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Summer in Scotland. Part1 – The North Coast 500

Sea Stacks and Cliffs, Duncansby Head. Leica S2. Bob Hamilton

Sea Stacks and Cliffs, Duncansby Head. Leica S2. Bob Hamilton

 

Driech* is pretty much how the weather has been in the far north for the last few days. Just as well we’re used to the vagaries of Scotland’s summers and have learned to pack accordingly. The local outdoor and fleece shops have done well enough from us in past years, so now we’ve got lots of warm layers to peel off as the mercury rockets up to and occasionally past 12 degrees C.

 

This is the North Coast 500; 500 miles starting in Inverness, around Scotland’s extremities and back to our starting point – all in five days.

 

Loch Sheildaig. Leica M9. Paul Perton

Loch Sheildaig. Leica M9. Paul Perton

 

Wild Flowers at Sangobeg looking out over Loch Eriboll towards Whiten Head. Leica S2. Bob Hamilton

Wild Flowers at Sangobeg looking out over Loch Eriboll towards Whiten Head. Leica S2. Bob Hamilton

 

Helmsdale harbour. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

Helmsdale harbour. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

 

Photo buddy, Bob Hamilton and I planned this trip late last year, following a big write up and some spectacular photographs of the route in one of England’s daily newspapers. Bob lives here and made the necessary hotel bookings, setting our rendezvous and starting point as Beauly, just a short distance north of Inverness. Di came along as well, but opted for crosswords and reading in the car, while we jumped out and took many, many photographs.

 

Bob’s photographs are very different to mine, so you’ll find contributions from both of us here – all a part of letting you see just how spectacular this route is.

 

Stream at Torrish. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

Stream at Torrish. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

 

Kildonan Burn. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

Kildonan Burn. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

 

Kyle of Tongue. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

Kyle of Tongue. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

 

Our route was to take us from an overnight in Beauly to Helmsdale, Bettyhill, Rhiconich and finally, two nights in Gairloch, before heading back to Inverness. 500 miles – 800km – in five and a bit days. Easy.

 

Well, not quite. It’s easy if you drive at a gentle pace and don’t stop every few metres to drag out tripods and cameras. Then you’ll cope well. If like us, every shadow and rain cloud held photographic promise, getting into the hotel du jour before dinner was always going to be a struggle.

 

Loch Maree. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

Loch Maree. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

 

Loch Gleann Dubh. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

Loch Gleann Dubh. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

 

This is high summer in Scotland. Bob was born here and you’ll already know that I’m married to a Scot, so we were all well prepared for the vagaries of the weather. We saw everything from brilliant sunshine to thick lowerin’ clouds, rain, high winds and at one stage, a promise of sleet. Still, it was brilliant and we both shot the big landscapes, mountains, lochs and tiny intimate views that this incredible route delivers at almost every turn.

 

From Beauly to Helmsdale, past the many famous distilleries on the way. A stop at Glenmorangie to stock up on some fine Scottish Communion Wine was followed by a brief visit to a (thankfully) clear John O’ Groats and a splendid view of the sea stacks at Duncanby Head.

 

Lonely bothy, Loch Loyal. Leica M9. Paul Perton

Lonely bothy, Loch Loyal. Leica M9. Paul Perton

 

Beinn Spionnaidh, Cranstackie, Foinaven and Arkle across Loch Eriboll. Leica S2. Bob Hamilton

Beinn Spionnaidh, Cranstackie, Foinaven and Arkle across Loch Eriboll. Leica S2. Bob Hamilton

 

Summer in Scotland. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

Summer in Scotland. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

 

Early Morning Light - Barley Field and Logie Burn Farm, Muir of Ord. Leica S2. Bob Hamilton

Early Morning Light – Barley Field and Logie Burn Farm, Muir of Ord. Leica S2. Bob Hamilton

 

Untitled. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

Untitled. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

 

Sunset over Torrisdale Bay. Leica S2. Bob Hamilton

Sunset over Torrisdale Bay. Leica S2. Bob Hamilton

 

Lodge Number 933, Helmsdale. Leica S2. Bob Hamilton

Lodge Number 933, Helmsdale. Leica S2. Bob Hamilton

 

Untitled. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

Untitled. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

 

Sunset at Rhiconich. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

Sunset at Rhiconich. Fuji X-Pro2. Paul Perton

 

From John O’ Groats, we motored past Thurso, the nuclear station at Douneray and on to Bettyhill. Day three took us through some pretty wild countryside to Rhiconich and then our final stop at Gairloch. Day 6 saw us heading back to Inverness, with Di and me going on to Farr for a couple of night’s R&R prior to driving south to Grantown-on-Spey. More of that in the next post…

 

* Urban dictionary: A combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather. At least 4 of the above adjectives must apply before the weather is truly dreich.

