Aysgarth Falls and Village Fete

The trouble with trying to maintain a blog of this nature is that, sometimes, real life decides to get in the way. Various work and social commitments had left me with no time for getting out and about during most of July and August and so I seized the first chance that presented itself to tug my walking boots on and head out with my camera hanging from my neck.

Aysgarth Falls is a twenty-thirty minute walk from home and has never failed to present me with some lovely photographs. Even on overcast days it’s a lovely place to visit, though with it being a bank holiday I knew the Falls were going to be a little overcrowded. I left Thoralby and headed up the road towards Aysgarth. The sky was grey and uninspiring and some of the clouds looked heavy with rain. Had I made a mistake?

Such thoughts were put to the back of my mind as I started to come across things to photograph. Dry stone walls are a prominant feature of the Dales and farmers are apt to include whatever spare material happens to be lying around – there’s one near me that even incorporates an old iron bedstead!

I couldn’t help but photograph one that appeared to have some glass bottles stuck in the top.

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They were empty – shame… (c) Kim Ralls

The waterfalls at Aysgarth were my main objective, it’s true, but if you put a camera in my hands, then don’t be surprised if I start snapping photos. The light was dreadful, however, and I had to bin most of the shots that I took because the grey skies looked so flat and dull and lifeless, leaching any warmth from the images.

But I did take a nice photo of some blackberries before a passing motorist pulled over and preceeded to fill up a small plastic box with them.

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(c) Kim Ralls

This shot evokes memories of the times my sister and I used to visit our grandparents in South Wales. Our grandfather would take us blackberry picking and we’d gather pounds and pounds of them that we’d take back to the house and bake into crumbles and pies for the evening’s desert. Any that were too high for my sister or me to reach were knocked from the bush by my grandfather’s walking stick into a waiting bucket. We had to pick plenty because I had a tendency to eat them as we walked home.

Alas, I had nothing to carry these blackberries home in and so I left them for the birds and the gentleman parking his 4X4 in the layby across the road.

I followed the road up the hill and along a single-lane track to the A684, passing a rather startled-looking barn on my way to the waterfalls.

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“Ooh, I say!” (c) Kim Ralls

Turning left at the Aysgarth Falls Hotel, I had a choice between following the pavement down towards the Upper Falls, or walking through St. Andrew’s churchyard. I’ve always liked churches and churchyards, so you can probably guess the route I chose.

In fact, the gates offered a perfect opportunity to experiment with lead-in lines. These are lines used to lead the viewer’s eye into a photograph – with me so far?

Roads and paths are usually a good line to use, but patterns in the landscape or on a building can work equally well.

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The gate posts list the names of local men who died in The Great War (C) Kim Ralls

Some of the graves in St. Andrew’s are centuries old, the stones worn and weathered and the writing almost illegible. There are tall headstones with long inscriptions listing the families sharing their final resting place and smaller stones with just a name and a date, the epilogue to a person’s life.

In with the headstones are oblong slabs decorated with carvings of trees and plants and things personal to those buried there. Beneath the low branches of a tree, I could see a row of five of these slabs and it was perfect for a photograph.

I had recently been reading “Understanding Exposure” by Brian Peterson and was fascinated by his explanation of depth of field and how to manipulate it. This is how much of the background of a photo is in focus behind the subject of your photo and is dictated by how wide or narrow you set the aperture of your lens (point and shoot cameras don’t usually allow you to change this, though I think there are some smartphone apps that simulate it). Anyway, I wanted to photograph these slabs and have them all in focus, but I had been getting lazy recently and tended to shoot in ‘P’ or ‘Programme’ mode. Basically, this is a mode on the camera that lets you point the camera and take a photo without having to set aperture, shutter speed and the like.

I set my camera to Av mode (Aperture Priority) and adjusted the aperture to ensure that all five of the slabs were in focus. Although one of the slabs was in shade and so didn’t come out well in the photo, I liked the image with the slabs in a row and the distant ones dissappearing into the shade beneath the tree.

