Scotland Through the Seasons: The Black Isle and Beyond

I’m waiting to catch the travel bug. I was born and brought up in Perth in central Scotland, on the edge of the Highland boundary fault; a geological divide between the dramatic landscapes of the Highlands and the more sedate rolling hills of the Lowlands. My parents bought their first touring caravan when I was three years old and, throughout my childhood, I spent my weekends and school holidays travelling around Scotland, sight-seeing, walking, cycling, and island hopping. I owned a globe and an atlas throughout my childhood and I loved learning about foreign countries and their cultures, flags and currencies; although I didn’t set foot on foreign soil until the age of twenty. Over time I’ve come to realise that my interest in the wider world is a means to understand my place within it – Scotland.

Buachaille Etive Mòr, Glen Coe, 1995 - Enjoying an unforgettable journey through the Highlands to Balmacara on the first day of the school summer holiday
Buchaille Etive Mor, Glen Coe, 1995 – Enjoying an unforgettable journey through the Highlands to Balmacara on the first day of the school summer holiday

As a nation, we Scots are a bit unappreciative of what’s on our own doorstep. I completely understand the desire to explore the wider world and to jet off to sunnier climes but I do get frustrated by the number of Scots who never venture into the Highlands. Surely these are some of the best landscapes in the world yet negative perceptions about the weather seem to stop people from travelling the short distance up here. As far as I can tell, climate is a contributing factor in the decision-making of every ex-pat and every Scot who chooses sun, sea and sand holidays over the Highlands and Islands. However, it’s one of the reasons I don’t have itchy feet. I complain as much as the next person about the cold temperatures, rain and lack of daylight in winter, but the truth is that I love the seasons and the ever-changing weather and light. As a landscape photographer working in Scotland, I’ll never get bored.

Thinking of my Black Isle home, my favourite months of the year are September and October when the melancholy feeling associated with the end of summer is counterbalanced by the achingly beautiful light of dawn and dusk, fields of golden hay bales, fleeting rainbows, and the turning of the trees from green to every shade of red and amber. There is a marked chill in the air when the Swallows, Swifts and Housemartins have departed and the Pink-footed Geese return in their thousands.

Golden Sunrise, Farness, Black Isle
Golden Sunrise, Farness, Black Isle – Autumnal light in a scenic landscape is a gift for the outdoor photographer.

Winter seems long and we’re never far away from the next storm which threatens to flatten my neighbour’s greenhouse and cut off my electricity supply for an afternoon. However the darkness, rain, wind and cold are temporarily forgotten when an anticyclone settles over the Highlands. The high pressure brings glorious winter days with clear skies overhead, crunchy frost underfoot, stunningly crisp air and long shadows cast by the winter sun sitting low on the horizon. These days are a landscape photographer’s dream and are some of my favourite days of the entire year.

Cullicudden Old Churchyard, Black Isle
Cullicudden Old Churchyard, Black Isle – A hidden gem on the north side of this Highland peninsula with views to Ben Wyvis, captured during a rare anticyclone in the wet, mild winter of 2015-16.

I rejoice as the light gradually returns in February. It feels like a minor miracle to come home from the office before the onset of dusk and while the birds are still singing. I jump for joy as temperatures rise and spring unfolds with its characteristic snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils and bluebells; lambs in the fields; and buds on the trees. There is a sense of having survived another winter and of life being re-born.

Bluebell Woods, Blairgowrie, Perthshire
Bluebell Woods, Blairgowrie, Perthshire – A carpet of bluebells signals the arrival of spring.

In summer, I love shuffling around in my flip flops and being able to set off on a bike ride in broad daylight at nine o’clock at night. It almost pains me to say it, but it’s not my favourite time of year. It’s the best season for outdoor pursuits (so long as the jet stream doesn’t inflict three months of rain on us, as it did in 2015), but not the most inspiring for landscape photography.

Springfield, Black Isle
Springfield, Black Isle – I love exploring the country roads and tracks close to my home in the Highlands of Scotland.

On the Black Isle in the height of summer, the sun rises at 4:20 am and sets at 10:20 pm. The light in between these unsociable hours is harsh and bright (providing it’s not overcast and wet) and the landscapes, whilst still attractive, are a monotonous green. At this time of year, I search out wildflowers growing on field margins and sunsets on the coast, in the hope of capturing a broader spectrum of colour. It’s no hardship though; I enjoy a break from the self-inflicted pressure of landscape photography when I can leave the camera bag at home and enjoy the freedom of exploring Scotland’s great outdoors on foot, two wheels, or in a sea kayak or canoe.

