The Great Lakes

(Nick here, guest blogging while Frances is in Norway)

In case you were wondering, despite the title I haven’t been to Canada yet (I would love to go, but time and funds haven’t permitted to date). However we have our own great (small ‘g’) Lakes here in the UK, in the form of the Lake District National Park (green pin)

The highest mountain in England, Scafell Pike, is surrounded by glacial valleys leading off in all directions, forming a series of lakes, tarns, waters and meres, most of which have stunning mountain scenery as a backdrop. It’s an endless source of beautiful landscapes, so I go as often as I can. (In truth, there is only one ‘Lake’ that goes by that name – Bassenthwaite Lake, which is actually a man-made reservoir – most of the rest are meres, tarns, waters and reservoirs).

The largest of the lakes, and by far the most touristy is Windermere, which lies to the south and east of the region. I last visited Windermere with the family in April last year, and one evening I headed down to a jetty by the waterside that I had spotted on a walk earlier in the day, and took a gamble with a long exposure photo of the jetty, without a clue what I would see in the final photo. I knew there were a few stars, but I was not prepared for the layer of mist hanging over the water surface, or the orange glow from the other side of the lake (presumably from street lights).

I returned a few days later at sunset (once the cloud and rain that the area is famous for had cleared), now knowing just how photogenic the jetty was, and managed to catch the last of the orange light.

Not far from where we were staying is a small hill, Orrest Head, which was a pleasant if muddy climb, with lovely views over the lake, and the occasional Danny.

Towards the southern end of the lake, past the tourist hotspot of Bowness-on-Windermere, is another small hill called Gummer’s How. From the top of this peak the mist over the lake combined with the angle of the sun and created a surprising low rainbow hanging over the water surface,

Another popular area which is less touristy than Windemere is the town of Keswick, which sits on the banks of Derwentwater in the northern end of the national park. Castlerigg Stone Circle is just a short drive (or walk if you are so inclined) from Keswick, and sometimes if you get there early enough. you can catch an inversion layer where mist hangs over the Naddle Beck valley behind.

Later that same morning we headed to the lakeside in Keswick itself, as the mist was just starting to burn off the lake surface.

As Keswick sits on the eastern bank of Derwentwater, the sunset from the waters edge can be pretty special too. Even Danny enjoys having a good paddle when the sky is putting on a show.

On the same side of the lake as Keswick, but further south, there is Ashness Bridge, a small humpback bridge with a set of cascading waterfalls flowing underneath. It’s a fair way up a steep slope, so from the viewpoint near the car park you can look out over the whole of Derwentwater far below.

If you continue west from Keswick you get to Braithwaite, from where you can take a road through Keskadale down to Buttermere, with the famous Buttermere Pines at the southern end of the lake. I took this route early one morning, leaving while it was still dark, and catching the first hints of colour in the sky over the valley before the full light of the sun hit the Buttermere pines an hour or so later.

Half way through the dale is Moss Force, a waterfall tumbling down the back of Buttermere Fell that is an easy walk from the road.

The sheer variety of scenery in such a relatively small area is what keeps drawing me back to the Lake District time and time again, and more recently, I’ve enjoyed hiking up the many challenging fells that may not be as tall as what you can find in Iceland, but the views from the top are unbeatable.

..And East a Bit

(Nick here, guest blogging while Frances is in Norway)

Following on from yesterday’s post where I ended up with a photo of the iceberg lagoon with no icebergs, we headed back east the following day to a place called Stokksnes. There is a beach at the end of the peninsula at Stokksnes with black sand dunes and a view across the wide flat beach to the mountain Vestrahorn – it’s one of Iceland’s iconic sights, and we were hoping for a spectacular view. On the way we passed this fellow, who I feel obliged to mention given the usual topics posted on this blog.

Once we arrived at Stokksnes, the weather wasn’t looking co-operative. Another group of photographers were already there, including Canadian landscape photographer Ken Kaminesky, who said it had been like this all morning and didn’t look like changing all day. So we did the best with what he had. This is a shot of the unusual looking sand dunes:

And the ‘spectacular’ view that was hidden by cloud still looked wonderfully moody.

Heading back west, we stopped at a place where the weather had cleared somewhat, and the lack of wind gave us some beautiful glassy reflective water surfaces

Arriving back at Jökulsárlón, the lake was so crammed with icebergs you could barely see the water for the ice.

Further round the ring road, the oldest still used turf roofed church in Iceland, in a small village called Hof, is another oft-photographed landmark

I couldn’t resist the urge to do some special effects photography, so used my long exposure filter again to create a ‘ghost’ in the moss-filled graveyard

A little further on from Hof is one of the many outflow glaciers connected to Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest ice cap. Here at Svínafellsjökull there is a rough footpath that leads up the side of the glacier allowing you to look down onto the stunning blue/green ice as it creaks and groans its way to the coast.

