The drive up north over the A82 is without a doubt one of the most scenic routes in Scotland, if not in Britain. It is almost impossible to keep your eyes on the road, as the scenery is out of this world. Photographic opportunities present themselves everywhere, and often only a few steps are needed from a layby or car park. Not surprisingly, this area is usually heaving with tourists and coaches. For this reason, I have completely ignored this part of the country over the last year, and instead headed to the less explored mountains of the north-western Highlands.
But, even though I had added some high level photos from less visited parts of the country, there’s no denying that Glen Coe still appealed to me and I always knew I had to visit it again with camera and tripod in hand. During the Christmas break I kept a very close eye on the weather reports, and shortly after New year I managed to get away on what promised to be a beautiful day. My only fear was that the mild temperatures the preceding days would have melted most of the snow which had fallen a week or so beforehand.
My alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 03:45AM, in order to have a decent chance to be on Beinn a’Chrulaiste before sunrise. I arrived at the layby at Altnafeidh and after grabbing my kit, I set off in the dark, hopeful that I would find some snowfields at higher levels. The route description I used was not very precise, but I initially managed to find a path following a fence which seemed to take me in the right direction.
Later on, when the going got much steeper, I could not find any paths going up the hill, so i just followed what looked like a relative direct ascent, but avoiding the steepest scrambles. Upon reaching Stob Beinn a’Chrulaiste I was pleased to find a thin layer of snow and ice, and the hills on the other side of the A82 had plenty too. I made my way to the steep south-facing cliffs where there were excellent views over Buachaille Etive Mor, Buachaille Etive Beag and Bidean nam Bian. Sunrise was still a good 45 minutes away, which gave me ample time to scout for the best viewpoints.
In the image above taken at twilight, overlooking the majestic Buachaille Etive Mor and the meandering river Coupal, you can see the light trails of a car on the far right of the road. I am not a great fan of roads in “true” landscape photographs, but I wanted to include the river in my compositions, which would be almost impossible if leaving out the road. Below another from this viewpoint.
While it is hard to ignore the impressively shaped Buachaille Etive Mor, there are other hills around which are almost equally picture-perfect.
Scottish Mountaineering Club hut can be seen on the left of the river Coupal. Buachaille Etive Beag and Bidean nam Bian can be seen in the distance on the left, while the slopes of Aonach Eagagh can be seen on the right of the A82. Below a portrait version taken just minutes later.
I was eager to head to higher levels, as I saw that there was enough snow there to make for proper winter landscapes. But, I knew that the views from there would be far less impressive, so I was glad to find this little patch of snow close to the drop off.
And of course, while sunrise itself was cloudy, the sun magically appeared en route to the deeper snow higher up. I could not find a great foreground where I was, but I could not let such beautiful light go to waste.
After another 10 minutes or so, I reached a nice boggy area, which was completely frozen over, and there was a nice layer of snow. If only I could have been here and at the cliffs of Stob Beinn a’Chrulaiste at the same time!
Tracks left behind by a mountain hare.
The skyline of the hills on the south-west of the A82: the Buachaille Etive Mor, Buachaille Etive Beag and the Bidean nam Bian
Frozen bog and some nice snowdrifts on Beinn a’Chrulaiste
Frozen bog. With Buachaille Etive mor as backdrop you cannot go wrong!
After this it was just a short walk to the true summit of Beinn a’Chrulaiste, where a truly phenomenal view opened up. The hills on the North, including Ben Nevis and the Mamores, looked intimidating in their snow-capped state, but it was a beautiful winter landscape everywhere I looked. I soaked up all those views, and headed down eager to explore Glen Coe and Glen Etive the rest of the day, but sad to leave this wonderful wee hill behind.
If you’d like to see more photos of the mountains in the Scottish Highlands please click here.