Most of the images in my North Downs Landscapes book were taken whilst rambling through the hills. I would decide on an area I wanted to cover, draft a walking route, then travel to the start by train or car sometimes staying overnight in a pub. The weather is always a limiting factor, so you can’t plan too far ahead: I learned that on a planned trip to Maidstone on what turned out to be a soggy, grey day, when I had to give up and go home with no usable images.
It was the summer of 2014 and I needed some images in the Dover area: the castle, the cliffs, the downs, but it was a long way to go and we weren’t really having a summer. The weeks rolled on and each time the forecast was good, I was busy and couldn’t take the time out, and when I had the time, the weather was poor.
In July, we were invited by my brother to join him for a few days in the Baie de Somme in Picardy to celebrate his birthday and I booked our Eurotunnel transit with the possibility in mind that I could get the photographs I needed by taking a short diversion to Dover. The weather was poor as we traveled and it deteriorated when we reached our destination. The next morning was windy and wet and I was coughing and spluttering with a bad cold, but we went sight seeing nonetheless. At noon, I was standing with my anorak hood up on the wind-blown cliff at the sad little town of Ault looking out over the stormy grey Channel as the rain hit my face: it was one of my more depressing moments! That was the nadir and tings did improve for a while, but on the way back to Calais the morning was damp and a bit drizzly again: I could see another week slipping away without my Dover images.
As the shuttle slid out of the tunnel at Dover, we could see some patches blue sky among the cloud, but after the recent days I had little faith in the weather improving. However we set off for Dover, driving around the chalky cliffs then between the town and the bustling port and up the hill to the airy top of the Downs. I wanted to find somewhere with a good view of the castle within its Downs setting, overlooking the sea, but needed to find a place to park the car and explore. Then we spotted the signpost to the National Trust White Cliffs Of Dover reserve and, as the sun emerged from behind the clouds and the sky seemed to magically clear, we drove into the cliff-top car park.
As we walked up through the meadows from the visitor centre, the dancing butterflies seemed to be celebrating the good weather along with us, and at the top, we had wonderful views through 360 degrees with Dover castle sitting solidly in the middle. It wasn’t the best time of day for the ideal image as the light was quite harsh, whereas the late afternoon light is warmer and creates interesting shadows. I couldn’t wait so took a series of photographs of the castle at different focal lengths as we strolled across the grassy crest so had a good chance that at least one would be usable.
You really can’t beat the English countryside on a bright, warm sunny day; and my cold was a lot better!