Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Scotland Day 2 - Etive Mor

Woke up to thick mist and dull, weighty clouds so there was to be no sunrise shoot that morning. Fine, OK, I forgot to set my alarm and didn’t wake up until 7.30, by which time it was indeed rather grey. What it was like at sunrise I have no idea, but to ease my mind, I’ll say it was rubbish.

I feasted on oat biscuits and peanut cookies, as I’d forgotten to buy any milk for cereal, and made a flask of (black) coffee for my day ahead. After loading up the car, I headed to Signal Rock with a view to doing some forest walking, as it was so overcast. But as I was contemplating doing just that, I noticed a bit of light on the distant hills, and not one to let such an event go to waste, I made directly to Etive Mor.

When I got there the clouds were starting to disperse, but low hanging remnants still curled around the mountains, which looked a treat. I got some pictures of the iconic Buachaille Etive Mòr, meaning ‘the great herdsman of Etive’, that marks the junction of the beginning of Glen Coe to the west and Glen Etive to the south.

The peak of Stob Dearg rising through the clouds

The mountain itself is in the form of a ridge 8 km in length, and comprises of four tops, with the foremost being Stob Dearg. Its distinctive conical shape, making it the most recognisable and photographed mountain in Scotland. I also got a few shots looking down Etive Mor with its mountain sentries.

Looking into Etive Mor with Meall a' Bhùiridh on the left and Buachaille Etive Mòr on the right.

I then took the road into Glen Etive itself, a single track byway that meanders 14 miles to the head of Loch Etive, where it ends. As I chugged along and left the noise of the A82 traffic behind, I had a sense that I was somewhere very special and could quite happily spend the day there.

My first stop was near the River Etive, where I precariously made my way down to the water. Trying not to step in any of the pools or streams, deftly camouflaged in this marshy land by the long grass that covers everything. In an attempt to get a photo of the fields beyond in the mid morning sunlight. 

Looking across the landscape to the ranges beyond.

I returned to the car without incident, using my tripod to help me navigate around the icy pools hidden from view. I had planned to mark on the map where I had been for future reference, as it’s easy to forget after a while. But I realised I’d forgotten my pen, so I had a cup of coffee instead.

I stopped further along the road where the river was now lined with large angular boulders of differing hues, and made ready to venture down the precipitous bank via a semi-formed path I had discovered. Before I could get going though, a couple appeared behind me, and noticing my camera, mentioned I should go down the way they had ascended, as I could get some great pictures.

So, turning my back on the path, I instead pushed headlong through the tall grass, with a cheery wave, and, with what turned out to be, inappropriate sprightliness. I probably got about 10 yards before I felt my right foot lose purchase and go calf deep into a hidden pool.

I was just about to mutter ‘oh bollocks’ but before I knew it, my balance went completely and I pitched straight over, into what turned out to be a small stream concealed under the abundant turf.

I struggled furiously to extricate myself from the undergrowth, like a floundering haddock on the deck of a ship, and as I tumbled and wallowed about in the brackish water I realised my camera bag had gone for a burton as well, so I was desperate to get that clear before the contents were compromised.

Eventually I muddled my way out, soaked to the skin on my right hand side, but thankfully, apart from a film of moisture on some non essential pieces, my camera was ok.

Luckily the couple who had given me such sage directions were no longer in sight, so my shame at being bested so easily by nature was known only to me. Thankfully I had my walking boots on the car and, unusually, I had the rare forethought to pack extra socks for the trip in case of such an incident. It certainly wasn’t my first dunking, and I doubt it’ll be the last. But, and as is more usual for me, I had forgotten to put them in the car before I left that morning.

So I soggily pressed on anyway and got down to the river to take a few shots. I thought at this stage it might be prudent to see what I could get dry, so I disrobed as far as modesty would permit and then stood around hoping at least my trousers would dry, so I wouldn’t have a damp car seat for the rest of the week.

The river Etive and a very dead tree.

