Grand landscapes have always captured my imagination and held me in their grasp. The Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains and the Hawaiian Islands come to mind as inarguably amazing terrain. I knew Scotland would be a fun adventure, but I had no idea of the awe inspiring scenery and ruggedness of landscape that awaits those who pick the Highlands for a bit of exploration; though "exploration" seems to fall insanely short of what this sliver of Heaven brings forth.

My good friend Erik's wife is from England and they were there visiting family for six weeks. He was able to arrange some time to visit Scotland and convinced me to make the journey across the pond, with our friend Derek, and all connect in London. And that is really where my adventure began.

This was my first time overseas so it was a thrill to be in London. However, that only lasted for a few minutes. That place is insane. I'd rather become a confirmed victim of Nessie than spend any more time in London than absolutely necessary. But it was certainly an adventure.We spent a few hours doing the tourist stuff...Birmingham Palace, Big Ben, etc... Then is was off to Gatwick for the night to catch an early flight to Inverness, Scotland.

That morning we all woke up very excited to get situated in the Highlands. Though the weather forecast looked daunting, we were still pumped. The week was supposed to be soggy, rainy, snowy and windy. But we were optimistic and hoped for the best. I don't think anything would have spoiled our anticipation. The flight was uneventful though I had to restrain from purchasing any of the fine fragrances offered on the Flybe flight.

We landed in a breezy Inverness, stocked up on a few groceries and began our rain tainted affair with the Scottish Highland as we drove west toward Torridon. We were in awe! Living in Estes, around its incredible beauty, I don't think we were prepared for exactly what awaited us in Scotland. Our own mountains are spectacular, so I'm not taking anything away from them in the slightest, and maybe it was because Scotland was new and we were excited to be there, but these Scottish mountains seemed to have some strange and different pull and attraction. I haven't quite put my finger on it yet. I think that I was also surprised at just how rugged and dramatic the terrain actually was.

We got to Torridon and decided we just couldn't wait to get out and explore. We pulled off the road just past Torridon, got our camera gear ready and began what we'd been waiting for for some time! We discovered a beautiful waterfall just below the parking area and had some fun shooting that before heading up the valley (Coire Mhic Nobuil). We were all surprised at just how saturated this place was. It was like walking on a sponge, nothing but soggy sod and moss. It reminded me of what the terrain might feel like on the floating islands of Perelandra.

We hiked up hill for a bit then decided to head to the river to find a place to cross. Along the way we stopped multiple times to take some photos and to just soak in the surroundings. It was stunning, even in the rain! We checked into the hostel, cooked some dinner, planned the next days hike and hit the sack.

The next morning we were hopeful as we woke to descent weather. It was cloudy, but the rain was scattered and light. Erik got up earlier and headed to to the south end of Loch Torridon to shoot sunrise and I slept in for a bit then walked along the only street in Torridon. I met a shepherd who was on his way to feed his sheep and I found the site of an old open air church along the loch. Derek slept in a bit, then battled a german for the recipe for "the young orphans porridge." He won, triumphantly, and fixed us a magnificent breakfast.

After our delicious meal we got in the car and drove to the trail head to begin our trek along the southern flank of Beinn Eighe toward Loch Coir Mhic Fhearchair. The weather started sunny and hot, but quickly turned into a torrential downpour in frigid temps. As we got higher the snow started and the wind really picked up. The weather changes so incredibly fast, so we would get a rotation about every fifteen minutes of rain, snow, wind, calm, and sun. So we'd pull the cameras out when we could and try to capture the drama of this incredibly stunning valley. Mountains shot up from valley floor as individual monuments. To climb these would be to climb three different mountains, not like peak bagging along a ridge as is the case here in Colorado.

We made it to the lake after passing a very large waterfall. The wind here was intense. It was blowing snow and what seemed like small pellets of hail too. Ouch! While Derek was down exploring the falls, Erik and I managed to snap a few pics and were ready to get out of there once Derek had a peek at the lake. We made quick work of the decent and were soon back in the hostel warm and dry!

