Here we are, seemingly in the depths of winter and with Christmas now long forgotten, it can be hard at this time of year to appreciate what pleasures winter can bring.
Although this winter has so far has mostly been wet compared to the last few years, when we have seen some quite monumental snow falls, occasional cold snaps have brought frosts and the odd dumping of snow.
I often think that the Peak District is seen at its best in winter. Obviously, it has its attractions all year round such as the new growth of spring, the heather blooms of late summer and the mists of autumn. But it is winter when the place really comes alive in a photographic sense. There is nothing quite like being caught in a snow flurry when out on the hills, or arriving at a destination to find the rocks, heather and grasses covered in frost. The snow capped hills and atmospherics can be truly stunning.
I love the winter colours of the Peaks, the russet browns of dead bracken and sleeping heather, the pale yellow of the grasses and the white icing of frost. To my mind, the earthy colours of winter seem more intense than the greens and purples of summer and once the red light of sunrise is cast across such a landscape, the colours seem to almost burn.
Both of the above images were taken at sunrise on a frosty January morning on Higger Tor. The second image is one of my all time favourites, as it came out of what appeared to be nothing.
When I arrived at Higger Tor, although still dark I could see that the top of the hill was shrouded in cloud. It seemed unlikely that the morning would produce a great deal by the way of usable images but I climbed the path to the top and set up none-the-less.
As the first image shows, I caught a sneaking view of the sun rising between the horizon and the cloud base, which I expected would probably be the best that I would get that morning. However, it often pays to wait and after about half an hour, the sun rose high enough to clear the clouds which broke just enough to allow the light through. The result was that for about fifteen minutes the most wonderful, golden light illuminated the clouds.
This is another image that I am particularly fond of, as I had to wait a couple of years for the right conditions to capture the image that I had held in my mind’s eye.
Higger Tor is one of the more popular sunrise locations in the Peaks, as unlike many of the edges it has an eastern facing flank. It is also one of the more accessible hilltops, just a few minutes drive from Sheffield. Meaning that you can be in position without the daunting prospect of a lengthy drive or a long hike before sunrise.
During the winter, when the sun rises in its most southerly position is the best time to photograph Shelter Rock. As other large outcrops nearby cast less of a shadow across the rock’s most photogenic side. There is a window of only a few weeks either side of the winter solstice. After that, as the sun moves further north, the shadows of other rocks increasingly obscure the light falling on to the rock.
The two images above were shot just before Christmas 2011. I was originally heading for Higger Tor but as I reached Hollow Meadows, the snow started to fall, becoming a blizzard by the time I reached the top end of Stanage Edge. As Ringinglow Road, was covered in a layer of fresh snow, I decided against taking my puny Ford Focus up there and instead parked at Surprise View and headed for Over Owler Tor.
The snow rolled over the Peaks in waves, leaving behind dustings on the rocks and heather, with short live breaks in the clouds that allowed shafts of light to rake across Hathersage Moor. Then the next wave of snow would roll in and send me scurrying behind the rocks of the Tor for shelter. It is magical to watch a landscape transformed in a few short minutes, from a view so familiar to something quite alien, in the way that only snow can.
This image (above) was taken on Boxing Day 2010, at the northern end of Stanage Edge. Needless to say, there wasn’t another soul around. As the sun rose it cast the most wonderful line of pink light onto Derwent Edge and Win Hill opposite. The colour of first sunlight on snow is one of the real pleasures of winter.
Of all winter weather conditions, I think that frost has to be my favourite. Unlike snow, which covers and obliterates detail, frost clings and accentuates the textures of rock and vegetation. Combine that with a freezing mist plus the colours of dawn and it is a winning formula. This particular morning, from January last year saw some truly lovely pre-sunrise colour, followed by a long wait for the sun to rise above low cloud, which seemed to blow in and obscure the sun each time that it was about to break through. Once the light finally struggled above the cloud, it light up the frost covered hills beautifully.
Finally, two images from about a year ago. I arrived at Stanage Edge on a Saturday morning to find it completely encased in ice. Obviously, it is not unusual to find ice at Stanage Edge at this time of year, what was remarkable was that every single rock was coated in a thick glaze, making the edge absolutely lethal underfoot.
Although it made climbing onto the edge something of a task (and probably a source of amusement to the people behind me, as I slipped back the icy path), once the sun began to rise, the ice reflected the golden light with startling vividity. The only drawback was trying to work quickly and move around compositions in such potentially dangerous conditions, before the light became too harsh.
I particularly enjoy winter sunrises as you are never quite sure what you will find when you arrive at your location. There is always an element of the unknown at any time of year, in so much as it can be hard to predict what kind of light the sunrise will bring but in winter, you have the added element of ground conditions too. A coating of frost, dusting of snow or twisted ice formation can add a whole new level of interest to familiar locations. So it really is worth braving those bitingly cold mornings.
This article originally appeared on Peak District On-line.