It always amazes me what people just jump over fences and where they think nobody is looking. It saddens me also.
All of these appliances were dumped in what appears to be a building of potentially historical significance, and right next door to a family holiday park. They were clearly visible to anyone walking to and from the site to the beach via the side pathway, which also gives very popular views of the lighthouse.
The Moray Coast Trail, or Moray Coastal Trail (not even the council can decide what it’s called) stretches from Cullen in the east to Findhorn towards the west, along the coast of the Moray Firth.
Officially, it’s 50 miles but there are some arguments about that…
…anyway, over the past few months we, as in Patches and I, have been tackling it in nice bite sized sections at the weekends. Patches is a mature gentlemen, with a touch of arthritis, and so those bite sized chunks range from five to around nine miles. This is a bit of a misnomer though, as we walk each section as a there-and-back, so we might only cover 2.5miles of the trail, but we do it twice, in both directions seeing it from both views.
Some sections are easier to walk than others, as it shares the route with sections of cycle trails and on disused railways, so sometimes a nice wide flat path is provided and sometimes you are on the “walkers path” and therefore going around the cliffs (and up and down thin tracks being scratched by scratchy shrub).
I had been looking forward to yesterdays section very much, because the map has the words ‘caves’ printed on it all the way. It did not disappoint, although the scratches from the scratchy bushes on the very enclosed sections might take a few days to heal.
All along the route there are coves and bays, some sand and some pebble. Some are easy to get to, and some are definitely not.
The whole route gives excellent views across the firth to the coast on the other side, depending on the weather of course, and you can often see dolphins, seals, and a large variety of birdlife.
Not marked on the map is the old Coastguard lookout station, which you get to see from quite some distance when walking west to east, but then it pops up over the gorse and undulating cliff top at you if on the route east to west.
It is a shame that you can’t go in it, or that it hasn’t been co-opted into a bothy like the one on Skye. I image the view from the balcony at the top would be quite something.
The route does indeed take you past a number of sandstone caves and rock formations, as promised on the map. These ones (above) are not far from the active quarry and are reasonably accessible, although two of the three paths down are much steeper than the west most one and great care is needed.
Popular with photographers, mainly due to the natural arch you can just see at the bottom of the photo (above), and the array of weather worn large round rocks which form a stunning collection of geological complexity (below), it is unlikely you’ll be alone here for very long.
At weekends, it is possible to park near to the quarry entrance and just visit these caves, although this is certainly not recommended on weekdays when the lorries are going in and out, and care should be taken not to block access at ANY time.
The quarry produces some very large pieces of sandstone, and whilst it may be a bit of a blight on the landscape, it does facilitate the degree of weekend parking which is helpful, as well as offering much needed employment.
Towards the Covesea end of the walk, which can be extended easily to Lossiemouth if desired, there is the Sculptors Cave. This feature is clearly marked on the OS maps in the serif type usually reserved for ancient monuments so there is a deeply historical context, obviously. It isn’t actually possible to see Sculptors Cave from the walk, as you’re actually walking over it, but nearby natural arches and caves that you can see give you a teaser of what it could be like.
‘Finds from the Sculptor’s Cave dating from the Bronze Age to the 4th century AD, and including Iron Age pottery, are in the Elgin Museum.’
‘The most striking feature of the cave is the (formerly) substantial assemblage of human remains that was revealed in both programmes of excavation’
‘The possibility may be considered that there were two periods of deposition….the deposition of the remains of children, with some emphasis on the placing of heads at the entrance, and….the remains of several decapitated individuals. Concern with the removal, curation and display of human heads is a persistent trait across prehistoric Europe…’
(edited, removing technical references for ease of reading, by the photographer)
This exciting site certainly warrants a further expedition to photography the carvings at a later date.
The caves and natural arches extend along the seaward side of the cliff and also under where the photographer is standing.
The coast of the Moray Firth is still able to enchant and interest, even after more than 13 years of living beside it. The geology itself is varied and interesting, and the human history of the coast is just as fascinating.
The eastern side of Scotland is often overlooked by the rush to the west coast and the isles, and whilst this keeps it from being unpleasantly crowded, it is a disservice to what is a very worthwhile destination. The weather of Moray is far more stable, and frequently warmer and drier than the west, although the residents will still bemoan the lack of a “decent summer”. It also suffers considerably less from the issue of the Highland midge than it’s opposing neighbours.
Although the walk was only around 5-6 miles in length, ignoring some exploratory detours, Patches certainly enjoyed the outing as much as I did.
