Highland and Moray - Part 1 of 3 - The Rhu Peninsula

Yet another beautiful, but hidden away location in Scotland, that I know you will really enjoy photographing

The Rhu peninsula is a relatively small finger of land, that sticks out into Loch Hourn. It is around five miles long, but only two miles wide at its base and which narrows to a point the further you travel along it. This tiny but beautiful peninsula, points out to sea in a West to South Westerly direction (so very good for sunsets at any time of year) and looks out towards a long line of dramatically shaped islands, that stretch almost entirely across the horizon in front of it. The Rhu Peninsula also lies very close to the tiny seaside village of Arisaig, with its single cafe, general store, hotel and boatyard and is why we chose to stay in the Arisaig Hotel when we last visited here. We had already stayed in the Hotel about four times over the years and knew it to be a really comfortable place to stay and a great central location to be in, for all the locations that I will now be discussing, throughout this three part Highland and Moray mini photographic tour. So if you do choose to stay at the Arisaig Hotel as I suggest that you do, then I would also highly recommend that you opt for their very tasty full Scottish breakfasts each morning, before you set out hunting for photographs. As you will then no longer feel the need to eat anything else for the rest of the day, until perhaps a light snack in the evening, followed by a dram or two at the bar.

Setting the Scene - There is an ancient and really quite scary legend, associated with this area around the Rhu Peninsula and the village of Arisaig. Of an evil, ghostly apparition, called the "Colann gun cheann", which roughly translates from Scottish Gaelic as, "The Headless Body ".

The Colann gun cheann is said to be a headless 'zombie' type of being, that wanders around this area from dusk until dawn, looking for people it can rip to into small bloody chunks. It achieves this, by first finding its next victim and then using its own severed head (which it still retains and drags around by its hair), to hurl at people and knock them unconscious. Where it then leaps upon them and starts to rip at their flesh, until there is nothing left of its victim, that is even remotely identifiable as being from any part of a human being. It then gathers up these gory pieces of flesh and throws them out onto the rocks nearest to the sea, for the birds and the crabs to feast on.

Then one day, the local Clan Chief was told that his son had just been ripped to pieces by the Colann gun cheann out on the peninsula. So the chief vowed he would confront the beast that very same night and try to get rid of it once and for all. So he set of with his sword in hand, as he made his way out to the headland. Where sure enough he caught sight of the Colann gun cheann floating through the air as it began to stalk him. The chief pretended not to notice and continue on his way, until the Colann gun cheann struck by throwing its head at him. But knowing this was coming, he quickly turned around and held out his sword and pierced the head right through to the top of its skull.

The Colann gun cheann instantly began to wail out in distress and pleading for its head back. Which the Clan chief said he would only agree to, if the Colann gun cheann promised that it would leave this area and all of his clans folk alone. The Colann gun cheann reluctantly agreed to his demands and is said to have then faded away into the night nursing its damaged head, but vowing that one day, it would return to seek out its gruesome revenge.

Now I don't know about you, but this particular story from ancient Scottish folklore, seems to me to be a particularly disturbing one and even though I have told you quite a few other gruesome tales, in many of the other free chapters on this site, based on the many legends that seem to abound throughout Scotland. This one just feels to me to be unnecessarily scary, as well as unnecessarily gory. Also as I have mentioned in at least one other chapter on this site, how I believe that these scary stories, were created in the ancient past by worried parents, in an attempt to scare their children witless and to stop them wandering off from the confines of the village and getting into trouble, or lost in the woods. Or to stop them straying too near to the shoreline and possibly drowning, or being captured by other marauding clans in the area etc. But none the less, I am sure it worked and lots of children's lives over the hundreds, if not thousands of years were saved because of it. But can you imagine the wide eyed fear on the faces of those children from the past, who must have been made to listen to these tall tales and the nightmares they probably had, for the rest of their lives because of it?

How to get there - I have already described quite a lot of this area surrounding Arisaig in a previous chapter on this site, as well as the wider area surrounding the 'Silver Sands of Morar', which can you can find in the 'Morar and Hogwart's Express' Chapter and which I suggest you should definitely read first, before you set out with your camera, to visit and photograph this beautifully rugged, coastal area of Scotland.

