As the autumn colours begin to appear, my ambles to Dartmoor will cease for a short time, as I begin my annual photographic pilgrimages around the local reservoirs, rivers and woodlands, in search of the treasures this wonderful season gives us.
The slow mooch around woodland trails in search of fungi, especially the ever elusive fly agaric. fallen leaves on algae covered rocks, glints of copper and yellow like coins in a wishing well and of course, the long exposure flowing water shot.
As much as anything, it is an excuse to stand idly by the riverside, where the sound of rushing water is so relaxing, to watch the dippers flit from rock to rock, or just to simply watch the river flow past.
This particular shot, is the River Dart at Deadman’s corner near Holne, a good mile or so following the woodland path, away from the popular kayak launching areas.
The trees may not yet be in their full autumn splendour but that gives me a reason to re visit in another couple of weeks…..
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.
Summer arrived this weekend, its suitcase packed with blue skies and temperatures in the mid to late twenties centigrade, the first prolonged period of decent weather for some time.
Not wishing to sound ungrateful but I will not be one of the many seeking sand, sea and surf, instead I will seek the shade of a woodland walk, while continuing with my series of vintage lens shoots.
Today’s lens of choice is a Helios 44-2 58mm lens, bought some years ago on an online auction site, these lenses are known for their swirly bokeh wide open at F2, with a decent sharpness throughout the focal range.
My introduction to the Helios lens was with my first film camera in the 1980’s, a Zenit TTL, at that time,it would be true to say that I did not appreciate what I had, equally, my relationship with photography had barely begun.
Today’s destination is Dane’s wood, owned by the National trust just a couple miles from the Killerton estate near the village of Broadclyst.
Normally, my woodland walks tend to be in the mid to late autumn months, capturing the changing colours of nature, today will be finding areas of interesting light, flora and fauna, looking for more abstract shots of the woodland.
It is a slow amble through the woods, enjoying the cool shade of the trees,while listening to the birdsong above as I look for my next subjects, of which there is plenty.
More and more, I am enjoying the more deliberate process of manual focusing, for sure, auto focus has its many advantages but for me it is not critical in capturing the ‘moment’ in an instant as it would be a journalist, sports or wedding photographer.
A two hour mooch around the woods seems like just a few minutes, it never ceases to amaze me how fast the time passes by on my camera walks.
Emerging from the woodland path to the car park, it appears that the world and his brother are looking for a parking space, it looks like a good few others have no wish to go the beach either.
As the days are getting warmer, the chances of capturing those misty late spring mornings were fading, at least until later in the year or so I thought, however I was to be pleasantly surprised on today’s morning foray.
Fuelled with a good breakfast and the usual two cups of tea, I set out just after six thirty am, to what felt like one of the warmest mornings so far.
Heading towards the River, a drop in temperature was noticeable and there in the distance a blanket of mist lit by the glow of the dawn sun.
I had already decided on a different route this morning, taking a footpath I have only walked a few times over the years.
To get there, I walk past St. David’s train station to the Exe valley road, but only after a little diversion, taking in the old railway shed and some long time dormant freight cars on the railway sidings.
It appears that the mist is not about to give way to the sun’s warmth just yet, so my next stop is to Cowley bridge, another little diversion from my planned route, hoping for a few nice reflections with the waters being so serene.
The next part of the walk is along a normally busy main road, the main reason that I decide only rarely to do this walk but this morning is okay, as I walk the mile or so to the footpath entrance.
Just a few minutes walk from the buzz of the main road, I have walked into a place of near silence, a skylark soars above, its distinctive trill, a sure sign that summer days are nearly upon us.
The mist gives the scene an ethereal beauty, it is a time to sit and stare at the wonder of nature, as I find a convenient rock to park myself and take a few sips of water while enjoying the moment.
At some point, I will explore these footpaths further but I am hoping to get some photos of the mist in some woodland, another half mile or so away.
As I reach Stoke woods, the sun is finding its way through the many glades, narrow strips of light dappling the woodland floor.
The smell of wild garlic overpowers the initial sweet smell of pine, and that refreshing coolness of walking in woodland invigorates the senses.
I arrived too late for the misty woodland shots, they will come another day, as it is I have covered around six miles so far today, with another 3 miles to walk home and the enjoyment of seeing my mornings efforts.
It has been a few weeks since I last visited Dartmoor, yet it feels like months, but today I shall atone for my absence with a visit to a favourite haunt on the moor,Wistmans wood.
For the unfamiliar, Wistmans wood is one of the highest ancient oakwoods in the UK, designated as a site of special scientific interest in 1964, it’s mixture of lichen covered granite boulders and oak trees have been the source of inspiration for writers and artists for generations.
It is thought that the name derives from an old dialect word ‘wisht’ meaning eerie or uncanny, pixie led or haunted.
The weather gods have been kind today, the rain is off duty, it is so good to see clear blue skies and to feel the warmth of the early spring sunshine, as I begin the two miles along the well trodden path towards the woods.
One of the enduring images of Dartmoor are the miles of dry stone walls, standing as a testament to the stone mason’s craftsmanship, my route today is no exception, I stand as I so often do and admire a skill that only a few will ever master.
