A welcome return to Dartmoor

It has been four long months since I last visited Dartmoor, a trip to Wistmans wood in March, just a few days before lockdown restrictions were put in place.
Realising that such measures were likely, I made sure to savour every step of that March outing, unsure of when I may visit again.

That day was yesterday, to say I was looking forward to it would be an understatement, I could not wait to tread once more amongst the vast openness, to hear the sweet summer sounds of the skylarks soaring above, to gaze in awe at the many tors, stone sentinels of the moorland landscape.

The rain from earlier in the morning had abated but the skies still wore remnants of mist and grey cloud, giving the moor a sombre moodiness, for all I cared it could have been torrential rain, I was just happy to be back on familiar ground.

Dartmoor will always present photo opportunities, the most obvious being the landscape as described earlier, yet I find pleasure in finding the smaller treasures, water droplets on grass, a fallen foxglove petal, or fungi thriving in the humid air, to name just a few.

No excuses

I was watching a youtube photography channel earlier this week, the location was an area of outstanding beauty, the sun was out, yet the first words after the intro were ‘ The sky is too blue!’

I too have been out on Dartmoor on a beautiful sunny day, happily taking in the vast openness but wishing for cloud, yet on those grey rainy days, I wish for sun, essentially photographers are never happy!

In the eternal search for perfect light, we will always find something that isn’t quite right but the last couple of days have provided skies full of character with an ever changing light that gave plenty of opportunity for image making, today there would be no excuses.

While travel on public transport for photography trips is still out of the question, I am taking full advantage of the opportunity for unlimited exercise by taking walks around Exeter’s picturesque quayside and river walks, pictures I have taken a few hundred times before but with a renewed appreciation of what is on my doorstep.




For the record, all images were taken with a recently adopted Canon 5d Mark 1 with canon 20-35mm lens, there is something about using older camera gear I really like.

First February foray

One of my favourite local walking routes, is one that goes from Exeter to Topsham, following the ‘estuary trail’.

There is a choice of routes, one of which is to follow, a popular walking and cycle route,or my preferred route where the path follows the shoreline but where the timing needs to be right for this one, as parts of the path become submerged at high tide.
As it happens, the water was just starting to lap the path edge as I was passing, clearly I spent too long taking photos on the way.

Today is one of those perfect walking days, a keen wind, yet mild, overcast skies but the prospect of sunshine later in the morning.
As I reach the estuary path , it is surrounded either side by reeds, offering a natural wind break, they sway like a pendulum as the wind whispers through their midst.
It is here that I get my favourite photo of the day, just as the sun is about to emerge from below the clouds, sunrays appear like torch light into the skies, the reeds in silhouette as I shoot into the light

sunrise

The path passes a boatyard to my left, the loud buzz of a sander on the hull of a boat, sounding like a bee on steroids as the boat is being prepared for its new coat of paint.

The sounds and smells from the boatyard evoke memories of me helping my dad on his boat during the winter months when I was a boy, I always got to clean or sand in preparation, rarely to paint, from what I remember.

By the time I reach Topsham, I have done around four miles, time for some refreshment.
Thankfully Topsham is one of those towns that have resisted the clutches of the chain brand stores, instead, offering a good selection of independently owned restaurants, cafe’s and other retail outlets.

It is from one such cafe, I take a window seat and watch the world go by, the nearby church bells chime, announcing the wedding taking place later that morning, my box office seat is perfect to see the wedding guests arrive in their finery.
It was just a few moments earlier that I had seen the groom being directed into a series of poses by the wedding photographer, keen to have the estuary back drop as his composition.

From Topsham, I have arranged to meet a friend and head to Exmouth for a few more photos, Exmouth is one of those seaside towns that seems perennially busy throughout the year.
With the car parked, a walk towards the waterside once again, where windsurfers are fighting against the wind in their pursuit of speedy forward motion.
The wind changes direction suddenly, snatching the sail from the surfers grip. Splash!

