Travel within limits
Updated: Sep 12
A road trip to Scotland & the North in the time of coronavirus
By the end of July, the coronavirus crisis that had wrought so much devastation in the preceding months had reached a low enough level in the UK to enable limited trips and bring some respite to the travel industry. Like many, my partner and I had been forced to cancel holiday plans earlier in the year, but frankly this seemed like the least of anyone's worries and we hadn't given it much thought. By mid-summer, though, it was with some relief that we felt safe enough to finally satisfy our wanderlust. We fired up my trusty Fiesta and headed north.
Our first stop in York gave me an unexpected opportunity for street portraiture. The brilliant Spark food court, home to independent eateries operating out of brightly coloured shipping containers, provided the perfect spot to grab a bite to eat within the relative safety of well-spaced outdoor seating. This young woman sitting nearby immediately caught my eye with her striking hairstyle and jewelry. She very graciously agreed to be my model for a few moments.
Edinburgh's beauty should have been entirely expected - never has a place been recommended to me so often and so enthusiastically - but as I got my first awe-inspiring glimpse of the castle and Arthur's Seat, I still felt as though my friends had undersold it somehow. For those lacking the stamina to ascend the latter, a quick ascent up Calton Hill is rewarded with a cluster of neoclassical monuments and glorious picture-postcard views.
Edinburgh was waking cautiously from a protracted lockdown. Many doors remained closed, but those that were open welcomed us warmly, and with scrupulous adherence to social distancing rules. How fortunate that the remarkable David Bann restaurant was one of these. We felt totally safe and hugely enjoyed our first meal out since March.
Squeezing as much as we could from our limited time in the city, we popped into the nearby 'LOVE Gorgie' urban farm, home to a host of friendly animals and free to visit (though I was happily coerced by a broccoli-munching guinea pig into making a donation).
The Highlands came next, and a stay in the cosiest of huts situated in the Cairngorms National Park. It was cloudy when we arrived, but on our evening walk the sun started breaking through, illuminating chosen patches of grass between the hills to magical effect.
The next day was a bit of a washout. Visitors to the UK should probably not rule out the possibility of rain, and we'd prepared accordingly. Donning our waterproofs, we ventured out once more, my camera bravely enduring the drizzle, taking advantage of the wind and low-lying cloud to capture some black and white compositions.
Never has my (environmentally problematic) preference for air travel been more comprehensively challenged than on the road journey across Scotland towards Loch Lomond. It was a wondrous drive: the peaks seemed to grow mightier and craggier around every winding corner; the narrow roads thrillingly empty.
This area has a pleasing abundance of viewpoints and natural wonders, all helpfully signposted for spontaneous detours. We took in Queens View near Pitlochry, and the Falls of Falloch on the way to Inverarnan.
Our next stop was the preposterously picturesque village of Cove on the banks of Loch Long. We walked along the shore, admiring the increasingly grand mansions that overlooked the Loch, as the sun shot fierce beams into the water.
We stayed in a flat at the top of one of the more modest mansions, with a dazzling view of the Loch from every window and a friendly cat to welcome us home. I would have been happy there for weeks.
The next morning I embarked, with typically misplaced optimism, on a climb of nearby Ben Dubh. To climb this mountain is to be deceived time and time again - several false peaks raising your hopes before giving way to a steeper, more arduous climb to the real one. A fellow climber wryly remarked that it reminded him of the Scottish sense of humour. I complained bitterly and often. We eventually reached the top and I reluctantly agreed that the views were worth the (considerable) discomfort.
The city of Glasgow is miraculously close to Loch Lomond and its national park, and later that day we carted our aching limbs over the Clyde and settled in for what would be our final stay in Scotland.
Of all the places we stayed, Glasgow seemed to miss its people the most. Still quite deserted in parts, with bars and restaurants struggling to return to normality, its famous cultural vitality felt strangely dormant. This was the entrance to the Royal Concert Hall, a mess of litter encircling the posters for cancelled performances.
