Unfinished Business

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In an earlier blog, I related my aborted first attempt to climb to the summit of Winder, the lowest of the Howgill Fells above the town of Sedbergh. Apart from the myriad footpaths leading up onto the fells, the town is also home to several second-hand bookshops and so I needed little excuse for a return visit. However, for those who haven’t read my previous post, the nub of the matter was that last time I had got lost before I’d even managed to start climbing the fell and, when I finally found the right path, slipped and twisted my knee and had to return home.

I was back. And this time it was personal.

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1. Sedbergh beneath the slopes of Winder (c) Kim Ralls

On this occasion, I had a little help in the form of Alfred Wainwright’s ‘Walks On The Howgill Fells.’ Like his Lake District guides, this book is full of his beautiful drawings and maps and although I had an OS map on my phone for backup, I used nothing but Wainwright’s own map and instructions as I began my second attempt to conquer Winder. For those of you without access to either Wainwright or a mobile-based reference, the best map for this walk is OS Explorer number OL19 ‘Howgill Fells & Upper Eden Valley.’

Roadworks on the highstreet meant that I had to park in the pay and display car park on Loftus Hill (the car park is behind me in the above picture). For those who just want to park up and start walking, a three hour ticket costs £3.00. On the other hand if, like me, you enjoy taking your time and want to have a look around the town, then it’s only £5.00 for a nine hour ticket (though I recommend checking prices before making the journey, just in case). In the absence of roadworks, there is also a pay and display car park on the high street which I have marked on the map.

Walking up past a small church on the left, I followed Howgill Lane (turn right next to the Golden Lion pub) and took a leisurely stroll along the road as a stiff breeze started to blow and I jammed my hat down on my head to stop it blowing away.

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2. Lockbank Farm (c) Kim Ralls

At the end of a row of houses, I turned right onto a farm track that took me passed a sign advertising ice-cream for sale further down the road (I must be firm! I must be firm!) and followed it through Lockbank Farm and a trio of gates onto the slopes of the fell. Above the wall that skirts the bottom of the fells, the land is open access and you can choose any of the sheep tracks you fancy. In the interests of safety, however, I would advise against it; the fells are not difficult in terms of terrain, but with few distinctive landmarks, it would be easy to become lost, especially in bad weather. Wainwright himself recommends always going out with at least one companion in case of accidents or emergencies.

I pulled Wainwright’s book from my bag and checked the route. I turned left and followed the footpath along the wall, passing a flock of sheep enjoying the shade provided by a copse of trees and looking very annoyed at me for disturbing their rest.

I reached the point where I had slipped and twisted my knee on my last visit – the ground was thankfull dry and solid under my feet this time – and climbed up steadily. In his book ‘Walks in Limestone Country,’ Wainwright mentions the Three Peaks Challenge and ‘those whose main object in walking is pleasure and to climb hills for their intrinsic merit.’ As a walker, I most certainly fall under that description and I have no interest in flogging myself to death in order to conquer a hill or peak. With that in mind, Winder is the perfect hill for me. I like to take my time and stop for photographs (far more often than is healthy, I’m sure) and to enjoy the views. After the last time I attempted to climb this fell, I was perhaps overly mindful of my knees and every twinge had me worried that I was going to have to turn back yet again.

Not that I’m paranoid, or anything.

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3. Looking across the flank of Winder (c) Kim Ralls

Reaching the top of the ridge that the the path follows to the summit, I stopped and stared for what could have been hours for all the notice I took of time.

The view of the further summits was beautiful. The slopes curved gracefully to rounded peaks covered in spring grass and tan patches where, come the autumn, bracken and gorse would sprout and provide food for the flocks of sheep left to roam freely as they please. These are not the sharp, limestone scars and crags of the Yorkshire Dales – beautiful in their own way – but rolling hills that look as if they had been hand-turned on a giant potter’s wheel and set upside down after being fired in the kiln.

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4. The Howgill Fells (c) Kim Ralls

It was a long time before I even thought to take a picture, though even with my lens zoomed right out, the camera doesn’t quite do it justice. This is one of those views that you, dear reader, really must see for yourself.

It was at this point that I took a break to eat a packet of crisps. I needed the energy.

The ridge that I mentioned is like the backbone of Winder and I followed it, trying to ignore just how steep it looked. I’m not the fittest of people and, I will admit, looking at the path ahead I began to get that sinking feeling. Would I have the energy to make it to to the top or would I have to go back, defeated once again?

Well, the great news was that the steepness was deceptive. Once I started climbing, I found the ascent was relatively gentle and it wasn’t long before I could see the small white column of the OS beacon on the summit. It was only a short climb and I began to find fresh reserves of energy – perhaps I didn’t need that packet of crisps after all – as the wind fell away long enough for me to hear the impossible quiet up on the slopes. I was left with nothing but the sounds of distant sheep and my own boots crunching on dried grass and my steady breathing that now seemed unnaturally loud up on the slopes where there was little sign of life.

Wait, was that a horse?

Sure enough, looking at a distant slope I beheld a grey-black horse cropping grass at its leisure, apparently oblivious to the frustrated photographer who couldn’t zoom in close enough to take a decent picture.

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5. Not a horse (c) Kim Ralls

The horse disappeared behind a ridge and I carried on walking, though somewhat bemused. What in the world was a horse doing half-way up Winder? As it happens, Wainwright mentions that ‘the peculiar joy of the Howgills is the fell ponies, which wander as they fancy: delightful creatures with flowing manes and tails, usually brown in colour but often piebald.’ Serves me right for buying a book and just looking at the pictures.

And so I plodded on, excitment growing as I neared the summit and the day’s goal. I don’t like leaving things unfinished, especially when I have no control over the circumstances that force me to abandon something I’ve started. Thankfully my knees were no trouble and I slapped my hand down in triumph on the top of the OS beacon that crowns the summit of Winder. There is a similar beacon on every peak in the Howgills, their distinctive white paint making them easy to spot from a distance. I couldn’t help noticing that the paint on the Winder beacon looked remarkably unweathered and, based on how long they’ve been up there, it’s obvious that someone actually climbs these fells on a regular basis to touch up the paint.

Everyone’s got to have a hobby, I suppose.

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6. Winder OS Beacon (c) Kim Ralls
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7. View from Winder #1 (c) Kim Ralls
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8. View from Winder #2 (c) Kim Ralls

I sat in the shadow of the beacon and ate the egg and cress sandwiches I had bought in the town before starting my walk. It was about half-past twelve and the climb had taken a little over an hour. Not bad considering how often I had stopped to take photos and to catch my breath. From where I sat slapping at the flies that had begun to plague me (what did they eat when they couldn’t get photographer?) I looked across the slopes to the summit of Arant Haw. I would join Wainwright’s preferred path to that summit and follow it on my way down. For now, though, I thought about how close Arant Haw appeared and how tempting it was to extend my walk a little further and bag two summits in one day. That thought made up my mind for me. I’m not in the habit of climbing a peak just to brag about the achievement, but for the challenge of the undertaking and the enjoyment of the scenery. Arant Haw, tempting as it looked, would wait for another day.

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9. Arant Haw seen from Winder (c) Kim Ralls

My lunch finished, I scrambled to my feet just as the roar of jet engines broke the tranquility and I jabbed my finger down on the shutter release of my camera as an RAF Typhoon flew low over the fells. I waved, though there was no chance the pilot would see me, and packed up the rubbish from my lunch.

