When Sweden met the Highlands
It was a wet Friday morning in Tyndrum in the highlands of Scotland, as I sat waiting at The Green Welly Stop carpark. On the surface, it was a grim start to the day as I watched a group of Japanese tourists get off a coach in the drizzle. A tour guide lifted his kilt in an attempt to raise their mood.. they filed by him toward the toilets, particularly unimpressed… He wasn’t a true Scotsman.
Then it began
Koala walked out of the toilet and strode beaming towards me. Behind her, like a slo-mo opening to a Charlie’s Angel film, were 3 Swedish women dressed in tartan kilts and Hunter wellies!? Goodness me. Are Swedes a bit crazy? I should have researched. Shit this is a 3 day shoot.. what if they are?! The tour guide looked on, lowered his kilt and slinked back into his coach. He could not compete. These were my passengers! My crazy Swedish passengers!
Our photo clients for the weekend are the Olsson’s.. Isa, Linn and Birgitta. Swedish sisters and mother wanting Koalas take on a Highland experience. A quick change in the Green Welly facilities and they were throwing themselves enthusiastically into it!! Must google Sweden and crazy! Koala beamed again. Isa knew what to expect and had flown her mum and sister over from Sweden just for this. However, she neglected to tell her family what their Scottish ‘holiday tour’ would involve!! We were no Rabbies!!
But I needn’t have worried and didn’t have time to apologise… the whirlwind of a focussed Koala hit them.. they all had kilts on… this was going to be fun. Even Scandinavian Airlines leaving their luggage on a broken conveyor belt at Copenhagen airport the previous day, couldn’t dampen their expectation. With only the clothes on their back, they had newly purchased Hunter wellies and smiles as broad as Lake Vänern!!? I wasn’t sure if that particular Swedish water feature was an actual phrase, so in the interest of European diplomacy I refrained from sharing it.
Koala was in her element. Enthusiasm matched by enthusiasm as we set off toward the welcoming gloom of Glen Coe. The snow was on the ground and the peaks were shrouded in cloud…. well I think it was ‘smirry’ rain but she sold it well. Either way.. there was drama. There is always drama here and it never fails to inspire. Whatever the weather and no matter how many times we visit, the Glen offers a different degree of awesome that you can never tire of.
The Girls must be inspired too, as we left the warmth of the truck and set off up the rocky track to our first photo location in the smirr, below the ridge of Aonach Eagach. Smirr is perhaps the most annoying kind of rain experienced in Scotland, as it doesn’t really fall like ordinary rain and has no sound. It can fool you into thinking that it is just another grey, dreich day. But if you venture outside in smirry rain and you are not dressed appropriately… or perhaps in highland kilt attire – before long you’ll be drookit, drenched, right through to your tartan underpants!
However no complaints were offered, as this particularly Scottish phenomenon stung bare Swedish legs and failed to discourage excited smiles.. or were these grimaces?! This was their experience and the Olsson’s owned it.. Koala was animated and they responded. It was not to be our usual shoot. Not the romantic image of a couple or the drama of an individual but of a family who had come to experience and conquer. I stopped short of a Viking analogy in the nick of time.. realising that I would be mixing my ‘Scandinavias’ and perhaps any reference to rape and pillage would be wholly inappropriate. I really should research my client nationalities to avoid faux pas in future. I became distracted by the potential pitfalls.. ABBA, the chef from the Muppets, IKEA… Brexit. I was neglecting my role. It was freezing but the rain had stopped and Koala was producing fashion images worthy of Town and Country Magazine or a Barbour Catologue. I was impressed… my reflector holding skills were developing. But Mum looked cold. Time to curb Koalas flow.
Time for a coffee and a dram!
The Nespresso machine sounded like a good idea but failed to work off the cigarette lighter in the truck. Instead the 12 year old Tamnavulin Maltwas a popular alternative and certainly warmed frozen fingers and ears. I refrained and drank one of the kids discarded Fruit Shoots that I had found in the boot. I returned to the warmth of the truck part way into a conversation leading to a request on IG for anyone who could loan a Claymore in the area.. ‘to fulfil a sword fantasy with a Swedish girl.. in a kilt..!?’ Goodness.. I must remember to pack Whisky on every trip!!
So on to Glen Etive and the SkyFall Road. The malt had reacted well on an already eager group and shoulders became relaxed and chins were elevated on cue. The road became their catwalk and the kilts swirled against the spectacular backdrop of Buachaille Etive Mor. The smirr cleared and the Olssons embraced the scene… my coat holding skills became redundant. Any fear of an embarrassing national slip up vanished as the assembled group were convinced by a spirit fuelled Koala to ‘… speak more Swedish like’ as the sisters twerked out a sponsorship plea to Hunter Wellies in caricature Swedenglish!? Surreal it was but epically funny… and not even a mention of Brexit. Go Hunter!!