So, I will begin part 1 of this 4 part chapter and mini photographic route guide, assuming that you have just landed at the ferry terminal in Mallaig, which is back on the mainland from the Isle of Skye and is where you will first make landfall, after a very pleasant 40 minute ferry journey across Loch Hourn. However, as you sail across Loch Hourn, do make the time to go up on deck and look out for the many pods of porpoise that you will see feeding in this location, as well as a wide range of different raptors and sea birds. Such as Kittiwakes, Razor Bills and Black Guillemots, as well a Gannets, Sea Eagles and of course Golden Eagles. So don't just sit there in the warmth of your car having a quick snooze (as I usually do), but instead go up on deck and watch the abundant wildlife (as my wife usually does). But put your coat on first, or at least take it with you, as even in Summer, the sea here is still usually quite cold, due to it flowing directly down from the Arctic and so you will probably find, that it is going to be surprisingly cool and breezy up on deck, even under direct summer sunshine conditions.

Then having landed at Mallaig, Street View, Map View, drive out of Mallaig on the main A830 - you can also stock up with supplies in Mallaig if you need them, or have a bite to eat at any of the many cafes, bars and restaurants that you will find there. Mallaig is also the terminal point for the world famous Hogwart's Express. So if you are there when this old steam train just happens to be in the station, then why not spend a few minutes shooting the old engine, as it sits there being refueled and puffing away. So once out of Mallaig and driving along the coastal road, where you will have lots of great sea views over to the islands of Canna, Eigg and Rum, set against the horizon to your right. Then continue on for another 3.5 miles or so, until you come to a long flat concrete bridge, that spans over the river Morar. There you will see the large cascade Falls of Morar to your left, Street View, Map View, that runs under an old stone bridge, with some nicely placed low lying hills behind it. Now even though I never shot these Falls of Morar when we were there, because I was being a complete arse and far too picky about how I would then have to include the small, modern road bridge that runs directly in front of it. None the less, this is a shot I should have made the effort to take, if for no other reason than to show you, the potential of this scene - ho hum!

Anyhoo, if you do go here and you do manage to get a good shot of the Morar Falls, then please feel free to email me (by clicking on the mail icon above right), so you can then rub my nose into it and show me what a pillock I was, for turning down this photo opportunity when we there.

However, you will soon notice on the main road bridge (as shown in the street view link above) that there is no obvious place to park here, so you will have to find your own place to park safely. Also if you do wish to get right next to the falls (as I did and then didn't even bother to get my camera out of the bag - aaarrrggghhh!!!), so you can try to work the scene from there. If you take the very next left turn sign posted for Bracara, found immediately at the far end of the road bridge and then drive along the B8008 for another 500 yards or so, you will find yourself driving over the top of the falls and directly next to the old stone bridge, Street View, Map View.

The B8008, then winds its way into the surrounding glen for many more miles, passing loch after pretty loch and even though I did not find anything worth photographing up here either, it is none the less a very pretty drive and a great place for a picnic.

So back on the main A830, continue driving on for another 4.2 miles, until you see a sign pointing you down to the village of Arisaig on your right, but not the first turning down to Arisaig that you are now going to drive past, but the second, Street View, Map View and take this right hand turn.

Now continue down the B8008 towards Arisaig (I know, different road entirely to the one just mentioned above, but with the exact same road number - go figure!), until you see a left turn signposted for Rhu 3.5 miles further on, Street View, Map View and turn left here. Now this tiny little winding road, is going to lead you to what I think is one of the best sunset locations to be found anywhere in this area of the North West of Scotland and which is also well off the beaten track and tourist routes. So this hidden away gem of a photo location, is definitely somewhere I know you are going to want to spend a quiet evening or two with your camera, as can be seen in SHOT 2 above and throughout the rest of this chapter.

