A last minute decision to head for the beach
So with no rideable snow to speak of I still had zero opportunity to take my snowboard out of hibernation, but as with the last few weekends I wanted to choose a new location for a car camp. I had been pondering on Loch Morlich up by Aviemore. There was some snow on the way, so chances were it would look great. However, by the end of Friday night my thoughts had changed to a coastal destination. I’d briefly visited the Ardnamurchan Peninsula before on the way to Mull, and after checking a map, Sanna Bay looked like it had potential. After searching for images of the beach I decided this most Westerly spot of the UK was where I’d aim for.
I’d packed most of my gear the night before, but I’d not long left when I realised I’d forgotten my thermal flask. I would have to pick up another when I got supplies in Dumbarton.
The drive up the A82 was straight forward. It had been trying to snow all morning and as I reached a Tyndrum it was falling with more intent.
I stopped in at Glencoe Mountain Resort for lunch as the Green Welly was rammed full of tourists. It was a Saturday after all. I finished a cup of tea and a bacon roll before leaving. Then took a couple of moody shots in the glen itself. Snow and low cloud shrouded the three sisters.
My destination was the Corran Ferry, beyond Ballachullish. It’s a short crossing with little wait for the roll-on-roll-off ferry. And when you have crossed Loch Linnhe you are immediately surrounded by a wilder landscape that has something if an island feel, despite still being attached to the mainland. I passed through the glens on my way to Strontian and as I descended the pass down to Loch Sunart, the sun started to split the clouds and illuminate the surface of the water. I needed to pull over and get some shots.
I pulled in to a lay-by where the snow covered hills were silhouetted in layers and light rain peppered the surface of the loch with little rings. As I ran on to the beach, couldn’t help noticing a trail of bubbles shooting away from a set of ripples. It must have been an otter, and I’d scared it off. I dashed back and forth to the car, swapping cameras and lenses to suit the changing conditions. Finally I decided to return to the car at the roadside, and just as I was packing up, I spotted the otter making for the shoreline with a fish.
I hurriedly attached a 2x converter to my telephoto and snuck closer to behind a gorse bush. Thankfully the sound of rain and the odd car passing allowed me to get fairly close. It was getting dark and I had to up the sensitivity of my camera. I think I got something though, despite the low light. It was almost sunset and within minutes of arriving on Ardnamurchan I had some sunset shots and a feeding otter! Not bad eh?
I pulled in to a car park in Strontian and edited some of my shots until darkness fell. I’d earlier passed the Strontian hotel which had wifi so I would head there for a bit to eat later.
After a lovely chorizo burger and chips I sipped my drink and browsed online, while the hotel bar slowly started to fill with locals and there dogs. It looked like it would be a very entertaining night, but I had other plans. The bay at Sanna lies beyond an old volcano which can be clearly seen from the air. I had over an hour to drive along unfamiliar roads to reach this place so set off and found my self ducking and weaving along an undulating coastal road at around 20 miles an hour. I only saw two cars along the whole stretch, before making my way down towards Sanna itself.
I was unsure of the parking location, but it was almost midnight so decided that was it until first light. It had been starting to freeze up inland, but closer to the shore it had warmed to around 5 Celsius. I had hoped to try some star photos, but the occasional cloud was releasing the odd spot of rain, so didn’t want to risk it. I decided to sleep instead.
When I woke there was a slight frost on the outside of the car. The ridge of the extinct volcano rising behind me and grass topped dunes in front. I decided to forego a coffee and visit the shore first. The early sun lit up the grass topped dunes and the remains of the volcano acted as an impressive backdrop to the small community. I say volcano, and it really is, no exaggeration. The crater is clearly visible and encircles a flat plateau where the magma chamber once welled up. It reminded me of a small version of the Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania I was lucky enough to visit back in 2005. Of course it didn’t have nearly the same amount of zebra and wildebeest!
I made my way through the dunes along with the local sheep, who were looking for something a bit different to nibble on the beach. The grass and sand transitioned to rock, the ancient lava flow consisted of a rough basalt criss-crossed with cracks. At the water’s edge the light spread out to light up the islands of Muck and Eigg in the West, Coll could be seen lying low in the South West, far beyond the Lighthouse that marks mainland United Kingdom’s most Westerly point.
Light rain pulses passed over and interacted with the shallow light raking over the crater rim. The mist added depth to the scene as I shielded my camera lens from the droplets.
I spent the whole morning wandering the shore here. No outstanding shot were captured, but I took in all that the place offered and decompressed from the week that had passed.
I made my way back to the parked car after few hours talking to a photographer who packed up and joined me on the walk back through the dunes. He was retired and had worked as a commercial photographer amongst other things. Along with his friend he said he often traveled from down south to stay up here.
Back at the car I boiled up some water and made a coffee and had a late breakfast before another trip, back across the dunes, but this time to the sandy bay for a few more shots. It was now noon and I thought I should really start back for home as it had taken me so long to get here. This time it would be day light and I was worried that id have to keep stopping for the photo opportunities. On my way back to the car however, I was distracted by a little tin shack on the hillside. I had to get some shots of it. It was painted green corrugated tin, with a red door and orange roof. A photographer’s dream, it sat nestled on the hillside amongst some old croft ruins. These were constructed drystone from local granite, roofs lost to the ravages of time and the offshore Atlantic westerlies.
I had to get back, it was now one o’clock and I thought I could get lunch at the Strontian Hotel before getting the Corran ferry once again.
The road back through the crater was gobsmacking. This place would look great in aerial photos. The small township of Achnaha sits in the centre of this amazing geological feature. The road enters and leaves the caldera via a break in the mountains at opposing sides. Once you leave you have stunning views of the Isle of Mull before following Loch Sunart and the oak and alder lined road back to Strontian. Some of the houses along this stretch are truly awesome, many making the most of the scenery with their large full size windows. I think I’ll need to pay a visit here in the summer. Particularly Glenborrodale, as there is an RSPB nature reserve there.
On arrival at the hotel I found it was closed. It was Sunday, but I had thought lunch may have been an option. I had to settle for snacks I had with me in the car. It was now around four and I pushed on back to the ferry. Looking across from Ardgower towards Ballachullish, the Snow capped Glencoe Mountains rose impressively above the waters where Loch Linnhe and Loch Leven meet.
The Corran ferry is every 20 minutes and once I’d made the crossing and drove back into the mountains where there was still enough daylight to distract me. Glencoe held a few last minute opportunities that I just had to take. The Pap of Glencoe then the high Aonach Eagach ridge was glowing in the fading light and the peaks on the other side required equal attention before I called it a day and returned down the A82 for home. Another successful weekend adventure accomplished and I’m looking forward to returning in the summer months.
RSPB – Glenborrodale: https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/find-a-reserve/reserves-a-z/reserves-by-name/g/glenborrodale/