With the tide just reaching the ebb, I can take a favoured route along the shoreline to the sea front, here the beach is a perfect shelter for more boats undergoing the winter restoration work, while one or two have been left neglected.

I leave the beach for now and walk along the concrete footpath, beside which a large development of residences have been built, striking in their vivid hues of Yellows, blues, reds and oranges, wooden decked balconies overlook the estuary. Watching the sun set from here must be worth the substantial asking price alone.

Typical of so many seaside towns, the familiar smell of fish and chips hangs in the air, mostly from the hardy souls choosing to eat their lunch sat on the sea wall, the more prudent finding one of the many shelters away from both wind and opportunist gulls.

I join the many in returning to the beach, pristine sand uncovered by the receding tide, solitary shells left high and dry, abandoned to their fate.
The cafes by the shoreline are doing a brisk trade today, as the hour ticks to 1pm, it is hungry ‘O clock.
Ticket number 27 raises his hand as his number is called, this moments winner of culinary bingo, he receives his reward for his patience, fish and chips for him, a burger each for the rest of the family.

I enjoy these winter beach walks, taking time to talk to other people, or simply to walk in my own little space, taking in the day.

My ‘step’ app tells me I have reached seven miles today, my longest walk so far this year, a gentle run in, but hoping for some much longer walks during the coming months.

 

Post Christmas outing

With the festive holidays in full swing, I am one of the many fortunate enough to have some time off over the Christmas period.
I have spent a quiet but pleasant few days with family, eating far too much and not getting out as much as I would have liked with the camera until today, my trip back home.

The last few days in terms of weather have been bleak, rain, wind and a blanket of characterless grey cloud have been the order of the day, today is little better, though the wet stuff is due to stay away for a few hours.

Leaving Salcombe just after 11:30, Slapton sands will be the first port of call, then a walk around Dartmouth for a bite to eat before heading back to Exeter.

Slapton sands is quite unique, in that one side of the road faces the sea, while the other faces a freshwater lagoon, or Ley as it is called here, the car park is on the ley side, so my first pictures are of the bird life here.

The recent strong winds have dropped, the ley lies in a state of calm, the bird life, used to human presence here are not too bothered with me taking photos.

Walking to sea wall side, a mist hangs over the distant coast towards Dartmouth, a chance for some moody monochrome images.
I was expecting the beach to be far busier with other people looking to walk off the festive excesses, maybe the weather is keeping them at home.

From here, Dartmouth is just a few miles along the coast, it is here we find the previously absent crowds, car parking spaces are as rare as hen’s teeth but a space is found and part two of today’s outing will proceed.

I spent a few happy years, living and working in Dartmouth in my early career as a chef, I always enjoy my brief revisits here, it is one of those thriving towns with a lot of character.

My walk follows a familiar route, along the embankment to Bayards cove, famous as the filming location for the Onedin line in the 1970’s.

As always, I look forward to looking at the day’s images, while planning more outings for what remains of the holidays.

Delaying the Xmas shopping

Monday morning, over the last few weeks, my camera day out but today I have the task of completing the rest of my Christmas shopping.

The morning has started dull and grey, the perfect conditions for a trip into town but I am a reluctant starter this morning, by the time I have had my third cup of tea, the clouds are lifting, the day is looking a little brighter.

It looks like the shopping will be delayed a little longer, as I decide to take my camera for a stroll along the River Exe before embarking upon the shopping.
My decision to do so is justified, the recent strong winds have dropped, the River lies serene but higher than I have seen for a long time, debris from rising water levels lay strewn along the footpath, cast aside like an unwanted toy.

I take a selection of familiar shots, work from the newly finished flood defences complete, there are no longer miles of barriers or fences to spoil the view.

Business as usual along the quayside, but fewer people around today, being a Monday, I enjoy sharing the views with just a few others lucky enough to have the day off.

