Portrait of An Teallach

In late November, I joined a workshop run by Colin Prior, Eddie Ephraums and Adrian Hollister at Open Studio workshop based at Mellon Charles on the Wester Ross coast of Scotland.  The idea being that we should all produce a decent picture of An Teallach and that this would form part of an exhibition opening at the end of the workshop;  the combined pictures making up a Portrait of the mountain.

Panorama : An Teallach
Main An Teallach ridge showing Lord Berkeley’s seat

This was a slightly worrying and challenging prospect because I would normally turn up at a location and see how the mood took me; this seemed to be more images to order!  How wrong I was – in fact the 13 of us on the workshop produced a very varied range of images both in colour and black and white.

A second challenge was given to us very quickly – write a few words to say what An Teallach meant to us.  As I had not yet met An Teallach this was slightly alarming!  Yet, after reflecting on the question for half a day, I found a few words easily.  When my image was finally selected, it was curious how the words became more apt.  Essentially the question is, I suppose, why do you take landscape images or more pointedly why did I take a particular image – not something I have ever spent much time on largely because I simply enjoyed the process and being out there.  Of course, this is what it really comes down to – that is a way of celebrating and enjoying the outdoor.  For this reason, I subtitled my words – Paean to the Outdoor.

Portrait of An Teallach : A paean to the outdoor

Wild and unspoilt
Ancient yet still full of life
Dark and light
Imposing and majestic.

History continuing yet unchanging
Erosion linking it to the sea
By peaty streams
Natural and unspoiled.

Feral goats, stags and birds
Yet no men
An Teallach.

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The workshop was fascinating in other ways and provided an insight to the care and work in putting on an exhibition.  For example, the need to balance the images being shown, produce them in the same basic format and group or order them for hanging on the walls.  These tasks took a few of our number a considerable time, whilst the remainder happily got on with taking pictures!  The image takers consoled themselves with the notion that the show could not and should not be designed by a committee of 13!  In fact we all produced 6 images on which everyone voted;  the best two going forward to the final selection where the balancing of the subject matter was done – provided we included one from each participant.

Woodland near Gruinard River (in the rain!)

We were very lucky with the weather – a large snowfall had occurred the weekend before we arrived, so that An Teallach was well covered.  Secondly, the light for the first half of the week was great before tailing off towards the end when we retreated into forests for more intimate landscapes.

 

 

The Mountain:

My entry into the group exhibition – taken after the pinks and mauve had fled leaving a golden hue and lovely shadows.

The mountain is just south of Ullapool and the Dundonnell river and overlooks Little Loch Broom in Wester Ross which is described by some as a wilderness.

An Teallach, we discovered, is a mini range made up of Torridean sandstone some 7 miles deep (!) sitting on Lewisian Gneiss.  Its name means the Forge (probably a corruption of red in Gaelic) and it can take 10 hours to climb and return.  Whilst there are 10 peaks over 3000 feet, only two are classed as Munros – the highest peak, Bidein a’Ghlas Thuill, is some 3450 feet above sea level and Sgurr Fiona which is only slightly lower at 3445 feet. The remaining peaks are not munros because of the strict definition of a munro which requires a drop of at least 125 metres between peaks.

On the craggy part of Sgurr Fiona lies Lord Berkeley’s seat (3379 feet), looking like a series of flat stones piled on top of each other.
 

The Great Outdoor:

The most memorable part of the workshop was an early morning shoot.  A few of us with Colin Prior and Paul Tattersall, an experienced mountaineer, left our hotel at 5.30 am to be in position to shoot dawn which was at about 8.25am.  We were to go to a spot where the sun would come up over our shoulders whilst we looked at An Teallach.

We were also accompanied by Richard Else who was filming parts of the workshop as part of  a programme for BBC Alba (to be screened in March) covering Colin Prior and his relationship with 3 Scottish hills, one of which was An Teallach.

We left the van near a bothy on the Fain road, and walked back about 50 metres before getting onto the snow covered moorland.  We walked over this uneven and frosted surface for about an hour and a half; we set off with head torches and following the GP / compass.  By dead reckoning we arrived at a spot that Colin Prior had identified beforehand at about 7.45 am.  Looking at the map later, I found we had walked only 1.5 miles and climbed 200 feet!  Quite a climb, all the same.

Coming of dawn looking eastwards

Once there, we clearly had the spot to ourselves, so far off the beaten track, and light was magical – ranging from the mauves and pinks though orange and yellows ending with the harder morning lights.  We had arrived at our spot just as the rising sky was orange and we could see mountains all around.

An Teallach was in front of us, but at 90 degrees we had views of Cul Mor and Coigach in one direction

and Sgurr Mor hills in the other direction.

