Sunday 14 September 2008


The nature of the light in the outdoors can make the difference between the mundane and the magical, the pleasant and the spectacular. Dull days with grey skies and flat light that takes away sharpness and clarity, reducing everything to an amorphous undefined mass, are often uninspiring and even dispiriting. Yet even on such days the light can change fast, transforming a scene from uninteresting to exciting. Such a day occurred last week. The weather forecast being for rain and cloud and the skies outside verifying this I headed for the local Hills of Cromdale rather than venturing further afield and plodded through the heather to the highest summit, Creagan a’Chaise. A cool wind swept the moorland and squalls of rain blasted in from the west, drenching the already saturated land. The high Cairngorms were hidden in dense cloud. I sheltered behind the big summit cairn for a snack and watched the rain storms blotting out the woods and fields below as they raced past. A rainbow curved over Strathspey then faded. Further away I caught a glimpse of colour beside the dark pointed peak of Ben Rinnes out towards the coast. The colour grew into a smear of rainbow hanging in the air. From below rays of white bright light appeared to shoot upwards, illuminating the rainbow. These crepuscular rays, sometimes called god beams, are shafts of sunlight contrasting with air in shadow. No sun was visible though and the sky behind the light beams was dark. The effect was quite unreal and strange, especially given the general colourless and insipid light all around.

Photographers often talk of photographing light rather than anything physical. Now whilst the right light is essential to a good photograph the subject matter is usually important too. In this case the light really was all and I isolated it with a telephoto lens to make the image above. As the land round about was grey and lifeless images I took at a wider angle do not have the same impact. I used a polarising filter to bring out the colours of the rainbow (in shots without the polariser the rainbow is hardly visible so the polariser helped make the scene more like the one I actually saw) but did not do any post processing of the image.

Photo info: Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 55-250 mm @250mm, f8@1/640, ISO 400, polarising filter, raw file converted to JPEG in DxO Optics Pro.

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Alladale & The Mountaineering Council of Scotland

Last weekend saw the Annual Gathering of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland at Glenmore Lodge. Outside the rain teemed down and the mist brushed the tops of the forest. With the hills hidden and the air sodden being indoors wasn’t much of a chore. The AGM and other business over we came to the main attraction of the day – guest speaker Hugh Fullerton-Smith, general manager of the Alladale Estate (which has just had a great deal of free PR courtesy of a BBC series). Owner Paul Lister wants to enclose the 23,000 acre estate with a high electrified fence and prevent access except for guided paying guests, something the Mountaineering Council is strongly opposed to (see the statement on the MCoS website). Hugh must have known that his audience was hardly likely to support these plans – his main defence of them seemed to be that they weren’t that likely to happen and that it might be a long time in the future if they did. After outlining his exciting and varied career before coming to Alladale Hugh talked about the work being done on the estate to restore the land, something with which the MCoS has no quarrel, and which does not require a fence or access restrictions. However Paul Lister would also like to reintroduce wild animals, including, ultimately, wolves and bears, and charge people to see them. At present he has small enclosures containing boar and elk. Questions and comments following Hugh’s talk made it clear that MCoS members’ opposition to the fence and any restrictions on access is deeply and fiercely felt. Hugh defended the current small fenced area, which does have stiles, though not as many as Highland Council would like (as a representative at the meeting made clear), on the ground that it housed a scientific experiment but with regard to the much bigger proposed fence could only say that Paul Lister wanted it for his Alladale Wilderness Reserve. This suggests that its only purpose would be to restrict access. Indeed, Hugh said that fencing the whole 23,000 acres would not be possible due to some of the high terrain and that only fencing 14,000 acres was feasible. As he also said that 23,000 acres was not big enough for wolves and bears what reason other than restricting access could there be for fencing 14,000 acres? My hope is that Hugh has taken back to Paul Lister the message that the MCoS is implacably opposed to the fence and will determinedly fight it if a planning application ever materialises.

There’s an excellent account of the talk and discussion on the Walk Highlands website. My previous blogs about Alladale were on August 15, September 16 and November 7 2007.

The photo shows a camp on the hills above Alladale. Photo info: Canon EOS 350D, Canon EF-S 18-55 mm @18mm, f8@1/320, ISO 200, raw file converted to JPEG in DxO Optics Pro.