THE ISLE OF SKYE AND BUTTERMERE; A Landscape Photography Trip and a Tragic Loss!

19th December 2015
This is a blog about my recent trip to Skye and the Lakes District. I will restrict this one very much to the experience, the locations and the photos I took but I will also shortly be doing an extra blog about the kit I used as well as tips with regards what to take, what clothing/gear worked well and what didn't which I hope will be useful to any others considering a visit. Hope you like them both. Cheers. NM (ps I should add all images have been downgraded to 1000 pixel wide jpegs for the usual reasons so quality can not be up to the standard of my original 36 MP files of course)
Towards the end of 2014 I promised myself that in 2015, at least photographically, I had no excuses for not ticking a few "must do/visit" items off my list. Historically I have found that the problems with such lists is that you tick off three and by December have added four! This year is proving no different with Botswana, Namibia and South Georgia mysteriously having sneaked on. However at least my visits to Iceland and the Shetlands have balanced things slightly (previous blogs on both trips on here if you're interested).
The temptation of course is to look at farther horizons (South Georgia certainly qualifies!) but some of the best are nearer to home. So it was last year that I pencilled in a trip to Skye in to the diary. Iconic, wild, stunning?..absolutely…and of course easily accessible??… well, not really ! Perception and reality tend to part company when discussing getting from south east England to locations like! Skye, Harris, Lewis etc . "Just the other side of Glasgow isn't it ?" is something I heard more than once. The alternative option of course to fly and hire a car but I love the flexibility of loading my 4x4 with everything possible for such a trip without worrying about luggage allowances. The additional ability to turn off the beaten track in say Yorkshire or the Lake District on the way up or back is what makes these trips such fun.
Having driven to Inverness on three occasions I knew that trip could be done in about 9 hours traffic permitting but with narrower and slower but dramatic roads,Skye was going to take about 13 allowing for a couple of breaks ! So the obvious thing to do was to stop halfway up and the Lake District had the pleasure of my company for half a day and night going up but also two nights coming back home. This, along with the extra two nights I stayed on Skye on my own, really made the trip and with hindsight also provided me with the best (a relative term) weather. So I had turned my whistle stop tour of Skye into an 8-9 day trek !
The M25/M40/M6 trilogy don't hold much excitement for me and I think my 5-6 hour journey from Kent to Cumbria can best be described as dull with the only disappointment being that I turned off before the Teebay services at Shap on the M6 so couldn't get the best breakfast on any motorway in England !!

As always I had seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time planning this trip !! How the hell did we manage without the internet!! . As most of my photography is wildlife, a landscape trip brings up different issues. Whilst the vast number of Lake District locations are well documented, knowing which to choose at what time of the day can be a minefield. I knew I'd hit the area about 1pm at best so with sunset at 1612pm I wouldn't have the luxury of wandering aimlessly like a cloud (apologies to Mr Wordsworth!). I'd read numerous websites, looked at sun compasses for sunset directions etc but one book in particular I can totally recommend to anyone in the same position.
Stuart Holmes's "Photographing The Lake District". I'm not going to do a book review here as there are plenty of others on this book out there but suffice to say 300 glossy pages in a paperback with a semi waterproof cover so can take a bit of abuse in the field. Brilliant breakdown of areas and locations with thoughts on times of year and day accompanied by excellent images. Must have taken him a huge amount of time and effort and I whole-heartedly recommend it.

