Sunrise on Stanage Edge

Winter's End

Sunrise over Stanage Moor

As summer approaches, sunrises are getting earlier and earlier. Not that I expect that this is news to anyone, as it happens every year. The Easter Bank Holiday weekend was beckoning and I was itching to get out for a sunrise.

I usually like to be in position about half an hour before sunrise, as sometimes the dawn colours can be better than the actual sunrise itself. This also allows the opportunity to scout out a few views and angles towards the point on the horizon where the sun will rise and I enjoy watching the landscape slowly awake. On this particular day (18th April 2014), that meant being in position by 5.15am, for sunrise at about 5.45am.

Choosing to head for the southern terminus of Stanage Edge meant that I was spared a long walk and climb in the dark, as I was feeling a tad on the lazy side. Walking towards the edge, I was reminded of the last time that I had been here for sunrise, one February morning a couple of years ago, when I arrived to find the edge encased in a verglas. Lethal underfoot without cleats or crampons, I lost count how many times I’d slipped and stumbled!

Besides a thin line of cloud on the horizon, the morning was looking almost entirely cloudless. Although this makes for a lovely day, in photographic terms it isn’t necessarily a good thing, as a bit of cloud catches the warm light and can add a lot of interest and atmosphere to an image. On cloudless mornings, sometimes you get a nice glow of colour around the horizon (depending on the amount of moisture in the atmosphere), but the light becomes harsh very quickly. This makes being in position early even more important, as you need to work quickly and make the most of any colour before the sun rises to any great degree.

Warm light at sunrise, on the rocks of Stanage Edge

Warm light at sunrise, on the rocks of Stanage Edge

The sky to the east lightened degree by degree and bands of pale pinks and orange began to form around me. A pin-point of light appeared eventually as the sun rose above the thin band of cloud on the horizon. It is remarkable how quickly the sun rises and soon it was too strong to shoot directly towards but was now casting a warm red light onto the rocks of Stanage Edge.

It is during this period that I am at my most frantic, scurrying around lining up views and angles, shooting a few frames (I always bracket my shots), change position slightly – maybe try a lower viewpoint, then dash on to the next view. The sun was gaining height in the sky quickly and was now lighting up the peaks of Over Owler Tor, Offerton Moor and Eyam Moor, clustered around Hathersage.

As I was lining up another shot, I caught sight of something moving behind me, reflected in the screen on the back of my camera. My first thought was that it was a large cat, but on turning around, as all I had was a view of its backside, couldn’t make out what kind of creature it was. It was bigger and broader than a cat, with much shorter back legs. It clambered onto a rock and turned slightly, I then realised that it was a badger. I have never seen badgers on moorland before and was more excited than I expected. In fact, I think that I exclaimed, “wow, it’s a badger” to no one in particular.

The badger disappeared down the edge and was soon lost from sight amongst the rocks. I moved on and took a few more shots but by now, the light was becoming too harsh and the colours had faded from the brightening sky. I found a spot that offered a little shelter from the wind (it is surprising how cold the wind can be at that time of day, even on a sunny morning) and sat for a while, taking in the sunlight hills and moorland around me.

I stopped by the famous (and most photographed) millstones. The light wasn’t reaching them yet and thin patches of frost lingered in the sheltered spots on the western facing slopes of the edge. I sat for a while watching a couple of Ringed Ouzels (I think) flitting around the rocks. It is always with a degree of reluctance that I head back to the car.

Light Across The land

Sunlight floods the peaks around Hathersage

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Music For Landscapes Pt3

Ambient 4: On Land – Brian Eno

The fourth in Brian Eno’s series of ambient albums, is possibly the darkest, most haunting of them all. A combination of electronica, acoustic and natural sounds, recorded in the landscape, On Land has an eerie beauty born of melancholy loneliness.

The passage of time becomes irrelevant as this album traps you in the moment. A fragile majesty carries you through each track, a procession of geographic places each with their own atmosphere, where human presence feels to be an intrusion. This is not a ‘chill out’ album, it broods under darkened skies and transports the listener to elemental soundscapes.

I don’t want to say too much about this album, it is better experienced than described. At the time of its release, On Land was a ground breaking album and it still sounds as fresh and different today, as it did over thirty years ago.

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Ambient 4 – On Land. Brian Eno
1. Lizard Point
2. The Lost Day
3. Tal Coat
4. Shadow
5. Lantern Marsh
6. Unfamiliar Wind (Leeks Hills)
7. A Clearing
8. Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960

Listen to the full album here.

 

Winter Sunrise on Higger Tor

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At first nothing but dark silence,
stretches across the moor.
Frozen and still in the ice,
under the crystalline moon.

Ice puddles recall footprints,
of visitors past.
But I am alone,
none are here now.

Nothing stirs in this liminal place,
even the wind.
Frosted rocks suspended,
waiting for the warmth of the sun.

A sliver of light to the east,
pale but gathering strength.
A line of division,
chasing away the colourless night.

