When A Gamble Pays Off - Jay Birmingham

When a Gamble Pays Off

I visited Dorset in August, and had a fantastic time – great views of Corfe Castle, and the partial eclipse, and stunning scenery all round. I visited Durdle Door for the first time on that trip, and found it enthralling. It’s an iconic landmark, and also an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is part of the Jurassic Coast, and is a beautiful limestone arch – the sea has eroded the middle of it. I photographed the milky way over it in the summer, and wanted to return, as there is a very short time around the winter solstice where the sunrise is visible through the arch and I’d set my heart on taking that photograph.

When I returned home in August, I booked one of the only available hotels within walking distance for a few nights in December. This was quite a gamble as the chance of getting a clear sunrise in winter, when you only have a few days there, is not incredibly likely. Fast forward four months. Still full from the festivities of Christmas, my wife and I set off on Boxing Day in torrential rain. Awaking the next morning, my heart sank. The wind was howling and the rain was relentless. Nevertheless, we set off for Durdle Door down the steep path. Although the rain stopped, the clouds remained – a failed attempt. The weather cheered up a little later and we decided to visit Swanage to take some pictures of the old pier there. I enjoy long exposures and this is a good place to capture some minimalist shots.

That evening, there were clear skies and we headed back to Durdle Door to see if we could get sunset through the arch, which is also possible at this time of year. Although it wasn’t the shot I had come for, I did manage to capture the sun through the arch. I at least had a similar image to the one I so desperately wanted, should I fail in my quest.

The next day, I awoke with anticipation. The weather forecast had looked good. We set off up the hill from Lulworth to Durdle Door, and as the Dorset author Thomas Hardy wrote, ‘the sky was clear… and the twinkling of all the stars seemed to be but throbs of one body, timed by a common pulse’. This amazing patchwork of stars gave us hope in our hearts – it was definitely going to be better than the cloudy start to the day before. We were the first to arrive on the beach, but soon we saw the dancing light from several headtorches snaking down the hill to join us in our quest to see the ‘sun-star’. There were about 40 photographers in total – some on the beach, and some up above, taking panaromas and flying drones. Photography in certain places is rather a social occasion, and this was the most photographers I had seen. People were getting very worried about the bank of cloud at the bottom of the arch, and trying to work out exactly when the sun would appear was guesswork, but we were not disappointed. Seeing the sun through the arch was mesmerising – it appeared peeping through at first, but soon lit up the entire archway. I was so pleased to get this shot, as I had taken a gamble with the weather (booking in August, I couldn’t be sure!), and it possibly won’t be seen again until the end of 2018.

After breakfast, we thought we’d go exploring again, so went off in search of a mill I thought might look nice. We had to drive (slide!) down icy hills and wade through floodwater to get there, and there were fishermen determined to get in my shot, so I think I might give that one another try in a different season.

We then headed to Kimmeridge Bay, which is in the Purbeck Marine Wildlife Reserve, in the hope of catching a good sunset. Kimmeridge Bay is very impressive – there are lots of fossils, and beautiful rocks jutting into the sea. There is quite a lot of erosion though, and you can hear the cliffs crumbling above you. We were quite keen not to get hit by the larger rocks, particularly as there had been thawing/freezing spells, which can lead to more rock falls.


We found a good spot to wait for the sun to set (and it was much less crowded than Durdle Door had been that morning – the people were mainly fossil hunters heading back to their cars before dark), and watched the waves crashing, whilst appreciating the wonderful coastline. Dorset really is a fantastic county, and you can get lost in the moment just being at one with your surroundings.

We knew that would probably be our last photo opportunity, as we were woken the next Monday by howling winds, lightning and furious rain lashing the streets outside. We did just run out to take one or two pictures of Lulworth Cove (well worth a visit) before getting in the car to drive up to the Midlands. It could well have been that stormy for our entire trip, so we felt very lucky to have had some fantastic weather, and memories and photographs to last forever.

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