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.
As I edge ever closer to the finishing line of my 50 days project, I am keen to reach my goal by the end of this weekend, so decide to get out for a rare week evening outing, for a short stroll with my Pentacon lens
The evening is still rather warm, temperatures have been in the mid to high twenties celcius this week but at just after 7pm, the harsh sunlight has gone.
I decide to take in one of the public parks / gardens, about a 15 minute walk from home, just to see what nature shots I may find.
Using a 50mm lens for this length of time has brought me a lot of pleasure and I have truly realised the versaltility of this focal length.
I have always enjoyed macro photography, but this old lens can focus close in to capture the finer details of nature without the expense of a dedicated lens.
I am not entirely sure where my love of early mornings came from but perhaps the seeds were sown by the occasions that I would stay with my grandfather over the school holidays, even though he lived just around the corner, it still felt like an adventure.
He would knock on my bedroom door at just after 5am, where more often than not he would tell me that breakfast was waiting, two boiled eggs and perfectly browned doorsteps of toasted white bread and good old fashioned butter.
After helping with the washing up, we would often be headed out for a walk somewhere blackberrying in the summer, mushroom foraging in the autumn and still be back before 11am.
My early forays these days follow a similar pattern, the early train to a local venue in the early spring and summer to capture the new day, camera of course at the ready.
With trains not starting to run until after nine am on a Sunday, I will more often than not be found walking along the local quay and riverside paths here in Exeter, day 41 being one such day.
Sunday mornings always feel more laid back, the one day of the week where the world seems to slow down a little and take a bit of a breather.
I enjoy the peace and solitude of these brief few hours before the city comes to life, the way the light changes as the sun makes its ascent into the skies above, the random chats with fellow early risers going about their own Sunday, that flask of tea I always carry with me to enjoy somewhere along the way.
As I edge ever closer to completion of my current project, there is no doubt that I will contue to take just the 50mm lens on the regular outings, to keep the creativity it encourages honed.
However, the project has not just been about the lens, it has also been about my desire to quit from the upgrade race and enjoy camera gear that I would have liked a decade ago but simply could not justify the expense.
Just a few months ago, I had never entertained the idea of ever using a DSLR again, mirrorless cameras were king and of course they may well remain so for some time to come but I am one of those people that like using old gear, enter my Canon 5d MKII.
This camera body , along with the Canon 50mm F1.8 and my vintage 50mm pentacon 1.8 have been on some fabulous outings over the last few months, proving that I do not need to keep make huge dents in my finances to enjoy my trips.
So on day 40, it was a trip locally to Dawlish Warren, for some sea air and some shutter therapy, where my walk would start well before nine and finish before the Sunday day trippers arrived to enjoy their time at the beach.
Sunday was a day of threatening rain clouds alternating with sunny spells, perfect conditions for some good light with mood in the sky above.
With the tide just about on the ebb, my path was on the upper part of the beach where the softer sand slows the pace a little, giving the calf muscles a good work out over the course of the route.
I really enjoy these mornings on the beach, especially watching the ebbing tide reveal pristine sand as it recedes, it’s like natures etch a sketch, wiping the evidence of seabird or human footprints from its memory.
Anyway, enough words, here are the images from a stroll along the shore.
With my week long excursion to Wales all but a memory, it was time to tread more familiar territory once more, with a visit to Torcross and Start point.
I have happy memories of visiting both venues occasionally on Sunday afternoons, the one special day reserved for ‘family time’ in the 1970’s, the post Sunday roast outing.
A few years later on, I would work as as a chef in the nearby town of Dartmouth and become more acquainted with the coast paths around the area, it would be some years later again before any sort of camera would become a part of these walks.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons I enjoy revisiting a place as much as I do seeing somewhere for the first time, making up for those days when I did not do photography… enough rambling what about today’s walk?
Arriving at just before 10am, being a Saturday, it’s ‘change over day’, those that have enjoyed their week here are getting ready to leave their holiday lets, making space for those arriving later today, I chat with one couple packing up their car, they say they have simply loved watching the sea views from the upper balcony of their holiday rental, it has been their most relaxing holiday ever!
It’s comments such as these that make me appreciate all the more, the fact these views are just an hour’s drive away and just how beautiful the county of Devon is.
After an hour or so capturing a few images around Torcross, it’s time to head out towards Start point, famous for it’s lighthouse and another beautiful part of the South west coast path.
