Patty’s Camino Francés adventure during September-October 2016 got us hooked on long distance hiking. At the end of that trip, we were having drinks on the patio of the Hotel Playa de Estorde in Cee, Spain, when we struck up a conversation with a couple of guys who had also just finished the Camino de Santiago Compostela. One of them, whose name was Kent, was from Scotland, and so I asked him, “What is the best hike in Scotland, and when is the best time of year to do it?”. He said that the best hike in Scotland is from Glasgow, north to Fort William, along the 96-mile West Highland Way (WHW), and the best time to do it is before the last week in May, because that’s when the midges come out. With further conversation, it was clear to me that this guy knew what he was talking about. And so we filed this away, and started musing about our next adventure.
This post is the first of 18 (in forward chronological order) that together describe the trip we took to Scotland in the late spring of 2017, and which included our hike along the WHW. In these posts you will find details and lessons learned regarding the photographic and travel aspects of our trip. Many of the photos in these posts simply provide a photographic record. Those which I consider to be some artistic quality will be included in the Portfolio section of this website, in this case under the category Travel.
The featured image for this post shows the view looking northwest from the West Highland Way (WHW) on the eastern face of Meall a’ Bhuiridh (‘Hill of the Bellowing of Stags’), in the Scottish Highlands, on approach to the village of Kingshouse (approximately 1-1/4 miles off towards the right, and 210 ft below). Kingshouse took its name after British troops were billeted there following the Battle of Culloden, which took place on April 16, 1746, on Culloden Moor, near Inverness. It was at the Battle of Culloden that 1500-2000 Jacobites and approximately 300 British troops lost their lives in the Jacobites’ failed attempt to return the House of Stuart to the British crown after the death of Queen Anne. Kingshouse was our final destination for the hiking portion of this trip, 24 miles short of the WHW terminus at Fort William.
The foreground shows a WHW marker post standing in a field of dormant heather. The symbol on the post is that of a thistle flower within a hexagon. The prickly purple thistle was adopted as the Emblem of Scotland during the rein of Alexander III (1249 -1286). Legend has it that an Army of King Haakon of Norway, intent on conquering the Scots, had landed at the Coast of Largs at night to surprise the sleeping Scottish Clansmen. In order to move more stealthily under the cover of darkness, the Norsemen removed their footwear. As they drew near to the Scots, one of Haakon’s men stepped on a thistle and shrieked out in pain, alerting the Clansmen of the advancing Norsemen, and allowing them to seize the day.
In the center of this photo, at distance, is Glen Coe (valley of the River Coe), which is considered one of the most spectacular and beautiful places in Scotland. Twelve miles down the glen lies Glencoe village at Loch Leven, site of the February 1692 Massacre of Glencoe, where 38 men from Clan Donald were killed by their British military guests, and another 40 women and children died of exposure after their homes were burned. This action was based on the perceived delay in the clan’s taking an oath of allegiance to the King of England in return for pardon for their role in the Jacobite uprising (Leaders of the British troops were ultimately punished.). Glen Coe was formed by a retreating ice age glacier, leaving the entrance flanked by Buachaille Etive Mor (‘The Great Herdsman of Etive’, summit at 3,353 ft) on the left, which the Scottish Mountaineering Club lists as one of Scotland’s 282 ‘munros’, or mountain summits over 3,000 ft, and the Aonach Eagach ridge on the right.
I give you all this detail to illustrate that, even a photo as simple as this may have an epic story to tell. As a photographer, my challenge is to stimulate you to explore such images, and to tickle your curiosity as to the story that lies behind them. Enjoy my attempts at doing so.