Northumberland Archives | North Photo
Wild Camping: Galloway Forest

Wild Camping: Galloway Forest

 

Following the success of our wild camping at Glen Etive and Glen Affric in 2016, a friend and I planned a wild camping trip up in the Scottish Highlands for April 2017. We had great designs to visit Loch Shiel and Loch Sunart, via a stop over at Kilchurn Castle and Loch Awe, but once we were a few days off leaving it became clear the weather was against us. In fact the forecast for the Loch Shiel area was heavy snow, with a 'feels like' temperature of -14 C... maybe not then!

So with only a couple of days' to go, we needed a new plan. After some intensive research, we settled on the Galloway Forest Park in Dumfries and Galloway, specifically Loch Riecawr and Glentrool. And I'm glad we did - the Forest Park is a beautiful place, with huge dark skies, rugged wilderness, some lovely lochs and vast forests.

Loch Riecawr

 

Loch Riecawr was our first stop off. A wonderfully wild place, the area surrounding the east, west and south of the loch is seemingly made up of forest,  tussock grass (I call it moon grass) and boggy ground. That made it rather difficult to navigate our way around the loch to find a suitable spot for the tents. We dd though, in the heart of the forest on the south side of the loch.

It was also pretty windy; whilst sheltered within the forest the winds were unrelenting on the banks of the loch which made photography quite challenging. But I set up with the excellent Lee Big Stopper and took this 4-minute exposure of the loch:

Long exposure of Loch Riecawr
Long exposure of Loch Riecawr

Part of the reason for choosing the southern side of the loch for our home for the night was the hope of a clear sky. By looking north over the loch, I hoped to be able to photograph some star trails around the North Star. But it was mainly cloudy on the two nights we were there - in fact it snowed a fair bit too!

This is the best I could get, taken at around 2am:

Loch Riecawr under the stars
Loch Riecawr under the stars

Loch Doon and Dalcairney Falls

 

We also spent a day exploring Loch Doon and Dalcairney falls - Loch Doon is an impressively long loch, with the ruins of the aptly named Loch Doon Castle.

But for me, Dalcairney Falls was the highlight of the day. It's a shortish walk to the falls, and once there it's a midly challenging scramble down and across the water to get to the viewpoint we chose. Photography was quite tricky due to the weather swiftly alternating between hail, snow, rain and bright sunshine. But with some perserverance I got these two photos:

Dalcairney Falls near Loch Doon
Dalcairney Falls near Loch Doon
Dalcairney Falls near Loch Doon
Dalcairney Falls near Loch Doon

Glentrool

 

Following two nights at Loch Riecawr, we spent a night in the local town of Newton Stewart at the Creebridge House Hotel. Nice place, with a great Scottish breakfast. From there, we headed back up to Glentrool and Loch Trool. Quite different from the rugged wilderness of Loch Riecawr, Glentrool is very pretty and picturesque. I won't reveal the exact spot for our camp that night, as I wouldn't want to risk spoiling the location, but we found an excellent spot looking right over the loch.

It was a little eerie though: at one point (around 11pm I think), we heard bagpipes playing from somewhere near Bruce's Stone...

Loch Trool from a southern peninsula
Loch Trool at sunset
Loch Trool in Black & White
Loch Trool in Black & White
Trees on the banks of Loch Trool
Trees on the banks of Loch Trool
Sunbusrt in Glentrool
Sunbusrt in Glentrool

I'd highly recommend visiting the Galloway Forest Park if you haven't already. Ideal for walking, mountain biking, stargazing and of course responsible wild camping, it's high up my list now.

Thanks for reading :-)

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Sycamore Gap Under the Stars

Sycamore Gap Under the Stars

 

 

Sycamore Gap is one of the most famous trees in Britain. Fact. So much so that it recently won England's Tree of the Year 2016 and has been entered for the European Tree of the Year 2017 - vote here if you're reading this during February 2017.

 

Not just one of the UK's favourite trees, Sycamore Gap also made a cameo appearance in Kevin Costner's Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. But aside from all that, it is an incredible spot, surrounded by the ancient history of Hadrian's Wall with sharp rises and dramatic dips.

 

I've photographed the tree a number of times, but the elusive photo for me has been capturing the stars over the gap. Each time I have tried, it has been cloudy or foggy. But between Christmas and New Year, the conditions looked just right: clear skies, no moon and I was off work... So I took the trip over to find it near perfect up there.

 

The number of stars was just incredible. The sky was absolutely full of them...

Sycamore Gap stars
Sycamore Gap under the stars, with the Milky Way to the right

Star Trails

 

My overall aim for the night was to capture star trails over Sycamore Gap. If you're not familiar with star trails and how they're photographed, they are normally created by taking a series of consecutive photographs over an hour or more, then merging them using software like StarStax.

