivers seat. It was not an easy task but with a bit playing of Tetris with all the boxes and bags in the car I eventually had an acceptable space arrangement.
My camera gear for the trip was a 5D MkII Body*, lenses spanning from 17mm to 200mm, 4 batteries, cable release, Polarizer* and GND filters *, 2 tripods, battery charger, about 30GB of CF cards, another smaller camera, the netbook with an external harddrive (for saving the RAWs), cleaning wipes, some lenspens and a large camera-/hiking backpack for carrying all this stuff during my wanderings. All this equipment squeezed in the car looked something like what you see in the picture below. To be able to check the weather forecast I booked a data roaming package which unfortunately was totally useless since I never could go online with my smartphone anywhere in Scotland.
So, that was the rough planning before the trip. Once everything was purchased, prepared and the ferry was booked the trip finally started at the beginning of July!
Car Camping on the North Coast of Scotland
After a short night and a seven hour drive through pouring rain, some traffic jams and diversions I finally arrived in Amsterdam where the ferry sets off towards Newcastle in the evening. The crossing was pretty restless with rough sea at night. Unexpectedly, the sea was calm in the morning and I got myself a fresh coffee, had a walk on board of the ferry and enjoyed the rest of the cruise to Newcastle. In contrast to the day before in Germany the weather was fine. Some nice clouds with no rain plus the fresh sea air. Awesome.
After about 30 hours of traveling the actual road trip / photo tour was starting in Newcastle. And there was a premiere for me, the first time of driving on the left side of the road. During the first 10 kilometers it felt like there were 200 roundabouts, some with three lanes and dense city traffic. With a little bit of patience and confidence you get used to the change pretty quickly. From the harbour I drove directly to the first location of my route, away from the city to Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland National Park (pictured below).
Right away I loved the whole scenery there so much that I decided fairly quickly to spend the first night there. The landscape reminded me very much of the Lord of the Rings films, especially Hobingen and The Shire. I mostly spent the day walking Hadrians Wall, visiting the famous Robin Hood tree and scouting for a possible composition for sunset. The rest of the time I spent reading a book. At the end of the first day I was rewarded with this nice colorful sunset.
After a rather restful night in the car and a hearty breakfast I drove towards the scottish Highlands. The route passed Glasgow and Loch Lomond where I took a little bath in the lake near Inveruglas and enjoyed nicest weather. The next stop was at Rannoch Moor where I was fortunate enough to capture some nice lighting conditions. Along my way on the Highlands Highway I made a brief stop at the Glencoe Mountain station and had a chat with a couple of Germans from Hamburg before going on to Stob Dearg at Buachaille Etive Mòr to scout my location for sunset. After scouting I still had plenty of time but I don't wanted to wait there doing nothing so I drove down to the Glencoe Visitor Center and to the Stalker Castle. Unfortunately I couldn't find any useful composition there. Eventually I went back to Glen Etive. This time stopping at the Three Sisters (photo below). I couldn't stop shooting there until sunset, impressed by the landscape with its fascinating scenery, ever-changing clouds and light moods. I then spent the night up there in the mountains. On the next morning I couldn't enjoy any of the great views from the previous day. All surrounding summits were shrouded in clouds and it was raining. That should not change for the next couple of days.
When I eventually was too frustrated waiting there any longer for a weather change I continued and made my way to Malaig where I wanted to explore some beaches and take a photo of the Glenfinnan Viaduct (known from the Harry Potter films) along the way. But it was still raining cats and dogs and I was pretty tired so I've asked around for a hotel in Fort William and took my time exploring the city and phoned with home. The numerous mosquito bites I got from the Midgets in Glencoe hurted badly. On my hands and arms I was heavily bitten all over! I desperately needed a shower and a warm room for the night, especially with the lousy weather in the forecast.
The next day, after a night of good sleep the weather luckily had calmed down and I was able to continue. I drove to the Glenfinnan Viaduct to check the location and train times there. I also hiked up to the viewpoint and calculated when I had to be there to shot the train passing the bridge. I still had plenty of time and drove about 30 kilometers further to the west visiting some awesome beaches at Arisaig and particularly enjoying the views and fresh sea air. After a couple of hours I drove back and hiked up to the viewpoint again. Then the waiting started. Besides a few Germans all sorts of other nationalities had gathered there ready to catch a snapshot. Of course the train was delayed but sometime then it finally came and I had a photo.
Back at the car I continued towards Dornie and the Eilean Donan Castle, a famous castle known from movies like Highlander or Braveheart. As expected, even in the evening many tourists were still there walking around the area and visiting the castle, so creating a photo without people in it would be difficult. After an hour or so of scouting I eventually continued my way towards a location called Quiraing, one of my top locations of the whole trip. Since the weather forecast for the next days for the Ilse of Skye was only rain I spontaneously changed my plans, deferred my shot of the castle during the blue hour and drove west for another hour to use the good weather on that evening. Fortunately I was rewarded with a great sunset and enjoyed the whole scenery for quite a few hours just sitting there (picture below) and relaxing in solitude. The whole time I was up there I've not seen anybody else for kilometers around, except some sheep and the annoying swarms of mosquitos of course.