Update Sunday 8th October: attempted today to get down to the Sculptures Cave from the cliff above. It was difficult is distinguish the right path and I tried finding a way down and back to it from different points. In the end I found what seems the most logical path but I was only brave enough to tackle the first section and was slipping in the mud from the last few days of rain. As I peered over the precipice and contemplated the leap across the missing rock section onto the second path I am afraid that I bottled it. The caves remain unexplored until I can tackle them from the bottom having walked there from the beach at the far Lossiemouth end. For this, I would want to be there as the tide was going out rather than after it had turned and was heading back in, as being cut off is a very serious proposition. Another time…
After 20 years, my love affair with Skye has, I think, now ended. It is not the island, and it is not the people, it is the crowds.
I arrived in pouring rain, which isn’t unusual for anything on the western most side of Scotland, and the next day, with it forecast to be in for the whole day, took a trip into Portree for supplies.
Skye has become a victim of its own success, attracting over 60,000 visitors for the August bank holiday weekend alone (according to a resident). The roads, mainly single track with passing places, just cannot cope. Even if the visitors knew how to drive on them…and too many don’t. Without the docking cruise ships, even with just the coaches, the line for the only ladies toilets stretched for over 60 people and part way around the town. When finally you could get a seat, as it were, the result was barely tolerable, and a long way from pleasant. But at least Portree has toilets…
The third day, my second full day on the island, and looking slightly at slightly more promising weather, I set off the most northerly point on Skye – Rubha Hunish on the Trotternish peninsula. After getting my boots nearly sucked off my feet in the boggy terrain following the lines of walkers to ever nook and cranny, I had wished for my wellies! I also wished it hadn’t rained for days beforehand, and quite a few less people.
The walk is an out and back, which means retracing your steps and trying to keep your boots about you when all about you are losing theirs…
…takes you past a cleared village, and on to meet a sheep sank at the “main” road.
Just along the road a bit further is the Skye Museum of Island Life – a collection of Blackhouses showing the islands way of life through the ages.
I was particularly moved by a series of letters from Johnnie dating back to WWI and on display in the final Blackhouse. There was one about him shipping out with his chums to France, and another thanking his sister for her parcel, which had reached him at the front. He said she could put in some tinned Salmon, or Sardines, next time if she felt inclined.
Sadly, Johnnie would never receive the second parcel as the third piece of paper on show is the notification from Kitchener’s war office. Johnnie had been Killed in Action just three days after writing his letter to his sister.
The next day, the weather forecast was terrible so I decided to explore nearby Camas Mor. Just a few minutes drive from the accommodation it was a lovely bay, small harbour, and was well served by a parking area with bins, two bench seat and tables, and a magnificent view. I would have been perfect it here had been a toilet, but as the residents of Skye will tell you, the Council is not inclined to providing (m)any facilities.
It proved to actually be the best weather day of the entire trip! Sadly, by the time I realised it wasn’t going to get better it was too late.
The day was not wasted, although the birds were nowhere to be seen, and the hoped for wildlife of seals, dolphins, and even whales, never appeared either: Just three Cormorants and a few assorted gulls to show for the hours of patient watching, plus some photos too, of course.
Driving back a slightly different route, following the grid pattern of small roads, took me past a derelict church which still had some sections of plaster and painted murals covering the remains of the walls.
The final day of the trip and I was desperate for a walk which wouldn’t be a quagmire, after the days of continual rain. I headed, along with a hundred or more other people (and I don’t exaggerate here) towards Dunvegan. Passing by the castle I hoped the beaches would be quieter and on arriving there was a space or two in the car park. By the time I had walked the 4 miles to the far end of the bay and back I was nearly boxed in by some bad parking to the front, a tree to the rear, and unable to open the passenger door for the inconsiderate parking of the neighbour. Almost every car in the place had a ’17’ plate and a sticker on the fuel filler cap reminding the driver what to fill it up with. According to the residents I spoke to, almost every car you see between 7am and 7pm is a hire car. Or a camper van…
My dog ran into the waves, got soaked right over, and came out grinning (Staffordshire Bull Terriers not only have the ability to ‘smile’ but also seem to have very good comic timing and a well judged sense of humour. My first one used to go and sit on the lino’ in the hall when he wanted to fart because it made it much louder…no kidding).
When I got my current squeeze, he was terrified of everything and that including the sea. Now, four years later, he can’t wait to get his paws wet. Watching his shear joy and exuberance of running into the waves made the whole trip, and even the bad weather worth it, but I am sure there were less people in Edinburgh during the Fringe than there was on the Isle of Skye last week.
The Moray Coastal Trail runs from Forres in West to Cullen in the East, and is a long distance trail of around 50 miles, which isn’t a long long distance trail, but its not a day hike either. Although if you look at it in little sections, it provides a convenient path between the coastal towns and villages, an more convenient off-road route for cyclists, and a gentle stroll for those of us who are feeling a bit less committed that the long distance hiker. Being a bit noncommittal after two divorces, I have hiked almost all of it, also twice, because I’ve done it in sections as “there and back” outings.
