For 360 views of the Peak District, it is hard to beat standing on top of Win Hill Pike on a clear day. Guarding access to the Upper Derwent Valley, it rises steeply from the valley floor to a height of 1500 feet. Along its western flank runs what is left of an ancient Roman road that connected two forts; Navio, near Hope and Milandra, Glossop. Its pine clad eastern side borders with the lower section of Ladybower reservoir which, along with Howden and Derwent, forms a trio of dams that serve nearby cities such as Sheffield and Manchester.
Win Hill is a fine place for walking at almost any time of the year, although care should be taken during icy or stormy conditions as the risk of exposure or lightning strikes on the summit are real, therefore a weather check is valuable should there be any doubt. Distance can be anything from a couple of miles if just going to the trig point, or several if out for a longer day, and more than just summit views are on the agenda.
As a photographer, I find this part of the Peak District particularly cathartic as it is a source of constantly changing landscape, weather and big skies that provide a perfect palette from which to draw ideas. For years, I have been disciplined in my approach to photographing it, usually taking just a single prime lens along. This helps focus my mind on the picture taking process instead of deliberating over which lens to select, which contributes to a ‘purer’ experience.
Win Hill is accessible from most directions thanks to an excellent path network. Some routes, particularly those from Yorkshire Bridge and the lower section of Ladybower are steep and challenging whilst gentler (but longer) routes can be taken from further along the A57 or Edale. My usual route sees me park at Yorkshire Bridge, cross Ladybower’s lower wall and head through the woodland towards the summit. Do not be fooled by the gentle start – once in the woodland it soon turns steep as the path follows a long, ruined wall sharply upwards. There is little in the way of imposing views here so I tend to focus my lens on details such as flora, sections of wall, gates and signposts. With a little hunting around, subjects soon begin to emerge.
After several hundred yards of serious cardiovascular exercise, the tree line begins to recede and is replaced by typical Dark Peak qualities; straggly birch, heather, sheep and the occasional crazy sound of Grouse. High above soars an occasional Buzzard, riding updrafts on feathered ailerons, its cry causing anything small, edible and fury to seek refuge.
It is at this point that glimpses of far reaching views start to emerge, encouraging the walker to grind on upwards. The trig-point crowned summit is not visible at this stage, and the path gives up little of its steepness as weather-worn steps lead ever upwards. Looking back over the valley during Autumn and Winter months can provide magical views as cloud inversion layers cloak the valley floor while woodland pokes mysteriously through. The distant gritstone edges form a perfect backdrop.
Grass begins to give way to boulders as the top comes in to sight and, further along, the trig point beckons as a leaning post from which to take in some of the finest panoramas Derbyshire has to offer – assuming the day is clear. I have stood here in a kaleidoscope of differing conditions; freezing fog, snow, hail and summer sun - all have their own beauty and give me photographic chances bound only by my imagination. Early on a clear morning wide views over the exposed Derwent watershed can be captured in wide angle glory and, by spinning around 180 degrees the more arable White Peak presents itself, lending to great short telephoto imagery. In foggy conditions, the trig point makes a wraithlike subject. Up here in the snow, it is possible to capture scenes of a world composed of just black, blue and white. My walk takes me on past the trig point in a westerly direction, descending from the Pike onto a well-trodden track. I recall being at this point once after a particularly heavy snowstorm; Looking back toward the trig point, fog cleared to reveal a tundra like landscape, deafening in its silence, the only sign of humanity being a weathered signpost. I used a standard lens to pick this out of the desolation before my fingers numbed to the point of uselessness.
Ahead stretches a couple of well-defined miles which more or less follow the ridge as it very slowly descends. To the left is Loose Hill, marking the lower part of Edale, with Kinder Scout forming the opposite side of Edale valley. To my right is Ladybower, and Ashopton Viaduct. I particularly like this section of the walk when there are interesting skies, and I have a wide angle lens to capture the vastness of cloud structures above lonely hills. This looks particularly spectacular around mid-august when the heather is flowering.
As the hill’s backbone tapers, my route heads to the right, leading back into dense woodland that leeches away most available light. Here the path begins to lose height more rapidly as it plunges into deep shadow. Even on a brightly lit day, I struggle to achieve shutter speeds much above 1/15th second at iso 100…and this is with wide apertures of f2 and above. It is well worth spending some time here composing images that highlight the simple interplay between light and shadow on the boles of older trees. I tend to shoot with monochrome conversions in mind and achieve pleasing results. As none of my cameras have image stabilisation and I do not like pushing iso unless absolutely necessary, a tripod or solid tree branch is pre-requisite for sharp results.
Darkness soon gives way to light as a small glade opens into what appears to be the ruins of an old farm building, the moss infested walls containing a past that has almost been erased from the landscape. Nature reclaimed the buildings a long time ago, bursting through floors and walls to introduce a decaying kind of romance to the structure. However, I have yet to take pleasing images of the site as the jumble of stone and weed tests my compositional skills each time I visit, irrespective of weather conditions. It continues to be my ongoing challenge when walking this area.
Not far from here are the upper reaches of Ladybower reservoir, and the path emerges onto a track on the opposite side of the water to the A57. It is simply a matter of following this in a south easterly direction towards Yorkshire bridge and Bamford. This section of the walk can be stunningly beautiful, especially during still autumn days when red, russet and gold is mirrored in calm waters. Whatever focal length lens is used, the opportunity to create a masterpiece lies before you – sometimes enhanced by a flock of Canada geese or solitary boat-bound fisherman. I have spent literally hours walking this last couple of miles back to the car. A visit after several days of sub-zero temperatures can be rewarding as the frozen surface of the lake creates interesting close-up patterns and icy foreground interest. A warm summer’s evening sees the same area transformed into a golden landscape dotted with wildflowers, but composition can be challenging due to large areas of shadow cast by the encircling hills.
Good views of Ashopton Viaduct appear along this section and the presence of lakeside pines are perfect for creative framing, while a longer telephoto lens allows the hilly background to be drawn dramatically into the final image. For those users of super telephotos with boundless patience, waterfowl (particularly Cormorants, Grebes, Canada geese) and bird life adds an interesting challenge.
A walk along the banks of the reservoir makes for an interesting few hours photography by itself. But combining it with Win Hill’s higher altitudes expands creative possibilities considerably, adding lungfuls of exercise into the mix. To round off a good photographic day, the Yorkshire Bridge and Ladybower Inns are excellent places to replace those lost calories.