I am delighted to announce a new date for my Isle of Skye Workshops! I will be running another 5-day workshop on the beautiful Island from 5th - 9th November 2018, a time where Autumn should still be around but also welcoming winter in. For just £645, you will receive my tuition throughout the week [...]
Back in Ferbruary, me and my better half, Sarah went away for a two week trip to the Isle of Harris and Lewis in our VW T5 Campervan for a holiday and of course to do some photography. I first stumbled across photos from Luskentyre about 5 or 6 years ago and knew instantly that [...]
Over the Christmas I made my first proper visit to the Torridon area. I made a fleeting visit driving the coastal road last year and watched the sunset over the Isle of Skye from Bealach Na Ba but we carried on to Asssynt after that. It had been a place I had wanted to visit [...]
Beinn a' Chrulaiste, a mountain I have been trying to capture for a few years now. I originally stumbled on the mountain about 4 years ago or so, I think from a walking routes website. I was looking for good mountains in the area with great views and Beinn a' Chrulaiste came up as a [...]
In a quest to keep revisiting locations I recently went back up to the Boxing Gloves on Kinder Scout. This amazing formation has weathered over millennia to create a formation that we can now associate something with. If you look closely, you can see the outline of a boxing glove or two. I have probably [...]
Quite a short blog today I think, but I just felt that my recent trip to the Salt Cellar was worth a mention and worth the blog. So a few weeks ago I arranged with Stephen Elliott (another local Peak District photographer) to meet up. I have known Stephen a long time now, probably around [...]
The Peak District offers up some of the most accessible hillside viewpoints in the country, getting up high and walking from the car is usually no problem. Of course, this means that on any given day, especially at the weekend, these viewpoints are likely to be busy. I've never been afraid of walking to my [...]
So, I'm a little late to the party writing this blog. It's now the 5th of January and no doubt you've seen and read many photographer's blogs or posts on their favourite images of 2016. The truth is, I was away in Scotland until the 2nd January and since then I have been trying to [...]
So it's now December and I think I can officially say Autumn is at an end. It's been quite a strange one this year and I have seen a lot of people saying it's the best Autumn for many years, some claiming a decade! I'm not quite sure I agree with that. First off, Autumn [...]
No, not always. Greece is actually a very mountainous country, especially the mainland. A lot of the mountains are typical Mediterranean, bushy and arid with not much in terms of features. However there are some distinctly amazing areas where the mountains differ a lot. One of the highlights has got to be the Zagoria region near Ioannina in North-West Greece. The other highlight is Meteora near Trikala.
These two areas caught my attention around 5 years ago and 3 years ago I made an effort to visit them in August. I wrote a blog about that visit here. Unfortunately, we went in August and it was too hot and too dry to do some of the things we wanted to do, including hiking up to the Astraka Refuge Hut.
Since then, I had been itching to go back and finish what I had started. I never quite found the time, but this year I was determined. I had started planning and knew ideally I needed to go late May. I came close to booking to go solo but I actually found a willing friend to join me. I don’t mind doing things on my own, but having a friend with you really adds a social element and can keep you sane for the week, especially if the weather turns for the worst or you relax outside of the golden hours. So I booked and started to get a plan together.
My main objective of the trip would be to visit the Astraka Refuge and the mountains surrounding it. The great thing about this area is that not many photographer’s have explored it, especially those who aren’t Greek. There’s a certain allure to that kind of photography for me. What I really wanted to do as well was showcase a different side to a country that people just wouldn’t expect. So, back to the refuge, this building sits around 1920m high up above Mikro Papigo and provides a great base camp for exploring the mountains around it. At this altitude, the scenery really starts to change and things become more rugged, alpine and very dramatic. One of the highlights of the area has to be Drakolimni, an alpine lake looking over towards the impressive Astraka mountain. For the second part of the week, I was to return to Meteora. The refuge has it’s own website with some awesome 360 panoramics to give you an idea of the area. http://www.astrakarefuge.com/en/
So, we had flown to Thessaloniki and drove 4 hours to the Zagoria region. The forecast for the week had started to look pretty dubious and as we gained height, the clouds rolled in, capping the mountains and we saw a few bolts of lightning fire off. A daunting prospect when your plan is to head high up. The sunset was late, around 9pm but we had booked into a hotel in Mikro Papigo that allowed check-in until midnight. Despite feeling tired, we decided not to take the easy route out and instead headed for sunset at Vikos Gorge. I had been to this location on a previous visit but hadn’t had a cloud in the sky and I wanted to return hoping for a little more luck. Luckily (and purposely chosen for this reason) the walk from Vradeto to Beloi isn’t too bad. We actually parked at the end of the dirt track and the walk is probably 15 minutes at most.