The horizon becomes a delicate spectrum,
of blues and pink.
The moor begins to wake,
red grouse the first early risers.

Colour stained clouds,
announce that the sun is near.
Bright heralds of the coming,
of the Golden One.

Finally, there it is,
a pin-prick of light at first.
Rising pale and red,
out of the cloud.

How many civilisations,
have worshipped this moment of magic?
Raising great stones,
to mark it’s coming?

The rocks of the tor glow,
to greet the arrival of the sun.
Red hot coals,
amongst the white ashen frost.

Light floods across the moor,
yellow grass and brown heather.
Both set ablaze by the fire,
that rises in the east.

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A Brief Visit to Carhead Rocks

A burst of light at sunset.

A burst of light at sunset.

It is no bad thing that the Peak District is becoming an increasingly popular visitor destination. The views are stunning and it supports a whole industry of attractions and accommodation. It is a vital green space, providing a place to breathe for millions of visitors.

There are however, still some locations where a bit of welcome solitude can be found. Usually these are places that are a bit more difficult to reach, such as at the end of a steep climb or off the beaten track. There is one place that is in the heart of one of the most popular areas, under the noses of the thronging visitors to Stanage Edge, that is a joy for photographers. That is Carhead Rocks.

Nestled below the popular end of Stanage Edge and easily accessible from Hook’s Car car park, Carhead is often overlooked as visitors turn their gaze towards the impressive rock faces of Stanage. Modest in comparison to many of the Peak’s better known edges and with no known historical sites or associations (although there is a ruined chapel and a Romano-British village within walking distance), what Carhead does offer is a bit of peace and quiet, as well as some fine views over the North Lees estate towards Bamford Moor and Win Hill.

A curious feature is a rock that has become commonly known as the ‘Knuckle Stone’, that perches on the highest point of the edge and has stood there for a very long time, judging by the deeply weathered grooves that it displays. How it came to rest in its current position is unknown, whether by glacial action or erosion, or by the hand of early man can only be speculation.

Despite its diminutive stature, Carhead is well worth a visit for the photographic opportunities that it presents and for the prospect of a nice quiet couple of hours.

Light over Bamford Moor.

Light over Bamford Moor.

Light breaks on a damp Autumn morning.

Light breaks on a damp Autumn morning.

Warm spring light at sunset.

Warm spring light at sunset.

Moody evening skies reflected in a small pool.

Moody evening skies reflected in a small pool.

Erosion in action! Ice clings to the Knuckle Stone.

Erosion in action! Ice clings to the Knuckle Stone.

Murder on the Moors

The Bradbury Grave in St Chads Churchyard

The Bradbury Grave in St Chads Churchyard

This is a story of murder most foul! It brought ghoulish sightseers flocking to Saddleworth long before Brady and Hindley set foot on the moor. Still unsolved after nearly 200 years, these were the original moors murders.

Here lie the dreadfully bruised and lacerated bodies
of William Bradbury and Thomas, his son, both of
Greenfield, who were together savagely murdered in an
Unusually horrid manner, on Monday night, April 2nd.
1832, William being 84 and Thomas 46 years old.

Throughout the land wherever news is read.
Intelligence of their sad end has spread.
Those now who talk of far-famed Greenfield hills.
Will think of Bill o’ Jack’s and Tom o’ Bills

Such interest did their tragic end excite.
That, ere they were removed from human sight.
Thousands on thousands came to see.
The bloody scene of catastrophe.

One house, one business, and one bed.
And one most shocking death they had.
One funeral came, one inquest past.
And now one grave they had a last.

Saddleworth is a beautiful place, of that there is little doubt. A place dripping in natural beauty, history and folklore, stories occupy almost every nook and corner of this wild corner of Britain. Sadly, the story that most people will associate with Saddleworth is that of the Moors Murders of the 1960’s. A desperately sad story of five murders that penetrated the national psyche and still hangs like a pall over the area today.

These were not the first murders to happen on the moor or to gain national notoriety. For that, we need to step back to 1832 and visit the Moor Cock Inn, that used to cling to the steep hillside on Greenfield Road. Like many buildings around Saddleworth, it was a solid, squat stone building, built to withstand the wild weather that these parts often receive.

Left: The Moor Cock Inn. Top Right: WIlliam Bradbury. Bottom Right: Thomas Bradbury

Left: The Moor Cock Inn. Top Right: William Bradbury. Bottom Right: Thomas Bradbury

The resident landlord in 1832 was 84 year old William Bradbury, or Bill O’ Jack as he was known, in the local manner of naming men after their fathers. In this case, the pub was known as Bill O’ Jack’s too. He lived at the pub with is son Thomas, a 46 year old gamekeeper. Thomas had a quick temper and was not a popular man, due to numerous run-ins on the moor with locals taking peat, cutting heather or poaching the local livestock.

