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Sunrise from Dove Crag

Sunrise from Dove Crag, Lake District

Sunrise over High Street, viewed from the Priest's Hole Cave, Dove Crag.
(click on the image for an enlarged view)
Photo ref. MG_9230-208657


Technical Details: -

Canon EOS 5D MkII
Voigtländer 20mm f/3.5 Color Skopar
1/5 sec @ f/22.0, ISO100

My usual routine involves checking out a location, maybe on the return journey from a previous shoot, or on a day where the weather isn't up to much, then arranging to be at the right place at the right time to get the light I want.  Simple.  This shot though, was pretty much unplanned, or at least, it wasn't the shot I had in mind while walking up the mountain path.

The main reason for the trek up to this part of the Lake District was to discover a cave known as the Priest's Hole, in the face of Dove Crag, & hopefully spend the night there.  All being well, I'd have protection from the weather & plenty of space to myself, without having to lug the tent up an ascent of nearly 600m from the car.  It would also allow me set up my camera on a tripod in the cave over night to capture star trails, with less risk of the lens misting up halfway through the exposure or camera vibration caused by the wind making the trails go all wiggly.

I set off from the car park near Brothers Water at around 5:45pm, giving myself about 3 hours to reach the cave before the light started to fade including a little extra time to take snaps on the way up.  At about the halfway point, I noticed another walker on a parallel path walking in the same direction.  There can only be one reason he'd be walking this way at this time in the evening.  He quickly caught up & we stopped to chat.  As I thought, he was heading for the same cave with a view to stopping over for the night.  We carried on up the hill chatting as we went & he introduced himself as Edd.  He'd travelled from Bedfordshire & was stopping at a campsite in Patterdale.  At this point I was wondering if there would be anyone else up there, as it was a warm, calm evening between the Easter & the Royal wedding/May Day bank holiday weekends.

We approached the cave, which can be seen from the path & stopped for breath & a quick drink.  We looked up at our destination, hoping to see the route across from the main path, at which point we spotted someone sitting just outside the cave, waving at us.  My first thoughts were that it was clearly someone else planning to stop the night, but were they waving because they thought we might be friends of theirs, who'd agreed to meet them?  Just how big is this cave?  A short walk later, having figured out the route, we arrived at the cave & met Wayne & his partner Bev, sitting outside taking in the view.  Bev had travelled from Essex, picking up Wayne in Norfolk on the way, which made my mere 200 mile journey from Leamington Spa seem quite local by comparison.


Preist's Hole
Priest's Hole cave looking out from the back wall.

The cave is about 5 metres deep by about 10 metres wide, but due to the rocky floor, there's really only room for 3 to sleep without getting personal.  Wayne & Bev, being first there had already decided where they would sleep & Edd quickly grabbed the remaining space.  He did actually reach the cave before me so it was only fair.  In fact, if I hadn't slowed his pace up the hill, he'd have been there long before me.  As the weather was forecast to be calm & clear, I was happy to sleep on the ledge just outside the cave.  Luckily I don't move around so much in my sleeping bag, so there wasn't too much risk of rolling off the mountain.

It turned out to be an interesting evening, chatting away while eating our evening meals.  Wayne produced a small bottle of whiskey, which he happily shared with everyone, which was nice (I've never drunk whiskey from a cereal bowl before, but I had no cup...needs must).  I even managed to get a couple of photos from inside the cave, although not star trails as I'd hoped.  There was too much light pollution from what appeared to be Penrith in the distance.

Once the whiskey bottle had run dry we retired to our sleeping bags.  Lying on that ledge looking straight up, I could see an incredible number of stars.  It didn't take long to fall asleep though, thanks to the complete lack of even the slightest breeze (and some alcohol).

Preist's Hole
Edd checking messages on his mobile outside the cave.  This was a 30 second exposure, the light on the rock above is from candles & my red head torch (red so as not to blind everyone).  You can see the light pollution from Penrith in the distance, behind Edd's head.

I awoke at 5:30am.  Just in time to get my boots on & set up my camera on the tripod to catch the 5:40am sunrise.  There was a slight mist in the distance & the sky was changing from blue to purple & orange as the sun neared the horizon.  I fitted my Voigtländer 20mm lens & set the aperture to it's smallest setting of f/22, in order to prevent flare from the sun & to produce the star pattern visible in the shot.  Shutter speed was bracketed between 1/2 second & 1/8th second to find the best compromise between the dark foreground & the relatively bright sun & sky.  This would also give me the opportunity to merge the different exposures using HDR software if necessary, but as it happened, I didn't feel the need, settling on the 1/5th second shot.

After 5 minutes, I'd got all the sunrise shots I wanted & it was getting too bright to keep much colour in the sky, so it was time for breakfast.  By 7:30am we'd all packed up & Edd, Wayne & Bev all started their walks back down the mountain, while I took a few snaps of the cave before heading back.  I have a couple of shots I still want to take, which means returning & hopefully getting the cave to myself, but overall it was one of the best nights out on the hills for a long time, topped only by Helvellyn in early March 2010 in perfect winter conditions.

Preist's Hole
Edd & Wayne packing up in the morning (Bev's sitting behind the wall).