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The Lake District’s gorgeous hills are a perfect place to learn about landscape photography

Famous photojournalist Robert Capa once said that if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough. Sure, he was talking about battlefields, but that’s little comfort now as I plod through rugged hills, feet soaked, legs aching, cursing the wind, the weather and the gods.

I’m here in the hills of the Eden Valley in the Lake District for a two-day landscape photography course, and I know what a weak, pampered Londoner I must seem to my northern companions, sniffling and coughing as I make cautious leaps from stone to stone to avoid ruining my boots.

When we start out on the trek I’m pretty confident. This should be easy, I chuckle to myself when I find out that the other two amateur snappers on the landscape photography course are pensioners. The sun shines and the lake glistens as I youthfully bound up the hills.
Just hours later one of those pensioners, Paul, looks at me  sympathetically as I stagger along, the blue skies having turned to rain, and then driving snow. Rod Ireland, an experienced mountaineer, landscape photographer and our guide, is bemused. “It must be the country air,” he jokes.

Rod and his wife, Pauline, regularly spend the night in the mountains – most recently they went wild camping on High Street, an 800m mountain range dominating the skyline, in order to catch the dawn light over the Ullswater Lake. 

The couple run adventure company Out There People from their converted barn in Askham, a tiny village just five miles from Penrith in the Northern Lakes. This pretty spot is often overlooked in favour of the better-known Lake District tourist traps of Ambleside and Windermere. This is a shame, because the village, with its pub, shop and population of some 500 people, is not only cheaper than its more popular neighbours but also endearingly, refreshingly, absurdly local.

As such, whether you’re ambling through the hills or leaning over a pint of ale in a local boozer, the ‘bet you don’t get this in London’ refrain is as regular as it is justified. The hills, the clean air, stunning vistas and abundant wildlife are a shock to the system at first, and despite Rod’s best efforts to explain the intricacies of framing the perfect mountainscape, I can’t seem to stop taking pictures of the weird, furry, white animals that dot the landscape.

Snap: here is a sheep looking inquisitive. Snap: here she is looking angry. Snap: she’s eating. Snap: three rams are now eyeing a female sheep seductively … at which point I put my camera down.

Rod’s learned to be patient with wannabe photographers turning up with expensive SLR cameras and no idea how to use them. He explains the basic settings, using depth of field, adjusting aperture and shutter speed, as well as the importance of patience for capturing landscapes.

Before long, he sends us off to find a shot, set up our tripod and wait. You can wait for an hour, he explains, and suddenly light will come through the clouds and everything is transformed. And it’s not just epic views, the smallest nook in a rock or tree can turn into a perfect composition – a single orange leaf framed by warped wood, the light bouncing off the moss on the rocks.

“You have to learn not to just snap whatever you see – to look for your picture,” Rod says. And before long that is what we all do, eyes darting from tree to lake to sky to rock. After the first day, it is impossible to look at anything without seeing it through the camera lens.

Spring in the Fells can be cold and hard, but when the rain and snow stops and the sun retreats across the sky, the valley is bathed in a warm yellow light. The fields, now a rich green, give way to towering snow-capped mountains – there is a reason the evening is known as the ‘golden hours’ to photographers.

Aching legs aside, scenery like this means it takes a lot for our group to tear ourselves away, get in the car and head back to Askham before dark.

Like everyone else in the village, we retire to the Queens Head Inn to eat, play guitar, gossip and drink. A quick pint with the landlords, John and Eileen, quickly turns into a four-hour session with the village potter and his friends. The talk of animals and birds, hunting and walking quickly turns to family and philosophy as the ale flows and within a few hours I feel like I have known my fellow drinkers – strangers up until a few hours ago – for years.

A couple of locals pick up guitars and start to play Oasis songs, and everyone sings along as closing time comes and goes. As I stagger the few metres to my room I stumble across a few teenagers playing pool. ‘Goodnight mate,’ one shaved-head, hoodie-clad young tough says amiably, as I pass.

No, not like London at all. 


Getting there

Take the train from London Euston to Penrith from £95 return with Virgin Trains. A taxi from Penrith to Askham costs about £15.

Eat Sleep Drink

Set in a 17th-century building in the centre of the village and serving hearty pub food, The Queens Head Inn is a locals’ favourite. Meals from £10.

On the banks of the Ullswater Lake, family-run Sun Inn is a great stop for a pub lunch. Meals from £10.50.

The Punchbowl is within stumbling distance of the Queens Head. Recently opened under new management, it serves a range of ales from £3.50 a pint.

Finish off a walk through the woods with a brew at the family-run Lowther Castle Inn. The dining room is a former Magistrates Court. From £3.50 a pint.

In a seperate wing of the building from the pub, The Queens Head Inn has warm, cosy rooms from £50pn and a truly welcoming atmosphere.

Small and cosy Abbey House is a four-star B&B in the centre of Penrith’s town. If you’re setting out first thing, they’ll do you an early breakfast. Rooms from £30pppn.

A two-day Mountain Landscape Photography course costs £229pp

Photos: Orlando Crowcroft, Rod Ireland 

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