Sorry folks...bit of a long one, bare with me!
The next morning. The patches of blue between grey scudding clouds were already getting smaller. The forecast: not great, no, in fact, it was terrible! Grey skies are perfect for waterfalls, bright sun makes controlling the exposure difficult as it shines on the white water, but heavy showers were expected, annoyingly, clearing by late evening!
The plan had been to drive to the picturesque village of Malham, then walk through the sites. First the trail to Janet’s Foss waterfall, then to Gordale Scar. I am not fit, (or crazy), enough to attempt the climb up the side of the Gordale Scar waterfall, and the path through the valley towards Malham Cove is very attractive and offers great photo opportunities of the limestone cliffs. The plan then was to walk back from the Scar, through the valley and then to walk to the top of the Cove onto the natural limestone paving. Although I would not be on top of the Cove for a stunning sunrise or sunset, the views are beautiful any time of day. From the Cove, I would walk straight down to Malham Tarn; a ‘tarn’ being a a lake, usually in the hills, formed by rain water. After the previous day, and indeed the previous two weeks, there was no risk of low water levels in the tarn or the falls!
Driving towards Malham the traces of blue sky had gone, but even before this the hope of getting all the photo opportunities had been torn up. Heavy showers are one thing, strong cold wind another, but additionally, as with the day before, the low cloud would block out any scenic views, making hiking for photographs pointless. Remember, this was August – summertime! Bad luck!
We parked up opposite the start of the trail to Janet’s Foss. It was already raining. But, just as yesterday, the hike had to be done, now!
I wear a mesh fisherman’s vest when I am out on photo walks. Not an old, once white, string vest that a fisherman once wore. But a mesh type jacket full of pockets. It’s perfect for carrying, and easily accessing, batteries, cloths, rain covers, and even lenses that fit inside spacious inner pockets. VThis vest is over the shirt and jumper, and on top of the vest a waterproof coat, similar to a cagoule – essentially a large piece of blue plastic, shaped(-ish) into a coat, with elastic hood, sleeves and waist to try and keep out the rain. It’s blue. Not very fashionable, but fashion wasn’t the purpose. Under the cajoule the filter pouch, tripod and camera were slung around my neck. All in an attempt to keep things dry. It just about succeeded!
The hike had been shortened due to the weather, just to Janet’s Foss and the Scar. I gave my folks an expectation of return time and off I went. Is it brightening up? ‘Brightening up!’ This is a phrase uttered by the British on many holidays and/or days out spoilt by the rain. No one, except the British in these circumstances, could define any change of brightness. Truth is...there usually is none. The phrase is close kin to the rain focused ‘it seems to be easing off!’ It got heavier as I walked, and the wind stronger! What was I doing?
Here for perhaps one time only, it had to be done. Extra incentive: my mother really wanted a shot of the Foss having always heard about it, but never seen it. I came across a new obstacle. Cows!
A swing gate beneath the trees and a herd huddled timidly together for warmth under what little rain cover was available. Three of them squarely positioned in the gateway. Had the weather not being so appalling I would’ve taken a photograph. Beautiful docile faces looking at me, probably wondering why this lunatic in blue was approaching.
I ushered them back. Politely. ‘Come on ladies, back up a little!’ My wife wasn’t on this trip, perhaps just as well as I could never have got her to walk past these, she’s as timid as these ladies. They backed up slowly, watching me as they moved just enough for me to edge the gate open and pass through. I walked by and they closed back in again. This path is signposted for the famous and popular walk of the Pennine Way, but at 10 that morning, there was only me...and the cows. At least it should guarantee that I can photograph the falls without other bright blue (or yellow) cagoule forms filling the frame.
The trail to the Foss is beautiful. Or would’ve been. I couldn’t see most of the grand views of the Pennines and Malham Cove. It was all hidden in low cloud. The walks over the top were clearly not worth doing. Janet, of Janet’s Foss fame, was a Faerie Queen, so it is said, who lived/lives in a cave nearby. The word ‘foss’ is Nordic for falls.
The trail entered a small woodland, this was gorgeous. The stream that the trial from the village follows was wider, twisting and turning through the dark crowding trees and moss covered rocks. Everything was damp and dripping which gave the place a surreal atmosphere. After many twists and turns there it was, Janet’s Foss. The small beck wasn’t so small today, raging over the edge, the plunge pool near bursting. I had never seen a picture of the falls like this. It had stopped raining, or so I thought, but here before the waterfall, large drops of cold rain fell regularly from the leaves above. I had to set up the tripod, arrange filters, all without getting anything too wet.
The rain cover had been placed over my camera before I started the walk as extra protection against the elements, (see my recent blog entry on this wonderful invention(!)). It worked, to a degree, but a number of shots were ruined, or had to have the drops cleared when post processing.
I levelled the tripod, framed up a shot, self-timer and click. As usual aperture priority to capture a basic shot before I started to play with shutter speeds. The Little Stopper was employed to slow the shutter speed right down. A lovely silky image appeared on the rear screen, but with water splodges everywhere. The rain cover was on, extended over the filters. How? Then I realised, it was me. The cagoule was dripping water as I learned over to line up the shot.
Have you ever tried to dry a wet filter when water is falling from you, leaves and splashing from fall? Not easy. Eventually I got it dry enough to attempt another shot.
Janet's Foss (f/8, 30secs, 18mm, ISO400)
Shots merged to blur water, but not the trees!
My time for returning had already expired and I hadn’t even got to the Scar yet. It was slow going fighting with the elements. I tried the mobile, no signal. I tried the walkie-talkie back up, no connection. Great! I am sure they wouldn’t have worried about an hour or so, they’re pragmatic folk, but I am the sort that worries that others might worry. What could I do? Get a move on!
