Hassness Country House – the Best of the Lake District 21 – 25 April, 2012
Who could want better scenery for the second event of “Walking with your Camera” than that which is found at Buttermere, in the heart of the English Lake District?
The group of 16 photographers were all very enthusiastic as they arrived throughout the late afternoon, with lots of ‘Oooo’s and ‘Ahhhh’s at the imposing grandeur of High Stile, Goat Crag, and conversation about their own ‘White Knuckle Ride’ down Honister Pass.
Alan Paul, the group leader, gave the first briefing before dinner, with a short demonstration from myself on how to keep one’s camera dry should the traditional Cumbrian weather give us its normal four-seasons-in-one-day routine. It is wonderful what you can do with a few elastic bands and a bin bag!
After dinner it was down to the business of sorting out the settings of the many makes and sizes of cameras, everything from DSLRs with multiple lenses and filters to small compacts and bridge cameras. Including one owner with a brand new Canon DSLR, just out of its box, with the battery charged up two days before arriving for the course!
Most people were ready for my suggestion of changing their camera settings from taking the normal JPG format, to taking one RAW file and one JPG as well as changing the mode from Automatic to AV or similar settings.
I had suggested to the group that I would be available each morning over the three days for a drive down to Derwentwater to capture the sunrise. I got an overwhelming response and no less than 11 of the 16 photographers were very keen on the idea. We met in the hallway of Hassness Country House at 5 am. Some had been up slightly earlier and managed to grab a quick cuppa before venturing out. The weather initially looked anything but inspiring; we piled into three cars and set off for Derwentwater slightly later than I had hoped.
On our arrival at the lakeside, there were some wonderful, cloudy atmospherics playing over Skiddaw and Blencathra, which made it all feel worthwhile. Then as the time came for the sun to break the horizon the upper part of the sky was tinted with a pinkish hue. Nothing spectacular, but enough to warrant a few extra photographs.
I spent my time giving one-to-one instruction to everyone as they stretched out along the Western Shore of the lake. I find myself giving lots of practical information about image composition, the use of strong foreground items, plus shutter speeds, ISO settings, filters, etc. Then all too soon it was time to return to Hassness for a well-deserved breakfast before setting off on our main walk for the day.
Our main walk for the first day was the ridge of High Stile. Our choice was to travel via Scale Force rather than cutting straight up to Bleaberry Tarn. This way we had some lovely views to photograph looking back along Buttermere as well as along the length of Crummock Water.
We had a quick elevenses break at Scale Force with people eating part of their packed lunch as well as taking photographs of the waterfall, the bridge and Scale Beck.
When we reached the summit of Red Pike there were several gasps of “Wow!” at the view that greeted us. The weather had remained cloudy with patches of sunlight but visibility was 100% and we could see the Solway Firth with the Scottish Mountains behind.
Stretched out in front of us was the entire length of Crummock Water with Rannerdale Knotts and Whiteless Pike on the far bank reaching up to the sky. Before and during our lunch break on Red Pike many photographs were taken of the surrounding mountains and atmospheric drama which only the Lakes can supply.
After completing the walk up to High Stile Ridge we went on to High Crag, dropping down steeply to Scarth Gap Pass, enjoying many stops for photographs along the way. Unfortunately, our leader Alan placed his foot on a loose stone at the beginning of the descent to Scarth Gap Pass and injured his ankle.
Whilst still able to walk with only a modicum of pain we exchanged places, me taking back marker and Alan taking the lead. Into the bargain the weather also changed and we were pelted with hailstones and rain for much of our descent down to Peggy’s Bridge and Buttermere.
Tired and wet but still talking about the views and images which we had taken we slowly made our way back to the accommodation at Hassness House.
After dinner that evening, although still feeling the effects of a long ridge walk, we somehow found the energy to walk down to the water’s edge at Buttermere. The sun was setting over a totally still and flat lake with not a ripple to break the mirror-like reflection of that day’s walk, High Stile Ridge.
The following morning we were up a little earlier and set off for another sunrise session at Derwentwater just below Brandlehow Park, setting off just before 5am with a much smaller group of only four! This time we were lucky enough to have some wonderful colour in the lower clouds around Skiddaw and Blencathra just before the sun broke the horizon.
For the tutorial session that day the group was split: half went for a short walk with the group leader in the morning and the other half were left to have instruction from me on processing both JPG and RAW images and discussing the differences between them.
The group enjoyed the tutorial and found that by using RAW files it was possible to do so much more and produce much better quality images when processing.
After dinner that evening we noticed that Buttermere once again had a mirror-like stillness over its surface and we ventured forth to the water’s edge for further images of the setting sun.
The following morning we were off early once again to Derwentwater for our final sunrise. Numbers were back up and we had to take two cars across to Brandlehow Park. The weather was less than inspiring with lots of thick white cloud when we left Buttermere and it did not improve once we got into Borrowdale.
However, we enthusiastically descended through the Park to the water’s edge. We were all pleasantly surprised to find the lake was almost as smooth as Buttermere had been the night before. Whilst there wasn’t much colour in the sky we were able to capture a few atmospheric images with good reflections of the surrounding mountains.
After breakfast it was decided that I would lead the members of the group that wanted to do another ridge walk. Meanwhile Alan, still feeling the effects of his fall, would look after the members who wished to stay behind and take a stroll around Buttermere.
I took my part of the group over to Little Town in the Newlands Valley for a circular walk up to High Spy Cairn, with grand views over Derwentwater and Bassenthwait Lake as well as views of the eastern fells including Helvellyn. Visibility was good for most of the time although the light was rather flat it did allow us to capture a waterfall in the valley below Dale Head.
We arrived back to the cars in very good time. So with time in hand I took the group over to Watendlath, stopping for the classic Lakeland images of Ashness Bridge, Surprise View, and Watendlath Bridge and Tarn. Stopping also at the local café for teas and coffees and to be entertained by the many chaffinches that were feeding in the grounds.
Once back at Hassness, the members who had stayed with Alan had been taking images of the local wildlife display in the grounds. They had been able to capture images of a red squirrel and several small birds plus a woodpecker.
Very soon everyone wanted images and there were photographers in the garden, at the windows, hiding in the vegetation and any other vantage point which could be found!
The Hassness Country House hosts, Carole and Brian had moved the bird feeders along to the edge of the lounge and dining room so that the display could be enjoyed by the guests. It was very much a success with my group of photographers and for the next few hours all the conversation was about who had captured a close-up view of the woodpecker.
After dinner, we had our final briefing and some feedback from the group. All had enjoyed the trip and had found it beneficial to their photographic skills and knowledge. A good time was certainly had by all, easy bite-sized chunks of learning with lots of laughter and enjoyment on the photographic walks. I have already had several thank-you messages sent to me and I thank each and every one for your kind remarks.