It’s an ideal stroll as in many sections it uses bit of the old railway track, so it is often fairly level, but there are options to adopt a more robust and strenuous, “walkers only”, path along some sections of the clifftops. These routes drop in and out of many secluded bays, are generally longer, and also provide some wonderful experiences of the local geological features. It is also far easier to have a pee on them if you’re a woman because there are more places to hide your arse. For men, not so much of a problem.
The trail, or individual sections, can of course be walked in either direction, and as I go out and back sometimes I take the photos in the opposite order to the way I write about it because I like to enjoy the walk and then get the shots on the way back. But I am not going to bore you with showing you the same bits twice.
The slide show above features 10 images from the Findochty (pronounced Finichty or Finechty depending on if they come from Buckie or further along the coast) to Cullen section. Cullen is famous as the home of the original Cullen Skink; a rich creamy soup using smoked haddock pieces and potatoes, and comes highly recommended by the author 😉
A little about each picture:
My walk started in Findochty harbour, which is where my post Wee Horses, Wee Boats sort of finished. Although the harbour is now used mainly by leisure craft, there are still some creel pot fishermen as shown in this photo. The bigger trawlers having moved to Buckie in the late 1800’s, where a deeper harbour could accommodate the ever larger vessels.
The Moray Coast interests geologists, with many paying trips to examine the exposed Cullen Quartzite formations. Psammitic beds are interbedded with thinner pelitic beds, and other sedimentary features can also easily be seen right along the coast here. Evidently, we have evidence of crenulations cleavage, and even secondary cleavage (which doesn’t sound flattering to anything other than rocks), as well as garnets in quartzite rocks on sections of the coast near to Cullen itself.
The most famous rock formation on this section of the walk is Bow Fiddle Rock, which has quite frankly been “done to death”.
The weather was glorious the whole way along the coast, with birds singing in the gorse and plenty of birds and boats on the water. I was delighted to see, albeit briefly, a small pod of the Firth’s famous resident Bottlenose Dolphins on the return leg.
The coast always attracts a number of migrant birds during the Spring and Autumn, and it is not unusual for some real rarities to turn up.
Portknockie harbour is a two basin harbour with berthing for up to 50 boats. Now mainly used by pleasure craft and leisure fishermen, there is still a small industry of crab and lobster boats, although most are now part-time. It also boasts a salt water fed open-air swimming pool which can be seen in the left basin in the photo. The town of Portnockie is mainly situated above the harbour, on the cliff top, and overlooks it.
The Fishermen’s Hall (this is the correct title as displayed on the name plaque), is believed to have been built in 1820. It was initially used a coal store by the Society of Fishermen (est. 1819), and started life as single storey with a thatched roof. It gained elevation and a state roof in 1842, and then to two full stories at the turn of the century. It has had a number of uses including hosting some notable local weddings during the mid-late 1800s. By 1994 it was is a poor state of repair, and the then owners Moray Council, put it up for sale. There was little interest until 2002 when it sold and the new owners sort permission to convert it into flats, but this was refused. It has been renovated, but to what end I am not sure. More info here
Not actually sure if this is a garage or a shed, but basing my observation on the fact you could drive into it I’m calling it a garage. The residents of Portknockie are, rightly, proud of their beautiful coastal town, although more of a village, and work very hard to keep up appearances. Evidence of murals to the sea can be found tucked away throughout the town, including this garage, and the community has it’s own website and newsletter, although 2015 seems to be the last available online.
The Zulu design of fishing boat originated in Portknockie, and was the successor of the Fifie. The hull design came from nearby Lossiemouth, and this was developed into the Zulu craft (named after the war raging, at the time, in southern Africa). Over 100 of these boats were built in this small rock cove, and it became a well respected design. Tragedy was often too common to sea faring communities, and a Portknockie boat, The Evangeline, was very sadly one of them.
There are two approaches to Cullen, one on the cycle path which takes you over the famous viaduct, and one which takes you along the cliff top and then down onto the beach. This photo was taken from the cycle path which goes over the viaduct on the old railway line. It was hot, I was lazy.
Cullen Golf Course proudly states it is the ‘Worlds Shortest True Links Course’. Designed by Old Tom Morris as a 9-hole, it was later extended to 18 holes by local architect Charlie Neaves. Although the course is short, nestling alongside the beach between the cliffs and the viaduct, it has 18 challenging 3-par and 4-par holes in the most stunning location imaginable. Immaculately kept greens permit around 3-hours a round.