First light over Sgurr Mor
An Teallach with the early dawn mauves and pink lights. the cloud behind did not really colour up.
Panorama comprising 5 images stitched together

The air was cold, but clear and fresh providing an exhilaration to the trek.  After the early morning exertions, we were very glad of the cold sausage sandwiches provided by Paul!

Although late in the year, the rising sun was still strong and provided some lens flare ….

 

Once we had returned to the van, we decided to visit Loch Droma, which is on the main Inverness to Ullapool road, for another view of the Mountain.  The loch was largely frozen over and we met an Italian walking on the frozen ice!!

This was a day that will live long in the memory – aided, of course, by our images!  Well worth the early start and certainly one which supported the words I chose in praise of the great outdoor!

The Exhibition:
The show was held in the newly refurbished gallery at  Inverewe House.  There seemed to be about 60 guests who turned up to see our week and then share some Scottish hospitality – many of those I spoke with had moved to the area some years ago.

There was a wide range of subject matter split between colour and black & white images.

Finally ….

I started to experiment with some black & white imagery …..

An Teallach from viewpoint over Gruinard Bay
Beinn Ghobhlach from Gruinard Bay viewpoint
Ben Mor Coigach – towards Assynt – from Gruinard Bay viewpoint
Sgurr Mor from dawn shoot viewpoint off Fain road
From Mellon Charles towards Torridean Hills – just as we were leaving

Reflections on South Africa

It was 35 years ago that I first visited South Africa to meet my future in-laws and to propose! Whilst a lot has happened since that time, my love of the country has survived.  Initially, my early travels were in Natal where the Drakensberg mountains exerted their pull on me; latterly we have travelled more extensively and our latest trip was spent exclusively in Cape Province.

Western Province

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trip was not designed as a photographic tour, but those that know me will understand that a camera is normally fairly close by!  Our time was split between a beach on the Cape Peninsula at Kommetjie, with its beautiful white sand beach and seabirds, and travelling through the region taking in some less well known sites.  Tourists will often do the wine region or travel the Garden Route – all in lovely country.

Looking into the hills after leaving Prince Albert
Looking into the hills after leaving Prince Albert

Our trip was rather different.  In all we travelled some 2100km – often on dirt roads exploring the mountains, passes and flora.  There are World Heritage sites in profusion – although if you look at the world listing, it seems that South Africa has taken it into its mind to split the regions rather more.  There are only 8 listed on the World register – one of which is the Fynbos floral kingdom covering much of our trip – yet we were told that, in fact, we had visited at east 4 in Table Mountain, Cape Point, De Hoop, Baviannskloof! (Unesco, who approve such areas, define a site as “a natural or man-made site, area, or structure recognized as being of outstanding international importance and therefore as deserving special protection.”) 

After the Table Mountain and Cape Point sites, our route took us to de Hoop Nature Reserve (between Arniston and Witsand on the map above), Montagu, Prince Albert and Baviannskloof – all claiming heritage status. The protected Fynbos flora was seen at or close to all these places.

From the heights of Table Mountain
From the heights of Table Mountain

This blog is not intended as a travelogue as I have already commented on the various stages of our trip but more as an overview.

 

WEATHER

Our visit coincided with mid summer in the Cape with very bright strong light. We were blessed with great weather, sunny, bright and dry – only 1/2 day lost at De Hoop to rain and a cloudy last day.  Dawn was a little too early for my liking which meant few sunrises!  However, the country was suffering drought conditions and crying out for rain;  those we spoke to said it should be much greener.

After sunset at Kommetjie
After sunset at Kommetjie
Sunset at Kommetjie
Sunset at Kommetjie
Harsh afternoon light at Kommetjie
Harsh afternoon light at Kommetjie

Photographically this meant that travel images were difficult as we mainly travelled during the harsh lit hours.  However, we did get some lovely evening colours especially from the beach.

ROADS

Inevitably on such a trip there are long distances between locations.  We tended to travel and stay at our locations for a couple of nights before moving on.  As the towns are so far apart, there are some great travel scenes of road and mountains and some steep passes to negotiate.

Meringspoort Pass
Meringspoort Pass
Swartberg mountains from near Calitzdorp
Swartberg mountains from near Ladismith
On the way to Malgas from De Hoop nature reserve
On the way to Malgas from De Hoop nature reserve

CROWDS

Apart from a day at the1601-cape-g-146 test match in Cape Town, and going up Table Mountain, we were totally unaffected by crowds – rather odd as it was the prime holiday season.  The Country is large and people seem to melt away …..

