Curbar Edge Pinnacle Stone: The Sentinel

The Watcher

A single finger of rock, perched on the edge,
that only the brave dare to conquer.
I edge closer, shuffling, seated on crumbling rock,
clinging to last year’s heather.

Lone and mute, birds give you your voice,
the early risers in the crow’s nest.
Swathed in eiderdown mist, the valley below,
villages still slumber beneath you.

The slow creep of cold dawn, shows the ice on your face,
but time to you has no meaning.
Surely, as season follows season, year after year,
you will always be watching.

Making the best of ‘bad’ weather

Smoke from a grass fire lingers over Yeoman Hey,  Saddleworth Moor.

Smoke from a grass fire lingers over Yeoman Hey, Saddleworth Moor.

Someone once said that there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. But despite being dressed in the latest Gortex mountain gear, many photographers will pack away their equipment and head for home when the light doesn’t show. However, grey skies, hill cloud and conditions that are considered less than ideal, can still make for atmospheric photography.

Ask any landscape photographer what gets them out of bed and off into the hills, at all manner of un-godly hours and the reply will always be the same. To catch the light! That beautiful, fleeting light that only sunrise or sunset can throw across the rocks, turning them into hot coals and lighting up the sky in glorious pinks and oranges. When everything comes together, those mornings are a true joy.

More often than not however, an early start can be met by less than perfect conditions. Those photos of perfect mornings with raking light, dramatic skies, frosty rocks and misty valleys are hard won. They are the work of stubborn persistence, going back time and time again until you are rewarded by rare conditions of light and atmospherics.

Although it is obviously always good when the elements combine to present you with those valued shots, I am a great believer that all is not lost, when the conditions don’t play ball. Quite often, some of my favourite shots have come out of the worst of conditions.

Hill cloud, cloud-bound horizons or over-zealous mists can conspire to block out the light, right at the vital moment. It just means that sometimes you need to be adaptable and work a little harder, with the conditions that you are given.

Low cloud almost obscures sunrise on Higger Tor.

Low cloud almost obscures sunrise on Higger Tor.

The sun finally breaks through at Higger Tor.

The sun finally breaks through at Higger Tor.

One of the best morning’s work that I ever produced came from a morning when at first, all seemed very unpromising. I arrived at Higger Tor one frosty January morning to find low cloud skimming the hill top. It seemed that another early rise had been in vain! I took the path to the top of the tor, set up and managed to capture a couple of shots of the sun sneaking between the horizon and the cloud base. Both were fine shots but I thought that would be my lot.

One lesson that I have learned, is to stick with it. If you get nothing, at least it is nice to be out! After another  twenty minutes, the sun rose just enough to clear the cloud on the horizon and punched through the low level hill cloud, lighting up the frosty rocks with golden light. It was one of those jaw-dropping moments that stays with you for a lifetime.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out quite so well. But there is still plenty of promise during those times when the sun doesn’t struggle through.  Grey skies, hill cloud and mist can have their own beauty. The textures offered by  glowering skies and soft, diffused light can still introduce drama into photography and are ideal conditions to shoot for black and white.

Mono is a much over looked aspect of landscape photography and can be just as pleasing as an image saturated in colour.

Light punches through overcast skies at Derwent Edge, near the Wheel Stones.

Light punches through overcast skies at Derwent Edge, near the Wheel Stones.

Beams of light illuminate the hills around Derwent Valley, from Curbar Edge.

Beams of light illuminate the hills around Derwent Valley, from Curbar Edge.

Light over Alderman Hill, from Hollin Brown Knoll, Saddleworth Moor.

Light over Alderman Hill, from Hollin Brown Knoll, Saddleworth Moor.

On those cloudy days, it is worth a try at shooting during the middle of the day. All of those landscape photography rules-of-thumb advise against this, but it is often when the sun is higher that it stands a better chance of punching through the cloud, producing dramatic rays of distant light.

Low cloud skims the hill tops of William Clough, Kinder Scout.

Low cloud skims the hill tops of William Clough, Kinder Scout.

Low cloud blocks out the long distance views from Upper Burbage Brook.

Low cloud blocks out the long distance views from Upper Burbage Brook.

Low cloud can have a beauty of its own, even though it may well block out the views as well as the light. The trick is to find a foreground that can add interest in its own right. In the image above, the worn old stones at the crossing point of Burbage Brook and sweep of the middle distance draw the eye into the centre of the image. That you can only just make out the shape of the hill beyond, through the hill cloud adds atmosphere to the image. Those moments of perfect light are fleeting and our wild, upland places are more often to be found in cloud and rain. I think it is important to celebrate all of the moods that my beloved Pennines have to offer and the dark rocks coupled with the moody sky at William Clough on Kinder Scout (above), achieve that mood perfectly at this iconic location. It was here that the legendary Kinder Scout Trespass took place.

A layer of hill cloud lingers around Curbar Edge.

A layer of hill cloud lingers around Curbar Edge.

