A Quest to Capture the Golden Hour: Wild Camping in the Lake District

Chasing after that ethereal golden hour sunrise but not a fan of the early starts? X-Photographer Mark Gilligan tried out wild camping to rise with the sun. Here’s how he got on.

By Mark Gilligan

Ah, the simple pleasures of life. They invigorate the soul! Changes and new experiences are great but it’s nice to do what you enjoy. It gives us you a lift. Genesis, my favourite band of all time, summed it up nicely when Peter Gabriel lent his unmistakable voice to, “I know what I like” and I am, sure many of you reading this will feel the same.

We are all ‘routined’ to a point and I suppose I fall into that bracket. Whilst I may be laid back I am never complacent. I regularly slip out of the ‘comfort zone’ and push myself, but if there is one thing I do not like to disrupt, it is enjoying a good night’s kip! A comfy bed with clean sheets, bit of a read, lights out and I am off.

I awake, have an invigorating hot shower, get dressed and breakfast. Then it is time to attack the day. I definitely know what I like and I approach my photography in exactly the same way. I love the mountains and great views. I will never tire of them but it would be easy to keep going along to regular haunts never being bored with them and marveling at what they give me. That won’t change. After 40 odd years of shooting professionally, I am still learning my craft and I enjoy exploring new ways to enrich my skillset. It was on one of my, “what can I do now?” days that I thought about wild camping.

I hadn’t done that before and I knew it would really push me out of my comfort zone, plus I could shoot images when the light was only ever in that place, particularly at sunrise. However, it was a concept that was as appealing as it was not! The reason being? The last time I slept in a tent was over 25 years ago with my, then very young, family on holiday in North Wales and it rained. It always seemed to rain… or was it my imagination? No. It rained. It rained a lot and, of course, I was now considering going to do this in the lakes.
No idea if you know, but it has a habit of raining there. Beautiful though it maybe, I just knew that I would pitch up on one of its iffy days. Sod’s law.

Whilst I am used to working in extreme conditions and actually revel in it, I couldn’t get the potential poor sleep aspect out of my head. My spinal condition is a genuine concern that had to be factored in and then there’s the weather. I know it’s an English preoccupation and I can hack it in the day time but my past experiences kept leaning me back to the ‘what if?’. I decided that I was letting that one aspect override the chance to get some stunning photos, so I focused on organising the trip and not worrying.

One thing you must be mindful of, especially in England, is that there are land rights issues concerning wild camping on ‘open ground’ so I obtained written permission for where I was going. If you normally think about wild camping, you would want a nice warm summer’s evening. That’s sensible for a first time and I would agree with that, but this was approaching November and I thought, “what the heck, now is as good a time as ever“.
I sort advice from friends who regularly went on camping trips and my kit list would cover most eventualities but at the same time being practical. It is all about the weight, after all.

A tent was obvious and I got hold of a cracking lightweight model that weighed practically nothing made by Trekkertent. I borrowed lightweight cooking gear and I was entrusted with a titanium ‘spork’. All new to me, this!

My aversion to a bad night’s kip had to be approached seriously, so I treated myself to a good sleeping bag and a self-inflating mat that would cushion me against the ground.

Eventually, November 4th arrived and I had everything packed into a large Berghaus rucksack. It topped 13KG but I could cope with that even with my back. I knew I wasn’t climbing Everest and where I had planned to go, would involve as short a trek as possible. There was a pub not too far away, too!

As the main objective was to take photographs, I had to keep my camera gear down to the minimum to be as light as possible, and that meant being frugal. I knew the location well, which helped and the distances I would shoot, so I didn’t need big lenses. I took my FUIJFILM X-Pro1, an XF18-55mm lens, three LEE Sev5n soft grad filters, a cable release and my tripod.

The forecast was for a nice dry evening, ensuring a good sunset followed by a gloriously sunny sunrise. It would be cool but not as cold as you would expect for that time of year… they lied.

F8 |1/80 | ISO 200

When I arrived, yes, you guessed it… the rain was already in serious mode, so I had to pitch quickly. Choosing the ideal spot wasn’t easy as I wanted to be protected by the wind but within easy reach of the location I wanted to shoot as well. Once pitched up, I knew that, as it was dark around 4.45pm, I was in for a long night… a very, very long night! Sunrise was due at 7.40am so I had time to kill.

I had no chance of a sunset as the clag was right down and so the clock began to tick. Slowly. I didn’t bring my laptop to keep the weight down, so I settled into reading a book and writing a few notes and dozed off. I was awoken by what I thought was someone shining a torch into the tent but it was the full moon. I peeped outside and the night sky was not affected by the light pollution at all and was magical to look at. However, it wasn’t the time for me to rise and shoot, so I popped back into the comfort of the sleeping bag and dropped off until I was awoken by some nosey Herdwick sheep! I cat napped then until the alarm went off and when I looked outside it was beginning to get light.

The wind had gone and I knew I was in for something special. I just had a feeling.
I rarely look into or shoot towards the sun for obvious reasons, but as it announced its arrival behind me the colours and light that emerged were ethereal. I had to do my best to capture it.

Hard Knott Sunrise – F11 | 1/25 | ISO 200

I was in my element… literally!

For the next hour the light became stronger and the sun warmed up my skin. I took quite a few photographs and knew as I did that, irrespective of my images, I had witnessed the dawn of a new day from a completely different perspective. For me, photography is all about capturing a moment. THE moment and this certainly fulfilled that.

Golden light at dawn on Slight Side – F11 | 1/8 | ISO 200
Looking towards Bowfell and Crinkle crag across the Esk Valley – F14 | 1/30 | ISO 200

The golden hour had been exactly that and as I sat there on a rock eating my porridge and drinking a coffee, I was at peace with everything around me. I could have stayed all day but as soon as my breakfast was over, I cleared up my camp and packed it all away.

There is a phrase that wild campers use: “LEAVE NOTHING. TAKE AWAY MEMORIES.” And so I did and still have the photographs to remind me of that time. I would love to repeat this venture but my spinal issues sadly preclude me from undertaking it too often.

So the big question: Was it worth it?
Without doubt.

As the morning warmed up – F16 | 1/50 | ISO 200. Three image stitch in LR


More from Mark Gilligan

Website: http://www.wastwaterphotography.co.uk/

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Author: Fujifilm EMEA

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3 thoughts on “A Quest to Capture the Golden Hour: Wild Camping in the Lake District”

  1. Andrew – UK hiking, camping and backpacking blog with trail diaries and gear reviews. No tough guy, no expert, just an ordinary oldie who likes the outdoors.
    Andrew says:

    Interested to read you’ve a Trekkertent, me too, lots of action pics of it on my blog 😉 I find it a bit prone to condensation, also draughty, but it’s a great two season shelter and very light as you say, completely waterproof and the inner is reliably bug-proof too.

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