Photographing The Lake District - Part 1
Updated: Jan 29, 2020
I had just finished a week in Scotland and I was now driving from Glasgow to the Lake District, in autumn to shoot one of the most scenic areas in the country, was I excited ? I was fit to burst.
I had looked for endless hours at locations in the Lake District and felt like I knew the area already pretty well, this trip had a lot of planning gone into it.
All week while in Scotland I had been keeping an eye on Cumbria's weather and seeing what was going on there and it looked quite reasonable but today was different.
It was greyer than grey could be, full of fog and raining hard, not really the way that I wanted to start but I didn't care, I'd been in this situation before and I would make the best of it, or so I thought.
I was staying in an area called Hawkshead Hill which was right at the tip of Lake Windermere and Conistion, with the added bonus it was a short walk from Tarn Hows which was one of the main reasons I was going.
As I drove into Cumbria I saw a sign for Castlerigg stone circles and I had some time to kill so I followed the signs to my first look at the Lake District.
I had seen pictures of Castlerigg Stone Circle before and it's a beautiful man made circle on top of a large hill surrounded by mountains including Helvellyn of which I wanted to see.
As I got out of the car I was pleased to see only a handful of people there, mainly due to the fact that it was hammering down with rain but even so it was a Saturday in October and I felt I had a bit of luck as I expected it to be much busier.
Conditions weren't up to much, it was raining, there was hardly any light coming through but I couldn't check in to my cottage till 3 o clock so I had some time to kill.
I waited patiently in the rain for it to allow just a small bit of light through and give me something I could use but it didn't come and eventually I conceded defeat and decided to go and explorer the area a little more.
The Lake District has one main road running right the way through the middle, The A591 and it was a nice wide decent road with occasional duel carriageway areas, very nice I thought. There are also some other good roads around the outside of it, the A595 for example takes you away from the main mountain range and although single lanes its a reasonably fast and good road.
Every other road in the lakes seemed to be quite tiny and mirrors were spending more time being folded in than out on the car.
In fact the more rural you went the smaller the roads were, if another car came it would result in one of the parties having to back up until a passing place came in to view and I must admit I didn't really like it that much.
As I drove down the A591 I got my first glimpse of one of these wondrous lakes, it was Thirlmere and it was a very long and slim lake (much like all of them in fact) and it had several islands and some lovely autumn colours too, but alas no light so I continued on in search of what else was there.
Further on the same road I came to Grasmere which was a really pretty lake and one that I very much wanted a chance to shoot. Further on and Rydal Water came into view, very similar to Grasmere but with its own character and a beautiful boat house, things looked good if the weather would just let up.
Just as I needed to turn off to get my key I saw the edge of Windermere and I decided to drive straight on to have a look at it, Windermere is the largest of the main lakes and perhaps the best known.
As I drove around the lake edge I wasn't getting the same feelings as the other lakes had given me, Windermere just wasn't that great, Sure there were some areas where it look nice but I wasn't super excited about it which was a bit of a shame as I was going to be staying just a stones throw from it.
I finally got to my cottage which looked like it had been decorated in early 1900s but it was warm and comfortable enough and I thought i'd hardly be spending any time there so it didn't really matter what it looked like.
As it happens I got to rather enjoy the cottage but I did miss a settee, it had 2 recliner seats in instead and that just wasn't the same.
I had been very specific when I booked it that it must have a good internet connection so I could upload my pictures from each day to Dropbox to keep them safe and I had been assured it fitted the bill.
They lied, they lied big time. Web browsing was virtually impossible and if you tried to upload a picture the router nearly had a heart attack, I was less than amused but I had brought along a spare external hard drive just in case this very situation happened and I was glad I had.
The weather had set in for the day and I decided not to bother going out again that evening, instead I would plan my assault tomorrow instead, a quick look at the forecast too see what I had to look forward too.....
Rain, the whole week nothing but rain, no let up no sun just rain, I was devastated.
Now I don't put too much faith in the weather forecast, instead I look outside and go with my gut but this was too much of a signal to ignore.
There were weather warnings issued for the volume of rain that was due to fall and there was a hurricane due in a few days too so things really were looking a bit crap for want of a better word.
I looked all over Cumbria and even further out to Yorkshire etc to see if there was any other options to get some decent weather, I checked Dorset and it was all sun & rain and for once I was super jealous not to be there, as if to confirm the fact I got a text message from a friend back in Dorset asking if I was out as it was all about to go off.
I replied simply with a picture of the weeks weather forecast, it said it all.
Sympathy from my friend was over quickly as they sent me picture after picture of the epic sky that was colouring up all over Dorset and I cursed my luck but tried to keep it positive.
I decided to get out of the house and take a drive down to Coniston even if it was pouring with rain, I had been going along the shore when a Jetty came into view. Now the Lake District cliche of all cliches is the Jetty shot but they really do know how to build a good one there and they're very photogenic and the rain eased just for a few moments so I thought why not.
I jumped out of the car and headed over to the jetty and set the camera on the tripod, reached into the rucksack for my filters and they weren't there, the sudden realisation that they were still sat on the table where I had taken them out to give them a good clean had hit me and it just about summed up the day.
I took a few pictures before the rain returned but they wouldn't see the light of day.
Dejected I headed back to base camp making sure my first job as soon as I got in was to pack the filters back into the ruck sack.
I was glad to see the back of the day and it ended as grey as it had started, tomorrow was another day and despite the forecast there was always a chance.
It seemed the North of the Lake District held the best chance of getting a picture as the weather was the least extreme there so with an eager start I headed back off to Castlerigg Stone Circles to start the day, The sunrise never really happened and big stormy clouds swirled round and the odd bit of light popped through and I managed to get a few images but nothing special.
I decided to go and have a look at Buttermere on the advice of a good friend who had visited it recently, the weather wasn't really looking great though.
The drive down was through a diversion and I noted a great spot if the weather changed from high up, as I went through the narrow lanes towards Buttermere the weather looked like it might change a little, it was very dark but odd light rays were getting through here and there.
The northern sense of humour was in full effect as I went over a cattle grid and noticed a sign which read "Tek care, Lambs ont road" which did make me giggle.
I drove past a large expanse of water known as Crummock water and there was some good areas where fences and gates met the water if only the light would play ball, driving further on to Buttermere down very narrow lanes I was disappointed that my first view of somewhere so iconic would be in such bad conditions.
I pulled into the car park at Buttermere and went for a wander round, it was indeed a very impressive place even in this fowl weather. I could see the shots in front of me that I had seen in books and on a computer screen many times but none of it filled me with any enthusiasm as it was just unshootable.
I decided to dive back up to Crummock water where the light had been popping through and found a nice area to shoot and waited, I waited for a long time but I wasn't going till I got a shot.
Finally some light drifted over the mountain at the end of the lake and I got a shot, It wasn't great but it was something.
As quickly as the light had started it stopped again and after waiting for ages I decided to head further in again, This time to Derwent Water.
As I was driving down the road there was a sudden burst of light further down on the mountains and I went straight past Derwent water in hot pursuit of the light.
No matter where I went I just couldn't get an angle on it and it faded along with my hopes of getting anything.
I decided a trip to the shops was in order and grabbed some comfort food and headed back.
The place I was staying at was only 20 miles away but it took nearly an hour to get to due to the slow roads and weekend traffic, By the time I got in it was around 2pm and conditions had really taken a turn for the worst and rain set in for the day and that was the end of Sunday.
Despite willing it to change it just didn't and I spent the rest of the day house bound and moping around like a caged animal.
Monday was exactly the same thing, heavy rain all day and night and I didn't get out at all, Now I was feeling the pressure as I didn't want to have used up a weeks precious holiday and go home with hardly any shots but it really was torrential and just no chance of getting out even with an umbrella as the wind was just too strong.
I decided to make use of my time by hiking around the area instead while leaving the camera at base camp, I found some interesting areas and prayed the weather would ease up over the week.
Tuesday came and it was much the same conditions but id had enough of not taking any pictures so I decided to go out anyway and visit Wast Water and Wasdale head.
This was only 11 miles as the crow flies from where I was staying but I was going to have to drive 35 miles just to get to it because of the mountains being impassable not to mention the fact it was going to take an hour and a half according to the sat nav, I wasn't amused.
The drive up to Wast Water was shocking to say the least and I knew that in reality there would be little or no chance of pictures due to the really high winds and the intense rain.
When I finally got there I have to say I was blown away by it, It was a really incredible sight to see this long stretch of water running down to some huge mountains, well it would have been if it wasn't covered in clouds and you could actually see them. Despite it looking pretty shocking I could see why it was called "Britain's favourite view"
There was a group of other photographers there who had decided to brave the elements and I can't for the life of me see why ? There was zero light, it was covered in low cloud and fog and it was raining elephants.
I ended up watching them for around 30 minutes getting blown backwards and forwards and wiping their lens every 5 seconds, if someone had played the Benny Hill theme song at this point I think I would have wet myself, it was comedy on an epic scale !
I have to admire their spirit but I can honestly say I thought it was beyond pointless being out in that but each to their own.
I decided to move off North again in search of better weather to Ennerdale Water, I fired the sat nav up and hit the gas.
Now sat navs can be unpredictable at the best of times and the route choices are more than questionable but this was taking my up a hill that was so steep it was frankly scary and then when someone came flying down the other way I ended up having to park my car, in a bloody ditch.
This was the last thing I needed, Storm Ophelia was about to happen and I was stuck fast in a ditch unable to get my car out in the middle of nowhere, at this point I could have cried frankly and just gone home.
First stop was to a farm where the door was answered by an 86 year old farmer who was keen to help but I just couldn't ask him to do that, while pondering what to do next a workman's lorry pulled up and was unable to get past my car as it was stuck fast and he said he had a digger at home which was only ten minutes away and he would pull me out.
Relief was an understatement and as I sat there waiting I reflected on how lucky I had been that this chap had been passing, otherwise I just couldn't see a way out of there due to the steep hill another car wouldn't be able to get up it while pulling another one.
I heard the noise of tracks rolling down the road and looked round expecting to see a JCB but instead it was a tiny one man digger and my heart sank as I just didn't think it would be able to pull the car out.
When he finally got level I said my fears to him and he said it would all be fine and proceeded to put a strap on the car and attached to the digger, I have to say I nearly fell over when he gave it a pull and the car came out, dam theres some power in those things.
I was so grateful to this chap and his toy digger words just couldn't say.
The damage on the car was fairly minimal, it had torn up the underside and I had a slice on the tyre which needed attention but the bodywork remained not to bad.
After bunging him a few quid for his trouble he sent me on my way to the local garage who patched up the underneath of the car with those problem solving miracles, cable ties and I was once again mobile but I was fed up in the extreme and decided to head back to base camp.
The drive back had me on edge the whole way and the breaks had a right hammering and badly needed to be replaced, I limped the car past Coniston where a small patch of light came out and made me take a welcome break.
I looked down the shores of Coniston and took a couple of images which came out reasonably well and decided to go for a wander to calm my nerves, As I walked through forest lane I came to the end and there was a jetty right in front of me that I recognised as Rigg wood jetty and I hopped on it and get a better viewpoint of the light falling across Coniston.
This went on for a short while before the sky got much darker but light rays punched through right in front of the jetty, I wanted to get decent shots and not too many cliches but this was too good to miss so I fired off a few and ended up with some decent shots.
I limped the car home again and got it booked into a garage for the following morning, Storm Ophelia was going to hit tonight and I decided I better batten down the hatches and stay hold up for the night.
The car was being sorted first thing in the morning but now there was a much bigger problem, the forecast had changed and there was actually some light forecast first thing, I cursed the fact I would be without a car when the only chance of the week was presenting itself.
That night Hurricane Ophelia did her worst and it hit Ireland and the UK hard and sadly there were a few deaths which kind of put everything in perspective really.
I could hear it outside lashing the building and I was glad I wasn't out in it and thanked my lucky stars that I had been pulled out if the ditch or I might still be there.
For now though it was time for bed and to formulate a plan on how on earth I was going to manage to get shots with no car.
Part 2 will be out next week, thanks very much for reading and special thanks to those who comment and share these blogs.
As always, Happy shooting.
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