Having spent my time over the past couple of years exploring the rest of Europe I started to realise that I had not really seen much of what my country of origin (the UK) has to offer. I have seen quite a few Scottish highlights but things that lie south of the border were more of a mystery to me. As spring started to think of giving way to summer I headed for the beautiful Lake District in the north west of England. I took advantage of the convenient direct flight with Finnair from Helsinki to Edinburgh and made the 3 and a half hour drive south to the Lake District, starting my trip by exploring the sights around Ullswater.
Before my visit began I imagined that I would be spending a good deal of time shooting lake reflections and waterfalls, but in practice both of these things were slightly limited by the prevailing weather conditions. My visit coincided with a period of quite heavy wind causing choppy water surfaces which spoiled almost all hopes of shooting reflections on any large body of water. The weeks preceeding my trip were also unusually dry, reducing many of the beautiful waterfalls to an unimpressive trickle. This was to be one of those trips where the weather was not on my side.
One slight hardship when travelling in late May is that sunrise starts to be at a very inhospitable hour. With the sun due to rise at about 0430 I tried to be in place at my sunrise destinations by about 0345 each day... on this trip I seldom got any reward for this, but it is a good habit to get into. I have never found weather forecasts to be a great predictor of whether the weather will look interesting or not so unless it is 100% horrendous I usually try to be in position in case something good might happen.
This first morning was one of the best ones of the whole trip and the sky was filled with a multitude of small clouds in the hours following sunrise. There was some wind but not so much that all reflections were completely ruined, allowing for at least a partial mirror effect in longer exposure photography.
The outcome of the sunrise photography session has a noticeable impact on the feeling of the day. With a decent image in the bank you can feel like anything else that you can take from the day puts you into profit, while a difficult morning can put extra pressure on the rest of the day. I have tried to persuade myself to just accept whatever I get and carry on but that does not always come easily. On my way back to the Great Wood car park I became interested in the flowers on the forest floor and stopped to capture another image before heading back for a well deserved breakfast.
One feature which will rapidly become apparent to Lake District visitors is the network of very narrow roads with tall leafy hedges at either side. When this is combined with large numbers of visitors you very quickly get to the situation where nobody is able to go anywhere in any sort of hurry. A morning drive to beautiful Tarn Hows was a prime example of this, crawling along the roads on a journey which seemed to take for ever.
A tarn (not a word I had encountered before) is a mountain lake which forms in a hollow left behind by a retreating glacier and there are a few tarns dotted around the Lake District. Tarn Hows is a particularly beautiful example, surrounded by small hills and offering wider views towards the Helvellyn range and the Langdale Pikes. The Tarn has a level and accessable path which follows the lake shore in a 2.5km circuit, making for a very pleasant walk.
One of the thing that I was struck by during my first days in the Lake District was the beautiful old trees which were in full leaf all over the area. Trying to photograph these is always an attractive idea but it can be rather hard to find good compositions, especially if there are other trees in the vicinity.
Exploring a sequence of rapids near to the tarn revealed the extend of the drought... but "luckily" there would be a horrendous amount of rainfall in the coming days to restore some normality. Unfortunately while I was able to witness this cure being administered I was no longer around to see the results.
Despite some slight disappointment with the weather and the light I very much enjoyed visiting Tarn Hows and I hope I can return one day, it seems like it would be at it's absolute best with autumn colours so maybe I will try and make my second Lake District trip at that time of year.
After my morning at Tarn Hows I headed for the town of Coniston where I had a quick lunch before embarking on a climb towards Levers Water, a high mountain lake above the village. The guide book i had with me said that it was a fairly easy round trip of about an hour to get to and from the lake... which turned out to be highly optimistic. After climbing steadily for nearly an hour on a pretty warm afternoon I reached a sign telling that it was only another mile, a mile which coincided with the path becoming significantly steeper. Eventually, I made it to the lake... where I took precisely zero pictures as the wind made the surface of the lake completely useless for reflections and I did not see any other interesting compositions. It is always the case on any trip that some locations just don't offer what you hoped for in the conditions of the day.
The walk down again, gravity assisted, was somewhat easier but I was pretty sure that the sheep roaming the hillside were giving me judgemental looks as I went past.