FOOD & DRINK

It is difficult to think of a holiday where we have been so blessed by abundant good food and drink.  The meat quality has always been good, but in the beach area we had marvellous fish as well after finding a great fishmonger – a great addition to our New Year eve and braais! Inland, it tended to be more meat based and we had some wonderful meals of Ostrich, Kudu and beef, of course.

In Cape Town we visited La Colombe, rated one of the best restaurants and it cost £100 for 3 and a 5 course dinner and wine ….   To end our trip, in Baviannskloof – miles from anywhere, we had the most succulent lamb (from the braai), Ostrich and Potjie (a local casserole dish) and many other great meals in between.

SCENERY

Despite the good living, I suppose the most lasting memories will be of the countryside we saw.  Mountain ranges seem to fold into mountain range, arable valleys between.

Olive Farms, Prince Albert valley
Olive Farms, Prince Albert valley

We were travelling away from the main wine regions and saw citrus farms, olive and other crops.

 

View from above Sederkloof
View from above Sederkloof, Baviaanskloof

 

Layers of sandstone and lime stone
Layers of sandstone and lime stone – this is the height of a man

The topography of the mountains was interesting – often creating interesting escarpments and folded seams.  Much of the area is sandstone and the shale layers have been washed out …

 

The passes produced great views some as main roads such as Tradouws, and as a day trip up the Swartberg pass (some 20km of dirt road) which reaches a protea clad plateau towards the top.

Although the protea season was over, we did see some out.  Also the aloes and other flowers on Table Mountain were interesting.  Also some watsonias in Swartberg were seen.

Sisal plant
Sisal plant
Scrub and mountains near Prince Albert
Scrub and mountains near Prince Albert
The Langeberg at Montagu
The Langeberg at Montagu

The coasts too were beautiful.  Kommetjie with its white sand facing the cold South Atlantic and De Hoop with its huge sand dunes now facing the warmer Indian Ocean.

Kommetjie Beach
Kommetjie Beach

Sand dunes at De Hoop Nature Reserve

Sand dunes at De Hoop Nature Reserve

 

Hout Bay from Kommetjie
Hout Bay from Kommetjie
Cape Point from Buffels Bay
Cape Point from Buffels Bay

The shells washed up – particularly at De Hoop – were beautiful.

The Fynbos was found in many places from the top of Table Mountain, de Hoop and the Baviannskloof.  Many of the plants are found no where else.  Whilst travelling inland, we found sisal stems in flower as well as many yellow flowing acacias.  At Baviaanskloof which claims to have plants from 7 of 8 biodomes present in South Africa, we found Euphorbia trees as well as tall aloes and smaller crassulas and other succulents.

Aloes at Baviaanskloof
Aloes at Baviaanskloof
Euphorbia
Euphorbia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WILDLIFE

It is a fact that one tends to safari expecting to see big game but return with more pictures of bids than anything else.  This trip was no different (although not seeking the big game).

Common Stalk at De Hoop
Common Stalk at De Hoop

Birdlife was plentiful – especially at the coast – as also were the baboon troops which we saw in each location.

Black Cape Oystercatchers
Black Cape Oystercatchers
Black African Oystercatcher - chick
Black African Oystercatcher – chick
Cape Sugar bird on protea - Swartberg pass
Cape Sugar bird on protea – Swartberg pass

 

Red Bishop bird
Red Bishop bird

De Hoop and Baviannskloof provided additional game – Ostrich, Kudu, Cape Zebra, Eland, Bontebok and Dassie.

Eland
Eland
Bontebok
Bontebok
Dassie
Dassie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

De Hoop, particularly, would be a birders destination and we saw Herons, Flamingo, Spoonbill, Ibis, Swift terns, Black African Oystercatchers, Cormorants, etc etc.  For a non safari trip this was plenty!

In Conclusion:

We had a ball and will be returning sometime …!  It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you enjoy the outdoor life, scenery etc there is so much to do.  At present the cost of living there is good for us.  Some might worry about local issues such as politics and security – nether of which impinged on our trip at all.  Clearly, most people would focus their trips away from the major conurbations where such matters have greater impact.

Sunset at Sederkloof, Baviannskloof
Sunset at Sederkloof, Baviannskloof

Baviannskloof

The last stop of our journey took us into the Baviannskloof for 3 nights.  This was some way east of Prince Albert and the journey ended with a 2 hour dirt road journey (80 kms).

The valley is sandwiched between the Baviannskloof and the Kougaberg mountains. This is a wilderness area and a world heritage site.  We were told that the area is of the Cape Folded belt, a region which runs parallel to the coast, between Plettenberg Bay and Port Elizabeth.  This was evidenced in the extraordinary rock formations of sand stone and lime stone – the soft stone being easily eroded over the years ….

