In 1981 Lawrence Macduff made his first ascent of Dunskeig, the hill that dominates the entrance to West Loch Tarbert from the south side. In the latest chapter of his ‘Confessions of a Camera Man’, Lawrence recalls his excitement at the prospect of photographing the comings and goings of the Islay ferries from such a wonderful vantage point.
Another fortuitous work transfer, this time to mid Argyll in the summer of 1980, gave me an unrivalled chance to revisit this area and enjoy the huge added advantage of ease of access to the many special places from which I enjoyed taking pictures.
My first shoreline discovery was at Corran Point right at the foot of the West Loch, an area accessed by a narrow tarmac road off which you could dump the car and then walk maybe half a mile down to and along the beach towards the foot of Dunskeig.
By this time, the trusty old Glen Sannox had taken up winter duty on the Islay service, so what better than to go and have a crack at some pictures from here. But, to get the best results, you needed to walk along a lovely sand and shingle beach… for a while at least until your plans went pear shaped by the discovery of a deep, all too wide, and fast flowing burn.
Well, I tried and tried to find a way around or across it, but there was just no way. If I wanted pictures, I would literally have to wade though fast flowing water not far short of two feet deep – in January. Sod this, I thought, but…..I’m going; I didn’t come this far to be knackered by some water.
I took my shoes off, crossed gingerly and donned my footwear again, only to squelch into something like quicksand. But by and by the ship appeared in the weak sun, so I took what I could, plunged through the icy torrent again to reach the relative comfort of the car and drove back to my Ardrishaig home in bare feet – and what a queer feeling it was to place numb feet on the pedals and expect some action.
I went back occasionally, but later found a better spot nearby from which I could reach the ship by telephoto lens. Here I could get nice views of whatever ferry was on duty by climbing up a bracken-and-nettle-strewn banking, complete with water-filled ditch protected by collapsed fence and yards of barbed wire at its foot. You just don’t want to slip and fall on top of that lot. I still hadn’t discovered the merits of walking boots and big treads.
It was spring the following year before I looked at finding a way up to the top of Dunskeig hill. A striking vantage point as seen from the loch, I just had to work out how best to access the terrain, and by and by, I found a minor road which led off the main A83 Campbeltown road and ran into Clachan village the back way, serving a few farms as it did. There was a steep farm track heading upwards so one fine day at Easter, what better than to have a go.
It was a 30-minute climb over often boggy ground, and at that time, I still hadn’t had the good sense to buy those much needed walking boots for such jobs. That took me another 17 years — but I was always a slow learner.
It also took me time to realise that a rucksack was a vastly preferable receptacle for one’s camera gear, giving that incalculable advantage of spreading the load on my back, leaving both hands free for balance and for grabbing rock or foliage to prevent a fall!
So, instead, I slid and slithered trying to avoid the worst of the sodden ground, always a major hazard in trying to cross open terrain here.
However, I made it eventually, hot and sweaty as always, and when I saw the view, I was absolutely floored. It was and remains one of my favourite places from which to film ferries and simply to relax in beautiful surroundings, with a flask and sannies as the reward for the effort in getting up there.
The secret was to try and avoid cutting things too fine if there was a ferry due. More than once, I left it too tight to do the climb and arrived at the summit breathless to see the ship uncomfortably close. It was all I could do to hold the camera steady enough for taking the shot.
Back on this balmy spring morning, my quarry was Iona which thrilled me by sporting a superb bow wave as she approached, while a small speedboat tried to cut her up, but complemented the picture with a sea trail of her own.
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Published on 20 November 2018