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(C) Kim Ralls

Satisfied with the photo, I walked past the church and down a set of uneven steps to the bridge over the River Ure.

Aysgarth Falls are well known for one thing: Robin Hood – Prince of Thieves. During the film (I’d say “spoiler alert”, but I don’t think I’ve met anybody who hasn’t seen this film at least once, usually around Christmas courtesy of the BBC) Kevin Costner is trying to cross a river when he encounters Little John. They have a fight with sticks which involves both of them tumbling over a set of waterfalls in quick succession. Yep, you guessed it, they filmed it at Aysgarth Falls.

However, the producers of the film deceived the public somewhat by using careful editing to creatre the illusion of three waterfalls close together.

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The Upper Falls, Aysgarth (C) Kim Ralls

But I won’t hold that against them.

I took the above image and walked up to the picnic area overlooking the Falls. The place was thronged with holiday-makers and daytrippers enjoying the bank holiday weekend. I got down as close as I could to the waterfall and decided that, because everybody does it, I wouldn’t be using a slow shutter speed on the water. This is a trick that blurs the motion of the water and gives it a whispy, ethereal quality. And it’s a trick that’s been done to death.

But, use a fast shutter speed (in my case 1/4000th of a second) and you can freeze the water in place. Personally, I think this is far better at showing the power and motion of the water in a still image.

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Look carefully and you might spot a stick in the falls – did Kevin Costner leave it there?              (C) Kim Ralls

I snapped away whilst keeping as low as I could. At one point I even lay down to get as close to the water as possible. I can’t imagine what the people at the picnic tables thought of this.

Talking of people, the Upper Falls were getting decidedly crowded at this point and so I decided to move on. I’m not opposed to crowds, but it’s difficult to take photos of the landscape when people insist on paddling in the river and skimming stones and posing for selfies in front of the spot I’m trying to photograph.

As I left, I caught sight of a couple sat on the rocks and enjoying the sun as it came out from behind the clouds. It was a beautiful scene and I had to take their photo.

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Coffee for two (C) Kim Ralls

I went back towards the bridge over the river, passing groups of adults and children, the latter more often than not staring at mobile phones whilst their parents tried to encourage them to take in the scenery to little avail.

For those who don’t fancy walking too far, there is parking at the Falls in the National Park Centre and a car park next to the church – both pay and display. I walked through the park centre and crossed the road into the woods. I could heard the wind in the trees and a myriad of accents calling out to each other; accents from all four corners of the globe (yes, I know a globe doesn’t have corners!)

The footpaths to the Middle and Lower Falls are clearly marked and easy to follow. At the Middle Falls there is a viewing platform with a fence that several people were climbing on to get a better view. I waited for them to come down so I could have a clear shot with my camera.

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Middle Falls, Aysgarth (C) Kim Ralls

The Middle Falls are probably my favourite. They’re always full and fast flowing, even when it’s been dry. Again, I went for a fast shutter speed to freeze the water as it rushed over the rocks, foaming and boiling at the bottom before it carried on its lazy way down the dale.

I climbed the steps up from the viewing platform and back into the woods. Years ago the parks authority had paid for someone to carve educational inscrptions into the edges of the steps to teach children about the relationship between the rocks and the water. It was a neat idea, except that wind and weather and people’s feet have worn the inscriptions down so that now they are hard to read. Hopefully they’ll be re-carved some day.

From the Middle Falls it’s a slightly longer trek through the woods towards the Lower Falls and the penultimate stop of the day’s walk. When we used to come up to the Dales on holidays, my parents took my sister and me to Aysgarth Falls several times, but it was a while before we realised that there were more than one set of waterfalls. The Lower Falls were a surprise at the time because it had been raining heavily the day before and the amount of water tumbling and crashing over the rocks was an awesome sight.

Although reduced in volume compared to that day, the Lower Falls were still worth the visit today. The sun shining on the water created deep shadows on the far bank and I composed my shots so that there would be as much contrast as possible.