Due to the weather being so warm (bordering hot), and unusually so for August in Scotland, I didn’t go right the way into Cullen itself as it was becoming a bit too much for my dog. We stopped on top of the famous viaduct a short way on from this last photo for lunch and then turned back. The wonderful things about this part of Scotland are the accessibility of the beaches, the light, and the skies. While I still have a preference for mountains and lochs, the coast doesn’t have the same issues with midges so that’s a definite bonus to time spent here.
All the images were shot with my Cullen Golf Course, after all, that is in the sub-title of this blog site, and using either the Olympus Zuiko M.14-42mm/f3.5-5.6EZ ‘pancake’ lens or the Olympus Zuiko M.9-18mm/f4.0-5.6 lens. Both of these are easily pocket sized, and very light, with surprisingly good optical quality. The 14-42mm ‘kit’ lens often gets a very undeserved bad press and I have found it a surprising pleasure. But don’t take just my word for it; Robin Wong has an excellent article about the lens here.
All the images in this feature are jpegs shot in-camera with some additional cropping in Adobe Lightroom (LR) to give the required emphasis for the story I was creating. I have used the histogram, also in LR, to bring out the full range of tones, as I am still getting used to the customisation features of the PEN-F. As a result of this outing I have now made some further adjustments to the feature in the camera, mainly using the curves in-camera adjustment to increase the range of tones and contrast during future shoots. This shoot was done using the defaults in the Mono 1 creative mode with contrast set to neutral (default), and sharpening to +1. I have also applied a gentle Yellow filter, again in-camera, as a customisable option.
Due to the overall brightness of the shooting period (more on that below), I set the Exposure compensation to -0.3 to ensure the highlights were not blown out. I used Aperture Priority throughout the walk to keep things simple, and for some reason all the images I selected for this blog were shot at f10. This wasn’t deliberate, and I have shots taken at different apertures, the ones I liked most were all f10. Weird…
The camera was set to ISO200, and I didn’t find a need for a tripod even though I carried one. Image stabilisation was turned off throughout. The reason for this is two fold – firstly, I have never been a fan and I have found (previously with Nikon) that you can often get sharper images without it. I prefer to either raise the ISO, or use a tripod, when required. I cannot see how introducing movement, even microscopic movement, can make an image sharper and to me it is only worth using in very low light if you’ve really reached the reasonable limits of handholding/ISO/aperture of lens.
The second reason is that I find that the PEN-F gets notoriously warm with it switched on, especially around the handgrip, and turning it off stops this completely. There is an added bonus in that it also increases battery life. Of course, in the winter I might yet switch it back on and use the camera as a hand warmer….(kidding, fix please Olympus).
All the images in this entry were shot between 12.50 and 15.33 (I can be this exact because it’s in the file data) and on Sunday 27th August, 2017. This period of time is supposed to be the photographic desert period when nobody shoots anything due to the bright, unfavourable, light. The fact it was cloudy allowed some interest in the sky to be maintained, although the cloud was at times rather thin and widespread, but it reduced the need for graduated ND filters to a good degree. When the clouds were more compacted, ‘fluffy’, and therefore more interesting, the difference between the blue sky and the more broken clouds greatly improved the photographic opportunities. As a result, in these images I increased the amount of sky included. Photography is as much about what you leave out as what you include.
My preference for monochromatic images does also allow for more shooting at what is often viewed as a ‘bad’ time of day, but sometimes you just have to get what you can at the time, and I find the Olympus PEN-F allows me to do that. I don’t really think there is a ‘bad’ time for photography, you just have to adapt to the light you’re given or find a way to manipulate or compensate for it.
There are two very famous views of this area; the Cullen viaduct being one, and as I alluded earlier Bow Fiddle Rock being the other, but I have deliberately avoided these because I find they have become cliches. I had a conversation with the director of a local tourist body no so long ago and he said; “oh, god, if I have to see one more picture of Bow Fiddle flipping rock”.
Photographers can copy others, or write their own stories.
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The joy of having a discreet camera cannot be under estimated when you want to shoot in an urban or city surrounding. I found that shooting with the Olympus PEN-F and it’s little pancake Zuiko 14-42mm/f3.5-5.6 EZ lens was just a joy.
Being able to control the output and filtration of the images whilst shooting is a bonus of the customisable options on the PEN-F which meant I was able to adjust each image at the time of shooting without it being a distraction from the image taking process.
I’m still convinced by the output of the in-camera jpegs in quite the same way as I was with the Fujifilm ACROS setting that I wrote about previously, but I think there is more scope of customisation with the Olympus system and so I just have to experiment.
