The Ayrshire Photographer - Loch Arklet & Rob Roy's Viewpoint, Inversnaid

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“𝐸𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑦 𝑑𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑚𝑒𝑟 𝑘𝑛𝑜𝑤𝑠 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑖𝑡 𝑖𝑠 𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑖𝑟𝑒𝑙𝑦 𝑝𝑜𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝑡𝑜 𝑏𝑒 ℎ𝑜𝑚𝑒𝑠𝑖𝑐𝑘 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑎 𝑝𝑙𝑎𝑐𝑒 𝑦𝑜𝑢'𝑣𝑒 𝑛𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑟 𝑏𝑒𝑒𝑛 𝑡𝑜, 𝑝𝑒𝑟ℎ𝑎𝑝𝑠 𝑚𝑜𝑟𝑒 ℎ𝑜𝑚𝑒𝑠𝑖𝑐𝑘 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑛 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑓𝑎𝑚𝑖𝑙𝑖𝑎𝑟 𝑔𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑑.” - 𝐽𝑢𝑑𝑖𝑡ℎ 𝑇ℎ𝑢𝑟𝑚𝑎𝑛

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It’s 1am & I’ve been keeping my eye on the weather forecast for Callendar & Aberfoyle tomorrow. There are yellow warnings in place from the Met Office due to an incoming weather front named ‘Storm Gareth’ - but whilst the wind is to be very strong from the wee hours onward, the rain isn’t to start until early afternoon. I’m hopeful for some really dynamic conditions & I prepare for the journey.

[ S L E E P ]



Now morning, I layer up, fill my flask with strong coffee & set off. I drive North, hitting a squall of nasty weather on the Fenwick moors - but this is normal as you will know if you’ve ever been there, haha! Everywhere else is relatively clear with some interesting formations in the clouds. Once I’ve broken free of the morning traffic heading towards Glasgow, my journey continues smoothly & I reach Aberfoyle in good time. I stop to stretch my legs & to consult my map; deciding to start my days photography at Loch Arklet, just West of Loch Katrine & Ben A’an.

I drive along the beautifully quiet road, lined on both sides by the ancient Caledonian Pine Forest. I fight the urge to stop & explore the woodlands as my time is limited if I want to avoid the inbound storm, though I do make some voice memo’s to remind myself. The road twists & turns as I near my first location & out of nowhere, the enigmatic Arrochar Alps suddenly dominate my view. I’m amazed at just how beautiful the scene is as heavy banks of freezing fog roll swiftly across the snow covered mountain peaks. The peaks themselves are fantastic - sharp, jagged & full of natural character as the light breaks through the thick clouds. Still in awe, I pull in to the side of the road & strap on my bag. I’ve reached my first location;



Location 1. The Abandoned Corriearklet Boathouse - Loch Arklet

Loch_Arklet_Boathouse_Arrochar_Alps_Scott_Wanstall

After hopping a small fence & scramble across the boggy banks of Loch Arklet I find a promising spot to begin composing my photograph. With the Arrochar Alps forming such an impressive backdrop, the scene simply begs to be photographed! Instead of just jumping in though, I take a moment to study the landscape & contemplate what I want to achieve. Careful consideration is key in moments like this, as it’s too easy to end up with sensory overload which leads to poor photographs. I’d originally planned to make a panoramic if the water was still & glassy - but that isn’t the case now that I’m here.

I decide that I will shoot at 85mm from chest height. This allows me to slightly crop into the scene & really focus on what I want to achieve with the image. I carefully frame the boathouse with the mountains & make use of a simple S-shaped leading line from the waters edge on the right. This divides the frame nicely & leads the eye towards the mountains. I apply a polarising filter to really nail the definition in the water & to sculpt the light on the mountains & a 0.8 soft edged graduated ND filter to add some drama to the clouds & to accentuate the light on the peaks. Once all of this is completed, I check my exposure & boost my ISO to give me a shutter speed of 1/125 whilst shooting at f11. It’s very windy & I’m not leaving anything to chance by shooting at a slower shutter speed.

I make a couple of test exposures & wait for the light to hit the boathouse at the same time that the mountains are relatively clear. The rain comes & goes- but then the light appears & I make my exposure. Moments later, the boathouse is in darkness & the mountains are obscured once more by the fog. Job done!

Leaving my camera set up I make my way back on to the road & make an exposure of the scene that lays before me after setting my focus. Image number two - complete.

The view towards the Arrochar Alps from the roadside at Loch Arklet

The view towards the Arrochar Alps from the roadside at Loch Arklet

Location 2. Rob Roy’s Viewpoint - Inversnaid

Arrochar_Alps_from_Inversnaid_Rob_Roy_Viewpoint_Scott_Wanstall

My next location lies a short drive along the road. I cross a narrow wooden bridge as I turn off the main road & park the car in a small clearing before setting off up the hill towards the viewpoint. The hike is absolutely wonderful. The trees block any wind & the air is still. The morning rain has left everything vibrant & inspiring, with moss twinkling underfoot like lumps of emerald. There are many little streams cutting through the woodland & the puddles on the path are a rich red ochre due to the peaty earth, lumps of quartz from the hillside lie scattered throughout the trail & it all feels very mystical!

