December Sunrise Part 2

20th December 2015 – Kingston Russell Stone Circle – Sunrise – 8.10 a.m.

This short film, created with the help of creative friends, Jemima, Tholi and Eva is the finale of a year of sunrises at Kingston Russell Stone Circle.

It is also a celebration of the Winter Solstice, which though it does not have the glamorous associations of the Summer Solstice, seems to me to be more of an occasion for hopefully looking forward. It marks the shortest day and from this point on the days get longer and warmer (?!).

One of the main things I have realised throughout my year of sunrises is the important effect of light on my mood and consequently everything going on in my life. I have become super aware of the quality of light, not only at sunrise, but throughout the day, and also of the changes it makes to the atmosphere of place.

At Kingston Russell the sky fills your vision – the landscape is stunning – hills, woods, valleys, distant cliffs and glints of the sea – but hugely dominating all this – the sky, in all its many guises, is vast and various.

Doing this project has made me feel connected to landscape and light in a way I never have before.



The December Sunrise Team (l to r) Eva, Jemima, Tholi and Mandy.

Thankyou to this team – but also a huge thankyou to everyone who has contributed to the project throughout the year, with input, encouragement and support of all kinds.

Thankyou Victoria, David, Marc, Mark, Cherry, Ann, Clare, Ruth, James, and anyone who has taken an interest and read the blog, wherever you may be.

And what next?  Well….now this is complete I am about to embark on my next project – Kingston Russell – Beyond the Sunrise.  Watch this space!

December Sunrise Part One

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20th December 2015 – Kingston Russell Stone Circle – Sunrise – 8.10 a.m.

The Sun and my project have come full circle.

This was my final sunrise visit of 2015 to this amazing site, which seems to have become embedded in my soul now.  I wanted to make this finale special and truly memorable and I have hopefully achieved this with the fantastic help of two old (long term) friends, Jemima and Eva, and new friend, enthusiastic incredible young musician, Tholi.

We trailed ourselves (and a fair bit of kit!) through the mud on this Sunday morning to get to the Stone Circle by sunrise.  It was a mild but very blustery day.  There was cloud but the light determinedly forced its way through the breaks in lines of pale pink and gold.  And at just the right moment the spotlight fell on the Stone Circle itself, just in time for Tholi to play and Jemima and Eva to dance as part of our celebration of the Winter Solstice, this ancient sacred space and our connection to it and all those who have celebrated here before us, and of course to the completion of the project!

The dance and music will appear in December Sunrise Part Two but for Part One I have included stills of the sunrise and some echoes of sounds from the whole year – crows, blackbirds, pheasants, wind, the farm truck which made regular sonic appearances (including 20th December!), and of course the raven.  I have finished with an extract from Tholi’s music – a taste of what is to come.

Finally I would like to wish everyone, wherever you are, a very happy Christmas and all good things for 2016.

November Sunrise

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22nd November 2015 – Kingston Russell Stone Circle – Sunrise 7.37 a.m.

This time my friend Eva accompanied me for the penultimate sunrise of 2015.  The previous day had been grey and blustery but this Sunday there was barely a breath of wind and the sky was beginning to lighten an hour before sunrise – always a good sign.

As we walked along the track to the Stone Circle the dawn light show was happening behind us.  We kept glancing over our shoulders to take in the rapidly changing colours and textures.  But I was keen to get into my position in the field to start capturing it.

It was stunning with a shimmering golden sky.  Crows called to each other in the copse and flocks of small birds circled overhead.  It was so still I could hear the whirr of their flapping wings.

I had asked Eva, who is originally from Germany, if she had a German Sunrise poem she could bring.  She said she had, but on the way over in the car realised that she had left it behind.  She said she would see if she could remember it; so while I was photographing the sunrise Eva was busy jotting down words.  After a while I suggested we recorded the poem.  “That sounded perfect” I said “So you managed to remember it alright?”  “Well, no” said Eva, “I have just written this one.”

I was amazed and thrilled!  The poem sums up the morning perfectly in its imagery and its sounds.  Here it is, with its translation.  A huge thankyou to Eva for her company and her creative input.