One final stop before our hotel was at the huge cliff of Lómagnúpur. This vast inland cliff is so tall that clouds were forming at the summit, creating beautiful shapes.

That night we stayed at a hotel near the town of Vík, which is at Iceland’s most southerly point. One of the photographers with us had brought some wire wool and other fancy LED based equipment which allowed us to create some fun special effects photography out the back of the hotel.

The next day was our final day of shooting, so we headed down to the beaches at Reynisfjara and Kirkjufjara where the sea was wonderfully active (and as we were warned, lethally dangerous) so we had to keep an eye on it at all times. The sea stacks of Reynisdrangar created a dramatic backdrop to some atmospheric seascapes.

The popular waterfall Seljalandsfoss has a footpath that allows you to walk through the cave behind the cascade and shoot through the water. You have to be careful not to allow your equipment to get too wet, but the views are worth the risk!

We stayed the night in Reykjavík again after a delicious meal at a steak restaurant in Hafnarfjörður with Siggi and his wife Súsanna, then flew back home the next day, safe in the knowledge that we all had made some new friends.

I did manage to return to the beach at Stokksnes in November, on a solo trip where I was photographing one of the bands at the music festival Iceland Airwaves, and stayed on a few more days after the festival ended. I was, I have to say, rather lucky with conditions, and it was particularly pleasing to be able to get this shot for my trouble.

Finally, to please those of you who come here for the animals, here’s a photo of Fergus who was sunbathing this morning when I came down for breakfast.


Further North

(Nick here, guest blogging while Frances is in Norway)

The trip to Lewis and Harris wasn’t the first time I have been on a tour with the Guild of Photographers. They operate several, to various locations throughout Europe, and the first one they invited me to was (not surprisingly, for those who know me) Iceland.

In March last year we spent a week exploring the south coast of Iceland, starting with a couple of days in Reykjavík before heading out east along the coast, with our brilliant, hilarious guide, Siggi. You can see what he thinks of photographers in this wonderful YouTube video he showed us when we were there:

Anyway, we started with a walking tour of Reykjavík, taking in the varying architecture and sea views, including the beautiful Hallgrímskirkja (Hallgrimur’s church) that sits on a hill in the centre of town. with its pure white vaulted ceiling.

When we reached the sea, the mountain across the bay was peeking through low cloud, with snow covered craggy slopes showing through.

The next day, when we were due to head out to our first night outside Reykjavík, most of the main roads out of the city were closed by heavy snow. Thankfully Siggi knew of another route out of town, and we seemed to be lucky enough to always stay in the sunny spot between the waves of heavy rain. Our first stop was at Grindavík, a small fishing village south of Reykjavík, where the ferocious wind was creating wonderful shapes in the sea.

Next it was time for my favourite waterfall in Iceland, Gullfoss. It’s easy to get to and is very popular with tourists, but as we arrived the snow was blowing horizontally, and most of the other tourists had been scared off, so we had the place to ourselves. After standing huddled together with hoods up, sheltering our precious gear, for about half an hour while the wind howled, the sky started to clear and we could finally see the waterfall again.

The cold weather meant that the spray pouring off the cascade was freezing onto the adjacent rocks, creating amazing abstract, almost organic shapes.

Much of the following day was spent on the road, as we had a lot of ground to cover before reaching our next hotel, where we were staying for two nights. It turned out to be somewhere I’d stayed before, on a trip in 2010, so it was a pleasant surprise to be back. After a good night’s rest and a typical full-on breakfast, we started exploring the area.

These were taken on an unscheduled stop on our way to Jökulsárlón, the iceberg filled lagoon that sits opposite the black sand beach that Siggi talked about in the video. There were plenty of ‘ice cubes’ as he puts it on the sand, but surprisingly few in the lagoon itself.

Coming tomorrow – some actual icebergs in the iceberg lagoon, fun with torches, and more waves. See you then!

More of the Hebrides

(Nick here, guest blogging while Frances is in Norway)

As promised, back to Lewis and Harris for today’s missive.

While we did spend most of our time exploring Harris, we ventured north to Lewis on one occasion to visit the Callanish standing stones, a stone circle in the north west of the island. The weather was blazing sunshine with scooting clouds, so not ideal for photography (I tend to prefer moody sunrise or sunset light) but with a special filter I was able to get a long exposure shot of the stones with a spooky sky to reflect the mystery surrounding sites like this.