Layers of sandstone and lime stone
Layers of sandstone and lime stone – the image shown is about 6 feet of rock  tall

The area has many rock paintings – although many have been damaged and removed … 

The area also evidences 7 of the 8 biodomes found in South Africa and is an area where the fynbos is being studied.  It was fairly easy to see the delineation between then – Acacia belt, Euphorbias and Aloes competing with the other vegetation.

Euphorbia stand

 

View from above Sederkloof
View from above Sederkloof

We were lucky to stay at Sederkloof, an old farm, which has been sensitively developed into an eco-tourism lodge – you can hardly see the lodges until you reach them high above the dirt valley road – (a 10 minute drive in 4×4).  It was very luxurious and we ate like kings!  The room views were good too.

Sederkloof Lodge

Whilst there, we did a few walks and went to look at the water system at Sewefontein.  Despite its semi desert status, there is plenty of water from underground springs which is closely managed.  Where the springs come to the surface, there is a wild fig forest;  water supply is shared between the farmers on a “4 day on and 4 day off” basis all fed by an underground aquifer, which is refreshed by winter rains.

The grounds sported some game – Gemsbok, Kudu – reintroduced.  There was mention of leopard in the area, although no-one seems to have seen them!  They had Black Eagles and baboons as well.

The weather was a bit mixed with our last day being very cloudy ending in rain, but this cleared up as we left – so we got a sunset and sun rise during our stay.

Sunset at Sederkloof, Baviannskloof
Sunset at Sederkloof, Baviannskloof
Sunrise on last moring at Baviannskloof
Sunrise on last morning at Sederkloof, Baviannskloof

Sadly, this brought to an end a very happy holiday.  There is so much to see and do, I would strongly recommend this country as a holiday destination …

De Hoop nature reserve – Jan16

After our week in the Cape, we have moved on to De Hoop nature reserve which is on the Indian Ocean coast east of Hermanus.  It seemed very remote and required a drive of 50 miles or so on gravel roads to reach.

View of De Hoop park with its sand dune boundary
View of De Hoop park with its sand dune boundary

The area is a flattish basin along a river / vlei behind very high sand dunes.  The vegetation is based on the unique fynbos which provides habitats for flowers (and animals) not seen elsewhere.

In addition to its marine birdlife -similar to that seen at Kommetjie – there was a range of inland birds and some bigger game such a bontebok, eland, baboons, ostrich etc.

Eland on the sand dune
Eland on the sand dune
Bontebok
Bontebok

We arrived just as the weather was breaking so had rain until mid morning the next day, but this did cool things down considerably.

Baboons drinking
Baboons drinking

The weather curtailed some of our activities as the nature walk was cancelled!  Even so, we did our own walk early the following morning along the estuary  when the light was soft.

Old farm house on estuary in morning light
Old farm house on estuary in morning light
image
Common Stilts

We saw several kinds of duck and heron as well as African Spoonbill, Flamingo and pelican.

Pictures of birds will need careful sorting

before publishing … The iPad is too small.

We stayed two nights and could perhaps have done with another day.  From De Hoop we have moved to Montagu in the mountains near the Robertson wine valley ….

 

South Africa – Dec15 to Jan16

Kommetjie

Kommetjie is a seaside village on the Atlantic south of Hout Bay on the Cape Peninsula in South Africa. The scene is really beautiful, framed to north by the hills around Hout Bay and the Noordhoek hills.

Phil in Kommetjie beach with Hout Bay behind
Phil in Kommetjie beach with Hout Bay behind

The beaches are of white sand with abundant wildlife in the rock pools and the kelp which is plentiful.  South and west of our house on the edge of the beach is Kommetjie village affording great sunsets.

The birds seen include Small egret, sacred ibis, Hadada, swift terns, kelp gulls, Black African oystercatchers (with young), Hautlaub gulls, cormorants and great cormorants.  One day we had a Cape fur seal below the house and around the house we had a tortoise and friendly mouse!

Little Egret
Little Egret
Black Cape Ouatercatchers
Black Cape Ouatercatchers

We have spent a lot of time, between resting, walking up the beach to view the birds, and views of Noordhoek beach, known as Long Beach.  The water, being from the Atlantic, was very cold but we managed to swim (a little although a ducking to cool down would be closer to the mark).

Sunset lighting up over Hout Bay
Sunset lighting up over Hout Bay
Sunset over Kommetjie
Sunset over Kommetjie

We have shared this idyll with Charles and Diana Gibson for first few days and Andrew Baker and a great time was had by all!

Our house party!
Our house party!

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