According to my fitbit the walk from Coniston to Levers water and back had taken over 12000 steps... but I was not done for the day. I drove to Lake Windermere and had a look around that area.
With dull and lifeless skies, branches blowing in the wind and disrupted water surfaces it was necessary to find alternative things to point my camera at if I was going to rescue the day.
My final stop on this long and tough day was the lovely stone bridge at Clappersgate. This was my sunset destination and I was treated to slightly better conditions as the sun actually came out for a little while and the well-sheltered, slow-moving river was somewhat calm... it did cross my mind that I could easily have stayed in bed until sunset time without missing too many great photography opportunities, but it is always a lot of fun for me to explore new places even if they don't lead to great photos.
The following day, after observing a miserable and colourless sunrise at Derwent water (the dark grey became medium-light grey), I made my way to the charming, tiny and slightly in-accessable village of Little Langdale. From there it is a short walk to Slater Bridge, an ancient stone bridge over a small river, connecting the village to an area used for quarrying on the other side of the water. The bridge itself was an interesting subject, but I was a bit put off by the metal poles and wires which are attached to it nowadays and also by the metal fences which are in place to keep you from parts of the surrounding area. Not everyone was respecting these barriers but I felt that I should, which limited my possibilities for shooting.
Having crossed the famous old bridge I continued onwards to the old quarrying area, suppressing my discomfort as I ventured through a narrow tunnel into Cathedral Cave, a large chamber with a hole in the roof which lets the daylight stream in.
For sunset on this day I walked to Friar's Crag, a viewpoint over Derwent water which was described by 19th century writer and art critic John Ruskin as offering one of the finest views in Europe. With all due respect to Mr. Ruskin... I somehow doubt he would have been similarly moved on this particular evening. While the view itself (not helped by the deeply unattractive light which was on offer despite the sunset hour) left me rather cold, I found something more interesting at my feet, a single red rose which had been discarded and trodden into the dust. This hinted at a million possible stories of rejection and heartbreak (and a few million less interesting tales), perhaps a earnest proposal of marriage or a devoted declaration of true love had been rejected in a cruel manner, crushing someones dreams for eternity. Whatever the unknowable story, I deemed this to be a more interesting subject than the famous view in front of me.
In the hope of avoiding reader fatigue I think I will sign off for this post and return to the lake district once again in my next blog.
Thanks to everyone who reads this, I hope that you have enjoyed this post. Please feel free to comment in the comments section below or via my Andy Fowlie Photography facebook page.
Until next time,
My latest trip, to Reims in the Champagne region of France, was not intended to be a photography trip, the focus was very definitely on sampling the world's favourite sparkling wine in it's natural environment. It was a last minute decision to even take a camera with me, and I am happy that I eventually decided to do so.
Over the past 10 years I have become much more interested in champagne and the Grand Champagne event held every year in Helsinki has given a comparatively easy opportunity to taste many different champagnes without having to buy them by the bottle.
So it came to be that a small group of friends decided to make their first visit to the champagne region.
Reims is a beautiful small city and is reachable in less than an hour by TGV from Paris CDG airport (providing the trains are running). It is one of the two main commercial centres in the Champagne region (the other being Épernay) and many of the biggest champagne producers are based in one of these two cities.
The spectacular Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims, pictured above, forms the centrepiece for the old town and is notable as the venue for the coronation of French monarchs in the days before "la révolution" while there are a number of nice squares with statues and fountains in the nearby area.
On our first full day we took a half day tour with Sparkling Tour, which turned out to be an excellent decision. We visited two of the smaller champagne houses and learned about the different stages of champagne making, from vine to glass. Our reward at the end of this learning experience was to taste three different champagnes from each of the two champagne houses.
Our guide and driver for the day was Léa who picked us up conveniently right outside out hotel. We were joined by another small group and there were eight of us in total as we headed for our first stop at Champagne Michel Fagot. This champagne house has 15 hectares of Premier Cru vineyards in the Montagne de Reims area and splits it's business between producing it's own champagnes and selling a portion of it's harvest to larger champagne houses.
Léa took us through the different stages of the champagne making process as we went through the area where the magic happens and down into the cool dark cellars where the champagne peacefully ages over a period of years until it is ready to be enjoyed.