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10. Typhoon (c) Kim Ralls

From the summit there were three options for the descent. I could go back the way I had come (safe and boring); there was the route I had planned to take on my first attempt, though the shortness of this path was outweighed by the steepness of the descent; and finally there was the path indicated on Wainwright’s map. It was still a steep climb down, albeit nowhere near as steep as the second option, but the footing was easy and the views were most certainly worth it.

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11. The path down (c) Kim Ralls

Following the path down, I felt a certain disappointment that I had not carried on towards Arant Haw, but weighing this up against how good I felt to have finally achieved my initial goal, my disappointment faded along with the few whisps of cloud blown by the wind across the sky. Afterall, Sedbergh is only an hour’s drive from home and now that I knew the paths a little better, a return trip would be all the more enjoyable for not being rushed.

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12. Walking the lower slopes (c) Kim Ralls

The path curved round the side of the fell and followed along most of its length, running parallel with the high street until it finally met the path I had followed for the ascent. The full circle made, I descended into town to grab a drink and to browse in the various bookshops. The sun had shone all day and, despite the stiff breeze blowing, the temperature had been blissfully hot and it was the kind of day that no one could feel miserable on. Back on Howgill Lane, I had a chat with a man carrying a well-used strimmer.

“Been up on the fells?” he asked.

“Yes, I’ve just climbed Winder,” I said, making sure I pronounced the name correctly (Wainwright makes the point that it should be pronounced the way Eliza Doolittle would say window ‘pre-Higgins’).

“Ah, well, now then, now then, did y’see Blackpool Tower?”

“No, I couldn’t.”

“Ah, well, now then. If it’s a clear day, I been told y’can see all the way too Blackpool Tower.”

I don’t know about Blackpool Tower, but from The Calf, the highest point in the Howgills, it’s supposed to be possible to see all the way to Morcambe Bay on the West Coast. I’m sorry, dear reader, but I think you’re going to be coming back to these fells with me on more than one occasion.

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13. Back at the beginning (c) Kim Ralls

I spent a little time in some of the book shops, bought a book by German photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt (the ‘father of photojournalism’ who took the famous photo of the sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square on VJ Day) and made my weary way back to the car and singed my fingertips on the boiling hot steering wheel.

I headed for home with the windows down and the stereo blaring as Jimi Hendrix pleaded with the sheep of the Dales to let him stand next to their fire. Going by the expression on their faces, it wasn’t going to happen.

Out In The Streets

Whitby Goth Festival was my first foray into street photography and the bug had well and truly bitten. That said, I was nervous about going out and around my local towns with a camera. What if people recognised me; what if they wanted to know what I was doing; oh god, what if they wanted to – dare I say it – pose?

The answer was two-fold: go somewhere that wasn’t local and go on a market day.

Avoiding local places meant anonymity and going on a market day meant there would be plenty of people about and large crowds to hide in. Going to Ripon made even more sense because, with its cathedral, riverside walk and several museums, one more camera-toting pedestrain probably wasn’t going to catch anybody’s eye.

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1. Sausage on a stick (c) Kim Ralls

The big difference between my trip to Whitby and my trip to Ripon was the interaction with my subjects. Or, rather, the lack of it.

At Whitby Goth Festival I had been surrounded by people dressed in outrageous and ornate costumes who had no problem with posing for photos (and the goths didn’t mind being photographed, either). In Ripon I was out among ordinary people who had no idea I was taking their picture. This is, in fact, one of the big controversies surrounding street photography: at what point does it cease to be an art form and, instead, become an invasion of a person’s privacy?

I will admit that, walking around and between the market stalls with my camera in hand, I was ever-concious of the people around me and the sound of my shutter every time I took a photo, not to mention the beep of the autofocus that I kept forgetting to switch off.

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Crossword (c) Kim Ralls

It was in this situation that I was grateful for the zoom lens that came with my camera. It meant I could stand a little way back from my subject and avoid needing to get too close for the shot – this goes against the advice on countless YouTube videos stating that you should use a 35mm or 50mm lens for street photography and that the photos should be taken as close as possible to the subject.

I will admit that I simply wasn’t feeling brave enough to get in close, though with the photo of the gentleman considering his crossword above I think the extra space included in the photo helps to draw the eye to the subject. That and he looked like he was really concentrating on his clues and I didn’t want to interrupt his train of thought.

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Ripon Cathedral (c) Kim Ralls

As I’ve stated in several previous posts, I love church architecture and Ripon Cathedral is a truly majestic building. Although my aim today had been to get out on the streets with my camera, I couldn’t resist stepping inside the cathedral’s cool confines (ooh, I love alliteration). There is also the bonus that Ripon Cathedral doesn’t charge an exhorbitant fee before you’re allowed inside. There is a box for donations and a little gift shop, but that is the limit of the cathedral staff’s commercial enterprise. Even for someone completely lacking in faith, such as myself, the building has a comforting feel to it when standing in the middle and looking up at the distant carvings of the roof or taking in the splendour of the great stained-glass windows.

The bonus for me on this day was that there were a few people admiring the cathedral and, as we were amidst some very photogenic architecture, I thought this was a great way to take photos without feeling self-concious.

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Candles (c) Kim Ralls
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Pulpit steps (c) Kim Ralls

Photographing inside a dimly lit cathedral was also a good learning experience. Trying to get a good exposure without using flash was very difficult and at one point I tried every trick I knew to take a photo of the 15th century stalls (I thought it made a nice composition), but even using flash I just couldn’t get it right.

The time came to move on, at least that’s what my grumbling stomach was thinking at this point. But as I walked down one of the side aisles, I caught sight of a gentleman sitting on his own looking thoughtful. I raised the camera without even thinking or checking the settings and took the shot just before he got up and walked away. I checked the photo on the monitor and was quite surprised that it had come out. My only change was to lighten it a little bit on the computer and convert it to black and white.

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Thoughtful (c) Kim Ralls

Another photographer might have gone in close, but I prefer street photos where the subject isn’t aware of the camera. Granted, there are some great photos that go against this and some where it simply wouldn’t have been the same if the person hadn’t turned at just the right moment.

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Beard (c) Kim Ralls

The great thing about today was the fact that no one approached me at any point to protest my taking photographs. Apart from the lone busker I saw outside a cafe who said it was free to take his photo, but that he’d charge me a fiver if I wanted him to smile.

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Busker (c) Kim Ralls

I didn’t stay much longer in the market place, thinking that it might be nice to wonder along the river and see what I could see. I took a few nice photos, but nothing that I felt was on par with the photos in the market. Whilst I still enjoy landscape photography, photographing a stretch of river in a town, albeit one of the prettiest I know, just didn’t excite me in the same way.

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Flowers (c) Kim Ralls

 

I came back to the market place and took another turn around the stalls, hoping to find more of the images I’d already shot. The problem, of course, is that these are the kind of photos that only happen once. I could not have planned to shoot that man sitting in the cathedral or the busker strumming his guitar – unlike other buskers I’ve seen, he refrained from playing Wonderwall or Wish You Were Here and I dropped a couple of coins in his case as a small thank you.

I didn’t find much more to photograph and the market looked like it was starting to wind down, so I wondered back to the cathedral and took a pleasant stroll round the oustide of the building, looking for any interesting gargoyles to photograph. There were plenty, but far too high for my lens.

I headed back to the car park, pausing only to take one last photo standing in Kirkgate with the sun beating down and a feeling of mission accomplished.

