Scotland’s weather is never predictable, especially once you reach the Highlands. It was one of the first things I marveled at last year after moving here – one minute the sky can be black and the heavens are throwing what seems like all of the year’s annual rainfall at the Scottish earth, and in the next second the clouds part, the sun appears, and the light becomes glorious and perfect for dramatic photography. The following day may be dry and sunny all day, reflecting a night’s heavy snowfall on the mountains. It is basically anyone’s guess what the weather will be from day to day up here on the North West coast of Scotland.
Yesterday, on the first day of the new year of 2021, I went out to shoot the local beach and see if I could find any wildlife to photograph. As I have only one camera body I soon switched to a wider angle lens as there were no birds or mammals around (other than sheep) and I wanted to capture some seascapes. From the beach I took the two hour coastal route across three peaks and back through the mudflats, which eventually returns to the beach.
It was gloriously sunny as I set off walking above the beach and following a muddy path just above the coastline, stopping regularly to try to get some interesting seascapes. I was using a tripod and 16-35mm lens. The sun remained low – as it remains throughout winter up here – but shone nonetheless. Meanwhile various rain fronts passed across the bay in front of me which was often a bizarre and spectacular sight, especially those apparently carrying rainbows with them, from my perspective at least.
As I reached the second peak, after leaving the path a few times to take shots of the tumultuous sea below while the tide came in, a weather front was making its way towards me. As I gazed out at the sight of an isolated rain cloud heading for me, and listened to the strange sounds of rain pelting the surface of the sea from a distance, a huge rainbow formed directly in front of me. From my perspective it was a full rainbow being rapidly followed by heavy rain or possibly snow.
The sky had turned distinctly white. I pressed the remote shutter, cleaned the lens of rain droplets, pressed the shutter, cleaned the lens, and repeated as the rainbow formed and disintegrated. I got one single clear shot. The others were ruined by droplets all over the lens. I think it was worth the effort though.
Once it had disappeared, hail began to descend. Light at first, I was being pelted with heavy hail within a minute. All part of the fun, so I raced down to the third peak as it slowed and stopped, and the sun immediately returned.
I headed around the back of the third peak and followed the path down towards the sea and the mudflats. This was where I took a slide down the hill. Falling over with all your camera kit on your back and in your hands is always one of those heart-in-mouth moments. However, no damage was done other than a lot of mud collected on me and my bag. All part of the fun and adventure.
The sun, now ahead of me instead of behind, was disappearing below the mountains. Consequently the light was beginning to fade as I reached the extensive mudflats. I looked at my phone to realise I’d been out walking for almost four hours. In the gloaming light I realised I might be a bit lost. Panic and swearing ensued. This may have been mixed with some rapidly obtained shots.
There is no obvious route across the flats and the tide comes in very quickly here. I scrabbled around looking for signs of other people’s boot prints and found nothing. There are a couple of isolated houses on the firm ground above the mudflats but they’re quite far away and I didn’t fancy turning up at someone’s door in the dark like an idiot asking where I should go.
Suitably annoyed at my own lack of planning and knowledge of this area, I headed in what I assumed must be the right direction and picked up a muddy path. Angrily stamping through the thick mud after stopping a couple of times for a shot or two, I found the abandoned caravan landmark I recognised and picked my way back to the path.
Back at the beach almost five hours later, I felt I’d had a worthwhile adventure and got one of two ok shots. However, my feet were wet and my body muddy, so home was my final destination. All worth it for the rainbow, at least.