February is generally acknowledged to be the snowiest month in Scotland. Most years it’s a fairly safe bet that there will be snow on the mountains, probably down to about 500 metres. At lower altitudes the snow often falls as rain so any snow at ground/road level is often wet and doesn’t hang around for long. By February the days are getting longer, there is more light and it’s possible to shoot all day as the sun doesn’t climb too high in the sky.
This year I spent a week in Bridge of Orchy staying at a hotel of the same name. The hotel had great staff who really knew how to look after their guests; the accommodation, food and beer were all excellent and tucked away on the ground floor was a cozy, quiet guest lounge with large comfy sofa’s and chairs. Looking back now it seems like a different world; the news had stories of a virus in China and people were hoping it didn’t reach our shores. Normal times. But it’s now May and the UK is pretty much in lock-down. For me this has meant that a trip to Skye has been postponed along with trips to Dartmoor, Cornwall and other destinations.
Bridge of Orchy lies to the South East of Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe and is a little lower in altitude. The surrounding hills are lower too so, for the not so fit photographer, they provide an easier option that doesn’t require the commitment and fitness of the larger mountains. For such a small place it’s remarkably well served by public transport partly as it’s on the main A82 Glasgow to Fort William road but also as the overnight sleeper train from London stops there on its way North. So getting to the hotel is really easy!
With a thin blanket of snow on the hills and fluffy white clouds intermittently delivering snow the landscape was pretty much just shades of grey so, black and white seemed the most appropriate photography palette. In fact, even before the trip I’d pretty much decided it would be focused primarily on Black and White if the conditions were snowy.
The landscape around Bridge of Orchy is open and provides wide panorama’s after a little height is gained. With a keenness that is always present on the first day in a new location I headed out from the hotel and up one of the surrounding hills. On its crest a large cairn marked a junction of paths. Clearly I wasn’t the first to pass that way since it had snowed as there were lots of footprints next to the cairn. But closer inspection revealed many to be the hoof marks of deer of which, during the week, I would see so many. By the time I captured the photograph at the top of this post the sun had popped-out from behind the clouds providing some strong directional light across the cairn towards Rannoch Moor and Glen Coe. One of the key ingredients that make the photograph work for me are the clouds filling the sky. It was a spot I returned to several times during the week. On one occasion there was fresh unbroken snow surrounding the cairn but the clouds were never quite as interesting.
The second photograph was captured a few days later. I’ve named it ‘The Watchman’ as the lone tree appears to stand watch over a surrounding vast landscape with distant forest ‘hugging’ the land like a quilt. The tree must have seen many types of weather in its few years. There were several good photographs from the trip but this is one of my favorites.
Both the photographs in this post are the result of stitching several 50Mpx images and thus there is a large amount of detail which looks stunning when viewed large. Both are available for sale right now at Andy Gawthrope Photography