An eerie dawn

Desolation - Saddleworth Moor

As a landscape photographer with a passion for the wilder parts of this wonderful country, I am no stranger to climbing hills and mountains in the dark. I’m usually alone as most folk would rather be tucked up in bed than getting up three hours before sunrise and, to be honest, when it comes to photography I prefer my own company anyway.

The feeling of being completely alone in the hills at the break of day is incomparable and I am totally addicted. There are many things that make it an unforgettable experience…the trepidation as I leave civilisation behind, the way that even familiar mountains feel very different when you have them to yourself, the excitement as sunrise draws near and the frantic search for a good composition before watching the world come to life from far above in a blaze of golden light, knowing that you have captured a special image of a beautiful and unique moment in time.

It’s not all religious experiences and zen-like communions with mother earth though, not at all. Sometimes the promised dawn fails to materialise, the heavens open and I trudge back to base, tired, wet and cursing the weather men!

My latest early rise was a notable one, and not for the photography either. Although I was reasonably pleased with the images I captured last weekend was all about the location. History can completely skew the way a landscape makes us feel, especially relatively recent events which influence our perception and imbue a place with a particular atmosphere. I’m open to the idea that energy can remain in situ, stored and released where violent or tragic events have occurred and I’ve sometimes had strange feelings when on my own in the hills.

For example; recently I was coming down the Rhyd Ddu path on Snowdon in the gathering darkness and had the overwhelming feeling that there was someone or something watching me from the summit, a very uncomfortable experience which I’ve not had on Snowdon before, a mountain I have always considered benevolent, regardless of the many who have perished upon her.

Yes, that was uncomfortable but nothing compared to how I felt the other day as I stepped into the darkness, striking out onto a bleak and desolate tract of land twelve miles from the centre of Manchester. Without a headtorch – I’d foolishly forgotten to pack it- my feelings of dread were only overcome by my desire to capture the dawn.

Not so long ago, crimes so terrible that they are burned into the psyche of a nation were carried out upon that moor, and images of the perpetrators have been tattooed into my mind for as long as I can remember, and that is a long time! I was glad when the best of the light had faded and I could leave the place behind me.

On returning home and in a fit of morbid curiosity I did a little research and my blood ran cold. A map showed that the small area I had spent a couple of hours roaming around and later sitting in wait for sunrise had played host to the shallow graves of at least two children, with another believed to be there still. Another lay less than a mile from here, but across the road that cleaves the moor in two.

I couldn’t get in the bath quick enough to wash the place off me.

That place?

Saddleworth Moor.

Frosty Dawn - Saddleworth Moor

Not far from the madding crowd - The Chew Valley


~ by nicklivesey on April 25, 2013.

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