If a picture truly paints a thousand words, the landscapes of the Scottish Highlands would fill all 4,224 pages of Harry Potter (much of which was filmed here). Blessed with quite simply the most sensational landscapes in Britain, Scotland’s rugged northern Highlands lend themselves to phenomenal landscape photography… even under the darkest of brooding skies. In fact, Scotland’s famously fickle weather is a bonus: Within the space of one hour, it’s possible to shoot the same location under gorgeous blue skies, when roiled by bruising clouds, and gilded in shafts of golden sunlight. Plus, sprinkled off the far northwest corner of the British Isles, the Outer Hebrides comprise 119 isolated islands with breathtaking physical formations and elemental battered landscapes of epic grandeur.
Our itinerary spans the full range. Enchanting waterfalls… Huge soaring sea stacks… Surging peninsulas… Improbably white-sand beaches… Wind-ruffled lochans and moors carpeted in thistles and heather… And hauntingly beautiful glacier-scoured mountains. Plus, this remote region is replete with wildlife: our chance to photograph auks, eagles and puffins; mammals from pine marten to deer; plus otter, porpoise, harbor seals, and giant basking sharks, all of which frequent the waters.
We won’t forget the human component: The living culture that defines this magnificent region… from weathered fishermen and shepherds to the Gaelic-speaking Harris tweed weavers of the Isle of Lewis & Harris.
Plus, our visit coincides with Whisky Month and the Hebridean Whisky Festival. And other highlights include a ride on the Jacobite Steam Train (aka Hogwarts Express)… Glencoe… ancient Neolithic standing stones… traditional earth-roofed croft houses… Urquhart Castle, on Loch Ness… and, of course, Edinburgh.
Day 1: (May 16)
Participants arrive and settle into our hotel in Edinburgh. Meet with Christopher in the evening for orientation, plus a set-the-scene slide show, then a welcome dinner. Overnight in Edinburgh.
Day 2: (May 17)
Depart Edinburgh via Stirling this morning for Glencoe, one of the most spectacular glens in Scotland and a setting for films from Harry Potter to the James Bond movie Skyfall. Here we’ll stop to photograph at Etive Mor Waterfall, our first chance to practice long-exposures to capture the cascades with a milky soft effect. We’ll then pass through Fort William to reach the Glenfinnan Viaduct—a fantastic 21-arch curving bridge—in time to photograph the Jacobite steam train (the famous ‘Hogwarts Express’ of Harry Potter fame) puffing across the viaduct. Overnight in Fort William.
Day 3: (May 18)
This morning we ride the Jacobite steam train from Fort William to Mallaig, crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct on an 85-mile journey described as “the finest train ride in Britain.” (I doubt that we’ll get to see Hogsmeade, but the journey is sure to be magical.) Arriving Mallaig midday, we then take the ferry to Armadale, on the Isle of Skye. Our first stop is Elgol, a fishing hamlet with sensational ocean views towards the Black Cuillin Mountains. Then on to Fairy Pools, a magical cascade with crystal-clear pools. Overnight in Portree, Isle of Skye.
Day 4: (May 19)
We’ll rise early and travel to the Old Man of Storr for sunrise as dawn’s light illuminates this incredible mountainside volcanic formation and adjoining pinnacles. Arriving the foot of these massive basalt spires, we’ll hike for about one mile uphill to reach our favored viewpoint. Weather permitting, expect some of the most sensational images of the trip. We then continue the short distance to Quiraing, another stunning geological formation offering fantastic landscape photography. Nearby, completing our geologically themed morning is Kilt Rock waterfall—a cascade tumbling over a cliff into the sea. A polarizing filter will prove useful here to bring out the undersea rocks to full effect. For a perspective on traditional rural lifestyle, we’ll visit the Skye Museum of Island Life, with its thatched croft cottages. After resting mid-day back in Portree, we’ll head to Neist Point Lighthouse and its dramatic headline to photograph sunset before returning to our hotel for a well-earned dinner. Overnight in Portree, Isle of Skye.