Over the last fifteen years, Glasgow has been experiencing its second wave of demolitions. Many of its iconic 1960s housing blocks have been hastily and controversially toppled, as the council replaces one utopian dream with another*. Seen below, the former City of Glasgow College high-rise block seems set to avoid the same fate, despite its desperately tired state. Pending approval, it is destined for renovation and conversion to a huge hotel.
As a street photographer, I was delighted by the huge swarms of pigeons in St Enoch Square. It brought back childhood memories of London's Trafalgar Square before former mayor Ken Livingstone brought in the hawks.
The arrival of this man, carrying a large bag of seed, created quite the frenzy. This picture was not taken with a zoom lens. I was very much in the middle of things and was grateful to emerge without feathers - or worse - in my hair.
In terms of Glasgow's food, I have only words to offer. To photograph my meals would require me to pause before eating them, which is not a skill I ever consider myself likely to develop. I am happy to confirm, however, that the city's reputation for curry is well-deserved (a takeaway from Mother India was ruinously delicious), and we stumbled across some knockout baklava at a nearby Persian supermarket.
We reluctantly crossed the border again on our long drive down to Derbyshire and the Peak District. On a recommendation from our hosts, we climbed Mam Tor and were grateful for the exceptional views that rewarded the modest effort required to reach them.
One intrepid couple made their way right to edge of an almighty cliff that sits at one side of the Tor. I photographed from a less precipitous location.
Nine days and 1140 miles later, we arrived back in Oxford, tired but happy, with full hearts and bellies. There were other stops I ran out of time to mention: wonderful Durham, the glorious Northumberland coast (especially Bamburgh and its castle) and the lovely grounds of Kedlestone Hall. It's a privilege to have all these places within driving distance, and to have been able to visit safely even in challenging times.
* For more on this, I'd thoroughly recommend Chris Leslie's exceptional book "Disappearing Glasgow: A photographic journey." Through outstanding images, interviews and reflections, Chris examines the social consequences of his home city's transformation.
With the exception of the top image (a smartphone capture), all photos are taken with Fujifilm's latest version of their X100 series: the V. This trip was its first big test, and I couldn't be happier with how the camera performed.
Upgrading from the third generation X100T was always going to be a huge leap forward, but the things I appreciated the most were the remarkable sharpness of the new lens (especially at f2), the weather resistance* and the superb jpegs straight out of camera.
The street portrait from York was taken with the new Classic Negative film simulation (with some edits in Capture One), but the remainder of the colour images use my Classic Chrome 'recipe', the settings of which I'm happy to share below. I'm also a big fan of the 'Color Chrome' settings, which are new to this model, as I feel that they deepen skin tones and give more drama to skies.
The majority of colour images featured are slightly edited from the camera's own jpegs (I add a gentle film curve and take a little more saturation out of the greens), with RAW files used occasionally where I needed to recover a little more detail. The workflow I've developed with jpegs is a genuine time-saver, and I'm very pleased with the results.
Black and white images are edited in Capture One (mostly from RAW, using one of the Acros film simulations). I haven't found a jpeg simulation or workflow that works for me yet, so these are mostly the result of trial and error.
'Classic Chrome Summer' film simulation
for use with Fujifilm X Trans IV sensor cameras (except X-T3)
Film simulation: Classic Chrome
Grain effect: Small/Weak (or Off to add in post-production)
Color Chrome Effect: Strong
Color Chrome Effect Blue: Strong (Weak in some situations)
White Balance: Auto
WB Shift: R2 B-2
Dynamic Range: DR200
D Range Priotity: Off
Tone Curve: H+1 S0
Noise Reduction: -4
Exposure correction: 0
* Weather resistant doesn't mean waterproof, but I did feel more comfortable taking the camera out of its case in drizzle and light rain than I would have done with its predecessor.
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