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  • Writer's pictureStephen Maguire

A guide to Rydal Water The Lake District - Sun Rises and Photographic opportunities

Rydal Water is a small body of water in the central part of the Lake District, Cumbria. It is located near Rydal, between Grasmere and Ambleside in the Rothay Valley.

Rydal Water is one of the smallest lakes in the Lake District at only 3/4 mile long and a 1/4 of a mile wide, but it is very popular partly because of its Wordsworth connections.

There are numerous walks in the surrounding hills, as well as a walk around the lake itself, which takes in Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount, both homes to William Wordsworth, and Rydal Cave, a former quarry. At the western end of the lake, steps lead to Wordsworth's Seat, which is considered to have been Wordsworth's favourite viewpoint in the Lake District.

White Moss House, at the northern end of the lake, is believed to be the only house that Wordsworth ever bought. He bought it for his son Willie, and the family lived there until the 1930s. Nab Cottage overlooks the lake and it was once home to Thomas de Quincey and Hartley Coleridge, the son of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Close by is the historic Rydal Hall.

However as this was my first trip to the lake I wanted to keep it simple, I had followed a weather app for weeks and I knew it predicted fog as a consequence there was no point travelling to the caves or around the surrounding hills as the views would be hidden. Plus with a predicted wind speed of 6mph I wanted to get those reflections.

Why Rydal Water

Its a two hour drive for me to The Lake District so I always try to plan well in advance. I have plenty of places marked in my Google Maps of where I want to go then its just a matter of balancing the time I have available against the weather conditions. As its coming in to autumn I really wanted to find a foggy scene to capture some real mood. So I stalked my weather radar app for weeks looking for that opportunity, I really wanted to visit Buttermere but its too far away for a day trip. I've made several trips to Ullswater and Derwentwater this year so I was looking for something a little different. I read the reviews and checked out pictures taken by other photographers on instagram. A lonely tree on the edge of the lake and a boathouse, two subjects that I love to shoot so I was instantly sold!

Where to park?

There are a few car parks to chose from, closest to Ambleside there is Pelter Bridge car park, this is the best one to use if you are walking to Rydal Caves. At the other end of the lake towards Grasmere there are two other car parks; White Moss and Rydal Water Neither have particularly good reviews with reports of parking charges due to ANPR cameras and delays in obtaining spaces and purchasing tickets.

I parked at White Moss, I was there at 6.30, yes am, it was pitch black and so early I was the only one there. Parking isn't cheap, £2 per hour, but you can pay by card/phone at the machine or on the app. I actually find apps easier as it provides evidence to challenge rogue parking fines, however even when using the code it couldn't find the location.

As the ANPR records entry and exit times I overpaid to ensure I covered the whole time I was there - Maybe excessive but its saved a £100 fine!

How long is the walk?

I suppose this all depends on what you intend to do, the circular walk is approximately 2.8 miles, so an average walker would walk around it in about an hour. However I spent around 3 hours walking around the lake stopping to take lots of pictures along the way.

What did I find?

You won't be surprised to learn that the surrounding scenery is so beautiful that there are plenty of opportunities to capture wonderful images.To start I left the White Moss car park along the trail and followed it through the forest and over the River Rothay, then chasing the lower path towards the lake.

I knew the sun would be rising from the direction of Ambleside so I knew I wanted to be looking in that direction. Having never been here before I found a part of the lake that offered a decent composition of the fog, water and surrounding hills. The wind speed was higher than I expected so natural reflections were difficult because of the current so I wanted to flatten them out with some long exposures. However due to the dull light from the surrounding fog it was going to be a long exposure time!

The first image was a 4 minute exposure at 16mm, F16 with a 100 ISO. As you can see slightly darker and underexposed but I like the overall feel.

The second image was a 6 minute exposure, F16, 16mm with a 100 ISO. Slightly better exposed and I love what the longer exposure caught with the cloud movement. Its really interesting and I love the natural curve along the mountain line.

The mix of cloud, fog and a bursting sunrise led to some amazing cloud drags and colours with the bonus of some reflections.

For my next shot I doubled back slightly to take advantage of a tree that had caught my eye earlier. The fog and low level cloud helped to isolate it against the background making it pop. Settings; 26mm, F16, ISO 100, shutter speed 1/2 second.

I then traced my way along the bank of the lake and found another lonely tree, more difficult to isolate, there was hardly any contrast from the hills across the lake. But I really liked the shape, colours and reflections. The sky was starting to clear and a fresh blue appeared over the hills. Settings; 20mm, F16, ISO 100, shutter speed 1/2 second

There are so many varying compositions and interesting foregrounds around the lake you could literally spend hours taking everything in. Following the shoreline around further I came across a pebble shore and a bank of weeds. I wanted to improvise and try something different, in doing so I caught something quite spectacular and unexpected.

