Chasing Light

Capturing the Peak District’s fleeting moments between night and day

Feature type Photo Essay

Read time 5 min read

Published Jul 15, 2021

Photographer Joseph Dodkins

Joseph Dodkins

The concept of adventure is a complex one to define. It’s not always about exploring the extremes – the highest mountains, the biggest waves, the furthest distances. Often adventure is simply a means to escapism. In any form, on any scale. And sometimes that exists right under our noses, in reach of our every day lives. Joseph Dodkins explores this concept with a short trip to the Peak District to capture the fleeting moments between night and day.

“Chasing light is a concept of duality for me. As a photographer, I will forever be in pursuit of light – for it undoubtedly yields the power to define a photograph. But equally, chasing light is a philosophical undertaking. To chase light is to all find an inner peace with oneself, to understand the power of being alone – for me, in nature.”

I have no plan to be here. I simply turn left instead of right, hoping for somewhere quiet to make rest for the night. It is quiet – very much so. No people. No cars. Just an empty road beneath an exposed ridge.

My knees complain of the stress they’ve already endured, my stomach lets its unfed appetite be known. I feign ignorance of their calls.

I cast my eyes to the ridge. Rocks cut sharp into the afternoon air – acute vertices that crosshatch in grey and gold. Above, the sky looks to clear. The last of the day’s clouds are being blown with haste to the east, away from the setting sun. My phone says seven o’clock, and there is little time to linger. In minutes I’m at full stride, gaining ground on the peak.

It’s not an intimidating hike. A gritstone-chip path wanders up the incline for me to follow. At first, I’m meandering through mostly open heathland. The occasional rounded boulder lays at rest beside the walkway. But heather is what dominates on the lower slopes, its pink flowers softly breaking the uniformity of green hillside grasses. Ahead, the heather gives way to a thin strip of woodland. The sun is already transforming leaves from green to flaxen.

I step into shade and the silence is no more. My breath is heavy, and the songbirds are in full chorus. It sounds like Chaffinch. A male comes to perch on the low branches of a sycamore a few trees to my right. I stop in stride to watch him forage for insects. Aware of my presence, he cocks his head, but quickly continues to browse the bark for food. Its soothing to not be an intruder here, to just be an audience and spectate the happenings of nature.

A pastel palette of evening warmth blanketing the countryside below

I spend another minute listening to the birds and watching them hop from sycamore to pine, then it’s time to move on. A gentler path swings off to the right, seemingly looking to circle the fragmented ridge face up to the top. Between the trees, I see the sun fall further in the sky, and I want to keep it in view as I climb higher. I look to summit another way.

I divert left until I see a fresh trail cut straight towards the rockface. I follow the scarcely trodden earth in search of a vertical scramble to the open air above. Hope is rewarded.

Lumps of sandstone rocks layer like nature’s stairway up towards a stone archway. Beyond, just the emptiness of sky.

I make the first step with confidence, still holding my camera in hand rather than using both to climb. The gritstone feels clingy underfoot, my trail runners gripping the rockface. I step again. And again. And again. The severity of the incline takes me higher with pace. Another five lunges up and I’m already abreast with the pines. Their crowns are now fully aglow, an ethereal veil cast across the woodland canopy.

The end of the ascent is effortless. Flatter ground carries me the final few meters, and at last my head rises above the ridge. The prevailing wind is belligerent but welcome, and I drop my pack to cool the sweat that licks my back.

Colours bleed from the sky to the west – a pastel palette of evening warmth blanketing the countryside below. Verdant greens are all but bleached. Golden hour is here.

I roam with camera in hand, skipping from rock to rock in service of the innumerable compositions. I stoop for some and stretch for others. Hilltop heathers make for appealing foregrounds in my frames. Great rocks surge and plunge in the distances, the rise and fall of a ridgeline shaped by water and wind.

The rockfaces are now illuminated by last light. I sit and watch each crevice succumb to blackness; the land below also being reclaimed by shadow for the night. I find peace in the waning light. The world seems to slow. I know it to be falsehood, headlights still creep along the horizon and people rush from place to place. But the hilltop darkness mutes everything in between; bright colours fade into uniformity, livestock settle, and the last of the songbirds come to find rest.

I sit and look to the moon, the only source of light beyond my headtorch. Rogue clouds try to cloak its subtle glow. But the waxing crescent cannot be hidden.

Here, alone and beneath the moon, I know I am content.

Find what heals you – those are the words by which I seek to live. The pain in my legs is silenced. The conflicts in my mind are forgotten. I have chased the light, and it has brought me peace

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