Guest blog: Sea to source

Photographer Chris Puddephatt reveals how he captured the beautiful pictures on and around Quinag that make up his Unapool Burn project

Chris puddephat unapool burn project detail

I’ve probably been up Quinag more than any other mountain nearby. I love it: amazing views; three peaks; interesting geology; eagles; ptarmigans; mountain hares... And a little burn that starts its life right in the corrie near to the footpath and makes its way to the sea just a few miles away at Unapool. Short and sweet.

The obvious thing to do, for an outdoor man like myself, was to explore and photograph the length of the Unapool Burn. A whole geography lesson in just one day!

It was autumn, the colours were just super, so I set off with my camera and tripod.  

Lower burn

I parked my van where the burn crosses the road and set off to walk the lower section first. Within about 50 yards, I was rewarded with some really lovely waterfalls and got busy with the camera.

After about an hour, I’d got almost nowhere. Underfoot, the going was rough and tricky. It didn’t look too difficult, but there are no paths, and lots of tussocks, rocks, wet patches and other obstacles.

I’d left my lunch in the van. Big mistake. I was famished by the time I got back and realised straight away that this was far more than I could do in ‘just one day’. Day one finished at the road bridges - the old and the new, side by side. I went home totally enthused that I’d picked such an interesting, amazingly lovely subject for my little project.

Top burn

Day two I spent on the top section - where the burn crosses the footpath upstream to the place I arbitrarily decided to knock it on the head. Yet again, I found some incredible features. For a relatively short watercourse, this was really showing off! One waterfall, in particular, took my fancy, and I’ve turned one of the photos into a monochrome fine-art print that I’m very pleased with.

Fortunately, I wasn’t totally tunnel-visioned on the burn; I glanced up at the top of Spidean Coinich looming above me and saw an eagle not far from the summit. With no binoculars, I could only guess that it might be a goldie. It was there for a while too; makes you wonder how often there’s one right up there watching what you’re doing.

I stopped for lunch near to the top of Lochan Bealach Cornaidh, looking at the tiger stripe patterns on the submerged sand. The burn is getting much smaller now, and I make it almost up the bealach before it star-burst into quite a few tiny trickles, and I decide that this is the “source” for the purposes of my mission.

Packing away my camera, I turn around to see a mountain hare scampering away. It was easy to spot, being in ermine without any snow to hide on!

Middle burn

My final visit didn’t happen for a few weeks, due to weather and commitments. I wasn’t really sure what I’d find, as the middle section seems to go across a flat, bland plateau when viewed from some parts of the adjacent road. However, there were some real gems here too, and probably the place I noticed the most changes in the stream-bed itself.

I got lucky with the weather; some lovely blue sky to set off the bulk of a snow-capped Sail Gharbh in the background. I tried to find a few shots which also featured Glas Bheinn, or something else, so my story didn’t become one about Quinag instead of the burn.

I sat on an outcrop overlooking my footsteps for lunch, and realised that it really did look a bit uniform from up there; far from the reality of what I saw on my journey. Moving on up, I’d seen on the map that the burn split into tributaries not far ahead, and I intended to take the left fork to join up with my previous visit. This was easier said than done, as the left fork was completely dry. I was confused; either I was in the wrong place, or had miscalculated where the water came from.

After a bit of wandering back and forth, I concluded I was in the right place after all and had a mystery to solve. I really am no geologist, but had thought that sink holes were associated with limestone and didn’t expect them here. So either this was actually limestone, or other rocks can have similar features.

It further surprised me that I got very close to the walkers’ footpath before the water returned in any quantity. I’ve been across these stepping stones many times, and could never have predicted that such a flow would vanish just out of sight.

Anyway, here I was, at the end of day three; joining the dots and completing my journey. I knew I’d got some decent photos, but the satisfaction of doing it was good. What I’ll remember the most is not individual features, views and waterfalls but the sheer number of them. They just kept coming.

After burn

If you’re tempted to look for any of these views yourself - on top of the stuff that should go-without-saying about litter, damage and suchlike - please bear in mind how rough this terrain can be.

I took about 400 photos over the course of my three days. Initially, I distilled them down to about 70. That was quite easy, but the next reduction became more difficult. You can see the latest edit of my Unapool Burn photos here.

I haven’t written off going back for some more. Different season; different day; different light…

Find out more about Chris Puddephatt’s photography and his work on the Suilven Path Project.