Finally Some Light

fog; cloud inversion; Dartmoor; National Park; Devon; photography

Island In The Sky

After what seems like months of grey, overcast, depressing conditions there was the potential for a glimmer of hope. The forecast said clear and sunny. I tried to resist a whoop of delight and relief, but it escaped my lips, possibly louder than I heard myself. Caroline just looked at me with a raised eyebrow and went back to watching ‘Midsummer Murders’.

So, the plan was in the making. Where to go, what to shoot? I decided to head to Staple tor as I’ve not done a sunrise there and it’s not too bad a climb. I’ve never walked down in daylight either so that would be a novelty. Time to prepare, which took all of 5 minutes as everything was ready to go. Batteries charged, filters clean, memory card loaded, tripod strapped to my Tamrac rucksack and alarm set. All systems go. Time for bed.

As is normal before a dawn shoot, I didn’t sleep particularly well so was up before my 6 am alarm. As is also normal before a dawn shoot, I managed to make more noise than a shire horse in new shoes on oak flooring as I was getting myself up and out. Sorry Caroline.

I was a little early so allowed myself the luxury of sitting in the car as the windscreen defogged and warmed my feet before moving off and heading to the moors. Dawn shoots in winter are not as early as in summer so there’s a considerable amount of traffic on the roads as people head off to carry out their daily routines. One of the reasons I love dawn shoots in the summer; the roads are all mine.

Having cleared the city outskirts I had a look skyward to see what I was up against. I was in light mist but could see stars and shadows of clouds above me. This was looking promising to say the least. Into the lanes and the mist turned into thicker fog making finding my way a bit trickier, but I knew where I was heading and, more importantly, where I was. As I came out of the lanes and onto the open moor I found myself above the fog, looking at a crescent moon and stars. A bank of cloud to the east would be troublesome but meant I had more time to get to where I needed to be. Entering the car park at the foot of Staple tor I felt the sense of apprehension and excitement that I’ve not had for a few weeks.

Grunting as I swung my load onto my back I looked ahead into the light provided by my head torch for the path that leads out of the parking area and climbed up and out. Stars twinkled and the moon watched as I walked steadily up to Little Staple tor and stopped to catch my breath. The top most lights of North Hessary transmitter peeked out from the top of the bank of cloud. Caradon transmitter’s lights were luminescent to the west as they were well above the cloud. I took a chug of my water bottle and carried on up to middle Staple tor stopping a few times to catch my breath again and take in the view.

As I got nearer to the top of Great Staple tor the twilight was beginning to show more than just shadows. I could see cloud inversion to the west, which seemed to blanket Cornwall completely. The edge was brushing the slopes of the moor, washing against them like waves of the sea in slow motion. What to do? The sunrise wasn’t going to be colourful because of the cloud to the west. Should I head down and get closer to the waves? It had only taken me 15 minutes to get up to Great Staple tor and I had 45 minutes until sunrise. I had plenty of time so I made the executive decision and headed down again, more quickly than I went up, even breaking into a jog in places. This was getting serious. Back into the car I spun around and headed off the moor and down under the waves.

The fog had grown thicker making it difficult to see where I was going but I hurried on as safely as I could and turned into what I though was the right lane to get me at the foot of Pew tor. Suddenly I found I was enclosed by high stone walls that held fields behind them. This wasn’t right. I had to carry on for what seemed like miles until I could find somewhere to turn around. Unable to see any landmarks or even sky due to the thickness of the fog I was disorientated so I found a place to stop and pulled out my map. Even that was next to useless as I couldn’t work out what road I was on, as I couldn’t see. Backtracking was my only option. Eventually I came across a signpost that I recognised and headed left along a more open lane. I could make out tors but they didn’t make sense as I felt I was looking at them from the other side of the moor. Where was I?

Coming out of the mist I found I was next to a tor, but not one I’d seen before so I pulled over and decided to climb it and get my bearings. As I reached the top I discovered I was at the south side of Pew Tor, where I was heading to. More luck than judgement. I was also on the edge of the blanket. There was a house just inside its flanks and the blanket swirled slowly around it, revealing it and concealing it as if toying with the idea of consuming it whole. Time to set up and capture this wonderful atmosphere.

The rocks of Pew tor were slippery from the moisture in the air, which required balance and care as I climbed each stack to create compositions. The wind was mild but still made my eyes water. Conditions were not unpleasant though and it was nice to see the sunlight spreading across the top of the blanket before me. Clouds drifted slowly by catching the pinks of the daybreak on their flanks, the land around me gradually took shape and depth was created by the long shadows. Wonderful to see. Kit Hill in Cornwall was visible above the blanket like a desert island in the middle of the ocean. Then all too soon it was swallowed up.

Eventually more cloud developed and the air grew grey again so I packed up and headed home through the cloud. At least I saw the sun and felt it’s warmth again and had some images to share. Worth the running around.