So with limited options and some clear skies but with gusting wind I had singled out Side Pike in the Upper Langdale valley. Deep green flat bottomed valleys surrounded by majestic hills that just shout "Lake District". Parking in a small spot on the single lane track that takes you up through the end of the valley I had two options. An steep but straightforward walk up the lower slopes of Pike o' Blisco where there was good light showing on the valley below with dramatic clouds OR make the much tougher climb on the other side of the valley up Side Park. In the light I had and knowing I couldn't do both in the fading light I went for broke and headed off up the unknown steep slope….. The gamble didn't pay off!…I was . Three false summits and some hailstorms in the first 30 minutes of climbing together with no real views that worked for me had me cursing somewhat but what really impacted was the wind. By gaining 600-700 feet from my car you entered a different unprotected world and whilst properly equipped for any conditions the wind actually made standing up difficult at times let alone putting a tripod up !! I'd even had a rainbow showing further down the valley as I climbed but as I sat behind some rocks as the strongest gusts came through and would actually have made climbing down dangerous at that point, I had to laugh at my basic error…...preplanning is vital....with only 2-3 hours to play with, unchartered yomps up unknown hills are a bad idea. Of course by the time I had got back down the good light on the easier slope opposite had disappeared ! However I was determined to get it and a few days later on my return trip I got this panorama from Pike O' Blisco but whilst nice the light didn't compare with the dramatic and threatening skies of my first afternoon which was the prelude to all the stormy weather that was about to hit all the west coast of the north UK including of course the Western Isles and Skye.

So muttering under my breath some quote about "Good luck is the result of good planning" or something similar I headed off to my hotel. One good thing of course about sunset times in the winter of course is that you have time to chill out and recuperate before a drink and some dinner. I was staying at the Bridge Hotel in Buttermere which is probably one of the remotest hotels in the Lakes. Two ways in , either over the 1-in-4 notorious Honiston Pass which always make you concentrate especially in the dark or the long narrow road from Braithwaite which whilst a bit flatter still doesn't give you much margin for error. I always find it's the drivers who enjoy these routes more than the passengers !!

The road through the steep valley that drops down to Buttermere village. Another great advantage of an autumn visit is the colours of the bracken.

..finally at the Bridge Hotel. Great place to stay with very comfortable rooms and great food and very friendly staff. More of other hotels later !!

I decided that whilst it would have been nice to spend a few hours in the hills, the 7 hour drive still left to Skye meant it was time to enjoy a hearty breakfast and head off.
Anyone who knows that journey will admit that the first few hours are quite tedious but once you get north of Glasgow you join the A82 which carries you for over a hundred miles through stunning scenery taking in whole west bank of Loch Lomond, Rannoch Moor and Glencoe and then on through Fort William and Spean Bridge. Finally turning off at Invergarry on to the A87 to Skye you encounter the steep rise above Loch Garry, the wilds of Loch Cluannie and the drop through dramatic gorge of Glenshiel, scene of the last close quarter battle on british soil between foreign troops (Spanish and Jacobites) and the English army. The current A87 in this area follows a lot of the Old Military Road built in the 1750's by the english to keep some sort of control of the locals!
You really could stop every few miles if you had the right conditions but I was pressed for time and the grey grim weather wasn't conducive but I did stop at the monument to the Commando Regiment at Spean Bridge which is a wonderfully evocative memorial to the Commandoes who's first training school was set up nearby in 1942. It was wonderful to see the mists swirling in the distance and the wreaths which had been laid just a few days before on Remembrance Sunday.

Onward and upward and as always I was staggered and pleased how empty the roads are compared with anywhere in the south. Pressing on as I wanted to see Skye before dark it was good to finally see the island's bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh come in to view with the Cullin Mountains visible in the drizzly murky background.

And so on to Skye. I was spending 3-4 days with Ross (Hoddinott) and Adam (Burton) from Dawn2Dusk photography ( and a small group of other photographers. I genuinely believe it makes a lot of sense to go with experienced gurus like these two if you have never been to somewhere like Skye before. It is a big island and there can be anything between an hour or two's drive between locations so the last thing you want is to be wasting valuable time in the limited daylight hours. Both great company I recommend them to anyone and Ross also being an exceptional wildlife photographer meant at least one person wouldn't get bored if I mentioned Barn Owls or Puffins !!
Our itinerary involved sunrise and sunset shoots wherever possible but as expected the weather has the last say on Skye. I'm going to highlight a few locations mainly in chronological order but suffice to say anyone going would be looking for sunsets shots on the west coast (Elgol, Talisker etc), sunrises in the hills or east coast (The Old Man of Storr, The Quirraing) and then fit in other places as the situation allowed.

Here's a map to give you an idea of locations and distances. As an idea Broadford in the south to Uig in the north is 40 miles on the best road but at least 60-80 minutes drive. Elgol to Broadford only 14 miles but about 45 minutes drive.

