Independent Canadian book publishers working in Dominica, W.I. specializing in coffee table books of architectural treasures and lush gardens. We also promote fine artistic photography. This blog contains unofficial reports and comments from our various trips, photo sessions, and jobs – an unofficial scrapbook of our travels, explorations and photo-related work. See “about” for more.

Posts tagged ‘Isle of Skye’

Photographing the Isle of Skye, Scotland (part 3)

If you missed our previous part of Skye experience, read it here.

First morning frost around the Storr.

The weather remained amazingly beautiful during our stay, perfect to hike another high point of Skye, the Quirang. You need to give yourself several hours for this walk. Firstly, weather can turn bad here quickly, and you may have a bit of hard time finding your way in the upper part of this sometimes challenging hike.

Dwarf trees on a sunny day.

Secondly, if weather is good – you will want, like us, to make frequent stops and enjoy panoramic views, bizarre rock formations of the Prison (to the  top of which you can get by taking one of the side paths), the Table with its surreal, flat top, and the Needle, which can offer a bit of a challenge to less experienced hikers. No, you don’t climb the Needle, this fascinating pinnacle is made up of terribly loose rocks. But you can get up next to it and enjoy more fantastic views.)

Quirang – “The Prison”


Another scenic trip worth taking is Elgol. It takes a long drive, mostly using single-lane, narrow roads. Views from the road are spectacular, and you will also see one of many Scottish wind farms – huge wind power generator stations, blending with landscape. Elgol opens to the Cuillins, highest mountain ridge on Skye. It is a destination for experienced climbers, but on a clear day you can have a look at the Cuillins from the shore in Elgol, or – if you have a bit extra time – you can take a boat tour getting deep inside the loch, to enjoy these mountains from a closer distance.

View from Quirang.

Elgol. Clouds over Cuillins.


Unfortunately, when we arrived to Elgol, Skye had it’s  “Eilean a’ Cheo” (Misty Isle) face on, and most mountains were covered by a thick fog. Still, it was beautiful, and the road there is very scenic…

Being already on the west side makes it easier to drive to perhaps the most unusual place on Skye – a remote, lone “coral beach”. It is worth the ride down the narrow road leading through moors and glens. After a short hike from the road’s end, you find yourself walking along the shore, full of dark, rough basalt rocks.

“Coral Beach”.

Nothing prepares you for that amazing view – just behind the next hill you will step down to something more proper for a Caribbean paradise – a small bay full of beautiful coral sand! You can see beautiful, light-blue water, sea shells and other beachcombers’ treasures. Enchanting, almost surreal, and amazingly out of place. A couple hundred yards of Caribbean paradise, nested among huge black volcanic rocks amidst a stark northern environment. It’s hard to believe you don’t see real coral.

It is all made up of pieces of dried, calcified and sun-bleached algae, known as maerl. On your way back look out to see the famous Dunvegan castle, the oldest continually inhabited castle in Scotland.

Jellyfish on Coral Beach.

While driving along the shore, you will also see some small lighthouses here and there, which reminded us of another interesting story: In 1963, two of Skye’s area lighthouse cottages, built by the Stevensons – in Ornsay and Kyleakin on the island of Eilean Ban – were sold to Gavin Maxwell, an author and naturalist. Maxwell’s enormously successful book “Ring of bright water,” tells the story of his friendship with an otter, set on the island. The otter, captured in Iraq, was a gift from Wilfred Thesiger, one of the greatest explorers and travel writers. They travelled together to the marshlands of southern Iraq, a trip that was later captured in their books.  Eilean Ban is now a wildlife sanctuary and a Maxwell’s museum.

Dunvegan Castle

As we decided to take a return bus back to Glasgow, this tiny island of Eilean Ban was the last place we saw on Skye from our window before reaching the mainland.
It is hard to believe we had spent only a few days here. It felt like several weeks, packed with constant joy of exploring and photographing breath-taking, beautiful places.
Thank you for stopping by!