I left the Foss climbing up the steps that were part of its natural wall out towards Gordale Scar. Fortunately the walk from the Foss to the Scar isn’t far and it had stopped raining, though more was clearly on the way. The cut running in between two hills looking impressive, perhaps more so thanks to the ominous cloud. I walked up the lane towards the campsite, a signal on the walkie-talkie and I manage to get a message through that all was ok and that I was going on, but reception was poor. It didn’t alleviate my concerns over time but a photo had to be taken of this dramatic scenery. There was no colour so this would really suit a moody mono. I didn’t frame up with the tripod but took my time to handhold a decent composition.
Towards Gordale Scar (f/8, 1/500, 18mm, ISO400)
Time was ticking. I put my tripod back over my shoulder. Crash! If someone had been behind me, I would’ve caused them serious injury!
I looked around, what was that sound? There was my tripod, on the floor, 5 feet behind me. I had swung it over my shoulder thinking my arm was through the strap, it wasn’t. Good hardy kit though, no damage done, thanks also to the soft turf.
Get on! Now jogging (!) Yes, jogging!
In full camera gear and with water bouncing off my cagoule, I was running through the campsite on the flat path approaching the scar. It must have been a lovely site for the damp campers to see this blue flash in full camera gear running along the path. Ok, so maybe not a flash, I’m not that fast, more of a flounder...
The rain seemed to be spitting again, but it was the high sided narrow gorge of Gordale Scar with the wind whipping around like a whirlwind. The stream at the bottom of the Scar was an intriguing coffee colour, the silky water, the cream; a lovely contrast. I framed up. The wind was even shaking the camera with the tripod on its shortest height. I crouched around it, burning my problematic knees with pain, I was almost on all fours as I fought to keep the wind from affecting the images (again without the filters to compose and then with the Little Stopper to turn the cream water to silk).
Coffee with Cream, lower falls at Gordale Scar, (f/8, 20sec, 24mm, ISO400)
I worked as fast as I could. Time! Got to get back! I was late already and had the return journey to traverse. Each shot was taken several times with and without filters and flipping from landscape to portrait to cover as much as I could and not regret missing a shot as I had done on the Elidir Trail (read that MUPPET MOMENT here). Ok, time to go!
Whaaaatttt? Oh my %&/U^+%, I didn’t know that was there!
Despite my research I had never known there was a top section to the Gordale falls. It looked impressive too, full and swollen as it came out of the high rocks above. Wet rocks were all around, I couldn’t frame it well from ground level. How would I climb to get a decent shot and without time to do it?
No I couldn’t. Some people do climb up the side of the lower section, and yes it is possible. But wet rocks, full camera gear? No! I later read that shortly after my visit a climber had broke her leg falling down the bottom section of this very waterfall! I am not a climber, I’m a faller, so I think I made the right decision.
There was a small patch of blue sky up there too. To capture both parts of the fall, the sky detail, and the dark wet rocks, I bracketed for three shots to merge later. Again I sheltered my tripod as well as I could from the wind and the rain being blown from the Scar walls.
The Falls at Gordale Scar and the brief patch of blue
(f/11, 30sec, 50mm, ISO400)
Over an hour late back. Get moving!
Off I went, regretting with every step that I hadn’t arranged a longer time period for the hike. The walkie-talkie sounded. Poor reception again. I got the message through, I think. Move!
The trek continued back towards the Foss. The rain still holding off so I carried the camera and was able to take a few clicks on the trail back: sheep standing on rocky outcrops, or being nosey through a gate.
Back at the Foss, people! Ah well, had to be expected. I lined up another couple of shots on the tripod from a slightly different angle, only later in Lightroom did I notice the alien rock on the right. Coincidence that such a thing would be in this place of the faerie folk? Odd!
The Alien at Janet's Foss (f/11, 25sec, 18mm, ISO800)
Again, shots merged to blur water, but not the trees!
Photographers and hikers had now come out of their hides, lots more people were coming up the path through the wood. The sun too came out briefly and that faerie woodland with the moss covered rocks and dripping high trees was certainly a magical place. The air was so fresh and pure. Gorgeous!
On and out of the woodland and back along the path, walking as quickly as I could. There were more patches of blue but all on the wrong side. Malham Cove was still dressed in low grey cloud. The blue appearing way off to the left, the weather was coming from over the Cove on the right. Any shots I took now would have a wide tonal range, but as the rain had stopped, I decided to handhold a few shots for memory’s sake, each bracketed and taken to remind me of that wonderful natural landscape.
A coach load of sikh ladies approached with their guide, each one wearing a colourful sari, decorated at the hem with Yorkshire mud. They looked cheerful enough as we exchanged ‘good morning’. A sign that now the day trippers were descending on the area. More people not to have luck with the weather.
I made it back to Malham Village and there in front of me was a very welcome site. Near the start/end of the trail was The Old Barn Cafe ("Muddy Boots welcome"...just as well!). They make packed lunches for hikers or serve hot and cold food to eat on the premises. The fried breakfasts looked wonderful, but I had already had one that day. The sandwiches and cuppas though were perfect.
If I could do it again, I would definitely give myself at least four hours just for the two falls.
TIP: always overestimate the duration of a photo trip when arranging to meet afterwards. You’ll only end up regretting not getting a shot. My biggest regret of the day was that both falls were not covered as well as I should’ve and of course, perhaps I will not see them again. Why, time!
We live and learn! It’s a stunning area, and should be enjoyed as slowly as possible, in any weather!
On the Pennine Way (3 shots bracketed, f/5.6, 20mm, ISO100)
Part 5 online shortly. Malham back to Haworth and the end of the 2017 Yorkshire trip.
Please share any comments / images / ideas about similar experiences.
The Frustrated Photog.