For those who care everything was taken on my D810 with a 24-70mm unless otherwise stated. I've added iso/shutter speed/aperture only where it was away from the normal F/8-f14, iso 64-200, shutter speed 1/15th-1/200th ranges.

SLIGACHAN is geographically fairly central, on a photogenic river with some classic mountains and views surrounding it. Numerous small and larger waterfalls can be found if you wander up from the ancient arched bridge down near the main junction and hotel. I actually visited here twice , once on my own. Good light obviously helps but there is plenty for lovers of moving water to get your teeth into. Autumn/Winter as well of course means good levels of raging water and on the odd occasion if in spate it goes down (and up!) very quickly so you can always visit a day or even a few hours later if it's too high. I actually struggled to get a composition that clicked for me here but that is me not the venue but I like the way landscape photography really makes you work for the reward on many occasions and if it's not working then simply move. I think we can all be guilty of flogging a dead horse sometimes. In fact this shot below has grown on me a lot since I got home. I like the rocks and the water movement is just right for my eye and there is just a squeak of colour in the clouds as the sun rose out of shot to the left behind the hills. Although I never use the technique it almost has an HDR feel to it which seems to work. Shutter speed 1/4 sec at 24mm.

THE QUIRRAING: At the northerly end of Skye and a tricky windy drive in the dark one arrives at the flat plateau that forms the valley just below the heights of the Quirraing. Getting up 0530am as the wind howls outside is the price you have to pay even in November if you want to be in position to get the most of a sunrise at this legendary location. About 45 minutes from Portree and a 30 minute walk with a head torch but trust me it is worth it. We had heavy mist, drizzle, rain, wind, no sun....a shame? ..of course but even through the mist one can appreciate the majesty of the place. Here's an image of what an awful lot of people experience and frustrated me for 90% of the 2-3 hours on the hill as well the constant battle of keeping everything dry and hands warm.

..and yet there were just the occasional brief gaps that gave me hope. This is the road shot that you often see in magazines and is probably only half way up the path to the highest point so easily accessible if you are feeling less energetic ! Hopefully though you can imagine how, given the right light streaming in from the rising sun (on the left in this image), could make this a magical place and even without it the autumnal colours and grandeur of the place still impress. 0.9 Lee Filter hard Grad.

Finally a panorama of the north side of the Quirraing. At this point it was again blowing pretty hard and was on my way down so between showers I took a few photos on my iPhone and this is 4 stitched together. Had the weather been better I'd have set up the D810 for the stitched shots. I must confess that ,despite the obvious beauty of the Old Man of Storr, the sheer drama and power of the Quirraing leaves a lasting impression.

THE FAIRY POOLS: World famous and on some lists of "Things to see/Do before you Die" etc which may seem a tad over the top but they are set in a majestic valley that so typifies the island. Located at Glen Brittle near Eynort on the western side of the island and from Sligacham about 30 minutes drive. You head as if going to Talisker but turn off south on a suitably narrow and steep single lane road. Parking up at the Forest Commission car park you can look across the valley towards the valley that leads up to the Fairy Pools. Expect to take 20-30 minutes to walk from here to the beginning of the major pools and series of falls that you follow up the river into the amphitheatre of natural mountains.
There are numerous photogenic spots as you take the path along the river. My advice would be that if it looks good and the light is right, stop and get some images. The one guarantee is that the light will have changed by the time you return and it's tempting to think you can get them on the way back but it's unlikely you'll have the time or the conditions again so if it's looking great take the opportunity. Certainly allow about 2-3 hours to assess the various pools and waterfalls and that's assuming you stop at maybe 4 or 5 for 10-15 minutes each. Remember as well that once in the mountains the sunset time is slightly academic as you need to allow for the height of the surrounding hills as it drops behind them. So a 4pm sunset may translate into a valley being in the solid shadow from 3pm so somewhere like the Pools I think being there from 1230 to 330pm in November would be about right. But with soft winter light here would work at most times of the day.
Below is one of my favourite from the river. The majestic mountains that form a natural backdrop and the light hitting them as the river charges down stream. As you crouch down and look upstream this does feel a truly remote spot.

