Sunday, 17 November 2019

St Clement's Church, Rodel

Harris, day four
By day four, I was ready for a variation in the Harris diet of sea, sky and rock so I was interested to explore the little church of St Clement in Rodel. It was built around 1520 as the burial place of the chieftains of the Clan MacLeod of Harris. The church was disused after the reformation in 1560, but continued to be used as a burial site. It has since had a number of restorations.

There is an elaborate tomb on one wall for the 8th Chief, Alasdair Crotach MacLeod, crowned with an arch and featuring carvings of the Trinity, other biblical scenes, a sailing galley, a hunting scene and the Chieftain himself in a knight's armour. There are other significant MacLeod tombs within the church and a series of tombstones from the 1500s and 1600s, decorated with ornate carvings of swords denoting high status, power and strength.

On the outside walls of the church there are more intriguing carved stones, including a figure in a kilt (left). The figure of the man (right) is known as 'The Lewd Man'.

There is also a 'Sheela-na-gig' - a female effigy (see below). There is a similar carving on a wall in Iona, which may indicate links between the two. It may depict the goddess of fertility, life and death, perhaps as a reminder to those entering the church that they are entering a sacred space, the womb of the goddess, or perhaps simply to ward off evil. (Pagan and Christian symbols are often interwoven in our medieval churches.)

The drystone boundary wall of the churchyard had symbols too: hearts and flowers - though much more recent, no doubt. They don't do that in Yorkshire! Adjacent to the churchyard was a small public toilet for visitors, apparently installed and cared for by the local community. It was really neat. It even had flowers and a visitors book! I loved Rodel. 

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Luskentyre patterns

Harris, day four
One of the motivations that had me longing to visit Harris was seeing, some years ago, a series of photos taken at Luskentyre that had been printed on pearlised paper so that they shimmered. They were wonderful. Our best opportunity to see the incredible patterns of tide and sand was on the morning of day four of our trip, from the high viewpoint on the Seilebost side of the estuary. The tide was partly in (though I could never work out if it was on its way in or out!), giving shades of turquoise, grey and duck egg blue against the very light sand. Strands of seaweed made darker counterpoints, as did the flocks of birds feasting at the water's edge. Without binoculars, they were a little hard to identify but some were oystercatchers, some lapwing and some geese, though there were a few much smaller waders scurrying about as well. Hopefully these photos give at least some idea of how beautiful it was.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Early morning on the rocks

Harris, day four
I managed to drag myself out of bed on the fourth day to participate in the dawn shoot. (I'll never be a real landscape photographer!) We scrambled about on the rocks at Rubha Romagraich, not far from where we'd been the evening before. I like the photo below, even though it's an annoying composition and I want to move the hill.

The sun came up behind us, throwing a soft light on to the outline of Ceapabhal.

I also liked the effect and the colours in this ICM image:

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Beach panoramas

Harris, day three
I discovered the panorama feature on my camera! The beautiful beach in the first shot is Tràigh Iar (where we went on our first afternoon). After we'd mooched about photographing Luskentyre beach (middle photo), we drove right round the estuary to the other side (third photo), past Seilebost where the tide had come in, and stopped for coffee at a brand new community enterprise centre, Talla na Mara, from where the top photo was taken. The centre is an exciting concept, designed to provide facilities for local residents, visitors and businesses. There is a restaurant, exhibition space, creative arts workshops and office space.

On the same site there were six new residential buildings, which appeared to have charging points for electric vehicles. I was a little surprised at that but perhaps I shouldn't be. Electricity is probably easier to access than vehicle fuel on Harris and the distances you'd need to drive are not huge on a small island. A lot of the older properties on Harris are functional, pebble-dashed bungalows, as well as many empty, derelict crofts. From what I can gather, the population plummeted by 50% since the 1950s and by 2007 35% of properties were holiday homes. It seems that there has been some fresh thinking and investment in the last ten years, resulting in an increase of 20% in the population of West Harris, and some very modern and innovative residential building projects. (See HERE for some examples, from the Skye-based design team that built the community centre).

And then there was another sunset, enjoyed from the dunes overlooking Seilebost:

Wednesday, 13 November 2019


Harris, day three
The land edge of Luskentyre beach is a mass of sand dunes, held in place to some extent by marram grass. There were other plants too, like the pretty pinky mauve sea rocket (middle foreground of picture above). It's an interesting and challenging landscape to capture in photos. The shots I liked best were close-ups:

Some show interesting patterns in the sand. These are not the result of wet/dry patches or light/shadow but appeared to be produced by different tones of sand grains. Fascinating. 

I found a tiny toadstool too, which I think is a Dune Waxcap (Hygrocybe conicoides):

Maybe that is what gives the islanders the idea of putting bright orange corrugated iron roofs on their buildings. I'm glad they chose a blue front door here! 

