Archive for the ‘Scotland’ Category

A walk to Da Lang Ayre, Shetland

10 September, 2020

Short version (long version below)

Start and finish
Collafirth Hill
Difficulty  Mostly “moderately challenging” but very challenging over crumbly and steep terrain for a small part
Distance From Collafirth Hill to Lang Ayre via the summit of Ronas Hill is 6.75km, according to my GPS.
Time needed 6-8 hours depending on your fitness and how long you linger at points of interest
Total Ascent  About 570m.

Weather forecast mostly sunny with light wind and that’s what we got, temperature about 12°.

Fairly easy going from Collafirth Hill, around the flanks of Roga Field and Midfield, and then over Grud Burn before the 100m or so of steeper ascent over the last ½ km to the summit.  Very rocky classic fellfield terrain with photogenic formations, colours and rare plants and insects.  Outstanding views of the whole of Shetland from the summit.

Easy going gently downhill NW to Burn of Monius though the terrain steepens sharply here, and a rope has been affixed, so one can hang on over the steep and crumbly final 50 metres or so.

Wow!  Lang Ayre is epic, an all-engulfing assault on the senses that must be experienced to be believed.  The walk from one end to the other and back to the start is over 4km.

The climb back up the rope and along the lower reaches of the stream needs care but isn’t difficult.  Climbing out of the gorge is hard work and this is followed by a slog back up the slopes of Ronas Hill.  It’s then easy going back to Collafirth Hill.


A walk to Da Lang Ayre – Long Version
It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post but a much, much longer period has passed since I last set eyes on Lang Ayre.  But last week my friend Jill and I had an epic day out there on one of the most amazing days of weather of late summer.  I had been meaning to go there and spend time on the beach for years but finding the right combination of time and weather had eluded me, even though I’ve set out that way a number of times, the most recent earlier this summer when, already over the summit of Ronas Hill, the weather suddenly turned and low cloud appeared from nowhere and then descended.  The back of Ronas Hill is not the place to be in such conditions so I retreated.

Most people set out from Collafirth Hill, as we did, which means the first 200m of elevation is done in the car, but beware, the track up the hill has some nasty potholes that merge in places on the lower slopes!  If you’re thinking of taking on this challenge this is what you need to know.

How difficult is it?  This depends on your age and fitness but most folk seem to describe it as “moderately challenging”.  But I would describe the scramble back up the steep ravine from Lang Ayre as “tough, frequent stops required” – but I’ve never liked steep terrain and it’s only that hard for about half an hour.  However, as we’ll see, a short section has a handy rope to hang on to, because it’s steep and crumbly, and we both found that helpful.
How far is it?  From Collafirth Hill to Lang Ayre via the summit of Ronas Hill is 6.75km, according to my GPS.  However, we walked a further 3.7km on the beach, (and we probably missed a good half mile or so to the north end).  So, by the time we got back to the car we’d walked 16.9km in total.
How long will it take?  We took just over 8 hours; but we spent half an hour at the top of Ronas Hill, and over 2 hours at Da Lang Ayre.  On the other hand, if you’re young and fit and don’t want to marvel at the epic beach formations, cliffs and stacks for hours, you could probably get there and back in 5 hours – but you would have completely missed the point of this walk.
Total Ascent?  About 570m.

Back to our walk.  This day the forecast promised great weather for the day and we were lucky because it turned out even better than we had hoped and, apart from a few scudding clouds, we had almost wall-to-wall sunshine with a gentle southerly breeze to keep us cool when climbing uphill.


I’ve been up Ronas Hill many times; I’ve enjoyed the view alone, with family and with friends.  I’ve been nearly blown over in the wind and more than once encountered sudden mist or low cloud.  I’ve been up on mid-summer “night” but not been fortunate enough to see both mid-summer sunset and sunrise on the same night, despite hoping to tick that one off for about 20 years!  It can be a bit of a trudge in places where the peat is hagged but it’s fairly easy going from Collafirth Hill, around the flanks of Roga Field and Midfield, and then over Grud Burn before the 100m or so of steeper ascent over the last ½ km to the summit.  It gets noticeably rocky here and stopping often on the way up to admire the classic fellfield terrain with its photogenic formations and colours, as well as the rare and beautiful (if tiny) plants and insects should not be missed in the rush for the top.