 

All the details of the North Coast 500 are here: North Coast 500

 

Bothy, Loch Stack. Leica M9. Paul Perton

Bothy, Loch Stack. Leica M9. Paul Perton

 

Locked - Helmsdale. Leica M9. Paul Perton

Locked – Helmsdale. Leica M9. Paul Perton

 

Helmsdale harbour. Leica M9. Paul Perton

Helmsdale harbour. Leica M9. Paul Perton

 

Seaweed at Beauly. Leica M9. Paul Perton

Seaweed at Beauly. Leica M9. Paul Perton

See Agra and then quickly head for Gwalior

The Taj. A magnificent monument to love. Fuji X-Pro1, 25mm Zeiss Biogon

The Taj. A magnificent monument to love. Fuji X-Pro1, 25mm Zeiss Biogon

 

Gwalior. Not on the itinerary of many India visitors and it really should be.

 

I’d added it to ours on a whim – the evening before the details of our tour were set in stone, I’d been idly remembering a series of British steam locomotives that had been named in the ’30s after various Commonwealth countries, provinces and cities. Amongst them, Gwalior.

 

Not very PC in this insane world of being frightened of offending people, but there was an easy two day slot in our schedule. So, why not?

 

I’m glad we did.

 

Family pilgrimage, The Taj. Fuji X-Pro1, 25mm Zeiss Biogon

Family pilgrimage, The Taj. Fuji X-Pro1, 25mm Zeiss Biogon

 

Architectural detail, the Taj. Fuji X-Pro1, 25mm Zeiss Biogon

Architectural detail, the Taj. Fuji X-Pro1, 25mm Zeiss Biogon

 

The observant amongst you will quickly realise that I’ve skipped Agra and the Taj Mahal. Not. That’s about to happen. In truth, Gwalior probably ought to rank equally with the TM and if you’ve been there before, do replace it on your list of places to see.

 

Taj visitors. Fuji X-Pro1, Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4

Taj visitors. Fuji X-Pro1, Leica Summilux 50mm f1.4

 

Untitled. Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji 35mm f1.4

Untitled. Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji 35mm f1.4

 

We’d left Lucknow by train – did you expect anything different? It was a horrible journey, almost as bad as the TANZAR between Lusaka and Dar es Salaam, which is probably unfair as Zambia Railways actually got us into Dar on time after three and a half days. The bloody Lucknow-Agra Express was dirty, more cramped than a flight on Mango Airlines in South Africa, full of broken seats and seat back tables and the air conditioning was on a par with an asthmatic old man.

 

I decided not to risk the WC.

 

Anyway, this bloody old contraption eventually lurched into Agra at 01:00, three hours late after stopping at every station and signal along the way. Fortunately, our guide was still patiently waiting for us and sped us off to our hotel and a couple of hours of wide awake in bed, waiting for sleep to come. We’d abandoned our 05:00 alarm call to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise.

 

Instead, we visited at dusk and it’s magnificent – pretty much as you’d expect. This is low season, but there were still thousands of visitors milling around and getting any kind of collectible photograph is hopeless. We did the sunrise shoot the following morning, immediately prior to getting back on our small bus for the drive to Gwalior.

 

That was also special. Less visitors, fewer locals jostling and some nice photo opportunities and a brilliant sunrise.

 

Taj close-up. Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji 35mm f1.4

Taj close-up. Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji 35mm f1.4

 

Agra? Great, but as WikiTravel says; one day and flee. I’ve been there and now understand why.

 

Poolside loll. Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji 35mm f1.4

Poolside loll. Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji 35mm f1.4

 

Sandstone everywhere. Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji 35mm f1.4

Sandstone everywhere. Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji 35mm f1.4

 

Sunrise near the Taj. Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji 35mm f1.4

Sunrise near the Taj. Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji 35mm f1.4

 

So, Gwalior.

 

This morning’s guide arrived full of beans and was clearly a local history maven. He took us to the fort – actually a mogul’s palace and temple. In a word; spectacular.