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Kirkgate, Ripon (c) Kim Ralls

 

 

Consolation Prize

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Butterfly in Black and White (c) Kim Ralls

Whenever I chat with holiday-makers in the Dales the talk inevitably turns to how I’ve adapted to living here compared with the South. It goes without saying that the pace of life in a little country village is not the same as it is in a crowded town, though I certainly don’t miss it, and of course the scenery is a marked improvement in the Dales.

“Still,” the holiday-makers often say, “I expect you’ve come to take it for granted.”

I always try to delay my answer to this statement so it doesn’t sound like I’m raising a hasty protest. The fact is, after nearly fifteen years of living in the Dales, I still find delight in the scenery and the various walks I’ve done. There are always new paths to explore and I think that even under leaden skies and torrential rain the Dales look beautiful.

That said, from a photographer’s point of view there are the frustrating days when I wish the weather would clear or that the wildlife would play ball and let me snap just one photo that wasn’t a sheep or cow.

Since I bought my camera, it’s been a rare occasion when I leave the house for a walk without it. There are days, however, when I find myself deleting almost all of the shots I’ve taken for the reason that they’re not as interesting as I thought when I took them or, in all honesty, they’re just not very good.

One day I’d been out for a short walk ‘around the block’ (i.e. a walk of less than two miles) under grey skies that kept threatening rain. I took plenty of photos of the clouds above the hills thinking that they might look suitably dramatic once I had loaded them onto the computer and converted them to black and white.

But I will admit I was feeling a little depressed. You can only take so many pictures of clouds before the monotony gets to you. Out of all the photos I took that day, only three have been kept and they have nothing to do with clouds.

In fact, I returned home, put the photos on the computer and did nothing with them for months. I just couldn’t face editing a bunch of cloud pictures that looked as though they had nothing to offer. I don’t know if anyone else has been in that situation, but I can tell you it nearly put me off photography for good, especially when I would go online and look at the photos in several FaceBook groups I’m a member of. The photos in these are nothing short of spectacular (despite the groups having names like Beginners Photography and UK Amateur Photography) and comparing my dull cloudscapes with awe-inspring shots of sunrises and sunsets and people out in the street can be fairly demoralising. Of course, the purpose of these groups isn’t to show off, but to chat to and learn from each other and if anybody is thinking of taking up photography then they can do worse than join one or more of these groups.

About three months later I was looking through my old photos, opened a folder and saw the three photos that I had decided to keep from this walk. They hadn’t been edited and I was really surprised. I hadn’t forgotten about taking them, but I was really surprised that I hadn’t even processed them.

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1. Feeding time (c) Kim Ralls

I may have mentioned before, but I find butterflies fascinating and I always try to photograph them. The problem, of course, is that they’re flighty little things and it can be very hard to get close to them if you don’t have a long enough lens (which I don’t). It was towards the end of my rather uninspiring walk that the sun broke through the clouds for just a few moments and I was able to photograph these red admirals feeding on the plants by the footpath.

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2. My proudest moment as a photographer (c) Kim Ralls

The second photo ranks at the top of my favourite images that I’ve taken. Compared to pro wildlife photographers, it’s probably not that spectacular, but considering my equipment and its limitations (not to mention my own inexperience as a photographer), I’m very proud of this photo.

Obviously, like me, butterflies are best photographed when distracted by food.

Both images were cropped slightly (the second image was taken from about the same distance as the cover photo at the top of this entry). I wanted to focus on the butterfly and even getting as close as I did there was a lot of extra stuff in the photo that distracted the eye.

It just goes to show, however, that even on the days when nothing seems to go right and you feel down and depressed, there will come that one bright moment that makes it all worthwhile.

When Knights Were Bold

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Map (c) Kim Ralls

With so many wayward farmers and villagers scattered over miles of difficult terrain, exposed to the full force of the English weather, it’s small wonder that there are so many medieval churches, chapels and abbeys in the area. In a time when religion played a dominant role in people’s lives, the farmers and villagers would have relied on the church to provide guidance and succour in hard times. As the centuries passed and religion’s role diminished, many of the chapels and churches fell into ruin and some, like Jervaulx Abbey near Middleham, have become stops for tourists looking for a bit of local history (and a decent cup of tea).

One of the lesser-known sites rests on a spur of Pen Hill and dates from the 12th Century. It is a Knight’s Templar preceptory, or chapel, the ruins of which were uncovered in the 19th Century. It is what gives the nearby Temple Farm its name and was, until recently, reflected in the name of the Palmer Flatt (now the Aysgarth Falls Hotel) – Palmer being a derogatory term for the Templars and Flatt referring to the local field system.

I’m a sucker for an old ruin and this walk was one of the first I went on after we moved here in the early 2000s. Starting on the village green in West Burton, I headed down to the corner of the village where the wooden sign pointed the way to Cauldron Falls, a small but pretty spot that I have photographed far too many times.

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1. Cauldron Falls, West Burton (c) Kim Ralls

It’s a tranquil part of the world and I spent a little too long taking photos of the waterfalls and the little beck – I had a polarising filter on my camera to cut down the glare of the sun, but it also serves as a useful tool for getting rid of reflections on water. If you go into the village hall a little way up the road there are photos on the walls of the village through the years, including one fantastic image the falls and beck completely frozen – I’ve had some cold winters, but never one that severe.

Crossing the little bridge, it’s a steep climb up a set of well-worn steps and a rough track before entering a field below Pen Hill. The hill is criss-crossed by myriad paths and tracks and as I walked through a flock of nervous sheep, I saw a sign pointing out a footpath that followed the beck up above the waterfall and made a mental note to follow it on another day.

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2. Looking across Wensleydale (c) Kim Ralls

On the other side of the field I passed through a gate and into Barrack Wood – the Dales are full of intriguing place-names – and followed the path to the left, breathing in the smell of wild garlic. You can insert your own vampire-related joke here as I’ve used mine in a previous blog post.

Following the path, it’s rewarding to stop every now and again to look through the gaps in the trees up Bishopdale. I was particularly fortunate with the weather on this day, the sun shining and the skies almost completely clear of clouds. The leaves were coming out and the flowers and bees and butterflies had returned, a welcome change from the drab dreariness of an overly-long winter.

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3. Bishopdale (c) Kim Ralls

It’s only a short walk from one end of Barrack Wood to the other where I climbed through a gate onto a rough farm track that winds up towards the top of Pen Hill. It was here that I made a slight alteration to my usual way of doing things. Normally on a walk like this, I would do as much of the climbing early on when I’m fresh and then enjoy an easy decent for the rest of the walk. On this occasion, however, I decided to do things the other way around because, from a photographer’s point of view, it meant seeing things from a slightly different angle which would, hopefully, avoid my repeating photos that I’ve taken before. Trust me, it works.

Following the track up a little way, you come to a metal gate with a sign for Temple Farm. This is where, had I stuck to my normal route, the return leg would have come out. This part of the path is mostly on the flat, following a small plateau with a steep drop to one side.

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4. Barn on Pen Hill (c) Kim Ralls

There was no livestock in the fields and I enjoyed the easy terrain and the glorious weather. The day’s big advantage was that it was the day after the bank holiday and so with no people in sight I felt as though I had the whole countryside to myself. I’m not unsociable, but there are times when it’s a nice change to get away from the hustle and bustle (what there is in the Dales) even if it’s only for a couple of hours.