The next day we drove from Torridon to Broadford on the Isle of Skye. What a great drive! I love driving on the roads in Scotland. They are often one lane, including both directions with pull offs every so often to get around oncoming traffic. And the scenery just continues. We stopped at some points of interest, I had my first taste of Haggis in Lochcarron, we stopped at Strome Castle and Eilean Donan before heading out to Isle of Skye. We tried to make it to the Old Man of Storr, some stunning spires on the coast, but the weather was horrid and we could only barely make out their silhouettes through the snow.

The next morning we got up and went to try our luck with the Camus Croise Lighthouse for sunrise. It spit rain on us and the light never did develop, but it was a great morning in a beautiful spot none-the-less. We went back, cleaned up and then began our drive to Glencoe.

Another spectacular day on the road. We stopped again at Eilean Donan Castle, having a little better luck with the weather. We then followed the River Shiel through more mind numbing country, then turned south toward Ft. William and Glencoe. The next few hours were my favorite part of the trip.

We went to scout comp locations for shooting the Buachaille, an iconic Highlands peak. We poked around there for a bit, then turned south towards paradise! We stopped in the upper reaches of Glen Etive on the southeastern flank of the Buachaille to shoot some scenery as we were chasing the light on this picture perfect day. Heading deeper into Glen Etive, the scenery became more dramatic and idyllic. Huge mountains rising in all directions, the River Etive winding through the sweeping valley, waterfalls cascading down cliff faces, more red deer and stags than you could count, old rock walls, groves of pines and Lochan Urr, a small loch with a few pine laden island in the middle. The light was kissing this valley goodnight, making the scene just that much more dramatic. We were all speechless, Erik pulled over above the small loch and we all got out. Two swans swam out from behind one of the islands as Derek said in disbelief, "are those swans?" This is really the only time I can remember being literally speechless looking at a landscape. We all had nothing to say, making only sounds...sighs, deep breaths, and some laughter. It was just too much to take in. I think God may have spent a secret 8th day making this place.

As the light faded we reluctantly woke from whatever dream must have been Glen Etive and headed back toward the hostel in Glencoe. We stopped along the way for a few more shots in the glen and at Loch Leven in Glencoe before settling in for the night.

The following morning Erik and I got up and headed out to the Buachaille to try our luck. The weather was terrible. Wind blowing sheets of rain into the lens, frigid temps, fresh snow on the soggy ground and clouds blocking any chance for morning light. We did our best and then retired to the hostel for a relaxing day as it poured rain. I did manage to break away during a lull in the weather for an hour long run, which felt great. Though I was thoroughly soaked and bone chilled when I got back. Good training!

We warmed up and then headed over to the Clachaig Inn for a beer and some food. Yep, more haggis. I don't care what's in it, it's fantastic.

The next day we made the journey over to Iona. This was a blast and a very rewarding day in a lot of ways. The trek over there was fun. We drove to Oban, took a ferry to the Isle of Mull, a bus across Mull , then another ferry to Iona. We spent out four hours there taking pictures around the nunnery, some chapels, cemetery's and the Iona Abbey. We then walked a little of the island and found a flock of sheep in a cliffy green pasture to take some pictures of. We had to run to catch the last ferry of the day back to Mull so we could get back to our car in Oban, but we made it.

Now it's time to start the trip home. We traveled to Inverness, making a side trip to Tioram Castle and Glenn Finnan. Inverness was our induction back to reality. Though still a small town, there was the hustle and bustle that we all were glad to have been far from. We finally tracked down the hostel, made final adjustments to our packs and got ready for the marathon day of traveling that followed.

Inverness, to Gatwick, to Heathrow, to Chicago, to Denver, to Estes found me in bed after 27 hours of traveling. Luckily my mom and one of my sisters had arrived from Austin that morning, so the excitement of seeing them kept me awake on the drive up to Estes.

My first experience overseas was incredible and I hope to return to Scotland soon! I did learn some lessons... First off, avoid London if at all possible. What a horrid place. Next, if you don't rent a car, spend a little extra cash on direct transport from place to place. The public transport was pretty bad, at least in London. Finally, stay in Scotland much longer than a week! We didn't even get a chance to scratch the surface, there's just too much to see.

My Photos: HERE

    until next time...    
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