002 - Fairies, mountains and cows
This year was my third year on the spin heading to the highlands and the Isle of Skye for my holidays. Skye has a huge part of my heart, I have now been here five times, and will hopefully be back in 2020. Its where the McLeod clan begun, and its where some of my family from the McLeod side were from, you have to head to the next islands for where the rest were from… (Harris… another to visit again)
But back to Skye, why do I love it so much (other than the above and feeling like I’m home every time I’m there) Well it’s a photographer’s paradise, no matter what the weather the scenery is just incredible. Easily the best in the United Kingdom for me, and if I’m honest there aren’t many places in the world that are as picturesque as Skye. Not only have you got the scenery, you have the amazing wildlife. My first trip of the last 3 I had a golden eagle land on a fence post right beside the road as I was driving along!!! My camera wasn’t to hand but to just sit there and look at this amazing bird, the one you always think is so cool when you’re a kid (trust me, its just as cool as an adult!) was just out of this world. This year it was the sea eagles that mesmerised me, and got me into a sticky situation, more later. There are also the cows, the highland cows, the king and queen of cows. Ok not wildlife, but the fact that they wander along the roads make them wildlife for me. Such cool, majestic beasties.
I had to take a hire car this year as mine decided it was going to start drinking oil, git! So, my steed for the trip was a Citroën C4 Cactus. A little 1.3, but I have to tell you it was perfect for the trip. Great ground clearance, decent MPG which is needed with a 2000 mile round trip and its bloody comfy as well. I wasn’t sure what to make of it when I picked it up but would be happy to take one of these on a long trip again.
So, what has Skye got to offer the photographer (and explorer) … Stick with me and I’ll give you a few highlights, there’s always something new to see and the same things are different just by a change in the weather. One of the first things you’ll see when you approach the Isle of Skye is the bridge, its quite a feat of engineering. But also has a chequered history, there’s a very good documentary on BBC iPlayer about this. Once you cross, that’s it you’re on the most amazing island.
Now one of the most visited places on Skye is the Quiraing, its an imposing, stunning feature on the North East side of the island. Catching it at sunrise you’ll be presented with the sunbeams work their way across the land, casting that early light over the rocks and crevices. The land seems to come alive as the shadows perform a dance to the sounds of the wind alone. Its definitely an awesome way to start your day off, take a flask of coffee and your camera and enjoy the display. Then you can get your gear together and have a hike around the area. Pay attention to where you are walking, loads of sheep droppings and to make sure you take the human path and not the sheep one on your way back down, I did this on my first visit and its not a pleasant way to make your way down. The sheep must be crazy to take this path!
If your drive a bit further down the road you just drove up (search for Castle Ewan on your sat nav) and you’ll find the mystical Fairy Glen (told you there were fairies) When you walk into this glen, its like you have just walked onto the set of the Lord of the Rings, it’s a fantasy landscape like no other! Watch out for Orcs! (kidding, the haggises ate all the Orcs) One thing you don’t need to do, as it upsets the fairies, is to place rocks in the rings, or create the rock/stone stacks. This landscape doesn’t need that sort of nonsense to make it incredible. Well worth making sure that flask is full, and a packed lunch is with you, cracking place to sit and enjoy the view while having your lunch.
While we’re still in the North East, lets talk about dinosaurs. Yes, the Isle of Skye has a fantastic history with these. If you pop into the little Museum in Staffin (well worth the £2.50 entrance fee) the guy in there can tell you everything you need to know. As a snippet you can find and abundance of fossils around the Staffin area and there are also some cool dinosaur footprints you can see at low tide. This year I went to Duntulm to see the footprints there. Yeah there’s a castle there as well but it has sadly just been left to rot and really just resembles a pile of rocks, guarded by some local sheep. So, you park at the bend, loads of parking there and make your way to the beach, you need the tide going out as the prints are on the large flat rock. For me it was awesome to be standing in the footprints of these giants that walked the earth hundreds of millions of years ago. Go look for yourself, its incredible.
Still in this area you have Kilt rock, and the amazing Mealt falls, straight down to the sea nature is incredible, if you go a bit further south, you’ll get to the Lealt Falls, there is a decent viewing platform here. Take your tripod and get some long exposure photos of this one!
Drive a bit further south and you’ll meet the Old Man of Storr, to be prepared for a steep walk up to say hi to him. But its well worth the walk, the views are quite amazing from up there. I will add it can get a tad windy at the top. Movie trivia… If you are a fan of the Transformers films, the start of the Last Knight was filmed here. I would also recommend a drive south from the Old Man and park alongside Loch Fada, you get a great shot looking back at the old boy from there.
A bit further south and you hit the capital of the Island, Portree. This is one of the few places that I haven’t explored yet. I really must as the harbour looks fantastic.
The next place you’ll get to on the drive south is Sligachan. Here you can take a walk into the Cuillin mountains it’s a decent path thru, but be warned you will want to keep going because the scenery just gets better with every step. I saw the shot I wanted but for ages it was “it’ll be a better shot just a bit further in” and you can repeat the quite few times. But you really won’t regret the walk that I can tell you. There’s also a wonderful old bridge here. Definitely a place to get the camera on the tripod. Depending on the amount of rain, you will either have a steady stream of water or wild rapids. The beauty of the Isle of Skye, like I said every day is different even at the same places.