The image quality from the smaller sensor, being micro 4/3rds rather than APS-C does not seem to make any significant difference to the images produced when viewed on my 5K monitor even at 100% and I do not anticipate any issues with printing the images to seriously large sizes. As I have said before, everything has its limitations and you just work around them. I’ve shot and printed from much smaller sensors and with many fewer megapixels in the past.
The PEN-F actively encourages you to go outside of your comfort zone and try new things, and that just has to be good for creativity.
For more images from this visit to Elgin, please visit my dedicated blog site
Joe Strummer, lead singer of the Clash, once said ‘I am a terrible Scotsman’. But the terrible Scotsman created a legacy on a remote corner of the Isle of Skye which continues to this day.
This is Joe Strummer’s wood, or Rebel’s Wood.
In one of the quieter parts of the Isle of Skye, and there are still a few bits the majority of tourists pass by, there is an area of woodland that is slowly re-generating and becoming a home to otters, White Tailed Sea Eagles, Red Deer, and foxes.
Hidden, away from the shores of Loch Bracadale under the majesty of McLeod’s Tables, near Orbost, lies a slowly developing forest of Birch, Alder, Rowan, Willow, and Oak. Trees that should cover, and once did cover, much of not only Skye or of Scotland, but much of the uplands of the UK.
Paths, some made by deer, some by people, and all following ancient ways, cross this landscape, passing copses of trees planted in Joe’s memory, and tended by enthusiastic locals and dedicated members of the Joe Strummer Foundation. The crags above are home now to birds ranging from the smallest passerine to the Scotlands largest Eagle.
To reach this woodland you pass through the sadly much more common commercial woodland landscape of a conifer plantation, but by gaining height you will receive a reward of some of the most stunning views in all of Skye. The whole of the Cuillin spreads across in front of you, across the loch, and clouds thunder endlessly on the western skies.
Boggy in places, the walk takes you through a man-made landscape which appears timeless but is anything but. People crofted here until the clearances, and somewhat oddly, it is now perhaps one of the best locations on the whole island for a 4G mobile signal! Something quite alien to the inhabitants of this settlement, who would have travelled mainly by foot, for days to get out messages or receive news.
People still come here, some shelter overnight on longer hikes with the ruins of croft cottages and farmsteads, and you can almost hear the sounds of our ancestors on the wind.
I rested a while inside the walls of one croft whilst having lunch, and I thanked my hosts for their hospitality as I left. The feeling of people having lived here lingers strongly, be that a collective memory, a cultural knowledge and acceptance, ghosts and souls that linger, or just my vivid imagination, I never imagined not thanking them for visiting on their homes and being given shelter.
It is only a few years since the tree planting began, and it will take time for the effects to reach deep into the landscape, much more time than it takes man to destroy it, but we do know that changes do not have to be forever.
Although Joe is no longer with us, his legacy lives on here and will continue to do so, entwining with the souls of those who came before and touching the souls of those who come after. Perhaps his question of ‘should I stay or should I go’ has finally been answered.
The forecast was for sunny spells, not sunny spells and showers. Arriving at Cummingston (marked Car Park on the map above) it was properly raining, but ten minutes sat in the car watching it bouncing off the bonnet and it had stopped. Twenty minutes into the walk towards Burghead and the sun was trying to come out.
This was to be a funny walk in some ways, because instead of going out and back, we were going from the middle to one end, then back to the middle, then off to the other end. The reason for this? Well, this was where I knew the car parking, toilets, and access to the old disused railway line actually was. So, that was where we started. The accidental benefit if this is that we also knew there was a toilet there which would provide another opportunity thus mid-way, and the walk could also then be cut short if the weather deteriorated. Thankfully, it didn’t.
I had been to this spot before, for a quick recce of the route, but the weather wasn’t conducive to the shots I wanted at the time, so I planned to return and combine a bird walk, with a dog walk, with a photo walk. I would be experimenting with the Nikon P900 as a documentary camera at the same time. As much as I would like a proper long lens for my Fuji XT-2, I simply don’t want to pay £1,500 for a lens that I also don’t really want to have to carry. I think I am getting to point where I have realised that I take far more photos, and far better photos, if I am not bogged down with loads of stuff. The Nikon P900 takes you from the 35mm equivalent of 24mm to whopping 2000mm, in one camera. It also features GPS to record your shots (hence the map up above, and also enables you to capture birds and wildlife, as well as landscapes and scenes, all in one camera. Or so it promises on the advertising…
I had bought it for birding, but I wanted to see if it could do more than that and if I would still be happy with the result.
As this was also a bird walk, I had taken my binoculars with me and within moments of getting onto the main path, with a view of the shore, I had spotted the first ID confusion bird of the day.