 

The fort is perched on a hilltop overlooking the city and our tour explored pretty much every nook, cranny and tiny staircase in and between the walls. Our guide didn’t guide, he taught us about Shiva, Vishnu, the succession of moguls, wives, the architecture, habits, practices and just about everything else. In short, he brought the whole two thousand year history of the fort and its surrounds to life. Taj Mahal? Seen it and won’t go back. Gwalior? Read on.

 

According it the blurb, we’re staying in a non-hotel hotel. A self-catering boutique hotel, created from the tumbledown structure of some former mogul’s guest house, the hotel has a central buffet-style dining room if you want to use it and not much else. It’s old, renovated, comfortable, surrounds a large lawn area and is entirely enchanting.

 

To our (all of us) delight, there are several tiny temples and other ancient buildings also on the property and accessible to guests. Having arrived late yesterday afternoon after a lengthy road journey from Agra, my sundown shoot on the property was hurried and yielded little. This morning’s sunrise wander amongst the temples was everything I’d hoped for yesterday and a great deal more.

 

Gwalior is welcoming – as are all of the places we’ve visited so far – and as hectic as we are coming to expect. It also has the special something Agra lacks. I’d recommend it to any traveller.

 

The rest of the family arrived in Agra, along with my new Fuji X-Pro and Fuji 35mm f1.4 lens. Between visits, walks, food and beer I’m working through the manual and trying the new lens and well as my various M mount lenses on its adaptor. So far, the 50mm Summilux, 25mm Biogon and Voigtlander’s 15mm all seem to work fine. The latter is a complete surprise as my Sony NEX-7 simply refused to deliver anything usable with it.

 

While I’m learning the X-Pro, I’ve been relying on my X100T and growing to respect it more and more. It’s simple to set up, incredibly forgiving of my regular poor decision making, reliable and can shoot against a 2-3 stop overexposed background and still deliver a magically balanced, usable image.

 

More? It’s small, unobtrusive, unthreatening and totally silent. It’s visual qualities have been amply demonstrated by many other photographers around the world. I’m late to the party, but will happily sing its praises and endorse those that have gone before.

 

Every image below was shot with the X100T at f2 or f2.8 – see what I mean?

 

Rickshaw, Gwalior. Fuji X100T

 

Daughter-in-law temple, Gwalior. Fuji X100T

Daughter-in-law temple, Gwalior. Fuji X100T

 

Intricate detail. Mother-in-law temple. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

Intricate detail. Mother-in-law temple. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

 

Intricate detail. Mother-in-law temple. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

Intricate detail. Mother-in-law temple. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

 

Full colour, Gwalior. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

Full colour, Gwalior. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

 

Untitled, Gwalior. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

Untitled, Gwalior. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

 

Sikh pilgrims, Gwalior. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

Sikh pilgrims, Gwalior. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

 

Museum visitors, Gwalior. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

Museum visitors, Gwalior. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

 

Untitled, Gwalior. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

Untitled, Gwalior. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

 

Untitled, Gwalior. Fuji X100T @ f2

Untitled, Gwalior. Fuji X100T @ f2

 

Tea room, Gwalior. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

Tea room, Gwalior. Fuji X100T @ f2.8

The Skye bit

Sunset over Cuillin seen from Elgol

Sunset over Cuillin seen from Elgol

 

Lunch was sublime, Cape Town’s best; fresh tuna carpaccio followed by spaghetti vongole for Mrs P and swordfish pasta for me. Washed down with a couple of glasses of more than acceptable local rosé and then, a quick trip to the airport.

 

If you think this looks good, you should have tasted it.

If you think this looks good, you should have tasted it.

Clam fallout

Clam fallout

 

Lunch? I’d promised Mrs P as she only leaves for the UK (to join me there) next week.

 

So, airport, book in, customs, security, immigration all dealt with in moments and now I’m lolling dozily in the airline’s lounge.

 

Here we all are; me with a complimentary scotch, the uncomfortable German businessman, thick fingers jabbing his phone’s tiny keys. He will become an enemy before I leave, but more of that later.

 

A loud American that can’t access the wi-fi (nothing new there, this is South Africa after all).

 

An English woman, cell-phone-bellowing at endless friends and members of her family. The phone is redundant; her blare is loud enough without, her endless sentence-end laughs intrusive and wildly excessive.

 

Hoodie-clad Ms Two Tennis racquets stares vacantly, seeking who-knows-what.

 

Golf on a TV that no-one is watching. African talking heads on the other, also unwatched. Load shedding Stage 2. No-one cares any more – our venal and mendacious government has poked the economy in the eye and doesn’t have the first clue how to remedy a tumbling growth rate and 37% unemployment.