The weather forecast was right and the next days it was raining almost without any interruption. After quite some time sitting in the car again was too boring, so I drove around and took my time exploring the villages of Broadford and Kyleakin. Due to the bad weather forecast for the next days I spent hours and asked for a room at about 10 hotels, hostels and B&Bs, I think, but unfortunately all accommodations were fully booked. At least I was able to tap into free Wifi here and there. A little frustrated I continued driving around in the area for the next couple of days and among other places I visited Elgol with moderate hope for a sunset. I hoped to take out my camera and take a picture for a change. When you are travelling alone all the time, far away from home and everything familiar, tired and sleeping in the car, several days of rain and the strong cold winds can be pretty annoying and upsetting. At those moments it helps immensely if you once again have a successful experience with the camera and motivate yourself with thinking about why you're doing such a trip. It's good for the own morale. At the end of the day this particular evening had no sunset for an A++ hero shot but I could at least capture the following photo of Elgol Beach with soft light and some drama in the sky.
Someday the constant rain was finally over and I continued north on the Ilse of Skye visiting the Fairy Pools and the Talisker Distillery. The whole scenery with all the rugged mountains, fjords and free-range sheep everywhere reminds me very much of Iceland. It is not as deserted as the far north but still far away from densely populated. I drove on endless single-track roads through cow and sheep herds, that are sometimes just in middle of the road, to a pretty remote place called Neist Point. The mountains and rugged rocks there were very impressive. The noise of the numerous seabirds nesting there was deafening. I didn't had a lot of luck with light there but at least there were no Midgets. Further north on the island there was spectacular scenery to be witnessed everywhere as well as some great little settlements like Uig for example.
The following days I explored and photographed some locations along the east coast of the Ilse of Skye, like the Kilt Rock waterfall (photo above) and the famous Old Man of Storr. The latter location was rather disappointing. The forest at the bottom of the hill was cut down, strong and cold winds were blowing constantly everywhere and again and again rain. After hiking all the moutains and hillsides there, testing lots of compositions but never being lucky with the light, I decided to check off this location. At this time of the trip I had no more motivation to again hike up to The Storr in the morning without any chances of success. With sopping clothes and without the possibility to use my camping stove to cook a warm meal (due to the heavy rain and strong winds) I decided to drive further north towards Ullapool and to try to get a hotel room there. Along the way I visited the picturesque city of Portree and shot the photo of the Eilean Donan Castle during the blue hour which I deferred previously on the trip (photo below).
On my way to Ullapool I again drove on single-track roads for hours through the Highlands passing many impressive landscapes. I arrived in the late afternoon and primarily tried to get a room there. In the third accommodation I was asking I finally was lucky enough and got the last free room. Of course without any en-suite facilities but better than spending another night outside in the rain. Down at the harbour I tried Fish&Chips a second time but (just like the first attempt) the dish was so greasy that I could not finish it. Even though I actually like to eat rich. At the following day I then got me the worst burger ever! And this was my birthday meal. It takes a little to getting used to the food in Scotland to say the least. Maybe I was just unlucky with the restaurants, who knows. Anyway, I was't there for the good food. I again spent the rest of these raining days on the phone, reading, walking around and using Wifi in the hotel. When the weather finally changed I started some day trips around the idyllic Ullapool. One of those routes was leading to Gairloch and Torridon with exciting scenic roads with great views of mountains, fjords and lakes. The weather allowed me to take some fair weather photos like the one of Loch Marre (photo below) with its beautiful whiskey colored water. On days like this such a trip is just amazing! It's so much fun driving around, exploring the area, enjoying the breathtaking views, fresh air and take your time for creating some images.
Continuing towards Torridon I found great reflections in the water somewhere around Loch Clair. There was no wind so the water was perfectly calm as you can see in the image below. When the light was gone I drove back to the hotel. There was decent noise because a live band was there that night and of course I had the room just above the pub. However, thanks to my earplugs I got some restful hours of good sleep that night.
The next days I simply enjoyed the sun, watching people at the harbour and later explored the area north of Ullapool around the Stac Pollaidh which I wanted to climb in the next few days. However, the sun and the resulting heat not only had positive effects. After a longer stop on one of my scouting walks I noticed a spicy-greasy smell and stopped the car at the next parking place to find out what was the cause of this nasty smell. Due to the direct sunlight on the last parking a part of my fresh supplies just melted. It was way too hot in the car, in particular for the cheese and butter which melted and became liquid. I spent the next couple of hours to remove the leftovers and getting the car reasonably clean somehow again. But of course the smell also lingered in the car in the air for the following days. That wasn't very advantageous for sleeping in the vehicle but luckily I had a hotel room for this night.
