Sunrise Over Mam Tor
The Peak District is a beautiful area of the English Countryside. The dynamic of green and blue in the summer and rugged wildness in winter are a powerful combination. The Peak District view of sunrise from Mam Tor across The Great Ridge is one I have always wanted to capture.
My sunrise image of the Great Ridge from Mam Tor has been Highly Commended by the Society of Photographers.
Visit Mam Tor
Mam Tor, or Mother Hill in Olde English, is one of the most iconic places within the Peak National Park. It towers more than 500m above the little town of Castleton nestling at its feet. This Hope Valley settlement is well worth a visit on its own as it is full of interesting little shops, a castle (hence the name) and is home to the local mining of the semi-precious mineral Blue John.
The Location of 'The Giant of the Dark Peak'
Having ascended the Tor a number of times I found the easiest route is from a layby near the summit. There is a nearby National Trust car park too at grid ref: SK123832.
The Tor itself has been a place of interest for thousands of years. At the base can be found the mines for Blue John, lead and even fluorspar. Crowning the summit are the remains of bronze and iron age hillforts. Although I must say people who lived at the top during the winter months must have been very hardy!
The name Mother Hill, is given due to frequent landslips. These have built up a number of smaller ‘child’ hills around the main peak. The landslips have also permanently closed the A625 from Sheffield to Chapel-en-le-frith that ran along the eastern base of the Tor. The local name for the Tor is ‘Shivering Mountain’ due to the loose stones slipping so frequently.
If you have visited then you will know that the view from Mam is spectacular. My desire was to capture something of the expanse of the view with what I guessed would be an amazing natural experience - a sunrise.
Capturing a sunrise means getting up early. It also means calculating where the sun will rise, and guessing what the weather will be like too. Getting out of bed at 3 am is a shock to the system. The thrill of adventure soon takes over though and as you head out into the dark the sense of anticipation takes over.
There is an uncanny stillness just before dawn. They say that it is darkest and coldest at that point as well. My journey to the Tor was spent nervously looking out of Patty's window for early signs of dawn in the sky. My car is affectionately named Patty by my family because it looks just like the bright red van that belongs to Postman Pat.
Leaving Patty in a layby I made my ascent on foot
Apart from a friendly sheep, I was completely alone. Only the cool wind of early morning buffeting me as it rolled over and around the Tor and my kit. The feeling of the world stretching and sleepily opening one eye before slipping back into a doze could just be felt.
Arriving nearly half an hour before sunrise meant I could just sit and watch events as they unfolded.
Life sometimes takes over and I do not think I just sit and watch the world go by often enough. This is something I really must make more time to do.
I imagined how the defenders of the hillforts would have felt many hundreds of years ago. In winter the weather is biting cold and usually wet up here. I have spent enough time on this hill to know it can be a very harsh environment. However this morning it would be the site of something spectacular.
The first burst of light broke the skyline, and over the next few minutes the most amazing orange glow of radiant sunlight flooded everything. I hope my photograph captures a sense of the drama of the scene for you. The orange and red of sunrise mixed with the blues of night to create purples in the clouds gathering overhead.
Awe-inspiring is all I can say
The day had sprung and all the drama evaporated in a blink of an eye. The distant sound of birds mixed with the increasing wind as I watched the first headlights of cars as they wended their way towards Castleton. Hope Valley was waking up.
My big adventure was over and I headed home, inspired by my amazing natural experience.
My photograph is precious to me because it opens up the memories and emotions of my adventure on Mam Tor. Today I look deep into the picture and can feel the wind on my left cheek, smell the freshness of a new morning, and see that glorious sunlight all around me!
What memories and emotions are stirred in you through this fine art photograph?
This image was taken during sunrise on an early morning trek along the Great Ridge path. During summer months you will enjoy spectacular views across Hope Valley Winnats Pass. In winter pack lots of warm clothes, a hat, and expect to cope with local roads being closed due to poor weather.
This was not my first visit to Mam Tor to capture this very scene. Here is the sad tale of my previous attempt...
Adventures In the Wet
Following a series of rather embarrassing trips where a bit of planning would have made a huge difference I decided to put in the work first. Really making sure that everything was organised beforehand would mean no problems during my adventure on Mam Tor for the perfect sunrise.
Mam Tor is in the Peak District. I was flicking through some images on Flickr and saw some really good shots. So I planned a photoshoot at this great location.
With only a few weeks left of autumnal sun before the rain clouds of winter bring everything down to a drab greyness (and after a few unplanned disasters) I finally planned out a photo shoot properly.
