We all need an escape from the treadmill of our daily routine,that personal haven that offers a little peace from the damands of a hurried and frantic world.
My escape is Dartmoor, three hundred and sixty five square miles of vast open landscape of which I have barely scratched the surface of.
Home to ancient oak woodlands, towering granite monoliths and custodian of countless tales of folklore and fable.
Quarrymen, farmers and miners have toiled in this unforgiving landscape, their legacy the scattered remains of farmsteads and buidings for the inquisitve to explore.
I love Dartmoor in all it’s moods, serene summer days where skylarks swoop and soar, the landscape painted with the purple and yellows of heather and gorse, even those frequent wet winter days of mist and greywashed skies have a beauty of their own.
To me, Dartmoor is a source of constant inspiration for my photography and word craft alike, as well as an enormous sense of well being and gratitude that I live so close.
It’s the Sunday of the August bank holiday weekend, the last throes of the summer holidays for many, for me, a time to secretly look forward to those cheeky Friday’s off and three day weekends as the food industry gets a little quieter.
Normally on a bank holiday, I would stay closer to home, allowing the madding crowds to descend upon their chosen destinations but an invitation to visit Dartmoor will rarely be turned down, especially as it will be one of my favourite parts of Dartmoor – Foggintor.
I decide today to bring the Canon G11, it will be the perfect way to get more used to this latest of my ‘old gear’ purchases but a camera I am finding a joy to use.
The last time I travelled this light with camera gear was when I shot an entire year with a Fuji X100F, even then, I would sometimes bring a tripod and filters, not so this time. Of course with the G11, I have the luxury of a zoom lens, something that is taking a little used to after using fixed primes for so long.
Just a couple of brief trips with the G11, has brought a real sense of fun to my photography, with a bigger full fame camera, there is a subconscious demand on myself to produce the best images I can, where the G11 just makes me want to walk further, see more and take more images.
While I say that the G11 is for fun, it takes some seriously good photos, in fact it is this very camera that has produced one of my favourite images of the year so far…
Of course, this is just one of many images on today’s walk and while I am praising the image quality of the G11, it does have a couple of small annoyances, one being that it is easy to alter settings by pressing buttons accidentally when carrying the camera in hand but all in all a small gripe in the grand scheme.
Enough about the camera’s faults, and more from its strengths, taking images:
Given the number of images in the gallery, it is fair to say that I really enjoy using this 12 year old camera, needless to say it will be heading out with me on a few more walks in the coming weeks.
After the storms and rain of last weekend, I hope to make up for the lack of milage on my weekend camera walks with a trip to Dartmoor for my 14th 50mm outing.
It is a bright and breezy Saturday morning, sure enough my destination is the former tin mining hamlet of Whiteworks, where a few ruins remain to explore and the site of one of my favourite trees of Dartmoor.
Once again, I decide to use my vintage lenses on this trip, my pentacon 50mm 1.8 and my Super Takumar f1.4 lenses, the canon 50mm gets to have a day off today as I am reaching more often for the vintage glass.
Today will be a waiting game for some shots as the sunlight is regularly snatched away by ever thickening clouds, while I wait, I walk around the scene for other potential images, this also serves to keep warm as there is a keen edge to the temperature in this open landscape.
Finding the site of ‘my tree’, I look to find a variety of shots but the light dictates that I will make a similar compostition from my previous visit, I love the defiance of this tree amongst the other desolation.
If it is not the trees that draw my eye, it is the texture of the stone in the remains of boundary walls, some lie hidden amongst the coarse grass, offering that balance of colour and texture I seek out time and time again.
In what feels like the blink of an eye,two hours have flown by, as I have immersed myself in this wonderful landscape, it is only the thought of my flask of hot tea that makes me amble my way back, even then, I am always on the look out for more images.
Day five of my 50mm project saw me taking photos ‘on my doorstep’, day six could not be more in contrast, in what would be a ten mile hike around the Okehampton side of Dartmoor.
The north of Dartmoor is an area I have barely scratched the surface of, with autumnal trips to Black a tor copse or Meldon reservoir, today I have my own personal guide, a good friend and fellow photographer for whom Dartmoor is essentially his back garden.
(For those that enjoy seeing other photographer’s work, check out @GlavindStrachan on twitter, Paul likes to use and modify old vintage lenses, his work is unique and he captures the essence of Dartmoor beautifully )
Today is my first trip on the recently reopened Exeter to Okehampton railway route,a journey of about 40 minutes with just a single stop at Crediton, passing some lovely scenes of the rolling Devon countryside, where the route allows.
Close to the local army camp, today’s walk is often not accessible due to military training, however this week, no exercises will take place, we are free to roam.
As with most of Dartmoor, the landscape is strewn with granite as if cast from the hand of giants looking for amusement, climbing to the summit of the first steep hill of the day, threading through the rugged grass and rocky landscape.
