Back from a great couple of days on a very special assignment in North West Scotland with Will Copestake. Can't say what or who for, but I'm really looking forward to releasing the work from this in the future! For now, it's bits from the iPhone camera roll...
Delighted to have shown some work at The Royal Photographic Society IPE159 at Retina Scottish Photography Festival. Unfortunately I couldn't make it up to see it, but these photos by Jodie Mann Photography are worth a look!
Really pleased to announce that some of my work from 'Black Dots' has been shortlisted for the IPF Photo Prize. It will be exhibited at House of Vans London from 4th-27th of May!
I recently headed out to Warnscale Head bothy in the English Lake District with filmmaker Ryan Goff from Coldhouse Collective to film a short piece about the Black Dots project. The film will be shown at Somerset House alongside my work as part of the ZEISS Photo Awards and is currently is available to view online now on the Rab website.
The Black Dots Project is a film delving into the talented world of Nicholas JR White, where his wooden camera makes his photography a work of art. Exploring the British landscape, Nick can be seen documenting glimpses of the peculiarities and personalities behind bothies and the culture that coincides with them. Here, with baited breath and soggy feet Nick braces himself for a typical taste of Lake District weather, high up in Honister Slate Mine, Warnscale Head.
Press play to join Nicholas behind the scenes and experience what it's like to stay in a bothy...
Directed by Ryan Goff of Coldhouse Collective.
Arriving in Scotland in January, you could have been fooled into thinking winter had been and gone. A light dusting on the distant tops did nothing to entice the numerous climbers & skiers who frequented the living room of Aviemore’s youth hostel. Clouds hung over the Cairngorms, bringing with them a sense of anticipation that maybe, just maybe, the season would soon arrive.
I visited The Cairngorms in March 2016 on a trip that was unfortunately cut short due to a misunderstanding between my right knee and a large boulder and I have been determined to return ever since. With my long suffering friend Andy arriving a couple of days after me and with some fairly long hikes scheduled, I began this trip with a short walk - heading North East from Glenmore, following the Ryvoan Pass towards Nethy Bridge. A mere 40 minutes through woodland and past the idyllic Loch Uaine and I reached Ryvoan Bothy – my home for the night.
Scottish-flag bunting adorned the walls above the fire, and the usual assortment of gas canisters and tinned food lined the windowsills opposite the sleeping platform. With the sleeping bag laid out, I headed back down the footpath in search of some firewood. There’s plenty of woodland within walking distance of the bothy so it didn’t take long for me to source enough fuel for the evening. I utilised the last of the evening light to scout some possible shots for later in the week. If the snow did arrive, there were definitely some interesting images to make here but unfortunately the current conditions didn't do much to encourage me to unload the camera gear. I bedded down for the night with the bothy to myself, and left early the following morning to meet Andy from Inverness.
Fords of Avon
The hike into Fords of Avon follows The Lairig an Laoigh, the slightly less dramatic little sister to the nearby Lairig Ghru. The beauty of this landscape however, lies in it's bleakness; remote, undulating open moorland climbs away from Ryvoan Bothy and over the Western slopes of An Lurg. From here, the track winds it's way beneath the magnificent tors of the Barns of Bynack before eventually descending alongside the burn.
Fords of Avon Refuge Hut is exactly that - a refuge hut. Strictly speaking this isn't a bothy and certainly doesn't try to disguise itself as one either; a tiny shed-like structure with boulders flanking its sides offers very basic accommodation for those seeking shelter when the weather turns against them. The conditions had been kind to us on the hike in, and aside from the negative wind-chill that stalked us all the way from An Lurg, the worst of the weather seemed to be lingering further south down the mountain pass towards Derry Cairngorm and Ben Macdui. This suited us just fine and arriving early evening, we stood at the hut and watched these conditions develop. Powerful gusts taunted us, bringing with them mild flurries of snow that hinted at harsher nights to come. One by one stars began to show themselves, gradually filling the vast skies that the Cairngorms are famed for. With the arrival of nightfall came a considerable drop in temperature, which was enough to initiate a retreat inside the refuge hut.
