It's a statement of the obvious to say that Scotland is a wet place so water from the start of the Challenge on the west coast to the North Sea is a constant presence. Wet days are not just uncomfortable but cause rivers to rise and sometimes mean you have to make long detours to find a safe crossing place. I have always been interested in geomorphology - how the land has changed - and the Highland lochs are evidence of the glaciers that scoured the landscape and left deep trenches to be flooded by the melting ice.
Photographically, water adds contrast (blue against green) and light to the landscape. There is something intrinsically pleasing about water sparkling in the sunshine and even the most prosaic image is enlivened by a sparkling loch or burn.
I started my first 2 Challenges in dull weather but on the 3rd, when I started at Lochailort, the weather was fantastic. I started at the Lochailort Hotel and planned a long first day walking over the hill above Loch Beoraid to Loch Morar and then through Glen Pean.
This view of Loch Beoraid is, I think, one of the most perfect views in Scotland. There is something about the shape of the loch and its juxtaposition with the surrounding hills and the gnarled birch trees in the foreground that is absolutely delightful. But this image is a good example of the Challenge not being great for landscape photography. This would have been a better image had it been taken with lower sunlight and more cloud. But I had no time to wait as I had a long walk from there to Glen Pean.
Apart from the Caledonian Canal, canals are not what you expect to see in the Highlands. I came across this one when walking from Garva Bridge to Laggan. The River Spey is dammed to create an unnamed loch and water is fed from here using this canal into a feeder system that pipes the water to generate electricity for the aluminium smelter at Fort William.
The River Feshie is a classic Cairngorms river. Rock scenery and rapids front expansive views to the hills. This was a springtime photo taken from the first river bridge, looking north and I particularly liked the purplish tinge from the winter heather on the hills. From here on, Glen Feshie just gets better and better as you enter the old pine forest and walk along the track by the river.
The Chest of Dee. Challengers coming through Glen Tilt or Glen Feshie to White Bridge usually simply follow the track to the Linn of Dee and Mar Lodge. They don't realise that a couple of hundred metres up the Dee is one of Scotland's unknown gems -n the Chest of Dee. These waterfalls on the River Dee are absolutely delightful and a great place to stop for a break before heading to Mar Lodge.
On my first Challenge in 2013, I finished at Girdle Ness, just outside Aberdeen. Our house is right by the Deeside Way and ever since we moved there in 2006, I've fancied the idea of walking home from the west coast. Aberdeen is not a popular place to finish and most people think that there's lots of road walking to get there. In fact, there's very little as the Deeside Way takes you right into the heart of the city with only a couple of miles from there to Girdle Ness. The rock scenery there is small scale but quite dramatic and I liked that someone had built these stacks of stones on the beach.
I don't suppose this is water as such but, after all, water is the main component of beer. The end of the Challenge is a time of mixed feelings - satisfaction at finally arriving at the coast and sadness that it's all over for another year. A Stonehaven finish - I recommend the beer in the Marine Hotel, which is made in their own brewery.