The path towards the lighthouse is a winding route, the views are simply beautiful looking back once more towards Torcross and towards Dartmouth, I am only distracted from these views by a sighting of a pair of yellowhammers and stonechats in the hedges below the footpath wall, no chance of a photo of either species with my 50mm lens, I do not fancy carrying a lens the size of a small ship in my camera bag, I will leave that to the dedicated wildlife photographers.
As I come to the lighthouse itself, the gate is firmly closed, not open for visitors today, this is a trip for another day and a wider lens, something to look forward to on another day.
My last few Saturdays have been early starts, as I have been keen to catch those late spring sunrises around the local coastline of Dawlish and Teignmouth respectively.
Day 30 starts with grey, overcast skies with brighter sunny spells later in the day, so decide that a trip to a local woodland just a few miles away may be an idea, after all, I have not visited this one for a couple of years.
Ashclyst forest is owned and maintained by the National trust, just on the outskirts of the village of Broadclyst in East Devon and a stones throw away from Killerton House.
As with any location on one’s doorstep, I Have not visited Ashclyst as many times as perhaps I should but I am certainly looking forward to exploring the myriad of trails and footpaths that make any woodland and forest so enjoyable.
Even if I were not involved in my current 50mm project, a 50mm lens would be my choice for today’s venue, the wider aperture of a 50mm prime lens is perfect for those out of focus backgrounds in woodland, as well as plenty of scope for those close up shots that have become a part of my photographic repertoire over the years.
There is something very calming about ambling around these forest trails, the pure joy of hearing the birds singing, their melodies undiluted from traffic noise and other man made interruptions.
I take a little time to experiment with some ‘intentional camera movement’ (ICM) shots, as I stand in a clearing, facing a copse of fir trees, a three stop ND filter attached to my lens gives me an exposure time of around two seconds, enough to create some abstract images of the scene before me.
After a number of attempts., I have a couple that I am happy with, it is this type of experimenting that keeps me wanting to get out and trying new (to me) techniques.
With patches of concealed bluebells just waiting to be found, the paths are a riot of late spring colour, with buttercups and celandine offering a vivid contrast to the campion that sways gently in the pleasant May breeze.
Dandelions lie in various states of undress, some with their full Afro of pappus, others semi bald, their party crowns long since stolen away by the breeze.
Even among this spring time palette, traces of the ochres and browns of winter can be found, oases of fallen ferns and fir cones, lying forgotten as last years Christmas toys, yet still beautiful, even in decay.
It’s just after 04:15 as I head out this Saturday morning to capture another seaside sunrise, this time at Dawlish Warren.
As I make my way to the railway station, the dawn chorus has begun already, a male blackbird stands proudly atop a concrete pillar, preaching his avian chorus to anyone who listens, I do, his melodic overture is a pleasure to hear as a new day begins.
My walk to the station is rarely interrupted but for the occasional takeaway car making their last calls to hungry party goers, or taxi cabs ferrying the night club weary back home for a welcome slumber.
In just a few weeks, even the five AM train will not be early enough for those summer seaside sunrises but that is a concern for then, not now.
The train glides out of Exeter St. David’s station on time, I will be at my destination in twenty minutes and with darkness already lifting, I can see a little colour beginning to form in the sky above.
Mine is just the third stop of the train’s journey to Paignton, Dawlish Warren station is just a stone’s throw from here, the local arcades, cafe’s and fairground rides lie dormant for now, in just a few hours, it will be a thriving mini town, as day trippers and tourists from the local camp sites look to entertain family members, young and old.
The beauty of the new day has begun already, bright orange and dark blue skies are all I need to get the camera out for the first shot of the day, a simple composition of nearby benches in silhouette.
It is a fabulous start but I am keen to find a few more shots before the sun begins its rapid ascent, with the tide making its way in, I look to find some reflections in the calm water as a contrast to the rippled patterns in the exposed sand and a couple images from the path above the beach, using the picket fence as foreground interest.
Once the sun appears above the horizon, these beautiful shades will be lost all too soon, all the more reason to just sit and enjoy the rest of this brief show with a well earned cuppa from my generously sized thermos flask.
With mission sunrise achieved, I will make my way along the footpath to Starcross and Cockwood, joining the estuary trail as far as Topsham, where I will catch a ferry and enjoy a well deserved refreshment.
