Happy Scottish New Year!

Dear Monday pod,

Happy first blog of 2014! To get away from the haze of food and alcohol, otherwise known as December, I decided to get some fresh Scottish air by going up to the Cairngorms. On what can only be described as my least successful photography trip ever I was rekindled with my firm belief that animals probably do the following upon sensing my presence:

Squirrel no. 1: Pssst! Oiiii!
Squirrel no. 2: What? I’m eating.
Squirrel no. 1: It’s Ester! Hide!
Squirrel no. 2: What? Oh hide, right.

You’d think by now I’d have warmed more to hide photography but no. (That wasn’t meant to be a play on words, I promise).

Mild winter so far in the Caledonian pine forests

Mild winter so far in the Caledonian pine forests

My day of arrival had some great weather, but as I was still getting my bearings I didn’t manage to take advantage of it. Days 2 and 3 gave me a spectacular set of sightings totalling 1 glimpse of a tit (of the bird variety) and the bum of a red squirrel as it scampered away. And then on day 4, what was purportedly going to be the best day of my stay, mist and rain rolled in in the morning emitting a metaphorical cloud of putrid gas all over my sunrise shot.

Broody sky in the Cairngorms

Broody sky over Loch Morlich

Crested tit

Brief spotting of this noisy tit

My final full day had me chasing after what I thought was a ‘difficult’ target, which is why I had left it not sure whether it would be worth it. I was staying at Fraoch Lodge at the time, and the guy who runs it – Andy Bateman – is a super mountaineering guide. He gave me a location away from the ski slopes to look. I decided to trust him and trudged up the path in fairly miserable weather. I added another bum to my list – two red deer doe skipped off when I startled them. After about an hour and a half I saw a bit of snow in the shape of a hare. It took me several go’s at confirming it with my binoculars because I couldn’t believe it! It quickly hopped up the mountain, and I attempted to follow it but it was long gone. I continued up the hill and after a while realised I was hungry. I stopped to eat my lunch and when I had just finished my second sandwich (important detail, clearly) I realised something was running in the distance – 1, no 4 mountain hares! I set off in pursuit, and managed a few shots before a red grouse scared them off. Determined, I continued off the path into the snow. Did a bit of creepy stalking, and after I’d lost them I looked around and saw that I was surrounded by fresh snow another not much else. Taking out my phone to take a photo when literally 2 seconds later the clouds rolled in and I couldn’t see an inch in front of me, losing all signs of the path. My heart skipped a beat as I raced back towards where I thought it was. I saw a hare run in front of me but I was dead focussed on the path – good thing I was too because when I found it, it wasn’t running in the direction I thought it would. I quickly got down off the mountain in the fear that the clouds would get worse and envelope me lower down as well.

Mountain hare territory

Mountain hare territory

Mountain hare concentrating

Mountain hare spotted in the distance before red grouse scared it off

Lessons learnt: always travel with a compass in your kit bag, hot hands are literally the best thing (they really do last for up to 10 hours), and my new Sorel boots are amazing despite the top half not being waterproof against knee-deep snow (can’t really hold that against them).

Red squirrel taken by surprise

Red squirrel taken by surprise

Starlight sunset in the cairngorms

Starlight sunset in the Cairngorms

After all that I still came back to Bristol with a smile on my face because spending all this time trying to do photography has been the most I’ve been able to do since Yellowstone. And success or not, that is a great thing. Looking back upon 2013 and putting things in perspective (learning that Santa isn’t a sumo wrestler in his free time is a game changer after all), I also realised that taking the seriousness out of trying puts the fun back into it. So in 2014 I hope to try just as hard to take good photos, but make light out of the result. And whilst we’re on the topic of looking forward, other good things yet to come:

– Release of my film ‘The Avon Gorge’ narrated by a secret celebrity (depending on which circles you worship)
– More wonderful photos of course, in the hope that I ever get one published, and light Monday reading to accompany it.
– An actual biannual newsletter. You might as well sign up to receive it – the worst that can happen is you won’t get anything (fairly likely)
– Intermittent blackouts of new blog posts as I might need to travel for work
– And finally, if you meet me in the field you will most likely find me looking a bit dazed, trying to find animals like so:

Yours until my brain juices dry out,

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