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Evenings by the river

Tonight we ventured down to the river late into the summer evening. The constant hum of buzzing insects and birdsong serenaded us, the river sensually idled past us but i sought out the darker corners. As the sunlight kissed the tips of the trees I ventured into the undergrowth seeking out my nature fix. 

Evenings by the river
Evenings by the river
Evenings by the river
Evenings by the river
Evenings by the river

30 days wild

30 days wild

These sproglets of ours are never happier than when they are outdoors. Now before you think we are bragging about raising perfect children who say 'no mummy we don't want to play the IPAD we'd rather be outdoors adventuring", think again. If left to their own devices, they would never leave a screen. It's more a case of once we have spent a decent amount of convincing the kids outdoors, they are never happier. Loving the outdoors ourselves definitely makes the cajoling easier. We spend a great deal of time outdoors in all weathers and want to pass on this love to our children. I think it's working. They are becoming much more aware of the natural world around them. They stop to admire colourful beetles, are entranced by ladybirds, think nothing of stripping down for a dip in a freezing cold loch, love eating food cooked on an open fire and play their part in picking up other people's rubbish. Their favourite thing to do on holiday is head away in the camper van. It's just the kind of life l always dreamed of giving them. That's why we are all excited to be taking part in the 30 days wild challenge. For the month of June, we are going to commit to a random act of wildness every day. As with anything, it's good to sometimes have a specific focus or task to keep you motivated and this daily prompt project has got the kids very excited. We are going to try and take a daily image and complete a short journal for every day and share it on here for anyone who wants to follow along. For those of you that don't know about it and are thinking of jumping in, here are some prompts for little 'wild' projects you can do yourself:

Build a hedgehog house for your garden

Go bat spotting

Sit outside with a blanket and warm drink and take in a sunset

Read a 'wild' book

Grow herbs

Learn to identify birds by their song

Forage for and make nettle soup

Make a sun print

Create a nature scavenger hunt

Make a stick crown

Go tree climbing

Make a fairy potion

Go butterfly spotting

Make dandelion playdoh

Hike up a hill

Go stargazing

Toast marshmallows on an open fire

Make a sundial

Make a bird feeder

Write your name using materials only found in nature.

30 days wild

Sea Pink

A long day in which it would have been easier to fall into the couch and watch mind-numbing tv all night. Instead we threw some pasta and cold sausages along with pear and apple juice into a picnic bag and set off for Stonehaven. We hiked up to the war memorial looking back over the seaside village, we studied the young men's names on the walls and looked out to the gorse covered cliffs and Dunnottar castle beyond. We continued along the cliff path making our way down to the stony beach beneath the castle itself and found a large piece of driftwood to perch on whilst we enjoyed our outdoor dinner. A fresh sea breeze bristled past us as the waves lapped the shore. I found myself taken with the sea pink (or thrift) admiring its ability to thrive in such exposed conditions. After some more seaside and castle explorations, we returned the same way casting an eye over the ever changing undulating landscape as the light began to fade. 

The adventures don't always need to be big and to far flung locations.  Sometimes, what's on our doorstep is all the therapy we need. 

 

Sea Pink (Sea thrift)

Wild Swimming - Cairngorms

I did my first wild swim last weekend in the waters of Loch an Eilean in the Cairngorms. Giving that I like my showers scalding I wasn't sure I'd be able to brave it but I did and I loved it. The water was crisp and cold, as refreshing a dip as you could ever have and I left feeling clear-headed and full of energy, my skin buzzing from the shock. Now to find some places closer to home to keep up this new love. 

Wild swimming Cairngorms

Road tripping through the Highlands

Never not thankful to live in this beautiful country when i get to take road trips like this. 

Road trip Scottish Highlands

Landrover 70th Celebration

I've done a few automobile shoots recently, much to my husband's delight and I have to say that I'm a bit hooked. I have a big soft spot for classic, some would say vintage, vehicles so when the opportunity arose to shoot for Landrover's 70th birthday celebrations, I jumped at the chance. Check out this absolute beauty. Just made for adventuring. 

Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
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Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender
Landrover Defender

Split Rock Croft - A mid-term break

During February's midterm break we decided to head up to one of our favourite places - the North West of Scotland. Being a bit too chilly for the van, we booked Split Rock Croft which has been on my visit list for ages. This croft, situated right next to Clachtoll beach has everything we want in a holiday. Views, a wood burning stove. wildlife and fantastic hosts. Helen and Graham went out of their way to make us feel welcome, offering the kids the chance to help them tend to their animals which included chickens, sheep, dogs, pigs and the perennial tourist favourite: highland cows. 