The footpath stays close to the wall until, at last, you have to go through a gate into a small copse of trees and then over a stile into a field where a huge flock of sheep with lambs turned as one to look at me. It was almost like that scene in the pub in An American Werewolf in London.

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5. Spying on the flock (c) Kim Ralls

Sheep have a tendency to follow me whenever I enter their field – I assume it’s to do with being farm animals and associating humans with feeding time or with being moved to a barn. Whatever the reason, I walked briskly through the field and through a metal gate outside Temple Farm.

I heard screams and laughter from the farm children playing in their garden as I turned right and walked up a muddy track shaded by trees with new leaves on their branches. This was probably the hardest part of the walk, my shoes slipping in mud whilst I tried to hold onto my camera and keep my balance – not an easy thing to do and I imagined the children laughing at the silly Southerner tumbling down the hill in a mess of mud and camera parts.

At last, at the top of the track I could see the low walls of the preceptory. Now I must emphasise that this is a very small site, so don’t expect something on the scale of Fountains Abbey near Ripon or Jervaulx near Middleham. That said, it’s a lovely spot and I can see why the Templars would have chosen it as a site for a place of worship. It sits on the flank of the hill with wide views all around and when the sun is out the scene is bright and peaceful. The site, according to the sign, included other buildings which have not been uncovered. I would love to see just how extensive the site was in its heyday, but unless the owner of the land gives permission for an archaeological dig, I’ll just have to rely on my imagination.

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6. The Preceptory (c) Kim Ralls

Inside the walls you can see where the alter once stood and there is an open coffin with the head at the Eastern end along with three coffins with their covers intact. I’ve scoured the internet for any information on those who were buried in the chapel, but come up blank. If you’re interested in the history of the site, more information can be found here.

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7. Inside the Preceptory (c) Kim Ralls

For the first time I had actually forgotten to bring my water bottle with me on a walk and with the sun beating down, I was starting to feel a desperate need for a drink. I left the ruins and crossed the track into another field. The last time I came through here this field had been full of cows and a single bullock that came a little too close for comfort. On this occasion, however, the field was empty save for a couple of curlews who soared into the air and out of range of my camera as soon as I tried to get near.

One day, I thought to myself, mentally shaking my fist at them for continuing to taunt me.

Not that I’m obsessed or anything.

Passing the thin stretch of trees to my right, I was greeted with the reason I had done this walk back to front. The whole of Bishopdale lay before me beneath a beautiful Spring sky with the trees and fields verdant under the sun. I snapped away with my camera, forgetting how thirsty I was and enjoying the view.

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8. Looking across Bishopdale towards Addleborough (c) Kim Ralls

The clouds were starting to role in as I carried on and I had a quick look at my phone to check the weather forecast – there is a mobile phone mast on Pen Hill for those wondering how on Earth I could get 4G in the middle of nowhere. Sure enough, it was predicting rain later that evening. But at least the clouds added to the beauty of the scene and I knew I’d be home long before any rain fell.

I hoped.

Like the lower path, this one follows a small plateau and the going is very easy, although I did come across a couple of awkward stiles consisting of large slabs wedged into the dry stone wall. They looked distinctly unstable, but they bore my weight without showing any signs of collapsing. At last I passed through a final gate and back onto the track a little way up from where I had originally left it.

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9. The barn from earlier (c) Kim Ralls

I walked down the track, a small stream that ran under it making my thirst seem all the more acute, and followed it to a small humpbacked bridge over the stream on the outskirts of West Burton as the clouds rolled in and I felt the first few drops of rain begin to fall.

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10. The bridge (c) Kim Ralls

Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

I had never been to Whitby Goth Weekend before and I will admit that I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect; besides people dressed in strange outfits, I mean.

On this outing I was accompanied by a couple of friends, Vanessa Barkley and Guy Carpenter, both of whom had been to the weekend before. Guy had, in fact, told me about his last visit when he saw people with cameras behaving in a most aggressive way in order to grab a shot and I had decided that I would try to avoid the places they hung out. As will be seen, this plan went out of the window fairly early on.

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River Esk, Whitby (c) Kim Ralls

The weather started off beautifully and after parking the car in a side street (the old van, I am sorry to say, is no longer with us) we walked into town along the river. As Herman Melville once wrote, there really is something about streams and rivers that draws people to the sea and I am certainly no exception – odd, perhaps, for someone who never learnt how to swim in any direction other than down.

Of course, childhood holidays spent with my grandparents on the South Wales coast may have something to do with it.

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Lobster pots, Whitby (c) Kim Ralls

It wasn’t long after we reached the town centre that we saw our first goths. Men and women were dressed head to toe in black and red and white with various adornments to their clothes and bodies. There were many who were obviously into steam-punk and the likes of Marvel’s Captain America (one man even had a Hydra symbol on his uniform, the insignia of the villains in the Captain America comic books). The three of us took a table outside a small cafe and talked about cameras and photography – Guy and Vanessa use Fuji gear, whilst I use Canon and the pair of them made a vow that by the end of the day I would be a convert.

They’re still trying.

Whilst we sat enjoying a drink in the sunshine, my eye was caught by a woman sitting outside the cafe with a hot chocolate. She was dressed in an Edwardian-style outfit and reminded me of the ghost in the 1989 film of The Woman In Black (a far superior version to the 2012 film, in my ‘umble etc). I felt that I had to take her picture, but my nerves kept getting in the way, despite Guy and Vanessa urging me on. Eventually I got up and walked over to her and asked ‘would you mind if I took your picture?’

I fully expected her to tell me where to go. Instead she smiled and said ‘yes. You don’t go out dressed like this without expecting people to take a photo.’

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Woman In Black (c) Kim Ralls

Just one photograph suddenly shattered any concerns I had about photographing people, goths or otherwise, and the rest of the day passed amazingly quickly. We finished our drinks and decided to take a slow amble around the old part of the town below the Abbey. Almost straight away we came upon a man with a pair of macaws on his arms. We had a fascinating conversation whilst the red macaw, called Inca, seemed only too happy to have her photo taken.

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“Who’s a pretty boy, then?” (c) Kim Ralls
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Inca (c) Kim Ralls

Alas, Inca ignored all my attempts to get her to talk and we eventually moved on towards the East Pier and its small lighthouse. I don’t usually plan my photos in advance of going to a location, mainly because you can never be certain that the conditions will be as you hope, not to mention planned shots are almost never as good as the spur-of-the-moment photographs that creep up and surprise you at just the right (or wrong) moment.

In this case, I had hoped to take a long exposure of the crowds on the pier so I would have the pier and lighthouse in focus with the blur of people moving back and forth.

Except there weren’t any people on the pier.

Well, at least I could take a few shots without waiting for people to move out the way – I like photographing people, but there are times when you don’t want any distractions from the rest of the photo.

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East Pier Lighthouse, Whitby (c) Kim Ralls

As you can see from the photo, the weather was starting to turn at this point in the day and it wasn’t long before the sky became overcast and we felt the occasional spot of rain. I will admit that I had not planned for the weather – something I’m normally quite good at – and I was to spend the rest of the day trying to keep my camera still despite shivering from the cold.

Despite my earlier plan to avoid the places frequented by the more aggressive photographers, we suddenly decided to head up the steps to Whitby Abbey, made famous by Bram Stoker in Dracula and something of a photographic cliche. This was evidenced by the sheer weight of camera-toting people trying to climb the steps.

