14 Feb 2018 A South Downs rehearsal for the Pennine Way
When planning a travel photography job, preparation is important – especially for something as challenging as the Pennine Way, which I’ll be tackling in April. I’ve spent more than enough time in mountains and on long-distance trails like the Annapurna Circuit and West Highland Way to know that nothing can be left to chance. That’s especially the case where kit is concerned, and no less so for cameras than for boots, bivvy shelters and backpacks.
I’ve not had much of a chance to get hands-on with my camera – an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mk II – so far this year, so I took the opportunity of a frosty Saturday morning to take it on a traipse through the South Downs National Park. My aim was as much to escape London as it was to re-engage my creativity.
I set off from Hassocks rail station beneath cloudless dark skies and a sickle-sharp crescent moon, across paths and fields pale with frost. Later in the day, thawed mud turned into a squelching mire – but as I half-walked, half-jogged to the summit of Wolstonbury Hill I was glad that the ground was frozen iron-hard.
From Wolstonbury Hill I had commanding views of the Weald, spread flat beneath a pre-dawn mist. I set my camera up facing east towards Clayton Holt and its twin windmills, Jack and Jill, and caught sunrise while braving a bitterly cold wind. I continued my walk towards Ditchling Beacon behind runners enjoying hill training in the crisp morning air – a bit rueful, perhaps, that I wasn’t running with them, if only to warm up a little.
En route to Ditchling Beacon and its lofty views I paused to indulge in long-exposure landscape photography of a lonely tree shivering in the increasingly sharp wind by a frozen pond. Long exposures can be a useful tool in travel photography, although my main interest in them is that they force me to think creatively about a scene. My camera’s live view mode feels like a bit of a cheat, as it enables me to set a long exposure without having to resort to mental arithmetic to work out the correct shutter speed – but I’ll take ‘cheating’ if it means less time standing in the cold while the camera does its business. Ten minutes of shooting saw the pond’s surface thaw completely – a preview of what was happening to the mud further along my route.
Beyond Ditchling the weather turned increasingly squally, but I had a goal in sight and pressed on. Soon I reached my goal: the Chattri, a memorial to soldiers of the Indian Army who died in military hospitals in Brighton during the First World War. Fifty-three Hindu and Sikh men were cremated at the site according to their religious custom. The Chattri was built over the site of the funeral pyres, and now sits in a serene walled compound overlooking Brighton and the English Channel. It’s a deeply moving place.
From the Chattri I trudged back across fields thick with sticky mud and returned to Hassocks via the Clayton Windmills. The walk left me wet, thoughtful and muddy – but, above all, cheerful to have had time alone with my camera shooting travel photography once again.