Viewpoints - Caer Caradoc Hill

Whenever I am planning a trip to an unfamiliar place, I like to spend hours pouring over the OS map, trying to read the landscape and identify promising locations.  On this occasion, it wasn’t long before my eye was drawn to a dense cluster of contour lines near Church Stretton.  It represented a chain of long, narrow hills running in a north-east to south-west alignment, from The Wrekin in the north to Ragleth Hill in the south.  They all looked like they had potential but one hill in particular struck me as a promising prospect, with steep sides allowing it to stand proud of its undulating surroundings.  It was also the hill with the most evocative sounding name, Caer Caradoc.

The plan was to get up before dawn and climb to the summit in time for sunrise.  When I awoke there was thick fog all around, but this was a bonus as I was confident it would be clear at the top and looking down on a spot of mist lingering in the valleys would make a great picture.  The thought of this motivated me during my climb through the grey gloom.  Caer Caradoc is one of those hills with several false summits and any tendency to think you’re nearly there is likely to result in disappointment when you reach what you think is the summit, only to discover the ground continues upwards.  It is perhaps not surprising then that there was once an iron-age hill fort here, benefiting from the natural defences provided by the unusual shape of the hill.

When I finally reached the true summit, I was surprised to find myself still surrounded by mist.  At 459 metres, I would have expected to be above it by now.  After a few minutes staring at the wall of pale grey and wondering whether my climb had been in vain, the mist lowered a little and allowed me a sneak preview of the scene below.  There is something surprising and immensely satisfying about being shielded from the view as you climb a hill and then to have it revealed in all its glory once you reach the top.  To the north I could see The Wrekin poking through the blanket of mist covering the Shropshire Plain.  To the south-west, the sprawling summit of Long Mynd was just across the Stretton Gap and to the east, there was rolling farmland all the way to the Clee Hills on the horizon.  A glance towards that eastern horizon told me that I didn’t have much time until sunrise so I would have to work quickly.

I decided the best view was a panorama of the gently rolling hills to the east.  The main problem here would be controlling lens flare as I would be shooting directly into the sun.  I don’t like to use graduated ND filters in such situations as they are more likely to cause lens flare.  Instead, with my camera mounted firmly on the tripod and the tripod made stable by hanging my heavy camera bag on it, I made one exposure for the foreground and a second for the sky.   I then panned the camera around a little and repeated this process until I had both foreground and sky exposures for 3 separate frames covering the width of the panorama.  Later on, for each of the three frames, I layered the foreground exposure on top of the sky exposure in photoshop and, using the eraser tool set to about 1500px diameter and 0% hardness, I gradually erased the sky from the foreground exposure layer revealing the correctly exposed sky from the layer beneath.  The frames were then stitched in Pano Tools Assembler.

Caer Caradoc

Canon 5D, 17-40mm lens at 17mm, ISO 100, two exposures merged: 1/60sec for sky and 1/8sec for foreground both at f16, tripod, cable release, 3 frames stitched in Pano Tools Assembler.

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