It’s always the same for me, I get so engrossed in the running of an event such as the one we’ve just done in Mull, trying to sort logistics and admin and generally making sure everyone is OK, that I just cruise through the week looking forwards and not considering what we’ve been up to until sometime later.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m ‘in the moment’ with the action as it happens, but there’s always an undercurrent of safety, timings, adjustments, going around in my head ‘just in case’.
So now I find myself able to examine what we’ve achieved on our latest trip to the Isle of Mull, and to decide whether or not we’ve managed to make best use of our opportunities.
Of course, in a week, we barely scratched the photographic surface of the potential on Mull, but still,
given our group size and mode of travel, we did an awful lot of the island, with some of the group getting to other islands nearby too.
As lovely as the minibus is, it’s still a 10 hour schlepp up to Tobermory and we all ached to some degree. Cakes and biscuits especially baked for us by Jan went a long way to lifting spirits though, even if it was difficult to get past Al to get at them! It was nice to get unloaded and billeted at the Park Lodge hotel. The welcome from Claire on reception made us feel at home immediately.
Because of the weather, adjustments had to be made on the hoof, and the first full day (Sunday) was spent gathering our senses after the long drive up from the Blackpool Home.
Tobermory and Calgary Bay were first on the agenda, and at both locations everyone was free to wander and look for their best shots. Carole, bless her heart, had taken it upon herself to sort out all the packed lunches and flasks each morning from the hotel kitchen, a task she undertook with relish, she kept us all on time, fed and watered and thoroughly spoilt all week. That was a massive help, thank you Carole x.
Tobermory is a beautiful little harbour town, very picturesque, and the iconic ‘coloured houses’ shot was enhanced by Steve Barnes (image above) who managed to take a cracking shot with the Blesma minibus emerging from the street beside them. It was a good chance settle down and have some quiet time thinking about settings and composure. It was great to see our group setting up tripods and asking/answering questions together. Although cloudy, the backdrop of the hills and sea lent itself perfectly to our needs.
Calgary Bay is a secluded white sand beach with an impossibly blue/green sea, encircled by high craggy hills. Pete soon had his all-terrain BOMA wheelchair out and was off down the beach with a camera and huge lens attached. He stayed with us for all of two minutes, then the next I saw of him he was on the other side of the bay going for the land speed record.
The weather was starting to worsen, so we headed for Art in Nature, a café just inland from the bay. All sorts of driftwood art is produced there, and the coffee shop is really welcoming. A good lesson was learnt as we counted heads for coffee, Steve had been left down on the beach! Luckily, he’s a resourceful chap and he hitched a lift in the next car that came along (only about half a mile), but he looked at us all suspiciously for a few minutes while Brendan pretended to be asleep.
Monday saw us heading for Iona, the weather hadn’t improved much, so rather than brave the elements with photographic gear, we spent the day travelling down the island, stopping here and there to admire the views en route. We gained a dog at Benmore Estate as we stopped to secure Pete’s wheelchair more firmly, it just wandered up and joined in with us, bless it. The road to Iona is part of the annual Isle of Mull rally route, and JF kindly gave us a taster of what it feels like to take part.
Travelling along Loch Scridain, we came to a stretch of road that looked out across towards the Burg area of Mull. Signs on the side of the road warned motorists to beware of ducks on the road, and a café beside an ornate stone bridge made for an impromptu coffee stop. The owners were absolutely lovely hosts, veterans themselves, and they made us feel so welcome. Lovely coffee and Jan’s cake overlooking the beautiful loch enticed us to stay and take some pictures. A really nice hour in the company of lovely people. No charge for the coffee, just a request to call back when we were next in the area. That’s how Mull is.
Once at the ferry to cross to Iona, Mike decided he needed to do an impromptu forward recce and boarded the boat before the tickets were purchased. As the ramp was drawn up with only him from our group aboard, he let out a little bit of wee in excitement, which turned into a torrent as the ferryman asked for his ticket. The rest of the group sat on the quayside eating our packed lunches quietly once the howls of laughter had died down.
St Columba set up a monastery on the island back in the day, and it draws the God squad from all over the country. It really is an isolated and peaceful setting, perfect for some thoughtful landscapes. Although cloudy, the light started to improve whilst we were there and some great pictures were captured.