Another longish drive took us to Hushinish, a remote settlement with a sheltered beach and a satisfying mix of wave-worn rounded boulders and smooth white sand.

Our accommodation at Scarista House was next to a pristine sandy beach with views of Chiapaval mountain. Playing with my filter again I took one photo with a 10 minute exposure time, to really make the sky look special:

The various grasses growing on the sand provided photographic interest too.

As you’d expect on an island, water was a common feature of most of our photographs, from wind-blown rippled lagoons, to breaking waves and peat-tinted streams creating wonderfully coloured waterfalls.

And on our final night at Scarista, we were treated to a rare sighting of the aurora!

The drive back took us across Skye (by this time the Tarbert-Uig service was running again) and down through Glencoe to Glasgow, where we stopped for a night before the long drive back to Watford. Here are a few more photos from the mainland on that drive home.

Looking up at pine trees

Loch Lochy

Glencoe villlage at sunset

Buachaille Etive Mhór at sunset

Sunset colours over Glencoe

Thank you for all the lovely comments following Monday’s post. I hope you’ve enjoyed these pictures as much.

The Southern minions

(Nick here, guest blogging while Frances is in Norway)

A hiatus from the Hebrides photos (more tomorrow – promise!). There were various squeals of delight after I teased you all with that photo of Archie and Fergus on Sunday, so here are the full crew of 10.

Archie is the daddy and the grandaddy (literally) of the guinea pig family. He is about 5 years old now (I don’t know exactly – my OH keeps track better than me). He is also by far the tamest – the only one who doesn’t scurry for cover at the slightest noise, and he is happy to sit and have his middle parting tickled for as long as you have the energy. A heart of gold, and yet a randy bugger, as you’ll find out…

Lumi is the mother and grandmother of the bunch. She is still a little shy, as you can see from her coy expression here. ‘Lumi’ is Finnish for ‘snow’ and she was named by our son. When we put her with Archie, she was pregnant in no time, and gave birth to four little bebbies, who are next.

Roo, or Roo-bear, has a cute black hat that is utterly endearing. She is the boss of her little coterie, consisting of her, her mother and her sister Piglet. She recently had to have a rather painful gallstone removed – we were allowed to keep the offending item which is as big as a peppercorn. I dread to think what the equivalent would be in a human, but she has soldiered on and is as cheeky and bossy as ever.

Roo’s sister Piglet is the long-suffering sister. She and her mum just basically do what Roo tells them. However when it comes to treats (carrot, cucumber or cabbage) they will all fight their best to get more than their fair share, even though we always give them equal portions.

Hamish is, rather surprisingly, a girl. After she was born, the vet reliably informed us that she and Rabbit were boys, while Roo and Piglet were definitely girls. So we separated them by sex, with Hamish and Rabbit going to live with Archie, while Lumi had custody of the others. A few months later however, when I went to visit them in the garden, both Hamish and Rabbit were distinctively fatter, and sure enough, a few days later, we had been gifted with five more little pups, in a huge variety of colours.

This is Rabbit, named for her distinctive rabbit-like colouring. She too was thought to be a boy on birth, but thankfully she doesn’t have to suffer the indignity of a particularly masculine name. She is also a little shy and bossed about by her sister Hamish, but she does get on better with her daughter Crinkle.

…and here is the aforementioned Crinkle, with the best expression ever. She won’t let her mum Rabbit take too much nonsense from Auntie Hamish, and can more than hold her own in a food fight.

This is Hamish’s son Donald, who lives with his brother Douglas. He keeps insisting that his hair grows like that naturally, and is definitely NOT a toupee. He has promised to make guinea pigs great again, and we suspect he has a red baseball cap somewhere.

Douglas is a few shades darker than his brother, and has a white stripe down his nose. These two are lovely company – for each other and for us, as they are both almost as tame as their dad (who is also their grandad but we won’t go there for now). As a result of the unexpected inbreeding, they both have an extra toe on their back feet, but are otherwise perfectly happy, healthy piggies.

Fergus lives with his dad/grandad, and is the brother of Crinkle. He has an adorable white face, and is not shy of demanding food whenever we are near. He has a middle parting as impressive as Archie’s, and once tried to go and visit his cousins Donald and Douglas after escaping from his temporary indoor accommodation. They did all get along, but Archie was lonely, so we had to put him back.

Those of you who have been counting will note that I have talked about 10 piggies, when there were 11 at one stage. Sadly, Rabbit’s other daughter Flora developed pneumonia and we lost her a few months ago.

A quick postscript, I’m sure Frances won’t mind – most of the landscape photos you’ll see me posting this week are available for sale as prints from my site. Please do have a browse!