Christmas in the Hebrides

I spent Christmas this year in the Outer Hebrides, the northernmost Western Isles off the coast of Scotland, the largest of which is Lewis and Harris.

Lewis, famed for its chessmen and Callanish stones, has a peaty heartland with windswept beaches of sand and rock chiselled by the Atlantic ocean in the west and the Minch in the east, whilst Harris in the south has a more mountainous landscape with shores of rock, sand and dune. A small town called Tarbert links these two land masses and the Isle of Skye via its ferry terminus.

In weather parlance, all four seasons in one day is an understatement here. The skies and light change from minute to minute as clouds bearing rain roll in from the Atlantic and cascade down onto the land and seas below… it is this very meteorological volatility that makes this terrain such an exhilarating challenge to capture photographically as the winds whip up the seas into a untameable frenzy of action and acoustic resonance, and pelt the photographer with icy water in all its forms…a particular umbrella challenge.

I love the sea and am being drawn to it increasingly. Perhaps it’s because I live so far away from the ocean in West Yorkshire that I yearn it so much, but I believe that there are certain features within the landscape that the species homosapiens in our very cores appreciate.

Day 1 after arriving in Tarbert, I drove southwest before sunrise in the dark along an unfamiliar road. The windscreen wipers stroked the glass smoothing the rain momentarily before my view was obscured once more by the rain hitting me hard, and this mechanical whir was suddenly broken by the awareness of cracking waves. I stopped but could not see anything. I wound down the window momentarily to be hit hard with the rain necessitating rapid repositioning of the glass. I had no idea where I was. I wasn’t lost as such as there was only one road, but I had no idea how far I’d travelled and could only guess what lay below… but within 10 mins, as my eyes became accustomed to the twilight, I could see that my momentary parking spot overlooked the Sound of Taransay and some formidable rocks below. My heart raced with excitement…I knew I had come to somewhere pretty special.

This image was captured at high tide at Bagh Steinigidh with the uninhabited Isle of Taransay in the distance beyond. The golden tones in the sky came from the early dawn rays blotted by the approaching storm clouds and the wave action is conveyed by choosing a slower shutter speed. I had been on the beach a while before this opportunity presented itself. The wind had been strong and the passing rain squalls had hit me several times leaving me cowering behind rocks with my umbrella praying I didn’t lose everything to the elements. Patience paid off thankfully and eventually provided me with the wonderful opportunity to capture this beautiful oceanic vista