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Britain's True Wilderness - part 1 of 1 2

by Paul Gallagher Published


As a photographer I am always eager to seek out new material to photograph. As a landscape photographer, I seek out new places to visit that will stimulate and inspire me. I have been through this process many times and although I aim to explore beyond the comfort zone of my usual haunts, the reality is that I return to places that I am familiar with - places where I don't often consult a map or research the accommodation for best value. It had been over six months since I had been on a trip where I could selfishly indulge myself in my work and not have to devote any part of my mind or time to anything other than photography. Although desirable, this indulgence is not essential, as I can fit into the mould of my work rather quickly given the opportunity. I am constantly, and subconsciously, watching with a 'framing' eye. However, just recently, I had a nagging desire to escape and truly envelope myself in a landscape that would offer endless opportunities without any distraction.

looking at British landscape images and many places were considered and added to the list. I studied images of Northumbria, the Yorkshire Dales and Moors, the New Forest and areas along the south coast of England. All have masses of potential and are areas of boundless beauty. I had to make this trip count, my wife was expecting a baby in June, and so the Highlands of Scotland won the mental battle to top the list.

What Scotland means to me is, I suspect, what Yosemite meant to Ansel Adams. Although Adams had photographed in many other areas, he always returned there, because it had a place in his heart, it was in a sense his photographic home - he connected with it. This is the same for me and Scotland and the very reason why about 60 per cent of my work is collected north of the border. I would add that ultimately the decision to return to the Highlands was not simply to fit in my comfort zone but because, out of all the places I have photographed, this is still the largest landscape with the highest number of areas that I feel I need to discover a greater depth. It is for me an inspiration that will keep me engrossed for many years to come.

Within Scotland it was Sutherland, which had the strongest pull. This is a vast wilderness, with a very small population and is steeped in history. It is not unusual to drive for an hour out of peak holiday season and not see another car. The remoteness on this place is what makes it unique in Britain. From where I live in Lancashire, it was a ten-hour, 450-mile drive to where we started our first night in Tongue, Lairg. Considering I only live 90 minutes from the Scottish borders gives an idea of the expanse of land. Because of distances like this, only the serious traveller will make the effort to see what is often portrayed or perceived as a lonely, wet and bleak part of the country. The weather is obviously of great importance to the landscape photographer and even more so in Scotland where bad weather can mean 'bad' weather, be it rain, winds or snow. I kept a close eye on the forecast using the BBC Weather website and things, leading up to the committed travel day of 1 April, were not looking good at all. Scotland holds a number of surprises though. Firstly the weather of the northern-most regions proves more than often to be highly unpredictable, and secondly, I quote Billy Connolly, "If you don't like the weather in Scotland hang around for twenty minutes". In my experience, the weather changes rapidly and seldom stays as static as England which can languish beneath a grey veil of cloud for days on end. However, the forecast changed on the Wednesday and the week I had planned became a pocket of fine weather, slotted between two weeks of rain. Speculative I know, but it was good enough for me and I headed north.

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last update 18/07/2022 16:31:50

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Updated 18/07/2022 16:31:50 Last Modified: Monday, 18 July 2022