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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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 Trip Along Stanage Edge

A winter sunrise at Stanage Edge southern trig point

A winter sunrise at Stanage Edge southern trig point

A summer evening on Stanage Edge

A summer evening on Stanage Edge

At approximately four miles long, Stanage Edge is one of the Peak District’s best known and impressive locations. A walk along Stanage Edge is a journey through not only through the geology and natural history of the area but 4000 years of human history and influence.

The southern section of the edge is by far the most popular, with a several nearby car parks and easy access. It is used for a multitude of recreational activities and during a walk along the edge, you will no doubt encounter climbers, joggers, cyclists, ramblers, families and occasionally paragliders. As well as photographers! It is not a place to visit if you are looking for solitude.

The northern end, between Stanage End and High Neb, is much quieter. It can be accessed via a small parking spot on the A57 near the turning for the Strines. Or from Dennis Knoll car park at the starting point of the Long Causeway. You are far more likely to find yourself alone here. Near the A57 parking spot, a drystone wall marks the boarder between Yorkshire and Derbyshire.

Starting from the southern end and traveling north, there are numerous spots of interest along the edge. Parking at the roadside lay by above Overstones Farm allows the easiest access, with just a short walk to the southern terminus of the edge (parking is also available at Upper Burbage Bridge, Hook’s Car and Stanage Plantation Dennis Knoll).

Before you reach the edge itself, a short scramble up to a well known group of millstones is a worthy diversion. These lie just below the part of the edge where the trig point stands. Millstone production took place along the Eastern Edges from medieval times, through to the first half of the 20th century. These particular millstones are thought to date from the early nineteen hundreds and were probably pulping stones. They were abandoned where they were made due to a collapse in demand. They have now become one of the iconic Peak District views and a reminder of the area’s industrial past.

Light breaks over Win Hill and Hope Valley following rain

Light breaks over Win Hill and Hope Valley following rain

The view north along the edge to Stanage Plantation and High Neb

The view north along the edge to Stanage Plantation and High Neb

A short climb from here brings you onto the top of the edge. Just a few feet away is the trig point (457m/1499 ft), from which wonderful views in all directions can be had, particularly following Derwent Valley with views of Win Hill and Kinder Plateau to the north and down towards Chatsworth House in the south. Also west along Hope Valley to the cement works at Castleton, the Great Ridge and Mam Tor beyond. Generally, Stanage Edge, being west facing, is best photographed in the late afternoon or evening, when the light catches the escarpments. However, this end of the edge affords views south and to the east, making it a good spot for sunrises too.

A medieval packhorse route stretches north to south along the edge and paved sections can still be found. Follow this northward, with a splendid, expansive view of the edge stretching up towards Crow Chin ahead of you. Eventually, you come to a small cave and ledge in the upper part of the escarpment known as Robin Hood’s Cave, which the outlaw was said to use as a hideaway. This area has very strong connections with the legend of Robin Hood, with his reputed birthplace of Loxley only eight miles to the north, just to the west of Sheffield. The reputed grave of Little John lies nearby in St Michael’s Churchyard in Hathersage. The cave is now partially collapsed, apparently with someone inside it when the collapse happened. According to a local story, he was only found three years later when the rubble was cleared.

The area between the cave and Stanage Plantation offers some good opportunities for photography, with it’s dramatic walls of rock and long views towards Crow Chin. This area is particularly popular with climbers and care should be taken not to trip over or dislodge their ropes fixed amongst the rocks on top of the edge.

In 1845 Charlotte Brontë visited her friend Ellen Nussey, whose brother was the vicar of Hathersage and stayed at the vicarage for three weeks. During this time, she took the opportunity to explore Hathersage and its surrounding moorlands. It is well known that she used Hathersage as the setting for her novel Jane Eyre and that Thornfield Hall is based on North Lees Hall, an Elizabethan Manor House occupied by the Eyre family and visible from Stanage Edge.

It is unsurprising that Stanage Edge was chosen as a location for the 2005 film adaption of Pride and Prejudice. The rock on which Keira Knightley stands during the sweeping, panoramic scene on the edge can be found at the northern end of Stanage Plantation. You can view a clip here.

A summer sunset over the rock on which Keira Knightley stood during the famous scene in Pride and Prejudice


A summer sunset over the rock on which Keira Knightley stood during the famous scene in Pride and Prejudice

A late summer evening stroll on the edge

A late summer evening stroll on the edge

A little further on and you will arrive at the track known as the Long Causeway, which starts at Dennis Knoll, crosses the edge and continues to Stanedge Pole and Redmires beyond. It has been speculated that the causeway is a section of the yet undiscovered Roman road from Navio fort in Hope Valley, to Templeborough. It seems however that the causeway is more likely to be a much more recent packhorse route than a Roman road.

From the causeway, it is a short stretch to High Neb and Stanage Edge’s second trig point (458m/1502 ft). This is a great place to capture views of the edge stretching to the south and another batch of millstones that lay below the edge. At Crow Chin are two bronze age cairns and from here, the edge turns northeast.

High Neb looking south

High Neb looking south

Stretching west, away from the edge you will see Bamford Moor below you. Hidden amongst the heather here are more bronze age cairns, including a ring cairn. Further north, after Jarvis Clough, lays Moscar Moor and Hordron Edge which includes one of the Peak’s best stone circles at the Seven Stones of Hordron.

One of the hundred or so numbered grouse troughs

One of the hundred or so numbered grouse troughs

One of the unique features of the northern section of Stanage Edge are the numbered grouse troughs carved into the rocks. These were carved about 100 years ago to catch rainwater. At this time, Stanage Edge was a privately owned grouse moor and it is thanks to the persistence of those ramblers and climbers of the first half of the 20th century that the first National Park was created in the Peak District in 1951, so that we can now all enjoy this beautiful area.

A little further along the edge, set back slightly in the heather is a ruined hut, most probably a game keeper’s shelter or possibly associated with the quarry. Finally you arrive at Stanage End to find old quarries and boundary markers, this is the northern-most tip of Stanage Edge.

Of course, you don’t need to attempt to shoot the whole of Stanage Edge in a single go. The images that accompany this text have been shot over the course of a number of years. Often it is best to choose a small section and get a few good compositions, rather than running around like a loony during the few minutes when the light is at its best. You can always go back again another time and cover a different section.

A spring sunset near Crow Chin, looking over Moscar Moor

A spring sunset near Crow Chin, looking over Moscar Moor

A Spring sunrise overlooking Moscar Moor and Derwent Edge

A Spring sunrise overlooking Moscar Moor and Derwent Edge

A Winter sunrise on Stanage Edge

A Winter sunrise on Stanage Edge

 

 

Winter in the Peaks

The snow capped, twin peaks of Crooke Hill near Ladybower Reservoir.

The snow capped, twin peaks of Crooke Hill near Ladybower Reservoir.

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.

A frozen sunrise on Higger Tor

A frozen sunrise on Higger Tor

Light through mist on Higger Tor

Light through mist on Higger Tor

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.

Red morning light at Shelter Rock.

Red morning light at Shelter Rock.

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.

Approaching snow at Over Owler Tor

Approaching snow at Over Owler Tor

Light breaks through snow clouds on Hathersage Moor

Light breaks through snow clouds on Hathersage Moor

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.

First Light on Stanage Edge

First Light on Stanage Edge

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.

A frosty dawn on Baslow Edge

A frosty dawn on Baslow Edge

Light breaks through on Baslow Edge

Light breaks through on Baslow Edge

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.

Ice encased rocks on Stanage Edge

Ice encased rocks on Stanage Edge

Golden light reflected on ice at Stanage Edge

Golden light reflected on ice at Stanage Edge

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.