South West Highlands
9th – 11th September 2017
I was in Scotland completing an assignment for Scottish based shop Tiso and climbing and outdoor brand Mammut, where I’d spent a day and 2 nights climbing in the Cairngorms National Park. I decided that rather than heading back down South after completing the job I’d embark on a solo road trip around some of the Southern Highlands best sights.
Occupying the very top of my to-do list was to catch the steam train at Glenfinnan Viaduct, somewhere I’d been wanting to go for a few years, and one that I knew would photography well, although getting there in time to get a train in the shot proved to be a little more of an ordeal than initially expected. As it was the very end of summer, and the Fort William – Mallaig steam train had stopped its afternoon service, meaning that I had to be in location at the viaduct for 10AM. And so it was long before sunrise, at around 6am, that I found myself leaving my Airbnb in Glen Clova, Cairngorms and making the 3 and half hour journey West, hoping to make it in time for the train.
Luckily I was travelling early enough that the roads were clear, and I made good time on my journey West, hitting Fort William at around 9.30, and onto Glenfinnan for my 10am goal. Leaving the car in the car park, I headed upwards to scout the ground for an area to shoot from. The walk up there was short, and I found myself with plenty of time to spend chatting to the people around me as we all anxiously awaited the train’s arrival. And it was around 45 minutes later that we first heard the distant scream of the engine’s whistle, followed by the rhythmic chugging of the engine as it approached. From here it was all systems go, as all small talk around as died down and everyone set to the task at hand. And before we knew it, it was over – in a little over a minute the train was past us and continuing its journey north.
Returning back to the car on what was set to be a surprising sunny day in Scotland I headed back into Fort William, picking up a few supplies before heading south – beginning my long journey home. It was a little after midday that I reached the familiar hills of Glen Coe, somewhere I’ve visited and shot a number of times, but usually only on a flying visit whilst passing through northwards. After taking a couple of hours to travel the few miles through Glen Coe, I turned off the main road heading down into the wild Glen Etive. Again it was really nice to be able to travel at my own pacing, stopping the car and taking a stroll when and wherever I wished.
As the sun was dipping low in the sky and the valley being filled with warm yellow light, I began looking for somewhere to camp for the night. With rain forecast to start some point during the night and likely to relent through till the following evening I was careful when select my spot to camp. Importantly I wanted to be close to the car/road, and also on elevated ground – the Glen Etive valley is a huge drainage basin for the surrounding mountains and I sure didn’t want to be in the path of any water making its way down. I found my ideal spot and after setting up the tent spent the evening relaxing and reading beneath the stars.
The rain began at some point during the night, a long time after I’d fallen asleep, but still some time before sunrise. It began lightly but slowly picked up into a constant repetitive drumming all around me. Morning came and I roused myself from my sleep, packing up all my gear into my bag before packing down my tent in record time and getting into the dry sanctuary of the car. The rain of the last 12 hours had brought gallons of water down off the mountains, turning the river into a torrent of white water. The road was lined with empty cars and vans; the transport of kayakers who’d come out to try their luck against the river’s rapids. I passed by them heading up to Glen Coe, into the moody mist that hung a few hundred feet above.
After pausing in Glen Coe to revise my plan for the day – as rain was forecast all day and night – I continued south, getting to the Green Welly Rest stop mid morning. I diverted from my route south here, heading 10 miles off course to Kilchurn Castle, another location I’d seen a lot before but had never visited. Located on the edge of a large loch, it has a spectacular backdrop of mountains, although today they were shrouded in a layer of cloud.
My final destination for the day was Bracklinn Falls, much further south on the edge of the Trossachs. The rain still relented and I made a very brief visit down to the huge falls. A Swiss-style bridge spanned the gorge above the falls, and following the rain of the last day the falls were roaring with a deafening sound.
I returned to the car and spent a little time trying to decide the best place to go and stay for the night. Having driven further south, it felt much more populated and the potential for while camp areas fewer. I opted to drive South West, back into the National Park hoping to find a location suitable before nightfall. The rain was still falling heavily as I eventually diverted off of the narrow road into a wooded car park, where I opt to abandon the idea of staying in the tent, instead settling in for a night in the car ahead of the long drive back to the Midlands the following day