5:15 am in early September 2015, and I was walking along the towpath of the Exeter Ship Canal. First light, almost an hour before sunrise, and I might have been dreaming, except for an unexpected coldness and the calls of birds I couldn’t see. The mist was by turns hiding and revealing details of the landscape every few moments, just as I had hoped. I wanted to record visually just two phenomena: the changing hues of the dawn light (from cool blue to crystal clear and vibrant), and the movement and clearing of the mist.
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The mist was especially dense just before the Turf Locks, and I had to wait for a few minutes for the little details of the boats to be revealed.
A short distance from here the lock makes it possible to cross over the canal and walk down to the edge of the Exe Estuary, and to a substantial boat wreck which no doubt has made a striking foreground to many a photograph before this one. The attractive village of Topsham lies on the other side of the estuary from here, but is lost in the mist. This was taken no more than 10 minutes before sunrise, and although I took many images of the sunrise itself, I prefer the subtlety of this one.
Once the sun was up (and just out of frame to the right of the next image), the colours of the morning light were immediately warmed by it. The mists in the previous image began to lift, although they were still holding the land behind me.
I’ll allow myself just one photograph of the rising sun. Almost.
Close to the boat wreck is a ferry point to Topsham, and the light on the little details here begin to show the transition from cool to warm light that was taking place.
Behind me the mist was holding a little longer, and for the first time that day two people walked into my dream. Above them (but actually some distance away) stands the Belvedere Tower, a folly above the grounds of Powderham Castle, constructed in the 1730s.
Close to the locks I watched the last of the mist clear over the mudflats, in some quite exquisite light.
A yurt has appeared at this spot since my last visit. I wasn’t sure if anyone had spent the night here, but if so they were missing a visual treat. £85 for a night might well be worth it, I think.
And then the mists all around had suddenly cleared, leaving just the most ravishing light and colour.
There’s something deeply satisfying and tactile about mudflats in low angled light. Here’s an image from the little bridge over the locks.
And another from across the canal feeder revealing the Topsham side of the estuary with a little more clarity.
Railway lines run along both sides of the estuary, and the trains were now passing with increased frequency for many morning commutes. The views from the trains on either side are always delightful, but I was happy not to be on one that morning.
I suppose I could check the EXIF data on my image files to check what time these final images were taken that morning, but it really doesn’t matter. I know I had been there for several hours, but how quickly the time had passed! The dream had dissolved with the mist and the light was merely ordinary. The towpath I could barely see a few hours earlier was now revealed starkly, and yet there was to be one last gift that morning, just a little way ahead.