The effect of this creates trails across the sky: the length of which depends upon the length of time spent taking the photos. The number of trails seen are down to the number of stars present and picked up by the camera. For example, the star trails I photographed in Glen Affric were a lot less dense as there was a full moon, meaning less stars were visible.

So I set up next two to other photographers I met on the night: Anthony Johnston and Gavin Smith - nice guys. I left the camera taking a series of 30 second photos for an hour and 45 minutes: 177 photos in total. If you're interested, the camera settings were manual exposure, manual white balance, f/4 aperture, ISO 1600 and the lens at 16mm.

To create the photo below I only used 90 of the photos - because of the number of stars present the full set overwhelmed the image with trails. I stacked them in 'Comet' mode, which creates the softer look of the trails that you see - in essence each star looks a little like a comet's tail.

Sycamore Gap Star Trails
Star trails above Sycamore Gap

So that's it - a goal realised. Delighted I got to do it, and it was a great experience.

Next goal is to capture the Northern Lights over the tree... although that may be a fair way into the future...

 

Thanks for reading, and as ever feel free to read some of my other blog posts and check out my galleries.

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My 7 best photos of 2016

North Photo's 7 best photos of 2016

To mark the end of 2016 I've collated what I believe are my best photos from the year. 2016 has been an interesting year for me - plenty of work, lots of fun and some very enjoyable photography trips.

I've been wild camping in the Scottish Highlands, had a few treks through forests, visited plenty of waterfalls and seen some huge skies full of stars.

Gordale Scar, Yorkshire Dales

Gordale Scar was somewhere I'd been planning to visit for some time. A trip down to Manchester in September gave me a great opportunity to come home via Malham and the mighty Gordale Scar. It's a genuinely impressive sight, and with its towering ruggedness it really suits the term 'Scar'.

I love this photo as it captures the scale of the gorge and the nature of the terrain, the the moody skies give it a sense of foreboding. And most people tend to focus on either the waterfall (behind me in this photo) or the views leading into the Scar, so it's quite nice to have something a touch different.

Have a read through this post to find out more about Gordale Scar and to see the other photos from my visit.

Glen Etive, Highlands

 

In April I set off up to the Highlands to spend a week wild camping, walking and taking photos. A dream come true in many senses, it was an incredible week with perfect weather, clear night skies and some of the most awe-inspiring scenery I have ever seen.

The first stage of the trip was around Glencoe and Glen Etive - I have selected this photo of Glen Etive as one of my favourites. Glencoe was more dramatic, and arguably more photogenic, but it's been done to death by so many. Glen Etive, on the other hand, is effectively a 12-mile dead-end down a single track road, meaning it's a destination rather than a via point. It's still popular though, and it's easy to see why: it is truly gorgeous.

For me, this photo symbolises more than just a nice loch and some mountains - it is a memory of a stunning place and the start of a great week. And I quite like the look of it in black and white...

Hindhope Linn Trail, Kielder Forest

 

A more recent trip took me over to the eastern fringes of Kielder Forest, with the intention of visiting the rather pretty Hindhope Linn waterfall. The fog was settling and it brought out the ambience of the surrounding forest - casting a heavy silence, but for the occasional birdsong and the sounds of nearby cascades.

Whilst I enjoyed exploring the waterfall, the real attraction for me was the forest itself. Because of the weather, and with plenty of autumn colours still present, it made a great subject.

The best picture of the trip in my opinion was this one - I love the curved tree and feel it adds something to the trail and misty trees.

Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin, Highlands

 

 

The second phase of my spring Highlands adventure was further north, up and around the Glen Affric area. Nestled within the glen are two linked lochs: Loch Affric and Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin, the later of which was the focus for much of my time there.

I camped up on a little nearly-island (it was still connected to the mainland by a narrow sand bank), and on the eastern edge of the island sat a lone Silver Birch protruding out of the rocky shore. It caught my eye immediately, so with clear skies that night I set up the camera for about two hours' worth of consecutive photos.

Stitching around 200 of these photos together (using a piece of free software called StarStax) produced the image you'll see below: star trails over Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin.

Loch Affric, Highlands

 

 

Staying with the highlands adventure, I've also picked out this vista of Loch Affric and the distant Kintail Mountains as one of my favourite photographs of the year.

I climbed up to the vantage point on a whim really, I hadn't set out to go there but saw the opportunity and thought it would be too good to miss. And it was certainly worth the short climb; the near 360 degree views were stunning. The sun was starting to drop whilst I was up there, and it cast a wonderful light over the loch and the Kintail Mountains in the background. It was a bit windy though!

It's actually a quite easy spot to get to if you're in Glen Affric - drive west to the furthest car park which sits between Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin and Loch Affric, and opposite the car park follow the signposted path up the hillside to the view point.

 

Sycamore Gap, Northumberland

 

Sycamore Gap is widely regarded as one of the most photographed places in Northumberland. But that doesn't stop me going - apart from its fame through Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and winning England's Tree of the Year 2016, it truly is a magnificent spot. The sole tree sits perfectly nestled in a dramatic dip in Hadrian's Wall.