As you drive along this 3.5 mile long road, you will see a variety of photo opportunities along the way, with several tiny lochs and the occasional nicely located single windswept tree, as shown in SHOT 1 above, Street View, Map View. In fact other than a few cyclists and walkers, no one else seems to know about this hidden away gem of a photo location and is definitely somewhere you are going to want to spend some time, enjoying your photography, Street View, Map View.

So it really was the result of pure luck that we happened to find ourselves in this location, as we were staying in the hotel just a few miles further back up the road at Arisaig. Where one evening after our meal, we were still sort of kicking our heels and wondering what else we could do with what little remained of the day. Yet we both felt it was still way too early to go back to our room and slob out on the bed watching TV eating crisps - in other words, I still had that photographic itch that we all get when out on the road and it felt like it still needed a bit more scratching.

You see on this particular day, it had mainly been showery and overcast and very, very windy and not very inspiring for photography at all, but not a complete washout, as I had managed to grab a few decent shots throughout the day. Yet here I was at the end of the day, with an itch that just wouldn't go away. So I suggested to the boss, that we make a flask of tea and go for a drive before dusk, just to see what we could find, even though I thought we had already scoured the area for the best locations. And then we happened to see this small road going off to the left, that appeared to be going nowhere, other than to the back of a few houses. So I turned down it without really thinking and not expecting to find much, but still with about an hour or so of daylight left to work with. It was still very windy and drizzling as we drove along this tiny windswept track, with a large hill obscuring the sun in the distance. I remember saying to my wife "If only this road continued all the way out to the coast, after going round and in front of that annoying hill, which was blocking out all the light. Now wouldn't that be a great place to chill out and drink a cuppa, as we watched the sun go down?" And lo and behold, that is exactly what it did...

The sunset then started to happen as soon after we arrived at the point, with the rain finally deciding to almost stop and the wind dropping completely (yes I know, how lucky was I?). So I immediately jumped out of the car, as my wife continued with the important task of brewing some tea, as I setup my kit and then grabbed SHOT 2 shown above. I was now grinning like the cat who got the cream, as I mentally dropped straight into the zone - you know what I mean by the term 'Zone' don't you? Where you get so caught up in what you are doing and what you are photographing, that a nuclear bomb could explode into a giant mushroom cloud on the horizon and you wouldn't even notice, as long as it wasn't ruining your shot of course. Well perhaps not an actual nuke, but you know what I mean.

So I had gone from zero miles per hour and kicking my heals, after eating our evening meal, straight into a warp 10 photo frenzy, as I began to quickly crab about with my tripod and camera, framing shot after shot, as the sun arced down in the sky and the sunset colours began to bloom, as shown in SHOT 3 above.

And then it was over.

So I got back into the car and threw away my cold cup of tea, before making us both a fresh one, as I thought to myself, Wow, what an amazing place to stumble across at the last minute for a sunset shoot.

Needless to say, we went back there the following day and then in the evening and which also turned out to be a very nice sunset. Although not as good as the first night I must admit, but still very enjoyable, as can be seen in SHOTS 4 above, SHOT 5 to the right and SHOT 6 below.

On the second visit, as we were there much earlier (as you do), I decided to have a scout around a bit and wandered around the corner, a little further on from this location and found yet another really photographic scene. With this old stone building standing right next to the sea, as can be seen in SHOT 7 below. So again, what an amazing out of the way place to stumble across for photography and all of it with me standing right beside the road. In fact all of these shots throughout this entire chapter, were shot with me standing only a few feet away from the car, occasionally drinking tea and eating far too many chocolate biscuits - I mean does it get any better than this? I don't think so...

If you do come here and you want to shoot the old stone building, as I am sure you will. Then you really do need to time it right, so that the tide is at its highest point. Although the tide when it is fully out at this location, does not go our far enough to reveal a beach or anything, so there will always be some seawater in the right edge of the shot. But I would still advise that it is better to be here, when the tide is at its highest point and the waves are lapping around the rocks in the foreground.