As on most days, I encountered hail and rain and wind to varying degrees this afternoon and heading back down I took a shot that rather typified this. Having packed away all my kit I quickly grabbed my D810 which I always pack away with the 24-70 attached and handheld captured the rainbow, rain, sunlight and streaming clouds. If you prepare both yourself and your kit for these conditions you won't go far wrong.!!

TALISKER: Famous of course for the distillery (well worth a visit especially if the weather is horrendous) and site of a large curved beach that is about 15 minutes walk from where you park at the end of another winding dead end lane. This walk takes you past the majestic white Talisker House started in 1717, home to the McLeods of Skye, and extended in the mid-eighteenth century. Makes you imagine the logistical difficulty of getting all the materials (as well as the cost) down the windy rural lane.
As we approached the beach the weather was surprisingly reasonable but just Skye toying with me again! I had walked north up the beach to a stream that was crossing the beach feeding into the sea. Dealing with the 30 mph gusts seems feasible but looking out to sea I could see the storm approaching. Here is a shot looking out to the waterfall that was streaming over the cliff edge on the far north corner of the beach. It was only the huge recent rainfall that triggered it. It was so windy that the water was being blown back up the cliff.

And then it hit...gusting I would guess to certainly 50-60 mph and the priority was just to hang on to the tripod and put your back to the driving hailstorm and rain. It was actually quite testing just to stay standing for the 5-10 minutes as it hurtled through. The wind never really let up and made any real effort at images impossible. I managed to take a small iPhone movie clip as a memento :-) Apologies for the "one-handed" quality but I've added to illustrate what to plan for at this time of year.

I should add at this point that on just the second night my trip had taken an unexpected twist as I came down with food poisoning after some dodgy mussels for dinner !!. I'm not going into details but whilst others found this particular hotel ok, I found it pretty appalling with the food poisoning, a very small room and an evening and over a day without hot water !! Having been lucky enough to stay in a lot of hotels I always believe it is never the actual problem as more how the hotel management handle it that matters and suffice to say I was very underwhelmed by the responses I got!!. I had planned to stay here for my extra two nights on Skye but thought I would prefer to be able to eat and have a shower !!.. so having missed a day of photography and after a few calls later I arranged to check in to the Cullins Bay Hotel in Portree which overlooks the bay for the extra time. I recommend it totally if you are staying in the area. Rooms, food, staff all much better than my original venue and for the same cost.
So why the extra two nights on Skye? Given the driving distance to Skye and the general weather in November it made sense to improve my odds of getting some good light and extending my stay as long as I could justify. It turned out to be a wise move. The day I had missed due to my unfriendly shellfish had coincided with the worst weather and this meant I would have more flexibility to tackle the two locations I'd been looking forward to most in improving weather.

So having checked in to my new hotel the previous afternoon, my only initial regret was I knew I would miss my breakfast as having checked the forecast for several days I knew that today was to be the day to tackle the Old Man of Storr with the hope of a sunrise. It's 20 minutes north of Portree and I headed for the small but easily found car park just off the A855. Whilst the weather had looked improving, the fact I had followed a gritting lorry up the narrow road in the dark had reminded me that it was only 2 C outside. Though I've done wild camping and plenty of hill walking before, there is still that slight nervousness about climbing up an unknown route on your own with rucksack and headtorch. But I knew I had all the right gear on and headed off. Two things I feel I should flag to anyone else thinking of doing the walk up. It's about 60-80 minutes walk and it seems tougher if you have just had food poisoning and therefore not eaten much for 36 hours !! I took the following image on the way down of course but here is a view showing the route up. The path goes up a steep initial incline from the car park, then through a recently felled woodland area (as seen here) where a solid gravel path has been installed up to the bottom of the steeper rocky ascent after about 3/4 of a mile. Your highest realistic viewpoint is the left hand of the two small bumps just below the clouds in the middle of the image. You can scramble to the top of the high cliffs to the left of the bumps but in these winds it didn't look sensible. This image makes the climb look flatter and shorter than it is.