After Iona, we headed back up the main road to Tobermory to edit our pictures and enjoy our meal at the hotel. JF’s rallying was really getting good by this point too.
Tuesday was something of a treat for me. The Stone Circle at Loch Buie was somewhere I’d come across a few years ago when I was on walkabout.
Access to the ancient circle is via a public path, but it’s an arduous slog through marshy ground for quite some distance. I’d never been there when the rhododendron were in bloom, and the whole area is covered in them. The backdrop of the craggy hills really makes this a special place.
Luckily, on a previous visit, I’d spoken to the owner of the land on which the Stone Circle is sited, and asked if there was another way in for people in wheelchairs. She said there was, and that I could take our group to their ‘courtyard’ to access it when we came. Wow, it was a spectacularly beautiful spot we drove through to get to the estate, and as we arrived a Stag was peacefully grazing in a meadow nearby. We introduced ourselves to the owner of the estate and headed for the Circle. Mike had brought along a small scooter to help him on longer treks, but it soon became bogged down and he was back on Shanks’s pony. Pete’s BOMA had no trouble however, and we were soon all admiring the views and wondering why and how the stones were there. I knew the weather was improving for the first time at that point too, because we started to get bitten by the midges relentlessly. The rhododendron were in bloom and everyone got great shots. It really is a lovely place.
When we’d all been drained of blood by the midges, we made our way back to the minibus to head for the ‘honesty shop’ and ‘post office’ on the bank of Loch Buie itself. The caretaker of the shop had been telling us of the increase in visitors this year, and how unfortunately they’ve had a spate of people ‘relieving’ themselves in the scrub and thickets behind the shop. He chuckled as he told us of the solution to the problem, signs in strategic places saying ‘Beware Adders’…..he’d lived there all his life and never seen one, but the signs had done the trick!
We spent some time on the shore, entertained by confiding birds who came to collect any scraps of food available. Steve set up his tripod on the beach, Mark went walkabout, Pete shot off down the scree and headed into the distance. Charlie and Ivor, Carole, Jan, Mike, Brendan, JF, Alan and myself took pictures of anything and everything. Everyone was content, it was a cracking day.
That evening we went for our tea to the chip van on the quayside in Tobermory….perfect.
Wednesday was a bit of a change. Because some were feeling the pace, a ‘day off’ had been factored in, albeit with a strong recommendation from me as to what to do. I suggested that those who felt up to it should take a trip on Turus Mara, the boat which goes to the islands of Staffa and Lunga to see the puffins. Not a trip suitable for wheelchairs unfortunately, and to be honest it’s not an easy trip for an amputee, but it is do-able, and really worth the effort. Some went, some stayed at the hotel to unwind and catch up on admin.
Some explored Tobermory and the shops. I took the minibus and Mark, Peter and I headed for the Eas Fors Waterfall, to spend an hour or two doing waterscapes.
Whilst there I noticed a Grey Wagtail bobbing about down by the lower lagoon and went to get a few shots of it. I came away a happy bunny, it’s the first one I’ve seen in many years of birdwatching.
One of my favourite restaurants is just a few miles south of the waterfall, so we headed down to Ulva Ferry to have lunch. The ferry isn’t wheelchair accessible, so I went to The Boathouse on the little boat alone and got a seafood platter take-away to go. (David Livingstone was born on the island of Ulva, which had a thriving population until the Scottish Clearances put an end to them living there). The staff at the Boathouse kindly put it all in a cardboard box and arranged with the ferryman, Donald, a real character, to collect our dishes when we’d done. We sat on that quayside like lords at a banquet, with prawns, crab, rock lobster, pate and a bottle of pop each. We even got a bit of a suntan.
I picked up the adventurers from the Turus Mara trip about tea-time. They were battered and weary, but elated. Alan and JF said the puffins were smaller than they thought they’d be and didn’t taste very nice. Brendan, who’d been a bit unsure as to whether or not to go, was full of it. Mick, for whom the trek up the cliff must’ve been a nightmare with his knee in clip, and even Steve, never stopped talking about it all evening. It really is that good a trip, and the pictures they captured are superb.
Of course, when you’re driving around, you see things you’d like to photograph along the way. The good thing about this trip is that we were ALL looking, and Thursday we set off to do some more landscapes and panoramas from above Dervaig before heading to Eas Fors Waterfall once again for everyone to have a go.
