Hebridean Tour - September'15

It was a bold move to make the journey in a Land Rover Defender but when my good friend Allen offered his car with a hugely hopeful expression, I had no choice but to accept. He only recently purchased his new pride and joy and he desperately wanted to give it an outing. So with this in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to stagger our trip up country and extend what was going to be a Hebridean tour.

Since I started offering one-to-one workshops in Cornwall, many of my guests asked if I'd consider running workshops up in the Highlands of Scotland, to give them a chance to shoot at the places I have captured in my website's galleries. Now this needed a bit of planning because I would want to do a tour that would take in a lot of the finest scenery the magnificent Highlands have to offer. So, I took out my maps and referred to all the trip notes I had made on my previous travels around Scotland, and put together my 'ideal' itinerary. This would give me a travel plan and then on top of that, I could work out places to stay en route. Ideally, destinations that offered good hospitality amongst lovely settings, so that the tour would be comfortable, photogenic and memorable, yet not cost the earth.

So my plans really started by turning off the M6 at Stoke-on-Trent and cutting across to the Peak District National Park. This is a beautiful region and makes for a lovely drive that links up with the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Later that day, after stopping for a few shots and a nice lunch, we arrived at Tan Hill, high on the Penine Way where the Tan Hill Inn is the highest pub in the UK. Batting midges aside, I went out and shot a stunning sunset and then returned for a welcome dinner washed down by pint of their local brew.

Next morning was a bleak, grey affair that saw hoards of midges swarming over me as soon as I popped my head out the door. And this was early! Way before the usual 'witching hours' that these pesky insects observe. So I grabbed my laptop and went back in to back-up the shots from the previous night. After breakfast we set off for the Isle of Mull with a 5 hour trip ahead of us. Rather than sweeping up and around the spectacular Northumbrian coastline, bearing in mind the car's somewhat 'agricultural' road going capabilities, we decided to head off for Glasgow and then cut across from Loch Lomond to go through some truly spectacular glens and make a lunch stop at the original Loch Fyne seafood restaurant, on the shores of it's namesake stretch of water.

After lunch we headed off for Mull. A short ferry crossing and a drive through some awesome, spreading scenery later and we were at Ardtornish, where we'd spent the month of January back in 21013, and the Lochaline Ferry. Another short hop across The Sound of Mull and we landed on a beautiful landscape of softly rounded hills and mountains, interspersed with areas of remote wildness. We spent that evening and most of the next day driving around, taking shots and making notes. The accommodation was in Tobermoray and we paid the price for having digs right on the harbour. It was a little expensive for a night's stay but the restaurant we went to served up some delicious fresh food and more than made up for the guesthouse charges.

From Mull we went back to the mainland and headed up towards Mallaig. We had an early ferry booked, so we decided to stay close by at a little town called Morar. The hotel was a little tired but ideally placed for us. There's a lovely coastline full of little bays adorned with bright white sand that really needs to be seen to be believed. I shot the sunset from the hills behind the town. This let me get the vast spreading bay looking across to Mull in my viewfinder. The next morning I went to explore the coastline and found some lovely places to shoot at. Then it was breakfast and another ferry, this time over to the Isle of Skye. I've stayed on Skye many times and know of its amazing scenery, so we headed off around to a few of the places in the shadow of the Cuillin Hills that I hadn't seen before. Then we headed off to Uig and the ferry over to Harris.

If Mull is rounded and beautiful, Harris is magnificently brooding. Vast sweeping beaches surrounded by grey rock and steep hills. I love it! We stayed at a superb location on the west coast called Carmicish Bay. A White-tailed Eagle was sitting on the fence of the place we were to stay at when we arrived, so this boded well. This place needs a lot of exploration and a lot of it could be done by boat, or sea kayak, and I made a mental note to include this option in my trips. The stay here for two days was an eye-opener, yet the swarms of midges descended upon us as soon as the breeze dropped, so I also made the note of not coming back in July, August or September! This may be a tad harsh as I have spent a lot of time up on Sandwood Bay in May and June and not really been bothered. Wherever we went, the locals said the midges were the very worst they have been in years. But I have to say, even doused in repellent and wearing a head net, they do put you off from concentrating on capturing images.

Anyway, the following days led us up to Kinlochbervie and Sandwood Bay. The drive up through the Northern Highlands is breath-taking! The ferry crossing saw us accompanied by dolphins and seals. On the land we hadn't seen a single deer until we left Ullapool and headed up towards Cape Wrath. Once on these lonely roads, we saw them all over the hillsides. Our last day was spent shooting on Sandwood Bay. This for me was one of my favourite locations. Yet when we arrived at the car park I saw a tea hut and an extended area for cars. My suspicions were aroused! Going through the gate that leads across the remote glen I saw the path had been worked on. Whereas you used to have to look for its undulating, winding course across the heather, it was now flattened and ready for family strolls. When I reached the bay itself, I was met with a sight I'd seen a couple of years ago in Cornwall after the winter storms had scoured the beaches. Sandwood's glorious spreading sands were now interspersed with big clusters of rock and pebbles. Now I'm not saying this is terrible but it came as a shock. I'd spent weeks here camping and have become used to seeing vast swathes of reflective sands being pounded by crystalline seas. Now it had changed and it took a while to get my head around the new vista before me. As it did with the number of people strolling down the track. Before, visiting here required a fairly spirited hike. Now it saw people riding push biles down the levelled pathway.

I know I'm a bit of a 'recluse' and like to be alone in remote places with my cameras and I know this is, perhaps a little selfish. But my view of Sandwood was a little skewed by what I found. Perhaps in years to come the sand, like it has done in Cornwall, will return and that nature's forces will also see the track returned to a more rugged path that challenges the visitor to really appreciate what lies at its end.

So, in closing what did I learn form the Hebridean Tour?

Firstly, the tour I planned would make an ideal itinerary for enthusiastic, experienced photographers who want to see a wide array of Highland locations in their viewfinders. Secondly, the summer months need to be avoided as there are lots of midges and tourists. Thirdly, my worries about the Land Rover were unfounded, it performed magnificently. So now I'm working out logistics and costs and will be posting details of the new workshops soon so watch my Facebook pages for updates.