It’s been a while… since I stared at the stars

It feels like weeks since I’ve actually been out for a serious photoshoot. And by that I mean either the ‘wake up on top of  a mountain in a tent’ kind or the ‘headtorch walk up a mountain in the dark’ kind.

Recently I’ve been spending lots of time behind the screen building up various stock collections, Alamy in particular (you can see my collection here), all of which is admirably productive, and a means to an end, but spirit crushingly tedious for those of us with our heads in the hills.

The plan, as usual was to ascend a nice big hill with commanding views (albeit in the dark), set up some shots and then wait for the first light of the day to work its magic. The forecast was for a crisp, clear, cold day, which is fine, but too clear is never good for exciting landscapes and I was hoping for a little bit of cloud to play with too.

The walk began with an overnight stay at Borrowdale YHA for handiness. Honister YHA would have been handier by about an hour’s walk for where I was headed the next morning but, quite frankly, it’s a long way from the nearest pub and I like a fire and a couple of pints for comfort before bed 🙂

After said comforts at the Scafell Hotel I wandered back to the hostel and set the alarm for 4.30am. I’d budgeted around 2 hours for the climb to my chosen summit perch at the top of Dale Head, so by the time I got going I figured this would be sufficient time to get to the top and set up before the light came and joined me.

For those unfamiliar with the Lake District, (this probably won’t help!) but Dale Head lies, along with Hindscarth and Robinson, right at the head of the Newlands Valley. There are wonderful views right down the valley, and also over Buttermere and back towards Great Gable and the Scafells. So whichever way the light is coming from there should always be something to photograph.

As I left the hostel it didn’t feel quite as cold as I’d braced myself for, and disconcertingly there were a distinct lack of twinkling stars in the sky – sure signs of heavy cloud cover. As I trudged up the hill to the summit of Honister Pass, headtorch picking out the occasional sparkling eyes of dozing sheep, I noticed there were actually a few clearer patches of sky, albeit few and far between.

Chanting the ‘cloud is good’ mantra I hung a right at the summit of Honister Pass to begin the trudge up Dale Head. After recent rain it was a bit soggy, but with head down against the wind, one dark step is the same as the next.

My earlier thoughts of ‘ooh it’s not that cold’ began to diminish as I approached the top. The prevailing wind, blowing right up the Newlands Valley and whipping over the summit, was freezing all the moisture in the thick cloud I found myself in and turning all the grass and one side of the summit cairn to white. Damp freezing cloud is a bit grim stood around on top of a mountain at 6.45 am in the dark, but on the plus side that icy grass would look great if the sky cleared…..

As it began to get light enough to see, there were occasional glimpses of breaks in the cloud as it lifted slightly. I’d no doubt it would clear at some point, but wasn’t too sure about it clearing in time for any of the best light of the day.

As it seemed to be as thick on Dale Head as anywhere I decided to have a wander along the narrow rocky ridge of Hindscarth Edge, as it’s at a slightly lower altitude. Sure enough, just as I began to descend I caught sight of an orange glow in the corner of my eye….

I sped up a bit (legged it) as the glow was increasing in intensity, trying to make sure not to go flying on any of the icy rocks, whilst keeping one eye on the views either side and trying to decide which way to point the lens.

The view down the full stretch of the Newlands Valley to Skiddaw was grabbing me more, as was the foreground on this side. I searched around until I found a collection of rocks that caught my eye and managed to get set up just as the light was beginning to illuminate the underside of the cloud and give a nice line of light across the ridge of High Spy, Maiden Moor and Cat Bells to my right, and another large patch on the flanks of Hindscarth to my left.

First light, Hindscarth

Conditions for photography were incredibly tricky. All the moisture from the still clearing cloud was just misting up and then freezing on my grad filters, meaning I had to set up every shot, quickly wipe them down and then slide them into position and shoot as quickly as possible. If anyone heard me, I apologise for my language.

Of course they didn’t there’s only ever me about 🙂

Just a few seconds later the sunlight is already becoming more prominent in the shot:

Hindscarth and Skiddaw

Having a nose for the white stuff (snow, behave), I soon sniffed out that over my shoulder the tippety tops were tinged with winter, as in this snap of Pillar.

Snow capped Pillar

I fired off a few shots over the Buttermere side, but none of these really worked as well. The light was still okay but I was moving towards the post dawn intensity lull. Those first few minutes really are the best, and still the reason I find the incentive to do what I do.

High Crag, High Stile and Red Pike over Buttermere

I was almost warming up by now and nearly all the cloud had cleared up giving clear blue skies in all directions. I took the chance to fire off a plenty of stock shots, we know how the picture buyers love their bland blue skies 🙂  I continued around over the ridge and then the short pull up the summit of Hindscarth.

Buttermere Fells from Hindscarth

It had been a while since I’d been up here, the views are superb. With the Lake District being such a compact place, every change of viewpoint when at this height gives such a different angle on the surrounding mountains.

I had to get back to Keswick in order to return home, still a long way to go, however there can’t be many better descents in the Lake District than that down Hindscarth and over Scope End into the Newlands Valley.

Scope End and Skiddaw from a frosty Hindscarth

I expended the last of my energy on this last shot, with a how far can you get away from the camera in 20 seconds self portrait (look closely).

Scope End posing

Sadly it’s about another hour and 45 minute walk back to Keswick from here, so I decided to retire the camera and just enjoy a lovely walk on a beautiful day in idyllic settings.

I almost dug it out for some photos of the church at Little Town, but the place was looking so lovely I just decided to let it be. I’d happily be buried there (preferably once dead).

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4 Responses to It’s been a while… since I stared at the stars

  1. James Ellis says:

    Great stuff, Stewy. With you on that dilemma of: take the camera out or just enjoy the views – great when you can do both.

  2. Sven says:

    Great write up and beautiful images Stewart.

    I almost forgot how quickly the quality of the light seems to change there, here it feels to last much longer. That is if there’s good weather, something that I currently can’t remember anymore.

  3. Heather says:

    Lovely diary of a days photography, weirdly touching too. You probably have the best job in the world, on days like this. Thanks for sharing x

  4. Claire says:

    Just gorgeous 🙂

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