Cockshaw Hill Sunset

Heather Bloom 2020 North York Moors


5th September – Ling heather variable, starting to fade in places

The Heather Bloom 2020 is here, as with previous year’s heather bloom posts, this will be a living page that i’ll update through the season. The events of this year have been heavily dominated by Covid-19 with many of the events I like to shoot abandoned entirely but things are finally starting to settle down.

A quick recap on heather types and timings…

Bell heather, the earliest and less common variety blooms in early July.

Ling heather, the later and most proliferate type, blooms from early August.

6th July Cockshaw Hill

Summer wouldn’t be summer without a visit to Cockshaw Hill!

Monday evening, typically not the most energetic of evenings after returning to work; however, the forecast weather conditions looked just too good… high cloud and 40-60% coverage. I headed out to try my luck.

You win some, you lose some

I was rewarded with this stunning sunset..

North York Moors Heather Bloom 2020 Cockshaw Hill
Monday 6th July, sunset from Cockshaw Hill looking out over Gribdale towards Roseberry Topping.

I sat there and took in the view, contemplating that with everything going on, I was lucky enough to be the only person in the world who had this moment.

I have never been one-hundred percent satisfied with my previous timelapse efforts of this scene. With stills, one can easily overcome issues such as flare and challenging light conditions from direct head on sun and the transition between light levels of direct sun and shade from the clouds. But, when it comes to timelapse these small challenges can become much more troublesome.

BBC A Wild Year: North York Moors - Cockshaw Hill by Steven Iceton
A timelapse I shot in 2018 at Cockshaw Hill was used as the opening scene in the BBC’s ‘A Wild Year’ North York Moors show. I’ll make a separate post about that show soon. While the sun is a beautiful dappled light over the scene and the clouds skimmed the top of R.T, the fierce direct sunlight got the better of me on that day. There was very little of the haze needed to soften the setting sun.

Watch: A Wild Year: North York Moors on BBC iPlayer

As you can see, it was a fairly breezy evening. The harsh light of the early part of the sunset settled into the haze and softened to allow for a more balanced exposure.

Who cares where we go, we’re ready for the afterglow

It was one of those nights where the sunset colours just intensified and continued to burn…

North York Moors Heather Bloom 2020 Cockshaw Hill Afterglow
The afterglow of blue hour. The sun has dipped below the horizon, but the high cloud caught the sun nicely.

Sunset around the solstice is very late in the UK and it was unseasonably cold! It was time to pack up. Who’d have thought to bring gloves in July…

I walked back down the hill to Gribdale gate, it was eerily quiet alone in the woods which were now getting very dark.

As I walked, I heard a sharp crackling noise right behind me and spun round, but nothing was there. I don’t usually get spooked, especially in places I am very familiar with and used to walking alone after dark through, but I was starting to feel a little uneasy. I continued walking, laughing at myself, but moments down the track there it was again… right behind me, loud and clear, but nothing was there.

It’s easy to let your mind play tricks on you.

I dropped my coat hood down so I could hear behind me better and it wasn’t long before I saw the familiar sight of the gate and my solitary car in the car park. I was glad to climb in to the car and close the door behind me…

It wasn’t until a few days later that I was to discover what the noise was…

The velcro fastener on the back of my hat had been grabbing on to the inside of my hood! No wonder it felt like the sound was coming from alarmingly close behind me!

Driving down the lane, the afterglow was still burning strongly and I couldn’t help but pull the car up at a scene that had caught my eye in previous years. Under the glow of the sky, it was perfect. I often have these mental tussles where I have committed to go home but something drags me back into it again…

I left the car where it was, in the middle of the road but there was nobody moving for miles around to care.

North York Moors Heather Bloom 2020 Gribdale

The wind rustled in the trees and I could hear a pair of owls calling to each other.

North York Moors Heather Bloom 2020 Gribdale
In the distance, I could see the ant like forms of people on Roseberry Topping, I clearly wasn’t the only one lucky enough to have caught the evening.
The farm settles down for the night

19th July Egton Moor

North York Moors Heather Bloom 2020 Egton Moor Lone Tree
Catching a timelapse of before the ling heather blooms, I will return in mid-August to get an ‘after’ timelapse to blend together.

