Ardtornish 'Highland Winter' update

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'Where's the dice?'
OK, so the idea sounded a little 'out there' when I announced it back in July and my initial attempts to make contacts proved challenging. Yet in the way these things sometimes have of coming together, with a little bit of luck and an 'if you don't ask, you don't get' approach, I'm delighted to say everything is looking good for January's photoshoot on Ardtornish Estate in Morvern.

As a bit of background, Ardtornish is a working Estate with diverse revenue streams coming from every angle. With a fertile arable plain, agriculture and forestry feature, alongside hydro-electricity, sustainable seafood and quarrying. Yet this leaves much of its remote 30,000 acres of highland glens and coastline untouched, proving ideal for me (and for Led Zepplin, who retreated there for a while back in the 70's to get away from it all). Being way off the beaten track that takes the holidaying hordes through Glencoe to the Nevis range and the Highlands and Islands beyond, Ardtornish is usually only discovered by people travelling to the Isle of Mull. Once seen, these transient visitors often come back for a stay but other than that it's remained a well kept secret. So there's work to be done and while building a reputation for sporting pursuits such as game fishing and stalking, the estate's potential for outdoor activities offers huge rewards. For those looking for an unspoilt Highland location, this is the place. To this end, Ardtornish are opening up apartments in the main Estate House, a huge Victorian residence set amongst impressive gardens, alongside a number of cottages and bunk and boat houses for holiday lets.

The team at Ardtornish have been really helpful and very accommodating in meeting my various requests. Having seen my images from my recce trip back in August, they are right behind the Highland Winter project. I cannot stress how much I appreciate their 'can do' attitude as this is opening up so many possibilities in my planning. I hope to repay their kind support with some imagery that will extol the remote winter beauty of their stunning location. I want to help Ardtornish Estate show a wider audience exactly what they are missing.

So plans I drew-up months ago are now being actioned. I've been busy preparing my gear. My cameras were serviced down at Fixation and had their sensors cleaned etc. While there I enquired about hiring a big telephoto lens for a month and their response came as a bit of a shock! A 600mm needs a £4,000 deposit and would cost £760+ vat. All of a sudden my trusty 200mm and 2X converter looked a lot more like they were coming along! While I'd love to have a go with a big lens, I have to be sensible about my budget for the project. However, I have splashed-out on spare batteries to get around the high-drain of very cold conditions and a selection of rather nifty waterproof camera covers. Each type suits different shooting situations but all allow relatively free access to the camera's controls and viewfinder etc. while protecting what's underneath from the elements that they will surely be out in.

I've also been going through my winter outdoor clothing. A few Christmas's back my darling other-half, Sam, bought me an extreme, five season jacket and dungarees. These impressive real-tree camouflaged garments comfortably saw me through a week-long fishing stint on a frozen lake in France. They are definitely coming along because other than the fact they will be keeping me toasty, I well remember a hunting heron alighting right next to me as I sat by my rods one evening. This wiliest of shy birds simply hadn't seen me, proving the camouflage really does work. I have to say, the faecal jet it emitted as it took flight when I shifted was truly impressive! So I'm hoping that, dressed in this garb, my 400mm telephoto capability will be OK. Other than these, I'll take some proper mountain gear. Multi-layers of Helly Hanson thermals, a couple of fleeces, down jacket topped off with lined trousers and a Gore-Tex winter shell, gloves, hat, scarf and mountain boots should see me OK up in the high mountains. All this along with my camera gear, cooking gear, supplies and bedding will be packed and transported around in big, bright red, vinyl dry sacks that will keep everything dry when being transported around by boat or sledge.

My great friend Allen and his nutty spaniel Charlie are coming along as climbing companions, to watch my back, play backgammon (you ever seen a dog throwing dice?) and keep the fires going in the bothies. I'm not sure if Al truly realises what he's let himself in for. While the idea of spending four weeks way up in snow-bound lodge in the mountains may well sound like an adventure to him, he forgets I've seen The Shining. One dark, freezing cold evening, with the wind howling and the snow swirling outside, when I bang on the bothy door with the wood hatchet, stick my head around and announce "Chrissy's Home!" in my best Jack Nicholson, I expect he'll do a 'French Heron!'

All joking aside, the sun sets at just gone 3.00pm and only struggles over the horizon around 9.00am the next day. There's no running water (other than nearby streams), electricity, gas, central heating, toilets, baths or beds. You sleep on raised boards laid on the rough stone floors and, taking into account twilight and dawning, with 15 hours of darkness, that's a long time.

On the other hand we may get to witness the Northern Lights. We can certainly spend loads of time preparing and cooking tasty stews, spicy curries and other warming fayre, for I do love to cook and good food is essential to keeping up the spirits. Talking of which, a wee-dram of single malt won't be too far away either.

With the sun being so low in the sky, while the days are short, the lighting will give extended shooting opportunities so, bearing in mind our situation, I will certainly get some truly unique images of the surroundings. The plan is to work with the weather and tides to spend three or four days at each of the bothies I've chosen. In between we'll be coming back to the bunk-house to re-stock supplies, get warm, have a wash and upload some images and blogs to keep you in the picture. On the other days we'll take the car ferry over to Mull where, weather permitting, we can get the sea kayak out and paddle off to otherwise un-accessible bays and coastal features. Talking of the car, I've had winter tyres fitted and got some snow chains just in case.

I'm reliably informed Santa will be dropping a set of Lee Landscape Filters down the chimney for me and a dog's life-vest for Charlie, so all-in-all we're pretty much ready to go. I will hopefully get round to posting a final pre-trip blog but let me say thank you for visiting my site and following along. Please let your friends know about my Highland Winter blogs and in closing, may I wish a very Happy Christmas to you and yours.