Indeed, this is the sort of place I would normally avoid for the simple reason that the world doesn’t need yet another photo of the abbey taken with the nearby pond providing a mirror-like reflection in its still waters.

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Whitby from the Abbey (c) Kim Ralls

That said, the afore-mentioned photos are usually taken at sunrise or sunset with a perfectly clear sky. We had the advantage of dark clouds hanging ominously above the ruins looking as though at any moment a storm might erupt with horror-movie timing.

 

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Cliche #1 (c) Kim Ralls

I was surprised that there were no goths in the abbey, apart from one woman taking a goth-selfie with a remote-operated DSLR. Both Guy and I took photos of her, though I think Guy had the better angle.

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Goth selfie (c) Kim Ralls

We stopped for a lunch of smoked kipper pate on oat cakes (the pate was from Fortune’s Smoke House below the Abbey) and then headed round the pond to the site of the afore-mentioned cliche. Although it’s a view that everybody and his dog has photographed, I was fairly pleased with the result. The wind was blowing steadily and so the water in the pond was rippling and distorting the reflection of the Abbey. With the grey skies, it makes the photo more stark than the usual fare and, whilst I’m not saying I’ve done a better job than others, at least I think mine is a little different.

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Cliche #2 (c) Kim Ralls

We headed down at this point, and just in time as we passed large crowds coming up the steps. I was glad we hadn’t got stuck in with them. A gentleman with red eyes and a top hat stopped and graciously let me take his photo – I’m still not sure if the red eyes were contact lenses or just the result of a really great night out…

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Red Eyes (c) Kim Ralls

Come to think of it, it reminds me of the old red-eye effect you used to get with film cameras when a flash went off (if people still remember those).

Looking at the elaborate nature of some of the costumes, I find it incredible how many goths there were. It must take some of them ages to get ready, not to mention there were quite a few accoutrements that had an expensive look to them. I saw men and women wearing all manner of outifts, from faux Victorian and Edwardian dress to Rocky Horror-inspired outfits to original creations that had the mind well and truly boggled. I had also never before seen so many men in drag.

Back in the town we decided to cross over the river and head to the West Pier for a final photo session before heading for home. Passing a fabulous-looking motorbike by the bridge, the owner was only too happy to let me photograph it.

A lot of videos and articles that I’ve read on street photography emphasise shooting with the camera on your hip for more candid photos as well as not interacting with your subject to avoid ‘posed’ photos. Had it not been the goth weekend, I might have gone for that approach, but I felt that the situation merited a bit of interaction on this occasion. I’m also not a fan of trying to disguise what you’re doing. I think people would be more inclined to feel suspicous of someone hiding the fact that they’re taking photos. But that is an argument that will, in all likelihood, never be resolved.

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“Born to be wild!” (c) Kim Ralls

On the ‘New Town’ side of the river, Whitby looks like a lot of other seaside towns with arcades and ice-cream stalls and fish & chip shops (we stopped in one briefly so that I could warm my hands around a portion of chips). The gulls were out en masse, as was to be expected, and I shot quite a few photos of them both in flight and on the ground, though most of these were discarded as my kit lens simply isn’t long enough for that kind of photography.

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The gathering storm (c) Kim Ralls

As we walked out onto the West Pier, the sky grew ever darker and the wind began to whip the waves into foaming white-caps that broke on the shore and provided a few good photo opportunities. I made a mental note to come back in the Autumn and Winter for some truly dramatic photos.

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Breaking waves (c) Kim Ralls

This would have been a good time to try my shot of people on the pier with the brooding storm clouds and the waves growing in strength. Except that the sensible ones were taking shelter in the town and so I settled for some normal exposures trying to capture the drama of the weather. I actually began to hope for a little thunder and lightning to really spice up my photos, but was disappointed in that regard. Of course, with Whitby only an hour and half’s drive from home, it wasn’t as though it would require any great effort to return in better (worse) weather.

After a few shots on the end of the pier that didn’t come out very well, we headed back into town for a cup of tea and a slice of cake before heading for home. Vanessa’s other half had arranged to pick her up and so we said goodbye after what, for me, was one of the most rewarding photo outings yet.

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Are you talking to me?! (c) Kim Ralls

 

Marching On The Castle – Part Two

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On reflection, a bacon sandwich in the Bolton Arms at Redmire was probably not the best thing to have when I’m supposed to be on a diet. But, owing to my accute hunger, I wasn’t really in a mood to consider the calorie content of my lunch. The hardest part was resisting the urge to indulge in a slice of cake for desert – I hope, dear reader, that you appreciate the hardships I endure on your behalf.

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16. Redmire Village (c) Kim Ralls

Anyway, having finished lunch I was ready to head back for Aysgarth. I walked through Redmire underneath a beautifully clear sky and followed a side street down to the main road and over a humpbacked bridge and left down a track.

The track changed rapidly from concrete to gravel to mud and I was beginning to lament my lack of a pair of decent walking boots – the boots I wear are little better than trainers with slightly sturdier soles.

17. The track heads off to the left – prepare for mud (c) Kim Ralls

I wallowed and slithered along the track, through two farms and all the while trying to enjoy the sunshine and the sounds of the countryside. Those who’ve read some of my earlier blog entries will know that I have a thing about photographing curlews. I think they’re magnificent birds and with that beak it’s hard to miss them. However, my camera lens can’t zoom in beyond 55mm and the birds normally keep well beyond that distance so all I usually get are black specs in a photo that may or may not be a bird.

On this occasion, I heard their disctinctive calls over the fields and started looking eagerly for them. There was one taking off and gliding overhead and I duly raised my camera and snapped away.

The result, after a bit of cropping, wasn’t too bad. I mean, you can at least tell it’s a bird.

I suppose.

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18. A Curlew. I think… (c) Kim Ralls

Having filled up a large portion of my memory card with bad photos of curlews, I decided it was time to move on and at this point I had a little challenge in mind. Shortly after moving up to the Dales, my sister and I decided to walk from Aysgarth to Leyburn one day, going up through Redmire and down to Leyburn via the Shawl. Part of our route required us to cross the river over a set of stepping stones, except that there had been a lot of rain over the previous days and so the stones were deep underwater and neither of us fancied trying to cross – my sister has an advantage over me in that she can at least swim.

Anyway, you might have noticed that I don’t like leaving things unfinished and so walking back to Aysgarth I thought it might be nice to cross over on the stones and walk back up along the river bank to the churchyard above the falls.

Some way beyond the second farm (Low Thoresby on the map) there is a sign pointing down a bridleway towards the river. The bridleway was slightly flooded and I began to get a sinking feeling. It wasn’t deep, but I couldn’t help wondering if this meant the stones would be impassible again. Oh well, a few extra paces wouldn’t hurt and, let’s be honest, I can always do with the exercise.

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19. It’s a bit damp down there… (c) Kim Ralls

Avoiding the worst of the water, I scrambled down the bridleway and startled a few rabbits clustered around a drystone wall. Approaching the riverbank the trees took on a decidedly scraggly, dry look like the ones you see in dark woods in ghost stories. I could imagine thin, crackling branches moving with more than the breeze on cold nights beneath a sliver of bright moon and decided never to come down here on such a night if only to stop my imagination giving me a heart attack.

I could hear the river before I saw it, a dark streak making its lazy way between tree-lined banks where birds darted in search of insects to munch.