I stomp my way through a peaty bog & then begin to ascend up through the trees, using a natural stairway in the roots & stones to pull my way up through the mud. The ground begins to level out as I pass through a pine archway & up the final couple of meters towards the viewpoint. The wind suddenly hits me like championship boxers right hook as I break through the trees & cast my gaze upon the epic views across Loch Lomond..

With the wind this strong & with the storm now in front of me, I hurriedly set up my tripod, camera & filters. My first photograph is a panoramic view of the Arrochar Alps, comprised of; Ben Narnairn, Creagg Tharsuinn, A’ Chrois, Beinne Ime, Ben Vane, Beinn Dubh & Ben Vorlich with Kenmore Wood framing the bottom of the range. There is a small band of light running through the peaks & this helps to set them out against the dark woodlands & the quickly darkening sky. I make a series of 5 exposures, to be stitched together in my post-processing software whilst weighing down the tripod in the wind.

My second (& last) composition is a wider view of the viewpoint itself. Shooting at 28mm, I compose my image to include the lonely bench & the bare Birch trees in the foreground with Loch Lomond & the rolling hills to the South-West filling out the background. Needless to say, there were no boat tours on the go!

Rob_Roy's_Viewpoint_Inversnaid_Loch_Lomond_Scott_Wanstall

With the wind now severely picking up, I quickly pack away my gear & head back down the hillside to the car. I drive down to the waters edge at Inversnaid Hotel & the rain comes down on me like steel rods as I watch the roaring waterfall ferociously pushing its way into Loch Lomond. I decide against making photographs & retire into the hotel for a cup of coffee & a freshly baked scone by the window instead. By the time I leave, Storm Gareth is in full force, the mountains are no longer visible, the weather is becoming dangerous & I make the decision to (slowly) make my way home.

All in all, I made more photographs than I expected to. I’m very happy that I made the effort to get out there, even with weather warnings in place. It certainly pays to explore in all conditions - even in the face of abject conditions. I often find that my favourite Landscape Photographs are made just before or just after a storm!



Equipment Used;


Camera & Optics by Sony / Samyang.
Elite Filter System by SRB Photographic.
Tripod by Vanguard Photo.
Bag & inserts by Karrimore UK / Lowepro.
Outdoor Clothing & Boots by Jack Wolfskin / Karrimore UK / Decathlon.

Post Processing performed in Adobe Lightroom & Affinity Photo.

Transport by Land Rover.

Why I Didn't Wait for the Sun to Set at the Summit of Ben A'an

I awake suddenly to the sound of my alarm ringing out in the darkness - it’s 5.30 in the morning and its still pitch black outside, but most importantly the skies are still crystal clear and the ground is still frozen… Coffee time!

Last night during a sudden drop in temperature (to a balmy -5 degrees) I made a snap decision to ascend and to photograph ‘Ben A’an’ the following morning - if the conditions remained as they were. Situated in the Trossachs - a two hour drive from Prestwick - I’d have to leave early if I wanted to reach the summit by sunrise.

Coffee in hand, I defrost the car. I’m fully awake due to the excitement and anticipation and I hit the road, making good progress until I almost come off the road just outside of Callander due to some very thick ice lurking in the darkness. Arriving at the Ben A’an car park in very good time I put my (roasting) new 3-in-1 jacket on, humph my overtly heavy duffel-bag over my shoulders onto my back and put Coops on his lead so that we can cross the road safely. I let him off at the foot of the path and literally hit the ground running. Or so I thought. 

I get approximately 30m up the steep path from the road and suddenly realise to my horror that I can’t breathe; the sudden cold air and the weight of my bag are constricting my lungs. Gasping, with my heart pounding like a pneumatic hammer, I come to an embarrassing halt in order to regulate my breathing - deep breaths; in through the nose and out through the mouth. (Thanks Mr. Wright). The fresh mountain air quickly revives me and I head (slowly) to my next rest stop - a wee bridge connecting the initial path onto the mountain trail. My thighs are burning at this point, my bag feels as though it weighs the same as me and every step upwards fills me with apprehension.

With much effort and a concerted struggle to persist, I reach the halfway point chuckling as I notice that someone had vomited on the man-made two-foot high stone steps. My legs feel as though they are about to give way as the path suddenly becomes much steeper and I look up to see the summit looming what seems to be an aeon away from my position. This does nothing to ease the feeling of plausible defeat in my heart - I see Coops bounding through the trees (full of energy) way up the trail, not for turning back and remember the SAS adage that my Papa was always so keen to relay to me; ‘He Conquers Who Endures’. This provides me with a well-needed kick up the arse and I press on making decent progress against all odds.