The sound of traffic from the nearest road is soon lost in the vast openness of the land, overhead a skylark hovers above, its song a pleasure to hear, in my mind, I am hearing Vaughan William’s lark ascending, my favourite classical piece
As I approach the ancient oaks, the skylark’s song is replaced by the familiar tunes of chaffinches as they flit between the branches.
At first sight, the trees would appear to have played some macabre version of twister, as lichen clad branches twist and turn in all directions, it is not hard to see why this woodland has so much folklore attached to it.
I take a few moments just to sit on one of the many boulders under the trees, just listening to the sounds of nature, a welcome interlude these worrying times of late.
I have taken far fewer pictures today than normal, I have simply enjoyed my return to the moor and will always take away more memories than photographs.
From an early age, I have always enjoyed the enduring appeal of woodlands.
Where once they were a place to play out childhood fantasies, they are now a haven of solace and tranquility, a source of pleasure from my walking and photography perspectives.
A walk around the woods at Shaugh Prior, just on the edge of Dartmoor is today’s destination, a place with the added bonus of the River Plym running alongside its banks.
The bronze and amber leaves of autumn have lost their crispness, as they lay discarded, turning slowly to mulch after weeks of rain, most of the trees, now stripped of their foliage, are arboreal skeletons standing bare against the elements.
Yet, amongst this austerity, the woodland still has treasures to show, rust coloured bracken against the lush green lichen coating both rock and trees alike, colour in this minimalist landscape.
Fungus that finds nourishment from a tree, long since felled, a single leaf hangs defiantly alone, just waiting for the next gust of wind to deliver the coup de grace.
I love the majesty of the granite outposts of rock, standing like guardsmen along the path, the sound of the river below, the wooden archways formed by the meeting of tree branches from either side of the path.
As much as I love to capture the essence of the woods throughout the seasons, spring will always remain my favourite, where the cycle of life begins anew, mother nature’s changing of the guard.
It’s a Monday morning, the familiar sound of rain beating against the window wakes me just after six, I keep the darkness of the early hour shut behind the curtains while I check my e-mails and the weather forecast while I relish a bacon sandwich.
Once again, the forecast is for heavy showers but today’s trip to Burrator reservoir to capture the autumn colours will go ahead as planned, this is a trip I always enjoy, something of an annual pilgrimage.
Burrator Reservoir stands on the edge of Dartmoor, not far from Yelverton, it was completed in 1898 and expanded in 1929 and as with the other Dartmoor reservoirs, has a walkable route around the perimeter, today’s walk is just 3.5 miles.
On arrival, a recent rain shower has just passed, leaving that lovely ‘between showers’ light to reflect upon the water and bathe the trees in its ambient glow, my first shots are in the bag, time to see what the morning will bring.
The short walk along the road to the main footpath is under an avenue of trees, either side, the road is coated in golden leaf litter, a lovely contrast to the dark surface of the tarmac road.
The reflection of the blue skies on the water add another splash of colour to the trees near the waters edge, I take another few shots while watching the impending rain clouds as they threaten another heavy downpour.
In amongst my shelter of trees, the skies have not so much opened, more torn asunder, as hailstones fall, and a wind that has come from nowhere denudes a few more branches of their leaves.
In amongst my arboreal shelter, I spot a tree with a cluster of fungi, as the squall finally passes, I grab a shot and walk a little further into the woodland, where the sun once again emerges from behind the now well dispersed clouds.
At the two mile mark, is a favourite spot of mine to take stop for some long exposure shots of the water.
Rocks coated in a lush green cloak of lichen sprinkled with fallen leaves make for an archetypal autumn scene, this type of shot is something of a photographic cliche but I am happy to sit by the water and just enjoy the moment.
After enjoying the moment, or thirty of them to be exact, it’s time to walk the final stretch of this years visit to Burrator and to head back for a spot of lunch and then home.
It is over my post walk meal that I go through my images, looking forward to seeing them on the bigger screen, also padding out the ideas from a few words I had written for today’s blog.
Back at home, I make a note to hopefully visit again before next autumn, in reality, it probably won’t happen, the ratio of places I want to visit, compared to the time I have to do them all is not mathematically possible, so I guess I will see you again next November Burrator!
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.
September has always been one of my favourite times of year, the turning of the season from summer to autumn, nature’s changing of the guard.
Watching the leaves turn from green to hues of orange and gold has always held a fascination, photographing them is a pleasure I will always enjoy, yet it is always tinged with that bittersweet taste of knowing dark winter nights are not that far away.
One of my favourite haunts to observe the rite of passage from summer to autumn is Hembury woods near Buckfastleigh, just on the edge of Dartmoor, the woodland lies alongside the River Dart.
With the summer holidays just a fading memory, I have the woods and river pretty much to myself, one of the advantages of having weekdays off from work.
With just the whisper of wind through the leaves and the occasional birdsong, it is so peaceful, a place to reflect or gather ones thoughts after a busy week, as I sit on a rock watching the river flow past.
As usual, my eye is drawn to those small patches of light that seep through to the woodland floor, also to the long since fallen trees with various species of fungi that will be prevalent at this time of year, along with the many fallen acorns.
I tried so hard not to take the usual long exposure of the water, but those orange leaves that had already fallen on to the rocks were just too good to miss, it also gave me the excuse to stay by the river for just a few minutes longer.
After a four mile stroll, it is time to head back for a little light refreshment and something to eat before the next best part of the day, reviewing the days photos.