In the image above, a layer of cloud plays around the quarries of Curbar Edge. The cloud was thin enough to allow through the sunrise colours in the clouds above, but thick enough to block out the sun. However, what this image may lack in light, I think it makes up for in atmosphere. I remember that the morning was very still and cold, with a feeling akin to being underwater.

Mist rolling over Hathersage Moor, from Higger Tor.

Mist rolling over Hathersage Moor, from Higger Tor.

Hill cloud rolls in from Wessenden Head, from the slopes of West Nab.

Hill cloud rolls in from Wessenden Head, from the slopes of West Nab.

The windswept grasses on the summit of West Nab, Meltham Moor.

The windswept grasses on the summit of West Nab, Meltham Moor.

A cold winter wind whips the grasses of Buckstones, on Marsden Moor.

A cold winter wind whips the grasses of Buckstones, on Marsden Moor.

Another great way to add interest to images is with texture and movement. The wind-whipped grasses of the Pennines are particularly characteristic and a feature of the hill tops of the Meltham, Marsden and Saddleworth areas. I find the sweep of the grasses not only a useful device in the composition of the image, sweeping the eye into the frame, but something that is evocative of these wild places, drenched in history and folklore.

The Aiggin Stone at Blackstone Edge, near Rochdale.

The Aiggin Stone at Blackstone Edge, near Rochdale.

Black Dick’s Temple, near Kirkheaton, Huddersfield.

Black Dick’s Temple, near Kirkheaton, Huddersfield.

St John’s Church, Oulton near Leeds.

St John’s Church, Oulton near Leeds.

Places of historical or architectural interest often work well when framed against moody skies. Such as the spire of a church as above, or a place that is the subject of historical tales. A dark, moody background can be far more evocative of these legends, than a perfectly light scene ever can. The Aiggin Stone above, is a Medieval way-marker on the old packhorse route (which overlies a Roman Road) over the moors above Rochdale. It was a stopping point for travellers to say prayers for a safe passage on their journey. I think that the foreboding nature of the sky compliments the history of the place.

Black Dick’s Temple (see my earlier piece on this blog for more) is swathed in tales of dark doings, death and deception. A jolly sunset would be a bit inappropriate!

A small pool at Carhead Rocks.

A small pool at Carhead Rocks.

Ice and mist at Ladybower (left) and one of the waterfalls along Greenfield Brook, Saddleworth Moor.

Ice and mist at Ladybower (left) and one of the waterfalls along Greenfield Brook, Saddleworth Moor.

Puddles on Stanage Edge, reflecting the sky.

Puddles on Stanage Edge, reflecting the sky.

A slight chink in the murk, reflected in the still waters of Ladybower Reservoir.

A slight chink in the murk, reflected in the still waters of Ladybower Reservoir.

If you can, when the light isn’t playing nicely, try to get near water. Water works particularly well, reflecting surrounding scenery and available light, or by adding movement and contrast.

In the images above, a small pool at Carhead Rocks reflects the dramatic skies above. Ice at Ladybower adds both texture and perspective to the image. A waterfall at Greenfield Brook on Saddleworth Moor brings movement and contrast to the dark rocks of Ravenstones Brow, framing the image from above.  Even puddles are a great device to use to add interest.

The other shot of Ladybower was taken on a particularly murky morning. Stanage Edge was a white-out, so by dropping below the cloudbase and putting water into the frame, I was able to capture a slight chink in the clouds reflected in the still waters. The reeds provide good foreground interest too.

Snow clouds from Over Owler Tor, Hathersage Moor.

Snow clouds from Over Owler Tor, Hathersage Moor.

One November morning, while out on Over Owler Tor, I was caught in a fast moving snow storm. Of course, the moors look fantastic in snow anyway, but I particularly liked the image above as the contrast between the snow and the dark rocks make the image look almost mono, except the wedge of green to the left of the frame, of the fields below the snowline. I think it captures the foreboding mood of the darkening skies well.

Light streams through dark clouds over Uppermill, from Shaw Rocks on Saddleworth Moor.

Light streams through dark clouds over Uppermill, from Shaw Rocks on Saddleworth Moor.

An evening stroll on Stanage Edge, under dark skies.

An evening stroll on Stanage Edge, under dark skies.

So, I hope that I’ve managed to convince you that there is still much beauty to be found and plenty of great photographic opportunities, when the light doesn’t show. Don’t pack up your gear and head for breakfast. Stick with it and work a little harder to find subject matter that suits the conditions. You never know what will happen and unless you are there, you will not capture those great images when the opportunity presents itself. The bacon butties can always wait a little longer!

Pre-sunrise on Curbar Edge, Derbyshire.

Pre-sunrise on Curbar Edge, Derbyshire.

Waiting for the light to break at Curbar Edge.

Waiting for the light to break at Curbar Edge.

A Brief Guide to Curbar and Froggatt Edge

The 18th Century Guide Stoop at Curbar Gap

The 18th Century Guide Stoop at Curbar Gap

Curbar Edge and Froggatt Edge are in fact a single stretch of gritstone escarpment. It is difficult to know where one ends and the other starts.

