Inside this issue
Winter on the Isle of Skye
The true soul of a Scottish island
Civil Engineer by trade I discovered photography at the age of 16 when Dad gave me his old Olympus OM-40 to play with, a 35mm semi-automatic film camera mounted with a 50mm f/2.0. Starting with the basics. Ever since that day, photography has been the way for me to combine the cartesian DNA of my Father through precise settings, accurate light measurements and clean composition; with the artistic breaking-the-rules genes of my Mother, all of that brewed in their shared passion for travels and the discovery of new cultures.
It has been 4 hours since I left Edinburgh’s Airport and snow has been falling since then. My little Toyota rental is struggling on the windy roads across the Scottish Highlands, along the lochs and across the snow-covered passes. The light is from another world, the atmosphere surreal; coming across an elf or a fairy would feel like a completely normal encounter in this place…
It is somewhere around 9:00pm on the 27th of December 2017 as I cross the bridge and leave the mainland for a few days. Welcome to the Isle of Skye!
As the sun rises behind the clouds on that first morning, I pick up my gears and head towards the Cuillin Hills. My plan for the week is to explore as much as I can on the island, discover its beautiful nature and culture, and try to absorb as much as possible of its soul and atmosphere to translate in my pictures.
I had in mind the picture of a cold and windy island, of waves crashing on the shores; I was picturing long-haired cows and sheep pasturing in green fields, little fishing boats mooring on little protected bays and white little cottages on the shores surrounded by rocky outcrops and wild land. And rain, lots of rain!
As I left home with that preconceived idea, I decided the emotions of this trip would be best reproduced in black and white. So here we are, this trip will be about translating my emotion through the harsh rays of sunlight and the soft feelings of the cloudy days…
The Cuillin is a little mountain range on the south end of the island culminating 3200ft above the Loch Brittle. Yesterday’s snowstorm has dusted a good layer of white powder over the peaks of the range, and with the thick cloud cover of the day, the landscape is almost already in black and white! The little road from Broadford near the entry to the island takes you to the very end of the Elgol Peninsula. My first Scottish one-lane two-ways road! Combined with the left-hand driving, this makes it for an interesting experience…. Ok, I get how the crossing bays and narrow road system works now, we are off!
The way down the peninsula is incredible, the eastern faces of the Cuillin on the right, the sea and mainland on the left, many opportunities to stop and head-off the beaten tracks for better pictures... Along the way, I come across a herd of Scottish Highland cows, typical to Scotland, protected from the cold by very long woolly hairs and wearing beautiful wide horns. Further along, it’s an old Celtic cemetery of abandoned tombs stones carved in granite that appears around the corner. I am starting to get seriously impregnated by that magical atmosphere!
The landscape from the southern end of the peninsula opens up on a wide windy bay where the waves come crushing on the jetty of a tiny fishing port. From the rocks around the port, the view over the snow-capped mountains across the bay is breathtaking!
The Cuillin have so many exploring opportunities, so many trails, so many little lakes, rivers and hidden gems! The following day, I head down the Sligachan Valley on the western side of the mountains. A road through the middle and a house or two here and there; a great feeling of wilderness as I drive down to the photo locations I spotted on the map earlier… Rivers, waterfalls, mountain lakes, trails dominating the ocean, I don’t know where to start… One way to explore this island is with a good pair of hiking boots, a waterproof jacket and a rain cover for your camera bag.
Portree, the main town of the island, is a cosy village built off the shore about half-way up the island where a little fleet anchors between the fishing campaigns, bringing back crayfish caught on traps at sea. The wooden houses on the wharf have that little something of a step back in time creating a romantic and contemplative atmosphere.
After a good coffee in town, time to head North of Portree toward the Quiraing mountain range. From afar, those mountains look like a giant plateau with a sharp needle clearly detached on its eastern side; The Old Man of Storr. Created by an ancient landslide, the Storr is an upright rock pinnacle that can be seen from miles. Very popular hike, that needle is a 180ft high rocky outcrop standing alone on the edge of those mountains, overlooking the horizon and protecting them from unwanted visitors. Follow the coast until the northern most accessible point and explore the side roads, coves and tiny villages (each one has a little boathouse, a dry-stone wall or a little cottage that make for beautiful images) until you get to Uig. From there, a road in the Fairy Glen Valley will send you deep inside a world of fairies, of trolls and Magic! Explore a little and you will find the traces of their latest appearance!
On the way back to Portree, cross the Quiraing range through the eponym pass, up a steep windy road that can be closed during winter. From the pass, the harsh sunrays beaming through the clouds on the mountain range, the lakes on the foothills and the ocean make for a very dramatic atmosphere.
Just before you head back to Portree, stop-by at the Kilt Rock & Mealt Falls. On a full moon night slightly shaded by passing clouds, the falls dropping 180ft in a single continuous flow from the lake directly onto the sea give once more a surreal atmosphere to that location.
My vision of Scotland and the Isle of Skye was also made of sheep and whisky.
Head west towards the Dunvegan area and take a drive all the way to Waterstein Cape and Neist Point Lighthouse, another very classic photo opportunity at sunset. On the way there, you will most likely be stopped by a herd of Scottish Blackfaced sheep resting across the road with no intention to move out of your way. Patience is key in photography! And it makes for a great photo opportunity.
As for the whisky side of the island, the Talisker Distillery is a bit further south along the coast. During your walks, you most likely will come across some tidy little piles of what looks like mud bricks at first. After a closer look, you will realise these are carefully selected bricks of peat; that ingredient from the mountains giving such a unique taste to some of the best whiskies.
As I look back at the island one last time, I go through the experiences and feelings of a week of peregrination. I did have the preconceived idea of a land beaten by cold strong winds and heavy rainstorms coming from the ocean. I had in mind grey skies, low contrasts landscapes.
Well it was quite different indeed! Yes, there were the grey skies, the stormy winds, the cold rain, but most of all there were powerful lights and strong contrasts depicting perfectly the rich culture of that land, the long history that built it and the strong characters of the people living here.
Winter on the Isle of Skye, or discovering the true soul of a Scottish island…