Caught by Surprise

Dartmoor; National Park; Devon; photography

Sharpitor under a covering of snow at sunrise

I’d not done a dawn shoot for a while so decided it was time I did. I went through my usual ritual of checking maps and Google Earth with a rough idea of where the best conditions would be. I was going to head to the opposite side of Dartmoor from my usual location and catch the sunrise. Everything was packed and ready to go with the minimum of fuss (i.e. noise) so I could leave the house quietly in the morning. As usual, I hardly slept and was up before the 6 o’clock alarm. Also as usual I fumbled about in the dark making as much noise as an elephant calf trying to call to its mother. Sorry Caroline. Eventually after eating breakfast I headed off to the moors.

The plan was to go around the western edge of the moor to get to Staple tor but for some reason I decided to go towards Princetown. As I came across the cattle grid on the climb up the road glistened white and my car slewed sideways a little. Snow. Not deep, but enough for a covering. On the 3rd or 4th sideways slew I decided to scrap plan A, hatched a plan B and pulled over at the foot of Sharpitor. All this virgin snow and only little me to play with it.

I still had plenty of time as I was earlier than I’d planned so I strolled up to the summit and took in the view. About 2 inches of snow lay on the tops of the rocks, there were blades of hibernating grass poking out here and there and, best of all, no foot prints anywhere.

I decided on a few compositions while I waited for the approaching dawn and kept out of the chilly wind. After a few minutes I heard a voice behind me. “Morning”, it said, far too cheerily for the time of day. I spun around to see another photographer had the same idea as me. We exchanged pleasantries and I claimed my foreground so he didn’t walk on it and disturb my glorious virgin snow. Jeff, for was his name, and I chatted about various photographic things until some light began to spill over the horizon. There weren’t many clouds to the east to catch the light but there was a big cloud coming down from the north, which glowed purple. Jeff turned around and started shooting and I decided to join him after I’d made a few exposures towards the sunrise. It was only supposed to be a snap, but it turned out to be my favourite shot of the shoot. My other compositions turned out the way I wanted too, with soft golden light reflecting across the snow and catching the grass and rocks. I’d been wanting to get a shot like that for quite some time but it’s been devoid of snow in glorious Devon for some time now.

After the sun got a bit too high for my liking we both made our way back to the car park, talking along the way. We were both heading in different directions so ‘see you arounds’ were exchanged. I was going to walk up Staple Tor to see how much snow was on its slopes. Quite a bit it would seem when I got there.

To avoid leaving footprints in the snow I rock hopped my way through the boulder fields. The light was crisp and clean and the sky was deep blue with very little cloud. Not my favoured conditions but I thought I’d make some images anyway. There was cloud just clipping the top of the tor giving a misty look, which added to the atmosphere. A flock of sheep watched me with bemusement as to why I was spoiling their breakfasts. I took a snap of them as the sun backlit the mists. It was a very relaxed shoot. I wandered around the top of the tor finding compositions for another trip before making my way back down. The only thing that stopped me shooting that day was the pain in my stomach from hunger. Next time I’ll bring more snacks with me.