A Winters day – Dow Crag to Coniston Old Man

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UK weather can be so varied and unpredictable. I thought that this Winter was going to be a case of very cold temperatures and lots of snow. A time where the UK would come to a stand still. It usually does after a couple of centimetres of the white stuff to be honest. I wanted deep layers of snow dumped on the Mountain tops and snow drifts creating patterns for me to point my camera at. Here we are however in late January and I’m still waiting.

When or if it does come then no doubt it will be mid week and by the weekend, when i’m ready with my camera, a warm front would have arrived and melted away any hopes of bagging a good iconic shot of snow capped mountains. If I was to get a taste of any snow this Winter, then I had to get up high. This is a short story of my adventure up to Dow Crag and Old Man of Coniston. I was pleased I got my shot.

In my opinion, Winter is the best season for landscape photography with the weather conditions it can bring and the manageable sunrise times. I arrived with around an hour before the sun was due to appear after a 2 and a half hour drive from Yorkshire. This gave me plenty of time to head to high ground. As the sun started to lift its weary head above the horizon, I had found a place to park myself.

It had always been in my mind to not panic and go into melt down, running around frantically to find some elusive foreground to balance a potential epic sunrise sky. My portfolio does not include many images with colourful skies. I find that they distract your eye away from any other elements in the frame and therefore your eye pays more attention to the clouds which are often unbalanced in shape.

Being a vlogger, in addition to my photography, I carry equipment for shooting video and this is where I make the most of the sunrise colours. I love creating time lapses of the movement and changing hues of the clouds as they transform into different shapes, rolling across the landscape. Be sure to watch the intro of the video which accompanies this blog. Back to the photography. This is a shot of the meandering Walna Scar Road that leads up to the turn off for Buck Pike. Although the summit of Old Man of Coniston was covered in cloud, I like how the first light hits the Southern slopes and left hand side of the frame;

Walna Scar Road and Old Man of Coniston

I moved on further up the path and started to notice the light in the valley looking South towards Coniston. It was beautiful and I wish now that I had focused more on the background magic when composing. The image below is an example of trying too hard to find a foreground. It doesn’t work for me;

Looking South from Walna Scar Road

I had started the climb up to Buck Pike and this is where the Westerly winds introduced themselves They were bitterly cold and unrelenting. The snow and ice however was getting more abundant and finally I had found myself hiking in typical Winter conditions. Dow Crag had appeared on the horizon and to my right, a sheer drop towards Blind Tarn screes. This is pure excitement for me and where the adrenaline starts to rush. I am not exactly fearless of heights but the thrill is what keeps me coming back.

The shapes of the surrounding rocks had become more prominent, erect and protruding more towards the sky. These rocks however were near the edge of the drop and the wind and ice was preventing my inquisitive mind to venture too close. As Dow Crag summit approached I found myself looking for a shot that would work. I spent what seemed like an eternity. The clouds and light were creating some wonderful sights towards the South and I wanted to find the right foreground. I was rewarded with my favourite shot of the day. It had a good strong leading line, snow drift and an interesting background that created some mystery. This one I liked;

Looking South from Dow Crag

Dow Crag summit was testing with its irregular rocks, covered in ice and battered still by the Westerly wind. I headed down towards Goat’s Hawse. At this point I was hoping for some views of Goats Water but the clouds shrouded all visibility. Brim Fell was my next destination before my final fell, Old Man of Coniston. Whilst climbing North East up some unpathed grassland, I found a very interesting collection of sharp, angled rocks, screaming for attention.

I was aware that I had only a couple of hours of light available but still I had to capture the image using the foreground to lead the eye on to Seathwaite Tarn and Harter Fell. My legs were getting tired and I was unsure of how long it would take me to reach my final destination;

Seathwaite Tarn and Harter Fell

I made Brim Fell and Old Man of Coniston in time. A wonderful ridge walk that included views of Low Water and the Eastern Fells beyond. I was still conscious of the time and no knowledge of the descent and terrain. I was equipt with a head torch but still feel more comfortable during day light. I was entering unknown territory. Coniston Old Man is a very popular fell and rightly so. The views and photographic opportunities are in abundance. Once I complete the Wainwrights I will revisit my favourite fells and walks. Swirl How, Dow Crag and Coniston will firmly be on that list.

The descent was challenging with ice on the slippery steps. I was frustrated to watch people of obvious less experience trying to manage the challenge wearing recreational trainers and hooded tops. Thankfully, everyone made it to the bottom. It had proved to be a day of changing conditions, thrilling ridge walks and some good photography. Watch the video below;

4 thoughts on “A Winters day – Dow Crag to Coniston Old Man

  1. As ever Young James I am in awe of your determination and endurance. You are an inspiration to me every time you go out and this latest vlog and blog are no exception. Loved your image “Looking south from Dow Crag” especially. I agree with the winter is the best season sentiment quickly followed by autumn. You have inspired me to book a three night break in the lakes in November this year to try a fell or two and make some images, and I too like to turn up and make something out of what I get, so looking forward very much to the trip.
    Thank you for all the time and effort you invest, it’s appreciated.
    Best wishes,
    Derrick

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    1. Thank you very much Derrick. One of my main goals when producing these vlogs and blogs is to inspire others so very pleased to read your comment.
      November is definitely a special time in the Lakes and should have plenty of colour. I can recommend locations if you so wish or would be interested in hearing what fells you have in mind.

      Many thanks again

      Regards
      James

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  2. Hi James, thank you for your interest in my November trip to the Lakes. I am hoping to stay at the NT campsite (in one of their pods – too old for canvas!) at Ambleside, I think it is “Great Langdale campsite”. I am 63, walk a flat 3 miles a day to and from work and have never done any hill walking, if you can recommend a reasonable hill walk on well defined paths then I am happy to take on your suggestions especially if the photo potential is good.

    Looking forward to your next vlog,

    Best wishes to you and yours,

    Derrick

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    1. Hi Derrick. I know the campsite well as I’ve walked past it a few times. There are no well pathed/easy fells in the Langdale Valley but I highly recommend walking the Cumbrian Way through Mickleden. There are fells all around through the valley including Pike o Stickle and Pike of Blisco. Have fun

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