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Travel: Glen Lyon

Thirteen years ago Jamie Grant fell in love.

A blanket of frost hugs the ground at Invervar. Photograph: Jamie Grant
A blanket of frost hugs the ground at Invervar. Photograph: Jamie Grant

A passionate, heartfelt love but not a conventional one. A photographer, Grant's love was not for a partner (he had fallen for wife Fiona years earlier) or a child (son Tom, now eight, was not yet born). Instead, his heart quickened for an uncompromising landscape scarred by ice and moulded by the elements.

Glen Lyon in Perthshire, at 34 miles Scotland's longest enclosed glen, has been in Grant's life ever since. He moved there in 2001 and the glen has become a source of inspiration, a place of solace and the subject of his first book, Winter In Glen Lyon.

"It has been a big part of my life," says Grant, 44, who was born in Papua New Guinea to a Scottish father and an American mother, and who "had a very nomadic childhood". His book, which documents the landscape of Glen Lyon and the people who live in it, includes images from 2001 until 2012. "It's been more than just a project," says Grant, who has taken pictures for organisations such as the Refugee Council, WWF, the John Muir Trust and the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

"We moved [to Glen Lyon] 12 years ago so it has been more than a decade in the making. There is a lot of reportage - the book captures a community as well as a landscape. I have never believed you can separate a landscape from its people."

The book, filled with hundreds of striking black and white images, has an intriguing mixture of vast, sweeping landscapes and friendly portraits. There is an icy shot of Loch an Daimh next to one of Stevie, a local wearing a skip cap on a boat. Then there is Bill (all the people who appear in the book are given first names only), sitting in his caravan surrounded by paperwork and empty cans of Guinness followed by - a few pages later - an eerie shot of the Glen Road. The people of Glen Lyon, it seems, are as important to Grant as the snow-capped hills.

The decision to document Glen Lyon only in winter was an obvious one for Grant. It is the season, he says, when the glen reveals its most beautiful side. "I think winter is often overlooked, but there is a real spirit to it that is worth exploring. It can often be a very reflective, contemplative time. There is a stillness and calmness."

Reflective, contemplative, even poignant - all words that perfectly describe the photographs. "There is a lot of heart in these pictures," says Grant, who says many were taken while he was out walking in the hills grieving his parents, who both died after he moved to the area. "I felt compelled to be out alone and it was a way of grieving. So in some of the photos there is a starkness and a rawness. Those are photos I could not take now - there is an emotional journey there as well as a physical one."

Although Grant has been hillwalking for years - he spent many hours as a boy walking with his father - physically the journey along Glen Lyon's snowy slopes was a testing one. Winter can last from November until early April and getting into spots where he could take photographs was, Grant says, as tricky as getting the perfect shot. "I have always been a keen hillwalker but I was not very confident in wintry conditions," he says. "I have had to learn how to find my way as safely as possible up the bens - crampons, ice axes, navigation. I have learned a lot about hillcraft and also had some hairy close calls." Including one occasion when the wind prevented him from hearing his friend James, who was calling out for help as he was stuck and clinging to the side of a hill. The pair made it down safely; Grant admits becoming a father has made him more cautious.

An old Leica M6 film camera became one of the most important items in his kit. He decided to work with film rather than digital because he wanted to document Glen Lyon in soft-toned black-and-white images he could develop in his dark room, but also because the Leica was easy to work with when his fingers would "freeze up" in the sub-zero temperatures.

Were the frozen hands and frightening close calls worth it? You will have to judge the book for yourself. But for Grant, at least, the last decade spent braving the winter winds has been a positive experience. "I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to do this," he says. "It has never felt like work."

Winter In Glen Lyon by Jamie Grant is published by Watermill Books, priced £25.

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