The Golden Road, Harris,
5th – 12th June
The Hebridean Islands present the landscape photographer with opportunities unlike any others in the UK. They are windswept, craggy, beautiful and, even today, remote. Not only are they geographically distinct, they are also culturally very different from the Scottish mainland.
Gaelic language speakers make up a significant portion of the population and the local brand of Christianity is well known for its fierce observance of the Sabbath. Shops still do not open on the Islands on Sundays, and until a few years ago when Sunday flights were introduced, there was no means of leaving the Islands on a Sabbath. Indeed there are still no ferry sailings on The Lord’s Day.
This paints a rather dour picture, which is actually at odds with the behaviour of the inhabitants. The Hebrideans are, without doubt, the most welcoming people you will ever meet. There is a phrase used locally “Never knock and never lock”; strangers are welcomed with open arms. There remains a very strong sense of community here, with all the benefits of feeling bound to one’s neighbours and secure from external threats. Unlike other parts of the UK, the crime rate here is extremely low – which is both a cause and a symptom of the atmosphere of social inclusiveness.
Sailing across the notoriously rough Minch, from Uig on Skye, the islands quickly rise above the western horizon. The Hebrides are truly at the edge of Europe. Beyond them there is nothing but the tiny archipelago of St Kilda and three thousand miles of storm tossed waves until landfall on the eastern shore of Canada. Approaching inshore, at East Loch Tarbert, most of the mountainsides are devoid of vegetation. Large areas of bare ice-carved rock bear witness to the power of glaciation. Here you can get some impression of geological time, a sense that for these islands the last ice age was only a moment ago. This is a primeval landscape, and all the more photogenic for that.
Further on the landscape becomes softer. Gently rolling moorland fills the interior, with occasional small crofting communities inhabiting widely separated whitewashed cottages. Sadly crofting as a self-sufficient way of life has mostly disappeared. Many islanders now have full time jobs outside agriculture. However, the links to the land and the sea are still very strong. Some traditional communal activities such as peat cutting persist, though in a smaller way than before. Even today, despite the ease of use and cheapness of fossil fuels, many a croft has its neatly stacked pile of peat for winter warmth.
As sheep farming has declined so the once ubiquitous “Grey Fergie” tractor, which used to grace the grass in front of almost every cottage, has become a rare sight. In place of a few ewes and their lambs a radical foreign import has begun to appear. Some croft houses now actually have gardens, complete with wind burnt herbaceous borders!
Return ferry from/to Uig, Isle of Skye
All transport during workshop
Full board accommodation
Photo tuition from David Ward
Transport to ferry terminal, Isle of Skye
£2,100 single occupancy
£350 fee payable at time of booking