The next set of images are just a handful of those I took along one of my favourite hikes, a good ten miles allowing for my numerous ‘off piste’ ambles along the way in the search for more photos.
It’s the half way point of my 50 days of 50mm project, something that began as a seed of an idea for a long term project as 2021 came to a close and commenced on my first outing of the new year.
Shooting with a Canon 5d MKII body, I have allowed myself a little indulgence, in that I will occasionally use one of my vintage 50mm manual lenses, the go to lens for this is a Pentacon 50mm F1.8, a lens that had been left forgotten in my collection of old lenses but has become a regular passenger in my camera bag.
This project so far has changed my approach to my photography, before I would have a large camera bag with perhaps 3 lenses, filters and a tripod, these days I rarely take the tripod and the only filter I tend to have with me is a polarising filter.
The simpler set up is clearly lighter but with minimal options in terms of gear, I am thinking more creatively with my compositions, the lens choice dilemma that would sometimes creep into my shot making no longer exists, can only I use what I have.
Today’s venue was to be Stoke Woods, pretty much on my doorstep but my first visit here since autumn last year, I will be hoping for a few bluebells somewhere along the woodland trails but just being around nature is all I need after a busy working week.
I have decided to use the Pentacon lens once more, I am learning to use the corner softness of this lens to my advantage, rather than see it as a flaw.
I have remarked in previous posts how using a manual lens has made me feel more a part of the photographic process again, the 5d body is the same, with no tilting screen, I have to physically get as low I need in order to get the low angle shots, but it is what we all did before, so why not now?
The route through the woods zig zags gently down to the busy ‘Exe valley’ road, where just literally across the road from the woodland trail, is a footpath that leads to some pretty rural villages just on the outskirts of Exeter.
I will follow this path for a mile or so, just to take in some of the scenery that I have captured before including a beautiful old oak tree, however my last image of this arboreal beauty stood majestically in place last autumn, will be my last, as it is now nothing more than a mass of tangled timber, having become a victim of the recent winter storms.
It is just as I begin the return trip back along the path that the sun finally breaks through the cloud, hopefully I can capture some of that light through the trees as I make my way back through the woods…..
It’s the Easter weekend and according to local radio reports, the roads are packed with the holiday crowds heading towards the south west, so I decide that I will finally spend some time catching up on that backlog of jobs I have evaded until now but not before an early(ish) start for day #24, another morning stroll by the river.
As I make my way through the city centre at just after six am, the local road sweepers are out in force, clearing the night before’s takeaway debris left by the lazy who have lost the ability to locate and use a bin. Urban gulls fight like drunkards over a polystyrene box, only dispersed by a passing ambulance, blues and twos turned up to eleven!
My approach to the river, takes me via the subway, a labyrinth of graffiti painted walls, abstract images and messages, I take a couple of shots with the aim of a grunge style edit, ideal for the subject matter.
The river lies still, not a breath of wind in the air, a little overcast with a hint of mist in the distance, I enjoy these conditions to capture the reflections and mood of this Holy Saturday morning.
Only two boats from the local rowing club have the River to themselves, I had expected to see more, I watch, admiring the synchronicity of the rowers as the boat glides gracefully through the water and into the distance.
A little further along, a fly fisherman stands thigh deep in the briskly flowing waters, the first time in my 22 years in Exeter that I have seen anyone fish this spot, I decide to stop here awhile to enjoy a cup of tea from my flask as I watch him cast his line in graceful arcs into the water.
A fellow angler shouts encouragement from the bank, there have been salmon caught a little further down river a couple of days before. I watch, fascinated by the methodical way in which fly fishermen work the swim, their unwavering optimism that the next cast will find their elusive prey.
I remain here until my flask is empty, sometimes it is good to just sit and watch the world go by, runners on their daily exercise, some unplugged, just the sound of their feet for rhythm, others plugged into their motivational play list, both ‘in the zone’.
My playlist is the sound of the nearby weir, where a heron stands statue still on sentry duty, patiently waiting for his unsuspecting prey, he will find his fish before the fisherman for sure.
I have eked out two or so hours here but I am determined to get back home and tackle that list of jobs, I will only allow myself to look through the morning’s images once I am half way through them, I do better than that, I complete all but two tasks that can be done tomorrow…. or Monday.