Asking an unimpressed receptionist at the Glen Coe visitor centre where we could loan a replica Claymore was a particularly unusual start to a day! A little more surreal when accompanied by a kilted Swedish girl with a braid in her hair and a steely glint in her eye! The receptionist was obviously concerned with a greater problem.. as she studied the horse racing form guide in the Daily Record. We were heading to Glenfinnan to reenact the Jacobite uprising… or was it to see Harry Potters viaduct? I wasn’t sure as we made a detour to Fort William, for tin foil and a children’s wooden sword?! I was losing my grip on the reality that is Koalas whimsical world… as the Olsson’s became residents too! They even knew what whimsical meant!! I had my work cut out on this shoot.
They personally knew ABBA!
Didn’t every Swedish person!? Glenfinnan is a spectacularly historic landscape and setting for a certain viaduct made famous by a certain wizardy film – which I really must watch… apparently. The tin foil sword circumnavigated the requirement of a dangerous weapon licence and the image of Celtic Warrior maiden was achieved. Isa played the part perfectly, as she stood atop a heathery tussock with makeshift Claymore raised in victorious conquest above the Loch and Jacobite memorial in the distance… before she reverted to an impromptu urban dance with Linn, as their proud mother looked on.
Maybe it is something in the meatballs? Koala encouraged them.. this was her kind of craziness . I couldn’t rationalise it so instead poured out a dram for the assembled group, as they waded into the Loch for a rendition of ABBA classics.. with a sword… and kilts!? Koala snapped away hysterically. There was no laboured direction of the clients here. I held the reflector authoritatively, with little other purpose than to put tourists off getting too close to our fun. I began to embrace the hilarity… was there any other option? Was I crazy too??? I wondered as I whistled along to Dancing Queen and a strange Swedish folk song about a frog?! I needn’t have worried about offending after all! This was great.
We embraced national identity and sang the ABBA playlist, as we drove down the coast toward Castle Stalker but Appin wasn’t ready for anything resembling a Hen Night and certainly made parking our particular minibus problematic! The residents evidently have had issues with rowdy parties at their tourist ‘hotspot’ in the past and any available verge was artistically decorated with traffic cones. The Old Inn offered brief sanctuary and obviously the only decent place to eat on the west coast. We needed to book.. It was packed! No room at this particular inn but it did have the last available car parking space north of Oban! We excused ourselves that we did try to be patrons and ventured hysterically past the ‘Patrons Only’ sign through the car park toward the Castle.
We certainly drew a crowd, as Koala directed the ‘golden hour’ merriment on the shore.
Perhaps it was low blood sugar? I really must remember to feed the clients and add malnutrition to the liability exemption list! We returned to Ballachulish and caught last food orders at The Gathering! Such a gem of a find to eat at and a place that is often bypassed on the way to or from Fort William. The girls were tired but now fed and still with us. Koala has visions… artistic visions. Her photography is inspired by many things but it is classical art, primarily romantic painting that moves her. I’d say Neo Classical but I could’ve just been lucky watching University Challenge once and used the answer ever since. Isa was to be a muse, a neoclassical muse to fulfil another Koala vision. This time the Ralston Cairn was to be the canvas. A romantically poignant if not epically spectacular position above Glen Coe.
‘The light is good!’ Koala enthused. ‘Look at the clouds!!’ The excitement was building and the Hunter Wellies were discarded. This was to be bare footed romanticism and the girls delivered her scene. I held the boots and the reflector. Koala was happy. We could relax.
The wild Deer at Kingshouse came down from the hills right on cue. Yes… of course we had arranged it!? It is all part of the experience and Mums trip was now made too as I became the animal wrangler! Add that to the list. Our day was sedately drawing to a close as we all smiled happily at the weekends experience, quietly drinking our coffee at the Ski Centre. I was caught off guard.. I began to question my impressions of ‘crazy’ Swedish folk. They were as reserved as us after all. Until that is.. a toilet roll was produced and became the star of an impromptu Benny Hill-esque sketch in Glen Etive!! Maybe it’s the Lingonberry sauce they eat with their meatballs?? But the Olssons certainly redefine the definition of crazy… they are ‘shit-crazy’.
About the Author
I was born in Leeds and grew up in the military. Which thankfully has put me in good stead to 'look after' the Koala. I carry the tripod, hold the reflector, drive the truck, make the sandwiches and ensure that the clients have everything they need. So basically I do everything apart from press the button... sorry.. shutter! Apparently I am a hidden literary gem so I get to write the blog and provide creative input when asked!