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Through the Keyhole

They say the early bird catches the worm and in this case, the early bird very nearly missed the worm in question…

Awake at 2:30am, I was getting my photography kit ready before embarking on my trip to the Dorset coast for a very special sunrise. December is the month to get the particular shot I was after and you need to have your timing spot on for this spectacular experience. Outside there was a bite in the air and frost had settled, forming a pretty covering on all it touched. It was pitch black and I needed to get some serious warmth in my car for the long journey ahead. This was always planned as a brief trip. However, it ended up a little shorter than planned. Arriving in Lulworth around 7:15 am, my sat nav guided me to the car park closest to my planned destination, only problem was, the car park was closed. I drove further down the winding coastal road and came to another car park. Checking the sat nav again, and the suggested time for sunrise, I was worried to see that where I needed to be was 30 minutes away which would cut things incredibly fine. I headed back to the first car park, where it was still closed and even the police were as baffled as I was and were unable to guide me. A tad frustrated and conscious of time, I headed back to the second car park and a very kind old fellow advised me I had a 30 minute walk for 2 miles uphill. Feeling optimistic that or I am just plain crazy, I thanked him and responded that this would be done in less than the suggested time, making him laugh. Several factors came into play, which I had failed to consider in my not quite awake state were as follows; The weight of my kit, the wrong footwear as I has stupidly left the correct pair at home in my haste to leave, the incline which didn’t appear steep and it was only when I embarked on it I discovered it was deceivingly steep and the cold sea air. I was determined though and I set off at pace.

When I say at a pace it was more like a jog you’d see the SAS do and I am certainly not as fit as they are. I am half way up and about half a mile into my ambitious trek and the cold air really starts to hit me and things are starting to hurt and get messy. If you have read my previous blogs, I generally push myself out of my comfort zone to achieve my end goals and this was another of these situations. The cold air is the first thing that hits me, catching my face and the back of my throat causing me to wheeze, then followed the runny nose from hell which warranted me taking off my ear warmers (not muffs) and utilising this as a hanky to minimise the streaming of mucus. At one point I contemplated the fact, whilst my heart pounded like crazy, that a cardiac was likely and I would be the lone woman dead on a coastal path with heavy photography equipment. Then another thought hit me and that was find my iPhone was a good tracking option to pinpoint my location. I will put these fun thoughts down to the fact I was partially sleep deprived and moderately stressed due to the tight time constraints I was now up against. I wasn’t going to give up and I ploughed on taking breaks where needed, whilst surveying the horizon for the imminent sunrise. I finally reached a more level ground in around 10 minutes flat, I was pleased with the progress and proceeded to take a speedy walk towards the cove I needed to be at, which was just over this clifftop coastal path whilst muttering to myself, I am going to miss this and I will not be happy followed by several bursts of bloody sat nav. Small birds darted across the chalky path, to-ing and fro-ing amongst the gorse and tall grasses. As I ambled down the incline toward Man O’War cove, my destination was in sight… Durdle Door.

There are several things you should know about this stunning patch of Dorset and that is, this is all part of the Jurassic coast. It is called the Jurassic coast due to it holding within, the best known geological periods; Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. Here there have been discoveries of various fossils and rocks from these periods, some of which date back as far as 250 million years ago. The area is also a World Heritage site, boasting as you can see from my photography, some of the most spectacular views the UK has to offer. This section of coastline stretches 95 miles and comprises of many stunning cliff views and coves. This specific part of the coast though is a shingle beach and as you can imagine, as I descended down the steep steps, walking along this beach was a real leg workout. All I can say is luck was on my side as I just made it in time to capture the following image and to which this shot is known as “Sunrise through the keyhole”. I was also the only woman on the beach to the surprise of a group of male photographers who had the exact same plan as me and whilst photographing this special sunrise, it was commented by a few that this is the longest sunrise seen for this shot with it taking approximately 5 minutes to fully rise whereas, it usually takes only a minute or two.

This particular shot is not easy to get and the reason for this is you need a number of factors on your side. The main one is a good clear day like this and December had been very very grey and wet. With this in mind, I was weather watching hourly to ensure this would not be a wasted journey and that my planning was accurate. The other factor is when the sun is due to rise and it is always best to get there approximately an hour before, though in my case due to other unforeseen mitigating factors, my timings were a lot tighter. Angle is another and this is to achieve the star of rays from the sun coming through without excess sun spotting and as you can imagine I had to take a good few shots to ensure various angles captured clean shots. I was also having to work around the guys who were equally working around me so we could all get our shots. another piece of kit I had opted to use with my 28-90mm canon lens is 58mm polarised filter. This does help to take out some of the glare, especially when shooting directly into sunlight.

European rock pipit

Once my mini mission was complete, I took in a little more of the landscape around the coves as well as capturing shots of a couple of bird species. Hopping amongst the mix of seaweed and shingle was a European rock pipit, foraging for food. There were a few of these plucky birds around and they were not deterred by my presence, rather on occasion, quite comfortable getting closer to me, which just makes for easier photography. I climbed the steep stairs up Durdle door back to a viewing point that not only overlooks Durdle door cove but also Man O’War beach. Both are curious coves steeped in history.Starting with my mission shot, Durdle door is one of the most famous sea arches in the UK and possibly the world. Every year many flock to this cove for its spectacular coastal walks, views and to try and get this very shot which very few achieve. It was also the subject of recent news stories during the pandemic, with reports of people tombstoning off of its 200 ft tall arch structure and either being killed or seriously injured as they hit the rocks below masked by the tide. The arch is made up of Portland limestone and is approximately 10,000 years old, historical surveys have found the area was formed 25 million years ago as a ripple effect caused by a seismic earthquake. this occurred when the African tectonic plates collided with the European tectonic plates causing rocks to fold together from the sheer force. This is how it is understood the jurassic coastline was created, particularly this set of coves. Recent studies confirm that at some point the arch will collapse into the sea and will be no more, returning it to its origins before creation. A fun fact about the naming of this cove is that the name Durdle derives from the Old English word ‘thirl’ meaning bore or drill. Reading some of the history from this area and like many along the South coast there is a rich history of smuggling that took place around the 18th century. Some of what was smuggled is said to be on occasion 3,000 gallons of spirits which is approximately 1,500 cases of brandy. Gin was also illegally imported, which were in such vast quantities and some folk used it for washing their windows.

Taking a few more shots as I walked back along the ridge, spotting the odd stonechat flying from bush to bush in the tall grasses on the landscape above me. I made the educated decision of cutting my trip short to head homeward bound for a well deserved rest. The mucus build up caused by the cold sea air and my ambitious jog to Durdle door had now end up on my chest and coughing was becoming a problematic issue. A couple of stops on the way back were needed to obtain warm drinks to ease the issue and soothe my throat. Needless to say it was a worthwhile trip and I was over the self induce cough a couple of days later to do a winter walk around Cliveden.

Stonechat
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