26th July Hawnby

A breezy afternoon at Hawnby Hill, the bell heather in bloom but still very early for the ling heather.

Heather Bloom 2020
Sunshine and showers on a stormy day
Heather Bloom 2020
Old gnarled trees in the lee of Hawnby Hill
Heather Bloom 2020
A particularly lively field of grazing sheep. I have never heard such a racket coming from a single field, I can only imagine that they were ready for some feed as they spent their time flocking from one side to another as if on a mission.

2nd August Harvest Week and Kildale Moor

I set out to check out the heather up on Kildale moor, which I have shot on the same day in a previous year. But first, I wanted to have a look at how the fields were doing around Roseberry Topping which was en-route.

Aireyholme Farm is beautiful year-round but it always continues to surprise me how much inspiration that can be drawn from the location.

Heather Bloom 2020
Brooding clouds roll over Roseberry Topping with strong sidelight on the foreground, the crop ready for harvest. The clouds had recently given visitors to Whitby a good soaking by all accounts!

I headed off, but again couldn’t resist stopping at another location especially as I could see from the road that its crop was still standing the harvester’s advances which could be seen in fields all around.

Heather Bloom 2020
Another timelapse with the same brooding skies, the rain held off and the colours deepened, I was fast running out of time but couldn’t tear myself away. The sun was setting but I couldn’t resist capturing some drone footage.
Heather Bloom 2020
A different perspective

I eventually tore myself away from the harvest scenes and beautiful clouds and headed up into the moors above Kildale, this is one of my favourite sections of road in the moors as it is so steep against the scenery but it’s one which barely gets any traffic as it is a dead-end route.

Parking up off the side of the road, I again reminded myself about how I need a car with better clearance, narrowly avoiding grounding myself and various parts of the car! I picked up the track, the heather and grass has grown much longer than previous years where it was an easy walk along the wall line. It was easier going across the scorched and new growth of the swithens.

Swithen, derived from the old Norse word, sviðinn, ‘land cleared by burning’, which is echoed in the old local dialect word swithen

I was more interested in this stage to scout out the heather, it was definitely showing signs of colouration even in the post-sunset flat light. I’ll be back here soon to capture this scene again, it’s not especially a sunset scene as the sun sets far off to the right out of any possible composition; however it does benefit from lashings of golden side-light!

Heather Bloom 2020
Scouting mission complete, a lovely walk across the moors in total isolation with nothing but the sound of the breeze and nature.

8th August Danby & Castleton

Heather Bloom 2020
Oakley Walls looking through the Rowan trees to Fryupdale.

12th August Castleton

Heather Bloom 2020
After a number of misty evenings the sun finally broke through and gave me this hazy sunset across Westerdale. The ling heather around Castleton is in full bloom. Click the image to see last year’s shot at this beautiful location.
Heather Bloom 2020

17th August Live Moor

After nearly a week without sight of the sun, it finally broke through the laden misty skies and while the forecast still didn’t look too promising I was willing to get out of the house!

I headed out to a location I had shot in 2019 above Swainby which I had visited late in the heather season and it was past its best so I had hopes of seeing if I could capture something better.

Swainby Village

Scugdale Beck flowing through the pretty village of Swainby.

I parked and headed up the steep forest track as it wound its way up to Live Moor. The walk is not for the faint of heart, it’s near vertical in places on slippery winding old trods. It was hot work!

The area has a rich heritage of iron, alum and jet mining in the 17/1800s into more recent times, the remains of which are still visible in impressive spoil heaps around the fields and into the forests.

After the climb to the top of the moor, I set off up the old stone trods but it soon became clear that the heather burners had been at this section of the Cleveland Way and all along the path they’d burnt the heather back ready for regrowth. It was more than a little deflating to see the stunning scene from the year before all charred and blackened.

The sunset fading and the scene burnt I decided to keep walking and venture further along the path to see what else there was to capture and how far along they’d been burning swithens.

Despite the heather being burnt over large swathes of the moor I couldn’t help but marvel at the view across Scugdale and the discovery of an ancient stone burial mound that I didn’t know was up here. As I stopped to take in the scene the storm clouds started to roll from across the moors themselves and the wind whipped up, I took a quick shot of the landmark and made a mental note that this would be great when the heather regrows in a couple of years.

