Towards the end of September (in that wonderful, brief period between lockdown 1.0 and tiers) Natalie and I spent ten days in the Scottish Highlands. It confirmed my belief that there are few places on earth that offer a greater reward of scenery for the ease of access.
I was a late-comer to Scotland. I first visited in 2016 but have returned four times in the intervening years. The Highlands especially are a special place. The mountains, lochs, the mood – it appeals to just about everything I love about the great outdoors.
That said I have developed something of a jinx with the place. I lost an ND filter to a river on Skye in 2016; smashed another (and only recently purchased) filter in Glencoe in 2019; and this visit saw me take a fall on some wet rocks which broke my finger.
Nevertheless, we planned to start out on the west coast in Torridon and head east, basing in Glen Affric and then the Cairngorms.
Visiting as we did on the cusp of autumn was a real delight. The leaves were neither all still green nor had they turned completely and started dropping. So everywhere you looked there was this mixed palette of greens, golds, browns, yellows, and reds.
And purple! That was the other surprise – discovering just how much heather was in bloom. I had spent some fruitless days in August hunting for a decent display of heather in the New Forest but most of it had passed and I had given up on seeing any more this year. To find so much of it up in Scotland was a genuine thrill.
The area was also full of mushrooms. And so many varieties. Fungi photography is not something I can say I have turned my hand to but it is strangely addictive! Mushrooms take on personalities of their own and getting down low and opening up the aperture gives you a wonderfully intimate view of their little world.
We were really fortunate to have experienced lovely weather in Torridon; three days of largely dry days, mild temperatures and one fantastically misty, frosty morning spent at Loch Clair. I obviously tempted fate by suggesting to Natalie that the weather was “almost too good” for photography...
So of course that meant we were treated to a couple more gloomy day in the Cairngorms. But as anyone who has spent more than a few hours in Scotland knows, overcast skies and the threat of getting soaked through merely enhances the mood.
The rain helps bring out the lush greenery and the sight of mist hanging onto the side of the mountains adds more atmosphere than golden light can. My top tip for handling overcast days is to shoot very much with your editing in mind; the light might be flat (or even non-existent) but embrace that style in the processing.
Broken bones aside, it was a terrific trip – one I have appreciated more than usual given the circumstances of this year. The grandeur of the views in Torridon; the tranquility of Glen Affric; the vastness of the Cairngorms. I’m convinced the landscape of the Highlands is as impressive as anywhere in the world.
Yet it is so remarkably easy to get to. It is just over an hour flying from London to Inverness and then about a 90 minute drive to the west coast. You can even get a train to Edinburgh in under five hours.
After the challenging year that 2020 has been it felt wonderful to spend a few days outdoors, dedicated to hiking and embracing the landscape. Travelling has been in limited supply this year and it looks unlikely that I’ll be heading anywhere else for the time being.
But if it turns out that my only trip of 2020 is to the Highlands, that’s absolutely fine with me.