Despite it's limited facilities, with two people inside and the door firmly shut the wooden interior of the refuge hut offered a relatively good level of comfort and warmth, (assisted of course by multiple layers and the steam of a jetboil!). With no windows, we opened the door the following morning half-expecting to see at least the faintest dusting of snow on the ground surrounding the hut. To our surprise, there was no change from the day before, even the puddles of rain which collected in the well-trodden peat remained defiantly-unfrozen. In a similar act of defiance, I set up the 5x4 and began composing for a couple of frames despite being secretly disappointed & frustrated by the lack of snow. So far, Scotish winter had evaded us but with the MWIS reports becoming increasingly more hopeful, we hiked back to Aviemore feeling relatively positive that this trip might still pay off.
Parking at Lin O' Dee brought back many fond memories of my time here last March. The conditions back then were perfect and offered me my first real taste of winter in Scotland. Although I bagged a successful image of "Hutchy", much of the snow stayed on the eastern side of Macdui, with the melt well underway in the Lairig Ghru where Corrour is positioned. I was never happy with the work I shot at Corrour and vowed to return at the end of the project. So here I was, once again keeping everything crossed for a big dump of snow. The Mountain Weather Information Service had predicted heavy snowfall that night, so the plan was to get to Corrour in advance and effectively snow ourselves in for two nights. Three days and two nights requires a lot of kit so weight saving was a priority here: limiting the amount of loaded film I carried, strict rationing of fuel and the rather questionable transfer of Talisker into a plastic babies feeding bottle - the lightest and largest vessel we could find at the Aviemore stores!
The walk to Corrour is beautiful, yet the lengthy stretch of Land Rover tracks can get a little repetitive after a while. The mountains remained in our sights however, and before long we were crossing the Luibeg Burn and tracing the southern contours of Carn a'Mhaim which gradually brings Corrour into view. The snowline was still quite high, sitting at around 800 meters which made for an easy final approach to the bothy. Entering Corrour, we were greeted by Sebastian and Phillip; two German hill-walkers who were spending a week backpacking across The Cairngorms.
First light. Raising my head from the sleeping platform and squinting through the condensation, I could see through the window that winter had finally arrived. I sat and watched the snowflakes build on the windowsill and as my eyes adjusted to the white light the extent of the nights snowfall became clear. The 800m snowline had crept down from the munros and up to the bothy door, covering the Lairig Ghru - it wasn't deep by Scottish standards, but certainly enough to convey a sense of winter in photographs. Corrour sits beneath the 1004m Devil's Point, an impressive lump of black rock that dwarfs the bothy. In order to capture both of these elements, I climbed the western slopes of Carn a' Mhaim to get some elevation. 60mph gusts were funnelling down the mountain pass bringing with them painful waves of spindrift. Taking cover behind a conveniently placed boulder I hunkered down and began shooting.
Large Format is a slow process, but it's amazing how fast you can move when the conditions play ball. Spindrift whirled around Devil's Point and the sun did it's best to penetrate through the grey and white. Brief breaks in the cloud allowed the rays to light up the bothy, which appeared overwhelmed by it's surroundings. Satisfied with the shots I'd managed to get we picked our way through the frozen heather towards the bothy, crossing the River Dee and arriving just as another set of powerful gusts thundered down the hillside.
Today was Andy's birthday, which also coincided with our last bothy-night of the project. With some impressive winter-shots in the bag, we spent our evening celebrating outside Corrour and reminiscing over some of the journeys this project has taken us on over the last two years. With the entire glen to ourselves, we stood in the snow drinking whisky out of the trusty feeding-bottle with the slightly unorthodox soundtrack of Metallica's 'Ride The Lightning' playing from Andy's iPhone. As the evening rolled on, the freezing gusts and spindrift did little to deter the mood despite knocking us off our feet on more than one occasion!
The following morning, the intense conditions that had buffeted us for the last few days were replaced by blue skies, bright sunshine and not a breath of wind. The frozen ground squeaked and cracked under the weight of our boots, and the sound of Ptarmigans echoed around the pass. The peace and tranquillity was only briefly interrupted by the roar of a low-flying RAF Typhoon which cut through the air just outside Corrour. As the jet disappeared behind Ben Macdui, the stillness returned. We navigated the short trip south along the track we came in on to try and bag a couple more images of Corrour from a slightly different perspective before loading up our packs one last time and beginning the long trudge back to Lin O' Dee.