A long way out it would have been impossible to get a clear photograph of it without the P900, and so I was happy with this somewhat uninteresting shot as a means of later identifying the eclipse male eider duck. I couldn’t see as much detail with my excellent Minox 8x binoculars as I could later see, at home, on my screen with the images from the camera. The bird would have remained unidentified without this shot, and so already I had found a reason to be pleased I took the P900.
I had started to envision using this camera for documentary photography for my Detritus project, so I wanted to see how well it would cope at the wider end. I was very happy with the camera for bird photography, but would it, with its tiny sensor, still give me the details I require for a more ambitious project? I have had images from it accepted to stock agencies, but there is little room for additional cropping, which means you have to really concentrate on getting the composition right in-camera, because you can’t really change it and still maintain a large enough file, with sufficient data, later on.
The Fuji XT-2 gives me files in the 15MP+ range to the 6MP+ range of the P900, as a rough guideline. Agencies need a minimum of 5MP, so there isn’t a lot to play with from the Nikon. This means making firm decisions at the time of shooting, like we did with film to an extent, and I actually like having to work like this. It makes you really take care and consideration when shooting if the room for error is so very small.
My Detritus project, so far shot exclusively on the Fuji XT-2, is about the impact of man’s waste on the natural environment of Scotland and the detrimental effect it has on the scenery and as a threat to the tourism industry. I will be travelling around some of the most scenic and best loved locations and showing them, warts and all, rather than polishing them up to the ideal images we know and love of Scotland. This project will require a lot of travel and a lot of walking to remote locations, and thus if I can find a way to reduce what I need to carry to a bare minimum whilst ensuring that I won’t then regret it or be limited on arrival at a location by this, there will be a lot of incentives and benefits to carrying just the Nikon.
Another part of this walk today was to capture some images of the birds found around the Moray Coast, and for that the Nikon P900 would be perfect. It enables you to get very close shots of the birds without disturbing them, and impacting on their behaviour. I am very interested in birds responses to their environment rather than just portraits, and being able to observe without impacting on that is very important for accurate documentary photography. Birds are easily disturbed and this effects their behaviour, so being able to photograph them without this is very important to the birds but also to me.
The coastline around Moray is spectacular in many places, allowing you to enjoy the geology, geography, and still often feel like you are alone, even on a busy summer weekend. The weather was still clearing and the view across the whole of the Firth to the far north coast breathtaking. But it wasn’t long before we came across some more detritus of us humans and our working of the north sea.
I was very pleased to be able to document this at the same time as being able to get the wildlife shots, whilst still carrying only one light weight camera. In practice and operating it was living up to my hopes, although I do hate that the buttons and dials move far too easily, especially compared to the Fuji, which are stiffer and lockable. This is only a problem if you don’t double check before you fire off the shutter – and sometimes, when birds and wildlife are involved you don’t have time to check and so it can be annoying.
We had set off from the car park in the direction of Burghead and just as we got to St. Aethan’s (or Aidan’s) Well, I was delighted to spot two Stonechat. This one was obliging for a couple of shots only.
It is claimed that the water from the well has healing powers, but whatever it has or hasn’t got going for it, Patches wasn’t touching it.
Having declined a drink from the bowl provided at the well, he was more than happy to have some good old tap water from the Sigg bottle along with me instead.
As we approached Burghead I was very happy to find this Linnet on the rocks. It would appear they have developed a way of opening the small limpets that cling to the rocks, or otherwise they are getting something in the rocks that makes it worth the effort.
I like to photograph bird behaviour, even if I don’t fully understand at the time what the bird might be doing. Although I much prefer to shoot stills than moving images, I do like my subjects to have motion and to be engaged in doing something.
As we came into Burghead the rocks change and the famous carbuncle homes into view…
It provides a lot of work, of course, but it isn’t half ugly to look at. Coming at it from any angle you can’t fail to spot it, but from this angle it dominated the whole of the village. Reaching the edge of the village it was time to turn around and walk back past Cummingston and head for Hopeman.
I was pleased again to see another three Linnets as these were first I had seen this year and in my first in this area.
I was delighted to be able to photograph the small gatherings of wading birds on the shore from the path, again without disturbing them, and delighted to find Redshanks, Turnstones, and even a Knot amongst the larger Oystercatchers.
Having successfully documented the detritus, and the wider scene, it felt natural to also be able to capture images of the wildlife and the birds in particular. The sun was shining through the clouds now and picking out the plumage of the birds made for some lovely images, especially with the surf breaking in the background thus confirming the location whilst enabling a relative close-up of the birds.
We went down into Hopeman and found our way through the houses to the harbour, where a small but interesting gallery has the added advantage of serving tea, coffee, ice creams, biscuits, and cans of cold pop. Hopeman also has easily accessible and very nice toilets, at the harbour, which enabled us to refuel and refresh before heading back to Cummingston again, and the picking up the car.
