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.
My first time in Wales was back in 2005, at that time, I had just dipped my toe in the waters of the digital photography world, my camera of choice was a Konica Minolta Dynax 5d, if I remember correctly it boasted an 6mp sensor, which in fairness was more than adequate for my needs and knowledge of photography at that time.
It had always been on my wish list to return, finally doing so in the last week of June.
With holidays having been a distant hope for too long, I was determined to make the most of the time I had there, getting a few early morning walks under my belt, while appreciating the time away.
The mornings started cool, ideal for walking, perfect for shots of low cloud around the mountains, there were also some pretty dramatic skies as the sun did its best to break through the clouds.
Just two miles away, Bala Lake was a certain destination for my bucket list, I made it on my final day, arriving at LLangower just after 7am, I had an entire lake to myself!
No words can amply describe the breathtaking beauty of Wales, but a pick of my favourite images may just give an idea of why I will be keen to return.
As we reach the middle of May, it has to be said that it has been a little more than underwhelming on the weather front, it appears that the usual April showers overslept and are now playing catch up.
I was not entirely surprised to see that this weekend was not looking much better but I was determined that I would get out for a few hours on at least one of my days off.
Saturday morning just after 5am and the familiar sound of rain falling gently on the windows, I make my first brew of the day and ruminate over the weather forecast apps, each one telling a different story but decide to head out regardless.
I board the train to Topsham at 6:15 am, but for the driver and ticket inspector, I am the sole passenger arriving at Topsham about 20 minutes later. This is one of my favourite local walks, where the footpath runs alongside the estuary but the whole path is not always accessible at certain points at high tide but today, after checking tide times, I have timed it well.
As the gentle drizzle turns to a more persistent and heavy rain, I think at first that I have rolled the dice and lost but after a few minutes, the distant horizon appears to brighten up.
Often on days such as this, there is the possibility of some dramatic cloud and light as rain and sun fight for aerial superiority, I was not to be disappointed as I make my way along the path, a huge grey cloud attempts to smother a rainbow, what a great start after all.
The seven mile walk back home was to be interrupted only a handful of times with rain showers, I am happy that I made the effort today, even happier with some of the images I took along the way
As the painstaking process of cataloging years of photos continues, it has been interesting to see how much my photography follows a familiar pattern as the months pass by.
The winter months capture the bleak and moody landscape of the moors, or perhaps a walk along a desolate beach, the months of early spring capture the beginnings of new life, daffodils, snowdrops and tulips bring welcome colour to the bland browns of winter.
Summer brings the occasional trip to the seaside and for me, the season of classic car shows and steam rallies that are always a pleasure to visit, then of course, the colours of autumn, with a plethora of woodland walks.
This of course was during normal times, when the freedom of choice to catch a train or bus for a day out was taken as a given….. until last year.
Looking on the bright side, it made life very easy in planning my photo walks, “where shall I go this weekend? I know, lets do Exeter! “
Let me be the first to say that I consider myself lucky to live in such a historic and beautiful city, where walks by the river are just a walk away but I began to wonder if it was possible to take any more photos of a place that I have lived in for over 20 years.
The initial feelings of frustration and not a little resentment subsided into a more positive frame of mind, challenging myself and my creativity to find something different from familiar ground, after all, I was still able to get out, for many this was not the case.
With this renewed and more welcome mindset, I have looked to process familiar scenes in a different way, learning new editing techniques to keep myself motivated to keep getting out there and taking photos.
As the year passes by at an alarming rate, the early morning starts I regularly enjoy are getting steadily lighter, with sunrise at around six AM.
Being a Sunday, it is the one day I rarely set an alarm yet I am still awake at just after 4am, this morning however, I manage another hour before deciding to venture out for an early riverside walk.
It has been a week of clear blue skies with an abundance of sunshine, spring has arrived at last but there is still a chill in the early morning air.
The strong winds of the last few days have abated for a while, only a gentle breeze ripples the still waters and as the sun makes its first appearance, its golden rays paint the opposite side of the riverbank in its warm glow.
But for a couple of anglers, a dog walker and a brace of joggers, the riverside is mine, the peace and solitude only occasionally interrupted by an industrious woodpecker and a stonechat going about their avian business.
