I hope, in the images that came from these outings, to have caught something of the spirit of Scotland’s longest glen as well as the people who seem to thrive in such a hostile environment.
The adventure starts at Loch an Daimh towards the top end of Glen Lyon. It is mid February and half of the loch is bound solid with ice. I find myself balanced at the front of a small boat with stalkers Steven Macdonald and Ally Macaskill tasked with helping spot a way though the half frozen loch to other side.
It looks like we have made it through when the channel of clear water we are following narrows between thick slabs of ice. As we try to push though it a serrated edge scrapes ominously along the length of the hull. Steven steadies the boat while Ally resorts to smashing through the ice with the anchor on a shortened chain to break through to the far shore.
We leave the boat to scale the steep, rugged ground above Loch an Daimh. The slopes are too steep to bring in an Argo and beasts have to be dragged back down and transported across the loch by boat. The sheer challenge of the terrain make this Steven and Ally’s favourite stalking ground. It’s not hard to see why. From the tops we are rewarded with breathtaking views across Rannoch to the Cairngorms beyond.
I’ve been photographing Glen Lyon in Highland Perthshire ever since I moved here more than ten years ago. With twenty-six miles of mixed woodland, heath and high bens, the glen must be one of the best locations in Scotland for landscape photography. There are so many wild places such as Coire Nan Fraochag, a wonderfully secluded high corrie on the western approaches to Carn Gorm to explore with a camera. The stalkers simply call it ‘The Sanctuary’ because of all the deer that gather there for shelter when bad weather comes in.
As well as stunning views the glen has a vibrant, if scattered, community with its own tearoom, post office, art gallery and primary school at Bridge of Balgie. The people of Glen Lyon are an integral part of this highland landscape and I have also been keen to capture the daily rhythm of life in the glen. In the winter this includes stalking, foxing, clay shooting, gathering sheep, looking after the Highland ponies or simply having a dram by the fire on a long, dark evening.
Many of my photographs have been taken on Meggernie and Lochs Estates. Covering almost 40,000 acres, including the munros Stuchd an Lochain and Meall Buidh, they offer a wonderful mix of ground for fishing and stalking. There are a couple of private days of walked up grouse every August with efforts currently underway to reduce grazing pressure and improve the health of heather moorland habitat.
During the stag season, as the estates’ head stalker, Steven takes guests from all over the world to stalk around 100 beasts. “Meggernie is a hind forest that attracts some really big stags travelling from Loch Tay and as far as the West Coast during the rut,” he told me. Most of his clients come back year after year, some for as many as 30 years. They are drawn by the spectacular views and the varied ground that takes in open water, rugged hills and stretches of ancient Caledonian forest.
From the middle of November Steven’s attention switches to the hinds with an ambitious target set by SNH of 300 to cull this winter alone. The hind season may not have the same draw as the stags, but the snow and fleeting light makes it the most inspiring time for me to venture out and take photos. I’ve had some cracking winter days out on the hill with Glen Lyon’s stalkers and I’m eternally grateful for their patience in allowing me to ‘shoot’ them.
By the end of that cold February day on Loch and Daimh, Steven and Ally had stalked, gralloched and heaved no less than seven hinds back to the larder and I had a pocketful of black and white film to take home and develop. I hope, in the images that came from these outings, to have caught something of the spirit of Scotland’s longest glen as well as people like Steven who seem to thrive in such a hostile environment.
Scottish Field, September 2013