Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Muddy Sunrise On The Moors

Freebrough Hill Sunrise
Freebrough Hill, nr. Moorsholm, North Yorkshire Moors, Christmas Eve.

I'm back up north for Christmas with my family, great times! I always try to get out in the landscape I know better than any other when I'm here, usually before dawn , and this year the story is no different.

What has been different this time has been my luck; morning after morning of spectacularly colourful skies (saying that, I'm writing this at 7.30am and I think today is going to be a traditionally British shade of grey*). I've had much more fun and success this time around too, much of it down to preparation.

Earlier this year three friends and I, with the aid of a fantastic support crew, formed Team Spacehopper and took part in Oxfam's Trailtrekker challenge, a 100km trek over the Yorkshire Dales which must be completed in less than 30hrs (we managed 25). In preparation for this we all had to buy kit. Lots of it. So I am all stocked up with boots, warm socks, fleece jacket, waterproof and windproof jacket, gloves, hats, torches, leftover flapjack... you get the picture. And what a difference that makes! To be able to stand still, comfortably warm, on a freezing morning waiting for the sun is still a novelty, but not one I'm going to get sick of. Above all else the windproof jacket has to be the winner. It gave me time and let me focus on capturing some pretty tricky light.

I chose this spot near to Freebrough Hill, right on the eastern edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, as I knew I would be able to see more of the sky than at my usual seaside haunts. I wasn't to be disappointed. Purple turned to red turned to pink turned to yellow... and then I turned around and the whole of the Western sky was going through a similar transformation. My luck was in.

I wanted to use Freebrough Hill itself as a silhouette against the sky. I've tried to find ways of including it in the frame in the past, but I've always felt a little disappointed. Although it's interesting, it's just not interesting enough. And it has a busy road right next to it. Leaving it in shadow against a beautiful sky worked a treat, though, and it meant I got to make full use of the amazing Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8 L IS II USM I hired for the Christmas break. A super fast and super sharp lens, have a go if you get chance, you won't be disappointed.

I always thought Freebrough was a bronze age burial mound. I never questioned it. However, a search on Google only hinted a such a past. Turns out it's an entirely natural feature, an Oolitic cap, no less:

"Clark, in his list of moated minds or burhs, records 'Freeborough, near Moorshole.– A high artificial mound.' Freebrough Hill on Moorsolm Moor - rising to 821 feet, it is of entirely natural geological formation, an Oolitic cap left behind whilst glaciers eroded the surrounding softer rocks. This remarkable conical hill is natural although anyone having seen it will understand the confusion. I suspect it had spiritual significance for pre-Iron Age peoples but its isolated and windswept position would make it an unlikely place for habitation. "
- castlefacts.info 

Next, I went for a shot of the hill in a wider context:

North Yorkshire Moors at Sunrise

The challenges with this shot were two fold:

1. Balancing the light in the sky with that from the land required 0.9 and 0.6 soft grad ND filters and even then I played it safe and took three bracketed shots one stop apart.

2. Just out of shot to the East, left, is the busy road moor road (sorry for spoiling any illusion of wilderness!) which curls it's way past Freebrough Hill. It took some time to find a spot that included the hill and some foreground interest, but no road. In fact, I didn't manage it - if you have keen eyes you may be able to spot where it crept into the frame....

The frost covered heather seemed to glow under these purple skies, complementing each other beautifully. I left the scene with a warm sense of satisfaction and decided to make the short journey over to Commondale.

Three and a half hours, one muddy siding, one hungover brother and one good Samaritan later:

Just another day in the office...
As I was driving through Commondale the sun rose above the hills bathing the land in a warm light. I pulled in and parked on a gravel path leading to a field and headed out with my camera. By the time I'd gotten myself set up a cloud had blocked out the sun, but not before it had warmed up the frozen ground.

Ready for anything. Except getting the car stuck.
I went back to the car with the intention of heading home. Turns out that although 90% of the car was on the gravel path, the front wheels weren't. After a few careful attempts to reverse back up the slight incline I realised I may be in trouble. For all the patience I had waiting for the sun to rise, I didn't display the same qualities at this juncture. What I should have done was put some rocks under the front wheels to help them grip, but I didn't take this approach until after I'd decided to try to exit the siding from the opposite side. What looked like grass turned out to be a thawing bog. Much muddiness ensued. Eventually I had to admit defeat and I rang my mum. With that wonderful intuition that mothers have she asked me what was wrong before I'd said "Hello". Hungover brother was sent (thank you, Darren!) with a plank of wood and we managed to move it out of the worst of the mud. An equally appreciative 'thank you' goes out to the bloke who decided to stop and help (rather than the many people who chose to gawp and keep driving, no thanks to you lot). He seemed prepared with rope and useful stuff like that, and on the second attempt we were back on the road. A good Samaritan on Christmas Eve. Kinda fitting.

So, having the right clothing and camera kit is of utmost importance. It turns out that rope may be added to my kit list in the future. And patience. I'm just glad I had my mobile with me!

Read more about the Oxfam Trailtrekker and our experiences here:


* What looked like it was going to be a grey start to the day turned out to be another beautiful, colourful, sunrise. Salmon pinks and oranges. I feel a little disappointed that I didn't head out, let's hope tomorrow plays ball.

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All photographs copyright Mark Bowler 2011. All rights reserved.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Friday, 23 December 2011

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Tuesday, 20 December 2011