Wildland: The Highlands of Scotland

The weatherman said it would be a fine day. I should have known better, having spent time here as a postgrad many years ago. It is mid-morning and a swathe of gray clouds are hovering ominously over the mountains, brown-black and smudgy like watecolor. The early morning drizzle has stopped, but the scent of rain still lingers in the air. For now, the sun is peeking over a sliver of clouds, its rays spreading like a cone over the hillside and the placid loch. The clouds sweep by and the light changes, a moment of joyful drama in a brooding landscape. Suddenly, a flash of auburn: I see a red deer, staring wide-eyed across the moor peppered with purple heather. Then it is gone.

It’s the end of spring, and I’m in the Scottish Highlands on the way to the Isle of Sky. The Highlands are Britain’s last true wilderness, nature on a grand scale. Covering the whole of northern Scotland including the Western Isles, and remote Ornkey and Shetland islands in the North Sea, the vastness and solitude of the landscape is overpowering. Yet, it is monumentally beautiful, a place that touches your soul.

In the face of such grandeur, words are frivolous and we turn to pictures.

Glenco Pass. Stunningly beautiful Glencoe is one of the best known glens (valley) in Scotland. Photo: Damien Shields.
An ancient giant of the land, Ben Nevis is the UK’s highest mountain (1,345m) was once a massive active volcano which exploded and collapsed inwards on itself millions of years ago. At the summit, there is evidence of an explosion in the form of light-coloured granite. The mountain’s name, translated from the ancient Gaelic language, means ‘mountain with its head in the clouds’. Photo: John McSporran.
Camasunary on the Isle of Skye overlooking the bay. A beautiful light plays across Loch na Creitheach with the wonderful dust of winter snow still hugging the pinnacle of Sgurr nan Gillean. Photo: Damien Shields.
Red Cuillin, Isle of Skye. Two mountain ranges dominate the landscape on Skye. The Black Cuillin Ridge was formed 60 million years ago, remnants of an eroded magma chamber of a huge volcano. The younger Red Cuillin mountains (pictured) are mainly made up of granite. These rocks are less resistant to the glaciers than the hard gabbro rock of the Black Cuillin, which explains their rounded appearance.
A red deer on the slopes of the Red Cuillin mountains, Isle of Skye. Photo: Damien Shields.
Human history dating to the Iron Age adds to the mystique of Skyee. Brochs are among the island’s most impressive prehistoric structures. Pictured is the 2,000 year old Dun Beag broch. Its location on a high mound may be a deliberate statement about social status. It also affords a commanding view of the surrounding countryside.
The sun was shining for us on Skye that day, and I took advantage of the perfect weather to capture this silhouette shot of my friend seated near the top of the Dun Beag mound.
Skye is a magical place, and this Jurassic rock is one reason why. The “Old Man Storr” is a spectacular pinnacle of rock surrounded by stunning views of rocky hills next to verdant green grassy slopes and visions of water beyond. No photograph can do justice to the colossal presence of the Old Man. You have to be there to experience it.
Quiraing, Trotternish ridge, Isle of Skye. Quiraing rivals the Old Man of Storr as one of the most photographed landscapes in the world. It is one of those places you don’t quite believe exists even when you’re standing right in the middle of it. The entire landscape feels surreal. The vast, contorted landscape of hills, pinnacles and valleys is the result of colossal landslides that occurred during the last ice age. Not surprisingly, this otherworldly landscape has been used as a film set for many movies and television series.
A beautiful moment when a patch of sunlight falls on the slope of this picturesque hill around Dornie, a small fishing village in the Scottish Highlands near the road to Skye.
Before long, the brooding clouds threatens to put the sun into the shade.

Wherever I wander,
wherever I rove.
The hills of the Highlands,
forever I love
.

– Robert Burns

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