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Tarbert and Luskentyre

Harris, day three
I knew I needed to catch up on my sleep by this stage, so I stayed in bed whilst most of the others (younger, by and large!) went out on a pre-dawn shoot. Rested and refreshed, I had a little before-breakfast wander round the village of Tarbert where we were staying. It's a ferry port for Uig on Skye and also has a distillery, opened in 2015, where they make the seaweed-infused Isle of Harris Gin. I don't drink alcohol so I didn't try it but my fellow photographers enjoyed it in the hotel bar in the evenings. The sun was catching the heather on the bank opposite our hotel and the colours really reminded me of Harris tweed. It's easy to see where the inspiration comes from for the lovely subtle colours of the famous woollen cloth they weave there.

When I got down to the harbour, the air was very still, making for lovely reflections.

Our day out began at the famous Luskentyre beach (Tràigh Losgaintir), a shallow estuary where the tide ebbs and flows to create wonderful and ever-changing symphonies of turquoise water and silvery sand.

Monday, 11 November 2019

The sunset show, day two

Harris, day two
Tràigh na Cleabhaigh produced the most wonderful, dramatic twilight show. Here it could be enjoyed looking both west as the sun sank over the sea and east to the rosy-hued clouds. Slow shutter speeds seemed to bring out the colours rather beautifully.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Big skies and details

Harris, day two
Up to this point we'd not done much walking, just hopping out of the van and pottering on beaches and places of interest, so it was a welcome relief to stretch my legs with a walk to the spot chosen to enjoy the sunset. This was the beach Tràigh na Cleabhaig, under the hill called Ceapabhal on the north-western tip of Harris. It had a dual aspect, over to another beach called Tràigh an Taoibh Thuath. (These Gaelic names might arguably be easier to pronounce after a few glasses of Harris gin!)

We passed a sheep with magnificent horns, who was safely in a little fenced field and didn't seem fazed by a troop of photographers passing by.

There were details to enjoy: a fence made from old pallets and rope, its blue tones counterpointed by the scarlet rose-hips behind it. 

And of course, the marram grasses in the dunes behind the beach. These had created wonderful swirly patterns in the sand, where the wind had caught them.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

The lochan

Harris, day two
We stopped for a couple of hours on the Golden Road near Scadabay, beside some lochans (apparently the correct name for a little Scottish loch, though some variations were suggested - lochlet being one). It was a very attractive spot, nestled among hills and rocks, and with several different varieties of reeds, bog bean and waterlilies to keep us photographers happy. Personally, I was happy not to fall in! The ground was boggy and peaty and several times proved not as stable as it looked!

My polarising filter got an outing here, darkening the water and reducing the reflections to provide a dramatic backdrop for the lily pads. I took quite a few photos of them, fascinated by the sinuous stems and placement of the leaves. This is one of my favourites:

The reeds made lovely squiggly patterns too. I had fun trying to find and isolate little groups of stems.

This scrubby little tree (an unusual sight in a landscape that is largely treeless) was clinging on improbably to the rock. Its few remaining leaves and berries, illuminated in the weak sunlight, transformed it into quite a thing of beauty.

Friday, 8 November 2019

The Golden Road

Harris, day two
Our second day on Harris included a tour of the Golden Road, a scenic route that winds its way around the east coast from just south of Tarbert to the village of Rodel, linking many tiny settlements at one time only accessible by boat. The coast is indented with sea lochs and studded with lakes, and affords some lovely vistas over rocky islets and gentle hills, with views across to the Isle of Skye on the horizon. 

The picture above is Loch Plocrapool. (The place names have many spellings, hovering somewhere between the traditional Gaelic and more anglicised versions.)

Below is a view over Manish. The building with the rusty, decaying roof is apparently an old post office that at one time held the only telephone in the area.

All the roads on Harris are narrow and winding, with passing places marked at regular intervals. Most drivers were very considerate, especially since we were travelling in a minivan that took up quite a lot of space! I was glad I wasn't driving. There was the added hazard of free-wandering sheep. Most of them looked very white and fluffy, almost as though they'd just been shampooed, so they were not too difficult to see, even in the dark. Perhaps it's all the rain that keeps them clean!

Thursday, 7 November 2019

A gentle dawn

Harris, day two
Our pattern for the trip was to rise early, when it was still dark, and leave the hotel about 6.15 am for a dawn shoot. We'd then return about 9 am for a hearty and much appreciated breakfast. An hour or so 'recovery time' after breakfast gave us chance to regroup practically and mentally, then we'd be off again, exploring and taking photos until after sunset.

The first morning, we went to the beach at Tràigh Rosamol, just around the corner from the celebrated Luskentyre beach. I rarely see sunrise in these heady days of retirement, so it was pretty amazing to experience it there. The island of Taransay was again on the horizon. The light got gradually more blue as the sun came up behind us.

When the light got brighter, I was attracted to the patterns and textures on the beach. There was a stream flowing into the sea, creating some intricate motifs of dark and light sand. 

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

First Harris sunset

Harris, day one
We stayed on the beach at Tràigh Iar until after sunset, enjoying how the light and colours changed. It was just magical, and photos can only hint at the beauty. It was a delicate, cloudy sunset, subtle in its majesty.