After an hour or so, standing there contemplating the thought of putting my wet shoe and sock back on, as they were never going to dry in the weak, intermittent sun. With the chilly breeze dancing around my wet buttock, I was cuffed about the back of the head with the realisation that I have to be the most incompetent person I know. If there is a way I can make my life more difficult, it seems I will find it.

With that disagreeable thought ranging around my mind, I headed back to the car. My return journey was uneventful and I realised with resignation, when I got back, that I had used the path I’d originally selected, and then ignored, to begin with.

I never did see anyone else while I was there, so I could have gone au naturel, but I didn't want to be responsible for ruining someone's holiday, or their sunny disposition to life in general for that matter, so it was probably for the best I kept decent.

Heading further into the glen, I stopped a couple more times in suitable places, and when the sun made an appearance, to grab a few more shots, before driving through Loch Etive Forest and pulling over for a splendid view of Stob Dubh with Lochan Urr resting gently beneath it.

Stob Dubh, which is one of two peaks on the Buachaille Etive Beag ('Small Shepherd of Glen Etive') mountain, is another exceedingly picturesque viewpoint, and second only to Stob Dearg in its handsomeness I believe. 

The peak of Stob Dubh and Lochan Urr beneath

When I showed up, the light was looking nice, and I managed to get a couple of shots, but then it quickly clouded over, so I decided to wait a for the sun to re-appear and light up the little islands on the loch and foreground, which would really make the photo.

An hour and a half later and still no luck. In the mean time, to alleviate the growing boredom, I’d had many cups of coffee and a tin of ravioli for lunch. But thanks to my general cloddishness, I had neglected to bring a saucepan, bowl or fork with me, so I could neither heat it up nor eat it like a gentleman. I was reduced to slurping it straight out the tin, which is not as easy as it sounds.

For the second time that day I was very glad that the place was so devoid of other people. The disheartening sight, not to say sound, of someone gobbling cold ravioli out of a can, whilst irately muttering to themselves, should not be underestimated. And again, for the second time that day, I was, thankfully, alone with my shame.

Before giving up completely, as there is only so long I can stand around waiting for a shot, I turned to my left and caught the three peaks, that along with Stob Dearg, complete Buachaille Etive Mòr,

From left to right - Stob na Broige, Stob Coire Altruim and Stob na Doire

I then drove onwards through Glen Etive Forest, a massive pine forest that is in the process of being logged, to the end of the road at Loch Etive. By this time the weather was greyer than a fifteen year old pair of Y-fronts. So with nothing better to do, I decided to dry out my sock, I was sick of having a wet foot. After blasting the car heater on it for 10 minutes until it was acceptably dry and I had a car that smelt of a Turkish prison, I popped it back on and changed into my walking boots. Which felt very good indeed.

I took a stroll/stumble over the rocky shore to have a look at the logging jetty, with a mind to head round the curve of the bay, as the view was looking a bit more clement in the distance. But it was taking so long to navigate the stony ground, plus the day was getting on a bit and it would soon be sunset, that I decided against it.

Looking along the rocky shore of Loch Etive

On the drive back I happened across a very characterful shed which looked ridiculously lovely in the early evening sun. I jumped out the car to get a shot before the sun disappeared, but I had the wide angle lens on. So I fired off one, then quickly went to change lenses, and wouldn't you know it, the sun buggered off. I waited around for 20 minutes or so but it never came back. Very frustrating. 

This is the light I wanted.
And this is the view I wanted, but the two never did come together.
After a very pleasant drive back through the glen, I saw the light was striking the side of Beinn a Chrulaiste with aplombe. So got a few pictures of that and of the sun peeking from behind the right hand side of Buachaille Etive Mor, highlighting the grassland in front of me. 

Beinn a Chrulaiste in the evening sun
The sun creeps behind Buachaille Etive Mor, before disappearing behind the clouds.

By this time the sunset should have been in full swing but there was a great bank of cloud on the horizon which meant I'd seen the last of the sun for the day. So there was nothing else for it but to head back to the campsite and have pasta and spam for tea again. While the midges, which had been very well behaved so far, did their best to crawl into my eyes and hair.

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