Over the course of a couple of days, we experienced all four seasons. i could have happily spent my days just at this window watching the ever changing scene in front of me. 

Split Rock croft
Split Rock Croft
Split Rock croft
Split Rock Croft
Split Rock croft

We meandered along the coastline, past the highland cows down to Clachtoll beach and the salmon bothy behind it. A storm came in thick and fast putting paid to our plans to visit the broch so we retreated for hot chocolate and waited it out. 

Split Rock Croft
Split Rock Croft
Split Rock Croft
Split Rock Croft
Split Rock Croft

Our kids loved the friendly dogs who kept us entertained with their antics. There isn't much that can top a holiday like this for the kids. Wrapped up warm, they were in their element running along the beach, visiting the animals, hiking up snowy mountains and recovering with hot chocolate. There was a noticeable difference in height in both the kids upon our return which l credit to all the outdoor time and sea air. 

Split Rock Croft
Split Rock Croft
Split Rock Croft
Split rock Croft
Split Rock Croft

The rock after which the cottage is named. 

Split Rock Cottage

Possibly our favourite beach in Scotland - Achmelvich. We spent a good few hours here running from the waves and digging holes in the sand. 

Split Rock Croft, Achmelvich Beach

We recovered with a hearty lunch at the Lochinver Pie Shop - my youngest enjoying her venison and cranberry pie. 

Lochinver Pie Shop
Lochinver Pie Shop

We were treated to some of the finest snowy conditions we have experienced in Scotland. Perfect white powdery snow alongside blue skies. We followed the path around the Knockan Crag reserve enjoying the spectacular views along the way. A good couple of hours walking tired us all out and we retreated to Split Rock to enjoy the sweet pies we had purchased to enjoy at home. 

Split Rock Croft
Split Rock croft
Spit Rock Croft
Split Rock Croft

We can't wait to return. l think a lot of people think the Highlands is not worth visiting in winter but i couldn't disagree more. In fact it's my favourite time to visit. i love nothing better than clear starry nights, wood burning stoves, cosy jumpers, winter walking and no midges. Split Rock ticked every box for us and judging by their comment book, we are far from the only ones. This is definitely one to bookmark for visits to this area. 

Split Rock croft
Split Rock Croft

Drive Scotland

I'm taking over Drive Scotland's Instagram account all this week to showcase some of Scotland's utterly glorious road trips. If you love Scotland, camper-vanning, hiking, campfires and getting lost you might want to head on over and check out their account. https://www.instagram.com/drivescotland/?hl=en

Drive Scotland

Glencoe Photoshoot

I get quite a few requests from families wanting outdoor shoots in Scotland at a place that has some meaning for them. I love doing these sessions but can't commit to doing that many whilst my children are still young. Melissa made contact with me a couple of years ago and we hit it off straightaway. Melissa and her husband were taking their children to visit Scotland for the first time, a country they have a special affinity for, and wanted to capture that in a photo-shoot. But the week before they were due to visit, their son broke his ankle and they had to put all their holiday plans on hold for a year. It all came together this year though and Glencoe looked the finest I've maybe ever seen it. As the sun started to drop, we hiked around the lower flanks of Buachaille Etive Mhor (let's climb up it next next time guys). The kids were able to run and adventure just like they should and l came along to capture them all on this wonderful trip. 

Glencoe Family Photoshoot
Glencoe Family Photoshoot
Glance Family Photoshoot
Glencoe Family Photoshoot
Glencoe Family Photoshoot
Glencoe Family photoshoot
Glencoe Family Photoshoot
Glance Family Photoshoot
Glance Family Photoshoot
Glance Photoshoot Scotland
Glencoe Family photoshoot
Glencoe Family photoshoot
Glencoe Family Photoshoot
Glance Family Photoshoot

A sneaky weekend away in Edinburgh

I might be biased but Edinburgh is one of my favourite cities in the world and even though it is only two hours down the road, I definitely don't visit it nearly enough. I'm headed down there for a wedding next weekend which reminded me of this trip I took last September and never got round to sharing. 

 Mimi's Bakehouse, Leith

Mimi's Bakehouse, Leith

 Cannonball Restaurant, Royal mile.

