Waterfalls, Wellies and Whisky - Jay Birmingham

Waterfalls, Wellies and Whisky

In February 2018, my wife and I spent a week in Glencoe surrounded by crisp snow, and with the winter sunshine creating patterns in the sky. We returned a year later, to discover a very different landscape! Almost all the snow had melted, and the rain was beating down, causing the rivers to swell. This was the theme for the week, so we put the avalanche probe, crampons and ice axes that we’d optimistically packed to one side, and donned our wellington boots and full waterproofs and set off to check out the rivers.

The first stop was the Clachaig Falls (handily located by the Clachaig Inn, where we had our first haggis of the week!). The water was rushing past us, and with the drizzle and spray from the water it was quite hard to capture anything.

We then headed to a part of the River Coe where the water twists and turns through a tight valley  beneath the towering Three Sisters, which are some of the most impressive mountains in Glencoe. After taking a few shots at this location, we decided that we should take the compulsory cliché shot of the waterfall at the foot of Buachaille Etive Mòr.

Unfortunately, the next day was a bit of a washout - so we went shopping in Fort William. We did, however, briefly visit 'The Cauldron' near the Kings Hotel at sunset.

The following day, we headed to Glen Etive. We had a close encounter with a stag and several does, which was very special, and as the stag lumbered towards me, I lay down in the road to take this photograph. Fortunately, the roads in Glen Etive are fairly quiet, so no cars came the single-track road as I was doing this!

We scouted out a location by Lochan Urr, to return (hopefully) when it wasn’t raining, and then went to look at the ‘Crack of Dawn’ – a waterfall on the River Etive. We carefully clambered down the wet rocks to look at the river, as it blasted its way down the valley. It was unnerving to see the power of the water – as the rain had been so heavy the levels were high, and there was a good chance if anyone fell in there that they wouldn’t come out again. At this point, there seemed to be water running down everywhere!

On Tuesday, we went to Lochan na Stainge, hoping to catch a good sunrise. It was pretty overcast, so we took some moody shots, and then went to Glencoe Lochan. As it was raining, we thought it might be slightly more sheltered if we went for a walk in the forest. The drizzle continued for the rest of the day, so we popped back to look at the River Etive, and then called it a day.

We had some extremely heavy rain on Wednesday, so we went to find a different forest – Leanachan Forest is just past Fort William, and usually is a ski resort. Waterskis would have been more appropriate on that particular day, but it is a beautiful place (although slightly tricky to work out which paths it is ok to walk on, and which ones have mountain bikes hurtling down at breakneck speeds!). We then went to see the newly refurbished Kingswood Hotel, on Rannoch Moor. There are roaring fires, and very nice bar food, with views of rivers, mountains and deer through the large windows.

The next day, we were forecasted some sunshine, so we excitedly made plans for places to visit. For sunrise, we visited Glencoe Lochan. On the way, I stopped for a minute to take a quick shot of the mist over Loch Leven. It was a beautiful, still morning, and I watched the mist slowly creep towards me across the water, giving the island a bit of contrast.

This mist was quite something, and we set off to see Kilchurn Castle (about an hour away), as it seemed like these conditions would be perfect. Sadly, just as we arrived, it started raining again. However, we were getting used to this, so we set up umbrellas and tried to take some photos. The drizzle made long exposures almost impossible though!

We decided to go back to Glen Etive, and had a wonderful reward – the deer were out again, and came very close to us. It is unusual in wildlife photography to try and get further away from the animals, but I thought the stag might want to eat my camera!

We went on down to Lochan Urr, where we had scoped out in the rain, and it was amazing. We had to crawl through a lot of undergrowth to get to this spot, but the mist was dancing over the nearby forest. We had the whole place to ourselves, and the water was so still. It was one of those moments that you just want to freeze in time and experience forever. However, there were other places to visit, so we went to Lochan nah-Aclaise, to take long exposures as it wasn’t raining!

We ended the day back at The Cauldron. The water levels had gone down and it was an opportunity to get down low right next to the waterfall.

On the Friday; the last full day in Glencoe, we went to Glen Etive yet again. The water levels had gone down considerably, so we wanted to see some more rocks in the water.

We spotted some kayakers coming down the river, so took photos of them on Triple Step, and the Crack of Dawn (which was much lower than a few days ago, and looked a lot safer!). They were obviously having a good day out, and it was good to have some action to photograph on the beautiful landscape.

I had seen a fishing hut on the River Coupall, and thought I might be able to take a dramatic photograph of it, with the Buchaille towering behind it. I soon realised that either I couldn’t stand where I wanted to, or I would need to get a little wet to do so. Obviously, I chose to wade into the river, and was thigh deep in the cold water! Unfortunately, I didn’t really get the shots I had envisaged, but it did give my wife a good laugh!

We then went to Castle Stalker for sunset, which wasn’t colourful, but it is an imposing place to go to, and is everything that a castle should be – brooding, isolated and surrounded by water.

Glencoe Lochan gave us our last sunrise in Scotland, and was briefly colourful. We were at one of the jetties, which gives a lovely view of the Pap of Glencoe.

We had decided to stay the next night in the Lake District, and so drove to Keswick. Sunset looked very promising until about two hours before when – yep, you guessed it, it started raining! We were near Friar’s Crag, and considered leaving, but thought we would just wait until the sun had set, when suddenly the clouds lit up! I raced down to the shore and took a few snaps before darkness came.

The forecast the next day was for mist – pretty much all over the country. We hoped for a cloud inversion so set the alarm for 5, as we intended to climb Cat Bells, to look out over Derwentwater. However, when we arrived at the lake, the mist wasn’t over it. We had to decide whether to stay, and see what happened, or go somewhere else. As we had got up so early, we had time to drive over to Buttermere, where at least I knew of a nice composition I had shot over the Christmas holidays. As we arrived near the village, we were greeted by a cloud inversion that was quickly lifting. We arrived at the lonely tree, to find it starkly standing in front of thick mist. After a while, we could make out the silhouettes of the mountains that tower over the lake, and then the fierce sun started to show through the mist. It truly was lovely – perfect conditions, and we had a wonderful time taking in all the gorgeous scenery and enjoying the fresh promise of the day to come.

We may not have had the weather we had hoped for, with the snow being very absent, but I came away with some shots I was pleased with and most importantly - we had fun!

Buttermere Dawn
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