Once at the top we spent some time admiring the view, posing for a photo, and signing the visitors’ book before heading off roughly north-west towards Lang Ayre.  But what a view!  This day visibility was outstanding and, from the summit of Ronas Hill, we could see clearly Scantips on Fitful Head (over 80km south), the Noup of Noss, Foula, Papa Stour, Yell, Unst and even Muckle Flugga!  Remarkably, Fair Isle (about 120km) was also visible though, to be fair, I only identified it later, on my photographs; I couldn’t discern it with my naked eye at the time.


Most of the next hour was easy going gently downhill with Mountain Hare and Bonxies for company but as we approached the lower reaches of the Burn of Monius the terrain steepened sharply and we had to pick our route carefully, but the steep valley is a delight, with stunning views opening up as we neared the bottom.  As I mentioned, a rope has been affixed, so one can hang on over the steep and crumbly final 50 metres or so.  This isn’t too bad and if you’re fit enough to have reached here it will present no problem – but check my photo to see if this might cause issues for you.

Wow!  Lang Ayre is variously described as “epic”, “remote”, “my favourite place”, the “most amazing place in Shetland” and given many other accolades by those who make it here.  All of these are fully justified, but it’s truly an all-engulfing assault on the senses that also includes the sounds; the scale of the beach and cliffs; and the colours and textures of the rocks, the cliffs, the sand and the water.  After over 2 hours there I was still part in awe, part in shock and partly still in compete wonderment of how this place truly can be.


We walked to the far south-west end of the beach before setting out for the other end where the sun was shining during our visit – most of the southern half of the beach was in shade at this time.  The beach is mostly pebbly and stony though there are large sandy sections.  There are some substantial areas that are fairly level, but some sections are so steeply stepped that I wondered how it is possible for the pebbles to simply hang there as if glued together.  Certainly, strolling over 2 miles of mostly pebbly, often shifting ground becomes tiring so allow plenty of time to enjoy it all but, even then, you’ll be enchanted to go back, I’ve no doubt.  We didn’t make to the north-west end, but we weren’t worried by this – better to leave something new to explore next time!

The time had come to head back and climbing back up the rope and along the lower reaches of the stream was the easy bit; I found climbing out of the gorge hard work and I’ve never been a hill climber so I found it a slog almost all the way back up the slopes of Ronas Hill.  However, we didn’t go back to the summit; rather, we skirted round the side at the 350m contour, but even then it took about 90 minutes from sea level to the small loch at the head of Grud Burn, between Ronas Hill and Mid Field that signalled the start of our gradual descent back down to Collafirth Hill.

A husky called Nik

12 February, 2012

Photo (animated gif): a husky called Nik. Just animated it a few times so it doesn’t annoy you too much! I tried to upload it elsewhere but it doesn’t animate when uploaded to some other sites. Not sure why but I’ll just post it here instead. To see the animation, open the post (click on the heading, “A husky called Nik”) and then click on the picture.

Holiday snaps

31 March, 2011

Decided to go on a quick holiday to the Highlands; it was a fairly last minute decision but I hoped to do some skiing, walking, visit family and photograph red squirrels, ptarmigan, mountain hare, red deer and reindeer. I managed all but the last 3 and that was due to the fact that almost a metre of snow fell on the day I arrived meaning they were inaccessible! I had planned my stay so as to have a good chance of photographing both the conjunction of Mercury and Jupiter (smallest and largest planets in our solar system) and the larget full Moon in almost two decades – quite a long list of objectives for a week; which explains why it’s taken me a while to get through the few thousand images I took whilst away!

The heavy snowfall on the day I arrived meant I had to change my accommodation and also made for an interesting first day photographing red squirrels – it snowed quite a bit more during that day, which was perfect as it provided an opportunity I hadn’t dared hope for – red squirrels in falling snow; hope you like them and I’ll put full set of images over on Austin Taylor Photography soon. Whilst out that day I also caught a few birds but added quite a few more over the next few days including long-tailed tit, snow bunting, siskin, greenfinch, great spotted woodpecker and pheasant, to name a few. Unfortunately no images of bearded tit, though I heard them and saw a few flitting about at dusk one day in Glenmore Forest.