I should add the path is fairly logical and clear except perhaps for just before this viewpoint. As you climb up the path from the car park, the track levels off and a new path bearing left appears which actually looks newer than the one going right. I took the left hand one and it simply loops around and ends up back on the main path but must add 400-500 yards so I'd recommend to go right here as it's a long enough walk anyway !! In daylight it would be more obvious but in sleety darkness it isn't clear.
Light flurries of snow actually were quite atmospheric as I gained height but the wind was steadily getting stronger and I glanced nervously as the clouds seem to be getting greyer and more dramatic by the minute. Where was the forecast grey skies at 0700-0800am to clearing by 0830-0930 I wondered! As you climb in amongst the Old Man itself and the famous spiked peaks you enter a grassier more level area known as the Sanctuary which rather logically gets you out of the worst of the wind and the mountains around seem to surround you and you start to appreciate what an amazing place you are in. Heading out of it's protection coincided with the snow storm blowing in and at this point there was little point in heading for the summit so tucking myself in behind some rocks just below the high point I actually rather enjoyed the experience as I tucked into a Snickers bar and had a cup of tea !

As I sat there and the very strong winds drove the snow over my head there was something great about realising I had the hill to myself. Bleak and harsh but stunning. I always feel very privileged to be in places like this and having them to yourself certainly adds to the experience. But the modern world is never far away !! As anyone will tell you, mobile phone reception on Skye is pretty patchy as you thread between mountains and drop into river valleys. So here, at 0730am as I sat in the half light in a blizzard the silence was broken by my phone ringing !! It was a call from home. "Oh how's it going? Having breakfast?"... "You're where? Really?" In a blizzard?? Are you mad?" ....
Anyway as I had the phone out I took a quick shot to give me a reminder of the weather though this doesn't really do it justice but I'm showing it so you have an idea what you may be in for (and possibly a lot worse) if heading up there in winter.

It's why it's vital you track the weather forecast and be properly prepared especially if on your own. I have found both in Scotland and Iceland that the norwegian weather site "" is the most reliable I've ever used. You can input specific towns and it gives detailed 30 minute breakdowns. And to be fair it was right on this day but probably 30-60 minutes early as the snow hit me later than expected.
Here's the view at about 0930am..there wasn't much of a sunrise and indeed if there it will swing around in front of and cause problems so in fact I grateful for the dramatic clouds to dampen down the highlights.

Sadly, like all great expeditions we suffered tragic losses! Whilst standing on a small precarious plateau at the top I watched helplessly as an extra strong gust tugged at one of my much-loved german army surplus mittens which was swept over the 100 foot drop in front of me. They had survived Iceland in mid winter, the Cairngorms in deep snow drifts and numerous other expeditions and at only £6 via eBay were easily the best value accessory I've ever bought. I actually traversed the slope below on my way down later in a vain attempt to find it so if anyone finds a large green german tank driver's winter glove you know where to send it !! The other one is getting lonely :-)

As I dropped down the hill the weather suddenly improved but with that the atmosphere also rather disappeared and I would really recommend that it's totally worth making the effort to go up in the dark and hope for good light/sunrise and that way you can also still get back in time for a late breakfast !! Here's an image from a lower viewpoint. It's worth moving around and climbing the various slopes to get a selection of views and perspectives rather than just stay at the more obvious higher locations.

With the sun making an appearance (although the wind didn't let up much) I arrived back at the car and headed back to Portree past Loch Fada but looking back I could see a way to show the Storr in it's environment and the clouds and blue sky gave a very different look. You'll see many shots taken from near the road but I saw another small loch with some reed beds but they involved parking up near the road and heading across the boggy ground for about half a mile. Getting low down and using various filters and graduated and ND filters I tried several things but any shutter speed slower than about 1/4th simply didn't work due to the wind causing too much camera shake no matter how much I weighed down my tripod. I liked the way there was a balance in the colours and shapes of the reed beds and the hillsides as well as the dramatic clouds.