As the path curves upwards into the shadow of the peak, it morphs seamlessly from thick man-made steps to rough, extremely slippy, natural crags. Due to its constant shelter from the sun, a thick layer of sheet-ice has settled in nicely, leaving anyone brave enough to continue towards the summit at risk of seriously hurting themselves. I stop to take stock of the situation, then continue my ascent using the fresh snow at the edges of the path to provide the grip that I required. At this point, the summit is about fifty metres away and I catch a second wind (one of the best feelings in the world when climbing). My blood is flowing freely now, my breathing regulated and my muscles warmed up. The rest of the climb is assuredly pleasant and I hit the summit and suddenly lose my breath again…This time, it’s the panoramic visions of splendour hitting my retinas like a six-tonne truck that stop me in my tracks; snow-covered mountains as far as the eye can see, bathed in the golden light of the rising sun; deep emerald woodlands rising up to meet the pure mountain air and the vast expanse of water that is Loch Katrine reflecting the land surrounding it.

I’m filled with a deep sense of joy, of accomplishment and of wonder. There’s literally nothing in this world that could counter the euphoria of such a moment and I smile. Meanwhile, Coops is on the summit - looking at me as if to say ‘is that it!?’… after all, his first ever walk was Cairn Gorm! I scramble up the to the summit absolute to devour my sandwich and to down an ice cold can of red bull in order to restore my spent energy reserves. The conditions are perfect; no wind, no solar haze and most importantly of all; NO RAIN!

 

[NOTE; In landscape photography (especially when a strenuous ascent is involved), well-maintained energy levels are vital to focussing the mind in the field, as without them one may as well just go home empty-handed. I’d already decided that each shot was to be carefully considered, crafted and ‘of its own’, meaning that there'd be no ‘b-shots’ or duds. I wanted each photograph from this adventure to serve as a testament to the natural beauty of the location and to pay homage to my struggles while ascending the summit.]

 

My first image is a composition overlooking Loch Katrine and the Trossachs, with the hills remarkably well-defined summit framing the shot, kissed by the beautiful, golden, morning light. I depress the shutter release and stand back at a loss for words… I know that here and now I’m experiencing a life-affirming moment in time.

Hearing voices behind me as I stand in awe of my own work, I turn my head and see that a large family has joined me on top of the world, spearheaded by a fellow that looks strikingly familiar to the American singer-songwriter Father John Misty. They greet me warmly (having come all the way from Canada) and heap attention onto Coops before settling down onto the rocks to soak in the views and to crack open their collective Thermos. 

I lock-on to another composition, this time featuring the summit-peak in the foreground. I take the shot, outwardly expressing my excitement for the image. The group behind me are now getting ready for a family portrait, standing in front of the sun. I take a moment to suggest that they take position at the spot where I captured my first image as it’d serve as the perfect backdrop for such a picture and happily end up taking the shots for them - putting a massive smile on their faces.

By the time we finish sharing stories, the summit has become a buzzing hive of activity. I count no-less that twenty-four people and three (well insulated) dogs - its amazing to think that such a place (located in and atop the middle of nowhere) can be so busy! Interestingly though, I didn’t see any other photographers! I spend the rest of the daylight hours watching the light and meeting lots of lovely people with interesting stories to tell, from South Africa to Stoke, making my experience all the more rewarding! 

The sun begins to set and I decide to head down from the summit to utilise the last of the golden light on capturing compositions I’d seen on the ascent, as I’d already captured images that I was more than satisfied with. Anything else from today would simply be a bonus! The first of these compositions is threefold - an extremely moody monochromatic shot featuring Loch Achray from the Northern side of the Summit, an abstract shot of the crag covered in icicles set against the clear blue sky and a close up of the heather above the snow - with large icicles hanging off of a single small bush.

My final descent is just as arduous as the ascent - the sheet-ice was making things fairly treacherous in the twilight, and the steep terrain covered in snow obliterated any semblance of a swift descent! Nonetheless, I make decent time and reach the aforementioned mid-way point and take a shot of Ben A’an from the path. It’s a great shot, but the deforested foreground casts a wee bit of a malaise upon my state of euphoria. Just as I reach the bottom of the trail and the end of my adventure I hear two Kestrels calling out through the twilight and stop to enjoy the moment. I tune into my ears and hear the soft warning calls of smaller birds nesting amongst the heather - it fills my mind with wonder.

I get back to the car, taking stock of the days adventure. The feeling of wellbeing is overwhelming - not only did I overcome any semblance of physical or mental stress, but I reached the summit to behold one of the best panoramic vistas that Scotland has to offer - the kind of place that requires no real effort in order to capture its innate natural beauty. I humph my overtly heavy duffel-bag into the boot, gulp down a litre of water and set off homewards through the darkness - avoiding the frozen road which very almost claimed my life this morning.
 

 

I'd like to thank everyone that I met atop Ben A'an for their generosity, stories and encouragement - your company took my already exemplary adventure to a whole new level! Until next time we meet - lang may yir lums reek!


 

'Atop Ben A'an'