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Mellon Udrigle

Always Going Back

Paul Gallagher

Even when look­ing at a map you can see the poten­tial with­out actu­al­ly going there. The Tor­ri­don moun­tains, Coigach and the clas­sic spire of Stac Pol­laidh and the still waters of Loch Maree, Loch Car­ron and Loch Ewe. The coast­line and bays all make for a stun­ning loca­tion to be in with a cam­era. But set­ting aside the land­marks and clas­sic loca­tions known to many who vis­it West­er Ross, there are thou­sands of small cor­ners where you can explore, and you get a sense that nobody has been there before. There may be no foot­path, no signs and noth­ing obvi­ous­ly sug­gest­ing it is owned by any­one. This is of course not the truth at all. All of Scot­land is owned and, in some way, man­aged, but it is this feel­ing of true free­dom and being alone that makes this place spe­cial. My inten­tion was to spend time with myself and work in soli­tude and explore at will.

Of course, I have been to this loca­tion before, but I nev­er feel I have exhaust­ed a place and each loca­tion can look dif­fer­ent from one sea­son to the next, not to men­tion one hour to the next as the light changes. Over the next five days I would freely explore many loca­tions and take time to won­der and pho­to­graph any­thing that cap­ti­vat­ed me. Each night I would retreat to the com­fort of my guest­house to look at the dig­i­tal files and make an assess­ment of the loca­tions and how I was rep­re­sent­ing them and what they meant to me.

It soon became appar­ent that on this par­tic­u­lar trip I was most­ly attract­ed to the coast and two loca­tions drew me in again and again – Udrigle Bay and Mel­lon Udrigle. As the unusu­al names right­ly sug­gest these two places are with­in a mile or so of each oth­er, but they are total­ly dif­fer­ent in what they offer. Udrigle Bay is accessed from a short but steep track from the road­side above and is a long rocky bay with long out­crops of sand­stone upon which boul­ders are perched. Mel­lon Udrigle is a total­ly dif­fer­ent place of almost white sand and sand­stone out­crops that appear like Tri­as­sic crea­tures from the sea and sand. 

The beau­ty of Scot­land is not sim­ply the places, but the weath­er you expe­ri­ence when you are there. I spent a lot of time at both these loca­tions (an entire day at Mel­lon Udrigle) and both days deliv­ered com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent con­di­tions. The day I vis­it­ed Udrigle the skies were heavy and there was a storm build­ing up across Gru­inard Bay and out to the open sea. As I arrived the tide was retreat­ing and the rock out­crops were emerg­ing from the wind­blown waves. The air tem­per­a­ture was low, and com­bined with the wind-chill, it became bit­ter. Even with my full win­ter kit on (with down jack­et), I could feel the wind claw­ing through the gaps in the lay­ers and bit­ing at my skin.

As I worked, the sky dark­ened fur­ther and I found myself perched on the out­crops as the sea­wa­ter crashed and swirled around me. This cre­at­ed a sense of edgi­ness in me and a feel­ing of being at one with the ele­ments. As the sea­wa­ter crashed and retreat­ed through the boul­ders it turned white and brighter than the dark stormy sky. My choice of long expo­sures seemed fit­ting to give a graph­ic image of motion and ener­gy, and on sev­er­al occa­sions, I had to get off the out­crops before the occa­sion­al large swell dragged me into the water.

My vis­it to Mel­lon Udrigle was a day of total con­trast to my time at Udrigle. The skies the night before had been total­ly clear and star-filled. The morn­ing greet­ed me with a steady sea breeze that was enough to keep the shal­low sea­wa­ter that was trapped on the sand between tides frozen for the entire day. The sun was low in the sky, which is a bonus of pho­tograph­ing at this time of year due to the soft colours and long shad­ows, and it offered a visu­al com­fort of warmth due to its glow. I walked alone onto the bay at 9.30 and began mak­ing pic­tures. With­in an hour I was total­ly trans­fixed and soaked up in my work. Every­thing pre­sent­ed images to me. Sea­weed, sand pat­terns, ice pat­terns and the waves com­ing in across the bay and crash­ing onto the sands and swelling in a mus­cu­lar fash­ion around the rocks dom­i­nat­ing the beach.

I was there when the sun rose above the small hills in the morn­ing, and I stood, still in awe as the last light of day died when the sun dropped below the hori­zon and I watched as the shad­ows dilut­ed away. It was at this point I realised I had not stopped for any food or rest and I peered at my watch to see it was 4 pm and my time was up. Just before I left I was reward­ed with a huge storm that arrived from the north. My feet were numb, my stom­ach emp­ty and my head full of excite­ment because I knew that when I got back to Ault­bea I could look at the day’s explo­rations again as the dig­i­tal files appeared on my laptop. 

The next day I made the long jour­ney home to Lan­cashire with mem­o­ries of stand­ing in the seas and lochs of West­er Ross in my welling­ton boots and being able to for­get it all for a while. I also found myself sub­con­scious­ly seek­ing out the pos­si­ble oppor­tu­ni­ties of when I could return. I know West­er Ross will be there when I am long gone, but in the mean­time, I feel it is up there wait­ing for me and my camera.