Malhamdale: Autumn Colour, Daredevils, and a Proposal of Marriage.

October 16, 2015  •  1 Comment

Malham CoveMalham CoveMalham Cove, two hundred and sixty feet (80 Metres) of overhanging limestone.

What happened to 2015?

It is autumn already. There is a distinct chill in the fresh easterly breeze curling of the top of the hills which plucks the once green leaves leaving them to flutter slowly downwards towards the dew covered ground. Bolton Abbey through the treesBolton Abbey through the treesThe ruins of Bolton Abbey, through the branches of a tree.


The vibrant greens of spring and summer are fading fast as nature begins a slow withdraw, ready to sleep through the coming winter.



I love this time of year, the coolness, the colour, the quiet.



Photographically, I have been quiet also. Struggling to see through the "random noise" of everyday life, struggling to visualise the photographic potential laid out before me, struggling with that feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction which insidiously begins to pervade, enveloping everything, anything.

Everyone suffers from time to time, some more than others, some, like me, need assistance at times, assistance to climb out of the hole into which we had fallen.

Sometimes the fall is sudden, as if the ground has opened beneath our feet and swallowed us whole

Sometimes the fall is slow, imperceptible, until that gradual realisation that you are mired in quicksand, sinking down, inch by inch.


Photography has always been a lifeline, but over the last twelve months, a lifeline into which I seemed to have become somewhat entangled, further feeding the frustration.


The time has come where assistance is needed; a Creative Retreat, to help untangle the bonds and to assist in climbing back up out of 'that' hole.

Three days of calm and tranquility, mindfulness and meditation, with a group of likeminded others looking to re-awaken or enhance the creativeness we all carry within, learning  new skills that I can take away and use when needed.

Skills to help see through that random noise and re-engage with the surround landscape of Yorkshire, and what better time than autumn.


A couple favourite locations not too far from home are Bolton Abbey and Malham Cove. The river Wharfe runs through Bolton Abbey Estate. As the valley narrows, the steep banks are covered in mature trees. The leaves are just starting to turn but I'm a little early. The best of the colour is still to come. Evening Sunlight through Strid WoodEvening Sunlight through Strid WoodEarly evening sunlight filters through the leaves in Strid Wood, Wharfedale, North Yorkshire


Still, I spend the day slowly walking from the Abbey to the Strid and back again, taking my time to stop, look, listen and absorb everything going on around. The feeling of the wind, the warmth of the sun, shapes colours. Polly the labrador is with me, she is happy to wander about or lie beside my bag in the grass sniffing the air as I contemplate the surroundings.

The sky is clear and blue and the sunlight bright and harsh around midday. Not so good for taking photographs but I allow myself to enjoy it, as Polly does, as I wander. As time passes, the sky becomes more hazy and the light more diffuse. Fires are burning up on the surrounding moors. The local game keepers burn old heather promoting new growth for next year. The billowing smoke filters the sunlight creating a warmer slightly orange light as the afternoon sun begins to lower. 


Dry rust coloured beech leaves dot the moss covered rocks beside the Strid, a lovely contrast of orange and green. The river is running low, its surface, smooth and still, reflects the blue sky and the yellowing leaves of the trees further downstream.  

The sun has already set in the deep recesses of the valley. Climbing up away from the river it becomes visible again. Sunlight finds a straight path through the tangle of trees to reach the plants of the woodland floor. The light is fading quickly, the sun will soon descend below the tops of the smouldering moorland hills to the west.

For the first time in while I feel happier about the pictures I've taken. I've felt more connected with the surroundings, it has been a productive day thanks to new skills learned.

Malham CoveMalham CoveMalham Cove, two hundred and sixty feet (80 Metres) of overhanging limestone.


Like with all skills, to remain proficient, one needs to continually practice. As we seem to be enjoying a prolonged spell of relatively fine and dry weather it was good opportunity to get out again.

Malham is a little closer to home than Bolton Abbey and there are a variety of walks. Throw in a variety of scenery, open farmland, wild moorland, limestone, woodland, land both horizontal, and vertical, it is an ideal place for a photographic ramble. 

Polly, happy to be out again on another expedition, walks alongside stopping every few yards to examine some new smell. 

The leaves are more colourful this week. Stopping just inside the gate, a line of trees lies in front of the famous Malham Cove. Autumn coloured leaves contrast nicely with the pale blue grey of the limestone cliff.  A 200mm lens compresses this distance between the trees and the cove. This restricts the field of view some I take multiple images to stitch together later into one all encompassing photograph. (top image)


The path drops down to the river, Polly wants to go in for a paddle and a drink. I sit and listen to the sound of the running water and the rustle of the leaves in the trees. People have inhabited this landscape for thousands of years, what must it have been like then? What must it have been like at the end of the last ice age when a colossal waterfall flowed over the edge to drop 80 meters to the valley floor below?

What will the landscape be like 10,000 years from now?

Closer to the cove I see lines spanning across the face high above.