The path follows the old railway and so it’s easy and accessible for all abilities, although some sections are small short gravelled rather than tarmac, and getting up and down to the car parks can be a bit interesting at some points. The route is part of the Moray Coastal Trail which runs all the way to Inverness, and is a designated cycle route as well as a path for walking and recreation. There are facilities at various points along its length and it also goes past or through some campsite for those wishing to tackle its full length. More details can be found here.
The side of the path host a number of interesting plants and an abundance of insects. The bees were making light work of these flowers, which is good to see given how much trouble bees are in, nationally and globally.
As we reached Cummingston of the third and final time, I took a route off from the main path to examine the caves and sea stacks, which attract climbers as much as they do the wildlife.
Again, it wasn’t hard to find more detritus from man’s long love affair with the sea. I do not wish to think about the trouble that this rope could cause to our wildlife, and tails of entangled whales, seals, and even dolphins are sadly becoming more and more common around the globe.
The walk was extremely pleasant an undertaking, and whilst it is not long in distance there is plenty to see all the way along the route. With birdwatching, dog walking, photography, and just general exercise and interest all combined, and the tea stop of course, we were out for much of the day. I would certainly take the route again, and with Patches snoring gently in my office, I am also now delighted with the results form the Nikon and look forward to using it again for more than just birding.
Undoubtedly you will have seen photos in the news recently about the issue of plastics on the beaches around the world. It is an odd thing, but for years I have tried to get photos without the plastic in them, then kicked myself for not telling the story as it really is. The aesthetics ruling over the reality.
So, today, when I went out to take some lovely shots of Hopeman on the Moray Firth I decided to be a little more honest about it.
It wasn’t hard to find plastic, rope, dead animals, bags of dog poo (why bag it then leave 20ft from the bin, and yes I picked it up and put it in the bin for you…). Anyway, I digress.
Some of the plastic items were really huge and heaven only knows what the big yellow thing once was.
Some of it was a load of old rope.
Some of it decidedly reminding me that this is Scotland…
But nature was trying her hardest to fight her way through it all:
And there was life clinging to the small and risky places:
Some of the small bays where I expected to find things washed up were surprisingly clean:
The sky was the most interesting it had been in several days, and the colours and the light were changing constantly. The breeze off the sea was keeping the temperature down a little but it was still t-shirt and shorts weather, for Scotland anyway.
Between 1968 and 2000, over 3.5million tonnes of sand and gravel were extracted from a site just 5 miles from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, an act which could have been devastating to the landscape and wildlife. But, since the mid-1980s the commercial site management worked with the local Wildlife Trust in a unique partnership which was ahead of its time, not to restore the habitat, but to actually rehabilitate and enhance it.
When the last pit closed in 2000, part of the rehabilitated site was already so significant that it had already become a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). The whole site was donated to the Suffolk Wildlife Trust by CEMEX in the same year, and they have continued to expand and develop the site, with the aid of a grant from the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund and legacy gifts, creating a marvellous network of hides and paths within what is now the 128-hectare Lackford Lakes reserve.
As part of the SSSI designation, 105.85ha were seen as ‘favourable’ with eight individual units, including the sailing lake. The notable features being the aggregations of non-breeding birds, assemblages of breeding birds, the outstanding dragonfly assemblage for which it is rightly famous, and for the supported variety of birds, which encourage the photographers and birders from far and wide. In fact, there are now many more photographers than birders at Lackford, as evidenced in the hides to the sounds of machine-gunning shutter fire (a small distraction).
Whilst specialist telephoto lenses are de rigour in the hides, it is actually possible to get some great shots with the minimum of equipment, so the keen amateur naturalists should not be discouraged. All the shots in this blog entry were taken either with the Fujifilm XT-2 and 16-55/2.8 lens, the Canon PowerShot SX700HS compact, or even my iPhone! I have included the settings in the captions for your reference.
Obviously, as you can see from the photos, I was blessed with extraordinary bright light which added use of fast shutter speeds to capture insets and birds whilst maintaining a lower ISO and without compromising on the depth of field. The downside of this was the high levels of contrast and the danger of bleaching out the lightest areas on occasion, and even shooting with the compact set to -1/2 stop wasn’t enough to save some of the images, sadly.
Although I had gone with the view to a relaxing birding morning out, I was able to get some good scene setting shots with the Fujifilm combination, but also, due to the excellent placing of the hides close to the wildlife, some good close-up shots of the birds behaviour also. Being able to extend my birding visit to include some photography also meant I ended up being one of the first cars on-site and one of the few still remaining when the visitor centre closed at the end of the day.
