In this guest blog we hand over to award-winning outdoor photographer, and Kingussie gallery owner, Ed Smith to give us his top 12 tips for some of his favourite photographic spots close to him in the Cairngorms National Park.
Whilst a visit to the imposing Ruthven Barracks is on the hit list for many people, the rolling hills to the south are largely overlooked as a low-lying heathery affair in comparison to the granite plateau of the Cairngorm mountains beyond. However, a steady walk in mid to late August will put you amongst some of the most vibrant purple heather in Strathspey, with views to the northeast following the River Spey a sight to behold at sunrise!
Badan Mosach Falls, Glen Feshie
From the Achlean car park follow the Carn Ban Mor track. Shortly after a gate through a deer fence in the wooded area (approx. 20 minutes walking from the car) choose one of numerous small trails off to your right to reach the cascades of this local beauty spot. It is always impressive to photograph; whether frozen in winter, flooded in storms or crystal clear beneath clear summer skies.
A few kilometres beyond Newtonmore it would be easy to drive past this stunning neuk of the Cairngorms with a brief glance at the lochain. Heading south on the A86 there is a considerable pull in on the right-hand side, just be careful crossing the road through a gate to enjoy easy access to one of my year round favourite venues. On cold mornings this area of the Spey valley can hold low lying mist, creating some very atmospheric images.
The famous ‘braids’ of the River Feshie and its heather carpeted hills. The glen is never short of either beauty or drama depending on the conditions; the colours of its woodland, flora and fauna are a sight to behold with a particularly beautiful patchwork of colour on show throughout summer and autumn.
Kingussie woodland and riverside walks
Use the public car park off Gynack Road or park in the lower parking area at Kingussie Golf Club if it is quiet. From here you can quickly pick up the paths which weave up the burn between single track roads offering a plethora of photographic perspectives via small rapids and tight gorges. However, heading into Tom Baraidh woods to the east of the Gynack burn you’re best advised to keep your eyes upwards to enjoy watching the local red squirrels, particularly in the early evening!
You don’t have to head up Cairn Gorm summit to enjoy grand views across Badenoch & Strathspey as short out-and-back walks along the numerous trails from the ski centre car park provide vantage points both into the northern corries and across Loch Morlich below, which often glows shades of orange and pink on a clear summer evening.
Glen Banchor, Newtonmore
Driving up Glen Road from Newtonmore High Street you soon reach the expansive beauty of Glen Banchor. With beautiful trees, the winding River Calder and the Monadhliath Mountains beyond you feel as though you’ve entered a hidden wilderness just a stone’s throw from the village centre. Both the riverside trail and the multiple spots (often near a bench!) above the riverbank offer plenty to the eye to play with, particularly in Autumn when the trees put on one of the finest shows of colour in the Cairngorms.
Meall a’Bhuachaille loop, via Glenmore and Ryvoan
One for the hikers and explorers. Whilst not a munro, this route offers one of the finest views of the northern corries and across Ryvoan pass. Parking below the Reindeer Centre in the pull-ins at the roadside, head through Glenmore and past the iconic ‘Green Lochan’ before reaching the equally famous Ryvoan bothy and starting a steep ascent up the hill where you’ll find an abundance of perspectives as you head towards the summit. The views from the top are expansive and, in mixed conditions, this can be a great alternative to the mountains of the Cairngorm plateau as it often ducks below, or at least in and out of, the cloud.
Wheather it’s enjoying views into the mountains, the stunning loch side beach or watching dramatic conditions unfold across the water there is always something to capture on a wander along the shores of Loch Morlich. As ever, sunset and sunrise are key times to visit for photography – I particularly love sunrise across the loch – but as a busy area with plenty of boats on the water throughout the day you are rarely short of creative options.
The Lairig Ghru
You don’t have to be a mountaineer to view the impact of the Lairig Ghru on the landscape of the northern Cairngorms as this distinctive cleft is a prominent feature on the Cairngorm skyline visible from the A9. The views from Braeriach or Ben Macdui are incredible for the hikers out there wanting to look into the centre of it, however it is also impressive viewed in profile from the forest roads through Rothiemurchus, or from the woodland walks and summit of Craigellachie National Nature Reserve on the west side of Aviemore.
Spey Dam, via Laggan
Departing the A86 westward on to a smaller single-track road, passing through Laggan village, you reach Spey Dam Reservoir. Relatively shallow with banks lined with a diversity of flora and fauna this is a wonderful location for calm days. It can be active with the likes of paddleboarders, people fishing or just small fishing boats lining the bank to make for some wonderful compositions. Also keep an eye out for wildlife here, particularly all manner of birds which you might spot from eagles to lap wings.
The Cairngorm Plateau
Seeing the panoramic views of the Cairngorms unfold around you, it’s an awesome feeling to immerse yourself in this mountain terrain with complete separation from what’s going on below as you venture into the expansive plateau. It’s not for the inexperienced, but with the correct mountain knowledge or a local guide it is like being a kid in a candy shop as a photographer up here! I particular love wandering down the shoulder of Cairn Gorm and seeing what conditions play out across the northern corries and the rolling terrain and mountains lochs surrounding Ben Macdui.
Ed Smith is an award winning photographer who specialises in outdoor landscapes and regularly contributes to outdoor publications. He is also owner and curator of a photographic gallery dedicated to mountain landscapes and the outdoors, called Eleven41 Gallery based in Kingussie. You can also follow his photography on Instagram.