Sunset, snow… and the ‘Rude Stone’


I only found out about this old stone cross last year when I was researching for another project. It stands on the hills between Todmorden and Cliviger, near the Lancashire/Yorkshire border. There’s some debate about how old Mount Cross actually is, with locals suggesting it may originally date from the 7th century, although other estimates date it from the 11th or 12th century. Either way, it’s the most ancient religious monument in the area, and may have stood weatherbeaten and resolute looking down the valley for close to a millenium. Pre-Schism, pre-enclosure, pre-industrial – there were still wild boar and wolves around back then – I imagine even in those days the silhouette of this priapic religious feature may’ve raised a smile or two, earning it the nickname of the ‘Rude Stone’.

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Since shooting the video below (a short HDR timelapse of the sun setting here last year) I’ve harboured the desire to get back and capture a really stunning sky. One late Saturday afternoon, as the sun set quicker than the temperature, I grabbed a couple of DSLRs and set off up the hill. First I shot some bracketed stills, then, just as the sun dropped over the hills, captured this HDR 360° panorama.

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Ice at the Pass of Glencoe

This is the narrowest point of Glen Coe, as the road and river run close to each other just by the meeting of three waters. At this time of the year the sunlight doesn’t hit the floor of the valley, so the river’s bubbling waters lie wreathed in ice and snow.

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The frozen fringes of Loch Leven…

On the Sunday we stopped off at Kinlochleven for a coffee, then followed the road along the north side of Loch Leven towards the bridge over the straits at Ballachuilish. Not far out from Kinlochleven, after passing a lot of Royal Marines on exercise, we spotted this inlet and parked up to investigate in more detail.

Loch Leven is a seawater loch, and seeing the edges fringed by ice is testament to just how cold it’s been in Scotland over the last few months. I’ve never seen frozen seawater before, and the matted seaweed poked out between thin slabs of pan ice and sparkling frost. As I stood and photographed, melting ice groaned and cracked, warming in the wan winter sunshine, while the loch reflected the mountains beyond. The scene was so still and tranquil, and the light was gloriously clear. The perfect place to spend an hour in the sun on a Sunday…

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Winter walking above Glen Coe amongst sparkling snow…

I recently headed up to the Scottish mountains with a group of mates, ready to hit the hills and make the most of the snow. Actually we’d booked the bunkhouse a couple of months ago, so we were incredibly lucky to have such stunning weather and beautiful snowy conditions. I’d not been to Glen Coe in over a decade, so I was looking forward to the prospect of some proper Scottish mountain action in this weather.

It had been very icy (minus 12°c on our first night) so the snow was covered in shimmering range of sparkling ice crystals, and thick ice coated many rocks. The plan was to get some good height and walk along the ridge, eastwards in the opposite direction to the classic Aonach Eagach. Although I’ve always wanted to complete that particular route we were a mixed ability group and we started later in the day than would’ve been advisable, so that was quickly discounted as an option. We started off near the pass of Glencoe at Altt-na-reigh and climbed very steeply up Coire an Ruigh.

After we hit the snowline the ice axes had to come out to make progress possible: my legs and lungs were on fire and I started to realise that snow goggles or sunglasses are more than a mere affectation in bright sunshine on a snowfield. I was definitely suffering from a lack of practice at winter walking, and was further encumbered by my pack and photo gear. This first panorama was taken to capture the view as our first destination beckoned up the steep sides of the coire. Every time I looked back I saw the stunning view of the other side of the glen, everytime I looked forward and up I just saw steep snowy tracks and sweat running into my eyes. Taking this pano allowed me to catch my breath, get my bearings, and test how easy it is to shoot a panorama on a steep-sided mountain in the cold (it probably took me about 4x longer than usual to set up and shoot). Good practice for later in the day, and a great view to boot.

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We topped out on the bealach (saddle) between Am Bodach and Sron Gharbh, and decided to stop for lunch and a chance to catch our breath and marvel at the view. Actually I forced the issue a bit, feeling my blood sugar levels drop rapidly. Mind you, I was carrying the heaviest pack (all the photo gear Visibility was superb: you could easily see north towards Ben Nevis and the Mamores, south-east to the Trossachs, and along the southern line of peaks in Glen Coe itself. Bidean nam Bian looked suitably ominous and foreboding with thin wispy clouds skirting over its peaks, but generally the cloud cover was light, providing just enough respite from the glare of the sun to avoid wearing goggles the whole time. Here’s a group shot of us looking suitably pleased with our progress. Not sure about the laser lens flare going on around my person though…

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We pushed on along miles of undulating snowscapes, often running parallel to mountain hare tracks, marked with their distinctive loping gait. How anything lives up here in the depths of winter is beyond me though, those hares must be tough. As the sun started to drop, the light took on a golden hue and the snow and peaks around us were lit up with a stunning intensity. The low light refracted off the ice crystals in the snow, and we all marvelled at the spectrum of colours. One of my mates said it was like walking on a field of diamonds in the sky; we’d never seen anything quite like it.

I kept dropping behind, eager to take loads of photos, and had to rush to play catch-up with the rest of the group: I felt like a kid in a sweetshop and only the cold and sudden loneliness of standing alone on a snowfield refocused my mind from the distractions of shooting the views. This shot captures something of the raw, magnificent wilderness of these peaks in the late afternoon sun.

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We picked our way along the ridge and took in the last minor peak, Stob Mhic Mhartuin, before dropping down to meet the old military road of the Devil’s Staircase, just as dusk started to fade, and we approached the car just as darkness fully set in. My calves were complaining for days after the trekking – walking in snow massively enhances difficulty and demands placed by the simple tasks of climbing and descending – but it was one of the best day’s winter walking I’d ever had in Scotland, and we were all buzzing as a result. I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to capture these views for posterity at any price…

Sunset and snow on London Road, near Mankinholes


Salmon skies light up the snowy ridge of Langfield Common, near Todmorden. Stoodley Pike sits on the hillside, overlooking  the Upper Valley.

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