Day 5: (May 20)
Begin today with a stop at Sligachan to photograph the famous old stone bridge and sensational cottage and mountain backdrop; then visit the Talisker Distillery for a tour and tasting. As we depart the Isle of Sky, we’ll photograph the modern Skye Bridge from the Kyle of Lochalsh—another dramatic setting. Nearby Eilean Donan Castle is perhaps the most photogenic (and most photographed) castle in Britain thanks to its enviable location on an isle in Loch Duich. We’ll linger with time to capture the castle from every angle in the (hopefully) golden light of late afternoon. A final one-hour drive brings us to Torridon and our luxury hotel. Overnight in Torridon.
Day 6: (May 21)
The morning is at leisure to photograph around Torridon, including the estate’s Highland cattle on its own farm, and Loch Torridon and the Torridon Peaks. In the afternoon, we’ll drive via Loch Maree to Gairloch, a fishing town overlooking turquoise waters and a beach the color of Valspar Perfection. Here we’ll visit the Gairloch Marine Wildlife Center, and take a two-hour cruise with scientists to spot minke whales, basking sharks, dolphin, porpoise, and a plethora of seabirds, from eagles to puffins. Arriving the lovely fishing village of Ullapool, overlooking Loch Broom, we’ll have dinner at a gourmet restaurant with Chris’s sister and brother-in-law, who live nearby. Overnight in Ullapool.
Day 7: (May 22)
Our hotel overlooks the lively and supremely photogenic Ullapool harbor, with its colorful traditional fishing boats, many of which are beached at low tide. We’ll make the most of the early morning light to photograph the fishing boats and the fishermen tending their nets and crab baskets. Later we’ll meet a local farmer and Scottish National Sheepdog Trials champion to learn about, and photograph sheepdogs working flocks of sheep, and sheep being sheared. We’ll also have a chance to relax with afternoon tea beside Loch Broom! Expect to see otter, seals and perhaps even porpoise.
Overnight: THE ROYAL HOTEL, ULLAPOOL
Day 8: (May 23)
This morning we’ll take the ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway, on the Outer Hebridean Isle of Lewis & Harris. The journey (2 hrs 45 mins) provides an opportunity to view the region’s vast wealth of marine wildlife (even orcas are occasionally seen), plus puffins, razorbills, skuas, and white-tailed sea eagles. Harris tweed, the world’s most luxurious wool fabric is exclusively hand-woven in the Hebrides and still made inside homes and small specialist studios: we’ll visit an artisanal Harris tweed workshop. The rest of the day will be at leisure for you to explore Stornoway, or simply relax at our hotel—the recently restored Lews Castle (a 19th-century crenelated baronial mansion). The Museum na Eilean, dedicated to the history and life of the Outer Hebrides, is conveniently located next door. The museum’s main draw is six of the famous ‘Lewis Chessmen’—walrus ivory Nordic chess-pieces dating back to Medieval times and, remarkably, found on a local beach. Overnight Lews Castle, Isle of Lewis & Harris
Day 9: (May 24)
Up early to photograph sunrise at the Butt of Lewis, a dramatic headland pinned by a lighthouse at the northern tip of Lewis. Then our scenic tour takes us to Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, a photogenic conclave of traditional turf-roofed Hebridean houses, few of which remain standing. Set above a gorgeous white-sand beach, the setting is fabulous… plus, a “living museum” includes a chance to photograph a traditional loom in use. We continue to Bosta Beach—a stunning swathe of white sand and teal-blue ocean waters that you’ll swear belong in the Caribbean—on Bermera Island. The superb photo ops here are enhanced by the Bosta Iron Age house, a reconstructed stone-and-thatch hut overlooking the sands. We end our day nearby with a sunset shoot at Callanish Standing Stones, one of the finest examples of Neolithic standing stones in Britain. This haunting complex perched on an elevated coastal promontory dates back 5,000 years and is a mini-Stonehenge without the crowds. Fabulous! Overnight Lews Castle, Isle of Lewis & Harris
Day 10: (May 25)
Up early today to catch the 7 am ferry to Ullapool. We’ll then drive via Glen Glasgarnoch and Garve to Drumnadrochit for lunch at Urquhart Castle, on the banks of Loch Ness. We’ll then continue via Inverness and Pitlochry to Edinburgh, with time to relax or explore this historic city before a slide show of everyone’s favorite images followed by our farewell dinner. Overnight in Edinburgh.
Day 11: (May 26)
Guests are transported to the airport to catch their flights home.