Measure Twice Cut Once
Following a series of rather embarrassing trips where a bit of planning would have made a huge difference I decided to put in the work first. Really making sure that everything was organised beforehand would mean no problems during my next photographic adventure.
My research was extensive. On Google Maps I found a handy lay-by (co-ordinates 53°20'54.8"N 1°48'47.3”W). This would take me nearly to the top of the Tor. It would mean just a short climb (eek) and then 'along a bit' to get the shot I wanted. Afterward I could nip to Padley Gorge to take some forest shots. I had never been to these places before.
After my Train Troubles I decided to kit myself out with some new trousers. I picked up some bargain cargo pants from a well know supermarket for just a few pounds. They had lots of pockets to put things in. Cereal bars, filters, cable release etc. What a bargain! An additional benefit is that they came with a free belt. No more worries about being caught out being over exposed as I did in London!
I hate being too hot. So I packed my light waterproof jacket into the car with the rest of my kit. I was all set. Camera set up to go with charged batteries, cereal bars, jacket and iPhone with the directions on.
Getting up at 3am adds to the excitement of any big adventure. Quickly throwing some coffee and breakfast down my throat I headed out. It would take about one and half hours to get to the lay-by. Then I allowed half an hour for any unplanned disaster plus an hour to make the 100 yard climb and another hour to get to my spot and set up ready for sunrise. The sun was set to rise over the ridge leading up to Mam Tor giving an excellent image, especially as there was quite likely to be some cloud below to make a sort of sun through the mist extravaganza!
There is something very satisfying about being really well planned...it is also a bit less fun.
I zipped up the M1 motorway at 56mph (to maximise full efficiency). It was dark. It was raining. Leaving Leicestershire and heading into Nottinghamshire the rain eased off. Filled with new enthusiasm I made my way into Derbyshire.
Chesterfield is a wet place. I do not know what it looks like (it was dark) but all I remember is that the rain started really coming down quickly when I got there. Still, on Mam Tor I would be above the clouds so it would all be OK.
My iPhone led me directly to the base of a hill…it was somewhere near Castleton. I got out and looked about. This was certainly not a lay-by and not Mam Tor….despite all my planning I was lost.
With no signal on my iPhone it was guess time. I headed back to Castleton where EE has one bar coverage. I eventually found my way to 53°20'54.8"N 1°48'47.3”W. By now it was 5am and sunrise would be at 7:21am.
By 6am I was seriously bored and cold
I sat in the car in the lay-by so that nobody else could have it. It was very dark and there was a light drizzle. I was beginning to question the whole trip. Why was I even doing this? Someone with heart and lung disease should be sitting at home with a blanket over their knees. Not sitting in a lay-by preparing to take photos in the dark at 6am.
I wish I had thought of bringing a torch
By 6:05am I decided to head out into the dark. My thinking was that my eyes would adjust to the dark and I would soon be able to see what I was doing. Putting on my jacket and grabbing my camera and tripod I made my way through the wind and rain to the gate leading to Mam.
My eyes did not adjust as quickly as I thought
It started to go wrong when I stepped into what felt like a giant puddle. Instantly my boots filled with water. Quickly moving forward I lurched into another big puddle. Slightly confused (as I thought I was on a path) I grumbled to myself.
After just a few yards the path rose up and then the wind really hit me. I could not see what I was doing, had cold wet feet, was getting wetter all over with the rain and was buffeted by gusts of freezing wind.
Then something moved in front of me….I stood frozen to the spot
Sheep live on Mam Tor. Big, silent sheep that lurk in the shadows and jump out at unsuspecting visitors. I wish I had thought of bringing a torch.
Calming myself down I took stock. As a family we have been reading Pilgrim’s Progress. To me Mam Tor would be a bit like the Hill of Difficulty…All of a sudden I realised how stupid I had been. By now I was finding breathing difficult. My waterproof jacket was turning out to be less than waterproof, and I realised why my trousers had been so cheap. Wet cargos cling to your legs. I tried getting out my iPhone to check the time. My fingers were so cold and wet the touch screen would not respond.
I was still frozen to the spot. This time with indecision. Should I carry on, or just do the sensible thing and turn back?
Remembering Pilgrim I decided to just go a little bit further. One step at a time.
With each step my breathing became more difficult. The wind howled about me and the rain stung my face.
