The Frozen North - Jay Birmingham

The Frozen North

Last week, we drove north to find stunning snowcapped mountains in Glencoe. This really is a photographer’s paradise, so it is difficult to decide where to go!

During the week, we visited Glencoe Lochan a few times, and saw an eerie mist over completely still water one evening. When we visited last summer, it was a very hot day, but the weather was damp and cold this time, and the mist rose from the water silently. It was quite something to behold. Glencoe Lochan itself has an interesting history, as it was landscaped to look like Canadian scenery by the Earl of Strachona, who had a Canadian wife. This was to ease her homesickness!

We were captivated by Buachaille Etive Mor, which looms over Glencoe. At 3,350 feet, it is a monster of a mountain, and in the snow, looks quite unassailable. We photographed it at sunset by the waterfalls on the road to Glen Etive (along with lots of other photographers – this is the ‘classic’ shot of Glencoe), over frozen rivers in the morning light, and any chance we got!

On our first morning there, the weather looked promising,  so we dusted off our ice axes and went up Beinn a’ Chrulaiste, which was an absolutely fantastic mountain day. The sun was shining on us, and there wasn’t even a breath of wind. It was lovely to be in the snow, and the views were stunning… particularly of The Buchaille! The summit was so quiet – it is sometimes a relief to be able to just stand in awe of what is in front of you and hear absolute silence. It was certainly a special day on the hill.

For some of the sunrises during the week, we headed to Rannoch Moor and some of the lochs there - Loch Ba, Lochan na Stainge and Lochan na h-Achlaise.  There were still large parts of the lochs frozen, and the ice reflected the beautiful pink hues of sunrise.  You certainly need warm clothing when you are stood still for a length of time at -4.5 degrees!

We also zipped up to Fort William for a sunrise. It’s a cool town at the very start of the Caledonian Canal - Thomas Telford’s masterpiece that runs across the length of Scotland. Very popular with cyclists and kayakers, and we paddled its length a few years ago. However, this trip wasn’t for paddling and we were there to photograph an old boat in Corpach. The sunrise was quite shy and mainly hiding behind the clouds, but with the backdrop being Ben Nevis in winter, we couldn’t complain. We also found a little jetty on Loch Linnhe on the way back to Glencoe, which made for some foreground interest against the hills on the skyline.

Castle Stalker is another impressive construction near Glencoe. It is on an island, and is originally thought to have belonged to the Macdougalls. We visited last summer, and it rained torrentially, so all we got were moody shots. We thought we would try this time for a sunrise to see if we could view some pink in the sky over the castle, but it was minimal. On our last evening, we thought we would give it one final go for sunset, and we were not disappointed at all. The sky lit up, and red and pink colours swirled above us. It was rather cold, and Loch Linnhe was lapping around our feet, but this only dampened our socks, and not our spirits, as this was a stunning sunset to watch, and nice to finally have some cool skies around Castle Stalker.

We also tried our hand at waterfall photography – Clachaig Falls are nice (and conveniently located by an amazing pub – the Clachiag Inn), and we also found some harder to spot falls with the Three Sisters in the background. We had to get there via a strange route (you can’t walk down the A82 as there are some bends where the cars wouldn’t see you) so we started off near the Lost Valley (where the Jacobites hid after the massacre of 13/02/1692) and clambered down to some incredibly clear water with crisp views of the snow capped hills.

Alas, it was time to come home. The annoying part was that for the entire 7 hour journey home, the weather was stunning - how nice it would have been to be in the mountains! Still, I feel we were lucky for the weather we got whilst we were there, and there is always next year!

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