And there were the stones. Or, at least, the froth as the water rushed over their tops and put paid, yet again, to my plans to cross there. On the far bank, a pair of walkers in bright coats were sat with their sandwiches. We waved at each other before I turned to head back up to the main track – I wouldn’t have minded if it hadn’t meant wading through the flooded bridleway again.

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20. They’re under there somewhere… (c) Kim Ralls

Back on track, as it were, I slogged through the mud towards the line of the dismantled railway, pausing only to look at a single glove left on top of a fence post and seemingly waiting for someone to come and claim it.

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21. Missing: have you seen my human? (c) Kim Ralls

Eventually the track opened out just as a phalanx of clouds rolled in across the sun and plunged the countryside into a dim twilight, a marked change from the day so far. To my right stood the farm of High Thorseby and here the path opened out into a small nature reserve complete with a group of geese honking like squeaky gates as they flew overhead, no doubt wondering why this idiot with a camera was struggling along in the mud when it would be so much easier to fly.

They didn’t let me take their photo.

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22. If the countryside looks a bit dull, go for black and white (c) Kim Ralls

The photos don’t quite demonstrate just how boggy the ground was at this point – you have no idea how close I came to going back to the stepping stones and trying my luck.

Ahead I could see the ridge that marked the line of the old railway – the Wensleydale Railway organisation are trying to raise the funds to connect the line all the way to the Settle to Carlisle as it once did – and here I turned away to head over the fields just as the sun came back out and lifted my spirits, although I’d have been happier if it had dried my trouser legs.

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23. More black and white (c) Kim Ralls

The best part about this last stretch of the walk is that it’s mostly downhill which, after a day’s hard slog, was a great relief. Had I the energy, I might even have been inclined to run down the last few… yeah, who am I kidding?

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24. Still boggy, folks (c) Kim Ralls

I passed through the last farm on my route, a small collection of buildings called Hollins House. The path at this point wasn’t well signposted and I had to check the map several times, although it wasn’t quite detailed enough. In short, head diagonally through the farmyard (closing all gates behind you, mind) and you can’t go wrong.

From here it was a short distance to the lower falls and the final ‘home’ stretch up to the car park. I was footsore and covered in mud at this point, but the sense of achievement was worth all the hard toil through mud and up and down the hills – not to mention the lack of a cream tea at the castle.

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25. The Lower Falls (c) Kim Ralls

I wondered up through the woods and through the car park, watching yet more people following the road round from the Upper Falls instead of the perfectly serviceable footpath. I like symmetry in things and a final photo of the Upper Falls seemed the best way to end my day’s outing, especially as the sun had come out once more as if on cue.

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26. Back to the beginning (c) Kim Ralls

 

Marching On The Castle – Part One

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Map (c) Kim Ralls

Driving along the A684 to and from work I never get tired of the view of Bolton Castle nestling snug against the hills with the small village of Castle Bolton stretching to the East. I’ve been on a bit of a health-drive lately after a Christmas of overindulgence (well, what else is Christmas for?) and a walk from Aysgarth Falls to Bolton Castle and back suited my needs perfectly in terms of distance and exertion.

The weather forecast wasn’t great for the day – dry, but cloudy – but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. Of course, I could always convert the photos to black and white if they looked a little dull and lifeless in colour.

I had also set myself a little challenge for this walk. I am a person possessed of a lethargic, indolent, laissez-faire approach to life.

Alright. I’m naturally lazy.

I enjoy my creature comforts, but this has the unfortunate side-effect that when taking photos I’ve often let the camera do the lion’s share of the work when deciding on the correct settings for a particular exposure. Some might argue that the automatic modes on a DSLR are there for a reason, but others will insist that ‘proper’ photographers only ever use Manual mode. Anyway, I have a foot in both camps, but I decided that I wanted to actually get to know my camera beyond the basics that I’ve worked out through trial and (mostly) error. Therefore, I decided to set the camera on Manual so that I would have to adjust everything myself and help improve my ability to judge an exposure.

And now for the walk.

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1. Upper Falls, Aysgarth (c) Kim Ralls

I started on the bridge looking at the Upper Falls. The past week had seen quite a bit of rain, not to mention the water that was still coming off the hills from the week of snow courtesy of the so-called ‘Beast From The East’ (when I first heard the term, as I come from Norfolk, I wondered if they were trying to tell me something). The grey skies didn’t offer the best backdrop of lighting for a shot of the falls, but I think I managed to capture the sheer force of water rolling and crashing over the rocks and down beneath the bridge.

I walked up the footpath to the national park centre car park (pay and display is the only option for those travelling by car, unless you park at the Aysgarth Falls Hotel – which states its car park is for customers only. I leave it up to you). Despite the clear signs, I saw people walking along the road which not only takes longer, but runs the risks of traffic and nowhere to move out of the way. As I walked along the footpath, I saw them out of the corner of my eye coming back with chagrined expressions on their faces.

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2. Aysgarth National Park Centre (c) Kim Ralls

The park centre is a nice place to start from for two reasons – it has toilets and a small cafe that serves a rather nice scone (dare I mention which way round I put the jam and the cream?) It also serves as a nexus for a number of footpaths to the waterfalls and woodland in the immediate area and, for those lacking, the gift shop is well-stocked with OS maps and guidebooks (I used Yorkshire Dales OL30: Northern and Central Dales as the basis for this walk). For the first stage of this walk, I needed to make my way over to Carperby and I had a choice of two routes. The first meant walking out of the park centre and up the road, under the old railway bridge, and then across the fields to come out about half-way along the main street of Carperby. The other, and my preferred route for this walk, went up a flight of very slippery steps and crossed over the old track bed into a field. This was to be the start of one of the boggiest walks I’ve been on for quite some time.

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3. The old track bed. The railway once went all the way to Hawes (c) Kim Ralls

As I slipped and squelched across the first of the fields, the grey clouds began to melt away like dry ice in a cheap horror film and the countryside was bathed in very welcome sunlight and almost clear blue skies. I wasn’t so naive as to think this would dry the ground in time to make my progress any easier, but at least it made the prospect of Somme-like mud a little less depressing.

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4. To misquote Captain Scott: “Great God, this is a muddy place” (c) Kim Ralls

With the skies clearing, photographing the landscape became a little more of a challenge as the huge contrast between light and shade meant that it wasn’t always easy to find the right exposure settings. I have to admit that, in the end, I cheated a little and set the ISO (the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor) to AUTO to make my life a little easier. However, I was quite pleased with a shot I took of Addleborough, a prominant hill to the West that I would like to climb some day, though as far as I am aware there are no public rights of way to the summit, which is something of a dissappointment. Oh well.

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5. Addleborough (c) Kim Ralls

Turning the other way, I was presented with my first proper view of the castle.

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6. Bolton Castle (c) Kim Ralls

The path, such as it is, eventually comes out at the main road just outside Carperby and this was where I met my first obstacle of the day. On the map, there is supposed to be a footpath that runs through a farm and comes out near the end of the village green. There was a signpost on the gate for this path that stated it had been ‘legally rerouted’ and that I was to follow the new markers. The only problem being that there weren’t any markers that I could see and, rather than get in trouble for going somewhere I shouldn’t, I went back to the road just as an RAF Tornado flew overhead too fast for me to get a photograph; manual mode does have its drawbacks.

Carperby is a small, narrow village that hugs the main road as it winds along the slopes of Wensleydale. The village green was spotted with clumps of snowdrops beneath the spreading branches of a large tree.