Today may not have been the longest of walks, it is more about getting out for a couple hours and grabbing a few snapshots along the way, for me, the perfect way to start a lazy Sunday
As we begin a considered easing of lockdown rules over the coming weeks, I look forward to treading once more the hallowed turf of Dartmoor, to reacquaint myself with the joys of roaming this vast and wonderful landscape, to marvel once more at the majestic tors, standing tall and proud, sentinels of the landscape, to enjoy each breath of its invigorating and inspiring air and every footstep made along its many paths.
This enforced absence has made me appreciate even more, just why I enjoy taking a camera with me on my walks, looking through photographs of previous visits evoke a memory of that particular day, or time of the year, in some cases, remembering how hard it was to keep the camera steady as a strong wind blew across the moor, or just how quickly that rain cloud appeared just overhead, ready to drench the unwary walker with its cargo.
Over the last few months, I have slowly and somewhat belatedly started to catalogue my photos, a long overdue process that is still a long way from completion, as I seem to make more and more reasons to get out and take yet more photos. I had dreaded this sorting process, but it has been an interesting insight in to my personal photographic journey, as well as a sobering reminder of the cameras I may have bought, sold and purchased again along with all the ‘necessary’ accessories, yet I have not regretted a single second of this process.
It was looking back at recent trips to the moor that inspired me to pick a few favourites from the archives and sow a seed of optimism that it may not be too much longer before I am there once again.
Friday and Saturday had been a complete wash out in terms of any plans I had of getting out for my weekend photo walk, can there be any rain left to fall I ask?
Sunday morning and much of the same, as I enjoy my first brew of the day and a bacon butty, the skies are a grey wash of mediocrity, the gentle sound of rain against the windows, is this to be another ‘stay in’ day?
As I finish breakfast, I look out to see that there appears to be a break in the rainfall, without further ado, I decide to get some fresh air, even if it is only for a brief time.
The rain may have stopped but the sky still shows intent, so I set a brisk pace as I head towards my undetermined destination.
It is on these spontaneous forays that I find myself becoming more creative, looking for shots that I have not taken before, which in a city I have lived in for over twenty years, can be a challenge.
A lot of today’s shots will be black and white, to capture the mood of the day, but keep an open mind.
It has been my intention this year, to spend less time editing my photos, attempting to capture the mood with in camera presets or ‘recipes’ I have been creating over the last few weeks.
With today being such a dull day, monochrome and desaturated colour images, with contrasty shadows are the order of the day, with only a little cropping as needed done in post processing.
Despite the short duration and distance of today’s jaunt, I feel that I have salvaged something from this weekend and look forward to my next outing.
After the expected recent lockdown measures, any thoughts of trips to the seaside or Dartmoor are out of the question for now, so my new January musings will follow familiar waking routes around the River and other local haunts.
I had considered starting another long term photography project this year that is on hold for now but still have one or two ideas for some themed photo shoots around my home city that can still be achieved during the lockdown period.
As usual, I had been checking the weather forecast for this weekend, hoping for a couple of dry days to get out for my permitted daily exercise, Saturday was looking good until Friday night, when the promise of sunshine was to be cancelled due to overcast skies.
Unperturbed, at just after seven thirty, I head out into the cold of the day to hopefully get a few shots. As I walk through the city centre, I grasp the chance of a couple of quick photos, before heading towards the riverside.
From here, a steady walk to the River, where slowly but surely the night gives way to daylight, albeit overcast, uninspiring skies.
While Saturday was grey and drab, Sunday started with some early mist and perhaps a little sunshine to come a little later, so with a new optimism I set forth once more.
I was not to be disappointed today, as a combination of the mist and the morning sunrise competing for attention were to offer some lovely images, so glad I made the decision to get out again instead of the lazy Sunday option I had considered.
The best bit of winter walks is getting home to the self promised hot cup of tea and bacon roll, while looking at the mornings efforts, then embracing that idea of a lazy Sunday.
I did not bother to see the new year in this year, quite frankly, like many, I was glad to see the back of 2020, so let it slip out quietly while I dozed.