Naturally, as soon as we set off the wind and snow returned ensuring that we had some unfriendly company hampering our journey! The rapidly changing conditions made for some great photographic opportunities however, and I walked with the D-SLR in hand. catching the continuing battle between rough & fair weather playing out over Beinn Bhrotain. Reaching the car as night fell, we eventually found a road that hadn't been closed due to snowfall and drove back towards Aviemore.
Return to Ryvoan
With Winter now in full swing, I decided to spend my final day back at Ryvoan bothy to attempt some compositions I'd scouted at the beginning of the week. It's incredible how quickly the landscape can transform in five short days. The green and brown tree covered walls of the Ryvoan Pass were now a stark, cold contrast of black and white and ski tracks cut there way through the powder snow that now dressed the footpaths.
Arriving at Ryvoan, I sat on the flat rock beside the bothy and gazed out towards An Lung and the route Andy & I took to Fords of Avon at the start of the week. "Nice day for it!", came a voice from the bothy door. An older gentleman in a large blue down jacket and mittens strolled over towards me. Clasping his hands against his face and exhaling in an attempt to regain some sort of sensation in his nose from the cold air, we began chatting. Lindsay works on maintaining the footpaths over on the Glen Feshie estate but had taken some time out to spend a number of weeks walking and bothying in the Cairngorms. Moving back inside the bothy, Lindsay had a good fire going and a pot of fresh coffee which he handed to me. One by one the bothy filled up and in typical bothy-fashion, the coffee continued to be passed around accompanied by a selection of biscuits, chocolate and whatever else people had carried in their packs. I took Lindsay and another walker, Lucy, outside and after a rushed portrait session dashed up the 810m Corbett behind Ryvoan - Meall a' Bhuachaille to set up the final shot of the project. The light was perfect as I tried to reach a suitable spot - the sun was setting behind Cairn Gorm and casting a stunning golden light down the pass and directly onto the bothy but the light was fading fast. I anxiously checked over my shoulders as I climbed and upon finding the perfect location, I rammed the tripod into the snow and fumbled around with the camera trying to compose, focus, meter and load the film before the sun disappeared for the evening.
Packing up the 5x4 for the final time and walking the snowy tracks towards Glenmore, I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I began this project in April 2015 in the Lake District and spent my first bothy night there in October of the same year. Since then, I've been fortunate enough to spend all of my available time travelling the United Kingdom, discovering these beautiful remote shelters and meeting some of the most incredible people I've ever met.
Teeming with character and history, these remote shelters are tirelessly maintained by volunteers to allow us the opportunity to enjoy some of our most wild and lonely places. The landscapes of the British Isles hold many stories. Bothies and the culture that surrounds them is just one. Thank you for coming on this journey with me, and I hope the work encourages you to head out into the hills to become part of that story.
Nicholas White, February 2017
I've recently returned from a short trip to Scotland filming with Rab & Coldhouse Collective. I won't give away what the film is about, but an incredible bothy night was had with a fantastic & talented team of people. No head-torch was needed with the full moon lighting up the Great Wilderness in Scotland's epic north-west. Keep your eye's peeled this coming Winter for the full film!
The penultimate trip for Black Dots saw me base myself in Fort William, first exploring the deep glens and coastal hideaways of Lochaber, to the islands of Raasay and Skye, culminating in an exploration of northern Sutherland. With the midges gone and rutting season in full swing, I set off for two weeks to lose myself in a Scottish autumn.
Leaving the town of Fort William behind, I drove North East towards Loch Lochy before heading West along the shores of Loch Arkaig - a seemingly endless road with countless blind summits, twists and turns. The walk to Glenpean bothy is straight forward, following forest tracks and passing a number of hunters-hideouts and apparent "boar traps" used by the Glen Dessary estate. Occasional breaks in the trees reveal the spectacular southern slopes of Glen Pean as it climbs up to the summits of Sgurr Thuilm & Beinn Gharbh, and as I emerged from the western edge of the forest, the bothy came into view. I spent the remainder of my afternoon wandering the ground surrounding the bothy with my viewfinder to try and find some potential locations to photograph from the following morning. I was later joined by a father and son, visiting Glen Pean to scatter the ashes of a friend who used to be the maintenance organiser of the bothy. It was touching to be brought into such an intimate, personal moment in these peoples lives, and after sharing a dram and loading up the fire we settled in for the night.
