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Assynt - A Tale of Two Photographers

Sunset in Assynt. Looking across Loch Sionasgaig with the peaks of Cùl Mòr, Cùl Beag and Stac Pollaidh on the skyline.

This trip started as an idea but 6 months ago, yes it took that long for the trip to happen. I wish I could say it was due to all the planning and what not, but it more due to procrastination and being generally busy. A date was finally set and a vague plan formed…

I was heading north with my friend and fellow Aberdeen photographer, Icarus (Jason) Owen. Our trip started on the evening of Friday 12th February as we left Aberdeen for Inverness with a planned overnight stop in the Highland Capital. Over a couple of drinks in a local pub we discussed our itinerary and the locations we wanted to scout and photograph, with the locations decided we headed back to the hotel and turned in for the night as (supposedly) an early start awaited us.

Saturday dawned bright but cold and frosty which was a sign of what sort of day lay ahead. We left Inverness around 9am and were in Ullapool just before 10am, as we continued north Jason kept a close eye on our surroundings and the passing scenery as I concentrated on the road ahead. The weather continued to be in our favour, although if we could have had a little more cloud cover it would have been near perfect for the days photography.

Our first stop with the camera was by the banks of Loch Cùl Dromannan, next to the A835 with its views into Coigach. The view looked toward Stac Pollaidh with Bein An Eòin and Cul Beag flanking the glen. Once we finished up here (and had a mandatory cup of tea) we moved off and turned down the single track road for Achiltibuie. Our next location had us not far from the road with our view looking south over Lochanan Dùbha toward the varied peaks of Beinn an Eòin. We spent a considerable amount of time at this location, trying various angles while watching the early morning clouds evaporate and the sun climb higher into a very blue sky.

We moved on and headed further into Coigach with a planned stop by the banks of Loch Òsgaig. We pulled over by the loch where the River Garvie exits and starts its short, but swift run to the sea. We spent the next couple of hours wandering the area with locations looking north to Suilven and east toward Stac Pollaidh and Beinn an Eòin along the banks of the loch.

We couldn’t really believe our luck thus far with the weather, it was a beautiful day in a stunning location. So as we sat and had our lunch rations sat by the car, we mulled over our options for the afternoon and were we would like to be for sunset.

We decided to spend the afternoon exploring the coast around Altandhu and round to Polbain where the views look south taking in the Summer Isles and the hills of Wester Ross even further to the south. Once we were happy with our photos (or messing around, depending on how you looked at it) we moved on with our thoughts on sunset and where we would like to be…

We found our sunset location on the road between Badnagyle and Lochinver over looking Loch Sionasgaig with Cùl Mòr, Cùl Beag and Stac Pollaidh dominating the skyline (its the blog image). This was a bit of a rush as we had to head uphill quite rapidly in order to have the view open up to us, from the road you really could see nothing of interest. After we packed up we headed for our overnight camp, we’d chosen to overnight on the banks of Loch Assent next to Ardvreck Castle. By this point the temperature was plummeting, so camp was quickly set and dinner eaten so we could turn in at our leisure.

It was a beautiful clear night with a bright crescent moon casting shadows and lighting the landscape around us. So, I was determined to make the most of the conditions and started to look around for some locations where I could photograph the castle under the stars. I was lucky enough that I also had the peaks of Spidean Còinich, which is part of Quinag, in the background. All this was under a beautiful clear starry night, the tail of the Milky Way was also discernible in the moonlight. By the time we turned in for the nightthe tent had a light skim of frost and we knew the temperature was well below zero. It was going be a long cold night…

We woke on Sunday to light covering of snow as well as snow gently falling from a slightly overcast sky. Camp was broken quickly and breakfast eaten as we decided where to go for sunrise (if it made an appearance from behind the snow clouds). We chose to head back toward Lochinver and stopped about 2 miles along the road from the castle, we could see a few small islands dotted with trees and decided that we would see what would happen if the sun appeared. With locations chosen it became a waiting game to see if the light would appear as we wanted it, lighting the landscape in front of the cameras. Thankfully we had a brief 15-20 mins where the sun managed to poke through the cloud. It was very brief and then the snow started to fall again so we decided to call it time and head south.

Although we had decided to head back south to Inverness, and ultimately back to Aberdeen, we were still on the look out for a few more locations, we had the whole morning to spend a bit more time taking photos. As we drove south on the A835 we both noticed that Loch Cùl Dromannan (where we initially stopped on Saturday morning) was about 80% frozen with a near perfect mirror in the only section of the waters surface that was not frozen. We messed about, looking for a good composition and managed a few shots before a gentle breeze appeared and disturbed the waters surface.

So with that opportunity now gone, we continued our drive south and towards our lunch stop in Beauly. There was time to spare for one more stop for photos on the banks of a nearly frozen Loch Droma. As we scouted around and set up we watched the sun dance in and out of the clouds as it selectively lit the surrounding hillsides. As seemed to be the pattern for our day so far the snow clouds moved in with snow once again beginning to fall gently. As this was to be our last stop for the weekend, we grudgingly set off for the car and continued south toward an ever increasing amount of snow and lunch…

If you wish to see Jason's work you can find him at www.icarusowen.com.