Also do not expect high rolling waves at this location, as this just doesn't seem to happen here and the waves are usually quite small but constant. In fact there are very few places on the North West coast of Scotland, that have high rolling wave beaches or rocky shorelines. Which is due to the fact, that pretty much all of this area is surrounded by coral reefs and rocky outcrops. Yes I know, most people would normally think of somewhere like Australia and the Barrier Reef when discussing coral reefs, or perhaps even the lower Florida coastline. But both you and I would be wrong, because as it turns out, the entire North West of Scotland coastline, is pretty much surrounded by them as well. Which in turn means that just like Florida and the Barrier Reef, the coral reefs act as a sort of dampening device on the motion of the waves and take all the power and height out of them. So the height of the waves will always remain low here all year round, as well as in most weather conditions.

Tip: Once we had found this location, we then went back to it several more times, at different levels of the tide and at different times throughout the day. But the best I found for photography, just happened to be the first time we stumbled upon it, which was very near to a high tide and around an hour (but probably less) before the sun fully began to set. So try to time your visit here for these conditions, if you can.

It is also worth mentioning, that this point on the peninsula seemed to be quite sheltered from the wind, which when we were back in Arisaig, only about a 20 minute drive away, was blowing quite strongly and had been doing so for most of the day.

I also found that my old 24-105 lens, seemed to be just the right focal length for most of the shots taken at this location. Except the shot of the old stone building shown here to the left and SHOT 1, where I used my even older 16-35. But having said that, I did also briefly throw on my 70/200mm for a couple of shots, so I could reach further into the scene, to pick out a more detailed shot, as shown above in SHOT6.

But if I was only allowed to take one lens to this location, then I would definitely opt for a medium to short zoom, something like the 24-105. And then if I did want to make a wider angle shot, I could always rotate the camera into its vertical orientation and grab what appears to be a normal 3:2 aspect ratio shot, but that was instead made up of several vertical pano shots stitched together.

And finally...

What more can I say about the Rhu Peninsula, that could be any more gushy than I have already waffled through above. Other than to say that you should just enjoy this hidden away location and make the most of it while you are there. Because you will probably find that you are here on your own, which let's face it, is always the best way to hear yourself think. With perhaps the occasional passing walker or cyclist, that you feel obliged to give a cheery nod and say "Hi" to. The views are spectacular, with a 180 degree seascape, that is about as photogenic as you could ever wish for. And it is all set against some really nicely shaped mountains in the distance, that run pretty much all the way across the horizon. But most of all, it faces West and so is always going to have the best potential for a sunset, at any time of year.


Exif information for each of the numbered shots shown throughout this chapter

--1 - Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM, 1/160th Sec, f/16, ISO 200, Focal Length 16mm, taken on 23rd Apr at 09:53

--2 - Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM, 25 Sec (with 10 stop screw in filter), f/13, ISO 200, Focal Length 35mm (cropped), taken on 22nd Apr at 19:27

--3 - Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM, 30 Sec (with 10 stop screw in filter), f/13, ISO 320, Focal Length 80mm (cropped), taken on 22nd Apr at 19:59

--4 - Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM, 30 Sec (with 10 stop screw in filter), f/13, ISO 250, Focal Length 105mm, taken on 22nd Apr at 20:02

--5 - Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM, 30 Sec (with 10 stop screw in filter), f/13, ISO 200, Focal Length 105mm (cropped), taken on 22nd Apr at 20:07

--6 - Canon EF70-200/2.8L IS USM, 1/60th Sec, f/25, ISO 50, Focal Length 200mm, taken on 24th Apr at 19:49

--7 - Canon EF16-35/2.8L USM, 30 Sec (with 10 stop screw in filter), f/16, ISO 50, Focal Length 29mm, taken on 24th Apr at 09:29


Continue on to next chapter for the Tioram Castle - Highland and Moray Part 2 of 3

If you have enjoyed reading these 'Extra' chapters to my Guide Book and think you might also enjoy reading 79 more chapters across 270 pages, that also includes more than 340 Fine Art quality images, along with detailed descriptions and large scale maps to guide you to the exact location of where I took each and every one of them and which then goes onto discuss the techniques and tools I used to process them, but where everything is written in plain easy to understand English? Then please consider buying the Book.