November Morgen
Grauer November Morgen,
in goldenes Licht getaucht.
Frost behaengte Grashalme
bewegen sich sachte im Wind.
Kraehen kraechzen den Tag herbei.
Und alles ist neu.


November Morning
Grey November morning
dipped into golden light
Grass blades covered in frost
moving lightly in a breeze
Crows croak the day into being
All is new

October Sunrise

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20th October 2015 – Kingston Russell Stone Circle – Sunrise – 7.40 a.m.

The morning looked very promising as I drove towards Abbotsbury.  As the year has gone on I have got bolder with regard to my arrival time at my parking place.  I now try to arrive at least 30 minutes before sunrise to give myself plenty of time for the walk to the Stone Circle; time to absorb the slowly developing day and any sights and sounds that might happen to me on my way.  And so it happened that on the morning of Tuesday 20th October there was barely enough light to see my way as I set off up the road and through the footpath gate onto the track leading to my destination.  The first field I pass by is currently planted with spinach beet, probably sheep feed, but also attractive cover for pheasants, and on this morning, my pre-dawn tramping feet spooked a whole bevy of pheasants who rose up out of the field and, furiously flapping, passed overhead squawking indignantly.  A marvellous sound – uncaptured of course – sound kit safely stowed away in backpack!  Since then I have been endeavouring to repeat the experience.  Pheasants are slippery little critters.  You hear one, switch on the sound recorder, total silence for 10 minutes, you switch off, a pheasant squawks, you switch on again and so on ….  This morning I was on site again at sunrise.  I recorded continuously for 45 minutes and got one pheasant!  But due to the wonders of audio editing I have tried to recreate the original bevy/flock for your delight.  But I digress … back to the October sunrise.

It was indeed a beautiful morning.  I was delighted to notice that from the spot I had chosen to set up my camera on that morning, Hardy’s Monument could be glimpsed through a gap in the trees silhouetted against the gold pink dawn.  Though supremely ugly close up, this icon of the South Dorset Ridgeway can be seen from miles around and in that sense becomes a pivot point for the whole landscape.

So far so good.  The edge of the sun inched above the cloud layer – a moment that always give me a thrill – and quickly the sky became brighter and brighter.  I needed to adjust the exposure and suddenly realised that I seemed to have lost that setting on my camera.  I had 10 minutes of flapping frustration trying to work out why, during which the sun continued to rise, I continued to take pictures which were totally burnt out, until I spotted that one turn of the dial on top of the camera had put me into some weird mode where you can’t adjust the exposure!  I have overlain these burnt out pics with some autumnal close ups. I can’t believe I’m still making mistakes like that after 10 months on the project!  But in fact I really enjoyed getting up close and personal with the copse of trees, usually only viewed from a distance.  As usual I found it hard to tear myself away from the place and make my way back to the everyday world.

September Sunrise

21st September 2015 – Kingston Russell Stone Circle – Sunrise 6.55 a.m.

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The earth spins around and here we are again at the equinox.

September was a month of beautiful sunrises but to celebrate the equality of day and night this particular sunrise at Kingston Russell was stunningly unexciting! Grey, silent and sunless.  I took many photos but its hard to tell, as for the first half an hour there seems to be no change at all in the sky, or anywhere else.  After that some even greyer clouds rolled in but as they scurried past there was at least some change in the texture of the panorama.

Still it was autumn and so what better way to cheer myself up than to remind myself of one of my favourite poems – Ode to Autumn by John Keats.  Who could be downcast when contemplating his gorgeous imagery?  And as a remembrance of less grey and silent days I have included some pics of hedgerow bounty and the sounds of squabbling blackbirds from another, more charming, September morning.

August Sunrise

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22nd August 2015 – Kingston Russell Stone Circle – Sunrise 6.09 a.m.

I was delighted that for the August Sunrise two good friends had agreed to accompany me.

We opted to go on Saturday morning as the weather promised to be slightly better than on the Friday.  My friend Jemima was visiting for the main purpose of accompanying me and dancing in the stone circle.

The morning was incredibly still – a novelty for the Dorset Ridgeway!  When we arrived at the stone circle the sky was clearing to the west but still cloudy to the east.  So we didn’t actually see the sun come over the horizon but it was visible shortly after.

