East central Scotland isn’t known for its dramatic landscapes, so the Gannochy Gorge north of Edzell in Angus comes as an unexpected surprise. Here an ancient river, much more powerful than the North Esk that glides through it today, cut deep into the bedrock, finding weaknesses and working them open to create a narrow wooded ravine extending for about three miles.
The gorge cuts across, rather than follows, the Highland boundary fault, the major geological feature that separates the Scottish Highlands from the Central Lowlands. If you start your walk upstream at the blue door gate (watch your head!), beside the pull-in at the road bridge over the gorge you’ll see the North Esk flow over a bed of Lower Old Red Sandstone, which is characteristic of the lowlands. After walking half a mile through beech woods (some planted more than 200 years ago) the river narrows into a set of falls known as ‘the Loups’, which salmon must clear to continue to their spawning grounds upstream. Shortly after, the gorge flattens and the geology changes to harder metamorphic rocks typical of the Highlands.
The gorge then deepens once again and the river forms many unfathomable dark pools whose edges are orange in the sunlight thanks to the North Esk’s peaty water. It’s another few hundred metres before the gorge finally gives way to the valley floor of Glen Esk, but not before another set of falls and rocky ramparts.
Shooting tips for Gannochy Gorge
Make a day of it
The walk from the blue door to the end of the trail (where there is space for three cars to park) takes about 45 minutes if you don’t stop, but in such a detail-rich location you’ll need a day at least. There is so much to photograph at any time of the year.
I like the Gannochy Gorge best on a wet day. The colours of the lichen and mosses that encrust the beech trees become more vivid, and even on the dullest days in summer there is still a gentle contrast between the leafy parts of the wood and the more open areas around the river. The North Esk rises and falls dramatically in response to heavy rainfall, so it’s best to work back a bit from the river when it has been raining steadily. The best autumn colours in Angus are found here during the first week of November and spectacular galleries of icicles develop on the sides of the gorge during prolonged frosty spells.
While there are one or two obvious views – from the road bridge and at the Loups – much of the attraction of the site lies in the detail of its tree trunks, rocks and leaves. As such, a 100mm macro lens (shorter ones often don’t give you enough working distance to use diffusers or reflectors) will be most useful, along with a 12-24mm or 16-35mm optic, depending on your camera’s sensor size.
Food and lodging
Alexandra Lodge and Doune House in Edzell are recommended for accommodation. If you want a cup of coffee or lunch, No.63 or The Tuck Inn, also in Edzell, will satisfy you.
Kit list for shooting in Gannochy Gorge
If it’s sunny, you’ll need a diffuser to reduce the contrast in close-ups and reveal maximum detail. If you can get hold of some translucent flyweight envelope stiffener, it provides much brighter, yet even, lighting than most photographic diffusers.
The Gannochy is at its best in the rain and you’re going to be on your hands and knees a lot. Páramo Cascada trousers are excellent – until you need to kneel down, then you’ll get wet. Take a foam kneeling mat as well.