Despite the greyness of the cloud above, the views are nonetheless breathtaking, this vast landscape can take your breath away at every turn, whatever the weather.
Wandering across the summit, a trio of resident sheep turn casually to peer at the intruder in their midst, as I walk away, they continue with whatever ovine business I had disturbed.
It is at about the half way mark that our patience is rewarded as the first rays of light escape their grey cocoon, casting light and warmth on the landscape, while moody clouds offer a beautiful contrast to the scene.
I have taken over 150 images on today’s hike, the images below are a small selection of those that will follow in subsequent blog entries.
It has been a grey and moody December and January to say the least, but these conditions are favourable for any photo walk on Dartmoor, the bleak,sultry days are fitting in this harsh yet beautiful landscape.
This recent snapshot is taken at Combestone Tor, one of Dartmoor’s more accessible and subsequently popular destinations but on arrival today, there are just a couple of other cars in the car park.
With a strong wind the cloud above scuttles along at a fair pace, mostly fifty shades of greyscale with just an occasional glimpse of escaping light penetrating the gloom.
The muted colours of winter browns add contrast to the cold grey of these granite sentinels, the solitary tree amidst its rocky haven, testament to the desire of nature to adapt and survive against the elements.
This for me, is Dartmoor at its very best, in its beauty and brutality, just one of the many reasons that keep me going back for more.
If 2021 saw me rekindle my enjoyment of the 50mm focal length, then 2022 is the year in which I begin a new project featuring just this lens over the next 50 outings.
It’s new year’s day, a trip to Venford reservoir, a place I have visited on many occasions, my camera bag is laden with the now familar 5D mkII with the 50mm 1.8 now seemingly ‘glued’ to the mount, there were other lenses in the bag but decided that new years day would be the perfect time to begin this new project, so took just this setup without the weight of the camera bag.
The car park has just a couple of other cars on my arrival, the world is enjoying a collective lie in after the new year celebrations, I will be a good way around the route before too many other people have arrived looking to blow the festive fug away.
The colours of autumn are nothing more than a distant memory, the crisp ochres and bronze coloured bracken replaced by damp dark browns, the trees once laden in their autumnal finery now baring their skeletal frames to the elements.
One advantage of the 50mm lens is its ability in the low light of the woodland, only occasional glimpses of light find their way through the melancholy grey skies above, so I am keen to take advantage of these brief windows of opportunity.
There are those areas that defy winter’s decree of desaturation, like diamonds in the rough, leaves cling to their branches like limpets to a rock, for these, I like to use the lens wide open, blurring the background for some interesting bokeh effects.
I find it interesting that with the reservoir just yards from my feet, I take only a few shots of this expanse of water, instead, I am enjoying finding the more intimate details of what lies within the footpath, leaves in puddles or hidden mini waterfalls in less accessible areas of the path.
All that remains from this first day of 50mm is to share the images of today’s amble, I am very much looking forward to day #2
It’s a Sunday morning and an invitation to get out on to Dartmoor once again will rarely be turned down, today is no exception as I go through my pre outing routine of checking batteries are charged and most importantly, I have a thermos of tea to look forward to after the morning’s walk.
It’s a lovely September morning, that autumnal freshness is making itself more prominent, there are also signs of low cloud in the distance, as usual, my eyes are peeled for any impromptu shots on the way.
With this potential for mist in the landscape, the thought is to head to Foggintor, scene of quarry workings and former quarry workers buildings, long since abandoned.
The blue skies of Exeter, less than an hour earlier are replaced by more moody skies, my second shot of the day is barely yards from the car park, a wonderful interplay of light upon the landscape, one of the many reasons for my frequent visits here.
As I think about the images I have just captured, I look forward to whatever else I may be fortunate to see as the next 3 or four miles begin in earnest.
My next shot, taken a few steps to the left of the one above, will be the last of the sunlight I will see on the moor today, a huge front of ominous grey approached from the distance, there may well be a few monochrome images today.
The footpath passes Yellowmeade farm, the bovine community is out and about, of course I take a shot and a name immediately comes to mind for the image, ‘The Yellowmeade farm beef mountain’.
I come to realise This will become something of a theme today, the name of the image is decided before the click of the shutter, I come to realise that I actually do this on a regular basis…. here another one named before the shot was taken on the return leg of the walk.
It is a good half way around the walk that the grey seems to want a permanent residency over the landscape, a chance for me to experiment with black and white images in camera or for later editing.
The ruins that remain of this part of Dartmoor look stark against the barren moorland, I do my best to capture the atmosphere which is helped by approaching mist.
My favourite trees, alone in most cases, stand defiant as ever against the elements, while horses look to find what little shelter they may offer.
