Inside this issue
Trip Report – The Hebrides
I’ve been taking photographs for as long as I can remember but voluntary redundancy/early retirement in 2018 was a gamble that gave me the time to devote to photography. And I have no regrets. Living in a village on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, my photographic interests range from landscape to documentary, but always inspired by the outdoors. I volunteer at a local Natural England Nature Reserve which gives the opportunity to do both. I print all my own work, selling them at exhibitions and online via my website. I help run The Photographers Studio, a gallery near Devizes, Wiltshire, and contribute illustrated blogs to the Hidden Wiltshire website.
Normally the early autumn months would find me in France where we’ve long had a little house. It’s been a unique chance to lead a separate life, absorb a different lifestyle and photograph a different landscape. However, in view of the current uncertainties of life, we decided not to go this year. This offered the chance to realise a long-held ambition to visit some of the Western Isles of Scotland.
So, September 2020 found my non-photographer wife and I heading north on our two-day trek from our home in Wiltshire for a 16-day trip through the Hebrides. After an overnight stop in Dumfries our journey took us to Skye, then on to North Uist and Harris before returning to Skye.
I’ve wanted to visit Skye for around 35 years having visited Mull in my 20s. I had a bucket list of places I wanted to see and photograph on Skye, but having seen the queues at the Fairy Pools, The Old Man of Storr, and Quiraing my initial reaction was one of dejection and a feeling I had left it too long. But I had no right to feel like that. The people I saw were simply doing what I was doing. Who am I to expect to have these places to myself? After having a good word with myself I studied my maps more carefully and realised there was an endless list of quieter places to visit where we did indeed find solitude and calm. It was simply a question of making a little effort.
During our first foray on Skye, the weather was simply atrocious. Had I been alone I would have toughed it out and taken to the hills, waiting for those elusive breaks in the sky that would reveal mountain tops and hidden valleys illuminated by shafts of sunlight. But I had to consider the wishes of someone else and grab opportunities where I could. It certainly focused my mind as a photographer and made me work with what I had.
From Skye, we took the ferry to Lochmaddy on North Uist. This wonderful island proved to be exactly what I’d hoped Skye would be. It is remote and some would say bleak. There are few places to stay and even fewer things to do. Unless of course, you love the landscape. If that it is all you need then you could spend a lifetime there. North Uist is an other-worldly place. One of the mountains and countless lochs, the few roads weave in and out of this watery world on their way to stunning beaches and mountains the shape of small volcanoes.
North Uist is connected to the islands of Benbecula to the south and South Uist to the south of that by causeways. The archipelago is completed by Berneray to the north. Each island has its own unique character despite the relatively short distance between them. Benbecula is flat with few hills and seems more water than land. South Uist is more mountainous and has the largest population.
Meanwhile back on wonderful North Uist, this is the perfect blend of the two and is sparsely populated, each house a lonely outpost against the elements. The mile upon mile of machair dunes provide a unique backdrop to the spectacular beaches of the west coast.
After a few days exploring the Uists and Benbecula, we caught the ferry to Harris for a five day stay in Tarbert. An opportunity to also visit Lewis, the largest of the Outer Hebrides islands. I’d long had this picture in my mind of Harris as a remote and wild place, ringed with some of the most fabulous beaches in the world. Whilst that is true, it was still a lot busier with other tourists than I’d imagined.
Luskentyre has become something of an iconic location for photographers. Without doubt, the seemingly endless white sands are simply stunning. But, on the day we chose to visit, the weather had improved slightly and the single-track road to the little village at the headland was busy with motor homes and cars, so we were forced to abandon and try elsewhere. But not before capturing one image.
Heading further south we stopped to investigate Scarista but decided to park by the golf course at Sgeir Liath for a more distant view. I watched for a while as a golden eagle circled above Sgarasta Mhόr then headed across the fairway to the beach. A photographer was on the beach photographing a girl throwing poses. Too many footprints. So, I doubled back to the sanctity of the machair where I found a far more pleasing perspective.
Without doubt, the most spectacular location I found on Harris was a beach about which someone had sworn me to secrecy. An hour’s scramble along an at times ill-defined path across the face of a mountain that dropped steeply to the sea; it’s not for the faint-hearted. But was it worth it! The beach was simply breath-taking. And since my wife doesn’t do heights, I was alone. A place I will never forget and whose location I will never reveal.
Our visit to Harris and a day spent driving through Lewis to Callanish, were far too brief. We only saw Lewis on a Sunday in torrential rain. We never even scratched the surface. I will return.
Finally, we returned to Skye for a couple of days before heading south again, staying in a bed and breakfast in a stunning location on the single-track road between Broadford and Elgol. On our last day in the Hebrides before heading south we walked across the hills to the abandoned village of Boreraig, its inhabitants the victims of the clearances in the 19th century. Its lonely location overlooking Loch Eishort seemed idyllic but life there for the crofters would have been harsh. This was our one rain free, warm and pleasant day so on the return journey, the peaks of the Blà Bheinn ridge just a few miles from our bed and breakfast were finally revealed.
This brief excursion to the Hebrides simply whetted my appetite. I have unfinished business there and will return, perhaps when it’s a little quieter and when it’s not quite as wet!