Kneeling down amongst the overgrown weeds I had managed to focus on a plant and caught a rather lovely spiders web glistening in the morning light whilst creating a lovely balanced bokeh background. Probably one of my favourite shots of the day! Settings; 35mm, F16, ISO 100, shutter speed 1/4 second.

Just prior to a metal gate separating the path, I came across a stone wall which was submerged in the water. There was something about the rustic nature of the wall that caught my eye. Whilst I was crouching looking for a composition I could see rings in the water from insects bouncing along. It wasn't until I got home I noticed that I had caught one perfectly. This is probably my favourite shot of the day. Settings; 31mm, F16, ISO 100, shutter speed 1/15 second.

Moving through the gate I came across yet another bank full of interesting trees and I found the perfect natural frame. Full of interesting autumn colours, shapes and reflections. I suppose it shouldn't really work as a composition but I really love this one too. Settings; 19mm, F16, ISO 100, shutter speed 1 second.

Sometimes you can find the beauty in anything, looking over the lake, the autumn colours were just beginning to show and with a fine fog still lingering across the lake I wanted to try and catch what I could see. I must admit I love my 16-35mm lens but its not really got the flexibility for mid distance photography. That said it can still pick up detail... I wanted to try and isolate a green layer of grass and trees that stretched out at the bottom of the adjacent hill which were perfectly reflected. A slight rippled tide and a bush in the bottom right of the frame added an interesting foreground. Settings; 35mm, F16, ISO 100, shutter speed 1/25 second.

Now I have a bit of a fascination with boathouses and the one on Rydal was one of the reasons I wanted to visit. Unfortunately despite being the smallest lake my max 35mm just was getting close enough to make a real subject of the boathouse itself. However undeterred I spotted some logs partially submerged in the lake. I thought these would add an interesting foreground, provide nice reflections whilst also helping to frame and allow me to focus on the boathouse. This was my attempt.... Settings; 35mm, F16, ISO 100, shutter speed 1/4 second.

I completed my walk around the bottom of the lake and over the bridge. The walk back to White Moss can be completed along the road but there are gates along the way allowing you to drop down to the shoreline. Along the way I found another tree of interest, I really like the tree itself but he light was growing strong as the morning progressed and it made the shot difficult. I always find that I learn from my mistakes, no idea why but the F number was now F18, probably changed it when walking or dropping down to the lake. Its a welcome reminder to check your settings, I remember checking the light meter so the shot was correctly exposed just with a small aperture. I still like the image but it could have been better! Settings; 19mm, F18, ISO 100, shutter speed 1/25 second.

My last images of the day and the main reason for me wanting to visit Rydal Water, the lonely tree. Another over photographed tree but I'm not deterred and despite the numerous amazing images out there its something I wanted for my portfolio. Unfortunately my car park ticket was running out, one eye on the likely fine and with the added headache of my camera battery loosing power. This was going to be a quick one! I managed to get a few compositions, in the main I wanted to try and isolate the tree and maximise the reflections, however this proved difficult, a set of wellies would have helped here. One for next time...

So with the limited time I had between my ticket and battery life I managed to capture this; if I had of known where it was id probably of visited this part of the lake first, when the fog was its thickest. Definelty worth a re-visit. Settings; 30mm, F14, ISO 100, shutter speed 1/25 second.

So at this point I'd adjusted my F-stop which allowed me to capture a sharper image, given the time constraints I am happy with the result.

What did I learn?

I'd like to think that I do lots of research before visiting the places I photograph, but on this occasion I wasn't prepared enough. I had a good idea of direction but I wasn't really sure of where to set up and didn't have a composition planned in advance although I probably got lucky with what I got. I did however thoroughly enjoy the walk and playing with different types of photography subjects that I wouldn't tend to shoot.

This trip provides a timely reminder against complacency - I Need to continually check my settings, I shoot in manual and will adjust the shutter speed to adjust the light meter but using F16 for most of the day is not something that I wold generally do. I like it as an F-stop for long exposures as it seems to work well with my camera and lens to ensure maximum sharpness. But in general terms I will shoot between F9 and F13. I didn't even consider on the day changing the ISO to compensate for the lack of light because of the fog. To busy trying to capture images and not thinking meant that I lost a lot of images that compositionally I was pleased with. If there is a lesson to be learned its to take you time, don't rush and double check your settings!

Whens my next visit?

I'd go back tomorrow, its a lovely lake but I want to take the kids and dogs next time, explore the caves, find Wordsworths seat, let the kids play on the stepping stones and of course have another play with the Rydal lonely tree.


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