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7. Carperby Village Green (c) Kim Ralls

Walking through the village I removed my raincoat, made unnecessary by the welcome change in the weather, and looked for the signpost for the footpath to Castle Bolton. It was easily visible at the far end of the village, the path crossing through a farmyard and up to a line of fields bathed in sunlight.

The sight of a string of dead moles added a gruesome touch to the day’s proceedings – especially for someone who grew up watching the Cosgrove Hall claymation version of The Wind In The Willows.

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8. It looked more gruesome in colour, trust me… (c) Kim Ralls

As I said, the footpath led me through the farmyard and, according to my OS map, hugged the wall before climbing up to a field above a stand of small hawthorns. There was also a perfectly servicable track that would have been easier going, but I’m a stickler for following paths and not risking the wrath of the local farmers for venturing off them. In the end, I slipped and scrambled my way up to the top of the footpath and then decided that, next time, I might just as well take the track – it might not be a designated path, but anything would be better than stabbing myself on thorns and catching branches in my hair.

The view at the top, though, was worth the discomfort, especially as the last of the clouds were drifting down towards the castle and I had an almost clear blue sky for photographing Pen Hill and the Dale spread out below me.

The footpath was easy to follow and, with the sun bright and hot, I took my polarising filter out of the bag and fitted it onto my lens. I don’t use filters very often, but on a day like today, a polariser is a positive boon to avoid photos where the clouds are indistinct flashes of white and the outlines of buildings and trees can look less than sharp against the sky.

Passing through a couple of fields I came to what has to be one of the more ornate gates I’ve encountered in my walks around the Dales.

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9. Ooh, I say, how smart! (c) Kim Ralls
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10. (c) Kim Ralls

It was refreshing to see the landscape around the castle and its village from a new angle. As I’ve said, I often see the castle from the road (I imagine there are worse views for a morning commute) and even with the ever-changing weather in this part of the country, I never get bored of it. But I’d been planning to do this walk pretty much from the day we first moved into the area and I was feeling a certain sense of achievement for finally getting around to it – after nearly fifteen years!

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11. Standing on the bridge (c) Kim Ralls

The path skirted round the edge of a small plantation labelled ‘West Bolton Plantation’ on my map. A babbling stream flowed down from a spring somewhere above me and dissappeared into the trees. Another advantage of using my polariser was that I could photograph the rocks and stones beneath the water without the relfection of the sunlight getting in the way. I crossed the stream via a small bridge – well, a pair of large slabs dropped between the two banks – and walked down through the farm of West Bolton where I was greeted by a trio of the smartest-looking alpacas I’ve ever seen (it being private property, I didn’t take any photos – and I’m sure you’re all disappointed not to see the alpacas).

From the farm it was an undulating trek towards the castle with quite a few streams that had evidently sprung up from all the melting snow on the tops. It was surprising just how much snow was still on the ground even after a week of rain and raised temperatures. I even washed my boots in one stream but, as will be seen, this was a somewhat pointless exercise.

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12. Approaching the castle (c) Kim Ralls

The castle itself is a prominant landmark in the area and, according to several stories, was one of the the stopping points for Mary Queen of Scots on her way to her trial. Personally, I believe if all the places that boasted that distinction actually had hosted her and her escort, it would have taken several years before she reached London. Not that I imagine she was in any great hurry to get there.

By this time I was feeling decidely hungry and was looking forward to a sandwich in the castle tearooms. Crossing onto the castle grounds, I saw the doors firmly shut and began to get a sinking feeling. I was certain the castle was open at this time of year, but I checked online (whilst marvelling that I actually had 4G in this area) and found that they didn’t open until the end of March. Oh well, at least it said that the tearooms were open every day.

Except they weren’t open today.

As if on cue, my stomach began to grumble and I began to seriously wonder if I was doomed to wonder all the way back to Aysgarth without a single bite to eat. Dear God, how could I survive when I’d only had a bowl of cereal and yogurt for breakfast? Would I ever live to see my family and guitars again?

Oh, hang on, there’s a pub in Redmire.

I checked the map and found the path connecting the two villages. My watch read half-past twelve, so they were bound to be serving lunch. At worst, they might sell me a packet of peanuts to assuage the gaping hole in my stomach. But not before I’d taken a few snaps of the castle. You see, dear readers, I do think of you.

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13. (c) Kim Ralls
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14. (c) Kim Ralls
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15. (c) Kim Ralls

The path was at the far end of the village, past a pickup with a sheep dog that growled and barked its head off as I came near and scrabbled at the bars. I have that effect of animals.

The footpath took me down and across several more fields and over even boggier ground than I had encountered back at Aysgarth – now you see why I needn’t have bothered washing my boots in that stream earlier.

My OS map also highlighted the intriguingly-named Nelly Force, a waterfall that looked like it was right next to the path. Aha! thought I, that’ll make for a nice photo for the blog. Except the trees and bushes had grown so much that all I saw was a bit of foam accompanied by a loud rush of water plunging over rocks and stones. Not the kind of photo that was going to win me any prizes.

Eventually the path crossed another section of the old railway track and over a stream into the village of Redmire just up the road from the Bolton Arms pub. The relief I felt when I saw the sign outside proclaiming “Food Served Daily” was indescribable.

A Knee In The Howgills

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Sedbergh and Winder (c) Kim Ralls

The term “rolling hills” could have been coined with the Howgill Fells in mind. Driving along the A684 towards Sedbergh I could see them rising above the town, a collection of deceptively gentle-looking slopes covered in verdant greenery. Parking in a pay and display car park at one end of the high street, I followed my newly aquired OS map (owing to a lack of memory, I’d had to delete my maps from the phone) and promptly got lost looking for the path up to the base of the fells.

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1. Sedbergh High Street – this is the way I came back into town after the walk (c) Kim Ralls

I did, however, come across a distinctive mound that, according to the map, was once the motte and bailey of a medieval castle. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see any way to look at it more closely and, let’s be honest, there were far more impressive mounds to climb as you can see in the photo of the car park.

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2. The car park – to the right of the picture is where the walk starts (c) Kim Ralls

I eventually found the track next to Westwood Books, a former cinema now converted into a veritable warehouse of secondhand tomes. Sedbergh proudly proclaims its status as ‘England’s Book Town’ and for an avid reader such as myself, it’s a paradise of second-hand books. I would be investigating the town’s wares later in the day and coming away with a couple of books that I’d been after for some time. It was a good thing that I put plenty of money into the machine in the car park – once my walk was over, I completely lost track of time whilst browsing in the various bookshops in town.

The track didn’t look too steep and neither did the slopes of the fells that I could see through gaps in the hedges and trees. However, by the time I reached a stile and passed into a field of cows the sweat was running down my face and neck and I had to stop for a breather. When you walk regularly for a while and then stop, it’s amazing how rapidly the body becomes unfit. The walk had barely begun and I already felt as if I’d undergone an arduous trek through the countryside. This did not bode well.

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3. Looking up the track towards the Howgills. Winder (on the left) was my target for the walk (c) Kim Ralls

The cows were lying on a small mound (these featured prominently throughout the walk) in the middle of their field and they watched me as I walked as confidently as I could manage whilst keeping close to the wall. I ended up wading through thick mud that tried to tug the boots from my feet and, whilst keeping an eye on one or two of the cows who had decided to stand up and plod towards me, I missed the stile out of the field. The cows lay down again and I got out of the field by climbing over the gate in the top left corner and looking around in case I had to apologise to the farmer.

