February, the last month of meteorological winter, proved to be less stormy than January but what it lacked in wind was certainly made up in rain. Looking at my weather station, it was the second wettest February I’ve experienced since moving to the Peninsula in 2016, with almost 200mm of rain in the month, and over half of that falling in the first week. The sheer volume of rain falling onto already saturated ground over such a short period of time meant that both the River Shiel and Loch Shiel were as high as I’ve ever seen them.
I was keen to record this, so I headed up to the bridge that crosses the River Shiel just to the north-west of Acharacle to see what I could photograph. On the morning I was there, the rain had eventually stopped and the rising sun occasionally shone through the breaks in the cloud that were beginning to appear. This first image I took were of the bridge silhouetted against the warm morning light and I then turned my attention to picking out some of the trees downstream of it, that were sitting submerged in a few feet of water.
A couple of mornings later, I returned to Acharacle, but rather than photographing the bridge again, I decided to focus on Loch Shiel and the submerged fences that were in the flooded fields close to the Shielbridge Hall in the centre of the village. I was there just before sunrise, hoping for some colour to appear in the sky but high-level cloud cover prevented this and instead the landscape was bathed in some beautifully subtle, soft and warm light. This was perfect for the shots I ended up taking.
Upon finishing exploring the submerged fence posts, my attention turned to the various patches of ice that had formed along the water’s edge as a result of overnight sub-zero temperatures. Indeed, I was very appreciative of my liner gloves and woollen mitts, packed with charcoal hand warmers, which were keeping my fingers warm while the mercury still hovered around the -2°C mark. There were some fascinating wafers of ice suspended above the surface of the loch by tussocks of grass, presumably left because the water level in the loch was falling now that the rain had stopped for a couple of days.
As well as these suspended wafers of ice, the curving water's edge near the Shielbridge Hall played host to a myriad of intricately frosted blades of grass that formed the boundary between the frozen field and the frozen loch. They were a joy to photograph.
The middle of the month was dominated by misty, grey days which are best described as being “smirry”. You see, “smirr” is an Old Scots word for a delicate form of rain or a misty drizzle that lingers in the air and that’s certainly what we had. On days like that, woodlands are a good place to go for taking photos, so I decided to take my camera on a wander around the 4km loop at Ariundle Oakwood which takes you up the side of the Strontian River and back down through the ancient oaks that can be found there.
Despite the greyness of the day, there was still some colour to be found as my eye was drawn to the contrasts between the orange hues of the winter undergrowth, the purple tinge of the bare branches of stands of silver birch trees and the silvery grey of the lichen covered branches off the gnarly oak trees.
However, as always, the thing that catches my eye most when I take a walk through the oakwoods is the combination of thick and twisted oak tree trunks and branches surrounded by large and rounded moss covered boulders. There’s something quite enchanting about this sight and I think that it is little wonder that folklore has it that the boulders are home to faeries that live in the woods.
My next outing with the camera took me to Sàilean nan Cuileag, a small bay on Loch Sunart, just to the east of Salen. It’s not far from my house, so it is a place I often take the dog for a walk and on the countless times I’ve been there I’ve crossed a small stream that cuts across the path on the way down to the bay. I’ve never paid much attention to it but on this occasion, I stopped and spent some time taking some close-up shots of the water flowing over the red tinged stones that can be found in the streambed. I had never noticed them before, so the experience reminded me of what you can see if you take the time to slow down and really look at something.
After photographing the streambed, I continued my walk down to the bay with the intention of photographing the stream as it flowed into the sea at high tide. I took a few shots of the scene I had in my mind, but the dullness of the evening meant that I didn’t get anything I was happy with. Instead, I turned my attention to taking some close-up shots of the trees that fringe the bay. They comprise a mixture of larch and oak, whose bare branches were covered with silvery grey lichen just like those I photographed at Ariundle Oakwood a week or so earlier.
From all of the images above, you will see that February has been quite a grey and colourless month, but thankfully as both the end of the month and the end of meteorological winter approached, the weather began to improve and we were treated to a couple of colourful sunsets. During one of these, I was looking eastwards, out of the kitchen window, just as beautifully warm light fell on a snow capped Fuar Bheinn, a 2514-foot-high Corbett that is one of a horseshoe of peaks that circles Glen Galmadale over on Kingairloch Estate.
