Day two of my intention to create a decent image by shooting something that I’d properly conceived. Still I thought of shooting the sunset in Crag Lough. Still I wanted to frame the Milky Way in the dip of Sycamore Gap.
My strategy was different. Get there early, walk the wall to the east end of the lough (a Northumbrian word meaning lake and pronounced “Loff”) and from there scout a location before returning to Sycamore Gap to wait for the stars to play their part.
Almost immediately I redrew those plans. My route up to the top of the crags began at a place called Steel Rigg, and as I looked upwards at the short but steep section before me a memory from my schooldays returned. I was descending that same rocky path with a few schoolfriend after a study day at Housesteads. Forgetting I was wearing a rucksack I jumped down one of the larger steps, and as my knees bent to absorb the impact the momentum of that bag continued forwards, pitching me towards the drop onto the broken rocks below.
At the last moment a boy called Russell Muse reached out and grabbed me to arrest my further movement.
Descending that section in the dark, with a much heavier camera bag containing a small fortune in precision glass? Perhaps the Milky Way could wait. I had after all managed to capture it the previous evening even if the location was unimpressive. So I pressed on, following the undulations that must have plagued Roman engineers. How many accidents must have taken place here with Roman sandals on slick wet stone as heavily laden soldiers rushed between turrets and milecastles? My walking boots didn’t feel secure enough to give me confidence.
It wasn’t long before I made it to Sycamore Gap where I made my first attempt at descending to the lough. An uneventful descent and not a bull to be seen so I began to traverse across to the water’s edge, my boots squelching as I did so. It was when that squelch turned to more of a sucking sound that I looked down to see that I was walking across a bog that was getting wetter. No joy with that route then. I returned to the gap and killed a little time shooting the iconic tree and accepting that none of the shots would look particularly original. While there I spotted the sign that could have saved me some wet trousers…
Then it was across the top of the crags in search of the eastern fringes of the lake, my last chance to achieve the planned shot. And guess what? Another sign, looking a bit worse for wear, but still pretty clear that access to the lough was out of the question. I walked a little further to consider my options and reshot the farmhouse that has proved a popular image on my ViewBug gallery. Last time it was shot in the depths of winter, this time in the height of summer and yet the shots weren’t dramatically different.
With the sun starting to take on the hues of golden hour I opted to head back to the car, and switched to a telephoto lens which finally gave me access to the lake in a way that I couldn’t achieve physically. Not really what I was looking for.
But then a stroke of luck. The setting sun lit the greens and yellows, carved out shadows, and gave the landscape an appearance that were the hills more rounded might have been positively Tuscan, and though it’s a misconception that those garrisoned here were Italian, evenings like this must have been comforting to any soldier of the empire.
Perhaps it inspired me too, for I decided to press on to another location on the wall. Cawfields has smaller crags and a much smaller body of water but with the sun painting a bright amber strip across the stone and the water replicating it with precision it proved to be the best decision of the day.
Especially when I waited for the stars to come out.