What's The Best Season For My Peak District Trip?

In this excerpt from his latest book, photographer James Grant explains when it's best to shoot certain parts of the Peak District.

|  Landscape and Travel
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This excerpt is from James Grant's new book, Peak District Through The Lens. James is ePHOTOzine member JamesGrantPhotography.

James Grant

Image © James Grant

Seasons

Britain is graced with having four seasons per year, which allows a variety of different landscapes to be captured year round. Each location has optimal times which are detailed in the viewpoint guide, but the information below should help you understand the benefits of each season. It is worth noting the season lengths change from year to year and flowers spring up at different times due to this. Don’t be surprised to see snow in April, for example.

 

Spring: March, April and May
Spring is the time of year when the Peak District starts to take shape, especially in the White Peak. After winter, the temperatures start to rise and colour starts to reappear, and a plethora of greens in different shades start to spread across the landscape. It’s also the time when trees start to regain their leaves. There are usually a few months of uncertainty with the weather. We tend to get fast-passing rain creating dramatic light and skies. 

Mid to late March brings out the daffodils, so head along Dovedale to see these. Bluebells are the seasonal highlight and usually grow in darker, cooler areas, mainly within woods. One great example is Bow Wood in Cromford. Wild garlic grows amongst the woodland – the vibrant tell-tale signs of the white flower against the green backdrop leave a scent in the air you won’t miss. It can often be smelt and seen when driving up wooded passes such as Via Gellia. Mayflower, which grows on hawthorn trees, spring up in the White Peak. Check out Winster Barn for a good example of this. Rapeseed springs up in May and paints the landscape a vivid yellow – check out Sutton Scarsdale near J29 of the M1. Finally, we have the wild orchid, a small, purple stemmed flower. The classic location is Peter’s Stone in Cressbrook Dale, but Bradbury Bank near Alsop-en-le-Dale is a great spot just above Wolfscote Dale.

 

James Grant

Image © James Grant 

Summer: June, July and August
Summer, by some people’s account, can often be the least favourite month for photography, but the Peak District does put on a great show in late August. Summer is associated with sun, which in Britain we know isn’t always the case. 

One of the biggest battles we have in summer is contending with strong light and a haze which reduce visibility. Head out at either end of the day and spend the rest of the day with your feet up catching a tan. 

It is also a season where the sun’s position doesn’t favour the Peak District, rising in the north-east and setting in the north-west. However, there are still plenty of locations you can go to. The hours are long and unsociable in summer: you usually have to sacrifice sleep to be up for a 5am sunrise or be out late until 9pm for sunset. It also never gets fully dark in summer.

The absolute highlight of summer is the heather. This bush flower, which usually gives the Peak District its overall brown look during other seasons, springs to life for about three weeks of summer turning to a vibrant purple. Usually the last two weeks of August and the first week of September are when it’s at its best. The Peak District becomes transformed, with swathes of purple heather covering hills such as Over Owler Tor, which is always particularly good. Ferns also turn from brown to green in summer, drastically changing the overall look and feel of the Peak District. Cottongrass is good to witness on the moors in late June and early July – check out places like Carhead Rocks or Saddleworth. Finally, there are poppies which spring up in June but don’t last very long. They aren’t really found anywhere in the Peak, but outlying areas such as the rural Derbyshire borders tend to have them. Check out Slade Hooton near Rotherham where there is usually a guaranteed show, or Watnall in Nottinghamshire. Do note though, that the fields change from year to year with crop rotation.

 

James Grant

Image © James Grant

Autumn: September, October and November
This is the season when the colour of the landscape starts to lose its grasp, but not without one final show. Trees and woodlands turn from vibrant greens through to yellows, oranges and reds which offer a great amount of opportunity. Each type of tree progresses differently, but the best time to capture the change of colour is usually the very end of October and the first week of November. Hope for good weather, because high winds can knock the leaves off before you get chance to capture it. The general landscape starts to change, the greens of the ferns and heather will die back to brown and only the White Peak retains some of its greenness. Autumn is also the start of the mist and fog season. Valleys often fill up with mist and fog, and if you can get above it, one of the best and most common places to see this spectacle is from Mam Tor. Mist and fog tend to be frequent until around March but are less likely in the colder months of winter. There are so many great places to go in the Peak District during autumn: any of the waterfalls are great as orange beech leaves line the sides of the falls. Check out Lumsdale, with easy access and plenty of variety. Around Chatsworth or Ladybower are both excellent places in autumn, as they have a variety of woodland that starts to change colour. Check out the golden larches at both; however, Chatsworth has a better selection of native woodland. 

 

Winter: December, January and February
Winter, the season of uncertainty but the season that most likely reminds you of your childhood. It is a great season for photography, as the low level of the sun throughout the day means that you can go out at any time and enjoy good light. The views also tend to be clearer than at any other time of the year, giving a certain clarity to your scene. The highlights of the season are snow and frost, both conditions you pray to get when you head out. The daylight hours are short, usually around eight hours, but this is often welcomed with more sociable shooting times for both sunrise and sunset. The hardest part of winter is the unpredictable weather. It can feel like forever waiting to break out of a bad spell of no light and persistent grey skies, but when it does happen it can be magical. It is usually best after heavy snow, when there is then a spell of high pressure creating clear blue skies and a fresh coating of snow – a photographer’s paradise. 

You can head anywhere in winter, even the White Peak. Take care as country roads in the Peak gain altitude and can be icy or covered in snow. This is especially tough for sunrise when the roads may not be clear. Being up Kinder Scout on a snowy, clear day is pretty hard to beat. 

Note: When shooting snow scenes, you may need to over expose by one stop, otherwise the snow may appear grey.

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