I’ve just come back from a lovely couple of weeks in Dorset and Cornwall. I say just come back, I mean a couple of weeks back now but I’m just getting around to the blog! Blessed with some good conditions for photography, both in the day and at night, I thought I would share some of the photographs from the trip with you and a short blog about the trip.
Every August, me and my girlfriend Sarah always go away as it’s her birthday It usually ends up being on the bank holiday weekend or just either side, which in turn makes it both busy and expensive. This year though, the trip almost didn’t happen. Some of you who know me a little better, know I love going away in our campervan. A campervan helps put you within moments reach of the best spots so you’re well prepared and at the same time saves money on hotels, all while being a great experience. If I’m not in a tent up a mountain, you’ll find me in the campervan instead. However, at the start of August someone ran into the side of me pulling out of a junction, in the process writing off the campervan. This put the end to a years of hard work literally just getting it to how we wanted. It was devastating for us and it put the whole holiday in jeopardy. Fortunately, we managed to secure a hire VW California for our trip away and despite everything, we decided we would try to make the most of it. It also explains why I’ve not been doing much serious photography that requires a walk as carrying the kit has become painful. I’m hoping to return to full strength soon though and I’m getting better with each outing.
On our way down, we realised our sat nav was taking us close to Stonehenge and as neither of us had ever been, we would take a slight detour to see it, if not anything else. We drove past it and found where you could see it from close up, without the entry fee (the centre was closed anyway). The sky looked excellent with big textures in the clouds and it looked very clear towards the horizon. Checking Sat24, it was clear Dorset had clear skies and after a bit of debating we decided to get some shots and carry on with our journey. It didn’t look like the sunset actually happened in the end while we were driving, so all was as well, but here is a shot I took at Stonehege anyway.
Arriving in Dorset, it was clear skies as expected and we made our way to Durdle Door. Despite being tired after the travelling we had high hopes of capturing the Milky Way and the night sky. Having been the previous year and being cursed with clouds and rain at night, we wanted to make the most of it. Who knows, this could be our only chance!
We had already taken a look at Stellarium and noted that the Milky Way would be in a good position around 22:00 – 22:30. After that a nearly full moon would come out, bleaching out the stars leaving little chance to get any shots. It was a narrow window, especially as any earlier and twilight was still around to also bleach out the stars.
Fortunately, everything played ball and stood in my t-shirt at night on a beach under the stars looking at the Milky Way felt more like being abroad than in England. It was super hard to focus the shot with it being pitch black with no easy reference, so it was a case of shooting, hoping, refocusing if needed and trying again. Fortunately, I got it right and managed to capture a few meteors in the process.
After this, the moon started to come up and the Milky Way moved out of position, topped off with passing clouds. It looked like it would be over for the night so we headed up to the viewpoint looking over Durdle Door. We took a few frames but the cloud mirroring the beach really caught my eye with the Milky Way just poking out above Durdle Door and in the end it actually made quite a nice image. You can clearly see the light pollution of Weymouth and Portland in the distance.
A note to anyone with a campervan, Dorset really isn’t friendly with them with most lay-bys saying no overnight sleeping as well as most car parks saying the same even if free. Lay-bys do also seem to be on a shortage. We spent quite a while having to find somewhere to lay our heads for the night, not the best when shattered.
The next day would see us returning to Durdle Door once again for sunset. It had been a lovely day and I wanted to bag a photograph from here at sunset having not managed to do so last year. It looked like it wasn’t really going to happen, but once the sun had gone behind the cliffs, the sky took on an amazing colour creating an awesome glow. It would have been great to have been around the Portland area on that night.
We decided the next morning that we would try Corfe Castle for a sunrise. With a clear sky we were in the hope of some mist. The previous morning had been misty, but after being so tired we couldn’t make it. When I say Dorset is pitch black, I mean it. I text a mate who had previously been to Corfe Castle asking for some help with directions on where to shoot from and even upon arriving, it wasn’t obvious. I could just about see the outline of the castle but was struggling to see the viewpoint for all the trees surrounding the roads. The next morning, I woke up extra early and with blurred eyes, I managed to just about make out our route. I wasn’t early enough mind as I could already see photographer’s making the ascent of West Hill. Fortunately, this was good confirmation I was to being heading the right way. It was pretty apparent at this point that there was no mist about which was a great shame but I could see in the distance the clouds had a gap below them with a slight hint of under lighting and decided the walk would be worth it.
It turned out to be an easy walk and there was a great display of skyfire. It wasn’t everything I had hoped it would be, but I was still pretty happy with the result.
We went back to Weymouth for the day and spent it there. The forecast had said cloudy and rainy in the afternoon and they weren’t wrong. We were doing our shopping and after leaving I had pointed out the clouds looked like they might break with glimpses of soft light. It wasn’t forecast but sometimes you can just tell these conditions. That night we were booked on a campsite to allow us to have a proper shower and stuff. We had stayed here the year before in a tent and as I mentioned before, we had atrocious weather which flooded the tent and forced us to leave early, only inspiring us to go and buy a campervan. The site was at Osmington Mills and not far from the beach. We knew when we got there it would be a call between an early night or putting tea and shower off and shooting the sunset first. My girlfriend persuaded me to go for the latter and off we plodded down to the beach, not knowing how good photographically it would be.
We actually struggled to find the proper footpath to the beach, with the signs probably having been turned by someone, so we ended up going down the closest thing we could find, a steep slippery slope. With a rainbow having already appeared on our walk down, we were rushing and it was evident we were out of time. We missed the best of the glorious light but I quickly managed to fire this shot off looking into the sun. I would usually be pretty happy with conditions like this, a sky full of clouds with the sun just poking out but this time, I couldn’t help but feel annoyed. Off we went back for our late tea and shower to feel a little more human.