The best part came next as we were able to taste glasses of their Brut Tradition, Blanc de Blancs and Millésime 2006 before we continued our journey.
The next stop on the tour was a visit to the church in Hautvillers where the gravestone of Dom Pierre Pérignon sits in honour at the front of the chapel. Dom Pérignon was an important figure in improving the champagne making process and continues to find fame to this day in the prestige champagne brand which bears his name.
Our final stop on the trip was at Champagne Devavry where we were able to once again tour their cellar and learn something about the champagne house before heading for the tasting room to try glasses of their Collection Prestige, Millesime 2012 and an excellent new Blanc de Noirs champagne that is not yet described on their website or in their printed materials.
It was most interesting to visit these places and I have to say that the tour was very well organised. Everything was take care of efficiently without any fuss and the things that were taught during the tour were explained in an easy to understand way. Léa was also extremely patient and helpful when faced with a variety of odd questions from the participants as they made their way through the six glasses of champagne.
I would definitely recommend a tour with Sparkling Tour to anyone who was visiting the Champagne region.
Back in Reims there was time to explore the city a bit before dinner.
There is plenty to see in Reims and it is a most pleasant place to be even if you are not drinking champagne. There is a nice mixture of historic and modern buildings and many parks and open spaces to enjoy the summer weather.
The Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne runs through Reims, to the west of the town centre and the towpath can be a pleasant place for a walk. Near to the canal, south-west of the centre you can find the Stade Auguste-Delaune, home of the local football team (Stade Reims) and venue for 6 matches in the recent Womens Football World Cup.
The central areas around the cathedral are very pedestrian friendly and there are many places where you can eat and drink on outside tables while watching the world go by as the ever present pigeons fly overhead.
On our second full day it was time to visit a slightly larger champagne house, we walked through the city to take a tour of Pommery-Vranken.
We made our way through the imposing gates and into the castle-like buildings before making the descent into a vast system of underground caves, the resting place for tens of millions of bottles of champagne.
The Pommery caves are just one of many interesting places (e.g. the Budapest Parliament, the Vienna State Opera House) where your best (or only) chance of gaining photographic access is to take a guided tour. This presents some great opportunities and different challenges as a photographer. Often in such situations it is not permitted to take a tripod and it is not allowed to use a flash, so you need to get your work done as best as possible hand-held with whatever light might be available. The other obvious issue is all the other people on the tour who are highly likely to be standing in your picture, standing in your preferred shooting position, or both. I have found it beneficial to try and be the last to leave each location in any tour in order to get a clean opportunity to shoot... but at the same time trying not to be left behind completely.
The caves are truly enormous and they provide a perfect environment year round for their purpose, with the low-ish temperature, high humidity and darkness that works best for the champagne process. The caves are also home to a number of different art installations which can be viewed on different tours. I am not sure if the lighting that was in place in different parts fot eh tunnels was purely functional or if it was part of an art installation, but either way it looked cool and it was designed in such a way than none of the light ever shone directly into an area containing precious bottles.
When the cellars were first taken into use by Pommery the storage spaces were organised according to the place to which the finished wines would be shipped. This naming is still visible to this day. The biggest gallery "Buenos Aires" was so huge that you could not see to the far wall.
The tour we were on was more focused on champagne than art but we still passed many different exhibits (as well as the slightly surprising sight of a bouncy castle in one gallery).
I spent most of the tour looking out for photography opportunities and avoiding the 60 or so other tour participants rather than listening to what the guide was saying.. so it was at times a little difficult to know if the things I was seeing served some technical purpose or were intended to be fascinating art installations.
All in all this was a very nice trip, and quite a success (23 different champagnes in 3 days), it was interesting to have a chance to photograph some different subjects for a change, that is always refreshing even though that was not the main focus of the trip. Thanks a lot to my friends for a great trip!
I have spent most of the last month going through photos from a trip to England so I expect there are some more blog posts coming soon on my more usual topics related to landscape photography.
Thanks to everyone who has read this post! Please remember to follow Andy Fowlie Photography on facebook if you want to see my latest pictures and blog posts.
Enjoy the summer!
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