Written in October 2016.
Yesterday’s photography trip began and ended with a regret but sandwiched in between was a hope, several highs and a plan.
In February, this year I was invited by Gill and Bill Main and Ronnie Graham to join them at Keswick for an overnight stay and a chance to do some photography. I had been to the Cumbrian Lakes several times but only as a driver and knew most of the popular, overcrowded busy tourist resorts. When we went up through Honister Pass and down to Buttermere, parked then walked up and on and around the southern edges of Buttermere Water I knew I had been missing some fantastic photography opportunities over the years. The ground was whited with frost and the vast landscape was sharpened and framed by the changing light. It had the bonus of having all those lovely trees and some of which were bathing their roots in the water.
I fell in love with the scenery instantly.
On my drive home it took hours more than it should because there was so much to photograph. I felt like a dog with two tails and did not know where to begin and end. Before I had set off home I had walked through Keswick to the waterside and took my time with my tripod and filters getting some of the images I had always wanted. My drive home was made up of grab shots with a promise to myself that I would come back before the end of the year.
I admitted that I had no knowledge at all of the Lakes so was pleased that I had learnt of Honister Pass, Buttermere, Derwent Water and Cat Bells – all names I had heard of before and probably passed through but could not place.
Over the year I waited patiently as the colours in the trees began to change and knew that this week would be an ideal time to go visit the Lakes again.
Monday 5 a.m came and my alarm woke me up. My first regret – I wished early in the morning was a little later in the day!
By 6.30 a.m Bill Main and I were heading west through the torrential rain which made for an unpleasant drive in the dark along the A69. The light and the rain began to lift as we drove passed all the stop off alternate places like Lanercost and Hadrian’s Wall. We were not to be deterred. We drove in through to Carlisle via a road that I had not used before and my regret at getting up so early began to fade; the Cumbrian scenery began to entice us.
We managed to get through Carlisle without meeting any working day commute traffic. On again through to Keswick and out towards the Borrowdale area. A sharp turn left off the road towards Honister Pass and Buttermere and we had come into the Borrowdale Valley where Seatoller Farm sits. It was just after 9 a.m and it was a case of just parking where the next gap was to grab our place. Behind us a crocodile of cars parked and out tumbled groups of families and dogs, walking boots, waterproof clothing and food packs. It was the school half term and we had arrived just in time.
After a quick breakfast in the car we duly got kitted out. I had decided I was going to carry my camera and tripod over my shoulder and in my camera bag on my back were some filters just in case I needed them. I was dressed a bit like Indiana Jones!
Off we set.
Bill took us through the Seatoller Farm yard and turning left in through an unassuming gate to the long stretch of scrub at Seathwaite’s low meadows. It led through towards a copse of trees which were part of the dressage for a long waterfall.
This is Taylor Gill Force Waterfall; its water contributes to the River Derwent. It is to the side of Base Brown a rather unromantic sounding but beautiful fell. The camera lens was off already and I began to click, click click. I had opted for an ISO of 400 as the light was nice and bright. I kept my polarising filter on the camera as the sky was a bright blue and I placed the lens hood on too.
The crocodile of families was on the other side of the river at the Grains Gill water way; we scrambled up towards a ravine.
The sun was shifting higher in the sky and, being obstructed by the high Glaramara Fell, was broken up creating rays of light that fell onto the hills around where we were walking – heavenly.
At the ravine, there was the long tumbling waterfall that was better photographed with a filter and the camera set on a tripod. We decide there was too much to tempt us and, wisely packing my camera away in its bag, we set of climbing carefully through the rocks and crevices towards a small gate which lead onto flatter ground. The light was beginning to play with the trees on the rocky edge opposite and it was too tempting not to get a few grab shots. The day’s weather was now perfect.
We climbed higher and higher always remembering to look behind and marvel at the views. Wow! I was so lucky to be able to get up here.
The land flattened out a little and we continued to walk along the water way to more even but higher land.
Bill had told me that there was a tarn ahead and I had to confess I did not know what a tarn was. Bill is the consummate expert of the area which he had spent so many years in his youth climbing around and exploring. A tarn is a small lake. Bill pointed out the names of all the hills and lakes around and I realised I still do not have a clue of all of the areas so readily available to us to traverse just a few hours drive away from home. The Sty Head Tarn was reflecting the undulating hills around it and again it would be another opportunity to get the tripod out and the filters.
During our walk up towards the pass that overlooks Wasdale we saw the low flying RAF jets screech through almost at eye level with us. They had brought my eyes up towards the clouds that hung and fragmented in among the higher peaks – giving a dramatic photography opportunity for black and white images.
Bill was busily taking photographs too. What a fantastic day I was having.
To our left was mountainous Great Gable and ahead was Sty Head.