Cannonball Restaurant, Royal mile.

Breakfast at Mimi's Bakehouse in Leith is a must. This nutella porridge and home made scone kept me going until dinner but it took all my resolve to resist their caramelised banana french toast with vanilla creme fraiche. 

Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle in a riot of Autumn colours. 

Edinburgh
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Edinburgh Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland

This is a popular photographer viewpoint of the castle and can be found at The Vennel. At the bottom of these stairs is one of the finest ice cream shops in the country. 

Piper, Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh Scotland
 Cockburn Street, Edinburgh

Cockburn Street, Edinburgh

The inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. There's a great wee Harry Potter shop on this road that sells lots of quirky HP memorabilia.

 Circus Lane, Edinburgh

Circus Lane, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland
Scottish Parliament Edinburgh
Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh, Scotland

Calton Hill is worth a wee trip. A ten minute uphill trek gets you some of the finest views in the city although my favourite views of the city are definitely from Arthur's seat (not seen here).

Edinburgh Sunset, Scotland

Women in landscape photography

This is the word excerpt from an article l wrote for an American magazine: ONE | TWENTY-FIVE a couple of years back. Thoughts on the representation of women in landscape photography. 

Women in landscape photography

Women in landscape photography

How pursuing a love of the wild lead this photographer to question the role of gender in landscape photography. 

Being out in Scotland’s wilderness is what makes my heart beat faster. I find it almost a form of meditation. Hiking through undulating landscapes and rich green vistas made lush by an over-abundance of rain. Methodically placing one foot in front of the other until all elements combine and l stop to take it all in and use my camera to try and capture that feeling of wildness, especially apparent in the Scottish highlands. More often than not, I’m drawn in by the light. That transient light that I’ve yet to experience in any other country, caused by multiple weather conditions whipping the landscape on a daily basis. Rain, hail, storm clouds, sun, mist, haze and snow: I’ve experienced most of these in one day out on the Scottish hills. The unpredictable weather can be a source of frustration but find yourself in the right place at the right time and you’ll experience photography nirvana. You will see light dancing across the land, illuminating mountain tops, a lone tree, a herd of stags, acting as nature’s spotlight, providing intriguing visual contrasts. This is why l love landscape photography. 

Landscape photography has always been one of the most, if not the most popular branch of photography. It has universal appeal, allowing viewers to transport themselves to locations and vistas they might never otherwise have a chance to see. It’s still a relatively new genre to me and having dipped my toes into this wonderful visual medium, I’m now hooked. So it comes as somewhat of a surprise to me to find that there are so few female landscape photographers, or certainly few ‘recognised’ female landscape photographers. Whilst women have made huge inroads into certain fields of this historically male dominated environment, we are still lagging behind in the landscape genre. 

Does it matter whether an image taken is produced by a man or a women. Yes and no. This is a question that is relevant across the whole creative genre. More women than men are represented at entry level in the creative arts but further down the line and into art galleries, art collections, competitions, museums, auctions, significantly more men than women are represented. To give some context to that, in 1985 the Guerrilla Girls were formed by a group of female artists with the intention of drawing attention to sexism, racism and corruption in the arts. They launched a poster campaign targeting the MET Museum with the headline Do women have to be naked to get into the MET Museum? accompanied by the following statement: 

Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.

Interestingly enough, they carried out the same exercise in 2012 and found that less than 4% of the artists were women and 76% of the nudes were female. Clearly it’s an issue that requires a more in-depth discussion than this paper allows, but one that l feel we are all qualified to contribute to and help move towards removing the obstacles to women entering and remaining in creative professions. Personally, it’s a hugely relevant issue for me for two reasons:

  1. I’m inspired by a huge number of photographers of this genre (virtually all male). I have had fantastic support from them and have witnessed knowledge sharing, support and camaraderie. I view inspiring images on a daily basis and it never occurs to me to question whether they are taken by a woman or a man BUT l have struggled to find a photographer that l can relate to. One that can tell me how they managed to develop or maintain a career in landscape photography whilst also being the primary carer for a young family. 
  2. I have two children; one daughter and one son. l want role models for them. l want my daughter to know that she will have access to the same opportunities that my son will. But it’s hard to say that with any authority when l see so little representation of women in landscape photography. 

