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A Thing of Beauty: The Top Ten Pictures from Scottish Island Bagging as chosen by the Authors

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

It’s safe to say that Helen and Paul Webster’s new book, Scottish Island Bagging, has already left everyone at VP ready to drop everything and explore the wonders of the Scottish Islands. The beautiful images and clear writing will put this thing of beauty on anyone’s wish list, whether you’re an ardent hillwalker or an armchair explorer.

I asked Helen and Paul to pick their favourite pictures from the book and tell us all a little bit more about them and these glorious islands.

The Small Isles are probably my favourites among all Scotland’s islands, each feeling like a completely different world apart. Viewed from the mainland – or on a map – Muck appears to be the least interesting of the group, being low-lying and lacking the dramatic mountains of Rum or the rock features of Eigg. Yet this was the island that really sold me on island bagging… we booked a couple of nights in a yurt here. On arrival our bags were collected by the owner – in a car which had no doors – and the whole weekend was magical from start to finish. This was the first time I’d stayed in a yurt, in this incomparable location looking across to the Rum mountains at sunset. I actually hurt my back taking photos… and as we explored the wonderful coastline the next day, it seemed every islander we met already knew about it and came to ask how I was.


We were heading up to visit the Corryvreckan whirlpool on Jura and stopped by the coast to eat lunch. Now, few things could distract me from eating a cheese sandwich, but this otter looked out from the undergrowth, took a sniff, and then waltzed right past us to the sea. It was my first really close encounter with an otter, and it wandered around among the kelp beside us for about an hour. I’ve had more great sightings since, but still rate this as the most memorable experience I’ve had in Scotland’s outdoors

The St Kilda group of islands is regarded by many as the ultimate destination for Scottish island baggers, being set far out in the Atlantic beyond the Western Isles. The main island of Hirta had a unique culture based around harvesting gannets; it didn’t survive increased contact with the mainland and the last islanders were evacuated at their own request in 1930. But it’s a cruise around the neighbouring island of Boreray – shown here – that sticks in the mind the most. It rises precipitously from the sea on all sides and is accompanied by the UK’s highest sea stacks. A journey around it leaves you awestruck at the St Kildans who once harvested these great cliffs for fulmars, gannets and their eggs.

We’ve experienced some amazing sunsets on the islands, but I don’t think many could match this one at Tuquoy on Westray, one of the furthest flung of the Orkney islands. The magic of this evening couldn’t be done justice by a photo; the last of the daylight seemed to create a second light source from within the cabin of the boat.

Shetland’s Up Helly Aa is deservedly the best known among island festivals and events. There are actually many Up Helly Aas, but this one in Lerwick is the biggest. Famously a boat is burnt at the end of a torchlit parade, but in fact only one squad of men – out of forty-six taking part ­– dresses as Vikings, with the others choosing all kinds of outfits. After the burning, each of the squads then performs a comical routine in each and every hall around the town, followed by a dance, travelling in rotation round the halls. It takes all night and much of the next morning.

Arran is one of the most popular islands and among the first we visited, many years ago. We experienced a cloud inversion and Brocken spectre when we climbed Goatfell. When we returned more recently the clouds shrouded the mountain for much of the ascent, but as we headed down the north ridge they began to break and I got this image of a scrambler in silhouette.

There’s a certain thrill in studying the tide times and then making a timed dash across to visit a tidal island. The long shadows in this photo were captured as we rushed back across the sands from a visit to Vallay from neighbouring North Uist, in the Western Isles. The late evening light made an unusual landscape out of the thousands of worm casts.

Eigg is an incredible place. You’d think with the spectacular rock peak of the Sgùrr of Eigg, two caves with fascinating histories, the singing sands at Cleadale, and the sunsets from Laig Bay you’d have enough wonders for one island. It was pouring with rain when we set off from home well before dawn on this day, driving to Mallaig to catch the first boat with the promise of a good forecast for a visit to see a pinnacle on an obscure hill at the island’s north end. Was it worth it? The photo is the answer.

While the larger islands in the Hebrides and Orkney are well known to Scottish travel enthusiasts, far fewer people make the long haul to Shetland – or have any strong ideas about what it is like. We reckon that Shetland actually offers the finest clifftop coastal walking in the UK – whether on remote Papa Stour, or on the mainland as seen with the great stacks of Westerwick pictured here.

I just couldn’t choose ten photos of Scotland’s Islands without including some puffins! This pair – on Lunga in the Treshnish Islands off Mull – appear to be exchanging nesting material. You might think you need a long wildlife lens to get a decent shot of a puffin, but those on Lunga have become very used to visitors and come close. The population here has increased since regular trips began. Real care is needed to prevent collapsing their burrows – it’s best to crawl.

If you hadn't already caught the island bagging bug, then I'm fairly sure that these gorgeous photos and stories will have pulled you in, who can resist those little puffin faces? 

To pre-order Scottish Island Bagging click here.





If you've already added Scottish Island Bagging to your reading list you may also want to explore these other related titles:

Wild Light by Craig Aitchison

Wild Light is a stunning panoramic exploration of the Scottish landscape by photographer Craig Aitchison, winner of the inaugural Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year competition.



Extreme Scotland by Nadir Khan

In Extreme Scotland, award-winning adventure-sports photographer Nadir Khan takes us on a jaw-dropping tour through Scotland’s epic mountain landscape. Nadir showcases his work with some of the best adventure athletes in the world – including Ines Papert and James Pearson – in a portfolio that has placed him at the forefront of adventure-sports photography in the UK


The Last HillwalkerBothy Tales and Sky Dance by John D. Burns

In his first two bestselling books, The Last Hillwalker and Bothy Tales, John D. Burns invited readers to join him in the hills and wild places of Scotland. In Sky Dance, he returns to that world to ask fundamental questions about how we relate to this northern landscape – while raising a laugh or two along the way. Anyone who has stood and gazed at the majesty of the Scottish mountains will know this place and want to return to it. 


Scotland Mountain Biking - Wild Trails and Scotland Mountain Biking - Wild Trails Vol. 2 by Phil McKane

These two titles feature new and classic mountain bike rides across Scotland. They include challenging mountain passes, endless singletrack, lochside cruises and more, all in a country named a 'Global Superstar' by the International Mountain Biking Association.


High Point by Mark Clarke

In 2008 Mark Clarke embarked on a journey to visit the highest point in each of the eighty-five historic counties in Great Britain. Over the course of four years, he walked over 500 miles and climbed over 100,000 feet, sampling all that is great about Britain along the way.


Wild Britain by Barry Payling

Wild Britain is the photographic portfolio from professional photographer Barry Payling, one of a unique band of photographers in the world who practise ‘pure photography’.




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