My Five Day Scotland Road Trip (Sept 2016)

Hi everyone and a very BIG welcome to you all. I hope you enjoy my latest blog and please feel free to leave a comment if you wish. I read and reply to everyone one of them.

Thanks Melvin

A couple of weeks ago, I spent five days travelling, discovering and photographing the coastline of East Lothian (St Abbs Lighthouse to Aberlady), Edinburgh city, the Forth Rail and Road Bridges and the Fife coastline between the Forth Bridges and Anstruther. My main reason for wanting to visit these places is that I am going to run some landscape photography workshops around this part of Scotland next year and having now experienced these stunning locations in person, I am really excited to start planning them. Full details will be available shortly.

I hope you enjoy reading about my travels and the accompanying photographs I captured along the way. It is not a short blog as I crammed an awful lot into my five days, where shooting and not sleeping was the aim for this road trip.

Thursday 8th September 2016

One of the perks of my job as full-time, professional landscape photographer (and there are many) is that I get to combine the three things that I am passionate about, landscape photography, travel and meeting people. Earlier this year I purchased a 7 seater Ford Galaxy which not only allows me to carry more clients around on workshops in luxurious comfort but it also allows me the ability to fold the seats flat, throw a single mattress in the back and head for the hills for a few days. I don’t know about you but this is my kind of trip.

The biggest single cost of travelling is accommodation and depending on where you visit and at what time of the year, B&B/hotel costs can be incredibly expensive. By being able to ‘live’ in the car for up to a week or so at a time not only saves me a lot of money (which frees up additional road trips at other times of the year) but it also allows me to be on location for sunrise and sunset which is important to me. I also feel more connected to the great outdoors in this way too and I hope this comes through in the images that I take. Here’s a photo of me at Dinas Head in Pembrokeshire back in April during a glorious sunset. Home from home indeed.

Home from home in my Ford Galaxy. It takes me to a place far, far away (Dinas Head, Pembrokeshire, Wales April 2016)
Dinas Head, Pembrokeshire, Wales (April 2016)

A few weeks ago, I decided to hit the road for the second time this year, the last time being to Pembrokeshire back in April but this time, it was to be the coastline of East Lothian in the south-east corner of Scotland and the Fife coastline north of Edinburgh that was calling me. I have run photography workshops in Northumberland several times a year for quite some time now but I had yet to discover properly the beauty of the coastline from St Abbs to North Berwick and beyond. I decided a few weeks ago that I would do just that. So after presenting a landscape photography lecture at Crosby Camera Club near Liverpool on the Wednesday evening of the 7th September, I made my way up to the lighthouse at St Abbs on an overnight mission to arrive for sunrise.

I can find it tough driving through the night when all you want to do is sleep but the adrenaline of arriving at a new location at 4am in the pitch darkness helps to keep you awake and stimulated. On arriving at St Abbs Lighthouse I realised that there was a closed gate informing me that the lighthouse was a mile and a half away. I decided not to walk it but to open the gate and drive through for walking a three mile round trip, half of it in the dark, on minimal sleep having driven 200 miles to get there did not sit easy with me plus you don’t want to be caught out in a rainstorm without your car if the weather closes in. On arriving at St Abbs, you walk up a small path from the small, free car park and it takes you up and around the back of the rental cottages that link onto the lighthouse. You then are required to walk along a rather thin path that runs surprisingly close to the edge of a cliff and in all her glory, there she is, all lit up like a Christmas tree. The incredibly bright light rotating 360 degrees except that there’s a blanking plate at the rear of the lighthouse glass windows to prevent it from blinding the cottage occupants. The wind was blowing, and it felt surreal standing there in the pitch black, all alone and blurry eyed but knowing that you want to get a shot of the lighthouse before the sun rises in a couple of hours. Some time passed before I settled into the scene and before long I got a shot that I was happy with. The photo below is actually three differently exposed images and blended in Photoshop CC.

4.30am St Abbs Lighthouse, East Lothian, Scotland
4.30am St Abbs Lighthouse, East Lothian, Scotland

Once the sun had risen, I decided to leave and drive on to various locations including Belhaven Bay with its ‘bridge to nowhere’ which is positioned on the beach over an estuary but when the tide comes in, it looks like it’s isolated in the middle of the water with nowhere to go. On this occasion however, the water wasn’t quite high enough to surround it and the adjoining sand banks completely so this was my composition as a result. Shortly after taking the photo I filmed a 20 minute Facebook LIVEchat video. I love modern technology when it works and this latest introduction from Facebook has really improved my travelling experience as I can video live from a location and have people not only watch me real time but also comment too. So people can ask me questions about the location, what I am shooting and anything else they care to mention. These videos are then saved and shown on my personal Facebook page so that those who missed out can watch them back. It’s a fantastic idea (if you have a half decent internet signal that is). Regarding Belhaven Bridge, you really need a good 5 metre tide to get the shot most people want of the bridge and I only had 4.5 metres to play with.

The bridge to nowhere at Belhaven, East Lothian, Scotland
The bridge to nowhere at Belhaven, East Lothian, Scotland

Skateraw Harbour was the next location on my list and I spent a good couple of hours here during the afternoon. I still had not slept and hoped that I would be able to that night. The Torness nuclear power station sits near to the beach and it dominates the landscape but it was the twin towers that interested me here in the water. Here’s a shot of some interestingly coloured rocks in the foreground too. Compositionally I aimed for the rocks bottom left and bottom right to come in diagonally leading the eye to the centre of the image where the towers stand. The towers themselves sit above a dip in the rocks which allows their reflection to fill the space created so there was quite a lot of thought that went into getting the shot.

Torness Towers, Skateraw Bay, East Lothian
Torness Towers, Skateraw Bay, East Lothian

.Once I had finished with Skateraw, I decided to drive back to St Abbs in the pursuit of shooting a fantastic little hidden location called Pettico Wick. I first saw a photo of this cracking little bay complete with a cobbled stone slipway down into the water with some wonderful large rocks ahead of it on Flickr. It looked a fantastic location and once I realised that it was only a quarter of a mile before St Abbs Lighthouse, I set about in earnest although I had plenty of time to get there, wander about and get set up. Hell I even had enough time to heat up some food on my portable Trangia stove unit and brew up. Not a luxury I often afford myself these days.

Here’s a couple of my favourite shots of the sunset. I love this place, it’s amazing.

Sunset at Pettico Wick, East Lothian, Scotland
Sunset at Pettico Wick, East Lothian, Scotland
The last throws of light at Pettico Wick, East Lothian
The last throws of light at Pettico Wick, East Lothian

Once the sun had set and the view had disappeared for another day, it was time to drive back to Skateraw and enjoy the peace and quiet of the car park there. There are also toilets on site that are open all night, very handy indeed for those without them in the vehicle.

Friday 9th September 2016

It was to be an early start the following morning as I was scheduled to meet up with three Facebook friends to shoot Seacliff and when I say Facebook friends, I mean people who I have spoken to at length via Facebook but have yet to meet them in person. This is one aspect of travelling that I love, getting to meet people who are as passionate about photography as I am and you simply cannot beat a bit of local knowledge about the areas that you wish to visit. I parked up by a farm on the main road to Seacliff and met Chris, Jonathan, Dave and Lee and together we wandered down the lane to the beach. You can drive down the lane and into the woods to the car parks but there’s a barrier and it costs £3.00 to gain entry. There are toilets there though so I paid the fee a couple of days later when I needed to freshen up. For those of you who have yet to visit, Seacliff is a fantastic location to shoot. There’s a wonderful and vast array of rocks, which are elevated on many levels, channels that have been sculptured into the rocks, the beautiful sight of Tantallon Castle in the distance nestling on the edge of the cliff as well as a fan ‘bloody’ tastic tiny secret harbour that quietly hides in the large expanse of rock. I loved it there.

Seacliff, it's little hidden harbour and Bass Rock, East Lothian, Scotland
Seacliff and its secret harbour and Bass Rock in the background, East Lothian, Scotland
The Gang on location at Seacliff (Lee, Jonathan, Chris and my good self)
The Gang on location at Seacliff (Lee, Jonathan, Chris and my good self)

After spending almost three and a half hours shooting the beach, it was time to replenish ourselves with coffee and a damn tasty hot cheese toastie at Steampunk in North Berwick. This is a fantastic coffee house with a twist. It is decorated with old remnants of past industries with lots of exposed old metalwork and a toilet that actually has a hanging piece of thin bent metal that you use to flush it (like in the good old days). Once watered and fed, Chris, Dave and myself decided to visit another location that I had been wanting to photograph, Aberlady while  Jonathan had to return home (Lee left after leaving Seacliff). Now Aberlady is a local nature reserve and is known for its variety of birds but I was more interested in finding a couple of boat wrecks or to be precise two midget submarine wrecks. The XT-craft as they are known, are training versions of the X Craft. In 1946, the crafts were towed to the bay, moored to concrete blocks and used as target practice by the aircraft of the Royal Air Force. Now this I wanted to see.

So we parked up in the free roadside car park and walked over the recently repaired wooden estuary bridge and along through the nature reserve itself. It seemed to take forever to reach the wrecks as the beach is huge but I estimate about a mile and a half each way. On arrival the sky was dark and threatening which when looking at the wrecks of the midget submarines that were semi-submerged in the sand, it merely added to the sense of drama for me. I spent a good half an hour at this spot, looking for a suitable composition and once happy, I got my shots and wandered back to the car with Chris and Dave. It’s times like these when I really appreciate the company of others for not only does it pass the time more quickly but you also get to the right locations with the minimum of fuss and stress plus you do get to have a laugh along the way and I often find that the road trips that are the most memorable for me involve friends and fellow photographers.

Wreckage of the XT Craft, Aberlady, East Lothian, Scotland
Wreckage of the XT Craft, Aberlady, East Lothian, Scotland

 

Once back to the car to rest and wipe our furrowed brows, a quick trip to the waterfalls of Linn Rocks at East Linton was in order. This proved to be a brief twenty minute drive and once on location reminded me of Padley Gorge, or perhaps the Fairy Glen in North Wales. Steep sided walls lined the river from which the water would rush by alongside you. Trying to find a decent composition was a nightmare as was trying not to slip/slide or fall into the water for the surrounding rocks were as slippery as hell. Extreme care was displayed as I have already lost one camera to the water his year (Iceland, February 2016. You can read the blog of my week in Iceland HERE ) and I did not want to lose another. Many thanks to Chris Hoskins Photography for capturing me on camera plying my trade. I shoot using a very tall 7ft Gitzo GT3542XLS tripod for those wanting to know just how I managed to bridge the water. It’s very tall but has its uses and I have 4.7″ steel spikes screwed on the bottom of the legs for extra height and stability.

Me trying not to fall in at Linn Rocks, East Linton, East Lothian
Me trying not to fall in at Linn Rocks, East Linton, East Lothian
Chris Hoskins photographing me photographing him. Linn Rocks, East Linton, East Lothian
Chris Hoskins photographing me photographing him. Linn Rocks, East Linton, East Lothian

After some time had passed, Chris, Dave and I had finished with Linn Rocks and just as the drizzle was approaching. It was looking a little more miserable, grey and flat outside. I went on my way while Chris and Dave returned home. I then ventured into North Berwick to shoot the old chain pier down by the harbour. The light was fading fast though and the high tide needed, was due to arrive around thirty minutes after the sun had set which meant that I was unable to get the shot I wanted so I vowed to return the following morning at high tide to capture it. I did bump into a lovely fisherman by the name of Jan but he only stayed five minutes before videobombing my Facebook LIVEchat video which I was recording at the time. I find it very enjoyable talking to people live on location as it allows me the opportunity to bring the beautiful places that I travel too, to those who are at home, work or wherever and it helps me feel that I am not completely on my own too. It’s a form of company for me if you like and I really enjoy it.  Anyhow Jan mentioned that I should return in the morning to get my shot and that’s what I decided to do. Seeing that I was close to Tantallon Caravan Club and I felt that I really needed a shower, I booked myself in and went on my way. I arrived in the dark to a single pitch that was all alone on the grassy section I was parked on but I was positioned opposite a couple of families whose children were running around until 10pm. I showered and sat there in the car with the curtains drawn wondering if I would be better off parking up in a random car park assuming it to be quieter than what I was experiencing at the time but the kids soon went to bed and the whole park went deathly quiet, so quiet in fact that I felt unable to leave at 5am for the fear of waking everyone up so I had a lie in till 6.30am and then buggered off vowing never to stay at another caravan site again.

Saturday 10th September 2016

I awoke very early indeed and had to travel 17 miles (30 minutes) to North Berwick to capture the long exposure shot of the old chain pier but not before trying to decide on where to shoot the outrageously stunning sunrise that was developing not ten minutes after I woke. As such and despite trying to find a suitable location while driving to North Berwick, I ended up missing it. Bugger I thought to myself. It was gorgeous too. I kicked myself. Before I arrived at North Berwick, I stopped off at the large Tesco store just outside of Tantallon and as luck would have it, it opened at 8am, precisely the same time that I arrived but I stood there outside waiting to go in with several other people and I wondered what large national store opens their doors at 8am in this day and age. I couldn’t believe it really and still can’t. I felt like I had stepped back to 1983 when shops actually did open just after breakfast.

A few minutes later I arrived at North Berwick harbour and I parked up near the Scottish Seabird Centre by the coast. The first port of call was the tidal pool on the beach as a good friend of mine  Tony Higginson and I stopped off here back in April 2014 to get a shot at high tide only to be beaten by the terrible weather so I was determined to get the shot this time and the weather was behaving itself. A long exposure shot of the tidal pool surrounded by water with the imposing Bass Rock in the background is an iconic shot in this part of the country and it has to be done really when visiting the town.

Tidal Pool and Bass Rock, North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland
Tidal Pool and Bass Rock, North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland

Once the tidal pool shot was in the bag, I wandered over to the harbour itself and promptly set up the shot as the water had already started to cover the pier. ‘I love it when a plan comes together’ I remember thinking to myself (the A-Team was one of my favourite TV shows when growing up) and not having to spend any time waiting for the shot to come to me meant that I could crack on with my day as I had a couple of other places that I wanted to visit. So there I was all set up ready to shoot when Jan the fisherman from the night before popped his head over the wall and shouted that he had a brew and a bacon buttie for me. I thought I was hearing things as I was a tad hungry not having eaten breakfast yet but true to form there was nothing wrong with my hearing for Jan walked down to me clutching a cup of tea and a bacon buttie from Greggs. I offered payment but had it refused. “You said you’d be down here this morning so I thought I would buy you breakfast”, Jan said. I’m not often speechless but I have to confess to being so on this occasion, even if for only a couple of seconds. I thought what a lovely gesture from what is really a complete stranger and I felt suitably warmed by the hospitality of the locals especially against the slightly biting wind. My faith in humanity was suitably restored and the bacon buttie and the brew went down a treat.

Here’s a photo of me with Jan and his son. They were on a fishing visit but caught nothing (this time).

Jan, his son and me at North Berwick, East Lothian
Jan, his son and me at North Berwick, East Lothian

And here’s one of the images I wanted to capture while at North Berwick. Perfect conditions (overcast, cloud structure, even light, calm water and a tide high enough to cover the pier).

Old Chain Pier, North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland
Old Chain Pier, North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland

 

Once I got North Berwick out of my system (to some degree anyway), I had to pick up a client from the train station in town at noon as he was going to spend the day with me on a 1-2-1. Even during a week of discovery, I am working but I consider it a privilege to help someone improve their photography by any means I am able to. The first location we visited was Yellowcraigs which is a wonderful coastal area of forest, beach and grassland and is located only three and a half miles west of North Berwick. A large car park complete with toilets and in this instance an ice-cream van (although I left it alone as I’m trying to lose weight, successfully I may add) was present and located just past the caravan club which is only a ten minute walk to the beach. On arriving for the first time, there’s a wonderful lighthouse situated on Fidra Island which sits not that far from the shoreline and makes a fantastic subject to shoot. I have to confess to having a love affair with lighthouses, perhaps even a romantic notion of living in one but the reality would be very different I’m sure. I gave Justin the brief to spend twenty minutes setting up and capturing a shot while I did the same, partly so that I could assess his ability with the camera and his composition but secondly because showing him what I would be able to shoot would prove to be useful. I often shoot on my workshops but not to excess and always with the intention of using the opportunity to educate and to allow those who are with me to see what I can capture at the same time, in the same place with the same weather conditions.

Here’s what I managed to shoot of Fidra Lighthouse.

Fidra Lighthouse, East Lothian, Scotland
Fidra Lighthouse, East Lothian, Scotland

One of the things I love about landscape photography is its ability to have me lose myself in the scenery and time can ebb away from me without even noticing but on 1-2-1 days and workshops, time is the one element that I need to keep an eye on. As such I never fully immerse myself in the scenery as there’s a time limit imposed by me that I have to manage which is not ultimately ideal in trying to capture my best shots but it is necessary. Perhaps this is why I love shooting on my own sometimes, I feel complete freedom when alone. Do you feel the same I wonder?

With time pressing on and another couple of locations to visit before sunset, Justin and I visited Seacliff a few miles east of Yellowcraigs. This was to be my second of three visits during my three days in the area and I was more than happy with that. One of the things that I really do enjoy when instructing and passing on my knowledge on workshop days is the pleasure I get from explaining exactly how I see the shot and furthermore how I set up the camera, what equipment to use and where I place the tripod to the nearest inch.  I find it quite an involving process and it surprises me often when those who are with me see just what is involved in trying to capture that perfect shot. It comes naturally over a long period of time but when I first picked up a DSLR camera back in February 2007, I too was standing there wondering what the hell I was going to take a photo of. Patience really is a virtue where landscape photography is concerned.

Seacliff did not disappoint once again and the light was lovely with a great sky present and Tantallon Castle looking resplendent while sitting on the edge of the cliff.

Tantallon Castle, Seacliff, East Lothian, Scotland
Tantallon Castle, Seacliff, East Lothian, Scotland

Our final location for the day was Skateraw which nestles by the nuclear power station of Torness 15 miles further south-east. I had scouted out this location two days before as well as the car park allowed me the opportunity to park up for the evening. But Skateraw has something that I love to shoot and that is industrial landscapes. There are two wonderful concrete towers that belong to Torness and if you arrive at the right time (incoming tide) there are some wonderful photographic opportunities to be had. As it happened we were both in for a real treat as the sunset was to blow our socks off. The colours, the intensity, the sheer beauty of the scene had us feverishly clambering down to the shoreline over the huge sea defence boulders. Once in position, it was merely a matter of setting up and waiting for the magic to begin.

Torness Towers, Skateraw Bay, East Lothian
Torness Towers, Skateraw Bay, East Lothian

After the 1-2-1 day with Justin finished, I returned him to the train station in North Berwick before sampling the delights of the local pizza takeaway while sat at the harbour enjoying the views. Skateraw would once again provide the overnight parking required. What a way to finish off my three days in East Lothian. Fantastic indeed. Tomorrow, Edinburgh awaits.

Sunday 11th September 2016

6.30am. I was already up and about, teeth brushed, driven 14 miles from Skateraw to Seacliff and had the camera set up on the tripod pointing in the direction of Tantallon Castle from the country lane that takes you into the woods and the car parks. The light was lovely, casting a soft orange glow on anything and everything it came into contact with. The castle looked beautiful bathed in golden light. I spotted an opening in a wall where a wooden gate had been opened to reveal the castle in the distance. I quickly pulled up and set up the camera. Ten minutes later, I got the shot I wanted. I love how the trees, the walls and the open gate frame the castle in the distance. I love moments like these, especially first thing in the morning when there is nobody around.

Sunrise at Tantallon Castle, Seacliff, East Lothian
Sunrise at Tantallon Castle, Seacliff, East Lothian

Once I felt happy that I managed to bag a half decent sunrise shot, I jumped into the car, paid the £3.00 charge for the woodland barrier and drove through to a car park. I decided to explore the southern end of Seacliff this time as my two previous visits concentrated around the northern end by the castle. A quick half a minute walk from the toilets through the woodland had a huge, lovely, sandy beach open up in front of me. Wow, I thought to myself and even better, I had it all to myself. So off I went in search of a decent shot of the South Carr Beacon that sits on St Baldred’s Rock overlooking Bass Rock.  The beacon has a cross adorning it and it was built by monks in 1845. Trying to get a composition was tricky though as I wanted separation between all of the rocks and eventually, I found myself perched halfway up a grass and thorny embankment while trying not to roll down it into more thorny bushes. I managed it though and a few minutes later I was admiring the many different colours and types of rocks that lined the wonderful sandy beach.

Bass Rock and South Carr Beacon, St Baldred's Rock, Seacliff, East Lothian
Bass Rock and South Carr Beacon, St Baldred’s Rock, Seacliff, East Lothian

Below is a short video I filmed of the thousands of gannets that call Bass Rock their home. Amazing to see in person but the video will have to suffice.

As is usually the case, time was slipping from my grasp as I had to be in Edinburgh for noon to meet up with three clients of mine who had very kindly offered to show me around Edinburgh itself for the day, followed by the Forth Bridges at sunset and then onto the Kelpies at Falkirk. Looking down at my phone I thought that I could just squeeze in another hour before I really, REALLY had to leave so I walked briskly over to the north end of the beach back to the secret harbour and the castle and I spent just under an hour really looking for some fresh angles and compositions. I do love this place I kept thinking to myself. There’s this wonderful old metal door winch which is no longer in use as the harbour no longer has doors in-situ but it makes a great subject to shoot and I spent a good half an hour trying to find a composition where it sat well in the frame. I decided that the castle should form the backdrop so I set about walking around trying to line up a shot. This proved to be the most difficult shot to set up during my five days in Scotland.  Eventually though, I settled on a composition and here it is.

See what you think. Personally, it’s become one of my favourite shots of the whole road trip.

Rusty Winch, Seacliff Harbour, Tantallon Castle, Seacliff, East Lothian
Rusty Winch, Seacliff Harbour, Tantallon Castle, Seacliff, East Lothian

Time was ticking by all too quickly and I rushed back to the car and bid a hasty dash westwards towards the fantastic city of Edinburgh. The plan was to meet Mark at his home and be driven in his car to the local pub which serves a cracking carvery meal. I was ready for a decent feast that’s for sure. Drew and Douglas were already waiting at the pub so in we went for a feed and a bitter shandy (as I wasn’t driving). One of the really enjoyable aspects of hooking up with people, especially in a group environment is that you get to have a laugh and generally talk photography, most of which admit that it’s their pleasure too. The afternoon was spent wandering around the huge city located rock known as Arthur’s Seat which as it turns out neither belongs to Arthur or in fact has a bloody seat although some do say that the name is derived from the myriad legends pertaining to King Arthur’s (according to Wikipedia so it must be true). All I knew is that once we had walked up half of it, I was ready for a bit of relaxing time with my Canon 5Ds and the views from up where we were positioned were just lovely. The summit of Arthur’s Seat stands tall at 822ft but Edinburgh Castle stands around 430ft but looks just as high from our viewpoint. The light danced through the clouds and once set up, just required waiting to get the shot I wanted. This was a particularly pleasant way to spend a day, nowhere to be in a hurry, enjoying the Scottish banter with Mark, Drew and Douglas and one Englishman (me) on the side of a huge slab of rock overlooking one of the finest cities in the whole of the UK.

Arthur's Seat overlooking Edinburgh, Scotland
Arthur’s Seat overlooking Edinburgh, Scotland
Drew, me, Douglas and Mark on Arthur's Seat overlooking Edinburgh, Scotland
Drew, Douglas and Mark on Arthur’s Seat overlooking Edinburgh, Scotland

 

After vowing to return to Arthur’s Seat on another day in the future, we ventured down to wander around the city itself. I loved the architecture, the small details on the rooftops of the buildings, the scale of the city and the beautiful little alleyways that lead off the Royal Mile and of course the castle itself stands guard at the end of the road. One of my favourite parts of Edinburgh was Ramsey Gardens which is a stone’s throw from the castle and yet nestled down a lovely quiet side road with a little garden opposite which provided a haven of peace and quiet. Just a wonderful layout with several three bedroom apartments stacked one above and one below road level and I love those stairs. The curiosity got the better of me and wanting to know how much the retail price is on these had me search Zoopla for an idea. Estimated price of around £1.2 million per apartment. I’ll take two thanks, phew.

Here’s an image taken off Google Maps.

Ramsey Gardens, Edinburgh
Ramsey Gardens, Edinburgh

All this walking around made us thirsty so a relaxing trip to one of the coffee houses on the Royal Mile was welcomed. This sure is a busy city but it has a great vibe about it and it feels safe to me. I could imagine living here. I must make the effort one year to visit it during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe although apparently it is rammed full of visitors for the 24 days it is on during August. One of the highlights that I was really looking forward to was capturing the city at dusk from Calton Hill in the middle of the city. With elevated views of the castle and the clock tower of the Balmoral Hotel on Princes St this is sure a busy place to hang out at dusk. Lots of people walk the short steep climb up to the summit and simply wait for daylight to fade and the street lights to appear. There’s a wonderful atmosphere that emanates from those who wish to capture it on camera and there’s room for everyone so there’s no ill feeling about standing the way of someone else.

Edinburgh Castle from Calton Hill at dusk
Edinburgh Castle from Calton Hill at dusk

Once daylight disappeared, thoughts turned to the Forth Bridges and despite having driven over them many years before, I don’t really remember the experience so I was looking forward to returning with the locals who know it best. Arriving in complete darkness and wandering down the tree lined lane that runs alongside the water’s edge, the grandeur of the rail bridge is so evident. It’s a beautiful huge structure with such a dynamic design and shape and painted red, it looks fantastic. The road bridge behind it is a bit fo a letdown but the new road bridge that is being built alongside it looks to be much more interesting with its three tall suspension type pillars and attached cables and it is due to open next year by all accounts. We spent a little bit of time down by the bridge but the reality was that there was not really a shot to be had but the visit proved useful as the quiet, dark lane would provide a place to park up overnight. But before that could happen, it was midnight and time for Drew to leave as he had work in a few hours as did Mark as it happens but he decided to carry on. So that left just Douglas, Mark and myself heading off to The Kelpies at Falkirk.

Now for those of you who are not aware of The Kelpies, please let me educate and impress you. This is an art installation of huge proportions and includes two 30 metre high Kelpie horses created out of metal as designed by Andy Scott and they are located at the Forth and Clyde Canal. It is a place that I have wanted to visit since 2013 when they were built and there’s a really interesting documentary on how the idea came about and how they were designed and built. It lasts an hour and is well worth a watch.

So we arrived in the car park of The Kelpies and the horses were immediately visible, all lit up and changing colours. It looked very impressive from the car so I was really looking forward to seeing them up close. A short walk later and we passed the new cafe and gift shop, which I was very impressed with and within a couple of minutes, we were stood on the edge of the canal basin looking up at these amazing art structures. I was genuinely happy that the place was left open for people to visit 24 hours a day and it felt quite special because of that reason and even though it was past midnight, there were still people milling around.

For those of you wanting to see a quick timelapse video on The Kelpies being put together, click on the video below.

One of the images I was really after while there trying to look for an image was a perfect reflection of the horses and I only managed to get a couple of shots before the wind picked up so after capturing a handful, I decided having got the stock shot of the horses head on, that I would move around and try to capture something differently, something arty. Here’s what I captured. If you have never been to see them, I would strongly urge you to do so. They are magnificient and surely they have to be one of the most impressive art installations anyway in the UK?

Andy Scott's The Kelpies, The Helix, Falkirk, Scotland
Andy Scott’s The Kelpies, The Helix, Falkirk, Scotland
Andy Scott's The Kelpies, The Helix, Falkirk, Scotland
Andy Scott’s The Kelpies, The Helix, Falkirk, Scotland

Monday 12th September 2016

Having returned to the Forth Rail Bridge after having enjoyed my visit to the Kelpies, I eventually got to bed at 2.30am. I had a fantastic view of the Forth Rail Bridge for company (best view I’ve ever had from a bedroom window, even if it is from a car) I managed to grab just a couple of hours before rising to meet Gavin Duncan, another locally based Edinburgh Facebook friend that I had never met, until I pulled up by the roadside at 5.30am. He was already there ready and raring to go. A brief introduction, a handshake and we were off down to Port Edgar round the corner to capture the bridges in all their glory and we were hoping for a decent sunrise. The security guard asked us to park on the road and walk round to the concrete wall that lines the water’s edge. We set up in a matter of minutes while chatting away and me rubbing the sleep from my eyes for I was feeling more than a little tired but then at 6.15am, the faint glow of an orange sunrise started appearing in the far distance and suddenly I was properly awake. Over the course of the next thirty minutes, the colours grew and grew and grew in intensity, to the point where you know people are going to assume that you’ve simply increased the saturation in Photoshop but I did not care. The rush of adrenaline I felt when I knew I had a couple of winners in the can was a relief. I was so happy to have been blessed with some lovely sunrises and sunsets during my five days. I started to relax once I knew I had a couple of decent shots in the camera. Gavin and I chatted about all sorts including what is involved in being a full-time, professional, landscape photographer. That kept us in conversation for some time afterwards I can tell you.

Stunning sunrise over the Forth Bridges, Edinburgh
Stunning sunrise over the Forth Bridges, Edinburgh
Close up shot of the Forth Rail Bridge at sunrise, Edinburgh
Close up shot of the Forth Rail Bridge at sunrise, Edinburgh

Once the colour of the sunrise had gone, so did we, all the way to McDonald’s where breakfast and a coffee waited to be consumed gratefully. Our agenda for today was for me to discover the delights of the Fife coastline in a sort of Mad Hatter dash between four locations as it would turn out the first one being Aberdour and its wonderful old, now defunct wooden jetty, and for those of you who know me, and my love for old wooden jetties, you’ll know that I was eagerly waiting to arrive on location with my camera. A little after 9am and we arrived in the free car park at Hawkcraig Road in Aberdour having travelled the 20 minute, 9 mile journey from McDonald’s with that breakfast wrap now a distant memory. We had a problem and it involved the fact that high tide was not for another couple of hours or so yet and the water had not come in far enough to surround enough of the pier if we were capturing the image from head height. I had a plan and part of being a landscape photographer is problem solving and I seem to be quite good at this. What I needed was height yet there were no large rocks that I could stand on while extending the tripod to its full height of seven feet but I saw some concrete slabs on the beach in front of me. I decided to stack several of them on top of each other to allow me to see the camera’s LCD and therefore because the camera was now angled downwards towards the pier, I could include more water as a result which meant that I could include more pier. I was now a happy man. Normally I carry around a small two step ladder to help me reach the camera but I left them at home as space in the car is at a premium when on the road.

Improvising with concrete slabs at Aberdour Jetty
Improvising with concrete slabs at Aberdour Jetty
Stormy skies over Aberdour Jetty, Fife, Scotland
Stormy skies over Aberdour Jetty, Fife, Scotland

So with Aberdour ticked off, it was time to venture onwards to the small village of St Monans which has the iconic zig-zag concrete waterbreaker wall you often see on social media. This was admittedly to be the one location that I dearly wanted to visit if only because I wanted to see where it was located and how it looked for myself. Fortunately, high tide was at 11.30am so we had two hours to make the 50 minute, 32 mile journey so no need to rush which was just as well because I found the drive a tad tedious when stuck behind several slower vehicles.  On arriving at St Monans, which is further up the coast, we parked up by the roadside outside the harbour lined cottages. It looked typical enough of a small Scottish coastal village with boats partly filling the harbour, cars everywhere and the odd person wandering around but it was to be the hidden concrete breakwater wall that would interest me. Now on first arriving, you would have absolutely no idea whatsoever that it even exists because it is located much lower down and attached to the main outside harbour wall. Unless you ventured over to the furthest point on the harbour wall, climb up the small metal ladder and peer over, it would remain elusive unless you ventured over to the main harbour area to the west of the village that is.

As I was stood high up on the concrete wall that looked over the breakwater, waves would crash against the wall below me and the occasional one would shoot up and over me although never in a dangerous way. Now I was born and raised in Blackpool and between the ages of 14-16, I changed addresses and we moved to a house only a few streets away from the promenade and I would spend a lot of my time down there watching the waves pound the wall, even in winter. I almost succumbed to the water once after playing chicken with the tide on an algae lined slipway at the age of fourteen. A rogue wave rose up and beyond where I was stood and saturated the algae which in turn had it become incredibly slippery and I immediately slipped down on my arse and within seconds started sliding down into the water. I clung on for dear life until the three friends who were with me formed a human chain and pulled me out. I can honestly say that I was scared for my life. Stupid act really but ever since I have had a very healthy respect for water although some of my photos would indicate not. So as the waves were pounding the wall at St Monans, I was reminded of Blackpool in ’86. Still, I wanted the shot so time to crack on and get it.

Stormy skies over St Monans Breakwater
Stormy skies over St Monans Breakwater
St Monan's Breakwater
St Monan’s Breakwater

St Monans breakwater is to some degree a one trick pony and it does not take long to get the shot so before we knew it, Gavin and I hit the road again and this time, Pittenweem was on our hit list and being only a couple of miles up the road, we were walking the length of the harbour wall with our cameras trying to dodge the occasional smash and grab wave. That’s the beauty of the Fife coastline, there’s stunning little small harbour lined villages lined up one by one ready to be discovered, each with their own charm. I will most DEFINITELY run some workshops here next year for sure. Pittenweem’s lovely harbour marker which stood near the end of the harbour wall was the focus of my attention and the prawn boats usually line up in the harbour when they’re not out earning their living.

Harbour Marker, Pittenweem, Fife, Scotland
Harbour Marker, Pittenweem, Fife, Scotland

Back to the car once again and a quick trip up the road to Anstruther but more importantly to its award-winning fish and chip shop for lunch and I was starving. Anstruther Fish Bar appears to be famous the world over but I’d never heard of it until a few days before leaving Lancashire. I was so hungry that on returning to the cars after lunch, I realised that neither of us had paid the car park fee, oops. It appears that we were lucky this time as there were no nasty surprises on our windscreens in the form of a parking ticket, but lunch however was lovely. Smoked Haddock and chips were the order of the day while Gavin and I chatted some more about the business end of landscape photography and what exactly it involves to remain in the industry full time (and survive). The weather was looking great, stormy skies with fleeting moments of sun peering through the clouds would set us up for the afternoon stint perfectly.

Time was ticking on now and with only a few hours of daylight left, decisions had to be made and made fast. Gavin suggested that we go and visit Elie as there was a rather cute and unusual lighthouse there. So we jumped into our cars and ventured over to Elie except that I noticed a rather lovely windmill from the roadside en-route. We stopped while I brought up the map on my sat nav and it appeared to be accessible via a road through a nearby caravan park which resulted in ten minutes of driving around in circles in between static caravans trying to find the damn road to take us there. Eventually, I gave up and looked at my sat nav again, and this time it appeared to be accessible via a little free car park at St Monans so back we went again and found the car park. It only took a quick five minute walk to reach it and I remembered that the reason why I scout out future workshop locations first is because I get to make all the mistakes in trying to find the places before I bring clients to them. Let me drive around all frustrated in advance so that you guys can enjoy the workshops when on them with me. On arriving at the windmill I noticed a farmer’s field full of wheat next to it. I decided to climb over the fence (tut, tut) and I managed to capture a couple of nice shots from there but I ensured that I remained in the lines of the tractor wheels so as to not damage their crop (I’m considerate like that you see). The light was wonderful and the wheat glowed while the dark, stormy skies rolled in.

St Monans Windmill, Fife, Scotland
St Monans Windmill, Fife, Scotland

Once I had negotiated my way out of the field carefully, it was back in the car and onto Elie to shoot the lighthouse but en-route to the car Gavin pointed out this rather interesting (not to mention funny) sign that stood by a tidal pool that locals would have enjoyed using in the past. Must be the childish boy inside of me that laughed at it for me as a fully grown adult, I would not find it all that humorous at all, surely (yeah right).

St Monans Tidal Poo(l)
St Monans Tidal Poo(l)

A few minutes after leaving St Monans, we pulled up in a free coastal car park that overlooks the lighthouse in the distance. I thought this to be a superb place to park up for the night on any future jaunts when I am back up here on my own. There was a large campervan parked up close to me and I have been wishing to own a smaller version of one myself for quite a while now. A medium sized campervan would certainly suit my lifestyle perfectly. I’ll keep playing the lottery for now. Anyhow Elie and her lighthouse is a short walk down to the shoreline and it is perfectly positioned to shoot it and what a stunning little lighthouse it is too. In two sections, this 1908 lighthouse is still operational today and while the viewpoint is obvious and the image not terribly compositionally challenged, I still like how it turned out.

Elie Ness Lighthouse, Fife, Scotland
Elie Ness Lighthouse, Fife, Scotland

By the time we decided to leave for our last destination, time was really ticking on. It was 5.30pm and I was wanting to tick off on the list my final location before leaving for home later that evening and that location was the Falkirk Wheel. The distance between Elie and Falkirk is a surprisingly 53 miles and it takes almost ninety minutes to complete the journey. Gavin and I both went our own way and decided to meet up at the wheel, this allowed me time to stop off for a quick bite to eat. On arriving at the wheel, I eventually found Gavin wandering around the wheel having parked on the roadside outside of the main car parks as they get locked between 8pm and 9pm which if you’re bunking down there for the night in a campervan, that ensures a nice quiet place to park up but no good for me as I was wanting to head home in a few hours. The Falkirk Wheel is HUGE and super impressive and for those of you who do not know what the Falkirk Wheel is, here’s some info. The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift that connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. The lift is named after the nearby town of Falkirk in central Scotland. It basically allows canal boats to enter the wheel having exited the Union Canal, be rotated down to the lower Forth and Clyde Canal. The wheel was built at a cost of £84.5 and was opened in 2002. It stands 35 metres tall (115ft) and you can take a fifty minute boat tour of the wheel including an ascent and descent on the wheel itself and the cost just £12.50. You can book online.

Here’s a useful video explaining how the wheel works.

But the purpose of my visit was to photograph the wheel at night. Gavin and I were sat by the Union Canal (top canal) not far from the entrance to the wheel itself when it started to go dark. The security guard walked by and I asked when the lights would be coming on. He said 9pm but that he’d switch them on as soon as he returned to his base which was around 8.40pm and true to form, he duly switched them on. My kind of security guard indeed, good man. The top section of the wheel has seven round arches which help to ease the apprehension for those bringing a canal boat along a groundless stretch of canal that stands over a hundred feet in the air. They are lit up in a variety of colours but we had green on my visit. The reflections of the arches and the different coloured lights made for quite a sci-fi looking scene and one that I was very happy to be able to photograph. Before long though I wanted to explore the wheel from all angles so for the next hour or so, I wandered around looking a killer composition. Eventually I found one on the steep grass banking at the base of the wheel although I had to share it with lots and lots of slugs and the odd frog (oh how lovely) although I love wildlife and having spent a year backpacking around Australia in 2003-04, I’m not afraid of any creature really (except spiders, not a huge fan of spiders).

The wheel looks massive from underneath and hugely impressive and I couldn’t help but admire how Scotland presents itself where tourism is concerned. Both the wheel and the Kelpies are fine examples of how to regenerate an area through modern technology, and beautiful looking structures all set around a fine infrastructure (cafe’s toilets, decent car parks etc) and the fact that you are able to walk around both places 24/7 impresses me even more. It further reinforces to me the freedom that I feel when I travel around Scotland and I applaud them for doing so.

Here are a couple of shots of the wheel that I managed to shoot. This place does look great at night.

Night lights at the Falkirk Wheel, Scotland
Night lights at the Falkirk Wheel, Scotland
Looks like a scene from a sci-fi movie, Falkirk Wheel, Scotland
Looks like a sci-fi scene at the Falkirk Wheel, Scotland

And so all good things must come to an end. The Falkirk Wheel would prove to be my final destination on what has been a genuinely really enjoyable five days in Scotland and while the scenery and weather have both been beautiful and a joy to photograph, the really friendly nature of its people have also helped to make this road trip one to remember forever. So a HUGE thank you to Mark Wilson, Drew Moffat, Douglas McKay, Chris Hoskins, Dave Cullen, Jonathan Cruickshank and Gavin Duncan for sharing your time, stories and laughter with me and to Justin for booking your 1-2-1 with me on the Saturday. It was really appreciated and I shall be back.

Here’s a little video to sign off this blog (or War and Peace as some of you will no doubt compare it to, ha, ha). I filmed it on the way home, somewhat blurry eyed and a tad exhausted but happy and content with my Scottish experience. Thanks to those who joined me on the trip via all of my social media platforms and until next time, keep smiling and shooting.

p.s. I could not resist just one more photo opportunity to capture sunrise from Killington at J37 on the M6 heading south. A quick detour from the motorway to very quickly capture this. Love and peace everyone.

Sunrise over Killington, J37, M6 motorway
Sunrise over Killington, J37, M6 motorway

 

 

 

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and the images that accompanied the words. They will be many more images shared with you all on my Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, Twitter, platforms. Thank you for making it to the end, no mean feat indeed. I will be creating a couple of workshops shortly for the areas of East Lothian and Fife coastline for next year. If you are interested in joining me, please let me know and I’ll add your name to the list but in the meantime keep an eye out for an announcement via my newsletter shortly.

You can subscribe to my newsletter list HERE. Go on, it only takes 20 seconds and it’s FREE.

Thanks Melvin

22 thoughts on “My Five Day Scotland Road Trip (Sept 2016)”

    • Thank you Brian. I had so much fun up there but then again, I always love Scotland and the many times I visit throughout the year. However I will be setting off for Dorset in an hour or so and that will be my first visit down there so I am really looking forward to this road trip too. I best go and throw the mattress in the back of the car, get it packed and bugger off. Catch up with the cameras soon Brian.

  1. Brilliant. Loved reading this. Used to spend most summers in Fife when I was wee. Definitely went to Anstruther and Pittenweem. Unfortunately that was around 45 years ago and I didn’t own a camera then ☹️️ Need to go back soon

    • Thanks Ian. The beauty of photography for me is that it has the ability to move people and to transport them back many, many years and often into their childhood. I think it’s time you returned young man (on one of my workshops by any chance? lol).

      Thanks for writing Ian. Enjoy your night.

  2. Very well written , really enjoyed reading this in a way I feel jealous that I can’t do this , well I suppose I could but don’t think the wife would like it. I am now looking forward to the return from Dorset because having been there and the weather is right you will run out of memory cards. Just a thought if you park at lulworth cove it’s quite a trek to Durdle door but well worth it

    • Hi Andy.

      I returned from Dorset late last night after a magical nine days down there and it was just lovely to be able to spend a lot of time in the same locations in the pursuit of nailing the perfect shot. There are so many locations to visit in the UK that I suspect I’ll run out of time before I get to see them all, lol.

      Best wishes Melvin

  3. Excellent read Melvin accompanied by some wonderful shots of beautiful locations.
    I would have loved to just pack myself and my kit in my car and do what you do. If I was still single I would ?
    Keep up the blogging and your amazing pictures.

    • Hi Steve.

      Thanks for your kind words Steve and I understand what you mean regarding if you were single etc. I am and with no children in tow, I live a completely free lifestyle and for this job, I find that it works best for me. I have a blog on my nine days in Dorset to write up now having just returned late last night. Then the Brecon Beacons next week in South Wales. Autumn is a really busy time of the year for me as I try to head out and capture the changing colours of the trees while I can.

      Best wishes Melvin.

  4. Amazing shots of an area that I thought I knew. I have really enjoyed your blog . I really liked the shots of the rail bridge, Kelpies and the Wheel (I live in Falkirk and I am Chris’ Mum). Your other shots are gorgeous especially the atmospheric ones. Rosemary Hoskins

    • Hi Rosemary.

      How lovely to make your acquaintance and your son is a gifted photographer. You must be so proud of him? I am delighted that you enjoyed my blog but in truth, the whole Scottish coastline upwards of Northumberland is just beautiful and deserves its moment in the limelight for sure.

      Best wishes Melvin

  5. Wonderful blog Melvin, fantastic photos. Went to the Falkirk Wheel & the Kelpies on a flying visit last year (killing time before watching AC/DC in Glasgow!) but only had a point & shoot camera with me. After seeing your blog I’m jealous & want to go back for a proper visit. Bit of a trek from St Helens, it’ll have to go on the ever expanding wish list! Keep up the good work 🙂

    • Hi Ian.

      One wonders how on earth the Kelpies could possibly compete with AC/DC, lol. In all seriousness, they’re an absolutely outstanding piece of British engineering and they really do add a tremendous amount to the local economy and well-being of the Falkirk area itself. Best of luck as and when you return Ian.

      BGest wishes Melvin

  6. Good work and a good read Melvin.
    I’m sure that you know that you missed a lot of places on the Fife coast
    The old harbour at Kirkcaldy and Dysart and west Wemyss to name a few.
    I stay in Kirkcaldy and could show you how to get to these if your back for an other look about.
    I’ve always thought that the Fife coast was a good location for photo workshops .
    Somebody used to run them years ago but I’ve never seen anything recently

    • Hi Alan.

      Many thanks for reading my blog, as lengthy as it is and you’re absolutely correct when you say that I missed a lot of locations out on the Fife coastline, this was mainly due to time constraints. There’s never enough time in this job to just wander and discover the hidden gems with your camera. I will definitely be returning at some point (pre-workshop dates) so I would be delighted to meet you and have you show me around. Thank you for the offer Alan and I hope to see you soon.

      Best wishes Melvin

  7. Really enjoyed following you adventures & seeing some fantastic images – especially the windmill with the wheat field.

    • Hi Chris. Thanks for the message and I agree, that windmill is a fantastic place to grab a quick shot. I cannot wait until I start putting together some fresh workshops for 2017. I hope you’re well.

      Best wishes Melvin

  8. Your blog was a great bedtime read? I felt as I was there too (you are a talented storyteller !) Next time more photos please ?

    • Thank you Anna. I appreciate that it was a long read (and it took even longer to write it up) but I hope it gives you a real sense of what it was like spending some time in a part of the country that I have never visited before. I hope you slept well after reading it, ha, ha.

      Best wishes Melvin

      • I did sleep well 😀 , As there was an Internet failure last evening I thought my comment was not posted, so I posted another one today. So it is not me having been drunk and ignorant of my actions, just the deluge over Warsaw that flooded the wires. Anyway, your blog encouraged me to plan some holiday time next year in Scotland. Who knows ?….

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