The challenge of Dollar Glen

Dollar Glen in the Ochil Hills is a steep climb at the head of which lies the ruins of Castle Campbell. Two burns run down deep gorges either side of the hill on which the castle stands, the Burn of Sorrows to the west and The Burn of Care to the east.

On a day-trip earlier in the week, my wife and I had visited the castle. We’d climbed the hill by the road on the way up but made our return by way of what was described as a footpath which followed the course of the Burn of Care. It was really just a very rough track with some steep descents made easier in places by steps built in to the hillside. What caught my attention was the ribbon-like waterfalls, the clarity of the water and the way it sparkled in the the sunlight as it lit up the gorge.

I was keen to return on my own with a camera and footwear better suited to the terrain. Low autumn sun like we’d had for our visit lights the gorge briefly for barely a couple of hours in the early afternoon. My opportunity came a few days later and I headed back with my Intrepid camera and a few holders loaded with sheets of FP4+ film.

Having spent some time finding a suitable viewpoint to frame this first shot, I had to decide on an exposure setting. I was faced with the challenge of the low light level in the gorge where it was not lit brightly by sunlight. Ideally for photographing flowing water on film I would aim for a shutter speed of 1/8th or 1/4 second with the expectation of rendering the water with a silky, soft, flowing texture. Taking into account of reciprocity failure, the exposure I required here for the shadows was 4 seconds at f/22. Shadow detail is good but the water has more of a rough texture than I would want. Had I been making a pinhole exposure on paper, the exposure time would have been minutes long and the water would have appeared with mercurial smoothness. I might have preferred that … so much for hindsight!

I was happier with this second shot, 1/2 sec at F/16 with some lens tilt. The challenge here was again the high contrast, this time between the sunlit ferns top left and the darkness of the gorge centre top.

Perhaps I should have removed the leaf on the left – it gives truth to the scale of this little cascade pouring down the hillside by the path! Less contrast to deal with here as all was in shade: 1 second at f/16.

At the foot of the tallest fall I liked the way the water spilled over the rock in this shaded part of the glen. The terrain here was very steep and muddy and restricted my choice of viewpoint. I’d like to have been able to frame it more tightly and to have controlled the plane of focus better. Again, 1 second at f/16.

By the time I got to setting up this last shot, intended to be of the main waterfall drop, the light was past its best with shafts of intense low sun lighting up ferns and foliage centrally, dominating the frame. Struggling to keep my balance on the precariously muddy incline made setting up difficult, even dangerous. My choice of viewpoint was seriously restricted and I would really have been as well saving the film for another day! 1/2 second at f/22 was a gross underexposure, made more out of desperation than calculation!

This location has proved to be a real challenge. I’d love to return again another day to discover more of it and for another go at mastering it.

Reekie Linn

Reek: smoke or mist
Linn: a dark or deep pool

Reekie Linn is one of Scotlands most spectacular and accessible waterfalls. It is to be found on the River Isla a little way to the south of the Cairngorms National Park and is easily reached from a small car park at Bridge of Craigisla on the B954 road, by a track along the north edge of the gorge through which it falls.

It is actually two waterfalls: one of 6 metres, followed by a second of 18 metres but when the river is in spate the two become one, falling the 24 metres into a pool that is another 36 metres deep. The spume, as the water hits the rock at the base of the falls, rises high above the gorge creating rainbows in morning and evening sunlight.

I arrived at the falls on a Saturday afternoon just as the rain which had been falling continuously in the area for almost twelve hours, stopped and late afternoon sunlight was appearing from behind the clouds. The river Isla was a wild, loud torrent tearing through below the bridge by the car park and promised exciting images to follow. The river runs west to east at this point and my intention was to park up overnight in my campervan to be on location to photograph the falls in the early morning, which was forecast to be dry and bright.

My first task was to locate the track and do a quick recce to identify possible viewpoints for the morning. It was easily found and in less than five minutes I had my first view of Reekie Linn where the rushing river was being forced through a narrow gap at the top of the falls. Ahead of me I could see the spume of water reaching high above the trees at the top of the gorge just a little way downstream. I headed further down the track and identified another two spots from which to set up my camera. All I had with me at this stage was my mobile phone and was using it to record some stills and video of the awesome sights before me. I realised that as the river level fell overnight the spectacle would diminish so I beat a hasty retreat to the van to return with my Intrepid to get what shots of the falls I could manage that evening.

The first image, taken in the evening and showing Reekie Linn Falls at their awesome best. One of my favourites from the trip.
The view downstream from the falls from above the gorge.
At the top of the falls. The noise such that couldn’t hear myself think!

I think I captured the power of the river in these evening images and was glad to have made the effort to set up the camera then, rather than wait until morning.

Dawn came about 6:15 and I was keen to find a path on the south bank of the river. I have seen photographs of Reekie Linn taken from the south river bank below the falls and reasoned that there must be a way of getting down the gorge on the south side. The woodland on the south side is dense but I did find a path. I followed it bbeyond the falls and came to what looked like a very narrow track zig-zagging down a slightly less than vertical face. With all the rain that had recently fallen, the track was soaking wet and soft. I’d been a couple of hours getting to this point but a quick personal risk assessment was enough to turn me back! I returned to the van for a coffee and then headed back along the north track to where I’d been the evening before.

The river level had dropped overnight by at least a metre and I was glad to have taken the decision to bag some shots yesterday. But now the sun was from the east and there was still plenty of power in the river, sending the spume above my head as I set up my camera on the track along the top of the gorge. Perhaps I was distracted by the spray and having to keep the lens dry, but somehow I lost concentration and exposed my first two shots on the same sheet of film! Schoolboy error but here’s the double exposure that resulted from it – I quite like it!:

East and west from the same spot. An accidental double exposure that kinda works!

Fortunately I realised my mistake right away as I went to jot down my exposure settings. I re-took both shots before moving on:

East … on it’s own
West … on it’s own!

Just two more shots were taken successfully before I called it a day. (Another schoolboy error, this time removing the darkslide before closing the iris leading to a much over exposed shot, was enough to tell me it was time to go: I’ve not included it in this collection.)

A slight change of position from the last image and a change of lens from 240mm to 150mm.
The ‘morning after’ view back upstream from Reekie Linn falls to Bridge of Craigisla.

All of the above images were made with the Intrepid Mk1 camera on Ilford FP4+ film using Rodenstock 150mm and Schneider 240mm lenses. The film was processed in Ilfosol 3 diluted 1+14 for 7.5minutes at 20ÂșC. The negatives were scanned with an Epson 4990 and edited for dust marks and black and white points in Affinity Photo.