As I drink the last of my flask of tea, my main mission can be delayed no longer, that Christmas shopping will not complete itself!

December sunshine

I must be one of a small minority of people that enjoy waking up on a Monday morning, for me it is my ‘Sunday’, a day that has become my ‘out with the camera day’.
This Monday is no Exception, a planned trip to see family in my home town of Salcombe, then a trip to a couple of my favourite seaside haunts, Hope Cove and Bantham.

Hope Cove is one of those charming seaside villages, tucked away in a beautiful area of the South Hams, a haven for summer visitors with its prime location along the South west coast.

Today is one of the first cold and crisp days of December, such a pleasant change from the weeks of rain and grey overcast skies of the last few weeks, there is little wind to speak of, a perfect day for walking.

The views from the beach across to bigbury bay are superb, the sea rolls gently along the shoreline, almost a whisper as it goes back and forth along the fine sand.

I have spent countless hours here in Hope Cove, it was always a place I headed for when I had my first ten speed racing bike as a young teenager, my first taste of having my own transport and a sense of independence.

I would cycle here on a Sunday afternoon, on arrival, I would buy an ice cream and a cold drink from a small shop that is now an art gallery, and enjoy both while sitting on the sea wall before heading off for another few miles along the quieter back roads.

Bantham is a little further along the coast, a popular destination for surfers, just a stone’s throw from the iconic Burgh island, famously known as a popular holiday destination for Agatha Christie.

Bantham is notorious for its fast currents and riptides, many a daytripper has been caught out here, one of the reasons lifeguards are employed throughout the summer season.

At low tide, evidence of the tidal maelstrom can be seen in the sand, these were emphasized more today by the sunshine and shadow, great textures for the photographic eye to admire.

There is just something about a stroll along a beach on days like today, it invigorates the soul and and makes the senses come alive.

With the temperature dropping and the light slowly fading, it will take just over an hour to travel the fifty or so miles back to Exeter, where the post outing cuppa will be enjoyed while going through today’s images.

Into the woods once more

It’s the last week of October and I am keen to revisit a favourite woodland walk, Newbridge, situated on edge of Dartmoor between Ashburton and Poundsgate.

On arrival, the car park is already well utilised, this area is popular with walkers and canoeists alike, I spend a few minutes chatting with a group that have come from Horsham to sample the fast flowing waters of the River Dart, I leave them to their final preparations while I head to the woods.

Holly bushes seem to have an abundance of berries this year, a contrast of red and green against the slowly browning bracken along the edge of the path, these colour contrasts are one of the reasons that autumn is my favourite season.

As usual, I cannot resist the urge to create some long exposure images of the River, the smoky look of the water against algae clad rocks, some of which are speckled with the yellows and golds of fallen leaves.


As my walk takes me further into the woodland, I stop to take pictures of the fungi.
Each year, I promise to educate myself to learn the names of the species I see, each year, I fail miserably in doing so, yet my admiration of the beauty and fragility of their nature will never dwindle.

A simple rust coloured leaf, still clinging to its vine grabs my attention, acorns on a lush verdant cushion of lichen, ivy leaves basking in the autumn sun, all these little treasures are there to be found, the fun is in seeking them out.

My walk has come full circle, I am back at the car park supping a welcome cup of tea, I am thinking about how my photo walk tomorrow in Bristol will be the polar opposite of today, from spacious woodland to sprawling urban conurbation.

Totnes, then the seaside

It’s Monday morning, the third day of a rather welcome 3 days off, it’s just after 6am as I enjoy the first cuppa of the day, while listening to the rain as it hits the windows.

The weather forecast suggests that the morning’s rain will clear to sunny spells, either way, I intend to have a good day out.

My first destination will be Totnes, a town I really enjoy photographing, it’s quayside and town centre are always a hive of activity, I will have a mooch for a couple hours here, before meeting my parents for lunch, my treat today, they are celebrating their 57th wedding anniversary this weekend!