However then a very curious thing happened …. at first looking through the camera I thought I was imagining it – but a line of mist began to rise up from the ground just in front of the copse of trees.  As the minutes ticked by it became more and more obvious but it stayed hugging the ground in a thin line.  Then it started to roll out across the field towards us though still seeming thicker in front of the trees.  We thought it hadn’t actually reached us until after taking several shots which looked very misty through the camera, but not so much NOT through the camera, I realised that my lens had totally misted up!

At this point the sun had gone behind the copse and was sending light across the field towards the stone circle – this was the moment when I wanted to film Jemima dancing, with that lovely low light hitting the stones and her.  So we started making our way across the field to do that.  But at the same time the effect of the sun through the trees and into the mist was stunning and I was very torn between trying to take the time to capture that properly, and not missing the short window of opportunity for the dance with the right light.  (Once again I felt the need for a whole team of documenters!)

Anyway I quickly captured the second image above, while crossing the field.  The sun was casting the shadows of the trees onto the mist – really amazing!

The Stone Circle was perfect as a stage for dance and Jemima’s improvised piece perfectly captured the mood of the morning and the space.

As usual Kingston Russell cast its spell and we all felt exhilarated, uplifted, relaxed and peaceful.

Many thanks to Jemima and Clare for their input and company on this delightful morning.

July Sunrise

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21st July 2015 – Kingston Russell Stone Circle – Sunrise – 5.22 a.m.

The forecast had been good and leaving home the sky had been clear.

But as I approached Abbotsbury along the coast road I could see an ominous cloud of murk sitting on the Ridgeway above the village.  By the time I had driven up and parked the car, I was in a cloud of fog so thick I could not see, as I always have before, any lights at all from Weymouth in the invisible distance below me.

I felt a little subdued as I trudged along the familiar track towards the stone circle.  But I told myself that THIS was the point.  I wasn’t picking and choosing my sunrises.  If that was the case, I could have a brilliantly “beautiful” sunrise every month no doubt.  The point was, to choose the date, and see what sort of experience nature dealt me.

The foggy cloud enclosed the field in a damp womb of intimacy.  There was little sound apart from the ever optimistic skylarks and a surprisingly feisty breeze.  I began to photograph what I felt would be a rather unchanging scene.  I got quite excited about a faint streak of pink which appeared about 15 minutes after sunrise was due.  But it was soon obscured by cloud again.

Then unexpectedly from down in the valley to the east dozens of silent seagulls appeared, in groups of 3 to 10, and flew across my field of vision towards the sea.  This visitation continued for about 15 minutes; not one sound came from them all this time.

When they had passed, quite suddenly my attention was drawn back to the horizon where a pinky orange glow had appeared, followed quite rapidly by two parallel beams of light.  It seems there was to be a sunrise after all!

The poem I have read to accompany this July experience not only seems to suit this particular day, but to encompass the whole project.  It is called “The Bright Field” and is by R S Thomas (1913 – 2000).

Summer Solstice Sunset at The Grey Mare

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As an add-on to my Sunrise Project I decided to include one very special sunset – Summer Solstice at The Grey Mare.

The Grey Mare is a Neolithic Long Barrow with the burial chamber entrance stones now exposed.  It is only a very short distance from Kingston Russell Stone Circle where I go every month for the sunrise.  In the photo on the left, above, taken standing on the Grey Mare Long Barrow, the Line of trees centre, middle distance, is the line of trees which usually forms the backdrop to my sunrises.  The stone circle is just beyond them.

And so to The Grey Mare.  I had been told that the Summer Solstice Sunset was very special at this spot, as not only did it line up between the two large entrance stones, but it also appeared to roll down a distant hill as it set.  The evening was perfect and I had The Grey Mare nearly to myself – just a few sheep – not as troublesome as the sunrise cows!

The sun rolled beautifully down between Pilsdon and Lewesdon Hills in the distance.  Magical.

If anyone would like to visit The Grey Mare and Kingston Russell Stone Circle, while at the same time experiencing another unusual project – on Friday 24th July from 10 a.m. there will be a “listening walk” visiting both of these sites.  Earlier this year young people from Weymouth College and Beaminster School created site specific sound installations which can be heard on mp3 players as you walk around the site.  This event is being organised by DIVA contemporary (Bridport) and more details can be found here ….

