Assynt Wild Camping Workshop – Trip Report

In Trip Reports On Sunday, June 8, 2014

Thursday – Day 0

I arrived at Inverness Airport with the rain coming down and a rather gloomy forecast for the coming days. Persistent cloud doesn’t generally make for great images although there was always the hope of a break and the winds were at least predicted to be light.

I met Marie and Angmeng at the airport and we were soon driving up to Stac Pollaidh where we met David. We took a few minutes to sort our packs out and headed up the mountain to our camp for the night. The short hike was pleasant enough but the low cloud and passing showers killed our hopes of shooting the view and instead I spent my time teaching technique.

Not much to photograph on our first night up Stac Pollaidh

Friday – Day 1

We each had a good nights sleep, if a little chilly due to the dampness. Angmeng claimed she slept better than in her bed at home; what I would give for that kind of sleep when camping! Unfortunately the morning was no better weather wise but it was early days yet and we headed down the mountain a little soggy but hopeful that things would change.

I had originally planned to take the group on the long hike to Suilven on Friday, but given a drier forecast for Saturday I felt it was best to explore more low lying areas and save our efforts. With the weather showing no signs of lifting we had a cheeky breakfast in Ullapool before heading back out.

I encouraged the group to split up and find their own images around the shore, I then spent half my time walking between them!

The shores of Loch Bad A’ Ghail gave us our first photographic opportunities of the trip and although the light never came through it gave the group a change to practice their composition and shot finding.

There was at least some nice drama provided by the clouds but a bit of sun would have been nice!

Later we made our way to the nearby ‘Aird of Coigach’, a much more challenging area to make sense of with its jumble of boulders, bogs and pools. The light still refused to play ball but we did the best we could nevertheless.

We set up camp not far from Achanaird Bay with the distant mountains obscured by rain. The group remained optimistic that things would change, an important state of mind in that kind of weather pattern!

Saturday – Day 2

We woke up to yet more drizzle but with a more promising forecast we drove off to the Suilven trail head and began our hike leaving luxuries at the car to cut down on weight.

Photographing rapids with Canisp behind

A breif moment of some sort of light looking across to Suilven

Along the route we stopped to photograph rapids and a small loch. Finally the weather started to show signs of breaking. Unfortunately Suilven remained in cloud almost for the duration of the walk and after discussion with the group we abandoned plans to summit camp in favour of visiting a low lying location I had in my back pocket for another trip.

A great group to go hiking with. Everything improved from this point on, we were in for a bit of a treat!

Hiking off trail to the foot of Suilven. It was a lovely route despite the rough terrain.

Things started to get interesting when we rounded the north western flank of the mountain and an expansive view across to Cul Mor, Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh was revealed. To my great excitement it also became increasingly clear that a gap on the horizon was going to treat us to some great sunset light.

Inverpolly and Coigach, the first real light of the whole trip and perfectly timed!

The following 5 hours were some of the most enjoyable I have ever had in the UK with some outstanding light in a stunning location. I moved between Anmeng, Marie and David helping where I could and offering advice on how to make the most of the light when it came and what to expect. In between teaching I took some time to make some images of my own.

Outstanding light that only ever appears in mixed weather.

The group took some outstanding shots and hugely enjoyed themselves. They also got to experience the supreme satisfaction that comes as just reward for a big effort getting to a remote location at the perfect time.

Anmeng shooting Suilven over a couple of pools that I had scouted earlier.

The group also tried some shots into the sun and out to sea

I thought it was all over at this point but the best was yet to come!

The sunset produced one last treat right when I thought it was all over.

Suilven lit red with incredible cumulus clouds behind. It’s at this kind of time that I find it hard to contain my extreme excitement!

We also chanced our hand at some night photography as darkness approached, something Marie was particularly keen to try. We were finally back at our tents at 00:10 with an alarm set for 3.30am.

It never got totally dark but we enjoyed shooting in the deep blue light at night.

When cloud started to form over Suilven we had the X-factor needed to make our night images really work

Obligatory epic night time tent shot! This is what wild camping is all about!

Sunday – Day 3

I poked my head out of the tent in the twilight of predawn to see a gentle glow underneath the clouds to the northeast. It was indicative of a spectacular sunrise, so I woke the somewhat exhausted (but excited) group and we looked around for compositions nearby.

There was only ever a 50:50 chance of a good sky, based on past experience, but we were on a lucky streak! The glow gradually built until the clouds were lit up; everyone focused on shooting reflections in the water.

Marie an David, set up with plenty of time to spare!

Sunrises last a little longer this far north, we had plenty of time. This view looks across to Quinag

Although we hung around to see if the sun itself would break through we were soon surrounded by low cumulus and we turned back to the tents for more sleep.

We didn’t get walking until gone 10am, but there was no reason to rush as clouds swirled around the surrounding peaks with only Suilven free.

 

A perfectly positioned waterfall below Suilven and more hiking! It stayed dry most of the time despite the gloomy sky

We carried on our way back to the car chatting amongst one another. One nice thing about these trips is you just can’t talk photography all the time (it gets boring!) and you get to know one another. The cloud persisted and we didnt get to see some of the views that we might have done if it were clear, but I’m not sure anyone cared after the success of the previous 24 hours.

Kirkaig falls was on our route back and we stopped there for an hour or so trying different compositions. Unfortunately for Marie she dropped her lens into the water, something tells me she wont be getting it back! Luckily it was ‘only’ a kit lens so it could have been worse.

Kirkaig Falls

About a mile before getting back to the car I realised I had left the key in the other car, 4 miles away at the start of the trail. The less said about that the better (what an idiot!) but fortunately David was able to catch a lift so we only lost half an hour from our day.

It looked like the weather was set in for the day so we took a proper break and had a pub dinner at Lochinver (fish and chips has never tasted so good). David had to leave early to go home so we said goodbye before Anmeng, Marie and I headed back out in the hope of one last bit of magic to finish the trip. Marie was being ludicrously optimistic about the weather (which is a great mentality to have) and it actually worked out quite nicely with some very unsual and dramatic light over Sionasgaig.

You dont get blue like this very often. This was taken an hour before sunset.

Anmeng and Marie battling the wind after the best light had passed. It was very difficult conditions to get a shot in and gloomy too!

 

Monday – Day 4

The last day began as the previous one had ended with complete cloud coverage but as it started to break we made our way out of the tents to photograph Suilven from where we camped.

The sky started to break up around 7.30am

This is why you put the tents up next to a big view!

My last image of the trip was probably my favourite. Spectacular light looking across to Suilven.

So the trip came to an almost perfect end. Perfect that is apart from the midges that swarmed us (for the first time) just as we got back to the car. You can’t have it all.

If you want to join me on a future workshop….

People on the mailing list will hear first about my upcoming workshops. Since these workshops will tend to be fairly small and exclusive (generally 3 people) spaces may go before I make any social media announcements.

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5 Comments

  1. Sounds like a good trip Alex, I’m planning a 6 month trip to New Zealand within the next couple weeks and reading this has definitely got my excitement going! So thank you! By the way did you get any keepers for yourself when Suilven lit up red?

    Nick

  2. Great write up Alex & some stunning images, your workshops look much more exiting & better equipped to experience the light than some that are advertised!

  3. Hi mate, what tent is that?

    thanks

    steve

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