Let’s head west, over to Talisker. Stop at the distillery and get a decent bottle of single malt, or better still go on one of the tours then get a bottle. But for the photographer it’s a trip to Talisker Bay. It’s a bit of a wander from the car parking area but again its well worth it. I have scouted this area for a sunset photoshoot on my next trip(s).
Let’s head up to the Castle of the McLeod’s, Dunvegan. One of the oldest continuously inhabited castles/stately homes in the UK. It sits there on its rock, looking out over Loch Dunvegan. Quite an impressive building, with a long history. The McLeod’s are from Viking stock (Yes I am part Viking, part Highlander… and a Scot born in exile in England) You can get some great photos of the castle from over by the cottages (where the seal trips go from) Much better if you can get there at a high tide. You also have a fantastic collection of gardens to explore with many waterfalls to see just in this one place. So don’t just go into the castle then leave. Take your time and explore.
If we now go west again, you will eventually get to Neist Point. This is the location of a lighthouse and another perfect location for a sunset shoot. It’s a much photographed location so you’ll be lucky to get an original view. But who cares you’ll get some fantastic photos. You can also take a nice wander to the lighthouse. A note of warning tho, it’s not as easy as it looks. The path is fine but there are some steep climbs to deal with, not least the one back to where you parked your car!
If we go back to Dunvegan then head north, we get to the Waternish area. This is where I stayed this year for my holiday, Geary to be exact. Every year I’ve been I have stayed in an AirBnB and this year’s one was one of the best!
One of the first places you will see as you head thru here is the Fairy Bridge (more fairies, in fact in Dunvegan castle there is a flag that was given to an infant McLeod Chief by a fairy and it possesses magical powers, its considered to be lucky to McLeod’s, I carry a copy in my wallet just in case its true) Its worth stopping here at the bridge, with the right weather you can get a decent photo.
Head to Trumpan and park up opposite the church ruins (another great location for a sunset) take a walk to the North and you will find a path that takes you up to the top of this area of the island. There’s another lighthouse and you will find the ruins of a village called Unish. Only one building still (just about) stands. But you can see the remains of the low walls of the other buildings from the village. This is also a great place to see the sea eagles. Now if you remember back at the start, I said these got me into a sticky situation. Well it was here. I saw a sea eagle over by the cliffs so started to work my way across the peaty land to try and get a decent shot. And then it all went wrong, the thing about the peaty land is its also known as a peat bog. Well I ended up in the shit when the soft ground beneath my feet disappeared and I was suddenly waist deep in muddy water, I couldn’t feel solid ground so was quite pleased that the peat at the top stopped my downward motion, even more pleased that my cameras stayed above water! So anyway after a few moments of cursing for being such an idiot I went full Bear Grylls and managed to crawl my way out. Oh, and iPhones are waterproof. Now all I had was a 5 mile walk back to the car soaking wet and covered in mud. By the way, the view to the Outer Hebrides from here is fantastic, just don’t get stuck in the bog.
Ok we’ll head south again and go towards Glenbrittle, and the Fairy Pools (see more of them, they don’t just live at the end of the garden when you’re a kid) This is one of my favourite places to visit. What you get there is very weather dependant. If it’s been really dry, then you’ll find a collection of small waterfalls. If there has been heavy rain, then you will find powerful waterfalls all the way down. Now to get to them you have to cross a stream, there are some handy stepping stones to get you across, but if there has been heavy rain then there is a good chance that you wont even be able to see the stepping stones to get across. But when you are across you will find an amazing collection waterfalls and pools all the way up. The photo opportunities are numerous, but I would advise taking your tripod and the ND filters to get those long exposure shots. Try where you can to get down to water level, there are a lot of places on the way up that you will see these. Don’t take silly risks tho, I have seen a few people getting into what I would consider silly positions to try an get a photo, and most of these daredevils are using phones for the photos. It really is a beautiful place here, and well worth spending some time. I usually walk up to the top taking photos and looking for possible locations to place the tripod. Again, every day is different one day the water might be too high to get to the position you want, but another day it might be perfect, and you won’t be up to your arse in the water. The parking here is £5, but its well worth it, as the money is being pumped back into the area to create toilets etc. Don’t be a tight git and try and park in the road somewhere.
Staying on the west, another must visit for your seascapes is Elgol. It’s also a cracking drive there. You’ll pass by another great photo op on the way. Loch Cill Chriosd, there’s also the ruins of the old church here. So, there’s options for your photos.
When you get to Elgol, there’s parking at the top of the steep road down to the harbour, and there’s also parking at the harbour. I didn’t fancy the hike to parked at the harbour. Make sure you are wearing your seatbelt, or you might fall out the seat, its that steep! Plenty of options for your composition. Just keep and eye on the tide so you don’t get caught out.
One of the other favourite things to photograph on Skye is of course the Highland Cows! The majestic hairy beasts. You can find them all over Skye, sometimes just minding their own business in the road. They are a pretty friendly bunch, from my experience anyway.
Well that’s a little idea of Skye, my favourite spots on Skye anyway. It really is an amazing place, I can’t get enough of visiting and really hope to be back in 2020.
One thing I will add, along the single track roads you’ll find loads of passing places, these are not to be confused with parking places. If you do park in them, you can cause no end of problems for other road users. Also, if you’re poodling along and admiring the scenery, don’t hold up the cars behind pull in to one of these and let them by!
If you've enjoyed this little blog and want to see more, have a look in the galleries page and you'll find more photos in the October of the years.