Firstly, I want to point out that I don’t make a habit of analysing how people respond to what I post but in this case I’m happy to make an exception, because the response itself was exceptional. Last week I posted a photo of a typically Scottish scene – a loch, a snowy mountain and a majestic stag. When I took it I knew it was going to be popular but even I was taken aback by the response it got on social media. I was…..with no apology for the pun…..staggered! I posted it on all my ‘channels’ – Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram, and without exception on all four of those, it has become the most popular photo I’ve ever posted. And by some margin! But why? Well, people like Scotland for starters, but especially highland Scotland and the romantic image it projects around the world. Whether or not that shortbread tin romanticism is truly representative of the modern nation we undoubtedly are is open to debate, but it’s undeniable that highland scenes stir an emotional response in people that many other landscapes fail to do. Overlooking for a moment that much of highland Scotland has been deforested, denuded, and what we now see is now far removed from the wooded uplands that developed after the last ice age……a scene of a loch and a glen has a timeless quality. It speaks of a landscape unchanged in millennia. Of a deep connection to the land. Add a stag and you get that primeval element, plonking nature and notions of the wild front & centre. Take the photo in winter and you get that beautiful low light, moody and austere, the snow-capped summits adding a sense of scale to what might otherwise be, on global terms at least, a relatively modest hill. Time of day can be a factor too. This is that same view first thing in the morning. Would the pic have had the same impact if you plonked a stag on the ground, in blazing sunshine? Probably not. It looks a bit too friendly, a bit too warm and comfortable. And of course, there’s no human reference in the photo – no roads, pylons, wind turbines, buildings. It is wild. Wilderness. But I’ve taken plenty of photos that tick all those boxes, and none of them received as enthusiastic response as this one. To be honest I’m not sure why that’s the case, but for me personally there was something about the light the angle the stag was stood at, the gradient of the looming presence of Ben Stack towering high above the loch, and the way the stag is silhouetted against a white patch on the loch. I really liked it. Normally when I come back from a day out I don’t really know what photo I’ll post on my blog that evening. I’ll have a flick through the camera to see what might work well, what might be of interest to people. But on this occasion, as soon as I took it I knew that was the one to share. I’d been on a walk up Arkle, a scree-covered hill in Sutherland, and had got plenty of good snowy pics of lofty ridges and frigid whiteouts. The walk was the headline news that day and I fully expected to share a photo either from the top of that frozen mountain, or at the stunning mirror-like lochs nearby. How funny therefore, that when I was biking back to the car at the very end of the day, the best photo opportunity of the day should present itself. The nice folk at Scotland Outdoors shared my pic on Facebook and summed up many of the responses I got thereafter by adding: “Not a set up. Just right place, right time.” And that’s exactly it. It wasn’t planned, the stag wasn’t stalked, and I didn’t sit there for hours hoping that a deer would come trotting in front of me. It was just blind luck that while I was biking out, staring out at Ben Stack’s shapely ridges, a stag came into view. I quickly came to a stop, very slowly put my bike down so as not to alarm the stag, and then took a photo. I took it without much attention to composition as I was convinced the stag would belt. When it didn’t, I looked at the photo I’d just taken and realised that the stag was set against the dark side of the loch, and was barely visible. So I deleted that one, and then walked 20m or so to my left so that the stag was now highlighted against the light side of the loch. That’s this pic here: As you can see, its antlers are shown up nicely but its legs aren’t. It looks like it could be sitting down. So I walked very slowly towards the stag, slightly downhill so as to get a view of its legs too. That’s this photo: I was happy with it, but still wanted to get a better overall shape from the stag. Its front legs were still quite hidden and it would be good to get them free of the ground a bit more. But I was hesitant to get any closer for fear of scaring it off. I made do, but didn’t want the stag looking at me. I thought it would like more natural if it
Bodies in Land Film Festival 23 – 24 May 2014
The ‘Bodies in Land’ Film Festival opens in Abercych on the evening of Friday 23 May with the Wales Premiere of “All This Can Happen”, a new film by David Hinton and renowned choreographer Siobhan Davies. We’re pleased to announce that Siobhan Davies will be coming to Wales from London to discuss the film. (Admission: £6/£4)
“All This Can Happen”: A flickering dance of intriguing imagery brings to light the possibilities of ordinary movements from the everyday which appear, evolve and freeze before your eyes. Made entirely from archive photographs and footage from the earliest days of moving image, All This Can Happen (2012) follows the footsteps of the protagonist from the short story ‘The Walk’ by Robert Walser. Juxtapositions, different speeds and split frame techniques convey the walker’s state of mind as he encounters a world of hilarity, despair and ceaseless variety.
On Saturday 24 May you can take a walking route through the village, taking in an international selection of films in a variety of settings, from a restored worker’s cottage, to the village pub, to the mansion (free).
At 4pm there will be a screening of dance films in Abercych Village Hall (£4, children free).
The festival concludes with a Twmpath social dance held in the Village Hall on Saturday 24 May form 7pm, with Julie Murphy and The Gower Allstars calling the dances. We’ll also be screening the ‘people’s choice’ short film at the Twmpath. (£6/£4)
Jade Mellor of Wild Pickings is back to provide cafe refreshments throughout the event.
Tickets for individual events and weekend passes are available to book in advance through Eventbrite:
An effort to conserve the landscape of Coigach and Assynt in north west Scotland has received a £3m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) is leading work to restore blanket bog and heath moor, repair paths and reconnect fragmented native woodland.
Funds will also go towards excavating and preserving Clachtoll broch, an Iron Age settlement. The project is part of a 40-year vision for Coigach and Assynt.
SWT is involved in Coigach-Assynt Living Landscape (Call), a partnership set up to regenerate the area.
Viv Halcrow, Call\’s project manager, said: \”This Heritage Lottery Funding could have a great impact across the whole Coigach-Assynt living landscape.
\”It would not only benefit the natural, cultural and built environment, but could help to increase integration between communities, landowners, and organisations.\”
The Heritage Lottery Fund describes the area as one of the remotest areas of Europe.
Colin McLean, head of the fund in Scotland, said it has \”astounding scenery\”.
He added: \”However, the enormous pressures upon these landscapes mean that we have to tackle their restoration and conservation on a bigger scale than ever before.\”
Simon Milne, chief executive of SWT, said the trust was delighted with grant award.
He said: \”This money brings environmental benefits through the myriad of restoration projects planned such as native Atlantic oakwood restoration as well as social and economic benefits for the entire community in the Coigach-Assynt area by providing jobs and promoting tourism.\”
From Andy Whightman’s blog. More evidence for better planning laws around hill tracks on estates.
As the grouse season opens, reforms are gathering which would allow tenant farmers to buy their land and end centuries of privilege that have made the rich ever richer
Graphic: Observer/Andy Wightman