It was a surreal difference to the last time I was here. Gone was the dry grass, replaced by a fresher smell with wild flowers I hadn’t seen before. It caught me so much by surprise, I didn’t even bother to put on my walking shoes which was a big mistake as the rain had created muddy paths and lethal limestone. On arriving at the viewpoint I hadn’t quite got the same shock I had last time, with drops in places of around 1000m making me feel dizzy but I was still very impressed and glad to be there. The last time I had found a composition a little too late, after the sun had gone down and I didn’t make the same mistake twice and scrambled up to the higher viewpoint where not many people venture.
I spent a little time, trying different compositions. A large cloud hung over Timfi, the mountain range where Astraka resided. This first shot was my favourite of the evening, I loved the wild flowers adding a little colour to the scene and the foreground rocks just helping to give a little scale to that huge drop:
I moved back up top and also shot a similar scene but this was the original composition I had in mind which I had spotted a few years back:
Finally, once the sun had gone behind the cliff I whipped the telephoto lens out and zoomed far into the valley, with the light nice and orange. The scene was quite hazy in all but it had a nice dreamy feel to it.
I was at this point pleased to have improved on the photos I had taken last time but I was also feeling shattered from the long day. Unfortunately, it was another hour or so to the hotel. While, on the map it was only 5 miles away, the village was across the gorge and you simply can’t drive across! So, you have to take many steep and windy mountain roads to get there. We arrived in Mikro Papigo very late and didn’t have a clue where the hotel was. The village itself is pretty much car-free due to tight and narrow roads (we found this out the hard way) but after a quick call to the hotel we were soon in our room getting ready for the next day.
We woke the next morning and checked the forecast. It said thunderstorms were due to roll in, but sitting in the early morning sun it was hard to believe. We packed slowly and probably headed off a little later than we should have. We decided to leave the tents and instead take up the drones. With the forecast, being in a tent probably wasn’t going to be the best of ideas. We had 950m to ascend but we weren’t sure on the mileage, just that it would be 2hr50 (a European thing). The trail was fairly good and even though it was steep in places, it wasn’t actually too hard or too much of a chore and me made it in 2hrs20. Shelters and springs are along the way and if you so wish, you can even have a mule carry your equipment (we didn’t). We had a few local guides express concern on our way up due to thunderstorm risk but we decided to carry on and if it turned for the worst, we would turn back. We got to the refuge fine and it was actually the first time I had stopped in one. We met the guy who ran the refuge, who stays there from May until October. He explained the facilities and rules to us and it was perfect. I was disappointed looking down into the basin below where the lake at Xeroloutsa had pretty much dried up. May is usually a good month to shoot the lake before it dries up (the refuge didn’t open until mid-May anyway). I had been hopeful as I knew they had a harsh winter, but it turns out they also had a very dry spring despite snow up the mountain until mid-April.
I felt sweaty from the walk, so went to take a cold shower (the only kind in the refuge!) and came out with a head that hurt and fingers I couldn’t feel it was that cold. Proper mountain water I guess! As I was drying off, the rain started to lash down and I saw a bolt of lightning in the not too far distance and from the direction of the way we had come up. We had timed it just right.
That was it for the evening, the rain persisted and the cloud had come in. No photography to be done. I had gathered a rough idea of where Drakolimni was during the brief period of visibility but knew it might be a tough walk to find the next morning in the dark. I awoke at 4am and was disappointed to wake up to more clag, with no sign of it clearing. Back to bed it was and we got up later that morning. The weather started to clear a little just after breakfast. We took the drones out and did a bit of video and photos. This first image is of Astraka mountain:
This next shot shows the location of the refuge against the beautiful mountain backdrop:
After this we decided to do a reccy trip up to Drakolimni. It actually turned out to be our only real break in the weather while up there. With the cloud floating around, there was still enough drama to take a shot and it helped diffuse the light a little.