 

A raddled housewife, weary looking husband and two excited kids; coming or going? “I’m eating all this now so I won’t get hungry later on the aerwoplane” says male junior. Mum resorts to her phone to force hubby to attend to his brood. No chance. He’s got chips and a big fat drink.

 

Daddy, how long?” they squawk endlessly.

 

Gwmph.” Translation; “Fuck. I don’t know and care even less. Leave me alone for two minutes.

 

Daddy, I also need to go to the bathroom.” Daddy sighs, stands up, his phone falling from his lap where he was discretely checking e-mails. Everywhere, there’s a distinct air of resignation and we’re not on board yet.

 

There’s two seats” says a clearly retired hubby, already weary of air travel. “There’s no table. There’s no table. There’s no table” replies clockwork wife, used to getting her own way. Hubby stands owlishly… seconds staring at her retreating back. I imagine (as I think he does), plunging a knife into her and putting an end to her anger-making, syllable emphasising hand flapping, as she complains. Stab! Now STFU!

 

They’re all on the plane and I am glad of (for once) a couple of decent movies and an early night. It’s that or people who insist on carrying on high decibel conversations, screeching children, or the whining passengers for whom nothing is ever right.

 

Skye

Skye

 

In nine hours or so, the plane will land in Dubai and scratchy-eyed, we will deplane, to sit and wait for connecting flights to all corners of the globe. It’s a great hub and spoke system if you can deal with it.

 

With your body clock at single digit a.m. hours, you need to have managed to keep a bit of the hooligan about you as you aged – not being afraid of pre-breakfast alcohol and social interaction at the bar are essential. If you can’t, then sleep is the only option in an uncomfortable seat miles from your gate (it’s usually the only one available), the thousand yard, broken sleep stare and just about every language, food aroma and offensive personal habit imaginable. Just try to blast through the porridge that is where your brain used to be, long enough before you doze off to remember to set the alarm on your phone – otherwise, you’ll slumber on serenely and miss the bloody plane.

 

Oh joy.

 

My connecting flight leaves at sometime after 05:00, arriving in Glasgow at half past midday, after several hours flying time and an additional three hours of time difference. Then it’s find the car hire desk, get the (already booked) car and drive to Mallaig, in order to catch the last ferry of the day to Skye. Mr Google says it’ll take three and a half hours, I hope he’s right, or I’ll have wasted a ferry ticket and will have to drive an additional hundred miles to reach my hotel and catch up with Bob, my photographic companion for the next few days.

 

The German businessman? Minutes before leaving for the gate, I use “the facilities”, returning to find the last decent gulp of my most enjoyable drink is now awash with the detritus that collects on any lounge table; sweetie wrappers, a torn up voucher and a couple of tea spoons.

 

“Oh. Sorry. I thought you had left.”

 

“Sure you did, that’s why my luggage is still here and my computer is still on the table.”

 

What a bell end.

 

Neist Point and lighthouse

Neist Point and lighthouse

 

Later…

 

Tired. Simple word, complicated outcome. My photo buddy Bob and I have driven, walked, scrambled and clambered much of Skye this last few days. At six and a bit decades, I’ve done well, but am now done in and planning a celebratory early night It’s almost half past nine after all(!) – and still light outside.

 

It’s also driech – overcast, moody and drizzing. Typical Scotland but not great for stunning sunrises and sunsets. Still, we’ve had a chance to catch up, grumble about our various Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) afflictions and on occasion, head to out harm some otherwise defenceless pixels.

 

Looking towards Ramasaig

Looking towards Ramasaig

 

Last evening (Sunday) saw us scrambling over the boulders at Elgol, to catch a spectacular sunset scene over the Cuilin mountains. It was well below 10C and way past ten before the sun obliged and set behind the mountain and much later still before we gave up for the night.

 

Then on the drive back to the hotel I managed to spot an interesting roadside scene, making us another half hour later arriving back at the hotel and a warming nippie sweetie (or two).

 

Reeds in deep dusk

Reeds in deep dusk

 

It’s been great. I now know my way around Skye a bit better thanks to Bob and also have a new avatar – my back again, I’m afraid.

 

Tomorrow, I leave for the beautifully named St John’s Town of Dalry and an overnight with Messrs Leeming and Patterson, photographers of the parish. Then it’s ever south- (and west-) wards to Pembrokeshire and a night with great mate, Steve at his home – Treffynnon – nestled in the hills high above Newport.