That was to be only my first encounter with livestock on this walk. For now, I took another breather and admired the (admittedly over-cast) view of Sedbergh and the hills on the other side.

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4. Winder (c) Kim Ralls

The Howgills are not like the fells and hills of the Dales. They’re not limestone, for one thing, and the gorse and bracken-covered slopes appear gentle and easy, unlike the craggy sides of Pen Hill and its like. The Howgills have interesting names like Winder, Arant Haw and The Calf and based on the views I’d had so far, I had a feeling I’d be coming back for more.

But I wasn’t going to accomplish anything standing around and so I followed a track of stones and hardcore along the banks of Settlebeck Gill (a gill being a small stream). It was dark under the trees and although the beck looked lovely, babbling and burbling over the rocks below, I couldn’t quite get the right angle to take a decent photo without slithering down the bank with no assurance that I could get out again. I’ve included the one photo I decided to keep, although it doesn’t even come close to doing the scene justice. A professional photographer would undoubtedly be able to take a good photo under these conditions; I make no claim to being a pro.

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5. Settlebeck Gill – not my best photo (c) Kim Ralls
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6. The path by the gill (c) Kim Ralls

Even with such a well-made track to walk on, the going was tiring. My being deceived by the apparently gentle slopes was to be a recurring theme throughout this walk.

And being out of shape wasn’t my only problem.

I used to practice a martial art that involved a lot of kneeling on hard wooden floors (Iaido – the Japanese art of the sword) and discovered that I have a problem with my knees. In a normal human body there is a pad of fat fixed between the knee joint that stops the bones grinding against each other. Unfortunately, my fat pads aren’t fixed in place and, occasionally, one or both of them slips out and causes me a lot of pain. According to the doctor, this is a condition that either fixes itself or remains with me for the rest of my life. Granted there are worse conditions to suffer from, but it can be a pain in the proverbial when out walking. Ascending the track past the gill, I had to stop frequently as my knees were starting to hurt.

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7. Sedbergh (c) Kim Ralls

Near the top of the track the trees and bushes gave way and I had a magnificent view of the town and the surrounding fells. A simple wooden bench meant that I could sit down and give my knees a rest whilst taking photos with my camera – I don’t believe in suffering for one’s art.

At this point my map showed the footpath climbing up alongside Settlebeck Gill in what looking like a savagely steep ascent and I had a feeling my knees would not cope with it. However, a woman walking her dog came along what was apparently a path along the base of the hill and, even though it wasn’t on the map, I thought I’d try that way and see if there was a gentler way to the summit – take it from me, if you’re body’s protesting there’s no sense in flogging it unnecessarily.

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8. The ‘easy’ path (c) Kim Ralls

It wasn’t long before I was wishing I’d gone up the other path. Following the wall on one side and the bracken on the other, the path was a slippery morass of mud and pools and streams that threatened to send me sprawling at any moment. I was in two minds as to whether or not I should put my camera away until I was on firmer ground, not wanting to risk falling over and damaging it (or me, for that matter!)

I decided to keep it out; after all you never know what you might see and, knowing my luck, the moment I put it away I’d need to take it out again to shoot something spectacular and fleeting.

And so I went on my slippery way with one hand holding my camera and the other stretched out for balance as required. I’m glad the only eyes watching me belonged to the sheep grazing in the bracken; if they thought I looked ridiculous they weren’t saying.

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9. A sheep grazing in the bracken (c) Kim Ralls

Almost half-way along this path I got a much better view of the town and stopped to take a photo. An RAF jet roared overhead, sending the sheep scurrying into the bracken (you’d think they’d be used to that sort of thing round here). It was over and gone before I’d even had the chance to see it let alone try to photograph it. The sun had poked its head out of the clouds whilst I scanned the sky for the aircraft and then hid again as I raised my camera to photograph the town (and, yes, it was spectacular and fleeting).

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10. Sedbergh (again) (c) Kim Ralls

I was disappointed that the weather wasn’t better. Granted, the forecast had been for grey skies, so it wasn’t as though I’d been expecting bright sunshine. But grey skies can be hard to photograph without either underexposing the ground or overexposing the sky (hence why some of the photos in this entry are darker than I would like). I do carry a set of filters for this purpose, but they’re a pain in the backside to fit onto the lens and I didn’t think any of the photos I’d taken so far were too bad – I could always try lightening them on the computer once I got home.

I’d ordered a polarising filter the other day, but it hadn’t arrived in time for this walk (a polorising filter is like a set of sunglasses for your camera and it has the added advantage of enhancing colour and contrast; it would have been perfect for a day like this).

With no help from the map, it was hard to guage how far the path went until, finally, I came across a farm gate and a sign suggesting I try the local ice-cream. Anyone who knows me well will find it hard to believe that I didn’t partake immediately. However, contrary to popular opinion, I do have a modicum of will-power when it comes to food and I resisted tempation and followed the path as it finally began to climb. At this point the map indicated that I was on an actual footpath. Not only that, but reading the contours indicated that, apart from one stretch close to where I stood, it would be a nice gentle ascent to the summit of Winder. The original path might have been a quicker ascent, but I’d enjoyed the view of the town and there would always be other opportunities to explore the paths up and down the fells.

As I climbed, the sun came out once more and really brought out the colour in the clouds above the town; I couldn’t resist taking the photo and it’s probably my favourite from the whole walk.

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11. Looking back down the hill to Sedbergh (c) Kim Ralls

After taking the photo, I turned and followed the path as it turned and took a steep climb up the slopes. I was feeling good; my knees had stopped aching, the sun was shining sporadically and it was almost time to stop and enjoy the picnic I’d bought in town (not that I’m obsessed with food).

As I walked I imagined all the fine views I would have from the summit; the town, the valley, the fells beyond Winder. As much as I love the Dales and all the hidden footpaths that I’ve yet to explore near my own home, I was falling in love with the fells above Sedbergh even though I had been there less than half a day.

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12. Now for the steep bit (c) Kim Ralls

Sheep scattered as I began my ascent. They ran sure-footed over the slopes, bounding with unexpected grace to get away from the galumphing Southerner with his camera, backpack and picnic. I took a step and my left foot slipped on a patch of mud. Arms flailing, I kept my balance as I felt my knee twist and a blast of pain shoot through my leg. The grey skies were turned blue as I used every swear-word in my vocabulary.

I took a tentative step and felt the pain again. There was no way I was going to complete the climb to the summit. It was with some reluctance and a large amount of anger that I turned back and retraced my footsteps back to the farm gate. Every step was agony but there was no other way and, who knows, most of the time when this sort of thing happens the knee pops back in of its own accord and I have no further trouble.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case and I limped back into town, dreading the drive home in a van with a manual gearbox. As you can imagine, every gear change sent a fresh wave of pain up and down my leg and even Lynyrd Skynyrd blasting out at full volume couldn’t drown out my cursing. Goodness knows what the wildlife thought.

I had planned this walk for weeks, looking forward to it because it was wholly new ground that I could return to again and again. The map had shown so many different paths over the fells and I had plans to explore them all eventually. For now, they would have to wait for another day. I got home and stretched out on the sofa where, to my immeasurable relief (and slight annoyance), I felt and heard my knee pop back into place. By then it was too late to go back and try the walk again and so I opened up one of the books I had bought in town and began to plot.

I’d return to Sedbergh and the Howgills, that was certain. After all, lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it?

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.