This summer my family and I travelled to the Ardnamurchan peninsular to look for otters. I love the Scottish countryside: its highlands, islands and coastline team with wildlife – even if it can be a little challenging to get up close.
We set off on a glorious sunny day. In Yorkshire the landscape was scorched brown – there had been only one thunderstorm in the last eight weeks. As we reached the border a bank of dark cloud greeted us. I was so unused to seeing rain clouds at first that I thought it was smoke! But of course this was Scotland where rain is part of the landscape. At first the rain felt refreshing but the novelty soon wore off as I unloaded my eight-foot long trailer in the downpour.
The trailer was packed to the brim with wildlife hides, canoes, bikes and boxes of tools, cameras, and tripods. I had even brought along hollow logs and twisted branches: essential props for my paintings. My mission for this trip was to watch and photograph otters in Loch Sunart. As I was unpacking I spotted an otter from the cottage window. It crossed the bay, its waking drawing a straight line in the surface of the water.
The following morning we piled into our canoes and set off to explore the otter’s territory as a family. My wife was in one canoe with our youngest daughter, Ruby, and I was in the second with Lily, aged 10. Three porpoises popped their heads out of the water right next to my wife’s paddle.
I soon found otter spraint on a rock and a pile of shore crab claws and legs from a velvet swimming crab littering the rocks. They had been freshly caught that morning. From the canoe I examined the deep sweeping bays and rocky shoreline, it was lined with thick impenetrable vegetation. I wondered how I would be able to follow an otter with my camera. The otter could swim across from one shore to another with ease, while I would have to traverse this tricky terrain on foot.