Mist, Castle Kilchurn
So I spent most of last week in the west of Scotland with a view to some landscape photography.
I managed to miss the storms that had left trees uprooted, boats overturned and beaches debris strewn.
A walk up through Puck's Glen - dodging the damage to a footbridge - yielded various treasures by way of trunks, leaves and moss, tumbling stream and rocks, as always.
Here's a description of the place on the Walk Highlands website: "Deservedly the most popular short walk in the region, Puck's Glen is a dark and atmospheric defile. A tumbling burn, criss-crossed by bridges, is enclosed by rocky walls heavily hung with mosses and overshadowed by dense trees."
That about nails it, and on one level it is a target-rich environment for photography but I always find it a bit cutesy, somehow.
According to the Forestry Commission the path through the glen was originally constructed by the Younger family at the end of the 19th Century - well, by some of their 40 gardeners, I presume - to lead to a folly on the hill (now in the Benmore Botanic Gardens on the opposite side of the valley).
It is a reminder I suppose that almost everything in the 'wilds' of Scotland is a product of centuries of human intervention.
You could hardly find a more glaring example than on my trip further north in mid-week. I pursued the lonely single-track road through Glen Garry and on to Loch Quoich - reasoning from the map that it should have a good view with a mountainous backdrop. Which it does, though in not very inspiring weather when I got there.
So instead here's an unvarnished truth photo of what makes it a loch, with the largest rockfill type of dam in Scotland:
I have already posted about my gale-blasted washout tour of Skye. It did yield some fairly dramatic images of the frothing water chute variety - but not the mountains I'd intended, which were invisible in the clouds. That cliff waterfall near Kilt Rock is one of the scariest places I have ever been: totally deserted at 7.30 in the morning, with the wind moaning through the safety fence as I leaned over with the camera - a supermarket 'bag for life' (hah!) plastered flat against the railings by the wind and rain providing shelter for the lens . Shudder.
And the weather did perk up eventually. I hugely enjoyed Loch Sunart, with its oak wooded shores, and would want to revisit it when I have more time. The light slanting under the clouds as I returned south via the Lynn of Lorne, silhouetting Castle Stalker, was just fantastic. I made a number of photos of which this is an un-processed sample:
As an aside, though, the local council not only does not facilitate getting a view of this striking 15th Century castle, (made even more famous in the final scene of Monty Python and the Holy Grail), but seems to go out of its way to make it as horrible as possible. You get to this point down a potholed track in the village of Portnacroish that leads to some recycling bins and a disused railway line, alongside a municipal yard containing road mending signs and piles of junk behind a mesh and barbed wire fence. Extraordinary. Contrast this with, say, Eilean Donan at the Kyle of Lochalsh. Most councils would give anything to have such a viewpoint on their patch and lay on signposts, decent access, a car park, visitor centre, tea room and souvenir shop and ... okay, maybe it's better as it is.
I have also contributed a couple of snapshots to the Geograph open source web project, from a walk I made above Loch Eck. Here's one. This is a really useful resource which I found myself turning up time and again when trying to pin down locations in which I'd been making photos. The GPS data from my Nikon natively opens from Lightroom in Google Maps, which I presume is just a default browser response - but those maps are greatly lacking in place names outside urban areas.
Geograph "aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland". So my last photos from the week would be quite useless....
I woke early on Friday and peered out to find the weather forecast had been spot on: fog. I headed up Loch Eck to find some brilliant mist-shrouded reflections of the wooded shores in the completely still water. Further on, past fishing grey herons on the shores of Loch Fyne, another favourite location was quite invisible to begin with. I pulled on my wellies and tramped over the boggy ground to the shore of Loch Awe and could just discern the outline of Castle Kilchurn emerging from the whiteness as the sun began to climb.
I made merry, although a few potential images were marred by the detritus of (sleeping) camping anglers who'd left rods and racks and wading boots strewn along the edge of the loch.
I was conscious of the debate I'd been reading only the previous night on pages printed off from the highly recommended Great British Landscapes site.
In an article (full version requires subscription), photographer Julian Barkway had kicked off a debate about the "wow" factor - you know, over-saturated landcapes and the "awesome capture!" school of Flickr commentary. Julian cited among other examples of images that he admired, at the other extreme, the Mist series by Swiss fine-art photographer Christian Vogt.
"Not so much low contrast as practically no contrast – just shades of pale grey," he wrote.
"I remember being utterly captivated by the emptiness of these images and how brilliantly executed they were."
His article has prompted a lot of responses. In one, Philip Eaglesfield put himself resolutely "in the disagree camp".
He added: "I expect to be logged on in a couple of years absorbing a piece about how everyone is lazily and slavishly knocking out derivative versions of the close-ups of Nanven’s boulders, Vogt’s blank mist images and the reflected twigs which currently excite you."
Oh dear, and here was I the very next morning after reading this, knocking out twigs in the mist. Slavishly derivative? No, officer, I just got out of the car and there it was, honest.
In fact as Julian has subsequently been pointing out, he was not arguing for or against any particular style of photography, but for an honest engagement with the landscape. Well, I certainly felt that on Friday in the breathless mist. A great end to the week.