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Lower Falls, Aysgarth (C) Kim Ralls

Again, I thought nothing of lying down on the rocks, feeling the warm stone through my t-shirt and hoping the spray wasn’t getting into my lens. The sunlight really highlighted the colours in the water and when I decided I’d taken enough pictures, I scraped myself off the rocks and headed back the way I had come.

Back up on the A684, I could have turned for home, satisfied that I’d taken some good photos and, more importantly, got a decent walk into the bargain. Instead, I walked into the village itself where the summer fete was just kicking off.

If you ever want to experience a proper community spirit, I recommend attending a village fete. People freely give up their time to set up and run the stalls and the various other attractions – a local car mechanic was running the bouncy castle and, when I asked him if he’d been on it yet, smiled and said “Not yet. But I’m sorely tempted.”

There were stalls selling second-hand books (always a bonus, if you ask me) and bric-a-brac. There was a burger and hot dog stand and the village hall was offering tea and cakes.

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The village fete (C) Kim Ralls
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(C) Kim Ralls

I thought about turning some of these shots into black and white for that arty, documentary-style look, but I actually prefer the colours.

I didn’t stay for long at the fete because I had to in work that evening and time was moving on. However, I did stay long enough to watch several people throwing twenty pences at a bottle of whiskey in the middle of the street in an attempt to win the bottle.

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(C) Kim Ralls

I stopped in the George and Dragon for a brief drink (and a slice of cake) before heading back down the hill to Thoralby. As I took a shortcut over a couple of fields, I passed a hawthorn tree with vibrant red berries. Earlier in the year I had seen the same tree with blossom on its branches heralding the start of Spring. Now the berries were signalling the approach of Autumn, my favourite time of year.

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Hawthorn berries (C) Kim Ralls

The Artist At Work

I had just come back from being the Best Man at my first wedding. The location was beautiful – a castle-cum-hotel just south of Edinburgh – and the drive across the border had some of the most stunning scenery I had seen.

If only I had taken my camera.

You see, shortly before the wedding, the bride sent an email to all the guests explaining that they had hired a wedding photographer and that she and the groom would appreciate it if we didn’t all snap away with cameras and smart phones. Therefore, I left my camera at home and spent the drive north feeling slightly annoyed. And then, on the day, every bl**dy guest had a DSLR camera and were snapping away with glee once the ceremony and the formal photo shoots were out of the way. Suffice it to say, I became very friendly with a glass of prosseco.

Arriving home, I felt that I had to photograph something and having just watched a 1981 documentary about Joel Meyerowitz (god bless YouTube), I decided on a subject.

My father was sitting in his office. I could tell because from my room I could hear the tinkle of a paintbrush in the water jar on his painting desk. He paints 6mm lead wargames figures – mostly Napoleonic era at the moment – whilst sitting at a desk with a couple of lights illuminating his workspace.

I could see the image in my mind; he would be sitting at the desk, hunched over slightly with a line of figures in one hand and the brush in the other. The desk lights would perhaps be a little too bright, but not enough to ruin the shot, and if I got the right exposure settings the light and shadows would focus the eye on my subject.

I picked up my camera, stood on the landing outside his office and took the shot. The camera was in shutter priority mode, so all I had to do was set the shutter speed (1/100 sec) and let the camera work out the rest. I could have told him that I was going to take his photo, or asked his permission, but I wanted that feeling of spontaneity as well as the look of concentration on his face. He had no idea I had taken his photo until I showed the image to him and because of that the whole scene feels completely natural.

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(c) Kim Ralls

I can’t afford fancy photo editing software, so I use Canon’s free Digital Photo Professional. It won’t do all the amazing things that Photoshop and Lightroom can do, but in a way I prefer that because it means I have to get more right in-camera and so I’ve learnt a lot more about how my camera works than I might have otherwise.

As far as editing goes, my only alteration was to damp down the highlights and adjust the brightness so that the lights aren’t overblown and the shadows have a little more weight.

The rest was achieved with the camera.