A good photograph is knowing where to stand - Ansel Adams

Castle Stalker, Appin
Wednesday, 01 December 2010 21:40

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Castle Stalker

Castle Stalker, or Caisteal an Stalcaire as it's named in Scots Gaelic, is a 14th century fortified tower house situated on a small tidal islet in the waters of Loch Laich. The castle has the tidal nature of it's islet to thank for many of it's most unique facets; not only has it kept it one of the best preserved medieval tower houses in Scotland, but being located in the sheltered waters of the loch so close to the mainland, it is also a real treat for a photographer.

What makes Castle Stalker such a visual treat is not just the waters of Loch Laich that surround it however. Perhaps it isn't even the castle itself, which in amonsgt some other more spectacular Scottish castles is a somewhat plain and functional looking building. Rather it is the castle's surroundings that make the journey worthwhile; with views of the Isle of Lismore and the Morvern Hills in the background, and the tree-lined shores of the mainland to either side.

The castle is similar in some respects to the recently featured Eilean Donan Castle, though there are some notable and important differences. While Eilean Donan is accessible via a short (and very atractive) bridge, there is no easy access to Castle Stalker. That's not to say that access isn't possible of course, it's just that you'll need to plan a bit more carefully than a cursory glance at a tide table. Tours are availble during the summer months only, and I understand they must be pre-booked. A good starting point for planning a trip around the castle itself would be Castle Stalker's official website.

Another important difference, is that while Eilean Donan was extensively refurbished in 1932, and as such bears the apperance of a more recent structure, Castle Stalker remains largely authentic to the period. It seems that the castle has mostly escaped the ravages of time, and perhaps more importantly, the marauding English armies of the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

I'll often plan a trip to locations such as this based around the time of the high tide, however for Castle Stalker I would tend to make an exception. At a high tide, much of the stony shore will be concealed, and you may perhaps have more difficulty finding foreground interest. If time permits however, it's always worth hanging around, or perhaps having a long and lazy lunch around midday and being present for both tides. The changeable nature of the Scottish climate means potentially rapid changes in weather conditions, and patience can really pay off.

Although the castle is quite close to the shore, you'll probably be best rewarded by lenses of 50mm (assuming a 1.6x crop factor) and upwards, and at high tide especially, you'll likely want at least a short telephoto to capture close-up detail. It's also worth mentioning that it's possible to view the castle from many different nearby locations, and from quite a distance away in some cases, so a still longer lens might be a useful addition to your bag. It will have an added benefit of allowing you to compress perspective somewhat, perhaps bringing those cloud covered hills closer to the action.

In in interesting sidenote, the Castle's official website mentions that "in around 1620 the Castle passed into the hands of the Campbells of Airds as a result of a drunken wager by the 7th Stewart Chief, Duncan." In the spirit of this, you might want to stop for a drink at the nearby Castle Stalker View Cafe, which is of course fully licensed and perhaps more importantly has some spectacular views looking down onto Castle Stalker and the Island of Lismore, Loch Linnhe and the Morvern Hills.

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I am on a constant lookout for new and interesting locations. If you know of a potentially photogenic location you'd like to see included in the guide, please let me know.