I’m currently watching the Winter Olympics and it’s reminded me that I’m fairly obsessed with ice. Ice is fascinating, especially the structures and patterns it naturally creates – see below, from a froze-toes morning on Rannoch Moor in the Highlands of Scotland at the beginning of winter. Landscape photography – particularly going out in the dark and waiting with tripod as the sun comes up – is my way of finding peace and breathing space; these photos are from a week of landscapes on a photographers’ course in November. Thanks to trip leader Garry Brannigan, the travelling-in-the-dark part of each day is taken care of, and he knows his way around which locations will work best with any given set of weather conditions. Our party stayed at the Bridge of Orchy hotel, a brilliant base which really feels like the last outpost of civilisation for a while, as the road starts to climb up to Rannoch Moor and Glencoe beyond. Sticking to just the local area of Glencoe, Glen Etive and Glen Orchy, you’d be amazed at the variety of landscape opportunities from the huge mountainous views down to woodland, waterfalls and lichen.
Let me begin with a very unusual sunrise on a frozen Rannoch Moor – unusual in that, this forsaken, boggy, wild place is rarely without an icy wind ripping through. We all made the most of a very beautifully still morning to capture some of the colours and details; I was lying on my front with a macro lens eventually, because I was so taken with the ice patterns…
This was the view over Loch Ba once the sun had risen.
We headed over to Eas Urchaidh falls in Glen Orchy after breakfast. The rocks out to this view are slippery and treacherous, but for one brief moment the sun lit the hills and made the picture below. Further along the river, a group of kayakers took on a white water section as low winter sunshine warmed the glen.
A grey day of drizzle does wonders, funnily enough, for woodland details and vibrant colours springing to life. There’s always something to be noticed, even when the rain sets in.
Loch Tulla was a short drive beyond the hotel, and we visited at a time when the loch was a perfect mirror for the trees at its edges.
This weather is exactly what I’d hoped for – heartbreakingly beautiful, relentless drizzle and low hanging Scotch mist. It’s what I had in my head, and the image below is one of my favourites. The view is of Stob a’Ghlais Choire across the River Coupall.
We spent some time exploring the area along this forest track beyond Glencoe village (the picture above looking towards Bidean nam Bian), and I found a world in miniature amongst abandoned quarry stones – tiny pines finding a place to grow; metallic colours in the stone given a new vibrancy in the soaking; little lichens finding a home on the rough-sawn end of a trunk.
Another morning at Loch Ba, arriving in the dark and waiting for the light to arrive, resulted in a completely different feel to the first time we’d visited. There’s a world beneath your feet as you tread across the Rannoch Moor wilderness – tiny spongy mosses and lichens hidden beneath the tough winter grasses and dormant heathery twigs.
The distinct cone of Buchaille Etive Mor is recognisable to many. These little falls are a mecca for photographers, enough to warrant the nickname of Tripod Falls!… It was a grey, wet day with a lot of wiping raindrops off the filters, and nothing at all happening in the sky, so this image seemed to suit a monochrome treatment.
Another chilly morning before dawn and as we drove up the high road towards Rannoch Moor, we were met with more snow than we’d been treated to before. The terrain to get down to Lochan na h-Achlaise is tricky going, with lots of boggy areas to negotiate, but it was worth the walk to capture the view towards Black Mount with the hint of a gentlest pink in the sky.
Below is the Bridge of Orchy hotel and the snow gates which signal the start of the climb to the moor – the road had to be closed shortly after we’d stayed, and has been several times since over the winter.
We were treated to beautiful sunlight on this different and well-known angle of Buachaille Etive Mòr, the gatekeeper to Glen Coe proper, with the famous Three Sisters beyond. It really is a breathtaking mountain.
Our final sunset was back on Rannoch Moor waiting for colours that didn’t come – but there was a large snow cloud approaching, and once I’d captured the row of defiant silver birches guarding the river edge, it was time for our group to make a hasty retreat!
The morning of departure gave me this view from my hotel room; the bridge that gives the village its name, with a sugar-coating of snow that made for a memorable journey driving south, while Spotify chose to shuffle Big Country singing “…but I can live and breathe and see the sun in wintertime” in my car – classic.
Before I finish the post, I have to tell you about my fantastic hotel bases – on the way up, a stop at Tebay Services Hotel that I can’t recommend highly enough! Right on the M6 but completely peaceful, superbly designed with contributions from local craftspeople, and an excellent farm breakfast.
Check out the beautiful touches in my Tebay hotel room!
And this cabin-style room at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel, looking out to the hills, river and bridge, was a wonderfully comfortable base for the week. Plus, the restaurant meals are SO good! I hope to be back some day. Big thanks to Garry for his guidance and excellent advice in leading the trip, and also to my fellow adventurers Ingrid, Richard, Iain and Howard for being such fun company!