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Ardtornish 'Highland Winter' Reconnoitre

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I have always had the ambition of photographing the Highlands in mid-winter to capture some really wild, wintry seascapes and snowy mountain vistas. To this end, last year I spent two weeks in February touring the Inner Hebrides and North West Highlands in search of snow. However, it was not to be. The icy weather thawed on the drive up the M6 to become so mild that I found myself wandering amongst budding snowdrops in my shirt-sleeves.

This is not a rare occurrence in the Western Highlands. The weather here can change in a matter of minutes, as I'd witnessed many times. On one occasion the swing was truly spectacular. It was back in the early '90's and I was staying at the Applecross Inn on the West Coast. Sitting out in the sun-soaked gardens overlooking the Isle of Raasay, I could see heat haze rising from the sandy beach of Applecross Bay. It was May and we were enjoying a last lunch of oysters and a pint of Guiness before setting off for Achnashellach. This lay on the landward side of the Bealach na Ba, the highest mountain pass in the UK. After saying our 'goodbyes' we set off and just two hours after our leaving Applecross the mountain road was blocked by six foot snow drifts!

So back in July, I came up with the idea of spending the whole of January 2013 up in remote Highland glens and on wild, western coastlines. Photographing from dawn to dusk, I hope to encounter some really wild, tempestuous weather. This would add an edge to my portfolio and give an alternate view on my existing sea and landscapes. To achieve this, alongside sorting out my photographic, camping, diving and kayaking gear, I'd need a suitable location with access to bothies - small, purpose built, mountain dwellings - and the permission of the landowner to use them. For even extreme weather tents are not ideal for long stays out in the sort of weather I hope to encounter.

I had no existing contacts and so I approached a number of dedicated Scottish landowner's organisations and the Mountain Bothies Association, to see if they might have any recommendations. Despite persistent attempts, I got nowhere and soon began to think my 'Highland Winter' was going to be over before it started.

Then, by pure chance, an opportunity presented itself. It came about when a customer purchased a limited edition print of Sandwood Bay on my website. I noticed his email address was a company with an interesting name. With my interest piqued, I got on Google and soon found a sustainable seafood interest based way up in the Highlands. OK I thought, it was a long shot but what could be the harm in following this up?

So, alongside his framed print and certificate of authenticity, perhaps a little presumptuously, I enclosed a letter of introduction asking if my customer may know of a person or organisation I might approach.

To cut a long story short, luck was with me. It turned out he was involved with Ardtornish Estate in Morven. He very kindly replied and, after a few further emails outlining my intentions, he put me in touch with the estate's management.

As a result of positive communications with them, last week my girlfriend Sam and I flew up to Glasgow, hired a car and headed for Ardtornish some four hours farther north.

The road took us past Fort William and we decided to stop for lunch at a favourite restaurant that stands on a pier looking over Loch Linnhe. I've been going to Crannog since it opened in 1987 and always wondered what lay at the end of the road that ran along the distant shore. As it turned out, after finishing off a delicious bowl of mussels, I was going to find out. And as the saying goes,'better late than never' as Morvern is a hidden away Highland spectacle.

If you take the Corran ferry, you can cut an hour off the journey around Lochs Ein and Linnhe. However, I like driving and being able to pull over whenever a 'picture' appears around a corner. As it turned out, the afternoon's drive was not to disappoint. We took it easy and arrived at Ardtornish at around 4.30pm. What greeted us was spectacular highland scenery and approachable landowners. In the estate office they used a large, framed OS map to show me the extent of the estate's vast layout. As the bothies and cottage accommodation they were kindly letting me use were pointed out I found it impossible to hide my mounting excitement.

Yet this was not a one-way deal. For Ardtornish is a working estate with significant investment in sporting and leisure holiday lettings. So we quickly reached an amicable agreement giving me access to the estate and them access to my pictures, to use on their soon to be updated website - www.ardtornish.co.uk

I outlined my plans and told of how I'd be accompanied by my good friend, Allen, who is well accustomed to the 'Great Outdoors'. He has accompanied me on many of my photographic excursions, including one into the Arctic Circle in November two years ago. Allen is both good company and a vital companion, as it's not a good idea to venture into the mountains alone in Winter. He is also bringing along his Springer Spaniel, Charlie. A wonderful 'full of beans' canine character who will love to be out in the open air and keeping us both company.

As an added bonus, it turns out Ardtornish has wi-fi set up in the holiday cottages. This means I will be able to post daily blogs (when I'm not staying up in the mountains) alongside updating my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I'm also going to set up a blog for Charlie, for I just know he's going to be getting up to mischief.

With all this settled and agreed, Sam and I set off to scout around the estate and check out the various bothies. We spent the next two days walking in the mountains and along the incredible Morvern coastline. There are two mountain bothies set in sheltered spots on vast, spreading glens. They look out over the sort of remote scenery that I could only have hoped for in my wildest dreams.

Yet the best awaited along a coastal walk that included a two mile trek along a treacherous path clinging to the forested face of high cliffs. For, at the path's end, stood a small white cottage nestling in grassy knolls, just off the beach in a spectacular bay overlooking Mull. My heart flew at the sight of this is a truly amazing location that I cannot wait to spend days at.

Also, alongside the superb land and seascape potential, we saw deer, seals, otters, salmon and perhaps even a glimpse of a distant Sea Eagle. So, bearing in mind we'll be there for enough time to settle in and set up a 'bivvy hide', I'll be hiring a long telephoto lens. This will be along with hired portable lighting set-up that will hopefully extend the shooting time in twilight hours and maybe even help illuminate the surroundings should the Northern Lights make a welcome appearance in the night sky.

Due to Easyjet's ridiculously tight-fisted hand baggage restrictions and my aversion to being ripped-off for putting luggage in a plane's hold, I couldn't take all the photographic gear I would have liked on this first trip to Ardtornish. I just had my basic EOS 1 DS 'Landscape' set up with me. You can see some of the images I got in the Ardtornish Gallery in my Portfolio section. They give just an indication of what awaits in January, when we'll be driving up with all the equipment we could possibly need.

My blogs will keep you updated with the progress and planning for the Highland Winter photoshoot, so be sure to keep an eye out for them.



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