Saligo Bay, Islay
Saligo Bay, Islay – A serene sunset captured on the Inner Hebrides a few days before the summer solstice.

The weather and light are constantly changing in Scotland. This, combined with the sheer beauty and diversity of Scotland’s landscapes and their distinct seasonal transitions (not to mention our staggering 10,500 miles / 16,500 kilometres of coastline), means that the potential for landscape photography is endless. If the sun is shining, there’s nowhere else in the world that I’d rather be, regardless of the time of year.

Footnote: The above text is an extract from a guest blog I wrote earlier in the year, Reflections of a Scottish Landscape Photographer, published by Just A Pack. Follow this link to read the rest of the article and to pick up top tips from Just A Pack on inspiring, affordable and responsible travel. Thank you for your company on my whistle-stop tour through Scotland’s seasons on this week’s WordPress photographic challenge!

Click here to be re-directed to my website. 

35 thoughts

  1. You are right that there is so much beautiful scenery to be found in Scotland. (Even the Swiss love Scotland, so that must tell you something about the landscape – or maybe it’s the whisky that attracts them ! 😉 ) My wife and I will be visiting the very north west in May and we can’t wait… though we are keeping our fingers crossed for one or two dry days ! 🙂

    1. Spectacular landscapes and whisky is an inspiring combination! I too will keep my fingers crossed for some dry weather for your trip! I hope you have a brilliant time. 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing 🙂 my dream is to visit the Hylands some day, in the meantime I will enjoy it through you. I live in the Oregon Coast Range Mountains, our weather is rainy and cold a lot too, not as much snow though, and we don’t spend much time under 32 degrees, or even at 32 degrees very often. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you! You live a long way away from Scotland but I hope you make it over here some day and fulfill your dream of visiting the Highlands. It sounds as though you will get accustomed to the Scottish weather pretty quickly! 🙂

    1. Thank you Laura! Whilst wandering around this wood, I thought back to my university days when I read about Alexander von Humboldt’s field research in the Amazon in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Humboldt suffered from ‘sensory overload’ as he observed phenomena previously unseen by Europeans and failed to control himself rationally as a result. I definitely had a case of sensory overload when surrounded by a sea of bluebells and faced with endless compositions! After several hours, this emerged as my favourite and I was delighted to capture this photograph.

      1. Hey Karen, thank for the interesting story about Alexander von Humboldt. I can just imagine what he went through. Sometimes I do the same as you and spend hours trying to get the perfect capture, make sure I don’t miss anything (its easy to get carried away and go a bit crazy). Great photo though, so I think it was worth your time 🙂

  3. Fantastic, Karen! Your pictures are just breathtaking, very talented and professional work! Your friend’s text is charming! It was a real pleasure!

    1. Thanks very much Tess. I’ve had a really busy month and have been out with my camera a lot lately so there will be plenty more photographs to follow in due course! 🙂

  4. A fine advert for the Black Isle. I too am always surprised by the number of Scottish people I meet who have never ventured up the west coast – paradise on their doorstep and they have never been.

    1. Thank you Robin. It’s a lovely wee corner of the Highlands. I feel so fortunate to have had the upbringing my parents gave me. I can’t imagine who I would be as a person, where I would be living or what I would be doing with my life without my love of the Highlands and Islands.

  5. Karen – you gave us a thoughtful and personalized tour through Scotland’s seasons. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the expression anticyclone before. How is that different from a nice-weather system?

    1. Thank you, Annette! One of my biggest complaints about living in the city for many years was that I was hardly aware of the transition of the seasons. Now that I live in the countryside and am surrounded by agriculture, I’m aware of the time of year every day of the year. 🙂 Anticyclones are areas of high atmospheric pressure, bringing no clouds or rain and very little wind. We had one here over the weekend. The weather was glorious (albeit very cold) but I confess I missed having a few clouds in my landscape photographs!

    1. Thank you! I’m delighted that you’re keen to visit Scotland. You’re right. Not a day goes by when I don’t feel thankful to live in the Highlands.

  6. Beautiful! When I lived in Edinburgh I was always amazed how many people I worked with who didn’t even explore EDINBURGH let alone further afield. I’d come into work and be like “I cycled to Rosslyn at the weekend” or “I was exploring the Caledonian canal” and they’d be like “Why? What’s there?” It’s such a shame. I think there’s a lot of people who don’t have cars and can’t be bothered with sorting out the public transport to do anything fun but they’ll go on a plane to Prague or Spain.

    1. Thank you! You’re absolutely right. Everyone has different interests and expectations but I do believe people should explore their own backyards before venturing overseas, particularly when they live in a country as beautiful as ours.

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