I woke early and fought my way across the twigs and branches of the felled wood to a vantage point I'd scouted the evening before. Mist and cloud gathered around the tops, and the sound of bellowing Stags echoed around the walls of the glen. Making the first frames of a trip is always exciting, I don't feel like I've properly "arrived" until I press down on the shutter for the first time. With the first shots in the bag, I hastily packed up my kit and headed back towards town to greet Andy as he joined me for the next week.
Peanmeanach bothy takes its name from the deserted village which it belongs to, on the South-Western shores of the Ardnish Peninsula. Parking the car in a layby on the Mallaig road, we followed what appears to be the only marked track over the peninsula which leads directly to the bothy. After an initial steep climb through woodland, the trees subsided and we were presented with an incredible view overlooking the blue waters of the Sound of Arisaig with the Western Isles of Rum, Eigg and Muck in the distance.
The track twisted and turned, before dropping back down into woodland once more where we entered a large grassland which completes the approach to Peanmeanach. The afternoon sun was creeping closer to the horizon, colouring the grasses and the surrounding hills with vivid hues of red and yellow. The handful of buildings that comprise ‘the village’ form an orderly line, running parallel with the shore and with the exception of the bothy (which served as the schoolhouse), only a few dry stone walls remain. Soon after arriving, we headed down to the shoreline where large nettle & fern covered stacks provided excellent elevation from which to set up the 5x4.
We settled in for the night, sharing the bothy with one other – Sandy – who had arrived the day before by canoe. Peanmeanach has two rooms downstairs, both with fires, and a large loft with ample space to sleep several people comfortably. As always, we’d lugged in coal and kindling and their was plenty of driftwood scattered on the beach to keep a roaring fire going well into the night. As darkness fell, the local deer from the surrounding hills made their way to the flat ground around the bothy to graze, and hundreds of eyes would stare back at our headtorches whenever we ventured outside.
The next day, I left the warmth of my sleeping bag before the sun rose and headed down to the water. Sandy’s canoe had been left just off the beach and provided me with the perfect foreground. After all, over-land ventures are not the only way to enjoy the bothy experience. With the fire lit, smoke billowed out into the cold morning air as I fired off two more frames to the soundtrack of the waves gently lapping the pebbles. I spent the remainder of the morning chatting with Sandy, with the conversation culminating in a brief portrait session before hotfooting it back across the Peninsula to catch the two ferries across to Raasay for out next bothy night.
To reach the Isle of Raasay, we had to first catch the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale on the Isle of Skye, then drive through Skye to Sconser where you can then catch the connecting ferry over to Raasay. It sounds long, but is a far better option than having to drive to Sconser from Fort William. In driving rain and howling wind, we rolled off the ferry and made our way North, following the only main road on the island. To say this is a scenic drive would be an understatement, turn upon turn we were bowled over by the rugged beauty and sweeping views that Raasay had to offer. Fleeting glimpses of the mainland to the east are echoed by sights of the Isle of Skye & the Quirang to the west. It feels as though Raasay has managed to avoid the endless hoards of tourists that flock to Skye year upon year, and in doing so has managed to retain much of it’s natural charm.
At Arnish, the road draws to a halt and anywhere north of here was on foot. The first stretch of the hike to the bothy is through woodland, with tracks leading down to hidden coves that house secluded fisherman’s cottages. Under the watchful eyes of a Stag, we trudged across the boggy moorland through gorges and crags until the bothy eventually came into sight.
Taigh Thormoid Dhuibh (or Raasay Bothy for those who struggle with reading that!) is a long building with a distinguishable green roof, situated in an area surrounded by large rounded boulders which shelter it from the winds that whip around the narrow headland. With very little firewood in the vicinity, we set about scouring the coastline foraging what we could and spent the night in front of the fire, sitting on make-shift deck chairs and nursing the customary Jail Ale.