Starting from the southern end of Curbar Edge, ticketed parking is available at Curbar Gap Car Park. If you don’t mind a bit of a climb, there are also a few lay by parking spaces next to the road below the edge.

Before heading for the edge itself, a small detour through the gate at the eastern end of the car park will bring you to an 18th century guide stoop. Now enclosed by a drystone wall, this would have been directly next to the road before the early 19th century land enclosures. Stoops were erected after an act passed in 1697 to help traders and travelers on the old packhorse routes, who would often become lost on the moors and sometimes, lose their lives in bad weather.

A fine spring sunset on Curbar Edge, looking towards Baslow Edge

A fine spring sunset on Curbar Edge, looking towards Baslow Edge

Light breaks over Curbar Edge following sunrise in late summer

Light breaks over Curbar Edge following sunrise in late summer

A winter sunset on Curbar Edge

A winter sunset on Curbar Edge

Once back in the car park, take the steps at the western end and follow the path around the field wall towards the edge itself. Pass through the kissing gate and you will see the main path before you. To your left is a small path through the heather that leads directly to the edge. This is one of the best vantage points on the edge, affording views to Baslow Edge on the other side of Curbar Gap and Derwent Valley beyond. There are numerous rock formations here that add great foreground interest to your images. To my mind this stretch of the edge is classic Curbar with an unmistakable look of it’s own. This is a good spot for sunsets throughout the year and sunrises during the winter months.

Here you will also find the remains of millstone quarries and in some places can still find the quarrying marks on rocks that had been selected for detachment from the rock face.

A climber conquers the Pinnacle Stone as light breaks through a stormy sky

A climber conquers the Pinnacle Stone as light breaks through a stormy sky

Winter melt-waters swell the little waterfall on Froggatt Edge

Winter melt-waters swell the little waterfall on Froggatt Edge

As you continue along the edge, the ground rises slightly and eventually levels out. Near here you will find Curbar’s unmistakable Pinnacle Stone. Popular with climbers, the Pinnacle Stone provides a great subject matter, shot from the north with the view of Derwent Valley stretching away behind it, it is a perfect location for sunsets, on the occasions when it is light by warm, late evening light. An abandoned millstone lies nearby too, presenting further opportunities for compositions here.

As you follow the edge northwards look out for more rock formations, the odd interesting bit of graffiti carved into the rocks and an ancient cairn perched right on the cliff edge. It is possible to stand directly on top of the cairn without noticing that it is there. If you look closely however you will notice a ring of small stones with a depression in the middle, where it was robbed out by 19th century antiquarians (with a very different attitude to excavation to that of modern day archaeologists). In the centre is the remains of the stone cist.

As the path begins to fall slightly, you will see Froggatt Edge before you. If the weather has been wet before your visit, look out for the little waterfall on the edge as Curbar gives way to Froggatt Edge. It is particularly active as the winter snows begin to melt and the area behind the edge starts to drain.

Close to this is a large drystone sheepfold and a very prominent outcrop of rocks, both of which make for good subject matter. There is also a fine view to the north, taking in Higger Tor, Over Owler Tor and Stanage Edge.

The Peak District’s neatest graffiti artist strikes again!

The Peak District’s neatest graffiti artist strikes again!

Continuing, the edge now turns slightly towards the east. As you approach the woods, look out for Stoke Flat Stone Circle on your right. Built very much in the tradition of other circles in the area, it consists of a bank with two entrances, into which stones are set. Only one stone of any appreciable size remains. at a little over a metre tall. Quite often, the weathered out hollow on the top of the stone contains coins. This is a fantastic little circle, surrounded by birch trees and despite only being about ten yards from the main path, seems to be by-passed by the many walkers taking in the views in the opposite direction. The circle is also surrounded by several nearby cairns.

Once in the woods, you will find a number of rocky outcrops that offer a slightly different take to the usual wide views from the edge. Pass through the gate and over the stream and eventually the path leads you back to the road to Froggatt. There is roadside parking here, as well as the National Trust (ticketed) car park a little further up the road before The Grouse pub, should you wish to approach the walk from the Froggatt Edge end first.

Stoke Flat Stone Circle in early spring

Stoke Flat Stone Circle in early spring

Rock outcrop in Froggatt Woods

Rock outcrop in Froggatt Woods

For the return journey, should you have the time, energy and inclination, you could continue up the road a little way until you come to the gate leading to White Edge Lodge and take the path along White Edge back down to Curbar Gap. You can also find an interesting stop off point between the southern end of White Edge and Curbar Gap at Swine Sty. A prehistoric settlement where the footings of houses and an open burial cist still can be seen.

Curbar and Froggatt Edges offer a classic Peaks walk, with great views in various places both up and down Derwent Valley. If you are there early in the morning and if you are lucky, you may see the Red Deer from Big Moor in the fields around Curbar Gap.