New years morning was like a proper winters day, a hoar frost had given a white dusting to all it touched, everywhere was Christmas card perfect, the air still.
A bowl of hot porridge and the usual two cups of tea would set me up for my morning walk, setting out at just before seven forty five, I would have a good couple of hours before too many others would stir.
With the conditions as they were, it was not hard to decide upon a route along the riverside, chances for reflections and maybe a few close ups of the frost but more importantly, glad of the opportunity to be out.
My walk towards St. David’s station was brisk, where I intend to join the riverside is just the other side of the station, yet it was the station that gave me my favourite shot of the day, the rails and platform coated in the frost, giving an incongruous beauty amongst the functionality of the station.
It is rare that we have winter days such as this in the south of the UK, so I was keen to capture as much of the mood as I could, all too soon the normal service of grey clouds and rain will resume.
To the few others I meet, Happy new year exchanges are made, talk then turns quickly to the cold start, how very British!
For the short distance I walked, I found a treasure of photo opportunities, trying to capture the mood of a winter’s day in both colour and monochrome.
While the legacy of 2020 will continue for some time, travel to places further afield remain on hold, but who needs to travel far with this on their doorstep?
It is the penultimate Saturday before Christmas, many of us will be having to entertain thoughts of heading into towns or cities for some Christmas shopping, fortunately I am not one of the many, instead I shall be heading out for a morning hike, with the hopes of catching the sun as it rises along the way.
Setting off at just after seven fifteen AM, darkness still hangs around like an unwanted guest, I have about 45 minutes before the sun begins its morning ascent into northern hemisphere skies.
A little rain is still in the air but today is forecast as mainly sunny until later in the day, one of the reasons I have chosen today for my outing. I have about a mile and half before reaching the well trodden riverside path that follows the River Exe to the Exe estuary, it is when I reach this path that I spot some orange hues in the sky as the morning awakens.
I reach one of my favourite spots along the footpath, close to the Double Locks pub, the sun breaks through the cloud in all its golden glory, what a start to the day.
After the light show, I decide to capture a long exposure shot of the river as it looks back towards Exeter, the serene stillness broken only by the melody of the avian chorus.
Another five minutes and the stillness of the river is broken by the first of many early morning rowers, their sleek boats cutting through the water like a knife through butter, as they glide so elegantly by.
From here, the path takes me to Countess wear, one of Exeter’s main arteries out of the city, where I will cross the already busy main road to join the path on the other side, another 3 miles will take me to Turf Locks, another of my favourite photographic venues.
I am not alone on my walk, the river bank has seen overnight fishermen hoping for their catch of a lifetime, the predator anglers seeking pike in one place, while down river the carp anglers have set up their temporary base, sandwiching a solitary Tench angler making his first cast of the morning.
While the conversation with them all is about their piscatorial prowess, the one thing we all have in common, is the joy of watching the morning sunrise, where we are all agreed that the early mornings are the best part of the day.
A little way along the footpath, it splits into two, a narrower path following the river is ideal for walkers, the wider path below takes the cyclists, as I join the narrow river path, I can take in the views at my leisure.
Making my way to Turf locks, the clouds above start to thicken hiding the sun for a few moments before it appears once more casting that wonderful winter light upon the landscape.
With the light changing rapidly, I try to keep up with the moody skies, grey and threatening one moment, then back to sunny landscapes as the sun escapes from its cloudy cloak.
Reaching Turf locks, the skies begin to darken and in the distance the clouds shed their cargo of rain, tide in or out, this part of my walk is just so photogenic.
I take a couple of in camera monochrome shots to capture the drama of the changing light, the exposed mud flats add more to the mood.
Having decided that I would catch a bus home, I take a road I have not walked before, looking at possible new routes and footpaths along the way.
I walk about another mile and a half before hearing the traffic pass on the main road ahead, as I reach the junction a convenient bus stop is just on the other side of the road, I have approximately 15 minutes to finish my flask of tea before the next bus arrives.
The ride home gives me a chance to look through my mornings photos, I am pleased that I made the effort to get out when I did, as Sunday’s weather is looking pretty hopeless.