I've taken many a photo up there over the years, but the one scene that has proved elusive to me is the grand old Sycamore sitting under the starry night sky. Each time I've tried, I've been met with clouds or fog. Until late December 2016, when the lack of work, clear skies forecast and no moon meant ideal conditions to give it another go. And it was a success!

My aim was to capture star trails, much like those in the Loch Beinn a’Mheadhoin photo above. They came out very well, as you can see in this post - but I ended up preferring the single shot showing the vast array of stars, including part of the Milky Way, Polaris (the North Star) and - if you look closely - the Plough.

Blawearie, Northumberland

 

Another interesting wander took me across the moors in north Northumberland to two key places: Cateran Hole and Blaewearie.

Blaewearie is a ruined farmstead near Old Berwick, reportedly derelict since the 1940s. The name Blaewearie is believed to mean "tired of the wind" and is certainly in a very remote rural setting. It's a great place to explore, with the ruins of the farm buildings, the remains of a landscaped garden and even what looks like an outside netty.

From the right angles, there is a stunning backdrop of the Cheviot Hills, which was my choice of images as you can see below.

Needless to say I'm looking forward to more adventures during 2017, including another wild camping trip back to the Highlands in the spring.

If you'd like to know more about my suggestions for places to photograph in the North East, have a look at my posts on 7 of the best photo spots in Northumberland and 7 stunning North East waterfalls.

Thanks for reading, and keep an eye on my blog and Facebook page for more photos, trips and top photography tips.

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Hindhope Linn in Kielder Forest

Hinhope Linn and Kielder Forest

Hindope Linn, situated on the eastern fringes of Kielder Forest, is a firm favourite of mine. A nice waterfall in its own right, it's the surrounding forest and the nearby Blakehope Burn that really make it what it is. So on a day off work, with a bit of fog forecast, it seemed the perfect destination for a walk and a few photos.

The Fog

Hindhope Linn sits a short walk away from Forest Drive just off the A68. On the way up there, the fog was rather dense so I stopped up near Kirkharle for a look around. Sitting in the middle of a nearby field was an excellent, and quite eerie looking, lone tree shrouded by the fog.

Definitely worth further investigation, I hopped over the barbed wire fence (don't tell the farmer) and set up for a few shots. This was the result:

Fog-shrouded lone tree
Fog-shrouded lone tree

Glad I stopped - but unfortunately I slipped when climbing back over the barbed wire fence... two puncture wounds and three cuts to my hand and thigh later... it was worth it though!

Hindhope Linn Trail

If you've never been to Hindhope Linn before it's quite easy to find. Head north up the A68 towards the border - in between Rochester and Byrness you'll see the left turn onto Forest Drive into Kielder Forest. Take this road and as soon as you cross the small bridge there's parking on the left next to a public toilet block. Park here then head up the track past the farm and keep an eye open for the well-signposted path to Hindhope Linn on the right. Simply follow the track (and the orange arrows) and you're there. There are a couple of maps further down this post if you need them.

This is one of the nicest stretches of the trail:

Hindhope Linn Trail
The Hindhope Linn Trail

A little further on the path forks. Take the right-hand fork and you'll descend to a small bridge from which you can see Hindhope Linn, upstream from a smaller cascade by the bridge.

Hindhope Burn
Hinhope Burn with Hindhope Linn in the distance

Walking upstream leads you directly to Hindhope Linn, a pretty waterfall nestled in amongst the forest undergrowth. It's easy to cross the burn if you wish to have a nosy around, otherwise it's a dead end as there's no easy way up the sides.

Hindhope Linn
Hindhope Linn

Blakehope Burn

Heading back down to the small footbridge, the main river is the Blakehope Burn which is well worth exploring in its own right. Meandering and cascading off to the east, there are swirling pools and beaches full of shiny pebbles set in gorgeous forest surroundings.

Blakehope Burn
Blakehope Burn

You can continue to follow the path along the burn before it diverts up a curling set of steps into the forest, eventually joining the Hindhope Burn upstream from the waterfall. I'd highly recommend taking the time out to explore further while you're there.

Hindhope Linn Trail
The path alongside Blakehope Burn

Location

As mentioned above, it's easy to find Hindhope Linn. But in case you're not familiar with the area, here are a couple of maps to show the location:

Hindhope Linn Map

I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on Hindhope Linn (by the way, I'm never sure if the 'Hind' in Hindhope should be pronounced to rhyme with 'binned' or 'bind' - any ideas?) and Kielder Forest - please leave your comments below.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to check out my other posts and photos. You may enjoy my posts about 7 stunning North East waterfalls and 7 of the best photo spots in Northumberland.

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Hillhead Tunnel

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St Oswald’s Way at Howdiemont Sands

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