Highland Glen - Strathconon

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Glen Orrin Falls
My sea and landscapes rarely feature people because I like to capture images that present the viewer with detached remoteness and beauty without having to 'share' it. And my approach to shooting in Scotland has always been steered by this remit. For, even with so many hundreds of square miles of mountains and glens, summer in The Highlands can be less wild and remote as the tourist board's adverts would have you believe. The main roads clog with coaches, the 'B' roads become a stilted hop from passing place to passing place, while climbing a popular 'Munro' can become a processional walk. However, boosted by my experience back in June, when I toured the NW Highland's coastline with surprising freedom, I decided to put my fears aside and go in search of scenic solitude in the Highland Summer.

For I wanted to witness remote mountains and glens in full bloom. To follow winding tracks up to waterfalls and summits, without another soul around. It's not really a case of being anti-social - although I do love to wander alone - it's just that, unless you're braving the midges and camping, you have an access time-frame to the mountains that is governed by the daylight hours. Walking amongst them in darkness is not a good idea, so people go up and come off at much the same time. Hence the Munro's 'processions'. And once amongst them, we are all understandably drawn to the features and viewpoints. With others around, this can make my photography untenable. For I don't want them in my shots and they certainly don't want me hogging the beauty spots.

So, with this in mind, a great friend of mine who needed a break and has accompanied me on many of my trips and knows the prerequisite's of my photography, came up with Strathconan. Martin spent hours scouring maps and the internet and eventually uncovered this gem of a glen. As it turned out, because of its unique facets, Strathconon was the subject of a TV series that ran in Scotland a while back but today it remains a little-frequented back-road.

Strangely enough, it's not tucked-away on a distant Isle, it's just twenty minutes drive from Inverness airport. I guess most tourists immediately head for the A82 and Loch Ness, seeing this as the gateway to the Highlands, so this place never even appears on their 'radar'. This is understandable, for even when we arrived at Marybank, the closest town, we still had no idea of what lay in store and driving along its semi-suburban, main road I was getting a little nervous. The 'hills' remained a long way away and I had visions of having to drive for miles each day to access them. However, we shortly reached a 'T' junction and there we saw the first sign for Strathconon that bore the promising description 'Scenic route for the next 18 miles'.

The drive up would make for a good Geography lesson. For it starts off beside the River Meig in its 'senile' stage as it meanders through flat glacial plains and out to an estuary and the sea beyond. Driving on, you pass foothills and encounter the first evidence of glacial erosion. OK, I won't bang-on about drumlins and medial moraine but you get the picture! There are dams and lochs, leafy deciduous woodlands and shady waterfalls and then on to the coniferous forests lining the hillsides, until you break through the tree line and you are offered your first unhindered view of the valley with the surrounding mountains in their full glory.

We stayed on the Strathconan Estate in a self catering cottage. I only mention this because the place (The Gun House) was really good. This working farm and estate-lands is owned by the Lego 'dynasty' and it shows, no expense has been spared on the place. Most of all, it's situated on the banks of the River with access to the mountains out of the front door!

We spent four of our seven days walking amongst the mountains and I can honestly say we did not see another boot-print let alone people! There were lots of Red Deer but it was still early in the season and so they remained timid and distant. In the glens and valleys beyond we found waterfalls and views that people rarely see and the weather was generally kind. The other days we spent driving up the East Coast and then cutting across to the Northern Highlands where we did encounter a few more people, although these were either fishing or hunting.

So I managed to find scenic, summer solitude in the Highlands amongst the hills and mountains of Strathconon. Importantly, one morning we took a drive to the very end of the track. Beside a pretty loch that's there, is a signpost pointing up a mountain footpath that says 'Achnashellach 14 miles'. This set my mind ticking and means I shall return, for Achneshellach is an awesome place and I can see a new challenge on the horizon for next year!

You can see the shots from my week at Strathconon in the Highland Glen gallery of my Portfolio.