The magic of the Ogwen Valley – a photographic story
Updated: Jan 16, 2021
It had been a very long time since I went away on a trip with the intention of just photographing the landscape, there was no cycling or adventure sports tugging for my attention to take me away from photography. This was all about me, my camera, my dog Dylan and the landscape.
I decide to go to North Wales and up into the Ogwen valley. This is an area I have visited countless times over the years, starting from childhood with my parents through to mountain biking and hiking.
The intention was to arrive before sunrise and get some views across the lake and then explore the area looking for locations that would make you feel as though the fairies had come out.
All was set, the car was loaded up and bleary eyed I forced myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of 4.00 am to hit the road.
The drive up was fairly quiet and non eventful and I arrived at the end of the lake just before the sun rose, but to my annoyance the exact location I wanted to shoot, another photographer from London was in my place. He was a very nice chap but no matter where I positioned myself I couldn’t frame up like I wanted and was conscious that he had got here before me so the place belonged to him. The sun was starting to rise and I knew I only had a matter of minutes before the light would break. I frantically looked for another vantage point and ended up setting up at the mouth of the stream. It wasn’t ideal as telegraph poles cut up the sky line, I knew Photoshop was going to have to get used here and I just couldn’t get the composition as I wanted.
I was really hoping for a dramatic sunrise but the light came up and it didn’t amount to much. I was a little disappointed but as I looked around me, shadowed by the towering cliffs of Tryfan covered in snow and in the company of the best dog in the world, how could I be disappointed?! This was a magical place and I was fortunate enough to be here with next to no one else around … except one other photographer. Magic!
“No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”
After the disappointment of sunrise I decided it was time to move up the mountains and see what they had in store for me and Dylan.
The morning turned out to be a beautiful day and there were hardly any clouds in the sky. This was not the kind of sky I wanted for my moody, fantasy looking landscapes but well what can you do when you’re surrounded by such an amazing landscape? yep walk, breath it in and enjoy it, it’s not often Wales grants you beautiful days like this.
So as we walked into the cold brisk air I decided to experiment with my ten stop ND filter. It is basically like a piece of welding class that goes over the lens and allows you to have very long exposures. It makes water appear like smoke, I’ll admit an over used effect in photography, but it creates these other worldly effects, hence why I like it.
The surrounding snow capped mountains looked glorious as the water plummeted off them. I spent quite some time sat by the water imagining how the streams had calved the valleys and the landscape around me. It made me feel a live and very small at the same time.
“It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”
– Edmund Hillary
Dylan and I went higher up the slopes and winded our way into the snow covered peaks. As we got higher the ground was getting slippery and I had one little stumble. I noticed Dylan was struggling to find his feet on the jagged rocks and the ice and snow under foot were making it very difficult.
The sun was fully up now and this was the first time I had climbed these hills and actually been able to see, normally it is raining and grey and the valleys are obscured, but not today. As pretty as this was, it doesn’t make for the most interesting of photography, so I stuck on my wise owl head and decided that we should head down not wanting to risk injury to either of us just for some mediocre photos.
“Do not disturb the water.”
As we came down the sun was still burning over head but I didn’t want to fully descend back to the car just yet so I took a walk around Ffynnon Lloer. Apparently the translation means ‘Source of the Moon’ Which made me think perhaps I need to visit this lake on a full moon one evening.
This amazing mountain lake was mirror still, sheltered by the surrounding cliffs and was just asking me to come and visit her shores. Dylan loved to take a quick splash in the waters as I set up my camera – in my head I just kept hearing Aragorn from Lord of the Rings saying “Do not disturb the water.” luckily no river monsters emerged and we escaped unharmed.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon pottering around photographing the waters of the mountains until I decided to head to my final location of the day, the low land slopes of ‘Y Garn’
“Great minds think alike, and fools seldom differ.”
– Greek Proverb
Me and my trusted steed Dylan climbed the slopes as the sun was starting to get very low and the idea was to have some of the mountain streams in the foreground as the mountains of Pen Yr Ole Wen loomed in the distance.
Again fate would have it that a fellow photographer was on the slopes and we were both looking at the same location, each of us trying to get ourselves into the ideal spot for sun set. I settled down and took a few exposures then moved and again repeated this task over and over not quite happy with where I ended up. The land was sodden and my feet were sinking in water, it wasn’t the most pleasant of locations to sit on a cold winters day, but persevere we did .
This was the only photo I was really happy with.
“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
– Roald Dahl
The sky was now clouding over and there was not much light around, so we started the arduous journey back down. As I got down the hill we came across a lone Hawthorn tree.
I had not long ago listened to a podcast by The Folk Lore Podcast about fairies in Ireland and how lone Hawthorn trees were the homes of fairies and should not be disturbed. I know I wasn’t in Ireland but I’m sure the same can be said for all Celtic Fairies.
I had to take a photo here as long As I didn’t disturb them, even though there really wasn’t much light. I got set up and luckily there was a short break in the clouds where the sun peaked through and I took my chance to get the shot. This is a spot I need to return too!
My penultimate photo of the day was of a small bridge, which reminded me of somewhere a small troll might dwell. The exposures were really getting long here due to the lack of light and I was frozen. Dylan was looking completely worn out by this point and both of us wanted to curl up and have a sleep somewhere but I think the magical creatures of Wales were blessing us for our hard work throughout the day, so I had to oblige.
“If you want to make the most of your dreams come true, the first thing to do is wake up.”
– J. M. Power
The next day I awoke very early after a heavy rain had battered the Welsh Landscape. I got myself into position at the end of Llyn Ogwen, this time there were no other photographers just me and the world.
Dylan cosied up next to me and we got more lucky with the light as the sun broke through the gloom. This was the kind of photo I wanted to create on my first day.
I added my ten stop filter for the next photo and the colours completely changed, the clouds were blowing quickly overhead so disappeared in the long exposure. I can’t quite decide which one I like more.
“so wondrous wild, the whole might seem the scenery of a fairy dream”
― Walter Scott,
The Lady of the Lake
We headed back to the car for breakfast and tried to decide what to do with the rest the my day. I wanted to go visit the Fairy Glen Gorge so started to head that way when driving past Llyn Ogwen I glanced in my rear view mirror and noticed how amazing the mountains looked reflected in her waters. The colours were stunning and the coldness of the snow was contrasted with the warm tones of the land around. So I had to pull over and take a few more photos of the lady of the lake. This really had been a magical trip.
During the remainder of the day the light wasn’t so good and the clouds had burnt away so the sky was only registering as a plain white emptiness. The Fairy Glen is an amazing location but I couldn’t do it justice on this day so will have to return.
I hope you’ve liked my photos of trip and below you can find a video of the adventure I had. It’s my first Vlog and I need to improve my presentation skills but it shows a little behind the scenes of creating these landscape photos.
If you know of any magical locations let me know and I’d love to see the work you create.
I left Wales inspired and full of creative juices. I just want to get creating again now and this trip really did awaken the artist inside me. Wales I love you! I will be returning in Mid March for another photography trip.