View from main road on our way to the bridge.


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Commentary: Margaret Gajek and Derek Galon
Photographs: Derek Galon (please respect copyright)

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Photographing the Isle of Skye, Scotland (part 2)

If you missed our first part of Skye experience, read it here.

Sunrise and first frost on Skye. View from Dunyre Cottage. (see previous post)

Cut trees in Storr area

The Old Man of Storr is a magical place. The hike starts at the highway, but sadly its first 30 minutes lead you via an extensive forest clear-cut. Whatever the reason behind this massive operation, it looks sad and ugly, bringing to our minds the terrible, indiscriminate clear-cuts here on Vancouver Island, in Canada. Skye is voted one of the10 most beautiful islands in the world – and such operations should not be allowed – at least in such extensive form. Yet, driving around Skye, you will not fail to notice old stumps of cleared forest, extensive wastelands clashing with the natural beauty of this island.

The Storr formation

Once you are higher, the view becomes wide, beautiful, and you can enjoy the beauty of Skye once again. Sheep graze in the most remote and steep parts of the high hills, and the rocky Storr formation stands magnificently right above your head. At the top plateau, where the path ends – once again you feel you are in photographers’ paradise. The pinnacle called the Old Man stands magnificent right in front of you, a panoramic view of Skye and surrounding islands opens wide, the air is crisp and fresh. You are on top of things.

Our next stop is famous Lighthouse on the west coast of Skye.  The west coast presents the most hostile environment on the island. Battered by strong winds, spectacular high cliffs reach right up to the headlands. On one of them stands Neist Point lighthouse, impressive in this truly dramatic setting. It was built in 1909 by David and Charles Stevenson, who belonged to the long and distinguished dynasty that constructed almost one hundred major lighthouses in Scotland.

Old Man of Storr

It looks across the water to South Uist, an island in the Outer Hebrides and its lighthouse in Ushenish, built by Thomas Stevenson, the founder of the pioneering dynasty of Scottish engineers. He was greatly disappointed when his son Robert Louis Stevenson did not want to follow the family’s tradition choosing to pursue a literary career instead. A steep path leads to the lighthouse, but not many people know that in mid-way, already on the lower level – if you are not afraid of heights – you can step out of the known path, go to the right, traverse a meadow neatly trimmed by sheep, and enjoy a totally different view at the lighthouse.

The Lighthouse

Be careful though – you can see it only when you are just a few meters from the sharp, unprotected cliff. On a windy, rainy day, it can be really hazardous. We were lucky to have perfect weather, allowing me to set up my tripod and take some nice photographs. Thank you for stopping by.

Please stay tuned for more from Skye – coming soon!

On the way to Lighthouse


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Previous parts:  Train trip     Part 1

Commentary: Margaret Gajek and Derek Galon
Photographs: Derek Galon (please respect copyright)

Photographing the Isle of Skye, Scotland (part 1)

There are just a few passengers on the ferry from Mallaig, a fishing port on the mainland, to Armadale on the Isle of Skye. Most travellers prefer the more convenient option of reaching Skye – by car and taking the Skye Bridge, opened in 1995. From the ferry deck, the island looks beautiful and mysterious with the Cuillins, its highest mountains, enshrouded in mist. The ferry deposits us in a village near the end of Sleat peninsula, a place of lush vegetation and dense forests nowhere else to be found on the island.

So! We’ve arrived on Skye! Wow, what a beautiful trip that was! First – the fantastic West Highland Train from Glasgow to Mallaig, then a short but beautiful ferry hop, and a local bus to Portree, the island’s capital town.

Long distance call, anyone?

Once again it turned out that our thorough research on-line ahead of the trip paid off. Our car rental exceeded our expectations and simply is the finest car rental we’ve ever experienced! We booked our car on line with a company from Portree called M2 Motors. Not only did they offer the best deal on Skye, but their car hire service made our visit easier and nicer.

