2016 - Catch Up part.1

This blog is really for the benefit of my email subscribers, I realised that in the midst of busying myself photographically with a myriad of projects I'd rather neglected to keep up my regular newsletters. What with posting to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & the website it's easy to become fragmented in the image sharing process, so this post acts as a 'recap' of sorts for the first few months of 2016...

Specifcially in this part.1 I'll be sharing some images from the a trip to the Lake District in late March. I was around the Buttermere, Crumnock Water, Wast Water areas and yet again got relatively lucky with the weather; i.e. It didn't just rain for 48hrs!

After a long day at the Photography Show at the NEC in Birmingham (working on a top secret project, coming soon!) I journeyed up to the Lakes and arrived around 10pm. Having checked the weather forecast and being realistic about my fatigue I treated myself to just a 7am wake up, had a particularly bad omelette for breakfast and was off out to Crumnock Water at a sensible hour.

Despite it being a pleasant Sunday am it was still very quiet, there were some nice reflections on the lake, often unavailable later in the day as the surface is far less placid as the day goes on. I also found some interesting compositions with the trees by the lakeside, in particular I like the golden collection sandwiched between the two banks of green pines either side. It's these contrasts and shapes that have been drawing my eye more recently over the wider vista.

After a morning of lake circumnavigation I decided to head up...and UP I went! Although I did take the slightly easier option up the Honsiter Pass (by car) it was only because I knew I needed something left in the legs for the following walk up to the summit of Haystacks. The Weather was closing in a little by this point and you can see in the image above (of the darkening sky and imposing peaks) that there were even the last touches of Winter on these higher peaks. With the camera staying in the bag a little more this walk was about enjoying the scenery, getting some fresh air in the lungs and some scouting for a future visit...however, you can't beat the odd phone selfie!

What a poser...above Buttermere

What a poser...above Buttermere

With just 2 days in the Lakes, and 1 of those ticked off I made the slightly long and looping drive from Buttermere around the Northern end of the Lakes and back down the Western side to Wastwater, it's only a few miles as the crow flies but there are no roads across this central area due to the mountains, which is good! Staying in an enjoyable little pub my arm was twisted to take part in the pub quiz that was taking part...on my own, in a team of 1. Fearing a ritual humiliation by coming last I was pleasantly surprised to find that I scored above various teams of two and four, I'd like to say it was my good schooling but perhaps the competition had just been drinking more than me that night!

The next morning and dizzy from my general knowledge exertions I pushed myself to get out early to Wast Water, just a couple of miles away, so at 5.30am I crept from the pub and jumped in the car. I'd never been to Wast Water and crikey have I been missing out. It's such a great place that is still seemingly very quiet, especially at this time of year, and really is classic 'Lakeland'. It was quite a grey day so compositions were more 'enclosed', perhaps with a view to capturing the spirit, colours and feel of this amazing area.

After a little bit of time at the lakeside I set off on foot on what can only be described as a slightly sturdy 6-7 hours of walking - I covered around 13 miles with an elevation gain and descent of 2,500ft...with the camera and two lenses, however I did have the good sense to leave my tripod in the car!

The images above, with the exception of the sheep shot, are from the Mosedale area which is a very dramatic 'bowl' of a view just on the walk out of Wast Water and between Red Pike and Kirk Fell, with the peak of Pillar up ahead. I spotted the two walkers heading on and couldn't resist the chance to use them to show the sense of scale...it's as engulfing a view as you can get in the albeit relatively tame peaks of England.

Having had some time to reflect on these images, and indeed print some of them to A3 size on quality paper it's actually the abstract image of the scree that is arguably my favourite of the above. The texture and colour represents everything about those scraggy, rock strewn mountainsides that I love about the Lakes.

Carrying on up and over the back of Kirk Fell I descended with Ennerdale on my left and actually I ended up going a little off piste at this point. Having come down the back of Kirk Fell (and walked off the map I had with me) there was a slightly alarming moment where I realised my only sensible routes back were (a) the way I came or (b) straight up a rather steep looking gap between Kirk Fell and Great Gable. Trusting my compass I decided for option (b)...it looked more direct and I hate backtracking my steps.

The route...

Option (b) was steep!!! And, I was tiring at this point, low on water, no food left etc. It wasn't exactly a stranded in the Himalayas situation but suffice to say I left the camera in the bag for 90 mins or so whilst I trudged my way up to Beck Head and the reassuring view back down to Wasdale before the cloud really dropped in.