I have heard many reasons given as to why there are so few women pursuing this career path from the nonsensical such as ‘the equipment is too heavy for women’ (clearly these people have never had to carry around 50lbs of children on a regular basis) to the unbelievable ‘women are just not that interested in this genre’. But the most realistic one is that it is difficult to balance traditional landscape photography with childcare. Waiting for long periods of time for the perfect shot, being there at golden hour and travelling away from home. All of these are incompatible with family life. These are undeniable real-life barriers but barriers are there to be broken. Yes it’s going to be difficult to pursue ‘traditional’ landscape photography but you know what? Traditional landscape has been done and it’s been done a 1000 times before. Want a pin perfect shot of the Grand Canyon. Search on google. It will bring up thousands. Women have a significant contribution to make to this genre and we are limiting our role if we let these barriers hold us back. l prefer to think of such limitations are challenges. I’m stepping away from the conventional and looking for ways in which l can do it differently. My aim is never just to make a visual record of a scene but to create an image with emotional pull, one that captures the mood and feeling of a place. Our landscape isn’t always a picture postcard and l have found that some of my most popular pictures have been those that most realistically represent my country. 

One of the best ways to create unique images is to shoot in what most would consider ‘unfavourable conditions’. You don’t tend to see many landscape images taken in the rain. Why? Some of my most atmospheric shots have been taken in the rain. l specifically seek it out when shooting in the wild glens of Scotland such as Glencoe, which has a rich, dark history of massacre, famine, exposure, drama and love. Using a slightly longer exposure, you can turn that rain into a soft mist, really adding to the story. Camera protection is of the utmost importance but l prefer to not over-complicate things and mostly get by using a large golf umbrella to shield my camera from the worst of the elements and a lens cloth for cleaning rain droplets off my lens. 

On those rare full sun days in Scotland, instead of putting my camera away, I’ll head to the coast where the conditions really enhance the blues of the sea. I also seek out interesting textures, shapes, patterns and contrasts. If it’s not conditions conducive towards getting a portfolio worthy shot, I’ll use the opportunity to work on my craft, studying the curves and lines of the landscape, and using online tools to work out when the best light is likely to hit the location so that l am fully prepared when the right conditions do arise.  

Instead of seeing my children as a limitation, I incorporate them into my work. It’s not easy and realistically, l would be able to give a lot more time to my craft without them there, but for the time-being, I’m their primary carer and I’m in a fortunate position of being able to give them a taste of adventure. We camp, we build dens, we hike (small distances), we splash in puddles and climb trees, we run from waves and toast marshmallows. What better way to live your childhood. Often I’ll incorporate them into an image, providing perspective and scale and recording what their Scottish childhood looks like. 

l also spend a lot of time working close to home. Long road trips and weeks out in the hills waiting for the perfect moment is not workable for me. Instead, I focus my energy on trying to shoot locations close to home in new and unique ways. This is pushing me creatively and helping develop my photography skills even further. It has also given me a new appreciation for my hometown. 

There are so many ways in which we can break down these barriers and produce memorable and evocative images of our own landscapes. There has never been a better time for women to try out this genre, to push themselves to get out there and ‘feel’ the landscape and experience the meditative effects for themselves. I’ve no doubt that by the time my daughter is a young woman, there will be a multitude of female role models across all genres of photography to tell her about. 

First published in ONE | TWENTY-FIVE Vol 4 - Oct 2015

A Scottish Winter

Winter in Scotland

The last vestiges of Autumn slowly drift away. Everything is stripped back.  Sparkles appear in the shops indicating the imminent party season. I prefer sparkles of a different kind and find my eyes pulled upwards towards more celestial delights. The inky black sky is peppered with glitter. The kids look for constellations and then we make up some of our own. We follow the International Space Station traversing the sky 400km above us. The size of a football field, it appears as a bright white dot above us for seconds at a time before disappearing over the far reaches towards other continents. 

The damp days give way to frozen delights. With teeth chattering we stomp on frozen puddles, the ice crunching and breaking beneath us. Red, dripping noses and warm breath, seeking out pockets of light when we can whether it be from the sun, the glowing embers of the fire or from the twinkly fairy lights strung up haphazardly around the house. 

Winter in Scotland
Winter in Scotland
Winter in Scotland

Daylight and energy are sapped, the cloak of darkness wrapping us up sometimes as early as 3.30 in the afternoon. Light is so fleeting, barely has the day begun than the sun is setting. We warm our bodies from the inside out with copious amounts of steaming tea, warming stews and bubbling hot pots. This is the time to nourish our bodies. The dark nights feel like nature's way of slowing us down, a forced rest from the constant busyness of modern life. 

