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View from my house

Sunrise over the north of Raasay and the Scottish Highlands from the Trotternish Peninsula, Isle of Skye

22nd March 2015

Last week was an interesting one, astronomically. We had the strongest aurora since the big one of February last year, and we had a near total eclipse of the sun. Let's begin with the aurora.

There's an important number associated with auroras, and that's the Kp index. The higher that number, the wider the area over which the aurora may be observed. Normally we sit below Kp2. Around Kp5 we should be able to see the aurora from Skye, though low down to the northern horizon. Kp6 is considered "storm" level and may be viewed as far south as northern England. On Tuesday we hit Kp8. That takes the range as far south as Germany and France! On Skye that means the aurora can stretch right across the sky. In Broadford it was cloudy. Very cloudy.

So, undeterred, I headed towards Elgol to the west where the cloud cover was not so heavy, and I managed to capture a couple of photos...

Aurora, Elgol Aurora, Elgol

It was both thrilling and disappointing. This was the first time I had seen the sky really lighting up, so it was exciting. At the same time, though, it was disappointing because there was obviously a magnificent display going on that was very much masked by the clouds. The first photo above is looking almost due west and marked the edge of the aurora. This was clearly visible to the naked eye though the camera brought out the colours more. The second is looking a bit more to the north-west, over the Cuillin mountains. It was taken at a 17mm focal length with a full-frame sensor and there are rays visible towards the top, through some of the gaps in the cloud. This was almost overhead. Sadly, the cloud obscured the best of the show, though at least it was better than in Broadford.

On Wednesday night we were still getting soime fairly high Kp numbers. I had thought it would be interesting to try a shot across Broadford Bay but some inconsiderate ship's captain had moored his boat in the middle of the bay and left strong lights blazing out, absolutely ruining any chance of a worthwhile shot, so I headed out to a spot north of Broadford, a designated "Dark Skies" area.

Aurora, Broadford

Aurora, Broadfordd

Here we were able to watch and photograph an unobscured view to the north over the island of Scalpay. Well, I say unobscured. There was some cloud but with no obvious rays or structure to the aurora, the clouds actually gave us some extra interest. Colours changed, though it should be noted that, when viewed with the naked eye, it was hard to see any more than just a grey brightness in the sky. Perhaps with some imagination, a very faint green could be seen. Long exposures (30 seconds or more) brought out the fluctuating colours.

As if this wasn't enough for one week, Friday brought us an eclipse of the sun. Totality was not visible from the UK but from Skye it was around 97%, so still pretty unusual. The weather forecast had not been at all promising but turned out better than expected. There was quite a lot of cloud cover but it turned out to be a help. Looking directly at the sun is hazardous but the cloud was just thick enough to let us look, but not so thick that we couldn't see.

Eclipse of the sun, Broadford Eclipse, Broadford
Weird eclipse light

The first photo above shows the maximum coverage we could see from here. The second is a little later: if you look carefully you'll see the sun in the bottom left corner. The light at the maximum point was weird, almost like a strong moonlight. It was enough to light up cloud covering the mountains seen from in front of my house, as shown in the third photo.

8th February 2015

It's been hard to match that Sligachan sunrise from a couple of weeks ago. Another visit there a few days ago when we had fine weather predicted, and before all the snow and ice melted, turned out to be a dull and drab morning. Although disappointing, that was probably because I still had that colourful sunrise in mind. Had it not been for that, I might have been very happy with some of the photos

Sligachan mono
Abandoned boat

Our snow in Broadford has now gone, even the remnants of my snowman. Although the weather was relatively pleasant, unfortunately my shoulder pain prevented me getting out to play golf on my birthday this year. The barometer is showing enormously high pressure here at the moment but I see we're due strong winds (again) at the end of the week. Honestly, sometmes I think our weather suffers from bi-polar disorder - it swings from one extreme to the other.

I could have been playing in the Scottish short mat bowls championship this weekend down in Dumfries but decided against it. In all honesty I can't justify the expense right now and having played for barely 3 months I think I'd have been a liability! Still, I wish all my clubmates from Kyleakin success and I look forward to hearing about the weekend when I see them next week. I hope I prepared them well for the championships - last week I won the club's monthly medal! It just goes to show what a little luck can do. (Okay, a large chunk of luck.)

For a while now I've been looking into producing some greeting cards from my photos to sell through local shops and other outlets. I took a big step towards that this week when I ordered some samples from a print company (in Devon as it happens). They seem far more in touch with the needs of anyone starting out with this sort of venture. The sample cards arrived (see right) and those people I've shown them to so far have been very impressed. All I need now is for them to sell well. If they don't, friends and family may be receiving these from me for quite some time to come!

I can have up to four designs in one print run of 250 but could include other designs in future print runs if I get the chance. Even if they sell reasonably well, I'm not going to be retiring on the proceeds any time soon. Their real value may be in advertising myself. I shall take the opportunity of mentioning my Skye workshops and my website on the rear of the cards. Hopefully people will buy them for friends who are keen photographers.

