24 Jan 2015

Winter in the Chess Valley

I grew up in Chorleywood, Herts, with its wonderful undulating wooded common and Philipshill Wood a short walk away. A little further away was the Chess Valley at Chenies and Sarratt Bottom. The views of the valley are stunning as you approach from the hills on either side; it's the beginning of the Chiltern Hills.

My parents recently moved a little further out, to Little Chalfont, so I've discovered a new bit of the valley, just next to Latimer House (where I once went for a training course back in my Coopers & Lybrand accountancy training days - many, many years ago!). Between their house and the valley are some wild woods, Lane Wood & West Wood. The fields nearby used to be open to walk across but are now fenced off and filled with sheep.

Having had almost no photography inspiration so far this year, I finally felt motivated to spend a couple of days out there as the weather-forecast was for frost and snow. My parents were away, so I looked after their house too. I arrived on Saturday evening to find the ground white with a light covering of snow, but by Sunday morning it had gone. I did a little photo trip out in the afternoon to catch the last light and sunset, leaving the dog at home (he's no help when I'm trying to take photos - very impatient little chap).


The following morning I got up early, leaving the house at 7.20am, traipsing through the woods, alone in the near darkness (this is one of the reasons, I think, that there are very few female landscape photographers - we just feel nervous and vulnerable). I was heading down to the Chess Valley, about 1.5 miles away, via Lane Wood and West Wood. I walked along the edge of a field where snow still sat on furrowed mud.

The sun came up as I reached the river. Unfortunately, just below Latimer House the riverside is private fishing land, so I had to walk along the path set back from the river with barbed-wire fences blocking off the river. I would love to have been at the water's edge to catch the reflections of the winter trees. I chatted to a man on the first bridge who pointed out a kingfisher in a nearby branch overhanging the river.

In the distance were some dead plants, perhaps nettles, backlit by the sun behind them. I became a bit obsessed with them, taking endless photos from different angles and focal points.

Eventually I had to head back - the dog's breakfast time had long gone past, so I rushed back up the hill, through the woods, arriving back to a very hungry dog. I headed out again in the afternoon, this time taking Henry to the woods with me. As expected he got very impatient if I stopped to take photos, and he also got very muddy.

He did have a lot of fun rolling around in the mucky leaves though...

On the way home I tried a few panning shots of the bare tree trunks, but I didn't have my tripod or polariser filter, so they were a bit shaky, and the colours not quite right. Will try again one day...

The following morning both frost and fog were forecast, and I was quite excited about that! I couldn't quite work out where the best spot to go would be. From the top of the woods there was a view over the distant hills, which would look nice in fog, I thought, but also the river valley would look stunning. Unfortunately I don't have a car, so wherever I chose required walking. I hadn't brought my 70-200mm lens with me, so any landscape shots were a little too wide to get the fog on the hills in the way I wanted. Lesson learnt!

I headed out at 7.30, this time having fed the dog first, so I didn't have to rush back. A light fog hung over the trees behind my parents' house.

I wandered down through Lane Wood and along a different footpath to the west, which gave me a nice view over the Chilterns. The zoom would have been nice, but I was limited to 70mm. A light layer of fog hung over the hills, and the sky was a vague pink from the last of the earth's shadow before the sun rose. A little red fox was standing in the frosty field as I arrived but scuttled off when it saw me.

By the time I walked down back into the woods the fog was beginning to thin and the sun was coming through the trees. I'd hoped for one of those ethereal shots of light rays coming through the fog between trees, but the wood was fog-free!

As I left the woods I got a glorious view of Latimer House lit up by the golden light, the ground surrounding it covered in a thick frost.

I wanted to get to the river as quickly as possible, but the route there was full of temptation - the hoar frost on the plants and fences was exquisite. Shame about the pilons and electricity wires.

Finally I reached the river, which was picture-postcard pretty. In the fog, an hour earlier, it would have been even better, but I'd just got side-tracked on the walk by all the other lovely frostiness and fogginess.

I could have spent all day there, if only my toes weren't frozen and a warm welcoming dog wasn't beckoning. I revisited the dead nettles, startled a massive rabbit that quickly hopped away to safety,  and went on one field across, where a flock of sheep came to investigate me.

The sheep were a little menacing to start with, all coming down to a small stream, on the other side of which I was standing. One then came around the edge of the stream and towards me. Not knowing much about sheep I did feel a little anxious, although they didn't look like the type to ambush and trample me! After a few minutes a farmer appeared at the other end of the field with a couple of buckets and off they trotted for their lunch. They eventually wandered back towards me after the farmer had reassured me that they were just been friendly (and hungry).

I investigated some great frozen puddles and the sheep came with me. I left feeling quiet endeared with them!

I had to break myself away, as it was already midday, and some of my toes were definitely in need of some warmth. As I climbed over the fence to leave the field a tiny muntjac deer darted out of the undergrowth and hopped away. A van pulled up alongside me as I wandered up the road and the driver asked me about my camera. Again I felt a little nervous being a female photographer out alone in the middle of nowhere. It turned out that he just wanted to share with me that his similar camera had broken, but I did feel a little uneasy (must be the suspicious Londoner in me). I hurried back through the woods, and home to an extremely happy dog and the luxury of warm feet!

It had been a great couple of days, and when I returned to London I was welcomed by a package containing some new Tiffen ND filters for me to play with, so hopefully the motivation to go out and shoot won't end there!

1 comment:

  1. Such a beautiful area and excellent photos. I can see why you like landscapes so much.