Gathering Storm at Thorpe Cloud - Dovedale
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Gathering Storm at Thorpe Cloud - Dovedale

A trip to Dovedale in the Staffordshire Peak District is rewarded with a dramatic chase of sunlight across the famous Stepping Stones.

Sunlight At Dovedale Stepping Stones

With the weather having been so dull it has been a week or so since I have been out with my camera. Not being able to restrain myself anymore I headed out with my youngest son to Dovedale in Staffordshire.

This beautiful location is only about half an hour away from home, so we could take our time and enjoy our father and son time. The sky was promising with intermittent sun and cloud - just what I like for a bit of the old drama.

I am going through a bit of a phase with my landscapes. I have noticed a theme of incorporating dramatic blacks into my images rather than the subtle colours of yesteryear. Maybe this is a photographic mid life crisis - but I am enjoying it while it lasts.

The Car Park

There is a handy car park at Dovedale that gives an easy level walk to the Stepping Stones. The only issue is getting a space and having the right change. Increasingly the car parks across the Peak District are converting to card pay versions which, in my opinion, are much better. So, armed with a £5 note and a Visa card I was all prepared for parking whichever kind I would find.

The journey from home, through the village of Wirksworth (Gem of the Peak) and then down along the shore of Carsington Water is always pleasant and we soon arrived at the little village of Thorpe. Whenever I am in Thorpe (or Ilam) I wish I could spend a few hours pottering around to get some nice images of the lovely houses. Particularly heading between Thorpe and Dovedale there are spectacular views with homesteads and farms scattered in just the right places.

Today we were just out for a walk and to see if I could get a better version of a previous 'Stepping Stones' image.

Problem #1: Parking

There were plenty of spaces but the machine only took coins and the refreshment stand only took Visa. So we headed back out to find a shop in a nearby village. Surprisingly, having burnt up a good 20 miles of fuel, we still had not come across anywhere to get some change. It would mean heading to Ashbourne and paying a quick visit to the Co-op. So much for a cheap day out.

Problem #2: The Diggers

Having got some change by investing in a Co-op lolly we found a space and made haste to the stones. The whole place was busy - young families, elderly couples and groups with dogs. As we walked along my heart sank as I considered the amount of waiting we would have to do to get a clear shot. In our previous visit I had three children with me and after an hour of waiting we had halted passers by claiming to be 'postcard photographers' just get some semblance of an empty view. As a side note, I have found the old postcard photographers trick quite handy. It sort of explains why you are taking pictures of seemingly mundane scenes, need people to get out of the way or just to give you some sort of respectability. I have used it from downtown Charlotte (NC) at night to early morning Oxford.

As we rounded the final corner I gasped as in front of us were two yellow work trucks and a mini JCB. All conveniently parked at one end of the stones.

Not only was the entire view blocked the River Dove was littered with dead and fallen trees. No matter what angle I used this was in no way going to be an improvement on my previous attempt.

Problem #3: Composition

Having spent £3 on parking I was going to take a photo!

We headed over the stones to the base of Thorpe Hill and then up the opposite bank. Eventually we reached a point above the tree line that enabled us to get a shot of the stones as well as Thorpe Hill. By this time the vans and digger had made off and we waited as the hordes of people started to clear as the sky darkened.

A cold chill blew through the valley as we were scrambling yet further up the hill until we could see clearly the Dove and the Hill as sunlight occasionally pierced the growing clouds above us.

Then the sunlight shone across the hills in the distance. A patch of light raced towards us and for a moment lit up the base of the hill and the famous stones. And that was my shot!

Postscript Notes

  • The Stepping Stones are a very popular attraction so an early start is always recommended
  • Do not wait for people to let you cross the stones - just make your way and look determined :D
  • A few of the stones are at an angle / slippery / awkwardly placed so be careful
  • The hot food sold in the kiosk of the carpark is GREAT and reasonably priced

After you have taken your photos you may find that the colour of the grass in Dovedale looks almost artificial. I have spent hours trying to get the greens to look 'real'. It was only when I compared my images to the real scene that it came home to me that the colours are indeed quite unique.

Get Your Own Limited Edition Print

You can have your own exclusive Limited Edition Fine Art Print of 'Gathering Storm at Thorpe Cloud' signed by Peter and posted directly to your door!

Location: Thorpe Cloud, Ashbourne DE6 2BE.

Keywords: Derbyshire (13), Peak District (17).

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