A skit of snow dusting the landscape heralds November's arrival. Like a sprinkling of icing sugar on a cake. Stepping out gingerly into the perfect stillness of a frosty morning, we marvel at the snowflakes and ice crystals which, in the right light represent nature's diamonds.  The snow also gives us an opportunity to develop our rudimentary tracking skills. We seek out prints in the snow, sketching them with numb fingers before internet sleuthing to reveal a number of creatures including deer, a fox and even a badger. 

This month also brings us our nightly serenade from our resident tawny owl. The familiar hooting of the owl staking his territory, engaging in nightly musings with a mate, provides an atmospheric backdrop to our dreams.

Winter in Scotland

Winter solstice passes largely unnoticed by the masses too focused on the Christmas mayhem. Although l enjoy this season, I'm extremely happy to welcome midwinter. Daylight stretches every day from now until the summer solstice when there will be an extra 11 hours and 15 minutes of daylight than there is today. As darkness approaches, I light candles and tea lights dotted around the house, creating light where there is none, imbuing a sense of cosagach or cosiness. We collect wood and methodically prepare the fire. The job is a therapeutic one on days when we have time to lounge. Kindling and paper, twigs and logs all placed in a careful pyramid. The spark from a match is all that is needed to turn this into a roaring fire.

Winter in Scotland

I snatch a day to myself and head out to the hills with a flask of tea and a bagel stuffed with brie and leftover christmas cranberry sauce. Driving out the scenic Deeside way, l make for Loch Muick on the Queen's Balmoral estate. Having set off late, l have the place mostly to myself. Past the visitor centre with its mountain artefacts, a red squirrel accompanies me for a short time, its russet coat standing our against the snowy backdrop of mountains. The path around the Loch is frozen solid and requires careful footing. Not so for the herd of deer who nimbly dart about the upper reaches of the crags eyeing me suspiciously. The freezing mist suspended over the water obscures the other side of the loch but not the jagged mountain peaks which, with their winter coats, hang menacingly over me. Shards of black ice paths zig zag up the seemingly impenetrable slopes of mountains including Lochnagar, Broad Cairn and Creag a Ghlas-uillt. A buzzard swoops down from the hilltop in front of me gliding over 'The Widow's House' named after it became Queen Victoria's place of respite and grieving following the death of Prince Albert.

Winter in Scotland

Jan and February hit hard. With no Christmas to distract us, the long dark nights and never-ending seagull grey days wear everyone down. The land has been stripped right back. Desolate swathes of nothingness. Seemingly incapable of supporting any wildlife but wildlife does thrive here. The roe deer are regular visitors to our gardens with as many as 7 visiting at one time. They feast on leaves, weeds, fungi, ferns and less pleasing to the gardeners amongst us, garden plants. It's a small price to pay for such a delightful sight. The holly tree with its beautiful deep green spiky foliage and bright red berries provides a feasting ground for a variety of garden birds entertaining me through the window as I edit. 

Winter in Scotland

Early nights with ferocious winds battering against the windows create the perfect hermit conditions. Warmed by an electric blanket I devour seasonal books with a hunger impossible to conjure in the long days of summer. As l read about wild swimming, stargazing, mountain climbing and nature spotting, my mind drift towards warmer days where exploration and adventure opportunities abound.  

The essence of the highlands seeps out of the fire made possible with a bag of peat from the Hebrides. As plans are made for the coming year, the house fills with the smells of my childhood, inducing a sharp nostalgia for all things and people gone.  Never do you feel a loved one's passing more keenly than a family celebration with Christmas being the hardest one to bear. Just as well this season is followed by that of Spring: renewal and hope are just around the corner. 

Escaping the grind

BC (before children), my husband and l did a lot of hiking and adventuring. Whilst friends visited America or Europe's jewels, we preferred to pack our climbing gear and head to the hills in far flung places like Nepal, China and Tibet. We didn't have the skills or experience to make it a serious hobby but we both loved it. The physical challenge, the mental break and of course the take your breath away (sometimes quite literally due to altitude) landscapes all combined to hook us in and we were left wondering why everyone else also didn't holiday this way. 

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It's been one of the hardest things to give up since having children. Our previous fearlessness has not translated into fearlessly travelling with young children. The huge positive to this change though has been that we have rediscovered and developed a deep love for our own country. Hiking through glens, camping from coast to coast, sailing across the Minch, immersing ourselves in our incredible and often dark history and frolicking on white sandy beaches on the west coast. 

