The following is an excerpt from Wes Kingston's People of the North Coast 500 photography project - this section highlights his travels through Caithness & Sutherland specifically.
...It was then on to our parking spot for the night at the foot of Stac Pollaidh.
I was up before dawn to hike up the mountain to catch the sunrise. I set off at 6am but despite there being a few stars out, it remained quite dark and it looked like the cloud cover would obscure the sunrise I was hoping to capture. I pushed on and reached the summit in good time. It was now clear that the sunrise was not going to happen the way I had wanted but the views were nonetheless breathtaking. This is something that I noticed throughout our trip – the scenery is astounding no matter what the weather throws at you so you will never be disappointed!
Next stop Lochinver Larder. It would be a mistake for anyone not to stop in and have one of their pies from the vast selection available on a daily basis.
Fuelled up, we headed on to meet David and his staff at Highland Stoneware. It’s a great place filled with a dedicated workforce of craftspeople creating handmade bespoke items. The workshop was the perfect place to shoot both portraits and detail shots.
It was now dark and we had a bit of ground to cover between Lochinver and Durness. It was a cautious drive due to ice, fog and numerus herds deer.
The following morning it was time to head along the North Coast. The landscape had now changed in the light of day and having loved the west coast, we could see something new and equally exciting lay ahead. Amazing bays and beaches are scattered all along this stunning coastline and with clifftops providing magnificant views, you really have to stop and take it all in.
The swell was rising and you could spot dedicated individuals in the water who come to this north coast for its world class surf. I was itching to get out and get shots but we had a date with Annie from Forss House Hotel.
I had heard about Annie all the way down in Glasgow and I was not disappointed - 80 plus and managing a hotel! What an inspirational person.
Sometimes as a photographer you have to push and pull people a bit to get what you want them to do and I always try to do this as politely as I can to make it an easy process for everyone.
Annie saw through me right away, she just wanted direct orders, no messing about and the shot was done in no time at all with Annie providing plenty of laughs.
We travelled past Thurso and headed on to Dunnet and the Dunnet Bay Distillery. This small but rapidly growing distillery is a great place to visit to see how the botanics are selected and infused, to watch the stills at work and see the bottling process in action. Laura showed us around the operation before we set up her portrait and then it was time to head back to Castletown.
We met Muriel at the Castlehill Heritage Centre. This is a great place to visit for its history, heritage and is a great facility for the community. The centre has a diverse range of significant artefacts from the local area and they run exhibitions, workshops and training days.
The next day we again chased the sunrise at Dunnet Head - a fantastic lighthouse and viewpoint but the sunrise continued to elude us.
We were compensated with an incredible view from the cliff’s edge looking out over the Pentland Firth to Orkney at the northern most point in mainland Britain.
We headed back into Dunnet to meet up with Ruth who took us to her family home. Ruth's family have been cutting peat for generations and their banks are the northern most peat banks on the British mainland. Talking to Ruth and meeting her family, we got a real sense of the skill and history involved in this ancient tradition. While we chatted the fire was burning away in the house and the peat was stacked up all around outside.
Andy is next in the schedule and our arranged meeting point was in Wick. I spotted a lively looking character and on approaching his van I could tell it was him. Apart from the signage on the van, he had the hands of a stone mason. As well as being a stonemason Andy informed me he plays guitar in a local rock band and had performed a lively gig the night before.
We headed off to a wall on the outskirts of town which Andy has just finished working on. The craftsmanship of the wall was outstanding. Not only is Andy very talented but he is also very charismatic which is a gift for a portrait photographer. After taking his portrait he insisted we take away a bottle of mead which we stashed in the van and then we headed south.
A little further south is a harbour just off the A9 at Lybster; it is a beautiful little harbour tucked between two headlands and is well worth a visit. In the 1850s there were over 350 boats fishing out of the harbour which made it the third busiest fishing port in Scotland.
We arrived at the harbour to meet George, a retired commercial fisherman. Being the small world that it is, after we got talking, it turned out that the fishing vessel George had owned and skippered out of Lybster was sold when he retired. I had been on that very boat shooting a project on fishing a few years ago in Gairloch.
George had been roped into the project by his daughter but he did not mind giving up the time. Very much a man of the sea with a boat still in the harbour, we took a few different portraits capturing George against the harbour where he has spent most of his working life. As the light started to fade we headed back to Thrumster to meet Katherine at Thrumster House B&B.
Thrumster House is a great old house situated in the grounds of the estate. After we were greeted by Catherine as she was bringing in logs for the fire, we are shown into the main hall. You could tell this had been a room for entertaining for quite some time. In the mid 17th century the Innes family re-designed the hall to indulge their love of music and performance. When you walk in and see the fireplaces at each end and a grand piano raised up by the stairs you get that feeling that this room has been the setting for many a performance.
By the time we had taken Catherine’s portrait it was late and we headed for a Sunday roast at the Melvich Hotel.
After a night indoors with long hot showers, the anticipated roast and a fresh bed we were fully recharged for the last leg of this epic photography marathon.
By coming back to Melvich, an opportunity then presented itself to cut through a bit of the mainland. This is something I highly recommend to anyone with a bit of flexibility on this trip as you will get a chance to see some hidden gems. The road we were on was the quietest ‘A’ road in Britain, the Strath of Kildonan or the A836. Taking this alternative road meant we could pick up our route where we left it off just south of Lybster.
The drive was stunning; lots of frost, stag roaming the heather and and birds of prey appearing from time to time. As we reached the coast at the other end of the Strath, the sun was up and the timing was just right for the first portrait of the day.
We were heading for the Shangri-La B&B and a portrait with Don Sinclair. Don has had a few businesses in Helmsdale and with over 40 years working in hospitality, his warm welcome was second to none. He proudly showed us around as the baby grand piano played us a tune.
Don has many a great story to tell and he happily recounted them as we set up. With a character like Don, it did not take long to get the shot in the bag before we headed back.
It was a cold and crisp morning and the views to the East were clear with an amazing quality of low winter light. As we passed Brora we started to get glimpses of out next location.
Dunrobin Castle is an amazing sight and you can see it from many miles away. As you drive down this tree lined avenue on your way to the 189 room castle you cannot help feel like a kid on the way to Disneyland. In fact, it is said that Dunrobin Castle is the inspiration behind the Disney Castle logo.
We were met by Scott, the Managing Director. Scott gave us a quick tour so we could identify where to shoot. The library was an easy choice for me with its rich textures, amazing details and large windows.
We pulled into Dornoch and there was still some light left in the day so we headed for the beach. It was bitterly cold and the beach was frozen solid but the light was outstanding. No assistance needed, Stewart ran back to the van for cover and I shot until the last of the light was gone.
The full People of the North Coast 500 project can be viewed on the Wes Kingston Photography website.