The last image of the day, and in fact the trip was just before that brutal final ascent, looking back into the uninhabited Ennerdale valley, with clouds coming and some sunlight gracing the rocky ground. This image printed large looks great (if I say so myself!) and in my hour of mini-desperation I'm happy I took 2 mins to stop, compose, shoot and enjoy this remote part of the Lakes, before the drive back to reality and the call of work & traffic of the South.

Lake District - Days 2 & 3

To Buttermere & Beyond...

DAY 2: It was with a moderate sense of jubilation mixed with guilt (how did I deserve such heavenly light?!) that I had headed back to base from my first day in the Lakes around Ullswater. Suitably fed and watered I drifted off to an early sleep with the recollections of the day in my mind and the strains of the ascents and descents in my legs. 

It's amazing how a 5.30am alarm shatters the sense of peace and tranquility of a deep sleep! As I rose my mind was already running through the route for the morning, as I chewed on the muesli my mind was crafting possible visual scenarios and how I would react to them, this may or may not assist me 'in the field' but it's a good way to get the brain working at the extreme ends of the day.  

I was heading to Buttermere, a place I'd never visited but had seen countless images of. This always worries me a little as the spectre of repetition looms large over the un-adventurous, so with that in mind I was hoping for something a little different from the conditions and from myself. After a twisty and steep ascent through the Honister Pass the road descends "into a stunning valley strewn with large boulders"...or at least that's what the guide book says. I couldn't see further than 20 feet thanks to the extremely dense fog that had camped across the Lakes that morning. 

View away from Buttermere towards the Honister Pass

After parking and paying I made the short walk towards the South Eastern tip of the lake. From here there is a lovely view of the wooded southern shoreline, so lovely that about 50 million people appear to have taken pictures of it! Today though there was little chance of a stereotypical shot of the fells behind catching the morning sun as there was no morning sun to be seen in the fog. That said, afer a short walk up the shoreline there were 10-15 mins where the peaks were temporarily exposed and I managed to make a couple of quick images, happy with the more peaceful representation of this often grandiose scene. 



Soon after the fog descended again and I headed north up the shoreline, generally I was alone bar the odd sheep and keen walker, after all it was 7.30am on a Sunday morning in November. The sweeping shoreline offers some lovely shapes and I spent some time wrestling with the image below. Ideally I would have allowed a little more space above and to the left side to give both the peak and curve of the shore more space to breathe, however I was travelling light with just 1 lens and this was the compromise I had to make. I still appreciate the peace of the scene and the resulting A3 print I've made of this image has come out very nicely. 

Buttermere 'Redux'

I continued on north around the eastern shoreline, by this time I'd bumped into a couple of fellow photographers heading the other way, presumably to the classic wooded shoreline shot, I wondered how long they'd wait for that dense bank of fog to clear before giving up.  

The dense fog showed no signs of moving, this actually suited me fine and allowed me to make a couple of simple images using the shoreline and the reeds and trees that grace it. 

Buttermere Shoreline

Buttermere Shoreline

Finally I reached the Northern end of the lake and headed up into the Woodland beyond. There was still some lovely Autumnal colour here and I spent a good amount of time just wandering and exploring, a day and a half into this 3 day break and I was really starting to feel at peace with the area.

DAY 3: Again the tinny buzz and ring of my phone woke me at silly o'clock. Today I was heading off to The Langdales and more specifcially Blea Tarn was the first port of call. 

Arriving in good time for sunrise I was slightly miffed to see about 6 other photographers had beaten me to it. Instead of arriving alone and in solitude like the day before, the car park at Blea Tarn resembled a busy Tesco Express with just a bit more mud and a few more blearly eyes. Part of me wanted to just get back into the car and go somewhere else, I prefer to work alone, after all there's the usual polite "good morning" chit-chat routine to get through which we probably all want to avoid but still politely engage in. 

Blea Tarn 

That said I was happy with the brief burst of illuminating light that we all enjoyed for 20 minutes or so. I took some time to try and look around the scene, avoiding the obvious can be challenging in these circumstances, after all sometimes there's nothing wrong with the obvious. However I soon found I wanted some more peace and quiet and headed off away from Blea Tarn and headed up Side Pike, which is indeed short yet sharp in terms of ascent.

Blea Tarn

It's at times like this I'd love to carry less gear, on a number of occassions I looked ruefully at my heavy tripod and wanted to just throw it off the crag, that said I probably lacked the strength and my Northern 'tightness' lacked the spirit to throw all that money away! On arrival at the summit I turned to see a beautiful view back over towards Blea Tarn and I spent a wonderful 45 mins watching the fog come slowly rolling into the valley until finally the view was lost, and so was I, into a bank of dense fog. I packed up my bag, loaded myself up like the Lakeland Donkey that I'd become and headed onwards and upwards into the gloom...and it felt fantastic!