The next thing I see is even more startling. A person, walking slowly, arms waving as if sending a semaphore message, walks out onto one of the lines. Slowly, slowly, sometimes steady, other times wobbling with arms flailing for balance.

Suddenly, a slip! They hang motionless briefly, held by a leg and a hand and a safety tether. Then in a well practiced manoeuvre they swing themselves back upright, sitting astride the line. Then, after carefully regaining their feet, they continue on their with their perilous walk.

Time to climb up for a closer look. 

In contrast to their poise and balance, I skilfully trip up on the very bottom step of the climb up the side of the cove dropping both camera and bag in a semi controlled fashion to the ground. No damage done fortunately, apart from a couple of minor grazes, and a bruised ego. Hopefully, everyones eyes will have been looking upwards towards the action above. The camera is packed away and I begin the climb again pretending nothing happened. Polly is sitting waiting at the bottom gate with a disapproving look as if to say, "What took you so long?"

Four hundred steps, and puffing hard, we reach the top and find a good position to watch the tightrope walkers in action.

Polly, obviously based on my earlier falling about, gets decidedly agitated every time a head towards the cliff edge. Not even finding an old bone helps her to settle. Finally, a safe position well back but with a good view is chosen. She's happier here so throws her bone up in the air then proceeds to roll on it for five minutes, legs in the air tail wagging. One of the tightrope walkers is heading across, a grab a couple of pictures. He sees me and stops, balancing on what is actually a piece of tape about an inch wide. He must be at least 80 metres above the valley floor. Casually he walks up towards the edge then sits on the rope while we have a chat.

"Quite safe" he says, "We're tethered to the line and there's nothing to hit when you're up high". I didn't ask what happens if the line breaks.

"There are 11 different ways of standing up on a tightrope" he tells one young onlooker. He skilfully demonstrates one method and proceeds to walk back across the abyss towards his friends on the other side, stopping part way to set the line swinging from side to side and bouncing up and down before falling off and climbing back on again.  View to Pendle HillView to Pendle HillThe view from the top of Balham Cove towards Pendle Hill

Polly is fed up with her bone now so we carry on towards Gordale Scar. It is quieter there. We sit together by the catering van in the lay-by and share a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich. Polly likes tea, and bacon sandwiches.

After walking up to the base of the waterfalls I sit for a while to take in this new location, marvelling at the immense powers that created such a spectacular chasm. It has clouded over now, but the sky is still bright compared with the deep shadows here below surrounded by the high overhanging rock faces.

I want to get closer to the upper waterfall which flows through a natural hole in the rock. Again I need a longer lens, so again I need to take multiple shots with which to piece together the picture I imagine. The longer lens also helps me exclude the bright, but now featureless sky. 

Waterfalls, Gordale ScarWaterfalls, Gordale ScarGordale Beck tumbles over fallen limestone blocks, Gordale Scar, Yorkshire Dales.

Focussing carefully I check the depth of field in the foreground and background by swinging the camera back and forth, up and down. F16 seems to do the trick, and gives and exposure time of about 6 seconds which will nicely blur the water into a milky white.


I start a number of sweeps, leaving about a third to a half a frame over lap. The longer lens compresses the distance between the lower and upper falls. The shadows are deep and dark where the rocks overhang but they outline the natural hole the upper fall plunges through.


Polly's bark echoes off the surrounding cliffs, a group of 4 people are approaching so I stop for a while and chat with the older couple while the younger two continue up to the base of the  lower waterfall.


As we chat we notice the young man drop down onto one knee while holding young woman's hand. The lady next to me suddenly says "I think he's proposing!!"

I quickly swing the camera around on the tripod, refocus, adjust the exposure, and fire off a number of quick shots. Well, witnessing a proposal is not what you expect to come across everyday, especially in such a dramatic location. 

I give them my email and tell them to drop me a line and I'll send them some copies of the photos.


After such excitement, I settle back down and take another set of pictures before heading back through the campsite towards the road. Hand in hand the newly engaged couple, and their party, are heading up across the fields back towards Malham Cove and whatever their new life together might bring.
Polly and I, meanwhile, return to Malham by way of Gordale Beck and Janet's Foss. It is now late afternoon and the light is fading fast.
We stop and Polly goes in for a swim at the base of the falls while I set up for a few more photos. She sits there quietly dripping until I've finished.
It's time for home. We slowly make our way back to the car and a flask of warm milky coffee, stopping occasionally enroute while either Polly has another smell to investigate, or I spot something else to photograph. It's getting late and we're both getting tired. After all we've had rather an exciting day.
Woodland, Janets Foss.Woodland, Janets Foss.A woodland walk along Gordale Beck between Gordale Scar and Malham,
Woodland, Janets Foss.Woodland, Janets Foss.A woodland walk along Gordale Beck between Gordale Scar and Malham, Woodland, Janets Foss.Woodland, Janets Foss.A woodland walk along Gordale Beck between Gordale Scar and Malham,


Beautiful pictures and words TC.xx
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