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