Nobody enjoys the fact that it’s dark by 5pm. At the same time, it’s nice to take solace in the hot baths, the mulled wine, and the (usually) metaphorical hearth that you return home to during Winter. The season is a contradiction. Although bitterly cold to the point of unpleasant, its changes in light and in atmosphere are strangely invigorating. Today, I went happily outside wearing multiple layers to see what I could find in the park, idly supposing that there would be nothing interesting enough to warrant photography. As soon as I stepped through the gate I was faced with an amazingly sweet little squirrel, calmly gnawing its way through a decent-sized nut at the bottom of a beech tree. Fantastic!
As soon as I reached into my bag he turned, horrified, and tore up said tree at the speed of light. I danced around underneath, trigger finger poised, catching sight of him fleetingly in first one branch then another. A worthy adversary, he spotted me always at roughly the same moment, eventually melting away like a phantom. I scrolled through numerous blurry shots and – even worse! – shots of nothing but leaves. Yes, he was there in a couple. But nothing resembled a close-up. I looked back as I left. There he sat, high up in his beech, with a look at once cold and triumphant. You’ll have to get up earlier in the day, sunshine.
So dies the dream of Winter Wildlife Photographer of the Year. Maybe I should stick to things that are easier to capture?
For people in Glasgow, it’s a long-standing tradition to head across the Clyde from Gourock, landing at the Cowal Peninsula’s popular seaside resort and self-styled “centre for pleasure”, Dunoon. Nowadays (in contrast with previous generations of tourists) you are more likely to make the journey by car ferry than by paddle steamer; although the latter is – believe it or not – still something of an option thanks to the celebrated PS Waverley. Anyway, for someone more used to sleek international airports, there’s a sense of old-fashioned fun in making the twenty-minute trip from McInroy’s Point to Hunters Quay. December is probably the “wrong” time of year in terms of desirability: which means that the other visitors you encounter across the water seem to form a strangely exclusive little club. Luckily, it’s one which you’re welcome to join at the nearest Inn after a cold day’s exploring. 🙂
The truth is, even if you love fish, chips, and new woolly cardigans, there isn’t really much to capture your imagination in Dunoon. Its heyday as a resort complex, which began in the Victorian era, was pretty much over by 1970. It remains a nice little place for lunch, some cold, fresh sea air and…crucially…for planning your exploration of the wider area: aka Scotland’s “tourist honeypot“. Or part of it, anyway. The Northern half of the Cowal Peninsula includes breathtaking forests, lochs and hills; many of which are now contained within Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. Formed in 2002, the park’s creation has, naturally enough, not been without political and administrative controversies. This is Scotland after all. But focus (like we did) on the Red Squirrels; the ferns; the ruined castles; and the long, proud line of Giant Redwood Trees at Benmore Botanic Gardens; parliamentary squabbles won’t cross your mind for a second.
Removed from those, and from heavy Christmas commercialism, this time of year at Cowal can be measured by the amount of snow resting on Beinn Mhòr (small by Scottish standards at 741m, but still the highest in its area); or by the colours in the woods, which you can walk through easily to look down upon boats, buoys, birds, and the watersports fans scattered around the Lochs. Somehow or other, it seems that both the Romantic Poets and the Scottish Tourist Board have captured something important about the place when they try to convey it to others.
Of course, nowhere this beautiful avoids the glare and the sparkle of the media for long. In some cases (Dunoon is a case in point) those very lights have helped define and sustain the place for generations. Argyll and Bute are popular destinations for television, film, and advertising location scouts worldwide. It’s almost a government strategy to make it so. As well as the more predictable revenue to be made from wood-pulping, tourism, and deer-stalking, filming and photography are important sources of income for this area. Similarly, nowhere is exempt from rising oil prices or from the economic downturn. Hence, the operators of the Waverley paddle steamer (mentioned above) are hoping its role in the new Sherlock Holmes movie – spot it in the trailer here – will help draw attention to its uncertain future. Hopefully they’ll raise the funds to keep bringing people over the water after 2012…