As the grey clouds begin to clear, the morning has a lovely mood with a warm autumnal glow of sunlight, a good start to the day.

After a pleasant couple of hours with my folks, I continue my photo day trip, off to Paignton and Torquay, the ‘English Riviera’.

It’s half term, I was expecting the beach to be busy with family groups, perhaps the recent drop in temperatures are keeping the less hardy ones at home, those that are here are having a great time, one young lad trying to show his mum the dead crab he has found, mum wants none of that thank you!

There is a keen wind near the pier atr Paignton, bobble hats and scarves have been salvaged from their summer hibernation, to use a Games of Thrones analogy, ‘winter is on the way’.

From the confines of a cosy cafe by the sea, I watch the world go by with a welcome cuppa, browse through my photos so far before making my way back to the town centre where I hope to get some photos from the steam railway station there, then head over to Torquay for an hour or so before making my way home.

 

It has been a long time since I had a day like today, being able just go at leisure with no time constraints, it is something I hope to do more often over the coming months.

Looking back

With the first of the autumn rain storms making its presence felt, there will be little chance of getting out with the camera today, on such days I will take a little time in going through some of the images I have taken throughout the year, cataloguing and backing up to clear space for those images yet to come.

72448328_10219537537167370_98786343752040448_oThe image above was taken at around 5am in August, as I wait for the first train to Teignmouth to capture the sunrise, my enjoyment of early mornings has honed my low light photography skills, so much so, it is probably my favourite genre of photography.

 

I was not to be disappointed with my arrival at Teignmouth that morning, while there was a promise of a good sunrise, the cloud obscured the early rays but still produced some very atmospheric light, of course, as I was making my way back to the train station, the sun appeared for a brief few moments as I walked under the pier.

 

Brixham has always been a favourite location to visit, I enjoy photographing the fishing paraphernalia but there is a certain something about this town that draws me back time and time again, I have been meaning to and photograph Brixham at night for some time, with the evenings drawing in, that opportunity will come soon.

With Dawlish and Dawlish Warren both just a thirty minute train journey away, I will never tire of the scenic route by this coastline, a few early morning shots before the very enjoyable walk back to Exeter along the estuary and canal footpaths.

 

Further along the coast in the opposite direction, is the Jurassic coast, Lyme Regis is another of those places that I have yet to capture at dawn, this is on the list for next year, along with more visits to Portland Bill, a location I revisited for the first time in over 20 years!

I like the way that looking back on photos can often give inspiration for different compositions and new ideas.
I have a small notebook which I carry in my camera bag that has various ideas for various locations, I would use my smartphone to do this but I can probably write as quickly as I am able to type on that tiny phone keyboard anyway!

Dartmoor days

Sunday morning, 7am, I am supping my first cuppa after arriving home from my nightshift, another week complete, the day is mine to  do with as I choose, that choice will be heading out to Dartmoor.

Camera packed and batteries charged, I decide against carrying a tripod, I want to travel as light as possible, a day for exploring without the need for too much gear.

Today’s venue is a favourite, with a variety of things to see, but it is the solitude of the place that appeals, it could be high summer and it may be possible to meet just a handful of other walkers here…. perfect.

There is a distinct coolness to the wind today, it is the first time I have dug my fleece out for a walk since early spring, even my wellies will be worn today, the recent rains will have made areas of today’s venue quite boggy in places, these places have some rather nice abandoned buildings which will look good in the sunshine that has just made an appearance.

The first thing that hits you with Dartmoor is just the absolute peace and quiet, no roar of traffic, just the gentle thud of  Wellington boots against the path,the sound of the wind and the rush of the nearby River Swincombe, the perfect antidote for the hustle and bustle of every day.

As with all my Dartmoor days, I will be searching for its treasures, not just the beauty of the vast open space but the gnarled spindly tree surviving against the harsh winds that try to break its will to survive, hidden fungi growing on a fallen tree and the textures of weathered wood and rusty fences.