Portree – harbour area

How was it so? After a long flight, train trip, ferry, and a bus ride to the town of Portree, we were really tired, ready to crash. Add to it 8 hours of time zone difference, and you can understand we were simply  cooked. I expected car rental procedures to take half an hour or more.  To our surprise, our car was delivered to the bus station where we were met by a charming gentleman. He showed us the car, gave us the keys – and presto – after just quick formalities, off we went to our rented cottage!  To even greater surprise, we were told to simply drop off the car in the same place on our way home. Simple? Yes, very much so. And, to make it even nicer – when we were already getting off to Glasgow on our way back – the company manager popped in to the bus station, just to thank us for our business, and to wish us a good journey home! Wow! At 7am! Just to say “hi”! And did I mention – the little, peppy Renault was just perfect for what we wanted?

Early morning view at the Storr

M2 Motors made us feel more welcome on Skye, same as our nice host who rented us a tiny but nice Dunyre self-catering cottage. Yes, that was another lucky thing. Perfectly fitted for two or three persons, offering a fantastic view towards the Storr, modern equipment, internet, and an excellent price, Dunyre is run by very helpful and pleasant hosts who made our stay truly enjoyable. Yes, I know – this sounds like a “plug” – but both above businesses honestly deserve very highly to be known to the public for their above-average service. And if you happen to plan to visit Skye and Portree, then this may be a useful info for you.

Ok then, let’s get back to our story. You can find an astonishing variety of scenery on Skye. The Black Cuillins is the most spectacular mountain range with dark, jagged volcanic peaks. In the Trotternish Penninsula there is another ridge called Quirang, full of dramatic pinnacles and gullies. The ridge rises to its highest point at the summit at the Storr –  where years of erosion formed a distinctive pinnacle, the rock needle visible from a long distance: The Old Man of Storr. Between the ranges, undulated hills interpenetrate in a gentle way embellished by moors and cascading brooks. All that scenery is surrounded by extraordinary picturesque coastline, a smorgasbord of bays, hidden lochs, caves, tidal islands, massive cliffs and waterfalls.

Kilt Rock waterfall

What is making Skye’s scenery even more breathtaking is the extraordinary luminous quality of light. It creates a delicate chiaroscuro, a gentle transition between dark and light. It also helps the colours to be more saturated. Skye is situated rather far north; in December, winter nights last almost 18 hours, the 4 hours long nights in June are never totally black, they remain in a kind of twilight. 

Well, I had to stop the car sometimes every 100 meters! Views along the north east shore are nothing short of amazing. Just out of Portree – you get the view over the Storr formation. Morning light made it a spectacular photographic feast. Every hundred yards the view changed, with densely saturated colours of moors, rocks, cloudy sky, glens and tiny lakes. Skye is a photographer’s paradise! No wonder quite a number of celebrated photographers actually live there!
Next we arrived at Kilt Rock with the famous waterfall pouring down from a cliff straight into the sea. While the view of the waterfall itself is restricted by tight access to the shore, it is nonetheless spectacular and worth stopping your car. (If you plan to photograph it, try to be there in the morning, because around noon you will lose the direct sun on the water, which makes for sparkly and vivid display.)

rock landmarks (inuksuit)

After passing a few villages and stopping our car for a quick photo another dozen times, we came near to Quirang – another amazing area. Past the Quirang and Flodigarry, the very northern tip of Skye welcomed us with open views of the sea, and quite unexpectedly, with a display of rock landmarks (inuksuit) created by visitors over many years. 
Next, we went to Uig, driving a single-lane, winding road looking down at this small town connecting the northern isles via local ferry. A short drive from there, and we arrived at another stunning destination. One of the best examples of the more intimate scenery – The Fairy Glen, is a magical miniature landscape (obviously made by the magic of the fairies!) made up of grassy, cone-shaped hills and pockets of bizarrely  twisted bonsai-like trees.

