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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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