By this point, everyone was getting to grips with their own style and choice of picture. The conversation flowed and there was a lot of informal instruction and assistance from everyone if wanted. The quality of shots had definitely improved for a number of reasons, but the peer to peer help and advice was outstanding and one of the highlights of the week for me.
At Eas Fors Waterfall, Pete got out his drone to overfly the falls and capture pictures/video. Controlled via his iPad, it was soon zipping off over the cliff and adding a new dimension to the photographic possibilities. It was good fun just to watch it to be honest, but everything went apex over base in a heartbeat as it went out of range and settled itself on a rock somewhere! It was still transmitting pictures, but it was down near the waterfall out of sight. Enter Mark, a new addition to our crew, although he’s been an established member of the FB photography group for quite a while. Before this trip I’d never met him, but even though I couldn’t quite get his name right (Martin), he slotted straight in and in his quiet unassuming way, helped enormously throughout the week. His DRS (Drone Recovery Service) brought gasps of relief and admiration from all concerned as he retrieved the Drone from its perilous perch.
That evening we all went out to Am Birlinn for a meal. This restaurant is situated in the middle of nowhere to be honest, but the food is really worth the journey. The weather had just about settled by this time in the week, and even walking from the minibus to the door had you running the gauntlet with the midges. Pete had set a challenge early in the week for the best phone photograph taken during the week, and the sunset through the trees saw quite a few nipping out and braving the midges to get a shot! The prize for the best phone shot was a bottle of Tobermory whiskey, so it was a serious competition!
I’d also set a competition (same prize) for the best eagle shot of the week, and at that point, although we’d seen dozens of eagles in the distance, no-one had got a really good picture yet. More on that in a bit.
The next morning, we had some time to get ourselves sorted for the first trip out on the Lady Jayne with Martin and Alex Keivers, who own and run Mull Charters. It was also Ivor’s birthday and he’d been to the bakery to get everyone a cake each to celebrate. We planned to have them as we cruised down Loch Na Keal looking for eagles. Carole also had a birthday while we were away so we were getting quite good at singing the birthday song and trying to beat Alan to the cakes. Alan’s love of cakes and biscuits has now passed into legend, so much so that for the next event we’ve got a password protected biscuit tin.
At Ulva Ferry, access for people with disability is minimal. Getting into and out of a boat can be quite an ordeal. Last year I wrote a letter of support for a proposed floating pontoon which would make things so much easier for us and people with disabilities in general, and thankfully the plans were passed following a campaign by interested boat owners. Sadly it wasn’t quite completed in time for our week, but it looks like a fantastic improvement should we ever be lucky enough to go again! As it was, we had to improvise once again (remember that, Alison? Andy?), but with forethought and a helping hand we were all safely boarded and made comfortable. Martin introduced himself and Alex to our group, outlined the need for quiet and respect for any wildlife we might encounter, and we were off! No guarantees of seeing anything, just a promise to put us in the most likely positions. My main concern at that point was to make sure everyone understood the need for specific camera settings in order to get a good clear shot should anything fast appear. Discussions between the group throughout the week had worked wonders, and all seemed confident their camera’s would perform if and when the moment arrived..
At Ulva Ferry, access for people with disability is minimal. Getting into and out of a boat can be quite an ordeal. Last year I wrote a letter of support for a proposed floating pontoon which would make things so much easier for us and people with disabilities in general, and thankfully the plans were passed following a campaign by interested boat owners. Sadly it wasn’t quite completed in time for our week, but it looks like a fantastic improvement should we ever be lucky enough to go again! As it was, we had to improvise once again (remember that, Alison? Andy?), but with forethought and a helping hand we were all safely boarded and made comfortable.
Martin introduced himself and Alex to our group, outlined the need for quiet and respect for any wildlife we might encounter, and we were off! No guarantees of seeing anything, just a promise to put us in the most likely positions.
My main concern at that point was to make sure everyone understood the need for specific camera settings in order to get a good clear shot should anything fast appear. Discussions between the group throughout the week had worked wonders, and all seemed confident their camera’s would perform if and when the moment arrived..