I will finish this blog entry with the last picks of todays’s outing, all in monochrome, these really capture the essence of the moor in it’s raw beauty.
After a short two day week, I have three days off plus the weekend to enjoy some well earned time off.
What better way to enjoy the time, than to head out to Dartmoor for a little shutter therapy, a trip to Hound Tor, famously said to have inspired Conan Doyle’s The hound of the Baskervilles.
Dartmoor folklore has it that the tors were hounds turned to stone by a vengeful witch, while fact has Hound Tor recorded in the Domesday book as ‘Hundatora’.
It is a pleasant September morning, with a noticeably cool breeze, with sporadic sunshine peering from increasingly thickening clouds. I am barely out of the car park before the first shot of the day is in the bag, looking back towards the car park and the view beyond, a low layer of cloud hangs over the landscape.
Climbing higher towards the Tors, there are already a few climbers being shown the ropes (pun intended) with much encouragement from their instructors below, I watch for a while, take a couple of snaps and continue onwards.
The views from here are nothing short of breathtaking, I take several shots in close proximity, each added to my treasure trove of Dartmoor memories.
No trip to the moor is complete without at least a couple of moody monochrome shots, there will be no exception to that rule today, as Dartmoor does what it does best in having a complete change of mind about the weather, from bright skies and some gorgeous light to grey skies and a poor attempt at rain in the matter of a few moments but for all that, in all her moods Dartmoor will always be beautiful.
I have only covered three miles today but it was always going to be more of a mooch and an explore rather than a full on hike, as usual, there are reasons to be back again as there are so many paths and trails to follow.
For all my trips here to the moor, I still feel that I have barely scratched the surface, what better excuse for continued exploration of this truly wonderful landscape.
For the first time in a few months, I have managed to have a sneaky Friday off, a chance to enjoy a quieter day on Dartmoor, now that the summer holidays are over.
Today’s outing will include a pleasant stroll around Venford reservoir, a quick trip to Coombestone Tor and another visit to a favourite of mine, the Powdermills ruins.
I will write more about Venford in another blog, today is more about my enjoyment of exploring the rocky outcrops of Coombestone Tor and fascinating landscape of the Powdermills.
Coombestone Tor is very popular, given the ease of access to its location, the car park being a stone’s throw away from the main attraction, which on an overcast day such as today, looks as dramatic as ever.
The bracken surrounding these outcrops are taking on an autumnal tinge, greens and rusty browns add contrast to the cold grey monoliths. The views from here are nothing short of breathtaking, just a small reminder of how lucky I am to have this barely an hour from my home town.
From here, the destination is Princetown, home of Dartmoor prison and a handy village store where a welcome bite to eat is enjoyed, before the third part of today’s outing.
Powdermills ruins are the remnants of a gunpowder manufacturing facility, the explosives being used for the quarrying of the granite on Dartmoor, with several of the well separated buildings still standing, apart from their roofs, they serve as a poignant reminder of the areas industrial past within this unforgiving landscape.
I have visited this location on much brighter days but for me, the overcast conditions add a little more drama to this desolate moorland, a place that I will continue to visit time and time again.
It has been a while since my last blog entry, a busy August has left little spare time to write, however there are a few entries in the offing.
The first of these is a first time trip to Piles Copse, the third and less well known of the ancient oak woodlands of Dartmoor, situated on the banks of the River Erme, a few miles from Cornwood and Ivybridge.
I have visited Wistman’s wood and Black a tor copse before, both of which are breathtakingly beautiful and popular, Piles copse has a less defined footpath so a map is pretty much essential.
Arriving at just before 7am, the sun is making its way into the sky, my first photo of the day is a copse of fir trees silhouetted by the morning light, a truly inspiring start to today’s outing.
With my need for some urgent shutter therapy and the outstanding natural beauty of the landscape, the hike towards Sharp tor takes a while, and upon reaching the tor, the view below is second only to the local equine population atop the hill.
From this vantage point, to the woods below is a steep zigzagging route weaving a path around the dense vegetation, it is clear that this is not a well used path.
The copse itself is owned and managed by the Howard family, who thankfully allow rights of access through the woodland but camping is not allowed with the area being designated site of scientific interest status.
Like Wistman’s wood and Black a tor copse, one could be forgiven for thinking that you had come to middle earth, the lichen and moss coated trees and rocks, and twisted tree limbs looking so beautifully other worldly.
I find my usual photographic fodder of back lit leaves and dappled sunlight through the trees, a spiders web shimmering in the gentle breeze that whispers quietly as it passes by.
The route out of the copse is as hard as the one in, yet for this, I feel a sense of reward, nothing as beautiful as this should be easy to reach, the total distance of just under six miles feels more like ten but I feel privileged to have completed the Dartmoor triumvirate of ancient woodlands.