The Cliffs of Ayrmer

This is a short post to share a few images and thoughts from my recent trip to South Devon. As you may know I've recently become a father for a second time and so time has been at something of a premium. Still, I managed to make a couple of mornings out and wanted to make the most of it. My plan for this particular morning was to head to Ayrmer Cove near Ringmore which a bit of research and asking around led me to believe was a promising location. Being near to the sea I was looking forward to making a series of seascapes and the geology at Ayrmer Cove looked interesting. As an aside, isn't Ayrmer just a wonderful name? Like a character out of a Tolkien novel. I often find the names of places spark my imagination.

However as I slowly drove through dense fog I found myself cursing that I didn't know the area better to take advantage of the conditions. Some woodland or being high on a hill would be perfect, but in the pitch dark (it was 4am) it was difficult to get my bearings and find such a location. I find that this is one of the major disadvantages of sunrise shoots in unknown places.

Indeed this is a problem of visiting new and unknown locations more generally I think. Most of us are there on holiday or a special day trip and we don't have the time to explore and 'get under the skin' of a place. In my local area I can look at the conditions and know exactly where I want to be and what I want to shoot. When I'm away I'm relying on info (and often the images) about the place and this, quite obviously, leads to making similar-ish pictures of the usual places.

Suddenly and unexpectedly the road pulled uphill and I found the air around me clearing. Before I knew it I was sitting on top of a hill with views of fog as far as the eye could see. Wonderful! I parked in the first layby and started looking (again, in almost total darkness) for some promising compositions. This particular hill was quite gentle and the field I jumped into was fringed by some trees and houses. This made it difficult to find a good composition of the distant hills and fog without distracting elements encroaching into the bottom of the frame.

Rolling Hills at Dawn

I made a couple of images but soon returned to the car to consult my map for a more promising viewpoint. I knew I still had about an hour before sunrise. It turned out that the highest point  I could find was actually on my original route so I hopped in the car, put the foot down and quickly approached the area I had in mind.

I was still amongst rolling hills which made it difficult to get well above the fog. This resulted in some semi-frantic driving around looking for a clear shot, by now getting somewhat desperate not to waste such lovely conditions. The 'why did I not just stay where I was?!' gremlins gnawed at my mind.

Through a combination of good judgement and good luck I found myself in another field with a suitable aspect and views over the fog-clad landscape. I made my way down the tramlines and made some images I'm happy with as the sun rose.

Dawn over South Hams

Misty Dawn

Often the colour that I find most pleasing at sunrise is opposite the sun so I try to make a habit of looking all around me for the best colour. Behind me I saw the lovely deep blues and purples that I love and took a quick snapshot. Annoyingly this was looking in the direction of Ayrmer and was the sort of sky I was hoping for as a backdrop to my seascape images. C'est la vie, you can't shoot it all!


As the sun rose higher and the sky and the light became more white and less orange I decided to leave the dispersing fog and head for my original location. I knew that by now I'd left it late and that the tide (which was already unfavourable for around sunrise) would be a problem. If you're working by the sea please do be mindful of the tide. See this post for some tool suggestions for  tide planning and keep an eye on the water level. I tend to pick a spot (sometimes my bag!) and watch the waves in relation to that point in between shots.

At Ayrmer Cove you have the main beach and then a smaller cove round to the right, where all the good stuff is. I had to be careful to avoid being cutoff by the incoming tide and I knew I didn't have long.

The rocks I'd seen in other images were already well into the sea and my options were looking limited. But then I looked around me. Ayrmer is full of fantastic geology. The rising cliffs were full of different interest and colour. Around the beach were lovely sea worn rocks with various lines and shapes to them. And so although I intended shooting seascapes, I turned my back on them for a second time and trained my 100mm lens on the cliffs and surrounding rocks.


I expect like most I spend my time by the shore focusing on the seaward view so I've rarely spent time photographing rocks and shoreline detail. However I found myself drawn quickly into a completely different world and way of making photographs, finding abstract shapes and textures all around me. Feeling hurried by the encroaching tide I wasn't able to spend as long as I would have liked, but was very happy with what I did capture and excited by the new world of possibilities that I had stumbled upon.

I find this realisation slightly disturbing if I'm honest! I've always liked to think of myself as looking for more 'landscape within the landscape' images. Perhaps not looking for details as such, but certainly something more intimate than the wider view. At home amongst the waterfalls and the rocks of the Peak District I feel myself better able to let go and do that. But in a new environment, and almost always by the sea, I find myself looking for something more usual rather than something more 'personal'.

I just feel that this is a part of my approach. To 'do the usual' and work it out of my system before I can then concentrate on more personal and unique images. It's almost like knowing you've got the The Shot which then liberates you to explore for yourself. Which is odd because I'm not sure if I'm after The Shot in the first place! Still it's reassuring that I was open to these rocks and cliffs rather than forcing myself to make seascapes.

My ongoing thinking here is that perhaps I need to spend less time collecting images of locations and instead spend good quality time with locations that I feel an affinity to. Yet the explorer within me wants to see and experience new places. Perhaps I've a need for both approaches at different times. Or perhaps I'm just allowing myself to sit on the fence! Or perhaps I'm worrying too much.


Finally, despite turning my back on her twice that morning, I turned to make a couple of shots more akin to my original intention as I fled the cove. It might've been better with a bluey-purple sky but it's still a shot I really like. All in all a very productive, unexpected and thought provoking morning!