As I walked back, the sun came out briefly from behind a bank of cloud and I started to kick myself that I was going to miss capturing anything for all the hard climbing.

The sunset returned out of nowhere into a great fiery misty glow, my pace quickened looking for a composition! As you can see in the photo a lot of the scene had been burnt out.

As I rushed back down the trods, I caught sight of the top of another cairn, seemingly surrounded by heather up a bank to the side of the path, I hurriedly stumbled up the bank and managed to get setup just in time to catch the last of the sun over this scene. The mist had really drawn in while I’d been walking. I didn’t get much time at all to check my settings so I hoped i’d lucked out.

Sunset over a stone cairn looking towards Swainby.

I set a quick timelapse going and watched the brooding clouds approach over my shoulder, it was time to pack up and head home as darkness seemed to be descending quickly.

The woods were a little bit creepy alone in the dark!

23rd August Robin Hood’s Bay

The mid to late August weather has been truly terrible! There’s been weeks of scant opportunity for photography, heavy clouded skies, stormy winds and rain and just general murkiness.

I spied a break in the weather and headed out to a new location for me, Stoupe Brow, which is the most easterly point of the moors and where the heather literally meets the sea. Following some slightly vague directions I managed to find the spot I was looking for which has fantastic views over Baytown.

A walkers cairn overlooking Robin Hood’s Bay from Stoupe Brow. I believe this to be a modern one; the moor however is covered in ancient rock art and barrows which I will explore in return visits.

Exploring the area further I located some familiar boundary stones with excellent views across the bay that i’d seen pictured before but never quite located. The area is definitely rich in scenery and areas to investigate further.

I’ll revisit this one in 2021 for further exploration!

31st August Castleton

Castleton is my usual gateway into the deeper parts of the national park and what a beautiful area it is. The village is tightly packed in by the moors as they fall down towards the Esk valley. Just above the village is this beautiful location.

I stopped to capture a timelapse to repeat one taken before the heather, it’s really difficult to re-locate the exact location within a couple of footsteps amongst the deep heather as the last time when there’s not many definitive foreground features!

I’m yet to see how well it lines up with my earlier timelapse, fingers crossed! It’s a lovely timelapse full of small details such as a train moving through the valley on the Esk line and the sheep and horses and cows moving around in their fields. Definitely best enjoyed on the big screen!

31st August Loveheart Tree

The Loveheart Tree, a location I found last winter and this was my first time seeing it during the heather bloom. I hadn’t really intended to be here for sunset and it was a bonus to find that the sun actually sets within the composition. The tree and heather itself with lots of recent heather burning activity means it can only be shot from this angle, so the sunset was definitely a lucky break.

My luck however was to prove to be short lived…

The setting sun over the heather, this shot cost me £40…

In the run up to the sunset the midges were in a frenzy and I had to keep moving, but as anyone who has walked the moors will know that heather bashing can be hard work! I was hot under my tightly zipped up coat and hood and bothered by the ever present cloud of bitey things following me…

Things took a turn for the worse when I glanced at my camera which was meant to be busy shooting a timelapse on an interval and I realised that it wasn’t. I’d forgotten to put the second memory card in and the first had run out of space… so i’d been walking around in circles with my flying cloud of chums needlessly! I stopped to fix the issue and to put a new card in when out it flew from my grasp landing deep in the heather. Never fear I thought, I saw exactly where it went… or so I thought!

After about 20 minutes of scrabbling around in the heather fighting the midges off my face the language had definitely turned blue!

I called off the search, at least I could console myself in the fact it was an empty card but the £40 loss still stung a bit. The sun dropped below the horizon, the midges by the grace of god all vanished, it was turning chilly, very chilly in fact, I think they went off to find somewhere warmer! Either that or they were all riding on my back…

I captured a few more shots of the tree in blue hour with the deepening blue sky behind but it was starting to get dark very quickly and time to pack up for the day.

A rowan tree stood in a sea of heather

As I turned round to head back I spotted the very nearly full moon rising over the moors, a beautiful sight!

5th September Danby Dale

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