The best way to start the day...

Lake District Day 1 - Ullswater & Halin Fell

Heavenly Light...

I'm extremely fortunate to have a friend of the family who owns a holiday chalet in the Lake District. Positioned between Keswick and Penrith in the north Lakes area this made for a fantastic base for some Lake District explorations at the beginning of November.

I had actually hoped to head up the week before I did because I wanted to catch some of the prime Autumnal colours and atmosphere and I spent most of that week at work cursing my luck that I couldn't go at that time. As it turns out I got thoroughly rewarded for my patience (albeit enforced), and because I missed half term I had a much easier drive and was generally quite alone on my travels.

Sunday 1st Nov:

With the alarm set for 5.30am I had a pretty average nights sleep, I often find when I know I'm getting up early for a reason I sleep badly. It's similar to knowing you have to get up to go the airport and you just can't miss the flight! So, after a night of tossing and turning I was actually quite happy to get going in the pitch black. I already had a solid plan for the morning, often I work this way and then have some rough ideas for where the day can progress to, this is usually fluid as the weather can dictate the best option accordingly, a balance of flexibility and patience often yields the best results.

I'd picked Ullswater as my Day 1 location as it was an area I knew a little already, you can't beat a bit of local knowledge when you're driving around dark lanes at silly times of the day! So, I had my first location in mind and it was at the shore line. I spent a good 90 minutes here watching the landscape light up slowly as the sun struggled to rise behind a fairly serious bank of cloud and fog. I actually got a couple of shots I was happy with here but they were earmarked for a privately commissioned piece of work so they can't currently be shared publicly, more on that next year!

Happy with this tranquil start I headed up Gowbarrow Fell towards the viewpoint at Yew Crag. This path ascends steadily and offers excellent view down Ullswater towards Glenridding and from the viewpoint you can see all the way up and down the lake in both directions. However about 2/3 of the way up the path I was conscious that the sun was finally managing to break through the cloud cover and I was treated to a pretty special few minutes of heavenly light as it ploughed across the lake. 

Ullswater from gowbarrow fell - towards pooley bridge

When you're treated to a light show of this nature the challenge is keeping concentration enough to still make strong compositions, the temptation is to be slightly overwhelmed by what's happening and either shoot haphazardly or in some cases be frozen into in-action. It's the buzz of these moments that make 5.30am starts and dragging a heavy bag and tripod up hills all worth it!

Ullswater from gowbarrow fell - south towards glenridding

The light continued to change and it was a pretty spectacular 20 minutes or so, although the main action lasted just 2-3 minutes. Energised by this fantastic scenery and with the day to day worries of normal life dripping away I charged on up to the main viewpoint. I spent some time here playing with different compositions but really the main excitement had happened, and deep down I knew it. So, after taking some time to imbibe the gorgeous views I headed back down towards the car.

After an early lunch (desperately needed after a 5.45am breakfast and some solid ascending and descending) I headed over to the other side of Ullswater to Hallin Fell. Even the drive around the lake is very picturesque and thankfully most of the half term crowds were probably heading back down the M6 so it was fairly quiet. 

After locating the car park at the foot of Hallin Fell I kitted up and started up what is probably best described as a short but very steep ascent to the top. Hallin Fell has excellent views back over Ullswater and also towards the lesser known valleys of Martindale and Boredale (see below):

I spent a good 3 hours or so up Hallin Fell, in fact I even had a little snooze behind a cluster of rocks near the summit. Amazingly the temperature was between 17-21 degrees and the sun was blazing down, quite impossible to imagine in November! In fact I even got a tad sunburnt which seems frankly ridiculous. However, the clouds never completely disappeared and this led to some wonderful late afternoon light, especially as the sun neared the horizon of the peaks. The texture and depth on the fields below was wonderful as I looked down towards Ullswater, the remnants of Autumnal colour and with some leaves left on the trees it was really an excellent spot of weather for the day and I felt suitably gracious for the show.

Looking down towards Ullswater from Hallin Fell

Feeling more than a little guilty and smug after being treated to such warm and wonderful light I headed back to base. Time to eat, re-charge (batteries and feet!) and get ready for Day 2...

Coming Next Time: Day 2 - Buttermere & Beyond...