I had not planned my stop by the roadside and by the time I hit Portree it was probably 1pm and again the limited daylight available in November illustrated how, if with limited time, you really need to stick to a timetable if you're determined to see every location on your list ! Next stop Elgol…

ELGOL: A deservedly well loved and well photographed location on the west coast of Skye. Rocky outcrops, pebbly beaches, a dramatic back drop of the Cullin Mountain and weather that in the winter will change very five minutes. The mountains you see are in fact the other side of the ones you see from The Fairy Pools. These are the Black Cullins and include Sgurr Dearg and Skye's highest mountain, Sgurr Alisdair at 3255 feet. Also just across the bay is the island of Soay and off to the southwest the islands of Rhum and Eigg which in November the sun sets behind.
This being my last full day on Skye I had planned for a sunrise shoot before going to Elgol but checking the forecast the night before, I'd half heatedly headed out and after about an hour decided that breakfast was a better bet for once. It turned out to be a good decision as the rain hit the windows as I stared out from my bowl of porridge. However things were looking better for later and it gave me the rest of the day to dedicate to Elgol.
HOT TIP !!: I think everyone concentrates on Elgol as an obvious sunset location but whilst that makes some sense I genuinely think people should use prioritise the tide tables far more. There is a pretty good chance of rough weather in the winter months when a lot of photographers travel to Skye. It can be pretty depressing waiting in heavy drizzle just for a pocket or two of light but, and this is the key, if you can coincide your visit with high tide at the least you can get dramatic shots of the water hitting the best boulders and rocks on the beach at the high water mark and go for all those atmospheric shots. If you get the sunset later you still run the risk it won't hit the mountains in the way you hope or simply dissipates feebly as rather happened on my trip. I knew high tide was at about 1145am. Equally of course it's a lot easier to follow the tide line down the beach rather than have it chase you up it and suffer the usual wet feet etc.
Even doing it this way I missed some shots as I concentrated on certain areas . Here's a couple of examples.
I loved the colours in the bigger foreground rocks and the higher tide gave me a few chances to try different shutter speeds and effect.

Just 10-20 minutes after this the sea had dropped to reveal too much dull foreground and sand and there wasn't really a shot.
Equally a while later I had worked my way several hundreds yard further up the coast (away from the village) and come across the famous round rock known as the JCB (the Joe Cornish Boulder) after the brilliant Yorkshire photographer who put it one of his books. I love Joe's work and this a stunning location and I'm sure very photographer who gets to this (slightly) tricky spot sits and says the same thing, "Why is this rock so bloody round!!" but for me it raises an issue that never really occurs in wildlife photography. Am I just plagiarising JC's work? No Barn Owl ever flies across a field or Cheetah takes a gazelle in the same way as a previous one. But this rock has been sitting here for millennia and whilst the light is always different it leaves a slightly strange feeling as I tried really hard to get a different perspective on it. The main issue here though was that I'd missed high tide and even the biggest wave wouldn't throw water around the base of the rock as I wanted and indeed later, as the tide receded, the view was much too messy with numerous other distractions interfering. Hence my tip of check those tide times to maximise the potential at Elgol.
I sat here about 45 minutes in the end and my patience was rewarded as a heavy shower blew through followed by dappled sunlight which lit up the wonderful textures and colours on the now wet boulder.

One of my favourite shots and again the high water playing a vital part and all adding to the monochrome dramatic feel. I should add I try very hard to get my shots correct in camera and do little post processing so all these shots are as true to the colour and feel that I experienced on the day. I can not see the point of over saturating and dramatising a shot from Elgol when the place is so naturally stunning anyway. (A 1.3 second exposure)

Rare sunlight hits the Cullin peaks to bring a nice sense of perspective.

Moving further up the coast I reached a location where to go further would have involved considerably more scrambling up and over some ridges and with wet rocks and intermittent rain I decided I couldn't really justify it. But there are numerous potential shots here and I noticed a rock gully had been created by a small stream falling off the hills behind me. It gave this lovely effect as the receding waves tumbled off the small cliffs of rock. (A 2.5 second exposure)

For quite a while it looked like I might see my first sunset of the trip! And while by Skye standards it was quite muted I was euphoric to see one at all !! Here the setting sun throws light on the rising clouds as water laps over the jetty.

..and again, as if to give a taste of what is possible, the small cliffs on the beach near the village are bathed in warm light as the setting sun briefly appeared from behind clouds.

