The answer my friends is lunar cycles. But what’s the question?
Disconnected as we in the so called developed world are from such natural phenomena, the 12 months of a calendar year (see the question and answer above) do certainly provide a convenient way of compartmentalising and cataloguing our trips around the sun. That’s especially true if, like me, you’re a photographer with a slight touch of OCD who very much likes to take trips within the trip. You know, travel!
With that in mind I’ve selected 12* images – 1 per calendar month – to summarise my 2015. It was, I must say, an action packed 12 months, despite the fact that it was also the first year since 2004 that I never left my country of residence. (I’m American by birth but have lived in Scotland since October of 2011.) The 12 photos selected aren’t necessarily the bestest most glorious I made in 2015, but rather represent interesting or significant moments within each month. So, without further doo-doo…..
Having spent the day rambling around the Aberdeenshire coast – including yet another visit to the perpetually visitable Dunnottar Castle – we (which shall always indicate my wife Steph and I) just happened across this scene on our way home and had to get out for a quick stop-and-pop. No pre-planning or foreknowledge of the moon rising in this position I’m afraid. We simply got lucky and were well thankful for the tranquil scene before us.
My what a difference a year makes!
For the past week or so the River Dee valley – collectively known as Royal Deeside or just Deeside – has been inundated with heavy, constant rain and flooding. Many homes, businesses, roads and bridges have been severely damaged. It’s a horrible situation for so many in my adopted home community, but I’m happy to say that the people have pulled together to help one another. With Facebook groups on the go, shelters, food, clothing and other needed goods and services are being seen to.
Now if only it would stop raining!
“Are you sure that thing is okay? They don’t normally follow people around like that, do they?”
I laughed off Steph’s concerns, right up until the part where our little friend here – who was really, really close for this photo, and getting closer every second – leapt in front of me to (intentionally?) block my way to the car. I had to reach into my childhood bag of backyard football tricks (the metaphor works for soccer or American football) and juke my way to safety. Even then he chased us as we drove away, keeping pace for quite a while as our speed was curtailed by black ice on the road. Only thing I can figure is he was digging on my sexy new Fujifilm X100T. Can’t blame him for that!
Hunter Wellington boots aren’t really the first form of footwear Steph would normally choose for a spot of hillwalking, but she was left with little choice after her father accidentally nicked her Salomons when leaving the house we were sharing in Aviemore.
Oh-ha-ha, kinda funny.
Funnier still is the attention this and every other photo of Steph in her Wellies garnered on Flickr. You see as a part of my aforementioned OCD I meticulously keyword every photo before posting to Flickr, thus making them searchable by myself and others. Handy, right? Oh, but there is a community of Wellie fetishists who have really taken a shine to Steph in her Hunters, much to her chagrin. I keep trying to arrange a ‘boots-‘n-boobs’ photoshoot with her (think of the likes!) but she’s having none of it.
Maybe this year!
April was all about getting away and taking advantage of the ever lengthening hours of daylight on offer, and boy did we ever. A week or so prior to this scene we had spent a couple days exploring around Loch Lomond (the bonnie, bonnie banks o’). Then, on a whim, we decided to head further west still to Oban, checking out such notable places as Ganavan Sands, the Falls of Lora at Connel Bridge, Ellenbeich and the Clachan Bridge (aka the Bridge Over the Atlantic) on the Isle of Seil, and of course Oban Distillery. On our way home from Oban – via Glen Coe and Glen Etive – we spotted this group of red deer as we descended from Glenshee and had to stop. We were about 45 minutes from home, on a stretch of road and hillside very familiar to us – ‘our patch’ if you will. I could be wrong, but I think there’s a valuable lesson hidden in the story of this pic.
After April’s far flung adventures, May was a month of homebound introspection and meditation.
Okay, we were broke and couldn’t afford to go away anywhere!
Not to worry though because I can entertain myself endlessly with a macro lens and spring flowers in bloom. Where last month’s photo was taken close to home in a place we consider part of ‘our patch’, this image was made just a few steps from our front door. Hell, I probably wasn’t even wearing panties under my trousers when I shot it!
Um, but anyway, I like flowers and exploring the largely ignored world under our feet.
This one is special.
On the 12th of July, 2014, while in the middle of a 40km cycle and hike ascent of the Munros Ben Avon and Beinn a’ Bhuird, I experienced my first bout of vertigo, with a complimentary migraine to boot. The migraines and near constant feeling of disequilibrium – with the occasional full blown episode of vertigo – continued unabated for the better part of 8 months. Many tests, consultations and treatments later I still don’t have a concrete diagnosis, but thankfully the symptoms have eased back enough that I feel pretty functional most days.
This, just shy of 1 year later, was my first day back in the hills with boots and backpack. So of course we (Steph and I, along with our friend Laura) took it easy by tackling the 5 Munros of the White Mounth.
Easy, aye right!
