Spectre on Fairfield
Spectre on Fairfield
The day begins in the dark with the hope of amazing photographs. I experience the unexpected when a rare white rainbow, and a friend that follows from a distance, become part of my day, on a fruitful photographic journey above the clouds to the summit of Fairfield, in Cumbria.
Darkness fades as dawn approaches. The air around me speaks of a sunrise hidden behind the thick clouds that clog up the valley. Shadowed by dawn’s early light, enveloped in cold, damp mist, I climb up Nab Scar near Ambleside, Cumbria. I convince myself that I am here for amazing pictures, to recapture what I lost yesterday – it doesn’t look promising. On the path, cold, steel-blue stones mellow into warm, sulphur-yellow rocks. The sun is rising.
Yesterday, I gazed forlornly at mountain peaks breaking through early morning cloud: a temperature inversion. Now, I am here, slogging through claggy, porridge-thick mist, hoping for a repeat. Here to photograph amazing panoramas of black, rugged peaks jutting out from a sea of clouds, and of brilliant deep cobalt-blue skies. Today’s forecast hints of a repeat of yesterday’s weather, which is why I left home at 5am, but the air is much warmer, and I do not hold out much hope. The wavering red needle of my compass points the way ahead. I climb toward peaks that remain hidden.
Approaching Heron Pike, the cloud brightens, and the air becomes thinner. I take my camera from my rucksack. I am ready. Wisps of cloud drift across my path. Something is happening – there is hope. A shadowy hillside emerges through the clouds. Then, as though a light is turned on, the hills appear. The sun sits on top of a cloud – a magicians ball rolling along the edge of a cloth. I drop to the ground to take pictures. Wispy filaments of cloud float around me. Like a curtain, they draw away, and I gaze into a saturated blue sky. I cannot take pictures fast enough. Expectancy has turned into reality.
Clouds drift around me, enveloping me again. The sun disappears, the moment vanishes. My hopes are dashed: only a few pictures – not enough. I wait. Then, like a blessing, the sun returns, this time sitting in authority above the clouds. I bask in glorious sunlight; like a warm summer’s day. I take pictures as though firing a machine gun, running around the fell like a rabbit, the exuberance gets the better of me. Stop, breath, take it easy, relax. This is amazing. Look for the best angles, the best pictures. Be quick, opportunities like this seldom last long.
The cloud drops again, the views vanish. Running higher, and emerging from the cloud, I stand on an island amidst a cotton-wool ocean. The view is unbelievable. Everywhere black mountain peaks rise out of a vast sea. What more could I ask for? Wispy white remnants of cloud drift around me – like spectres from a ghostly movie or angels clothed in raiment. I can’t believe my eyes. I am breathless.
Coniston Old Man and Wetherlam rise like whales from the ocean. I imagine I am standing on a beach, watching, transfixed, dreaming. A shiver runs down my spine. I am not alone. I am being watched. Something catches my eye.
Me, watches me, from the ridge. My head is haloed in rainbow colours. I wave my arms. I wave back. I jump. I jump up. This is a Brocken Spectre. Above me, a fogbow – a white rainbow – arcs into the sky, it is huge. I gaze in wonder. I may never see these phenomena again. They are incredible.
A few seconds later, the cloud returns. No pictures. Damn! No time. The mountains, the sea, the fogbow, the spectre, have all been hidden behind cloud. This is devastating. I only have a few pictures, and none of the fogbow or the spectre.
The sun fights through the clouds again. I watch. I wait. It wins. The Broken Spectre returns. I position myself; the picture is in the ‘bag’. Next, the fogbow. I run across the fell, wishing for a wider lens, but it is okay, just. I get the whole scene in one shot.
On the other side of the ridge I throw myself onto the ground, snap the zoom lens onto my camera, rest it on the rucksack, and photograph the whaleback mountains across the sea. I breathe a sigh of relief. The clouds stay away and I begin to work on taking more photographs. Taking time to get the correct exposures, the perfect angles, and everything just right. No room for error, I may never experience a day like this again.
After about 30 minutes of taking photographs I continue along the ridge. My companion walks with me, resplendent in his halo hat. A sea of cloud encircles us. I gaze into the darkness of space. A full moon floats above contrails that etch into the deep-blue sky. In my mind I row away from the shore – across a sea punctured intermittently by the saw-toothed ridges of the Lake District’s mountains – and disappear below the horizon.
A finger of cloud floats lazily across the path as we approach Great Rigg. My friend draws closer. We can almost shake hands; but now we must part. I may never see him again. I take the last picture, wave farewell, and walk into the cloud. When I emerge, he has gone. The day is not over. Clouds glide down the mountain slopes and fill the valleys, and I know there will be more pictures.