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.
As my dalliance with older digital cameras continues apace, today was the turn of my Lumix LX5, for its first ‘proper’ shoot.
A trip to Dartmoor would give the latest recruit a challenge with the changing light but I would not be disappointed.
My enjoyment of shooting in the square format was soon put to the test as the ‘5’ has the ability to shoot 1:1 aspect ratio in RAW, a stroll around the footpath of Venford reservoir gave me plenty of chances to find some early autumn compositions.
Using the square format with the cameras macro mode worked very well, the level of detail was very pleasing to say the least.
When I started shooting with these almost forgotten cameras, I had envisaged the occasional day out with them, however, it would appear that they will find their way into my bag for some time to come as it feels as though I have rediscovered the hobby of photography all over again.
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.
Over the last few weeks, I have been incredibly fortunate with the weather, managing to capture some wonderful sunrises and early morning light, day #34 however would buck this trend, with overcast skies and more than a little rain.
A trip to the Powdermills on Dartmoor, an area once used to produce the gunpowder required for the local quarries, has been a long time favourite destination for my camera walks, until today, I had not captured this fascinating place in the rain, I would have my chance today.
Arriving on Dartmoor at just after 11am, the heavens decided to open, rain beating against the metal shelter of the car while waiting patiently for the rain clouds to pass.
This was not going to happen any time soon, so my impatience to get out and take at least a few photos, was greater than my need to stay dry.
To me, Dartmoor in this moody maelstrom is as beautiful as Dartmoor on a fine day, just being here the perfect antidote to a very busy working week.
Barely five minutes into my walk and the rain changes from a few drops to ‘the rain that soaks you through’ in Peter Kaye parlance,yet I have already bagged a few shots before quickly hiding the camera back under my coat before my next shot.
Shoot, wipe dry and conceal, shoot, wipe dry and conceal, regardless of the fact that my walking shoes are now leaking and I have wet feet, the camera is dry and ready for the next image.
My personal favourite image is the black and white image on the approach to the nearby pottery where a welcome cup of tea and toasted fruit bread was consumed with gusto.
In the years that I have spent on my photographic journey, it is clear that in every photographer’s repertoire, certain iconic images are sought by amateurs and professionals alike.
The row of coloured beach huts lining a seaside beach front, the colours of morning sunrises and evening sunsets and those late spring woodlands carpeted in bluebells, just to name a few.
It is the latter that forms a variation on a theme for day 32 of my 50mm challenge, bluebells.
There is a popular location on Dartmoor where it is possible to capture these beautiful spring flowers in all their glory, a place that I have not visited for over two years because of lockdown, so I was looking forward to this walk immensely.
Unsure of whether there would be the sea of blue I was hoping for, there is plenty here to photograph, it’s just that the bluebells really add that something to any image here.
Its a short stroll from the car park to my destination, it is clear that although it is just after ten AM, there is plenty of other photographers already here, toting huge wildlife lenses, their prey, a pair of redstarts nesting in the vicinity, as well as a pair of elusive cuckoos.
I try to keep a distance from these photographers, so as not to disturb the subject they may have waited some time for already, I work around the scene skirting my main objective.
One of the photographers takes some to chat to me, he has already photographed the redstarts, he also shows me some wonderful images of the stonechats and wheatears he has captured today, I admire his patience, he admires my discipline in shooting one focal length for a long period of time.
Once they have moved on to other locations, I am able to work closer to the old barn that adds such a lovely contrast to the verdant grass and of course, the bluebells.
Once again, I have my favourite vintage 50mm attached to my camera, manually focusing is a more deliberate and enjoyable process than half pressing a shutter or back button focusing, I am an integral part of the image making, not a bit part player.
In the space of an hour, the location is filling with more walkers and photographers, it is time for me to make room for them to get their shots of spring time glory.
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 nine of my 50mm project and a trip to Dartmoor is planned, in my camera bag is my trusty canon 50mm f1.8 and a Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens, the latter being a lens I have had for some time but have rarely used beyond looking for those close up shots with that lovely out of focus bokeh that old manual lenses are known for.
Not all vintage lenses work perfectly with my 5d mk II, some lenses can touch the mirror when focused to infinity, hence the addition of the native canon lens.
Today’s first stop is to Hexworthy, St. Raphael’s church, well known for its proliferation of snowdrops at this time of year and a few images of the inside of this charming little church in the middle of nowhere.
The takumar does well on the detailed shots, is it my imagination, or do the black and white images render better with vintage lenses?
While today is a bright winter’s day, the strong wind is bitingly cold, I am thankful I brought my flask of tea to enjoy between destinations.
The next stop is less than half a mile away, Huccaby bridge, a popular summer haunt for picnic’s and paddling in the river, today’s visitors are dog walkers and hikers, keen to keep moving to keep warm!
The third and final visit, is just another couple of miles away, Sherberton farm, where the light is at its best as I capture the local bovine and equine population at lunch, the vintage lens does me proud on a couple of these shots as the animals enjoy lunch.
This is one of my favourite walks, following the track to Swincombe bridge and up the ruins of Swincombe ford cottage, popularly known as John Bishop’s house.
This John Bishop was a tin miner, not the comedian of the same name, probably working at the local Gobbet mine, records indicate that he occupied this house from 1840, until his death in 1892.
A few pictures show the ruins bathed in sunlight, I waited patiently between rain showers, watching the clouds pass by until the sun peered through, a wait of about ten minutes that seemed so much longer in the bitter winds.
These remnants of Dartmoor’s industrial history will long remain a source of fascination, as will my desire to explore further, this beautiful landscape.
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.
It is the start of another week and as has become something of a routine, I take another browse through the images of my weekend photo shoot, with the intention of writing the back story of either the whole outing, or taking ideas from a single image for my ‘one frame’ series.
From Saturday’s outing to Fernworthy reservoir, may I present ‘Medusa’s lair’ the title for which I had in an instant, even before I composed this final image.
I had taken a similar shot on a previous outing but the diffused light and the tight crop of a 50mm lens added more impact.
There are a few landscape / woodland photographers that may find this scene a little to busy for their tastes, for me, it is this apparent chaos that makes the eye want to follow every twist and turn of these Medusa like lichen coated branches.
In such an incredibly inspiring place such as Dartmoor, steeped as it is in legend and folklore, it is not hard to let the imagination run free.