19km and 8.5 hours later and I was a broken man. Broken, but elated.
Eager to hold onto our White Mounth momentum we carried on with more adventures under foot. In between there and here Steph had completed the National Three Peaks Challenge, climbing the highest summits in Scotland (Ben Nevis), Wales (Snowdon), and England (Scafell Pike) within a 24 hour period.
I was happy enough to stumble (since the start of my disequilibrium I stumble everywhere) my way up and down two more Munros, Glas Maol and Creag Leacach. Despite the appearance of the photo this isn’t a very wild and remote landscape. In fact you hardly ever lose sight of either the A93 or the Glenshee Ski Centre. Still, any day in the hills is better than a day spent moping at home.
Hmm, I’m detecting a theme here.
Heat, heather and hags! Almost 33 km of cycling and hiking delivered us (this time Steph and I were joined by her eldest brother, Duncan) atop two more Munros – Carn Bhac and Beinn Iutharn Mhor – in the southern Cairngorms. The weather was more south of France than Highlands of Scotland, but plodding through mile after mile of heather and peat hags reminded us where we were. Epic day out!
But then August was an epic month!
In the 17 days previous we had managed to squeeze in 4 other Munros (An Socach, Driesh, Ben Vorlich and Ben Vane), a jaunt up Clachnaben with Duncan and his fiancé Suz, camping at Beinglas Farm with explorations of the famous Rest and Be Thankful, Inveraray, Cruachan and Kilchurn Castle, and even a bit of cycling around the Linn of Dee.
I need a nap after typing – and hyperlinking – all that!
“We’ve been talking about it and wanting to do it for ages, we have time booked off, so fuck it, let’s go!”
After last month’s extensive adventuring – and a wedding earlier in September – we weren’t exactly swimming in spare cash, but once that collective ‘fuck it’ mindset kicks in you just can’t fight it. And really, why would you want to?
And so it was, with only the roughest of plans in place, that we set out for the open road of the North Coast 500, Scotland’s unofficially official tourist route around the far north of the country. Thanks to the website and app we could easily find our way to to a plethora of sights, attractions, restaurants, cafes and accommodations (camping in our case).
Prior to leaving the house though I did book us onto a boat trip with Torridon Sea Tours (see the image above), and let me tell you that’s probably the best £60 we’ve ever spent. Normally we don’t ‘splash-out’ on stuff like this, but in keeping with the trips mantra – you know, ‘fuck it’ – I went for it. Hell, I never even consulted the boss first!
Eventually though September had to end which brings us to…..
…..more North Coast 500!
To start the month anyway.
And what a way to start the month! Overnight we had a genuine fear of being blown off the cliffs and into the sea in our tent, but waking up (not that we slept much) to this sublime sunrise definitely made up for it. I wandered, alone, along this beach for two hours pre-dawn, making photos, climbing on the rocks and just generally enjoying life.
Would it be as special if every morning were spent like this? I don’t know but I’d sure like to find out.
On the 1st of November, 2015, we summited our final Munro of the year, Carn a’Mhaim. I touched the summit cairn drenched in sweat and wearing a short-sleeved shirt.
To quote the most brilliant minds of our time, “that shit ain’t right”.
Anthropogenic climate change concerns aside, we were well chuffed to get another rain free day day in the hills, and quite surprised that we only saw a few other souls out and about. Surprised, but you’ll never hear me complain about finding solitude in the mountains.
Back then to where we started – if a ways further upstream.
Bored and a bit stir-crazy, we did what we do and hit the road for a bit of local exploration. And coffee. There’s always coffee involved. Just outside of Braemar we pulled off the A93 and walked back across the road bridge to snap a few photos of the River Dee and the old Invercauld Bridge. It’s something we’ve done before, at least a few times, but I’m glad we did it again.
Due to the flooding that I spoke of with January’s image, the bridge I was standing on here has been extensively damaged and closed to both cars and pedestrians, leaving the village of Braemar cutoff from the rest of Aberdeenshire. The latest news is that it will likely take weeks to repair. As I type these words the rain is absolutely lashing it down outside and the river is likely to flood again – for the third time in the past 10 days – over the next 24 to 48 hours.
Not to diminish the tragedy of the environmental disaster unfolding in my community, but what a human tragedy it is whenever we take anything for granted. Tomorrow is never guaranteed, so make sure you pull the car over, get out and make some memories right now while you definitely can.
That’s our big plan for 2016.
The ‘+1’ image, which features at the top of the page, is my favourite from the year. As Steph will attest, I’m not one to pick favourites lightly. Favourite food? Favourite whisky? Favourite Spice Girl? Dunno, dunno and dunno! But here we had just pulled off the road somewhere in the far north of Scotland, along the North Coast 500 route, and proceeded to goof off a bit for the camera. No posing, no pretensions, just a few moments of pure joy amidst some epic scenery.