We got to a high point and it was another photo opportunity – the scenery behind where Bill stood on a rugged rock peak was the perfect backdrop. I never ever voluntarily have my photograph taken but was so chuffed at being so high up among the beauty of it all I asked Bill to take a photograph for me.
Wasdale lake was hidden around the bend of the scene where we were looking down. The hills created a perfect opportunity to get that ‘V’ shaped framing so popular in landscape photography. The sun had gone in and the lighting was flat – an ideal opportunity for all those autumn colours. The lush greenness of the farmed land contrasted with the warm rich browns of the dying bracken lying in among the grey rock. I had hoped we would get some of the light shifting along the hills to give it a bit of interest though.
Lo and behold it began to peep through the clouds and off came the lens cap again.
I captured as many hand-held images as I could. The ISO had been pushed up to increase the speed. I decided to meter for the shaded area where the sun was heading towards in trying to get the best of what is a difficult light situation to capture. I did not want the image to be over exposed.
I was beginning to lose my sense of direction. There were quite a few people coming and going; the Ordinance Survey map shows a crossroads of public footpaths.
Bill pointed out two rock climbers that were heading high up a steep rock face. He told me later when I had asked him that this was Kern Knotts and its buttress; there was an over hang of rock there. Bill told me the story of when he was up there climbing with a friend one day – a mini earthquake in Glasgow was strong enough to loosen the rocks above where Bill and his friend were – the loose rocks came tumbling down behind them to the vast valley below. Wow again; how powerful was that and how much we undermine the power of nature!
The afternoon sun was shifting out of the sky and to the west and so it was time to head back down to the farm in good and safe time.
Bill showed me the peak behind the large hill we were walking down beside. He told me that the far peak was where Honister Pass is and so I am learning more about the Lakes. We had already seen a stretch of water and an island which indicates Keswick and the far end of Derwent Water; the place where I had got out of my bed so early for on that frosty February morning.
Great End was to the left of us as we headed back of the higher ground to a route down. The rock formations were spectacular. After Great End and Sprinkling Tarn we headed back towards where we started. The route wandered down a rugged rock strewn path which was crowded with all the others walkers who were heading back to their cars again.
We had met two men out walking when we had climbed up to the waterfall – the only foot traffic we saw on our climb up high. The two men passed us by and then we did so with them as they sat and had their snack. We exchanged pleasantries and had a brief chat. Bill and the two men discussed somewhere that sounded quite challenging and which they had walked to and so I was impressed with ‘the Corridor’. Dressing like Indiana Jones had rubbed off on me - The ‘Corrridor’ mmmh!
The climb down the Grains Gill to Seatoller Farm was slow. There were plenty of opportunities for photographing lone trees hanging out of the high rocks of a ravine watered by a stream that was so clear and pure you could see right to the very bottom.
I had put my camera away as even at 1600 ISO I was pushing it with the flat light – there was little to no contrast in the landscape here.
Down at the bottom there was a stile to climb over and a gate to pass through. We were back in the mainstream foot traffic. The camera was out for one last time. A stone built bridge spanned the water at a wide point. A group of other walkers had come down with us and had decided to sit together astride this bridge whilst their friend took the photograph from a higher viewpoint – a fantastic photograph opportunity – showing that we all learn about photography daily.
Soon we headed back to the car passing by the gate where we had started our walk. This walk from Stockley Bridge was the easier and most popular route and admittedly in terms of picturesque images was the most colourful and contrast full. We could see across to the copse of trees where we had first climbed up near the waterfall and I was so glad we had taken the other route.
We had been up with the sun rays and clouds and I would not have swapped that experience for the more accessible route.
Now it was time to get to the car, pack down and head for Keswick.
We stopped off at a fish and chip restaurant and each had a large slice of home made beef and ale pie with chips, gravy and a cuppa – Lovely! The light had fallen into darkness by the time we headed for home and it was eastwards into the rain.
I had commented to Bill that I had been so busy during the day that I had not had time to exercise my thumbs – that well-known stance of the digital photographer reviewing their images just as they had been captured. At Great End I had noted the sharp angled rock of the steep face – too high and in shade to do justice to it. It would make a fantastic black and white image – especially if it was crowned with some of those atmospheric clouds breaking at its peak. When we came down the valley and in towards the main thoroughfare the vista with all its autumn coloured trees and foliage made me want to stay for the night and start the day all over again.
I hope and am planning to get back up there again but this time I know which views I want to spent time on setting up my tripod and using my filters. There are a set of yew trees along the Seathwaite walk in the opposite direction to the waterfall and so I may even head for there too. This walk and the one to the top of the waterfall and an easy route down to the bridge are noted by the National Trust and so with a pair of walking boots and some determination could make for a fair-weather day out.
A very, very big thank you to Bill for the walk and the talk, all those fantastic views, the cheese sandwiches (and that little coffee flavouring tipple) and my supper. You have shown me some fantastic sights. I am definitely going to go back there.
My last regret was that the day had been longer.