Greeting cards

24th January 2015

Last Saturday I played in my first ever bowls (short mat) singles tournament. It was a long but enjoyable day and went some way towards satisfying my competitive instincts! I got through the group stages but in the end I was knocked out in the quarter finals. There must have been at least 6 or 8 Scottish International players in the field so getting any further was a lot to ask! This week the World Indoor Bowls Championship is on television and I can certainly appreciate the extraordinary skill level of those players.


Quiraing - south
On Monday I explored an area of the Quiraing known as Fingal's Pinnacles with photographer friend Louise. The sunrise at the top of this page was taken on the way there. We had considered another hike up to the Old Man of Storr but the snow on the tracks had turned to ice and we realised it would be foolhardy. We first checked out the southern end of the Quiraing but a sign said the road was closed, and it was too icy to get my car up anyway, so we stopped short of the Quiraing parking area and walked a little way from the road to catch the early morning light (left). From there we moved on to the northern end of the Quiraing for Fingal's Pinnacles. In all honesty I found nothing to inspire me photographically in the small area we covered, though there may well be parts we didn't see. I'm sure I've seen better from walks through the southern part of the Quiraing. Getting around was pretty difficult so although it was a beautiful sunny morning, it wasn't the best time to go exploring.
Quairaing - north

While we were there, though, the most amazing cloud formations blew over and so we tried to photograph those. We both felt they deserved a better foreground than we could find so at the same time as it was breath-taking, it was also a little disappointing

Quiraing Skies

Last week I wanted to re-check the Sligachan area for morning light. Just one other morning, Wednesday, looked promising - until Tuesday anyway! Nevertheless, I decided it might be worth the effort. Boy, was that a good decision! Although it lasted only 10 minutes or so, the light around sunrise was breath-taking and catching that reflected in an icy lochan with snow-covered mountains behind was one of those moments we photographers dream of. A couple of these can be seen larger in my Photo Diary page, and all are on my Flickr page.

Sligachan Sunrise Sequence

16th January 2015

What a spell of weather we've had. Following on from the storm that took out electricity supplies across the Highlands, we've had strong winds, heavy rain, sleet, hail, snow, and thunder & lightning. Although my house survived the first big storm, I was not so lucky on Sunday. During the night I heard something clattering on the flat roof over my bedroom. It was probably the protective edging being ripped off. (See photo on the right.) With that gone, roof tiles began to follow and about 25 or so disappeared during the night. I say "disappeared" because I've found no sign of them anywhere!

On Tuesday I managed to have a local joiner, Finlay, assess the damage and give me an estimate for the repair. He already had 11 other repair jobs lined up! With more strong winds forecast, I was worried that the damage could get much worse so imagine how relieved I was when Finlay turned up around lunchtime next day with the news that he'd completed a nearby job faster than anticipated and he could carry out the repair to my roof straight away. I jumped at the chance! So by Wednesday night my roof was fixed, It's just as well because we got hit by more strong winds over the next night.

Guy Edwardes and his party of photographers were able to use the cottage they'd booked so did not end up staying with me after all. They got some pretty poor conditions but I did hear from Guy that on Wednesday they climbed up to the Old Man of Storr in the dark and then waited for around 3 hours for low cloud to clear. It did, and they got some good shots. In places they had sunk up to their thighs in snow!

Roof damage

it's finally a bit calmer and we've got a thin layer of snow on the ground! I know most people imagine the Scottish Highlands being under about 6 feet of snow all winter but in fact it's mostly just the high ground that gets covered. Here in the west, on lower ground close to the sea, it's quite unusual for snow to lie. The forecast for the coming week is mostly quite good, with brighter weather and a bit more snow, so I'm looking forward to having a chance to get out photographing in more pleasant conditions.


10th January 2015

Before I managed to upload my previous blog entry (below), Skye got cut off from the rest of the planet. No electricity, no mobile phone reception, and even no radio signal after a short while, so no news at all. It's quite a sobering experience. The Co-op was closed, so no food, no fuel. I believe the "Top Shop" (no, not a clothes shop, it's our local Spar) was open but supplies there sold out very quickly. Without electricity, most things don't work, like central heating systems. Even the phone was useless unless you happen still to have a handset that doesn't require electricity to work. (Note to self: check on eBay for one of those!) My gas ovens won't work without electricity either (a built-in "safety feature" - a feature no doubt designed by someone who has never lived in a remote area where electrical supplies frequently fail). I realised my portable gas heater was out of gas, and there was nowhere open to replace the gas bottle. That's another lesson to learn from.

During the night the wind was horrendous. I moved out of my bedroom into the lounge because I was lying in bed thinking about how it was directly below a chimney stack. Remote as the possibilty might be, if the chimney collapsed then I would be a goner. With that thought running through my head there was no way I could get any sleep. So, warm duvet wrapped around me on the couch it would be.