Our previous experience has helped foster a love for nature and a yearning to pass on that same love and desire to make a positive impact to our children. 

Nowadays, the chances are more infrequent, the fitness isn't what it was and the adventures are less adventurous but we still get out there accompanied by our 4 and 7 year old. With nothing to do but walk and breath it all in, it is the antidote to today's rush, rush, rush, busy, busy world. The chance to physically exhaust our bodies but rest our minds. A free therapy that works wonders for me. Combine that with photography and I'm in heaven. I'm hoping that our children will develop their own sense of adventure and love for this beautiful country. 

 Our youngest is only 2yrs old here. Despite taking a child carrier, she insisted on walking the whole way up the Old Man of Storr (she inherited her mother's stubbornness). Fit and healthy adults on their way down watched her in astonishment. We took regular breaks with food and water. They both had the time of their lives and still speak about it 18 months later. 

Our youngest is only 2yrs old here. Despite taking a child carrier, she insisted on walking the whole way up the Old Man of Storr (she inherited her mother's stubbornness). Fit and healthy adults on their way down watched her in astonishment. We took regular breaks with food and water. They both had the time of their lives and still speak about it 18 months later. 

 Jumping for joy at the North West Highlands Geopark - Knockan Crag

Jumping for joy at the North West Highlands Geopark - Knockan Crag

 Another hill conquered. 

Another hill conquered. 

 A walk out to Ryvoan bothy in somewhat unfavourable weather. We headed inside to a warm fire and mini picnic. 

A walk out to Ryvoan bothy in somewhat unfavourable weather. We headed inside to a warm fire and mini picnic. 

Window View

Inspired by Paul Octavious project same hill different day http://samehilldifferentday.com, I've been capturing our window view over the last year. Until l saw these images together, l had no real commitment to the project. I've been casually snatching pictures as l get the kids ready, missing opportunities to do so because my camera was packed away. Now though, looking over them as a collection, I'm motivated to carry this on and make a real effort to capture the changing seasons and light. I can't believe how much change I've witnessed just capturing it haphazardly this year. 

Same View Different Day
Same View Different Day
Same View Different Day
Same view different day
Same view different day
same view different day

Autumn Bouquet

Oh l am so behind sharing on here, it's a disgrace. Summer was very busy with the two kiddos and towards the end of it, l managed to pick up a nasty chest infection that basically wiped me out for 6 weeks. I'm looking forward to drowning you all with lots of Scottish ( and Irish) imagery over the next few weeks. I still have some gorgeous client sessions to share with you as well. Meantime here's a quickie from today. The rain deluge finally stopped so we all donned wellies and headed out for a long walk to burn off energy. Along the way, the kids picked up a variety of foliage and we made it into an Autumn bouquet upon returning home. 

Autumn Bouquet

A Scottish Summer

Summer in Scotland

Summer is starting to fade in Scotland. The leaves are turning russet, the nights are drawing in and with it the unstoppable march towards winter begins.  How we long for summer in the depths of winter. The first taste of it usually comes in April. In the midst of spring and renewal an expected blast of heat arrives and a million Scots say a silent prayer pleading with the gods to let this be the year that we experience a full summer. Like the one our parents speak of from the 70s: when the sun shone constantly for 8 weeks and children played happily in the outdoors all summer long building dens and swimming in lochs. 

Summer Scotland

If Scotland had a proper summer, it would be overrun. In every other way except the weather, we consider this little country of ours to be perfect. Perhaps the weather is as much about protecting this beautiful landscape of ours as it is about providing a conversation starter. What else is there to stop people arriving in their droves other than the weather? 

The lengthening days mean more time for exploration. One exceptional weather weekend in June, we set off towards Glencoe hoping to finally experience it in beautiful midsummer conditions. The Glen of Weeping, named for the massacre that took place there in 1692, suits a bit of grim weather: it brings the ghosts of the past to life.  That particular weekend, the weather was a revelation. The greens of the hills were lush and luminous and the purple heather just starting to flower. Coachloads of tourists arrived by day, scurrying from one scenic photography spot to the next, never really taking the time to absorb it all. We left our touristing until the evening, preferring the solitude and quiet that came with it. We stopped at Loch Achtriochan, lured by the perfectly still waters mirroring the majestic landscape all around.  Stepping out of our camper van and craving an ice-cold drink, we made our way alongside a wildflower verge down to the water's edge. The gentle hum of insects lulled us until we saw a haze of black surround us. The dreaded midge, which thrives on dry, windless days had settled in for a feast. This contrast between the sweet and sour of adventuring in Scotland is often what makes trips memorable. 