Little by little I made my way to the top of Mam Tor. Not stopping I carried on in the hope that I would get out of the wind. It was at that point that my hood disappeared. Not a big fan of hats and hoods I had only reluctantly put the hood up as my face was so wet and it gave me some respite from the wind. It was a shock when it suddenly disappeared
Putting down my camera and tripod I found my hood still stuck to the jacket by a single popper. I had not known that it was detachable. My fingers were too cold and wet to even think about re popping it back on so I held it in place by putting the other side in my mouth.
Eventually I got to the spot I wanted
There was no sunrise. It just got a bit lighter. There was just cloud and rain and cold and wind. I snapped off a few shots then slowly headed back.
Making my way, hands full of camera and tripod, mouth full of hood, I eventually got to the path leading to the gate. Coming up the path was an elderly chap in shorts out for a stroll.
Humiliated I carried on. With a little more light I could see that ahead of me there were what looked like troughs full of water in the pathway. On my way up to the Tor I had managed to walk through them filling my boots with water.
Getting to the lay-by I realised that I was absolutely soaking. My camera bag was wet both inside and out. All of my clothes and my boots were sopping. I was physically and mentally worn out. I was in a bad state…but I had survived!
With no way to dry myself I jumped in the car. I needed to dry off. I had a brilliant idea…I could head to Sheffield and buy new, dry clothes.
The car heater was set to ‘roast’ but it was not drying me out. My face was hot but everything else was oozing water. I dared not turn the electric seat warmer on in case I was so wet it would give me a shock. I could just imagine the Daily Mail headline.
“Shocking news - seat kills wet driver"
Sheffield must have clothes shops. It must have somewhere warm I could dry off and get change. By the time I got to the outskirts of Sheffield I was desperate for warmth, dryness and the loo.
Somehow I found a garage with a restaurant attached. Getting out of my car I noted that the drivers seat was dripping wet. I squelched into the restaurant. A happy looking attendant greeted me with a smile that quickly changed to a look of horror.
I shuffled towards the gents. He called out that the facilities were “only for paying customers”. I kept on going. He did not argue with a desperate man who looked like he had just crawled out of a river fully clothed.
Dribbling water behind me I made my way to the loo. It is surprisingly difficult to do anything when you are really wet and really cold. I had a bright idea. On the wall were some heated automatic hand blowers. Putting my hand under the sensor gave me a blast of warm air. I bent over trying to get the seat of my trousers dry. Sadly the sensor was a bit too high to detect me. Bent over on tip toes I wafted my hand behind me to keep the sensor going.
Watching the door, in case the attendant came in to see what was going on and saw me bent over in a rather strange position, I kept the dryer going for a good few minutes.
I checked my trousers. It had made little difference. I headed back into the restaurant to get a coffee and work out what I could do.
The restaurant was quite posh. It had nice seats with cloth tops. I sat at a table in the window. As I sat looking at the menu I could feel the water being sucked up by the seat. I ordered a coffee and cooked breakfast and sat very still.
Once I had finished my food the attendant fussed over me. Ordinarily it would be time to go but if I stood up he would see the drenched seat. It was very wet. I was still very wet too.
Eventually he went to the till and I made a break for it. I paid and quickly squelched out.
A change of mind
The sun was now out so a walk in the forest might dry me off. It would save me buying more clothes. Getting back into the car and looking forward to another roasting from the over enthusiastic heater I headed off to Padley Gorge.
Padley Gorge is a deep and narrow valley in the Peak District between the village of Grindleford and the A6187. The gorge is wooded with a stream, the Burbage Brook, at the bottom. You can park at nearby Grindleford Station which also has a cafe.
I parked up and made my way into the forest. To get to the forest there is a short path that leads past some lovely looking houses. I was very tired by now. The path was uphill. I decided that I would stop every few yards and have a rest. By now there were people walking about, they were all looking very fit and healthy. I just looked haggard and wet.
To make stopping for a rest look like something any normal person might do I pretended to be very interested in the houses. At the gate of each one I stopped and admired them. This soon attracted attention from the residents who came out to see what I was doing. No doubt thinking I was a burglar casing my next heist.
Eventually I got to the tree line. Some happy looking students from a nearby College were doing some filming. When they saw me they quickly disappeared into the forest. Did I look that rough?
After only a few minutes I realised I was too tired and wet to continue. Snapping off a few shots I made my way back past the angry looking residents watching behind locked doors and headed to the station for a cup of tea at the cafe.
Get Your Own Fine Art Print
You can enjoy your own Fine Art Print of 'Sunrise Over Mam Tor' printed and posted directly to your door. Your print will have no watermark and can be purchased from the image below.