Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Exmoor Day 1 – The tent offensive and a valley storm

Castle rock bathed in warm sunlight under stormy clouds in Exmoor by Martyn Ferry Photography

Last week I spent a few days in one of my favourite places, Exmoor National Park. I was camping near Exford so I was hoping the weather would stay clement for the duration, as I don’t find tenting and rain an agreeable combination.

So, I arrived at the campsite accompanied by a howling wind and intermittent blustery downpours, perfect conditions to set up a large, flapping piece of canvas. As I wrestled with my accommodation, doing my best to deal with its angry flailings, like an overwrought parent who’s run out of Ritalin, the sun did finally, if bashfully and fleetingly, show its face, so I had reason to hope things might improve.

I didn’t hang around the campsite to admire my handiwork, although there was of course much to admire, but sped off to Robbers Bridge to try and get a few shots of it while the conditions were still overcast. Located in what is known as the Doone Valley, referring to R.D. Blackmore’s novel Lorna Doone, which was set around the area, this ancient arch bridge, accessible via a very narrow, steep and winding road, spans Wier Water, and is a beautiful, quiet spot to spend a little time.

Robbers bridge in the Doone Valley in Exmoor Somerset by Martyn Ferry Photography
Thankfully the overcast conditions helped even out the light just enough to capture all the detail in the scene.

I have taken a few shots of this old structure before, but it’s always been quite sunny, and the contrast between the bright, sunlit areas, and the dark stream, as it lazily flows beneath the sardined canopy of branches above, can make it a bit of a tough assignment. 

I then drove in the direction of Lynmouth, the lower of the twin villages that perch on the precipitous Exmoor coast. On the way there, my attention was drawn, like a moth to a flame, or in this case, a man to a tree, at the sight of a very comely looking piece of timber, standing atop some rather fetching landscape.

Lone tree with Exmoor landscape beyond by Martyn Ferry Photography
When I first arrived the sky was very stormy looking although there was still a bit of patchy sun.

I ended up spending a good deal of time there thanks to the changing conditions. All I wanted was the light to be shining on the tree and on the landscape beyond at the same time, I really didn’t think that was too much to ask, but such was the strength of the wind, that the clouds were blowing by so quickly they just wouldn’t align themselves with my wishes. Which I found quite exasperating, and if I knew who to pen a sternly worded letter to, believe me I would have done so.

Sunlight on Exmoor landscape and single tree by Martyn Ferry Photography
The weather was changing so fast that blue sky soon appeared, although it wouldn't take long for it to
disappear again.

I finally arrived in Lynmouth for a much needed coffee, before travelling onwards to the Valley of Rocks, one of my favourite places in Exmoor. With its monumental coastline, dominated by the striking and dramatic majesty of Castle Rock, it really is an inspiring patch of landscape. I could try and describe it, but it would be pointless, there is something extremely elemental about the place that words just can’t quite do justice. All I can say is, if you’re in the area, make sure you pay it a visit.

As the day was coming to an end, I was hoping to get a view along the coast as the sun set over the ocean, lighting up the asperous cliffline with the golden tones of an encroaching dusk. Which I did manage for a very short while, before the weather had other ideas of course.

Exmoor coast at Valley of Rocks in stormy sunlight by Martyn Ferry Photography
At least I managed to get off one shot I was looking for, before the weather overwhelmed me.

Walking along the coastal path a little way, I set myself up on a small promontory with clear views back along the shoreline and immediately knew it was going to be a challenge. The wind was particularly expressive without the shelter of the land in front of me and I was fighting it the whole way as I put up my camera gear. I had to stand with one foot planted behind me to brace myself against the weighty gusts that would suddenly lash out, with a view to pitching me off my roost and into the ocean several hundred feet below.

Stormy skies over Castle Rock at Valley of Rocks in Exmoor by Martyn Ferry Photography
The sun no longer lights up Castle Rock but it's rays cascade down onto the ocean in the distance.

I managed to get a single shot of the light I was looking for, then as per normal, the sun buggered off without so much as a nod farewell. It was enveloped behind a large storm front that was approaching me head on, and seemed intent on consuming every part of the panorama before me in a soupy brume.

I hung around in the hope that I might get a glimmer of light peeping through the turmoil, but then the rain hit, and it hit hard. As it happens, the sun did make another appearance, but as fast as I dried my lens it quickly got marinated again in the deluge, and it was soon very clear there was no way I could beat the rain, or even distract it for a moment. 

Castle Rock at Valley of Rocks in Exmoor under falling rain by Martyn Ferry Photography
This was just before I called it a day, I just couldn't compete with the rain, as is obvious.

There is only so much abuse one person can take, so I gingerly retreated to solid ground, fortifying myself against the gusts as they rattled and flurried around me, and admitted defeat. After that I drove to Simonsbath for a spot of pub grub for dinner and back to the campsite for an early night.

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