Summer Scotland

The changeable weather in summer makes it hard to plan in advance. You can wake up to a glorious day but not know if the weather will hold long enough for you to have a bbq for dinner. In the same way that you need the challenges and down times in life to make you appreciate the great times, our more challenging weather helps us seize the day when the warm weather arrives. At the first whiff of sun, we play. At home, my children can while away many hours with a hosepipe, the spraying water making rainbows and soaking anyone in its path. We eat outside and I watch the juices from their watermelon slices leave a sticky trail down their chins.  Away from home, we forage for blaeberries and raspberries, hike up purple drenched hills or ramble through woodland thick with foliage and moss. One evening we take the children out to a nearby estate. We make the mistake of wearing simple summer shoes. They are no match for the recently drenched landscape and we squelch our way through the fields like elephants after a monsoon. We walk through a tunnel of trees emerging into the warm light at the other end. We touch the rough stone of old settlements and speak at length about the people who lived here before us. We catch sight of tiny frogs, jumping like popping corn in the path in front of us. The longer we observe, the more we see. Nature's broadway performance.  

Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland

Sometimes we go days and days without a hint of rain. The earth dries, the leaves and grass crisp and there is a hazy stillness in the air. The rain always comes though and after it, we are left with a musky, earthy scent. The very essence of the earth and rocks beneath our feet released. 

On the coast, you breathe in the air and taste the salt on your tongue. Usually the domain of squawking gulls, the summer months find many of our coastal areas taken over by a multitude of seabirds. Guillemots, kittiwakes, fulmars and our favourite - puffins, all cram together on the carved out cliff edges, the sea breeze dispersing the pungent aroma far and wide. Summer is also a good time for dolphin and if you are very lucky orca spotting. We venture out on a boat on aqua green waters off the west coast of Scotland and are observed by some very inquisitive seals. Keeping our distance, or trying to, the seals appear at regular intervals, bobbing up out of the water almost as if they have joined an observation tour of us. It's almost midsummer's eve and as l look into their human like eyes, l think back to the stories l have heard of the seal people or selkies. Those with the ability to cast off their sealskins and appear in human form. Many a tale has been told of the alluring selkie dancing under the moonlit sky and of humans hiding their sealskins to prevent them from returning to the sea. If you venture to the coast on the summer or winter solstice, perhaps you will have a story to tell too. 

On the north-east coast, hot and windless days can sometimes be tainted with haar: a thick porridge like mist that spreads a chill over the city. For those unaccustomed to this sight, it can seem quite apocalyptic. Best to head inland on those days. 

Venturing away from the coast, a favourite sight is that of the rosebay willowherb. This pink wildflower consumes usually desolate areas dispersing pink across the landscape. Roadsides, wasteland, railway embankments all transformed into thriving and colourful insect metropolises. The national flower follows suit although isn't nearly so prolific in its endeavours. The thistle's silvery stalk leads up to a spiky bulb with a vibrant purple flower perched on top, instantly identifiable as a source of pride for all Scots. 

Summer Scotland

The platitudes don't fade with nightfall. Night is so brief at this time of year, the daytime glow never really disappears. We wrap the kids up, head inland and clamber on top our our camper. Wrapped in duvets and warmed from the inside out by milky hot chocolate, our 6 year old is our star guide. He points out the north star, the W of Cassiopeia, Pegasus, Andromeda and the milky way. As our eyes adjust, we make up our own constellations.  Nature's encore performance is stars shooting across a twinkling sky, the zenith of the Perseid meteor shower. 

Summer Scotland

As we enter August, there are hints of Autumn. The darkness closes in on our long, light evenings, early morning temperatures dip and the luminous green of the landscape begins to fade. By the end of the month, the leaves will start falling announcing Autumn's arrival. But summer has one last bittersweet delight: the flowering heather. In a matter of days the hills, glens and moors are carpeted in various purple hues from lilac to vivid deep violet. This is my favourite time for exploration. The light is softer, the colours more gentle. Summer's last lingering days gently ease us into the next season of life. 

Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland