Glencoe… completely and overwhelmingly majestic!
Why do photographers love it?
If you have never been to Glencoe, all I can say is do! One thing is certain; you won’t be disappointed. Stretching from Rannoch Moor to Loch Leven, this glacial valley is surrounded by dramatic mountain scenery. Although it’s a relatively small area, the variety of mountains, lochs and beautiful landscapes is unsurpassed. The only way to describe it is ‘awe-inspiring’.
First visit to Glencoe
I’ll never forget my first visit here. My now husband; Mark and I had hired a motorhome for our Scottish adventure and, as we made our way up the A82 early one morning, my eyes were out on stalks. I vividly recall thinking I had no idea we had mountains this big in the UK!
The A82 runs from Glasgow straight through the middle of Glencoe, so as such, it couldn’t be an easier area to access. There are many locations which are literally just a short walk away from the road, making it ideal for those who can’t walk long distances. If the weather plays ball, with two to three days in the area you are able to take in a number of fantastic locations, but then this is Scotland, and it rarely does that. In his description of the area, I was first introduced to the word ‘mizzle’ by a client; a rather unappealing combination of mist and drizzle, however, it is precisely this moody weather, and the atmospheric conditions which prevail, which characterise this region. After a few days here, you learn to embrace it as you find yourself grasping at brief encounters with sunlight, watching as vast mountains emerge from the mist, and celebrating those big dark looming clouds.
Before you even arrive in the village of Glencoe, there is plenty to see enroute. Rannoch Moor is, for the most part, a wild and desolate expanse of moorland. Covered in peat bogs, lochans (small lochs) and rocky outcrops, a lot of it is inaccessible, but, with the A82 running through it, there are a few locations close by that are fabulous for photography.
One of my favourites is Lochan Na Stainge which, with Black Mount in the distance, can be magical at dawn. I had a great experience with a group of clients here one such morning waiting for the sun to rise and illuminate Black Mount. As the light slowly crept across the landscape, the sky took on pink hues. We worked hard on composition, experimented with long exposures to smooth the rippling water, and then, when the wind dropped, looked to capture the wonderful reflections of the snow capped mountains.
Probably the most photographed cottage in Scotland; Black Rock Cottage (seen below) is something of a symbol for the area. With the spectacular backdrop of Buachaille Etive Mor, this little hut, owned by the Ladies Scottish Climbing Club, is hard to resist.
An exploration of nearby Glen Etive is a wonderful way to spend a day with your camera, there’s simply so much to photograph. Unmissable and iconic, the great Buachaille Etive Mor marks its entrance. With its’ pyramid shape it’s particularly striking. There are a number of different compositions possible here, but the one you are most likely to have seen features the small waterfall on the River Coupall, also pictured below.
The single track road that travels for 14 miles through Glen Etive is a dead end one, culminating at Loch Etive. You need to allow plenty of time for this journey; along the way there are opportunities galore, with plentiful cascades and waterfalls to capture, along with those wonderful mountain views. It’s a great place to work on capturing the movement of water with the use of filters.
Two thirds of the way along Glen Etive is the exquisitely beautiful Locahan Urr, best visited on a still day when the mountains are reflected in the water. An incredibly peaceful place, there are some lovely reeds for foreground interest, and it also makes for an ideal panoramic composition. If the time is right the mountains, which form a stunning backdrop, will be lit up by the evening sunshine.
Herds of wild red deer are a frequent visitor to Glen Etive and offer the chance for a spot of wildlife photography. Used to visitors, they often come very close in the hope of food. I discovered they like carrots so usually carry a bag with me for a healthy treat making it possible to get some lovely shots of them.
As you approach Glencoe, you’ll travel through the Pass of Glencoe; one of the most dramatic parts of the valley. There are numerous places to stop along here, with views all around, but for a superb uninterrupted view of the Three Sisters mountains, you need to walk a short way. In the image below, I made use of some rock formations to add foreground interest. The road winding its way into the distance helps take the eye through the image and the faraway little cottage adds scale.
Clachaig Falls on the River Coe, is well situated, with spectacular mountain views to either side. Best visited on an over cast day to avoid harsh reflected light in the water, you can either go wide to encompass the mountainous background or opt for detail shots of the water. I used an ND filter in the image below just to soften the movement of the water slightly. I’ll always remember this location for one particular occasion when a member of my group having been presented with almost perfect conditions the whole day, joked “You just need to bring on the rainbow now Sarah!” Around 10 minutes later, guess what appeared… I’d like to take the credit but I think the weather Gods were probably more responsible.
So, as you can see from some of the above images, Glencoe and the surrounding area do see blue skies sometimes, but it’s the ever changing light and weather here that is part of its attraction. Well photographed it may be, and for many of us, it’s a very long way away, but a trip to Glencoe is well worth the effort. The landscape is big and wild, the photography opportunities challenging, but immense. This is scenery that is good for the soul. Formidable and breathtaking, it will leave you inspired.
I run workshops taking place in this region every March and November. For more information, please refer to the workshop page.