A little walk along the Moray coast

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The day started cold and miserable, but sunny spells were a forecast possibility, although that doesn’t always mean much in Scotland. The weather can change from summer to winter whilst you’re eating your lunch, or by walking a few miles. I wanted to put the Lowepro Whistler BP350AW to a little bit of a test, and to try it with the Gitzo Mountaineer 3 series on board, and so set off this Sunday on a six mile hike from Buckie to Portknockie and back.

The route takes in some spectacular cliffs and rock formations, but the sun was low and and to the south so they were bathed in shadow most of the time.

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Coming Home – A creel boat returns to Findochty Harbour

The route starts in the harbour at Buckie, proceeds along the shore and then up to the cliffs to above Findochty (pronounced Finechty, and shown in the main photo above), before dropping down into the Findochty harbour (left) before rising again out to the cliff tops and along to Portknockie.

The return is the same route, but you can vary some of the routes to walk on the beaches or at the base of the cliffs before taking to the higher ground again. Obviously, this is dependent on the tide times, but we were walking into an outgoing tide and so the options increased as the walk progressed.

The weather held fairer than expected or was forecast for much of the morning, although the paths were slippery in places due to the rain of previous days.

Towards lunchtime it clouded over and I thought that the best views of the day would now be lost. Gaining on Portknockie this was confirmed as it turner colder and increasingly windy, but the Whistler was proving its comfort level, and my gear felt protect. I was ready for the rain. Having lunched at Portknockie I left in the same dull and  dense cloud I had arrived in, and that meant no promising opportunities for photos. I felt the increasing threat of testing the waterproof cover outweighing the chances to test my Gitzo tripod.

Then, as we were leaving Findochty for the second time, to return to Buckie, and just as the cold wind turned even more to the north, the sun burst through for a last hoorah. The wind dropped a little, although it was definitely strengthening on the mornings dead calm. The reflections were starting to be lost as the sea lost it’s almost mirror stillness.

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The sun bathed the rocks, and the white hillside church, in a beautiful soft winter sunlight. Then as I left Findochty, the juxtaposition of the War Memorial against the wintered caravans, struck me against the now denim sky.

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The caravan site was a little sad: Everything closed and everyone gone home. Winter isn’t kind to a tourist town. Although the pub was open and from the smell emanating as I passed the kitchens, lunch was being served to at least some eager clients.

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Facing back to Buckie and walking the ragged shore, the sun peaked in and out from the clouds and the rock faces of the cliff edge. Puddles formed by rain or tide reflected the breaking clouds, and the blueness of the now again, brightening sky. The sea calmed and for a time an almost mirror like finish remained, without a breeze to speak of. The wind got up a little more and the reflections again were lost on the sea, but it made for a lovely crisp afternoon, and a majestic end to a fine walk.

So how did the Whistler perform? Well, unlike my experiences with numerous other photographic rucksacks, I have no bruising on my shoulders or collar bones, as the weight was supported by the excellent hip belt. I would appreciate just a little more padding to the centre of the bottom of the rucksack where the bag sits on my pelvis and around the lower back. The tripod was secure and stable, and even on rough ground I felt in control and didn’t feel like I was going to topple at all. The total weight of the tripod, bag, and contents must be around 10kg and yet I was comfortable and would happily put the whole lot on again for another 6 miles.

I was also happy to put the rucksack on the ground without worrying about dirt or dust, dew or mud, and I could access the main items without opening the whole thing up. I had room for my personal items and snacks, and plenty of room to spare.

As an investment, it is, so far, proving its worth. With colder weather and plenty of snow forecast for later in this week I am excited about trying it out again in less favourable conditions still. After all, it was invented to cope with Whistler, Canada, so the Scottish Highlands should be just fine. Generally we are wetter so I might be grateful yet for the extra waterproof cover, although the think the main material will shed more than a light shower, the zips are the venerable parts.

The Gitzo Mountaineer has proved its worth also. img_2764I have been enjoying using a good stable tripod now for a couple of weeks and have noticed an improvement in my photography, or at least my hit-rate, as a result. I am now using f16 rather than f11 much more, due to the advantages of a steady tripod that allows slower shutter speeds.

But a surprising bonus is that I am actually taking less photos, just more good ones. Setting it up allows for more contemplation and consideration, which I think also creates better photos because you take the time to consider the options fully first. The stop and think, as it is sometimes known.

Using the Gitzo is a pleasure, the one handed operation of all three legs section locks at the same time (and whilst wearing gloves) is a real boost to speed of operation. The diameter of the legs and inherent stability and rigidity of the design and layered carbon fibre copes well even with the windy conditions that Scotland tends to throw at you. This is something which many tripods have not coped with at all. I have yet to resort to hanging my bag off it, but I know I can if I need to. It is also a pleasure not to freeze your hands on cold aluminium! Although it is lighter than many aluminium ones I have used, which means I am much more likely to carry it, it is not as light or insubstantial as the travel tripods I am used to. I worried about this to start with, but being able to securely carry it on the side of the Whistler means I am no longer noticing the size or weight of the tripod until I come to use it, when it becomes an advantage over the travel tripods.

All in all, both purchases, are proving to be good solid investments. We will see how this pans out in the longer term, and importantly if the increase in quality photographic production reaps rewards and payback in the financial sense to match.

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