We woke early the following morning and set up on the exposed high ground just south of the bothy. I wanted to try and capture the stark beauty of this location, with the stormy skies looming over the rugged outcrops. The brown remains of the heather coated the rocks around me, and flocks of sheep gathered in sheltered spots in the distance. With Andy and myself protecting the camera from the wind and rain, I struggled to fire off a few sheets of film before retreating to the relative warmth of the bothy – quietly hoping that I’d managed to time my shots between gusts. Hebridian weather hampered progress as we battled wind and rain on our hike back to the car. The shelter of the birch woods was a welcome relief, and with literally seconds to spare we boarded the ferry and made our way back to the Youth Hostel in Fort William to dry off.
Black Dots relies heavily on the use of portraiture to help communicate the story of bothy culture. Frustratingly, this is also one of the more difficult elements of the work as I never know if I’m going to meet anyone and if I do, whether they’re willing to be photographed. With this in mind, I decided to head towards the Isle of Skye and spend the weekend at a popular bothy I’ve visited a couple of times in the past. With it’s location just up the coast from Elgol, the footfall at Camasunary is probably higher than most of the bothies in the network, so chances of bagging some portraits were high, too! Arriving in the evening, I was glad to enter the bothy and find four others busying themselves in the seating area; two brothers, Giles & Hugo and another pair of travellers, Adam & Nika. Camasunary has two large rooms, one with long benches and a food prep area and another with large bunk-style sleeping platforms. We all congregated in the communal area, sharing food and regaling each other with stories from our respective travels.
With all four of my fellow bothy companions more than happy to be photographed I spent the next day excitedly rushing around the bothy. I always have to be mindful that the sitter probably didn't allow for a photoshoot in their trip and are usually eager to get going on their hike. For that reason I generally don't spend as much time shooting them as I would usually prefer. I waved everyone off as they set out in different directions, and hung about at the bothy with a friend who had hiked out to meet me for his first ever bothy experience. He had managed to somehow lug out a huge Tupperware of homemade soup, two baguettes, a tub of flora and a bottle of Shiraz. A good night was had, and the cameras remained packed away. Sometimes it's nice to sit back and enjoy your surroundings without the pressure of making work.
Achnanclach & Strabeg
For the final few days of the trip, I headed to Sutherland in the northern reaches of the Scottish Mainland to first spend the night at Achnanclach bothy near Loch Loyal and then onto a final night at Strabeg, just south of Loch Eriboll. Achnanclach is only a short wander from the road, and although possibly not the most photogenic bothy I've visited, it does come complete with two single beds as well as a sleeping platform, a working fire and a Leonard Coen songbook...
My night at Strabeg was spent in the company of John, a hilarious and friendly character who has spent a lifetime bagging Munros and hiking the wilds of Scotland. Once again I found myself gorging on someone else's food, but he seemed happy to allow me to help him finish off the huge chunk of cheddar and chorizo he had carried in. Sharing a bottle of unbranded single-malt, we took it in turns to saw a huge tree trunk he'd dragged in from the bog outside. This collaboration carried on long into the night, and John entertained me with stories of his travels around the world whilst making sure my cup was always at least half full of whisky.
In the morning, the embers from the nights fire were still smouldering, coughing small plumes of woodsmoke into the air as I set the camera up on a small hill beside Strabeg. A small herd of deer picked their way through the ferns and fish were swimming in the burn which snakes its way around the bothy. The clicking of my shutter startled the deer, and they dashed out of sight. Walking back inside, John was sat at a small wooden table in front of the window focussing on his crossword. It's not often that I can get portraits inside bothies as they're generally very dark, so window light is my closest ally. A few quick shots later, we shook hands and I watched as John crossed the burn and picked his way across the boggy fields back towards the Loch.
I followed a little later on, reaching the car as a storm rolled in over Sutherland. A thirteen hour drive lay ahead of me, but after having just spent the better part of a fortnight trekking through some beautiful landscapes, discovering remote bothies and sharing whisky with inspiring people, I can't really grumble.
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