Mam Tor in the Peak District National Park / by Neil Alexander

Mam Tor, meaning “mother hill” is according to Wikipedia, a "breast shaped hill in the northern half of the Peak District in Derbyshire offering one of the best views of the region" and on a good day, you can see as far as Edale Valley, Kinder Scout and the Derwent Moors. 

Sunrise over Brampton East Moor

A couple of weeks ago, with an early morning window in my diary, I decided it was time I chalked Mam Tor in the Peak District off my list and headed up in the dark to see what I could see. I had arrived in plenty time, about an hour before sunrise, and parked up as near to the summit as I could. I wouldn’t call myself particularly lazy, but with such a heavy kit bag and an ageing spine, my philosophy is to always try and lug it as little as possible. So when an opportunity to park just yards from the public footpath presents itself, I’m certainly not going to overlook it. The climb itself to the top only really takes about 10-15 minutes so with plenty time in hand, I sauntered up in the gloom. Already it was becoming apparent that a visible sunrise was going to be pretty much non-existent. It was dry, but cold and very grey. Having come all this way though, I wasn’t about to give up just yet. I found a spot that I thought would make a half-decent composition but would require the glory of the rising sun to complete it. I got out my wee stool, cracked the coffee flask open and prepared to wait.  
In the hour or so that I waited, I counted half a dozen other photographers also looking to capture the glory of the morning sunrise. 
In the end, I spent about an hour chatting to a very nice chap by the name of Nigel who, also with a tripod in hand, had come in search of some morning glory. 
Sadly, we pretty much left empty handed save for a few shots of trees in the mist on the way back down. 

So it was a few days later with significantly better weather predictions that I returned. However this time I’d overslept a little. Well by an hour to be precise. This was going to be tight. I quickly wolfed down some cereal, filled the flask and jumped in the car. It’s around an hours drive and I made it in good time. The parking space I had found last time was free and so I assembled my gear and set off on foot. By this time, the cloud on the horizon was already showing faint glimmers of pink and I had a hunch it was going to be a good ‘un.

Empty handed, it’s not a particularly challenging climb. Trying to rush up with a heavy camera bag, tripod, full flask of coffee etc desperate not to miss the sunrise is a different kettle of fish. 

Sunrise over Castleton, High Peaks UK from Mam Tor

When I’d visited a few days before on that grey and miserable morning, in addition to the half a dozen other photographers, I’d come across all manner of mountain bikers, runners, and even a couple from Australia sight-seeing…. in the dark…. in wholly inappropriate attire.  But on the second morning when the conditions were far more favourable and the forecast was significantly better, I barely saw a soul. None of the photographers I’d met the previous trip were back up there. Mine was the only tripod on the hill, and it was glorious. 

Crazy types going for a fell run

As the sun rose, the clouds raced in over my head from Kinder Scout and Edale Moor towards the rising sun on the horizon and created the dark foreboding sky. It was all really low level stuff and it was zipping along. I did contemplate a long exposure to try and blur it a little, but I've found from past experience that at the period of the day when the sun is rising or setting, it moves surprisingly quickly and a long exposure would have blurred it badly. 

Anyway, I made me some photos. They’re certainly not going to win any awards but for me, just getting out there and having that beautiful landscape all to myself is worth it’s weight in gold. I struggled with composition up there though as I really couldn’t find anything to use as a foreground anchor whilst the sun was producing all that magic in the sky. I did have a particular photograph in mind but having studied TPE since, it was entirely the wrong time of year. Which gives me a very good excuse to go back again :-)