As a Co-Director of DIVA contemporary I would be delighted if you could join us on the South Dorset Ridgeway either on Friday 24th July or for my Sunrise Walk on Tuesday 21st July.

June Sunrise – Summer Solstice

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Sunday 21st June 2015 – Kingston Russell Stone Circle – Sunrise 4.55 a.m.

Sunrise on 21st June at Kingston Russell was not for the faint-hearted, and I don’t just mean the getting up at 3.15 a.m.!

This time I had company.

To begin with there were Victoria and Isabel, but in the stone circle field there was a large herd of dairy cows and several (at least 4) very large bulls!  I was determined to capture the sunrise – this was the summer solstice after all – the pinnacle of the year’s sunrises.  Isobel and I quietly picked our way through the field, which was incredibly densely populated with cows.  I set up the camera in the usual place with great, but fleeting views of the rising sun, frequently obscured by the silhouette of a passing cow.  As time went on the cows became more and more curious about us but it was when I got out the flask of coffee that they went into a frenzy (who knew they were so discerning?!).  We tried to shoo them away but all the kerfuffle attracted the attention of two very amorous bulls and we became surrounded by a melee of animals.  It was time to retreat to the other side of the fence.  I managed to take the camera and tripod with me but had to abandon my flask to the coffee-crazed beasts!

Victoria meanwhile, was happily singing and recording birdsong in the next field, unaware of the peril we had been in.

So it was not quite the idyllic solstice experience I had envisaged, but quite an adventure nonetheless.  And a great opportunity for all sorts of sounds to be captured.

There were some magical moments too.  The dawn light turning a line of large black bales into what looked like a row of landing lights on a runway.  A badger appearing out of the hedge in front of us and ambling up the track, totally unconcerned.  Hedgerows full of elderflower and honeysuckle.

Huge thanks to Victoria and Isabel for getting up even earlier than me, to accompany me for this experience and extra thanks to Victoria for her lovely singing.

May Sunrise

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Thursday 21st May 2015 – Kingston Russell Stone Circle – Sunrise – 5.15 a.m.

May – my favourite month of the year – all fresh greens, bluebells and the sound of the cuckoo – or maybe not.  There used to be a cuckoo every year on the hill next to where I live, but I haven’t heard that familiar call there for many years now.  However I was hopeful that maybe, just maybe, I might catch one at Kingston Russell.  There is a large area of mixed woodland down in the valley, secluded and packed with birds of all sorts.  Surely a lovely spot for a cuckoo.  I decided to walk to the Kingston Russell site with my sound recorder primed and ready so as not to miss even the slightest hint of the cuckoo.  But it was not to be,  I mourn the loss of the cuckoo’s call which was such a distinctive and hopeful sound of spring.

However 21st May was not without its surprises.  I arrived at the Stone Circle, sound recorder on, but camera still safely packed away in backpack.  As I waded through the long wet grass I caught a glimpse of movement over by the boundary fence.  Two deer, grazing, in the early dawn light.  I dropped the sound kit and scrabbled as quietly as I could to get my camera out of bag and set up on tripod.  Of course the deer heard me and started to move away.  I took a quick shot before I had it properly set up but it’s distant and grainy.  But despite that it still felt very special to share the space with them for a few minutes.

And so to the sunrise … the sky at the horizon was an amazing furnace-like colour of boiling red topped with layers of cloud.  I love the thrill of the moment when I see just the smallest sliver of sun peeping above the horizon.  It hasn’t happened every month as the horizon has often been obscured by cloud.  But today the horizon was cloud free and the sun rose clear and beautiful.  But after a few moments it disappeared again into a thick bank of cloud, which almost looked as if it had been painted across the sky behind the small copse in the corner of the stone circle field.  Then after some further minutes there was a second sunrise, above the trees, rising out of the layer of cloud into clear sky again.

So a double sunrise, no cuckoo, but lots of larks, and, to celebrate the beauty of this May morning, my friend Ann Lambert, kindly agreed to sing “Early One Morning”.