A good photograph is knowing where to stand - Ansel Adams

Sligachan Glen, Skye
Sunday, 05 April 2009 21:08

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Sgurr Nan Gillean

“Imagine Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ frozen in stone and hung up like a colossal screen against the sky. It seems as if Nature when she hurled the Cuillins up into the light of the sun said: ‘I will make mountains which shall be the essence of all that can be terrible in mountains. I will pack into them all the fearful shapes. Their scarred ravines, on which nothing shall grow, shall lead up to towering spires of rock, sharp splinters shall strike the sky along their mighty summits, and they shall be formed of rock unlike any other rock so that they will never look the same for very long, now blue, now grey, now silver, sometimes seeming to retreat or to advance, but always drenched in mystery and terrors” – HV Morton

Glen Sligachan on the Isle of Skye is well worth the trip, and don’t let HV Morton terrify you into staying at home. The glen lies in the shadow of the foreboding and atmospheric Sgurr Nan Gillean of the Black Cuillin mountain range, and the rivers that run through it have numerous waterfalls as well as an attractive stone bridge. On Skye, don’t be surprised to experience the proverbial three to four seasons in one day, but unlike other locations this can be counted quite a blessing, as a moody sky is certainly the most fitting backdrop for the Cuillin... Just be prepared for the challenge of keeping your kit dry.

On first arrival, you will likely fix your eyes firmy on the obvious photographic opportunities such as the River Sligichan bridge and Cuillin mountains, but you'll need to leave the tarmac behind to find some of the glen's real gems. A small private road on the left, about half a mile east on the A837 from Hotel Sligichan will lead you past the wonderfully situated Alltdearg House to a well defined path toward Glen Brittle. The path will take you along the banks of Allt Dearg Mor, and past a number of waterfalls on the way. The position of each of the larger falls allows you to compose your shots with the mountains of Sgurr Nan Gillean and Am Basteir as a backdrop.

Alternately, a walk along the River Sligichan will reveal a few smaller rapids that will photograph well in the right conditions. If you have the inclination for a long walk, the path to the stunning Loch Coruisk meets the road just east of the bridge and heads south down the glen. It's a long walk across country though, and the weather on Skye is apt to change in a heartbeat so go well equipped for a change in the weather.

On the recommended equipment list is a tripod as well as a reasonably wide angle lens. Additionally, if you take a neutral density filter, you'll probably get some use from it to slow down exposures of the Allt Dearg Mor waterfalls. Also a graduated neutral density filter might be useful to hold back the contrast of the skies.

The glen is quite isolated being many miles from the nearest town, but the nearby Sligachan Hotel will serve as a convenient watering hole or place to stay at the end of a what can easily become a long day. In addition, there is a large campsite situated across the road from the hotel. I can’t speak for the lodgings at the hotel, as I stayed at the aforementioned campsite, but I did become rather well acquainted with the local Skye Brewery Real Ale in the hotel bar. Both the Black and Red Cuillin Ale are highly recommended by yours truly, as is Talisker Single Malt, which is distilled less than ten miles from Sligachan in Carbost and shares the peaty characteristics of the Islay malts.

Unless you are suitably experienced in the mountains, I wouldn't attempt to climb any of the nearby Black Cuillin, especially in the winter months. A nearby mountain rescue helipad has a stone memorial to those that have lost their lives on the these mountains that bears witness to this advice. Few routes can be attempted without some degree of difficult or exposed scrambling. To add to the difficulties, the bridge to the foot of Sgurr Nan Gillean had been washed away in a flood prior to my last visit, and access to the mountain was via a leap over Allt Dearg Mor that I certainly didn't like the look of with a then brand-new EOS 30D around my neck... And if I'm honest with myself, it was my neck I was worried about as much as the camera!

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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.

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