Around 2am I heard one of my wheelie bins take off down my driveway. Having nearly lost one last winter, I dashed outside during a slight lull in the wind and rescued it, along with a whole lot of plants my sister had brought me at Christmas and which the wind was scattering around my garden. The two wheelie bins and what plant bulbs I could gather spent the night in my utility room. With little chance of sleeping after this and the sound of the wind battering the house, I lit some candles and chose a book (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) from the bookcase and read half of it before eventually nodding off. In the midst of the storm, the steady candle flames were quite reassuring!

When day broke I checked for damage and fortunately could not see any obvious serious problems. I then checked to see if friends and neighbours were okay. Friends Louise & Henry, a short walk away, had in fact lost about half of the ridge tiles from their roof during the night. What's worse, they discovered that there was no weatherproofing underneath them so their attic was effectively open to the elements, and we had lots more wind and rain forecast. Of course, the local building supplier (Jewsons) was closed like everywhere else. Henry managed to block the gap to some extent from inside and Louise found some old, very absorbent curtains they could lay beneath to catch any water that still got in. A neighbouring builder reckons he'll be able to fix things on Monday - assuming Jewsons is open by then!

Fortunately my gas hob works without electricity so I could boil water for cups of tea and heat some soup. Louise & Henry kindly invited me down to their home for the evening. They have a log burner so we had fun sitting around that, drinking wine to counteract all these sobering experiences, and making interesting conversation until, magically, the electricity supply was restored. Actually we were enjoying ourselves so carried on for a while longer!

I'm sure the crofting community must laugh at us "townies" at times like this but we're so used to having everything "on tap" that it comes as a bit of a shock when it isn't.

Late last night I received an email from my friend Guy Edwardes who is bringing some photographers up to Skye, possibly arriving tomorrow (Sunday). He'd just found out that the cottage they're renting has lost its electricity due to a fallen tree (presumably in addition to the wider Highlands supply problem), so Guy is looking at continency plans! I could end up being rather busier next week than I was expecting.

8th January 2015

Ah, a new year begins. As I write, the wind is getting up and the forecast is for it to peak at some point during the night. The predicted strength has lessened, but still shows gusts up to 75mph. So, if this is my last entry.... !

I hope everyone had a good Christmas. I had my sister and her husband here for Christmas, with their new dog Jill and wee Misty, their 15 year old West Highland Terrier. Jill is a young, re-homed greyhound and quite a character. She's impossibly long and slender, almost cartoon-like, and Morag reckons her face reminds her of the squirrel creature trom "Ice-Age". She's not wrong!

Big thanks to friends Louise and Henry who invited me to dinner on New Year's Day and fed me a lovely meal of guinea-fowl - a first for me. I didn't mention it to them but I couldn't help but think of the guinea-fowl I'd seen (and photographed) running around at A la Ronde, a National Trust property very close to where I lived in Exmouth!

Just before Christmas my LG television began to play up. From what I discovered on-line, the fault is quite common. It may be common to other makes as well, I don't know. It began to get difficult to bring it out of "stand-by" mode and the fault seemed to be getting worse. Options on Skye for having it repaired were, to say the least, minimal. In fact, the consensus of opinion was that I'd need to take it to someone in Inverness (at least a 2 hour journey, each way), probably leave it there to be fixed, and then go back to collect it in due course. The likelihood was that they'd replace a printed circuit board (PCB) inside and that it would cost over £100 for the replacement part from LG. So the repair could cost me anything up to £200 plus the cost of two return journeys to Inverness. In other words, it would be cheaper to buy a new one, which I can't really afford to do at the moment. On top of that, I just hate the idea of a large, expensive piece of equipment being scrapped, and no doubt ending up in some landfill site. That is such a crazy aspect of our society. So I checked on-line and found out quite a bit. To cut at least a little bit out of a long story, I found a repair kit (with instructions) on-line for the exact PCB in my model of TV and ordered it. Cost? A mere £9. It arrived yesterday and with the aid of a soldering iron and some wire cutters, I was able to carry out the repair. The TV now works!

I must also mention that an extremely generous friend of about 40 years who got wind of my woes (before I'd repaired my old TV) very kindly ordered a new TV and had it delivered to me! I was utterly gobsmacked.

I have a couple of photographers from Colchester returning to me for the last week of January to photograph a wintry Skye. It's just as well they aren't planning to visit next week! We've got lots of strong wind and some snow forecast for the coming week, so conditions for photography during that will be difficult to say the least. However, I should think the mountains will be well covered with snow for Kate & Geoff arriving. It will certainly look very different from their first visit to me, in June 2013.

I've included no photographs this time. Frankly, I've not had a proper outing with the camera since visiting the Old Man of Storr between Christmas and New Year, and you can find my most interesting shot from that on my Photo Diary page.

© David McHutchison (Deemacphotos)
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