When the weather forecast was looking good I started the ascent to Stac Pollaidh. On that evening there was no rain but an incredibly strong and cold wind during the ascent. At least the mosquitos were a non issue. I was wearing my thick winter hiking pants and winter jacket and it was definitely not too warm up there! But the awesome views from Stac Pollaidh make you forget all the efforts, see picture below. I spent quite a while at the summit, shot plenty of pictures with this very intense sunset light (photo below). When the light was gone and it was getting dark I started to descent. About 12 o'clock at night I was back at the hotel and slept like a log.
The next day I drove further north. In the far north of Scotland there are again almost only single-track roads. Although everyone is always greeting, thanking you for stopping at the passing places it is at some point annoying and I would have preffered just a cozy drive from time to time. When I arrived in Durness I was thankful that the predicted rain had not started yet and I could take my time exploring the beautiful beaches on the north coast. One can certainly spend a few days in the area around Durness. I had a brief conversation with a couple from York which had spent their last 30 summer holidays there. For me the highlights of the area were the puffin colony and the many secluded beaches on Faraid Head with their turquoise water (picture below). I spent my time there photographing, watching the puffins and walking around until the rain and mosquitoes forced my to move on towards the east coast.
On the way I've spent a night near Talmine to photograph a wooden shipwreck. But since there was no good sunset or sunrise I decided to opt for some normal daylight shots and long exposures with a combination of different grey filters (ND8, ND400) which I probably would convert in black and white later. But the best thing in Talmine was that I heard whales in the bay and that I could enjoy the scenery without my arch-enemies, the Midgets. During this trip I already freaked out loud a few times because of the mosquitoes and I told them to go to hell. Those swarms can really drive you crazy. Strangely, there was neither wind nor mosquitoes at this time. I just enjoyed it!
On this morning I was awakened by the bleating amidst a flock of sheep on my sleeping place (the 3rd picture from top). At some point during the night the little fellows must have crept on me secretly. After a good breakfast I continued eastwards to Duncansby Head and back into the rain. Once there, I've been waiting a while for better weather and scouted the location several times in the rain looking for compositions. I copied the new RAW data from the CF cards to the hard drive, read books etc., but the weather wasn't getting better so I eventually decided to drive further south. Nevertheless, I was fortunate to take some pictures there with whom I'm quite pleased. Like this photo below with the two sheep and the Duncansby Stacks with fog in the background.
Further south, somewhere around Inverness, the constant drizzling rain finally stopped and the weather was getting better. I decided to take a detour to visit the small town of Portknockie and photograph Bow Fiddle Rock. This small picturesque and sleepy town right on the coast somehow fascinates me. I've already noticed it in advance of the trip while planning and scouting with Google Street View / Maps and it was definitely worth driving the indirect way. I then contined my route further south passing Aberdeen and the chaos and noise of big city life, finally arriving to Dunnottar Castle (pictured below) where I was fortunate to shoot a picture with great clouds and beautiful light during the golden hour. Later on I actually wanted to take pictures at the beach with some distinctive Seastacks but the tides and the light ruined my plans. You can't have it all. There was a great car camping spot nearby where I spent the night in the company of some Swiss campers.
During the following days I drove further southward and eventually spent my last night on the island back at Hadrian's Wall where I had spent the first night after arriving with the ferry. There I was extensively hiking and again enjoyed the whole scenery even without taking photos.
Then I finally was back on the ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam. This time with a calm sea but with some badly drunken English soldiers which were based in Paderborn (Germany) for the last four years (but they didn't knew where to find Leipzig) with whom I had a funny conversation on the ferry. Besides that, I enjoyed the comforts of civilization like a warm shower and Wifi on board. On the last day I drove the unspectacular but very exhausting journey from the coast across the Netherlands and Germany back to Leipzig. During the long drive home I had plenty of time to reflect my recent adventure. So, this was my trip to Scotland. What I noticed on this trip again, is that if you are traveling alone and although you can not share all the new experiences directly with someone else, such experiences somehow are particularly intense. It is easier to get into a conversation with foreign people and you get to know the locals better. For instance, contrary to my expectations, I have learned that the Scots are very kind and friendly people. During the trip the over-regulated everyday life back home in Germany which is shaped by distractions seemed to be light years away. If at all, I have thought very rarely about all this because I simply was too busy with the immediate here and now which was one goal of this trip - to get away from it all (probably applies to most travels). Looking back, I am very satisfied with all the adventures and experiences of this trip to Scotland - both positive and negative - and last but not least I'm also happy with the resulting images.
You can see all photos of this trip in the Scotland gallery.
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This is just wow.