River Wharfe, Strid Wood

Autumn Landscape Photography at Strid Wood in Wharfedale

River Wharfe, Strid Wood
The River Wharfe flows through an autumnal Strid Wood in Wharfedale


My first visit to Strid Wood was on a junior school field trip with Mrs Barnes’ class. I was about 10 at the time, so I guess that was around 1973. I was enthralled by the stories of people dicing with death trying to step across the raging torrent of The Strid, and descending the 30 feet below the white water on ladders to explore the wider chamber below the surface. The nature trails through the woods leading to the falls seemed like a major expedition at that age, and I’ve enjoyed returning to this spot ever since, which I have done by bicycle, in the summer after finishing school (not to be repeated!) and on walking trips back to Yorkshire when I was living “down south” in Bath.

So it is no surprise that following my return to Yorkshire in 2005 that Strid Wood was one of my first locations when I set about shooting a set of autumnal images in and around the Yorkshire Dales. I had just acquired a new Canon EOS 5D and so was keen to see what it could do in terms of producing landscape prints as, although I’d be using a 10D for my city photography for a while, I was still hanging on to my 5×4 film equipment for my landscape work.

One of my favourite lighting situations is the soft diffused light of autumnal England. I’m thinking of the sort of day when it’s perfectly still and the sky is completely white giving great even lighting, with maybe a little low mist and dew on the leaves. Unfortunately these days are few and far between, and the chances of such a day coinciding with peak autumn colour are minimal! So I chose a day with minimal wind, and overcast skies hoping for a bit of good light.

I parked up at the car park by Cavendish Pavilion (where you might stop for a cup of tea before, during or after your visit) and wandered up the main trail. The autumn colours were late, and it seemed somewhat darker than I had hoped in the woods, so I was wandering around looking for inspiration, and discovered a little inlet from the River Wharfe underneath a canopy of leaves. I watched the fallen leaves moving around in the water for a while, so set about capturing that movement. I set up the 5D on a sturdy tripod and used the mirror lock-up and self-timer settings which are great for tripod work – you just press the shutter release, the mirror locks up and the shutter fires just two seconds later. I wanted a decent long exposure, and as it was quite dark it worked out at 8 seconds with a small aperture at ISO 100. I was more than happy with the resulting ‘Swirling Leaves’ image – the leaves traced the currents in the water perfectly!

Swirling Leaves
Swirling Leaves in the River Wharfe in Strid Wood, Wharefdale

After that, The Strid itself wasn’t particularly interesting due to recent heavy rains – it’s fairly featureless when full of water, so I concentrated on backlit beech trees, which also worked well in the overcast conditions. Finally, along the path on the opposite bank from the car park, I found an old tree stump covered in bracket fungi and moss which provided a lovely textural detail image.

I should have noticed by the increasing exposure times (25 seconds for ‘Fungi and Moss’) that it was getting a lot darker, but shortly after taking this image the heavens opened! The new 5D was quite happy inside its all-weather rucksack, but I had omitted to bring my own all-weather cover with me, so was soaked by the time I got back to Cavendish pavilion. Still, I then had an excuse to sit and drink more tea while I dried out…

So did I find out what the 5D could do in terms of landscape prints? Well, I’ve made prints of ‘Swirling Leaves’ up to A3+ on 100% cotton paper, and I’m just amazed by the quality of the results. So much that I haven’t used the 5×4 since! Film? I really can’t see the point of it any more!

Further Information

Strid Wood is just North of Bolton Abbey, near Skipton, Yorkshire. OS map: Explorer OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western Areas.  It forms part of the 30,000 acre Bolton Abbey Estate in the Yorkshire Dales, which is the Yorkshire estate of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Bolton Abbey has been a distinct estate for 1000 years and today extends along six miles of the River Wharfe in Wharfedale between Bolton Bridge and Barden Bridge. The wood was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1985, being the largest remnant of acidic woodland in Yorkshire. In 1810, William Carr, Rector at the time, was given permission by the 6th Duke of Devonshire to open Strid Wood to the public and create paths through the woods, which are still enjoyed by visitors today. The Strid itself is a narrow and dangerous chasm formed by the river cutting though a soft band of limestone. The chasm has claimed the lives of people who have tried to jump (or stride) across it. Cavendish Pavilion was built in 1880 when visitors arrived at Bolton Abbey by train. It is located at the southern entrance to the Strid Wood nature trails. The main trail through the woods forms part of the Dales Way long distance footpath.

Related Workshops

If you fancy an autumnal walk through Strid Wood with some photographic tuition then why not join Mark and Sam on a Natural Light Workshops Bolton Abbey Tour?  As well as being a fantastic autumn location, Strid Wood is also extremely photogenic in spring, with fresh green foliage and bluebells plus swathes of wild garlic flowers in May.

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