Trees at the Fairy Glen

This tiny oasis stands among much higher hills and mountains like a land of garden gnomes. Perhaps the combination of awe-inspiring nature (sought by the Romantic artists as an experience of the Sublime), and of pastoral, more gentle landscape, is what makes Skye so truly exceptional. What an unexpected delight!
We returned to Portree tired and happy, and with plenty of photographs. For next day, we decided to go see the Old Man of Storr and the Neist Point Lighthouse – but this is another story, for another time…

One of many old croft cottages


Please stay tuned for more from Skye – coming soon!
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Next parts linked here:  part 2
Thank you for stopping by.

Commentary: Margaret Gajek and Derek Galon
Photographs: Derek Galon (please respect copyright)

West Highland Train – Glasgow to Mallaig, Scotland

Early morning photo from the train. Just out of Glasgow.

By any measure our trip to the Isle of Skye in Scotland was absolutely fantastic!
Although it was already late October, weather was summer-like. And of course people in Scotland – as always – were helpful and friendly. Not only did we take all the photographs for our client, but also did some extra sightseeing, ending up having lots of additional photos, as well as amazing memories.
While the whole trip was just over one week long, it was packed with memorable moments and activities. Therefore we decided to split our post into several separate parts, in order to share our memories with you in the best possible way.

Dark clouds add drama to green hills.

So here is the first part – the journey from Glasgow to Mallaig:
When we boarded the West Highland Train in Glasgow early in the morning, we didn’t expect such a spectacular journey ahead of us. We knew that West Highland Line was voted one of the best scenic train journeys in the world, but nothing prepared us for that fantastically picturesque delight.

views are getting better and better…

The view from the train starts to be interesting almost immediately after leaving the station. The train runs parallel to the River Clyde along its north bank. After that the landscape opens wide. The line continues to wind its way through glens, alongside lochs, across moors, climbing up the mountains. It goes through scarcely populated areas before reaching Rannoch Moor, a vast upland wilderness. Scenery changes as in a kaleidoscope. Stations’ names become more Gaelic sounding; we are now in the heart of the Highlands.

Constantly on alert – I had only couple of seconds from seeing this, to taking this photo.

The morning sky becomes light blue and sunny, all colours of the landscape are saturated after the rain. We are glued to the windows determined not to miss anything; one blink of an eye and the view will be lost forever. We enter “the Horse Shoe Curve”- instead of crossing the broad valley, the train makes a big, spectacular bend over the neighbouring hillsides. Next, for some people on the train comes the biggest attraction: the Glenfinnan Viaduct, the biggest bridge on the line, featured in the “Harry Potter” films.

Near Rannoch train station

For us, the highlight of this trip comes next, past Fort William: the incredibly picturesque Loch Eilt, studded with tiny islands with towering trees. After crossing several viaducts and tunnels, we can already catch a glimpse of the sea. Our journey ends in Mallaig, a fishing port and a gateway to the north-west islands.

the Glenfinnan Viaduct – recognize it from Harry Potter?

The whole 264 km journey takes over 5 hours, but we felt like watching an incredibly fascinating 2- hour movie. If not for the train, it would be otherwise impossible to see such a stunning variety of Scottish landscape in such a short time. West Highland Line was built over the period of almost 40 years starting from 1863.

Beautiful Loch Eilt with dozens of tiny islands

The latest extension – from Fort William to Mallaig – was opened in April 1901. Since then, the train gives a chance to experience one of the most memorable rail journeys in the world.

We plan to take a ferry from Mallaig to one of the biggest Scottish islands, the Isle of Skye. For us, the West Highland Train is only the beginning.

ruins of a  house on a moor

Thank you for reading, please SHARE with friends, and if you like it – click FOLLOW to get notified when next parts are posted.
Story – Margaret Gajek, author of multi-awarded books Exotic Gardens of the Eastern Caribbean and Tropical Homes of the Eastern Caribbean
Photography – Derek Galon (please respect copyright).

Until next time, cheers!
Derek

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