on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Outer Hebrides

Unfinished business

David O'Brien

David recently retired from his role in the legal profession and is looking forward to spending more time on his photography (as well as with his family!).

 Although he has an ongoing flirtation with digital photography, his real passion is film photography, particularly medium format and film pinhole cameras. Instagram

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A chance perusal of Lizzie Shepherd’s website in 2018 had me quickly booked for a return visit to one of the most beautiful places on earth. I am not usually one for hyperbole but there are few places that stir up the emotions more than a visit to the Outer Hebrides (also known as the Western Isles), a 200km chain of islands lying a mere 20 miles off the north west tip of Skye in Scotland. When Mother Nature is at her worst, the Outer Hebrides have that “edge of the world” feel, where a dramatic but unprotected coastline meets the full force of the Atlantic.

The chances of a rewarding photographic sortie north of the border looked excellent. With the workshop booked, I recalled the withdrawal of Bonnie Prince Charlie from the islands in the mid-1700s and that infamous tune had me tapping my fingers with drum beat anticipation:

Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclaps rend the air; ~ extract, The Skye Boat Song

With the workshop booked, I recalled the withdrawal of Bonnie Prince Charlie from the islands in the mid-1700s and that infamous tune had me tapping my fingers with drum beat anticipation.
And so, late March had me travelling with Lizzie Shepherd and Alex Hare to a place I love and a chance, perhaps, for photographic redemption; my images from a 2015 visit were OK but I knew I could do better, much better. With white sandy beaches, turquoise-blue seas, rocky foreshores, abandoned crofts and one of the best-preserved standing stone circles in Europe, I relished the opportunity of a return visit, especially with the possibility of changeable weather and potential for storm light.

Arriving at the CalMac ferry terminal at Uig on the north west tip of Skye, I was rewarded with a punctual ferry and calm seas. Once boarded, the 100-minute traverse of the Minch (that narrow stretch of sea between Skye and the islands) passed quickly as I flicked through Iain McGowan’s excellent “Hebridean Images” (1993), a superb, mood-setting collection of 35mm black and white photographs evoking island life and the landscape beyond. On disembarkation, I was greeted on the dockside by the Isle of Harris Distillery - a good start! A few hundred metres up the road had me nestled snugly within the arms of our very comfortable and conveniently-located hotel - the Harris Hotel - which I can heartily recommend without grace, favour or recompense. March into April is statistically one of the drier periods in the Outer Hebrides (and mostly midge-less) but the forecast was for mixed weather - ideal! - and possibly snow flurries at the end of the week. With the thoughts of snow-capped mountains at the back of my mind, I was in high spirits as the group convened.



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