I think winter is my favourite season, a proper winter that is, not a damp rainy winter the likes of which this time of year usually inflicts on the UK. Winter adventures this year have however been limited because of an opportunity to head to Australia and New Zealand with work, a chance that was far too good to miss.
Now back in the UK and with late February and March delivering cold conditions in spades I was keen to get out for a bit of winter wild camping. Most of my friends think I’m crazy camping in winter but I love it, its certainly nicer than camping in the rain. Temperatures below zero actually help keep kit dry compared to that horrible range between about freezing and +8 where its pretty impossible if its raining.
This does come with the caveat that you have to invest in a really good sleeping mat and bag to keep out the cold. I was also keen to try out my new shelter, a MLD Trailstar, a tarp like shelter from a small U.S manufacturer I had picked up just before Christmas and used for my trip round New Zealand. The Trailstar uses walking poles for support and is lightweight, but has a big footprint, is very weather proof and obviously well ventilated. I don’t intend to review it in any depth as many others already have.
I pitched for the night above Derwent Water hoping to get some morning photographs over the lake towards Skiddaw from the Surprise View Lookout. Snug in my sleeping bag with a big bag of tea and a book I was able to slowly drift off to sleep with the winter winds whistling over the tarp. This is what I like about winter camping, the feeling of being warm and comfortable whilst being surrounded by cold crisp air. I slept well getting a good 10 hours sleep before the pre-dawn light began to diffuse through the tarp.
Roused from my bag and with a warming coffee in hand the wind had dropped to virtually nothing leaving Derwent water almost mirror still. I spent a couple of hours at Surprise View and nearby Ashness Bridge, the sunrise didn’t clip the top of Skiddaw like I had hoped but I’m pretty please with the images I captured.
Winter may be my favourite season, or rather if winter turns up then it's my favourite season. The mountains of the UK are not only more fun to explore under a covering of snow and ice but I think they are more beautiful too. For a photographer winter is also a bonus as sunrises and sunsets are not only more spectacular but more accessible, no requiring late nights or early mornings.
I've been lucky over the past week to get some great images from both ends of the day, this has cheered me up after booking my last holiday of the year one week too late to catch the Scottish Highlands under their first winter coat. With storm force winds forecast this week and a cold rapidly working its way through a mass of tissues I decided a week of wild camping in Scotland was not the best idea and chose to make the most of what I can find here in Yorkshire.
Some of the colours in the sky have been quite amazing, vivid to the edge of what I would have thought possible, I've actually struggled to recreate them after processing the RAW files the blues and yellows often overwhelmed by the pinks and oranges.
I had not managed to get out and sleep under canvas in September or October missing out on camp's surrounded by the beautiful colours of autumn. Motivation had been lacking, a prolonged period working away from home saw me arrive home late on a Friday tired, with a pile of washing and an empty fridge, this coupled with early starts on Mondays had sapped my energy. With the job complete I was therefore looking forward to getting out in the Lakes and an opportunity to wild camp and hopefully get some images of an iconic view.
I had chosen to head round to Wast Water one of the Lake Districts' photography honeypots; it's easy to see why, Englands deepest lake sits nestled below the seemingly vast screes of Illgill Head with fantastic views down to Yewbarrow, whose south east ridge seems to carve into the water like the great upturned prow of a ships hull. Beyond Yewbarrow is Great Gable and the Scafell peaks forming what must be the most famous and iconic view in the Lake District, even appearing on the logo for the National Park.
I had hoped to get some sunset pictures but the clouds were unkind, offering up a dull sunset and I retreated to the warmth of my sleeping bag disappointed. Morning offered slightly better conditions and I found a couple of nice although certainly not original compositions with foreground rocks in the lake mirroring the mountains in the background. For a time it looked like the rays of the rising sun would reflect off the cloud which was dancing around Gable to light its' snow dusted summit with warm pink and orange light, but it was one of those nearly moments you get so often in photography.
My tent is pitched for the night in the ruins of Milecastle 39, high in the Northumberland Fells where Hadrian’s Wall runs perched upon the outcropping Whin Sill. Reaching out and touching stones placed 2000 years ago by unknown hands is exciting, the wall itself still an inspiring presence in the landscape.
To sleep in a milecastle – unsurprisingly placed every mile on the wall – had been something I’d really wanted to do; a way to link back to a time when there really was an edge of the world and one could stare out over land about which little was known. I had not really come north for photography but threw my camera in my bag regardless as I knew there were a few shots worth seeking out.
The section of wall on the high Pennines is the best preserved on the entire line, being furthest from large centres of population which will have robbed away much of the stonework over the intervening years. Its also probably the most spectacular the child of the Whin Sill adding to its grandure and emphasising its place in the landscape.
I ended up with a few pictures I liked including the photogeninc Robin Hood Tree at Sycamore Gap made famous by Kevin Costner at some point in the 90's. The biggest challenge was finding thirty seconds to take the picture as people were swarming all over the wall enjoying a day out.
With the mountains of the Lake District still capped with spring snow I plodded up to the top of Side Pike as darkness quickly descended around me. Fortunately it was not too steep a climb carrying full overnight and photography kit; the hill is diminutive but boasts fantastic views over the Langdale Pikes which was why I had chosen it for the weekends wild camp. I managed to get the tent set up with the last rays of warmth fading from the sky, pleased I have brought my winter sleeping bag with me as the clear sky suggested and delivered a cold night.
As tea cooked on the stove the stars bust into life throughout the blackness above, Orion and Sirius prominent to the south, and I spent about an hour trying to capture a tent lantern picture; something I have seen others do but which I found to be quite a challenge, juggling camera settings and trying to focus in darkness.
After a good nights sleep I woke to a brilliant sunrise; a warm glow on the hills which gave way to the first rays of sunlight catching the white snow and then dappling the upper slopes of the Lansdale pikes with a gentle morning light.