The next day was my Sarah’s birthday, so we decided on a rest day. I admit, I always find rest day’s hard when I see a good sky but I just about managed it and no photography was done. Instead we went and had a lovely meal at the Stables (awesome pizza!) and then went to the cinema. The next day after a great bike ride around Corfe Castle and the surrounding areas we would be visiting Portland for our first time and we wanted to check out Portland Bill and Pulpit Rock for the Milky Way.
On arriving, it was quite a clear sky so we decided to have our tea through the sunset and concentrate on shooting the Milky Way. If Pulpit Rock wasn’t facing south, it would have actually been pretty epic as it was a lovely sky with a nice afterglow, however a clear sky to the south was exactly what we needed as that was where the core was at its best. A little tip for those who want to get into astrophotography, even if it’s a full moon, check what time it rises as day on day it’s around a hour later, meaning the further through the week you get, the longer you have a dark sky for.
So tonight we had a little more time under dark skies and again checking Stellarium I worked out roughly when the core of the Milky Way would be above Pulpit Rock. Sarah stayed up at the lighthouse initially and I set up in twilight down at Pulpit Rock. This allowed me to focus and get the composition I wanted and then sit it out and wait for it to get dark enough. I had initially composed a portrait shot and when leaving I thought that would be the shot of the night, but upon processing I much preferred the landscape shot. I actually had to wait for the core to get slightly to the right of Pulpit Rock because anything before this and the sky was too light and washed out. As time went on, the core slowly dipped below the horizon so again it was another short gap to get the required shot.
The next day would be our last sunset in Dorset. I persuaded Sarah to stop down for sunset as I felt I hadn’t quite got enough out of Durdle Door and wanted to capture a view she had spotted the year before, so I have to give her full credit for the composition. We got down to the viewpoint and a sea fog kept rolling over, occasionally allowing the sun to break through which was great. In the end, I settled for the conditions when the sun was low enough to create some lovely subtle lighting across Man O’ War bay and Durdle Door while a little fog was still visible. The panoramic turned out really well and it really makes me want to print it up large for my wall.
The next day we headed down to Cornwall. This was to be my first visit to Cornwall since I was a kid and I was a total novice to the area. I had seen a few photos I had liked before so had some ideas in my head but I felt quite lost, which when you are trying to have a holiday as well as doing photography isn’t the best. Lands End seemed an obvious choice for our first sunset but on the way down it was really cloudy and rained quite a lot. It wasn’t forecast to be anything good, but a clear night looked possible after 11 so with that we diverted ourselves to St Michael’s Mount near Marazion. As typical as it always is, we could see breaks in the clouds and looking at the webcams Lands End would have been perfect. Sometimes, you just can’t predict these things despite best efforts. That said, the sky did indeed clear up and we went out to shoot the Milky Way.
We had to be careful here, as the tide was coming in, quickly cutting off the causeway. When taking 30 second exposures, you quickly lose track of time and we were always conscious of getting cut off. What amazed us were the people still walking across to the mount, despite the causeway clearly becoming submerged. Because of this, we probably didn’t spend as much time as we would have liked composing etc. Again, trying not to sound like a broken record, I had used Stellairum to see the core of the Milky Way would be above the mount around 23:00. At this time, the lights of the mount would still be on which caused me quite a few headaches. Shooting a 30 second exposure helps bring the detail of the Milky Way out but would completely blow out the highlights of the lights of the mount. So I took two shots, one for the stars and one for the mount. In the end, I quite liked the light beams coming out of the castle with the Milky Way visible beyond. Sarah helped me merge the two photos as it was quite difficult to make it look realistic and we both agree it’s still not quite there but I thought it was worth a showing anyway as you don’t see many photos like this. Turns out, it went down quite well on the social media channels!
The next morning, we did sunrise along the causeway looking towards St Michael’s Mount. A classic shot if you must. The tide was still quite high but now drawing out. It was a clear sky behind the mount but fairly cloudy where the sun was going to come up. It was one of those frustrating sunrises because had you been somewhere else, it could have been epic looking into the dramatic clouds. After waiting around for almost a hour, getting towards the end of golden hour I managed to grab a shot with a little bit of light as well as a tiny cloud helping frame the shot As you can see by this point, the tide was almost fully out and I had moved to nearly the end of the causeway. Also by this point, all the other photographer’s had given up, so while initially it was busy, I was left on my own to grab this shot and I’m glad I stuck around in the end.
My next shot proved to the be most elusive of the holiday. As I mentioned before, we would have caught a great sunset at Lands End on our first evening in Cornwall, instead we were found to visit Lands End three times before getting a shot I wanted. It seems to have its own weather system there, probably because it’s the first thing off the Atlantic. Anyway, we kept returning to this classic view looking over the eroded cliff formations and sea stacks. We had been at St Ives during the day and the clouds had looked awesome, but in the evening they quickly turned to a thick haze and we thought we were going to go home empty handed once again. Fortunately though, just as the sun got the horizon, it managed to break through casting some nice light across the scene and lighting the sky up a little:
Overall, a fantastic couple of weeks away and it was nice to slow the pace down from mountain photography and mountain holiday’s, though I’m more than keen to get back. For now, our search for a new campervan continues.
If you’d like to see and read more about mine and Sarah’s adventures while we’re out and about with none-too-serious photographs of what we’re up to, then follow our Adventures of Sarah & James here.
Finally, I have put my favourite shots of this trip in my Everywhere Else gallery if you would like to purchase any for print. If there’s a particular one you like and can’t see, then send me an email with the contact form.