….and finally looking towards Rhum from the jetty facing south west.

I'll be honest and say I wouldn't always have put some of these images on a blog as I'm not totally happy with some but anyone who followed the weather that hit the West Of Scotland and the Lake District from early November through to the first week of December will know how the rain and winds were relentless. So I simply wanted to show that even if terrible conditions there are moments that justify the effort involved . (I'll be putting a few tips in my next blog as how to minimise the aggravation in these sort of conditions.)

Elgol was a perfect way to finish my last full day. I felt I'd ticked a few boxes that I was worried I'd be returning home with very much unticked ! Driving back in the pitch dark along the windy 14 mile road to Broadford and trying to avoid the Highland Cattle on the way I was tired but happy. Sometimes having to work really hard to get just get a couple of images one is happy with is more satisfying than the great ones that fall into your lap. By the way the Highland cattle move when THEY want to move not you!

So feeling rather like a (4x4 driving) Arctic Tern in the autumn I started my long journey south the next day !! The first proper snows of winter had fallen on the hills and mountains along the A82 at Glenshiel and with full sunshine (typical !!) the scenery was spectacular. By Glencoe it was back to a mushy grey monotone so I didn't touch the brake pedal and next stop was back to the Lake District and Buttermere once more.
With two nights and about a day and a half to play with I was quietly optimistic. The Weather God's weren't going to let me off that this stage and both sunrises were a struggle but again I got an image I was actually very pleased with. Setting up near the lone tree on the north-westerly end of Buttermere without another photographer in sight my patience was rewarded with 5 minutes where some colour hit the clouds as the sun rose behind and to the left of Fleetwith Pike. I was taken with the connection of colours in the foreground reeds and the clouds.

With the weather closing in again but determined to do Buttermere justice I walked around the lake but the flat light pushed me more towards the abstract !

As I headed for a later lunch than planned I was not to inspired for the afternoon but a healthy ploughman's lunch later and checking the forecast suddenly all bets were off. Much brighter especially a bit further east and even as I was finishing my pint the blue sky was rapidly expanding outside. Of course now chaos reigned as I attempted to narrow my "Possible" list of locations prepared in the days before down to one….and fast !! As I headed out of Buttermere as fast I dared I couldn't resist stopping to taken this classic Lake District scene as the sun really broke through. This is looking back up towards Buttermere from the Braithwaite village end of the long valley between the two.

Pressing on I had chosen Surprise View above the famous Ashness Bridge as my target. A spectacular viewpoint high above Derwentwater. Now this is where knowledge pays. At this late hour in November the sun was by now just too low. A great view but with flat minimal light and no photos worth having for all my rushing around like a lunatic. Last chance !!. I decided to head for one of the most photographed places in the Lakes. Castlerigg Stone Circle. Just a mile from Keswick so I could maybe just get there in time for some fading light given it's high location.
These are the results and ones that, in the non stop roller coaster of emotions that had characterised the whole trip, meant I ended on a smile :-)

An image of the moon rising above the stone circle with some colour on the clouds from the setting sun and a dusting of snow on the hills. There must have been 6-8 other photographers here when I arrived but with the fading light they all moved off which really surprised me as by lengthening my exposure and keeping an eye on my ISO/noise issues I rather liked the effect I was getting. I had to use a hard strong grad to darken the moon and dragged out the shadows in the foreground a lot more the usual in Lightroom but it showed the amazing dynamic range that the D810 does have. ISO 160, 0.4sec, f/11

Strangely I had no other cameras to contend with but 2 or 3 groups arrived with their dogs and sat right in the middle of the stones even though they could see my tripod and camera but they soon moved on as obviously assumed I was a lunatic trying to take images in the dark and I was probably best avoided. Sometimes it helps being 6ft 3 and with 5 days stubble to scare the spectators off :-)

With the sun setting behind me I had to keep turning to watch it. The Lake District had left it's best to the end as gorgeous light transformed the hill tops and sky for the first time on this trip. How to convey that calmness and light? Using my 70-200mm something just clicked for me as I spotted this line of trees with the cloud, the lone tree and the strata of tones. (190mm focal length, 0.4 sec, f/11. iso160)

