Friday, September 13, 2013

Scotland Day 6 - A titanic battle at Glen Affric

Woke up nice and early to yet another morning of wind and rain, so quickly had some coffee then I was north bound to loch ness.

Within an hours drive the rain had stopped and the sun was shining away like it had never been gone. Once at the southern end of the loch, (a loch which, as you may be aware, contains more fresh water than all of the lakes and reservoirs in England and Wales combined) I took the smaller of the two roads that follows its length, and headed up the eastern side, which brought me up high into the surrounding landscape.

I first stopped at the little Loch Tarff, which had a delightful island in it and was looking lovely in the morning sun. So I set up thinking this would be a straight forward exercise, as even if the sun did go in when it saw me unpack my apparatus, as it surely would, it’d soon be back out again, thanks to the speed the clouds were being transported in the brisk wind.

So as with the usual accordance, once I had set up, the sun duly disappeared, but I wasn’t at all concerned as it would surely be back without haste. It wasn't. I stood on that mound overlooking the loch for about 25 minutes. Which doesn't seem very long, but when the wind is blowing around you in gale force strength, and threatening not just to topple the camera, but is brutally ruffling your very self, 25 minutes can seem an interminably long time.

Loch Tarff and its perfect little island.

After bravely enduring the ferocious typhoon that threatened to rip apart the very ground I was stood upon, the sun finally showed up, albeit briefly, and I got a picture. But to rub it in, once I was packed up, it appeared in glorious abundance, as though it never had any intention of leaving again. It’s meagre warmth mocking me as I traipsed back to the car.

It can't be coincidence surely, that whenever I show up the sun goes in, and whenever I pack up, it comes out, not the other way around. I'm not one for believing in the divine, or fate or destiny or karma or kismet or horoscopes or lucky charms or fortune telling or even fortune cookies. But sometimes even I think there may be a higher power at work, and without realising it, I must have royally pissed it off.

Next up was a stop along the highest point of the road, for a viewpoint to the Monadhliath Mountains. Of course the usual happened, but in this case I did give up in the end, as it was very cold and the wind was merciless. 

I took a picture anyway, as I liked the scene with the fence running through it.

After meeting up with the loch and carrying on North, I sauntered into Inverness which seemed like a fine town, had a bit of a poke about, got a sandwich, then headed down the west side of the loch to Drumnadrochit, where I took the road to Glen Affric. 

Described by many as one of Scotland’s most beautiful glens, it contains one of the largest ancient Caledonian pinewoods in the country, as well as lochs, moorland and mountains. But before I made it into the glen proper, I branched off to Plodda Falls, the picturesque 46 metre high waterfall that is reached through a forest of magnificent Douglas firs planted at the end of the 19th century by Lord Tweedmouth.

Not sure what sort of plant this is, But well done to it anyway.

On the way there I was waylaid by a picturesque old barn, fronted with a thick belt of pink flowers which proved to be too much to resist. Once at the small deserted carpark, I walked to the top of the falls for a view from the recently constructed gantry. Looking down I was quite surprised, it seemed a lot higher than I imagined forty six metres to be, insomuch as I had imagined it at all.

It certainly was impressive, I had also planned to take the longer track to the base of the falls, but I was distracted by the abundant flora that carpeted the ground, it really was a beautiful place. Then it started to rain, and as I didn’t have my raincoat with me I headed back to the car. Plus it was incredibly humid and the midges were playing merry havoc about my head in that delightful way they have.

Looking down from the top. The falls themselves are just out
of shot at the bottom of the picture, I couldn't get them in.

I returned along the gravel track and then took the turning to Glen Affric, by now the rain was pelting the car from skies as white as lead, and continued to do so as I followed the picturesque lane that meanders into the glen. Once parked up where the road ends, I waited and hoped it would at least ease off a bit.

A shot of the woodland floor at Plodda Falls, which was carpeted in plants.

My hopes were duly rewarded, perhaps whoever it was giving me a hard time with the sun was feeling a tad ashamed of themselves? So I fished out my gear and made my way up the muddy path to higher ground. The view up there was stunning, with the clouds over Loch Affric looking dramatic and the sunshine lighting up the heather, it was one of the finest views I had seen all week.

A group of mushrooms climbing up a tree root, captured on the way to the falls.

So needless to say, I was in somewhat of a rush to get set up lest the light should bugger off again. This time however it didn’t, it seemed whatever was toying with me had upped the stakes, and I found that, instead of just having to wait for the elements to perform, I was in a remorseless battle with them!

I was shooting into the sun and into the rain, and the wind was just savage. No sooner had I focused the shot than I found the front of the lens covered in rain drops, and of course every time I wiped off the rain, it pushed the focus out. With a tissue in one hand, to wipe off the water, and a lens cloth in the other, to wipe off the smears, while simultaneously trying to stop the tripod from blowing over, not to mention actually taking the shot, I was kept pretty busy.

In the end I gave up on the tripod as I was losing the battle with the rain, which was not only getting heavier, but was being buffeted this way and that by the terrific gale. Tripods are great for landscape photography, as they force you to take time in composing the shot, and discourage random ‘snapping’. But in this case I was locked in fearsome combat with the environment, and I needed speed on my side so I could outwit my antagoniser, that wily old goat.

So with the stealth and agility I’m universally acclaimed for, I crouched low with my back to the worst of the weather, holding the camera close, like a prize porker at a county show. Then with a lightening burst of speed I spun round to confront my opponent, raised the camera to my snarling face, and fired off three shots (for I was having to bracket my exposure). Bang! Bang! Bang! Roared the shutter as my persecutor terrorised me with body blows of howling fury.

As soon as the deed was done, I whirled back around, my coat tails cracking the charged air as they swiftly followed my lithe movements. And I set speedily to work on my camera, with cloth and tissue working in practiced harmony. Once my trusty apparatus was returned to working parameters, I bellowed to the sky and without hesitation, charged into to the fray, and yet again, battle was joined! Kapla!!

This ceaseless struggle continued for some time, until the flickering sun was no match for the broiling mass of clouds that had amassed about it, and I was forced to lay down my gear and struggle back to the car to regroup. As I sat there in my wet jeans, one of the casualties from that hellish struggle, I could only hope that, perhaps, just perhaps, I’d managed to outfox my oppressor, and this time, I would return home with the spoils of war.

The view into Glen Affric, with Loch Affric in the middle distance. This was a hard won shot.

After breaking out a well deserved coffee, I returned back to the way I had arrived and joined the main road south. By this time the weather had improved slightly and there was a bit of colour in the clouds from the setting sun. But the only place I could find to stop was a rather badly situated parking bay overlooking Loch Ness, which didn’t afford much in the way of views, and to be fair there wasn’t much to see anyway, plus it was home to an overwhelming stench of piss, so I didn’t say long.

A view looking the other way, out the glen.

By the time I got back to Glen Coe it was getting on for ten, and there was no way I was going to start work on an evening meal. So I stopped at the Glencoe Gathering again and made the most if a very decent fish and chips, before heading back to the campsite, for the last time.


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