So, let us talk locations.
When you think Scotland where are the first places that pop into your head? The hills are usually the first thing that comes to mind, then what is in the surrounding area. And, by that I mean what else is here that I can get to within reason to make the most of the day. A favourite day trip of mine I have yet to complete, (when I say complete, I mean stick to the plan) is what I call Sunset Hunter. It was a failure. This consists of Kilchurn Castle, Oban, Castle Stalker and Glencoe. This is an absolute favourite, I have done the route twice in full but never made it to the end of the day, the end being sunset. I have to say, this is ideally done in a car (sorry bus people), although you can get to some of these places with public transport so don’t worry. The aim is to start at Kilchurn Castle for sunrise, spending the time in between exploring before sunset at Castle Stalker. I did not plan this very well, let me explain.
Sunrise was at around 6.30am and sunset was mere fifteen hours later at 9.30pm… I couldn’t handle the wait and tiredness kicked in. I departed and headed for home at around 6pm. In my defence, I had driven back from Dornoch after a late start and down the entire east coast the day before and decided that a 4am departure from Edinburgh the next day was a great idea, why wouldn’t it be. This was the end of April. You already know this was a daft idea. But we learn from our mistakes 😉
Kilchurn, (pronounced ‘Kil-hurn’) is a ruin that belongs to Historic Scotland and is free to enter but sits on private land. There are two options here for parking depending on which side of the castle you wish to be on, the castle has a carpark with direct access to the ruins. Following the path under the railway bridge it asks for a suggested donation as you walk through the gate before passing the highland cattle on the short walk. Or for the most popular views, you can park on the south side of Loch Awe in the layby on the main road from Inveraray (A819). From this point you climb the fence, which has a step, you then have two options. The most obvious would be to walk directly across the field, but this has become so boggy and run down with rain and stampedes that the less obvious option is to turn left and keep to the fence line. This well-trodden grassy path misses the bog and takes you directly down towards the water’s edge. If you time it right and are in luck, then the mountains behind the castle will catch the first light and give you views like you would not believe. Now be sure to say hello to the fisherman that have set up camp, chances are high you will be offered a hot beverage if any are awake, and of course it helps if you find a friendly face. One of my favourite images from here were taken with my drone, but keep in mind that Kilchurn is ‘no drone zone’, so make sure to stay out of the perimeter before you take off.
Oban is the gateway to the Isles, hustling and bustling and so full of life and there is plenty to do and you have a few options once you get here. So, once I have been to Costa for my coffee and breakfast sandwich, I will take a walk around the harbour and watch the ferries coming in and out and decide what I will do from here. You can either park the car in town, and risk it or play it safe and park opposite Tesco in the pay and display and walk up through the houses to the top of Pulpit Hill. You will have views facing north with the bay to your front right and views across Lynn of Lorn on a clear day. The second, and most popular viewpoint is from McCaigs Tower looking west towards the Isle of Mull over the Sound of Kerrera. There are a couple of benches in the tower itself for a rest if you require it. The views are quite special, and truly rewarding but the road up is not to be taken lightly, consisting of tight, narrow, hairpin bends, blind corners and fast driving locals. Oh yes, I almost forgot… it is so steep! My first visit I walked, the second time I went with the car and parked using the car park at the base of the tower… I recommend the car (you will thank me later).
Again, the true scale of this place can truly only be seen with the use of a drone. The best time of day to visit would be sunset to get the last of the sunlight and watching the lights from the harbour come on. Once you have decided to leave Oban, we cross the Connel Bridge, you pass this on the way to Oban, so you will not miss it. This bridge is quite a sight, a cantilever bridge built in 1903 and still going strong. You can often see what looks like a fight happening under it and the tide from Loch Etive and the Firth of Lorn (the open sea) colliding, this is called the falls of Lora.
Heading north towards the road that will eventually take you to Glencoe, the next stop is going to be Castle Stalker. About 25 miles from Oban this is one the most photographed castles in Scotland, it sits on an island in Loch Linnhe about 1.5 miles from Port Appin. Getting here is easy, however parking is rather difficult. The most obvious of places to park would be as close to the water as possible but there are signs everywhere stating no parking, with a bar restaurant being the busiest of places turning people away. But as you follow the road, it veers right and takes you up the hill and immediately on the left you will see a café. Now I’d recommend parking here and going into the café to buy something, and then walking back down the main road towards the castle. Ideally you want the tide in for your next visit at sunset, but you can walk down to the shore and even get onto the island if the tide is all the way out. As soon as you walk in the gate you will see the castle in front of you with what look like old train tracks, these can be helpful for leading lines towards the main attraction. You can walk around the shore and try to compose your shot for later that evening. But again, for me the dream shot here for me must be with a drone, but this location like many has been listed as a ‘no drone zone’ as the castle is privately owned. Be quick... that is all I will say.
So, you have scouted your sunset location, time is on your side, what to do?
Now if you go during the spring or summer, you will have an extremely long wait, but the good thing is that the village of Glencoe is only 25 minutes away. Driving north on the A828, you will eventually come to the Ballachulish Bridge and driving under it bringing you to the village of Ballachulish. This little village was kept busy just two years after the Glencoe Massacre in 1692. Slate quarries were established and supplied slate to most of Edinburgh and Glasgow’s skyline, and only closed in 1955. The larger of the two sites is unused and has been transformed into a nature habitat, with a built path for access and information boards throughout. I currently have a small thumbnail size piece of Ballachulish slate at home. Public toilets are also available here for 50p next to the tourist information centre and local shops.
Once you have refreshed yourself head into Glencoe, passing through the Village of Glencoe, you will have the entire glen to keep yourself occupied. On my last attempt I spent a lot of time here, I had allowed plenty time of time to explore. There is a waterfall at the north end of the Glen behind a little cottage beside Loch Achtriocthan, it looks quite the part from below and I had always wanted to climb up. I did not have anything special planned… well I did; I wanted a selfie with the waterfall (who wouldn’t?!). So I made sure I had the trusty tripod and remote trigger, I was all set until a bus full of tourists turned up, so I decided to wait until they got back on the bus and left. I have no issue with the tourists, my main issue was the fact I had no idea how to get to this waterfall and didn’t want them to see that I had no idea how to get up to it. Long story short, I made it up to the top of this waterfall and it was all going so well until I realised that the point I had picked to set up the tripod was on the other side of the stupidly fast flowing river, the fact that it was so windy the water was actually going back up and over didn’t bother me. Fail. So I trundled back down and thought what else could I get up to, decided to walk part of the old military road whilst getting totally soaked, and it was at this point I gave up and called it a day. The weather forecast should have been clear… the weatherman lied to me again, but in fairness I wasn’t where the good weather was. They do say that the weather can change in 15 minutes. Cold, wet, and tired the cloud rolled in and the heavens opened. Game over for me, I was about 3 hours short of making the sunset, but what a day.
This is a winter adventure if you want to complete this in one go. I have tried this route twice and didn’t manage it, but both attempts have been completely different. I remember them for those reasons alone, and not bothered about not getting the final shot. Back at the start I said, “it was a failure”, what do you think? I made sunrise at a castle, I visited a town and explored it, visited another castle all before hiking a waterfall and sitting in one of the most iconic places in Scotland, this day was far from a failure... it was a proper adventure day. It’s days like these that I crave, and I am happy to have under my belt. You can do all the planning you want for a day out in photography, but we are at the mercy of the elements, that is what I love about it.