So it was over. It started with driving rain, huge winds and biblical hailstorms and went downhill from there !! I'm joking but with 2200 miles of driving, food poisoning, one dodgy hotel, forgetting my 16-35mm lens completely (don't ask!), interesting conditions etc , I can honestly say this was the toughest trip mentally I've done as well. But on reflection it was also fascinating, educational and a lot of fun. Would I go to Skye again? Without question. Do things the same next time? Urmmm, after some thoughts here is my personal list of things that may be worth considering if a first time visitor:

1. Maybe go late October (I went 14th November)to slightly improve odds on the weather and get more autumn colour but it's a fairly mute point and November may well mean more water in the rivers so…..
2. Use tide tables for Elgol (and other coastal locations like Talisker) so even if weather is rubbish you can get the most out of it. (Just type "Elgol (or similar) tide times" on a search engine and choose your date and they are self explanatory)
3. A good weather forecast app and a sun/moon position compass are a must.
4. Understand that 4 seasons weather in 30 minutes is the norm on Skye in the winter !
5. Check you've got all your kit and that it works before leaving home. Skye is remote and you won't find a Nikon MB212 co-axial cable for sale in Portree !! Allow some wiggle room for failures.
6. Distances between venues are longer than they look on the map so don't cram too much into one day. Better to really cover a couple of venues well than four badly and the longer you stay at any one place the better chance of that moment of perfect light to appear.
7. As a keen wildlife photographer, I knew Skye had great potential and I had scheduled one of my extra days (maybe more) to track Otters and (with a local guide) Golden Eagles. As one of the best places in Europe for both it's a really attractive option to try and combine both but alas this trip the appalling weather made it unfeasible. But well worth considering if you love both genres as I do.
7. Do lots of "before-trip" homework. Social media, blogs etc especially of course if going on your own or as first timers.
8. Re locations on Skye, the same ones tend to come up regularly but with good reason. The "must-do's" are Elgol, Storr and the Quirrang so if on limited time, work your timetable around those with the two latter being sunrise locations and Elgol more tide/sunset sensitive.

That's it then for my somewhat rambling memories of Skye and the Lake District Novemvber 2015. I hope it has been slightly entertaining and maybe of use to anyone considering a trip to what is a truly magical place. Please feel free to contact me via this website or my Facebook page if you had any questions or thoughts.

(n.b Second blog on the clothing, camera gear and miscellaneous kit I used and how it coped in the appalling conditions is coming soon.)


Photo comment By Jackie Granziera: These beautiful photos only convince me more that I must save and visit. I love those skies and would love to capture one myself . Thank you for sharing and showing your wonderful work/play.
Photo comment By NIgel: Thanks for your kind comments Jackie. I'm glad you liked the blog and hope you can get to Skye one day.
Photo comment By Chris: Great read and photographs given me some thoughts and tips for my visit in the spring, just loved it, thanks.
Photo comment By Nigel: No problem at all Chris. Hope it makes organising your trip that bit easier.
Photo comment By Peter Johnson: Fab blog, and put me in the mood for Scotland again. Been upto Skye a few times but not really photography wise, touring on motorbikes, and like you say it's a big island, surprisingly big the first time you go. Last year a few of us from a local forum decided to do a Scottish trip, after I did a solo trip, and the main reason for that solo one, was to get some shots of the remembrance service at the commando monument at Spean Bridge, talk about goose bumps on goose bumps as the play the last call as the sun goes down, I've never experienced anything like it. I find it very hard not to stop at the monument at Spean Bridge every time I go past. Anyway the Scottish trip seams to be an annual thing which ain't a bad thing, once a year isn't enough in my eyes. Heading upto Fort William in March and can't wait. Last March we decided to go upto Cromarty in time for the Solar eclipse, this made for some unusual scenes, oil rigs, boat yards, waterfalls and was lucky enough to get some passing Dolphins at Chanonry point which was a mega bonus. I feel your loss of your glove :(
Photo comment By Nigel: Thanks Peter. I can imagine a motorbike a great way to tour the Highlands and Skye weather permitting. Glad you enjoyed the blog and enjoy your next trip.

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