My #outland project is taking me to some very interesting places and gifting me some rather special photographic opportunities.
Last week I reached St Bees on the west Cumbrian coast and after playing with various long exposure settings on the stony beach for a while decided to hike over the headland to the neighbouring bay a few hours before sunrise.
I stumbled up the steep path and gingerly felt my way along the clifftop until I dropped into a bay hidden beneath the flashing lighthouse. Twilight was approaching as I made my way down the gorge, surrounded by eerie echoes of my own feet on the shingle bed.
Emerging from the mouth of the cliffs I found myself amongst some rather unique sandstone formations and spent ages shooting them as the light slowly overcame the darkness. One area in particular looked oddly like bodies on the beach and I worked with them for an hour or so until the tide was lapping between their legs.
I don’t have much experience with terns. As a result I always get over-excited when surrounded by them. Waking up a few days ago on Foulney Island (within the permitted visiting area I hasten to add) I found myself under a grey leaden sky which hid the imminent sunrise.
Already the air was full of their cries and bold individuals tried their best to scare me away. Their nests weren’t very far away. Before I retreated I spent a few minutes trying to capture a telling shot of them and must admit that white terns against a white sky don’t make for easy focusing or tracking.
Here are several images which made the grade for me.
Mere Sands Wood nature reserve was buzzing. The air over the lakes was thick with flies with the occasional dragonfly cruising through scooping up rich pickings in the atmospheric soup. Too far out to photograph though.
In the blistering heat most wildlife was keeping its head down in the shade, evading my lens in the quiet of the afternoon sun. However the chicks played out for me.
Here’s a few shots of canada geese with their young, a coot with its chick and a moorhen. The dabchick was a real bonus. Also known as the little grebe this species looks uncannily chick like even as an adult.
For me it’s the ransoms that herald the epitomy of spring. Bursting from the deep greens of the woodland floor their waxy white flowers shine starlike in the early light.
The scent can be quite overpowering, my car often carries a strong aroma of garlic after a wander amongst the spring woodlands. As far as I’m aware every part of the plant is very edible with the flowers the perfect accompaniment to salads and chilled drinks. However it’s the tender young leaves that do it for me, carefully wrapped around a small cube of cheddar and eaten freshly picked whilst sitting on the woodland floor.
I was supposed to be shooting the coast near Arnside but was uninspired. The sky was steely blue, a high sun shone brightly on the high tide and there was a distinct lack of clouds. A typical chocolate box day, my least favourite type for landscape photography. Making matters worse, my main camera was in for repair so I was stuck with a rental Canon which was unfamiliar to me.
After spending a couple of hours wandering the foreshore capturing what I could I decided to throw in the towel and head to my favourite woodland to see what I could see. The beech dappled light gave me hope as I wandered amongst the ramsons without too much of a goal.
And then I spotted it. Ommatoiulus sabulosus as I subsequently discovered! For a brief though it became a snake, or at the very least a small slow-worm. Lines of legs gave it away as nothing more than a millipede of course, but a millipede the likes of which I’d never encountered before.
No usual tiny dark brown, blackish bodied creature here. This was exotic beyond belief with two go faster stripes running the length of its ample body. Gingery lines that seemed to glow with an internal florescence. Perhaps twice the size of its commoner, plainer cousins this chap was happily munching on something quite invisible on the surface of the ransom leaves and held relatively still as I took numerous photos.
Its common name is the striped millipede. No surprise there then! Although I found it deep in a slug infested woodland of unimaginable lushness it’s quite a cosmopolitan fellow and frequents habitats ranging from sandy foreshores to mountain ranges. Unlike most other millipedes it’s often active during daylight hours.
Occasionally this particular species decides it’s time for a bit of travel and mass migrations can cause quite a problem as they invade houses en masse! A convey of striped millipedes must be a sight to behold, just the one was entrancing.
As an aside, the name millipede references the number of legs, reputedly 1,000. Although it may seem like that many the beast isn’t quite so well endowed. I estimated somewhere around 240 for this individual. How on earth it coordinates that number of limbs is beyond me!
The blackthorn was in full bloom. Lichen festooned the branches and fought for space amongst the tiny white star flowers.
In the heat of the vernal sun a host of insects sought the life giving nectar that surged from the life giving blossom. Hoverflies dominated, joined by the occasional bee and bee-fly.
The white froth of flowers also attracted the attention of a particular butterfly. Brown and battered it fed hungrily, extending its tongue to drink in the sweet liquid, taking the blackthorn pollen from blossom to blossom as it dined. At first glance the butterfly wasn’t obviously a peacock, its wings drained of colour and raggedy around the edges.
However the subdued patterns belied it as such. An ancestral peacock butterfly. One that had seen through the cold dark of winter and emerged to mate and procreate. But first to eat.
I wonder how many succumb to the deep slumber as the frost bites? How many are picked off by hungry mice and birds as they sit deathly still in their chosen spot? This one made it through. Even the previous night’s hard frost that patterned the windows and stiffened the grasses hadn’t defeated its dogged desire to be the next generation.
This butterfly saw it through to the end and awoke to find a newness in the air as a post equinox sun coaxed life from the earth once more. Her progeny will rise and take their place alongside the biodiversity of spring, firstly as hungry caterpillars who will help curb the lush green growth and then as butterflies who will pollinate and fertilise their way across the valley of Roeburndale.
This was a day for a quick visit to the banks of the reservoir, a place where I don’t often wander. During my hour or so there it was evident that not many others get down into those willows either! Just beyond the undergrowth is the lake, overlooked by a tiny island which hosts a heronry.
At first there didn’t appear to be much to shoot, the sun was bright and the shadows were deep. Wandering around the maze of limbs I got into the zone and saw the beautiful light. Below are six more images. I let the sun in some images and quite like the flare.
In some ways I thought I could have done much better. After all Liverpool is a coastal city, with a vibrant community and lively docklands. But it is what it is, and it was what it was.
My day working with this chunk of industrial coastline came right on the back of slogging my way around the Wirral Peninsula which held some surprises along with the challenges of urban heaviness. I’ll be posting some of my earlier shots soon… for now here are the best of my Liverpool.
I did shoot the docks with the cathedral in the background, more out of expectation than artistry. These are the shots that more accurately sum up my connection with the place on the day of my visit. As you can see the weather wasn’t the best. Brightest blue skies, harsh edged light and a tearing wind that whipped up sandstorms on the beaches and dust storms elsewhere.
My favourite image is the last one I took (above), captured from the middle of Antony Gormley’s statues which I confess to never having seen before. I will visit again as I’m sure there are shots of the sculptures that I simply couldn’t see in the abundance of light.
My next coast date will begin in Crosby and see me weaving my way towards the more familiar territory of Formby. Ahhh… that’s better…
It took me quite a while to find this. All the other frosted toadstools were tired looking, stretched, frayed round the edges, literally.
This individual stood no more than a thumbnail high, piercing the damp air from a cushion of frost crusted grass.
Sheltered by a hedgehog clump of rushes this spot stayed blue, out of the gaze of the rising sun, crystals surviving when others had lost their edges. I dared not breath lest I damage the intricate jewels.
Anglezarke moors are like home to me. I know every ditch and every peaty bog. I’ve tramped their every yard in all weathers since childhood, perhaps earlier. I thought I knew it well and had perhaps become rather distant and ‘familiar’ with the place. That may have changed today.
This morning I was taken by surprise by a stone circle, one that I’ve never found before. It’s not too obvious and perhaps not centuries old. Ringed by rushes, the tops of the stones caught the morning light, frost glistening from the millstone grit and sparkling on the surrounding grasses.
No more than three or four strides across, the unbroken circle of stone rises knee height from a knoll, centred by a couple of large flat boulders.
My goal was Round Loaf, a perhistoric mound of uncertain origin, but today I didn’t make it. The frost spangled mosses and sunlit ice patches held my attention so I took time to stay in this spot and explore the lie of the light and the curve of the shadows in the macro landscapes around me.
The moorlands hold so many questions if we listen. Perhaps the answers lie there too, amongst the moss, snipe and field voles that, too, call this place home.
One of the things I most love about winter is the light. Although many of the days can be dull and dreary there’s always the chance of some gold, or silver. Maybe it’s because of the angle of the sun, maybe it’s because there’s no leaves on the trees, I’m not sure.
I do know that it allows us to capture some of telling photos of the season. Here the syrupy light of dusk backlights stubborn beech leaves.
Currently movement in my images has a real pull on me. I long for windy days, dull days so that I can capture the life and let nature draw unplanned lines on my photographic canvas.
Reedbeds are addictive for me. Their very noise calls to my camera. However I’ve not yet taken a shot that I’m totally happy with.
As I work on my coast project I’ve found random reedbeds in the most unexpected places. These photos were shot not far from West Kirby on the Wirral Peninsula. I hope you can feel the breeze rattling through their drying stems.
This was my first trip to Ingleborough for at least a couple of years. My intention was to find some monochrome images of the place, shots that would portray the true raw beauty of this wild landscape. Here are the shots that I created on this day-long adventure.
Ainsdale has long been one of my favourite places. Especially before the crowds arrive, when the moan of the wind, the call of the gulls and the muted roar of the tide are all that can be heard. Backed by an expanse of sand dunes the beach stretches seawards for several hundreds of yards, that is unless the tide is high, at which times it laps and pulls at the toes of the dunes.
Early on this particular morning I chose to spend some time in the dunes seeing what my camera eye could find. Here are just a few of the pictures that I took. Seedheads, snail shells, sand patterns and sea gulls… at one point incongruously accompanied by the lilting strains of the bagpipes drifting from the nearby Pontins holiday camp. Wakey wakey campers!
Many years ago, perhaps longer than a decade, I remember sitting on a cliff top looking out from the Isle of Mull. Before me stretched a vast sound of ocean, still and deep blue in the late summer sun. Beyond rose a land mass that seemed solid and impenetrable, like something from the film The Lost World.
I decided to return and see what the land had to offer me. Later that evening I researched the place as I sat in my b&b. Apparently it was the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, one of Scotland’s last wilderness places, home to otter, eagles (both sea and golden), wild cat and pine marten to name just the big species.
Needless to say life got in the way and I didn’t allow myself time to make the trip and the dream faded into the background of my busy life. Faded… it never disappeared.
Occasionally I read about the place, checked out photos and planned the route, all 8 hours of it. I never made concrete plans though.
That was until late this summer when we had the opportunity to travel and my wife asked where I’d like to go. Scotland was very definitely on the agenda and Ardnamurchan was right at the top of my list. So we headed north to spend a week wild camping on the most beautiful of beaches.
The folk up there are few and far between, unlike the wildlife. We saw the same dozen or so several times throughout our visit and more than one encouraged us to keep this wilderness paradise a secret. So shhh… don’t tell anyone!
I’ll be posting more of my shots from the visit but for now here are a few images from one beach, taken near sunset or sunrise over a few days.