On the evening of Monday 2 April 1832, Thomas Bradbury and Ruben Platt, a regular and friend of the Bradburys, watched a group of Irish men walking near the pub. They stood and watched until they had passed. It was not uncommon to find gangs of navvies in the area at this time, working on the turnpike road to Holmfirth.

By the next morning, both William and Thomas were discovered at the Moor Cock Inn, laying in pools of their own blood. Thomas had been severely beaten around the head and didn’t regain consciousness. A popular newspaper report at the time described the scene as, ‘the walls and flags streaming with gore.’

William was discovered upstairs in his bed, with the tools of the assault all around him, a poker, a spade, a broken pistol and a sword stick. All matted with blood and hair. The Manchester Courier called it the ‘one of the most diabolical murders ever committed.’

A view of the Moor Cock Inn, above Greenfield Brook.

A view of the Moor Cock Inn, above Greenfield Brook.

William regained consciousness for a short time, when asked who had attacked him, he blurted out the word, “pats” or “platts” before he died. This only seemed to serve to widen the mystery, as this single utterance could be taken in several different ways. Pats being a derogatory term for the Irish, Platt being a common local surname or Platters being a term for gypsies, who gathered broom from the moors to weave into baskets.

Another trail of investigation lead to a local poacher, against who Tom was due to give evidence the next day at Pontefract Magistrate’s Court. The poacher had boasted that Tom would never stand as witness against him and indeed, the case was dismissed when Bradbury was unable to testify.

The public inquest was held at the King William IV pub in Uppermill, although no evidence was discovered to tie any of the suspects to the murder. The verdict of “Wilful murder against some person, or persons at present unknown” was returned after the examination of several witnesses. A reward of £100 was offered for any information regarding the case. It was never claimed although it was a huge sum for the time.

The murders gained notoriety far and wide, beyond Saddleworth. The spread of national newspapers were a relatively new phenomena and then as now, they played the story for all it was worth. Coach parties set out for the moor, to visit the scene of the murders and commemorative plates were even produced on significant anniversaries.

Nearly 200 years on, the Moor Cock Inn is long gone (although the foundations can still be found at Bill O’Jack’s plantation) and all that remains is a weathering gravestone in the corner of a churchyard. It is a mystery that will now most probably never be solved, but the story still has the power to fascinate and has been absorbed into the rich tapestry of Saddleworth lore.

StChads

St Chads Churchyard, Saddleworth.

Pike Lowe

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The peak is ahead,
Pike Lowe.
I’ve seen it often from afar,
the king of Midhope Moor.
Many times I’ve walked around its base,
but today, I’m heading for the top.

The path ends abruptly,
now there is nothing but open moor.
There is no easy way,
I follow a ruined wall over the gently rising bog.
Towards the horizon,
looking for the easiest steps.

One footfall at a time,
sinking into moss and peat.
Giant spider tree roots crawl from the black,
straining into the light.
Reeds become stepping stones,
a hop, a jump, a squelch.

Higher now,
the bog concedes to rock.
The bones of the hill,
broken tooth crown around its head.
The gentle moorland symphony replaced,
by the clashing howl of wind.

Now to the summit,
surges of wind push me back.
The great cairn at the highest point,
collection of stone that began in the Bronze Age.
The sun is growing weak,
smothered by spoiling cloud.

Light quickly flees,
colour draining in the half light.
Turning, the wind at my back,
picking and sliding down the steep sides.
The bog awaits ahead,
to the darkening east.

Music For Landscapes Pt2

Julian Cope – Rite

One criticism that cannot be levelled at Julian Cope is that his is afraid to take risks. His prodigious output has taken him far beyond his post-punk pop roots and his numerous side projects into territory that many other artists would fear to tread.

Skulking in a corner of Cope’s back catalogue, is the ‘Rite’ series. Four albums (Rite, Rite2, Rite Now and Rite Bastard) of mostly long, instrumental pieces, amalgamating funk, krautrock and psychedelia.

All four albums have their merits but here I want to highlight the first of the series.

rite

Rite: Julian Cope & Donald Ross Skinner (1992)
1. The Indians Worship Him, But He Hurries On
2. Amethysteria
3. Cherhill Down
4. In Search of Ancient Astronomies

The first three tracks are wonderful excercises in what might be termed as ‘ambient funk’, but it is the final track that I would like to hightlight. In Search of Ancient Astronomies is a twenty five minute throb-athon, drenched in waves of energy that speaks of a night out in the landscape. A summer night laying in a stone circle watching shooting stars, or sat around a campfire watching the sparks fly into the sky.

It reminds me of a nightime walk I made to Stonehenge many years ago. A friend and I walked along the old road road from Amesbury to the stones for the Spring Equinox sunrise, meeting others as we went, eventually forming a group, marching across Salisbury Plain. It was a cold, clear night and I remember vividly how breathtaking the blanket of stars above us was. I don’t think that I’d seen the milky way so clearly before. The rhythm of marching beneath those stars comes back to me each time I play this track. In the end, we reached Stonehenge to find it ringed by security guards – but that is another story!

Listen to the track here.