I was lucky with the weather for my astronomical targets too, I had clear skies on the nights of the planetary conjunction and was lucky with the huge full moon; after being cloudy all day the skies cleared (painfully slowly) just before midnight to reveal the full moon.

Finally, I had a day and a half skiing and a good morning’s walk into the Northern Corries, carefully tracing the path crunched in by mountaineers before me for, either side, the snow was waist deep! That day’s walk was made all the more splendid by the wall-to-wall blue sky and sunshine though I was disappointed to see only the tracks in the snow of mountain hare and ptarmigan. Although I didn’t see any mountain hare I was lucky enough to see a pair of ptarmigan the following day whilst skiing and was able to catch a couple of “record shots” to add to my haul of holiday snaps. Overall a great week with a higher degree of success than I perhaps deserved given that I had done hardly any planning ahead!

And then there were two – Polar Bears

30 January, 2011

As part of our January trip to see the Siberian Husky Club‘s annual sled dog rally at Glenmore Forest Park near Aviemore we visited the Highland Wildlife Park to see the wonderful animals there. We’ve been before but hoped to see some animals we hadn’t seen on previous visits, notably the wolf, perhaps the lynx and the new Polar Bear, called Walker. Last time we visited there was quite a lot of snow on the ground, which gave my photos of the first Polar Bear at the Park, “Mercedes” an authentic looking environment. No such luck this time, though there had been a hard frost, which stayed all day and the pool was covered with thick ice – with the Highland environment, it looks reminiscent of tundra, if one ignores the trees and shrubs!

The Park is a wonderful place to see animals that most folk would not normally ever get to see as well as a few that are common in the Highlands, such as the Red deer. There are smaller enclosures in the walkabout area where Scottish wildcat and Red panda can be viewed but the large animals, such as European bison and Bactrian camel have large enclosures in the drive through area. Some of the animals might seem bored and, from looking at other visitors’ photos on the web, clearly exhibit repetitive behaviour, but the Park is part of a number of captive breeding programmes and, without such programmes, many of the animals would be extinct.

I particularly wanted to try out a fantastic new lens that I had hired – on previous visits I had found that some of the animals in the drive through area are just too far away for a decent photograph with my own kit so I dug deep and hired a 500mm super telephoto for the visit. I wasn’t disappointed by the results because it’s an absolutely amazing piece of equipment and was ideal for use in the car. I didn’t use it in the walk about area though because, at about 4.5kg including the camera, it’s just too heavy to carry easily. Also, the animals are that much closer in that area. The only exception was for the lynx, where I took most of the photos with the 500mm lens because the pair was at the back of their enclosure, which is fairly large.

So what were the highlights? Well, for me, getting good photos of the lynx has been an ambition for some time and I hadn’t been lucky enough to see these big cats on previous visits – and they are fantastic! I’m really pleased with the results and these shots alone make the lens hire worthwhile for me. Of course, it was great to see Walker, the new Polar bear and I got some good shots of him shaking water off, again with the 500mm, and I added to my collection of photos of Mercedes with a few really nice shots, though my favourite photo of her remains one I took last year in the snow. We were lucky this time to see the wolves – they had been hiding from us on our previous visits – this time they are in their new home, opened late last year. I’m always thrilled to see the Scottish wildcats, partly because they make such stunning portrait photos but mostly because they are one of the world’s rarest cats and the only wild cat in the UK. Another favourite is the Red panda – they are truly amazing. On our last visit they remained curled up in a ball high up on their platform and the time before that the light was so poor that I couldn’t get any decent photos. This time however, they were more obliging and the light was better too so I added to my collection of Red panda portraits, which includes some I took in China.

We didn’t see the Amur tigers this time or the snow monkeys – we simply ran out of time – but I wasn’t too disappointed because I’ve got good photos of them from previous visits and, hopefully, we’ll visit them another time.

So, what about the Polar bears? Folk have asked me if they’re getting on now; well, it’s hard for me to say anything about that because, when we were there, Mercedes was lounging about dozing at one end of the enclosure while Walker was having an argument (or playing a game) with a big blue barrel. In fact he seemed determined to bury it beneath the ice on the pool – though he hadn’t quite managed it by the time we moved on!

There are a few photos here; I’ve uploaded a rather larger set to my website.