We didn’t have long to wait; we’d only motored for 10 minutes when I saw the first eagle approaching. The boat prepared itself by stopping the engine and turning into the best position for an approach. Alex grabbed a fish from the bucket and held it high above his head so the eagle could see it, then threw it out into the open water. Everyone fell silent as the eagle soared over the boat, scrutinizing us carefully, so low and close you could make out every move of its huge yellow beak as it surveyed the scene. The white tailed eagle is the 4th largest in the world, and its wingspan can reach nine feet; to have one fly low and close is an exciting event. Suddenly the camera shutters were firing rapidly as it circled us, everyone was aware of the tell-tale signs of an imminent dive, that moment when the bird ‘whiffles’ the air from under its wings to lose altitude and lowers its legs to brake its speed. A bated breath moment as the eagle worked out its flight path, and WHAM!! Down it came at breakneck speed to grab the fish and swoop away…….gracefully and effortlessly into the distance in the blink of an eye to the sound of camera shutters still firing……
The release of tension in the boat was palpable, sighs of relief and urgent reviewing of captured pictures quickly followed, along with huge grins and heads shaking.
We motored on to another likely spot and everyone double checked their settings and optimised their rigs. We saw other eagles almost straight away at the bottom of the loch area, but non ventured out to feed. The scenery surrounding the loch is dramatic, with Ben More, Mull’s only Munro, towering nearby. As we waited, some of us took some landscape shots or just sat enjoying the anticipation of another visit. Eventually we moved off and went to see the seals which bask on the islets nearby, and to get a cup of tea and Ivor’s cake in calm waters.
Wildlife is unpredictable, there are no guarantees you’ll see anything at all!
Arriving back at the Park Lodge hotel, the mood was elated albeit slightly subdued from a long week of concentration, fresh air and travel. I had to slightly adjust the accommodation arrangements for the following (Saturday) evening, but we were all looking forward to the second trip on the Lady Jayne the following day.
Saturday morning arrived and we loaded up the minibus and Pete’s vehicle ready for the trip to Oban later that evening. The plan was to head down to Ulva Ferry for our final boat trip on the Lady Jayne, then head straight down to Craignure to catch the ferry across to Oban on the mainland.
For some time before the trip, I’d been talking to Martin about other possibilities besides Loch Na Keal for our second trip, and he came up with an absolute belter for us. The location is secret for conservation reasons, but we motored for some time to get into position. I saw them long before we arrived, two white tails scouring the skyline in the distance.
Once again, Martin emphasised the need for quiet when the birds approached, and away we went again! This time the photography was more assured, everyone more determined to get ‘the shot’. And it’s fair to say everyone did. We were treated to aerial displays by these magnificent birds, flying in tandem, soaring, circling, diving for fish……it was just excellent. They came so close you could count the primary feathers clearly on their wings.
Martin, cake fiend that he is, then suggested we head for a spot where golden eagles frequent and have a brew. We’d been seeing ‘goldies’ throughout the week, but they’re a much more aloof creature, and none were to be seen.
And then, as we cruised away from sarnie point, in the distance, dolphins were spotted. Quite a few of them too, bottlenose dolphins, which can grow up to 4 metres long! Ooohs and aaaahs from everyone as they played together in the distance, and in the blink of an eye we had dolphins all around the boat, surfing, jumping, bow riding….one emerged so quickly at the side of the boat that Jan and I could have touched it. The display lasted for quite some time, with some of the highest dolphin leaps I’ve ever seen, before the pod headed off to do whatever dolphins do.
It was a truly thrilling end to a fabulous week of photography, fun, friendship and adventure. Many thanks to Martin and Alex for all their efforts on our behalf.
I think we all came away from the week with something different. The less assured photographers were more assured, the established photographers practised their skills under trying conditions, equipment was discussed and examined, editing techniques explored, to name but a few.
I really enjoyed being with everyone for those privileged moments such as watching the wagtail chicks fledge, the baby robin come cheekily close to check us out, getting up close to the ‘heeland coo’s’, stopping to look at the druid forest….the list just goes on and on.
The Park Lodge Hotel deserves a special mention, Rebecca, Anne, Ali, Claire, Danielle, and Micheal went out of their way to make sure we all felt at home. Thank you so much from all the group.
A huge thank you to Blesma for enabling the event Jess and Emily for all they did, and Sue for doing the daily blog and updates! What a team!
Ivor Tunks won the best eagle shot award, well done pal!
Mark Jenkins won the best phone photography award.
Roll on the next event, I hope to see you there.