A circular walk from Bolton Bridge via Beamsley Beacon and Deerstones: Nov 29th, 2019
I was invited on a walk up a very familiar hill: Beamsley Beacon. It’s special to me as its summit has been visible from my desk, in three different locations, for the best part of twenty years. Wherever I’ve lived and worked in Ilkley, I’ve always been able to look out of my window to see the summit cairn. I feel lucky for that, although it’s luck I’ve likely made for myself.
I never gave any thought to the route we’d take today. I assumed it would be on paths I know. As it turned out, I covered a lot of new ground and was introduced to a favourite new tree. Only a few hundred yards from roads and paths I know well, it was a real surprise to discover a couple of beautiful locations for photography.
After days and days of rain, following weeks and weeks of rain, it was a revelation to wake up to a bright morning. The blues skies were a shock. There was a heavy frost, the first good freeze of the new winter. In pockets of shade, that frost persisted through the afternoon. I can never resist looking for compositions among the fronds of rusted bracken and wild plants.
Having climbed Beamsley Beacon so many times, mostly on runs rather than walks, it didn’t occur to me to take any photographs from the top today. However, this piece wouldn’t be complete without providing a sense of the view north, looking into the Dales. Here’s one from the archives, taken on a run from home on a beautiful September evening. There wasn’t a single wisp of a cloud in the sky today.
We took a zig-zag descent line towards Deerstones, finally along a path that’s not marked on the OS Map (my excuse for never having passed this way before), dropping into a steep-sided valley to cross Kex Beck by a narrow footbridge.
It’s a beautiful secret valley.
After crossing the A59, on a path that was new to me, to the east of the River Wharfe, I discovered my new tree, the one on the right.
It has dawned on me that my passion for taking portrait shots of people is mirrored by my love for photographing solitary trees. It’s very much the landscape equivalent. I get just as excited by a beautiful tree as I do by a beautiful face.
Before today I would have guessed that I’d already nabbed every solitary tree within walking distance of home. There are not too many of them. Not only must the tree be standing on its own but also free of background clutter, uncompromised by other trees or intrusive man-made structures like telegraph poles—the bane of the landscape photographer. That makes them quite rare beasts. It’s a special experience to come across one for the first time, as I did today.
I prefer to photograph trees when they’re naked. I like to shoot them without their leaves. In winter. That’s when you see their bare form, the full extent of all their curves and shapes. That’s when they expose their soul to me.
This tree is a beautiful example. Not all trees have such splendid lines, although it’s hard to define what it is that makes one tree more appealing than another. What is beauty in a tree? I might suggest that it’s to do with a balance in the amount of symmetry. Too much symmetry makes a tree rather uninteresting. Not enough symmetry makes it disorderly. There is a sweet spot somewhere in between and I think this particular tree hits it right on the button.
After running to catch up with my companions it was then a return to familiar territory and a walk down the ancient bridleway that runs from Storiths to Bolton Abbey and then a gentle amble beside the river back to our starting point at Bolton Bridge.
The route felt longer than six miles. There was so much to see. It’s hard to imagine a finer walk of a similar length in the whole of West Yorkshire.