I’ve been visiting Hoo’s riverside wall area for a few years now, but I’ve never ventured along the footpath that passes through the boat yards and marina. I had the chance to actually visit what’s now called “Port Werburgh”, and Whitton Marine’s yard, with a photographic chum yesterday.
I only took my compact digital, because I wasn’t really expecting anything fantastic. With hindsight I should have taken the SLR, but I think the little camera proved itself quite adequate.
It’s been some time since my last Dawn Raid. With the weather set fair, I headed out to Hoo St Werburgh once more. Getting up at 4am is just bonkers, but very rarely have I been disappointed. Today, for example, I was pleased to see the lowest tide I’ve ever seen on my photography trips.
As you may be aware I am partial to what I term “Dawn Raids”. This is where I head out very early to catch the sun rising over the Medway. In the summer, this can mean getting up at very silly times of the night, but nearing midwinter the sun gets up at a more civilised hour.
The weather forecast looked good, with perhaps a smattering of cloud. It would be a low tide at around 8am, and the sun was due to rise at about the same time. It all looked set fair for a December Dawn Raid to Upnor.
I got there in plenty of time, set the EOS 7D up on the tripod with the Sigma 10–20mm wide angle, pointed at the horizon where the sun would appear, and I waited. While I waited, I took a couple of shots with the PowerShot G9. A church clock tolled the hour, more cloud rolled in, and there was the merest hint of pink … and that was it. I had been hoping for some blazing oranges and golds, moody cloudscapes, lit from below, something worth all the effort. It was a bit disappointing, to be honest, but I suppose that’s the chance you take. You can never guarantee anything in life.
One of my infamous Dawn Raids occurred this morning. It so happened the weather was forecast to be clear, and there was a high tide coinciding with sunrise, give or take a few minutes. I headed out to Hoo St Werburgh, which has rapidly become my local sunrise location of choice.
Swapping lenses on a DSLR always increases the possibility of dust and grot getting into the camera body. Only when I got home and downloaded the images did I spot a small hair in the bottom right corner of many images, caused by my holding an uncapped lens in the crook of my arm while swapping them about. At wider apertures the fibre was all but invisible, but stopping down meant it became clearer and clearer. I’ve had to do a bit of selective cropping and cloning to tidy things up. I was lucky, really, it only encroached in a corner. It has now been removed from the camera body.
I got up early this morning to go out to Hoo St Werburgh again, this time with a friend keen to try out his new camera.
I made the conscious decision to shoot black and white. The hazy early morning landscape sort of lent itself to mono today, with very little colour visible even when the sun had risen quite high.
I am quite pleased with the results. Strange as it may sound, I think I am maturing as a landscape photographer. I feel able to pick my subjects, and capture them, without trying too hard. Most of the images I took today are acceptable, but I am getting much better at editing down to the very best, which is why those uploaded represent about ten per cent of the total frames I took.
As the seasons roll round, and the summer heads our way, thoughts turn again to getting out at the crack of dawn to make pictures.
I thought I was alone in my early bird habits, but a friend of mine is keen enough to learn more about his new camera that he suggested we head out together.
So, Friday morning it is. We’ll be heading for my favourite spot of Hoo St Werburgh, by the Kingsnorth power station on the river Medway. The tide will be in, the weather looks set fair-ish, and the sun will rise at a not unreasonable 06.39 BST.
I have to say, I am really looking forward to the trip.
Why do I love dawn so much? I think it’s the colours of a pre-dawn clear sky—that deep blue slowly fading as the sun begins to rise—and it’s the quiet. Hardly anyone around, and nature beginning to stir.
The Hoo Peninsula is a sparsely-populated collection of mudflats and farmland, situated between the Thames and Medway estuaries. It’s a strange landscape, home to wildlife and bird sanctuaries as well as a string of power stations and oil and gas storage facilities. Right at the end, you come to the Isle of Grain.
I’d like to be charitable about Grain. It has a couple of pubs, a primary school, a fire station, supermarket, a church with an oddly stubby tower, and some sea views. Otherwise, it’s 1960s and 1970s housing estate with a socking great power station next door. I’m not entirely sure why people want to live in Grain. It has to be a self-sufficient community, since it’s nearly an hour to get to Chatham and Rochester. Perhaps the community grew up to service the numerous power stations strung along the north shore of the Medway.
I have been to Grain before. A couple of times on business, and a couple of times to see what was there. Despite various attempts at getting things moving out there, the latest being Thamesport, an earlier one being Port Victoria, the place remains a curious mix of industry and bleak landscape.
Having done some of the Saxon Shore Way closer to the Medway Towns—Hoo St Werburgh and Upnor, chiefly—I decided it was time to venture to the end of the peninsula to see what it was like. I think the journey was worth taking, and I took the opportunity to reconnoitre other likely locations to visit.
Once again, I got up stupidly early. I was hoping to hit the Hoo Marina in a Dawn Raid that coincided with a high tide and sunrise, which were both due around 0530hrs BST.
As I parked the car, with about half an hour to spare, I began to walk down the footpath to the river. Those of us who generally never surface before the sun rises often don’t realise how bright it can be in that hour before dawn, when the sky is clear. I adopted a brisk pace to ensure I reached my selected vantage point in plenty of time to set things up. I felt good. I felt alive for the first time in a long time. It was great to be out in the fresh air, just me, the sky and the local wildlife.
Sadly, my chosen location perhaps wasn’t the best in hindsight. While it still afforded some good shots across the Medway, the early August sun peeps over the horizon between the power stations on the north bank. I was hoping for more reflections in my shots.
After getting a sequence as the sun appeared and rose into the sky, I quickly collected everything and shifted position further upstream, where there would be more water in front of me.
The wind, coming offshore, was preventing me from getting the mirror calmness I’ve seen at this location before around slack tide. Still, the rising sun, glittering off the wavelets, was worth capturing.
Once I had had my fill of the rising sun, and noting that clouds were looming from the landward side, I wandered back to the car, stopping to switch the camera to black and white mode for shots across the boat graveyard and into the fields. The “golden hour” seemed to have passed remarkably quickly, probably not helped by the increasing clouds.
It was well worth the effort, I think. Oddly, I feel I have exhausted most of the opportunities at this location. Then again, I haven’t visited on a cold, frosty morning. I think I need to plan a trip for the winter. At least the sun rises later in the day then!