It was such a beautiful sight, so I just had to grab my camera, rush outdoors and capture the scene before the light disappeared as the sun dipped below the hills behind and to the west of me. After this, I stayed by the loch side for a while and watched the colours of the loch, sky and landscape change as the sun set and took the following image which shows the view looking westwards down Loch Sunart from Resipole. This rich orange glow of a late winter sunset was a perfect and spectacular end to a month, which for the most part, had been a dull and grey one.
I’m sitting writing this while the wind is howling outside, the rain is battering off the window of my studio and the sea is being whipped up into a frenzy as yet more stormy weather passes over us here on the shore of Loch Sunart. This type of weather sure seems to have been a feature of the last few weeks, with us seeing no less than three named storms during January.
We had storm Henk at the start of the month and storms Isha and Jocelyn at the end of the month. Of the three, Isha had the greatest impact on the UK with it being the most significant wind-storm to affect the UK since storm Eunice in February of 2022. However, for us here on the north-west coast of Scotland it was storm Jocelyn that felt to be the most severe, with wind gusts well in excess of 100 mph being measured in a number of places up this way.
As well as these named storm days, there seemed to be many other days on which the weather was just a wild, so this limited the number of times I was able to get out with my camera during January. However, I did venture to the loch shore in front of the house during storm Jocelyn and managed to take the following image while struggling to stay upright as gust after gust attempted to lift me off my feet.
Thankfully, in the second week of the month, the sky cleared to bring a spell of extremely still and cold weather. The inordinate amount of rain that storm Henk had dumped on us meant that a layer of fresh water had settled on the surface of Loch Sunart, and it froze to form a layer of surface ice that ran from the head of the loch at Strontian all the way down as far as Glenmore where Ardnamurchan Distillery is located.
Having the loch freeze as it did is an extremely rare occurrence, so I decided to spend a few hours one morning to explore as frozen Salen Bay while accompanied by the sound of cracks and bangs from the ice as it shifted on the changing tide. I came away with a number of photographs, including the ones here, which were taken on and around the old stone jetty about half-way down the west side of the bay.
The ice had all but disappeared a couple days later and this allowed to safely walk out into Sàilean nan Cuileag, the smaller bay to the east of Salen Bay. It completely empties at low tide and is a place where I frequently walk the dog. When I do, I tend to take my camera because there is often something to photograph there and, on this occasion, I found a perfectly straight high tide mark where white hoar frost contrasted with the black rock that had been revealed by the falling tide. It was such an unusual sight and I just had to capture a few photographs of it before it disappeared.
The cold, dry and settled weather lasted about another week before being brought to an end by some of very snowy weather when unusually, successive snow showers covered the loch shore with a white banket that lay all the way down to the sea after each successive high tide for about 3 or 4 days. Unfortunately, the amount of snow that kept falling meant that driving wasn’t to be recommended, so I had to content myself with some photography from the loch shore in front of the house and with some drone photography from above it.
However, the house is in a beautiful spot. One that is simply magical during a winter sunrise, and I was happy to be able to capture a little bit of this magic not long after high tide on the morning of 15 January. The snow had just stopped falling and the sun was beginning to rise above the hills of Morvern on the other side of the loch, bringing with it a lovely combination of pastel pinks and blues that were followed some intense bursts of yellows and golds.
Winter sunsets at the house can be spectacular too, especially on a perfectly clear evenings such as the one shown here when an intense band of yellow filled the western sky and painted the surface of the loch.
Although there is no doubting that such sunsets are an amazing sight, I sometimes prefer photographing in the hour after sunset. Called the Blue Hour, it is when the sky transitions to a serene shade of blue and creates a magical and tranquil atmosphere. So, on this particular evening, I turned the drone to face the other way, waited for the blue to appear and took these images.
The image on the left shows the settlement of Resipole with the snow-covered flank of Ben Resipole beyond it and a snow fringed Loch Sunart to its right, while the image on the right was taken looking straight down at the contrast between the snow covered oakwoods, the bare boulders of the loch shore and the deep blue of the loch itself.
Hi, I’m Steven Marshall, a Scottish landscape photographer based at Rockpool House in the heart of the beautiful West Highland Peninsulas of Sunart, Morvern, Moidart, Ardgour and Ardnamurchan.