 

Thursday, it’s on to London and at sparrow’s on Friday morning, Heathrow to collect Mrs P.

 

Meanwhile, I decide to sit in the hotel lounge where the Internet reception is marginally better than the messenger with a forked stick I’ve had in my room. I’m sharing this quiet space with four Americans who, like me are waiting for the office to open to pay our bills, then grab some breakfast. My car is packed; I’m due at the Armadale ferry terminal at about 09:30 and en route, I’m planning to stop at a spot I noticed yesterday and phot for a few minutes.

 

Misty morning reeds

Misty morning reeds

 

A few minutes peace and quiet to close off a wonderful few days…

 

Grey haired Mrs American no.1 has other ideas and decides it would be a good time to fire up her iPad to listen to some voice mail from a clearly demented friend, or CNN (I don’t know, nor care which) at earsplitting volume.

 

In fact, it’s so loud that when I said “Could you please turn that down?” she couldn’t hear me and had to be elbowed in the ribs by her partner/husband. He’s obviously used to dealing with such blithe and arrogant rudeness.

 

Misty morning reeds

Misty morning reeds

Welcome back

Rooi Els lagoon

Rooi Els lagoon

 

Slider; a small hamburger, about a third the size of a normal burger. Often sold in twos, threes and more – depending on your appetite. Sliders allow the eater to taste several different types (one of each; cheese, blue cheese, egg, bacon, etc.) at one sitting. Great idea. Massively satisfying. The best of all worlds really.

 

Slider; functionality in a Web site template that literally slides one item of content over another – photographs for example. It’s an excellent way of displaying several images in a space where only a single image might otherwise be shown. Great idea.

 

Great idea? Not.

 

Best of all worlds? Not.

 

Ulcer inducing? Yup.

 

Overberg sunrise

Overberg sunrise

 

The shiny new Web template had arrived almost as quickly as my US$50-odd tinkled into the developer’s pocket. Unpacked, it looked pretty straightforward, but from the get-go, I was aware that the things I wanted to achieve weren’t just a matter of selecting an option, clicking the check box to confirm my choice and leaning back to marvel at my astonishing technological prowess.

 

Nope.

 

I started this project late last year, intending to move my two sites; psukhe (the blog) and paulperton.com (my photography galleries) into a single environment.

 

Thinking that up was the easy bit. Making it work has taken almost a year. A year of frustration, irritation and such resulting apathy that it became necessary to give myself a stern talking-to in order to get anywhere near finished.

 

Looking towards Glenelg

Looking towards Glenelg

 

So, a couple of weeks ago, I called in the specialists. It’s shite to discover that you’ve run out of ability in this or that and have to call in extra hands. Still, if I wanted a Web site…

 

Long story short, I bought a different template – hopefully one that is significantly less arcane – and have had it’s initial pages populated for me. Now, I have a model to follow and should be able to cope.

 

This post is accompanied by some images I hope you haven’t seen before and will be followed by a couple of recent items that I originally posted on DearSusan and you may have missed. Having been off-air for a while, I find myself with a great deal of other topics I want to explore; those will have to wait a few days.

 

Anyway, I’ve finally got this far and I hope not to have lost many of the regular visitors to either site. Take a look around, try the links and load the pages. They should all work. While you do that, I’ll carry on wrangling with the technology.

 

Do let me know if you like it. Or don’t as the case may be.

 

And, while all that has been going on, I have to ‘fess up that I also took a bit of a sabbatical. Late in 2013, I wrote to Pascal Jappy, the main blogger/owner at DearSusan* to ponder whether he might be interested in me writing for the site – new face, new ideas etc.

 

I’d attached an article about my passion for steam trains and a few accompanying photographs and was delighted to be welcomed on board. Since then, I’ve been posting on DS, intending to re-start my own blog just as soon as I’d managed to wrangle the damned thing into submission.

 

Rooisand sunrise

Rooisand sunrise

 

That day has arrived. Please explore and if you’ve some time, have a wander around the DearSusan site too (link above).

 

There’s always a bit more here – I’m finishing this post listening to Pink Floyd’s two decade awaited final recording(s), called The Endless River. Essentially a collection of outtakes from the Division Bell sessions, it’s vintage Floyd and definitely pinned in that late ‘90s period. I’m not certain they shouldn’t have left it there and our memories intact. Maybe it’ll grow on me.

 

* Named as a response to Susan Sontag and her remarks about the proliferation of sub-optimal photography.

 

Looking south east

Looking south east