September 2019
October 2019 - High days and holidays

I’m just back from a fortnight’s holiday in the north of Scotland. The weather was mixed but we managed some walks and trips between new cloud fronts moving in.

The first week was spent in Achiltibuie (north of Ullapool) overlooking the mouth of Loch Broom. Our chalet gave a fantastic view of Old Dornie harbour, the Summer Isles and the hills of Torridon beyond which was wonderful to watch whatever the time of day. We arrived to a fierce storm on our first night when the whole chalet shuddered against powerful wind gusts. It was the tail end of one of the storms that had earlier ripped up America's east coast before crossing the Atlantic. The strong winds even postponed the annual Elphin Chicken Show and the keenly anticipated chicken race!… one of those quirky British events which simply has to be experienced. Nevertheless we survived the storm but not before a power cut left us with literally no facilities. Seeing lights on in the pub just a few minutes away, we dropped in to find them running off their emergency generator and, with a reputation for seafood dishes, gave us the perfect excuse to enjoy a fine meal.

There was plenty of bird life and seal activity in the area but, sadly, no otters: no doubt they were about but one never crossed our path. We walked to some of the higher viewpoints in the area which gave amazing vistas over the Summer Isles to the south and the Assynt hills to the north, including Star Pollaidh and Suilven. The coastline was unspoilt and beautiful, although there are few maintained paths so walking can be rough at times. A visit to Achnahaird bay gave the opportunity to dip one's toe in the freezing cold Atlantic swell.

I managed a couple of early morning photographic forays. The first was to a stormy looking sky but chinks in the cloud allowed some colour to break through before the sun hit the horizon and flooded yellow light behind the hills and cloud banks. The second morning was cloudless and a real treat to experience. The pre-dawn colours casted the mountains in sharp silhouette and while enjoying the sunrise I heard a stag roaring in the distance. Such moments are to be cherished and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being alone in a wild and natural landscape.

Our second week was spent in our house in the Cairngorms National Park. We managed some enjoyable walks, including the 'Burma Road’ to view the Cairngorm Hills and a visit to the Falls of Pattack on Ardverikie estate (see image). We also visited the Clynelish distillery in Brora and took the opportunity for a night away. The landscape around the area is lovely and much underrated, although is perhaps receiving more recognition now as the popularity of the North Coast 500 route around Scotland’s northern coastline increases. While much softer than the rugged west coast, the combination of grazing land, heather hills, lochs and broadleaf woodland combine to create a very photogenic landscape. We ate in an Indian restaurant rated as Scotland’s second best in a recent competition - amazing for such a far flung Highland town! - and well deserved as the meal was excellent.

However, the leaves on the birch trees are beginning to change colour as the temperatures start to dip. While some fruits have struggled this year, rowan berries seem aplenty which will hopefully fare well for a later influx of waxwings. Geese are arriving in large numbers and the red deer rut will soon be in full cry. Roll on autumn...