Even with the short lens on the Fuji, I was even able to get some decent close shots of the geese which were feeding just outside of Steggall’s Hide, which also provides a shelter for the sheep which graze this area.
I was also able to get some close-ups of plants and general location shots:
The reserve is certainly one of the best ones I have experienced for close-up views, and has reasonable visitor facilities which would only be improved by adding some lunch options to the small cafe menu (cake and drinks is nice but not enough for the all-day birder).
I did try some photography of birds and insects with the Canon, and whilst the results were very good when the images were in focus, it was very difficult to get reliable shots of anything that didn’t remain quite stationery. This was mainly due to the appalling slow focusing abilities, and the macro setting was completely ineffective.
I would certainly recommend using an DSLR over a compact, but I would not be discouraged from attempting photography with a good compact or bridge camera, just be prepared for a good few out of focus shots or shots focussed on the background rather than the subject. With digital this isn’t a problem as you can fill a memory card at no cost other than your editing time, but with film this could be a more costly issue.
My longest lens with the Fuji for this trip was just 55mm (82mm in 35mm equivalent), which was certainly long enough to get some good shots, but they would include a reasonable about of background. Of course, contextual shots are actually very interesting, often more so than just frame filling portraits. I think you’d easily get away with a medium telephoto from many of the hides, unlike many RSPB reserves which demand 400-600mm+ for anything decent.
The layout of the reserve is also fairly accessible, with ramped access wherever possible, and fairly even surfaced paths, although some could be heavy going for those pushing wheelchairs and I could easily see this becoming even more difficult in wetter conditions. Suffolk of course is a very dry county with a chalk based soil so it maintains good stability longer than most.
The sailing lake shares the access road, which is bumpy and potholed, but the sailing does not seem to disturb the birds half as much as the driving of the sailing lakes users might scare visitors. The Slough is generally very quiet with most photographers in the Double Decker trying to get shots of the elusive Kingfishers for which Lackford has become, rightly, famous. Personally, on my previous annual visits, I have only ever seen a Kingfisher from the remoter Steggall’s hide (twice) but I was informed a pair were nesting right outside the visitor centre. This had evidently afforded some reliable views with the benefit of a cup of tea!
You’ll struggle to get a mobile signal throughout, although it is intermittently available as attested by the sudden maddening beeping as it catches up with your emails and messages at various spots. If required, if you really can’t leave it alone, Bess’s Hide is the best place to be (or it is if you’re on EE anyway).
No dogs are allowed on-site.
The terrain is a mixture of wooded areas, reed beds, lakes, and meadows, bordered by a neatly scalped golf course, a road, and the river Lark. In late summer it is still possible to get good numbers of birds, so it is a good place for the birder as well as the photographer, however it is the damselflies and dragonflies which astound in summer. There are also some larger mammals, aside from the semi-resident sheep, in the form of grey squirrels and, spotted from Steggall’s, even a fox.
If you are sitting in Steggall’s minding your own business before being interrupted by monstrous knocking noises do not be alarmed. The semi-resident sheep use it as a shelter and are under the floor! They are a horned variety, with a bit of an attitude, and they like to let you know it.
My list for the first hour was impressive, and over the course of the day ended with 32 species seen with good views. Many more were heard or glimpsed.
Mute Swan (with four signets)
Mallard (male in eclipse)
Black Headed Gull
Gadwall (also in eclipse)
Great Crested Grebe (with chicks)
Blackcaps (breeding pair, with food)
Magpie (in the car park)
Common Whitethroat (female)
I would imagine a more experienced birder would come away with far more, as would locals who could learn the likely locations and calls of their own patch more than the visitor would.
I was delighted to see that there was less ‘cock-waggling’ (one-up-man-ship over photographic/birding kit) as we say in my home parts, especially than at many reserves (Aberdeenshire I am looking at you…), and also that birders and photographers were happy to talk and aid species identification with each other. It was also very good to see that you could hire binoculars and this, coupled with the friendliness of natives, meant that new visitors could share the experience without the usual feelings of being intimated by all the ‘gear’.
Lackford Lakes is a reserve close to my heart, because I grew up just a few miles up the road, and when it was an active quarry. It was on my cycle route on a Sunday with my Dad quite frequently, and I wonder what he would make of it now (sadly, he had several years of ill health before he passed away in 2006, which meant he missed a lot of the really impressive redevelopment and expansion that has occurred).
As a year round reserve it is bringing people from the neighbouring conurbation’s back in touch with nature and providing a sanctuary that is visited by people on their way home from work, as well as providing a home for nature of course just outside of a very large market town. Power to thy elbow Suffolk Wildlife Trust, power indeed.