For several days, the venerable media establishments of England have been fervently discussing a formidable and ominous tempest steadily advancing from the boundless Atlantic, its relentless course set to traverse Ireland before making its anticipated arrival upon the shores of England, precisely earmarked for Wednesday. In the customary manner of contemporary reporting, copious exaggerations have been liberally employed, rendering the purported dangers to life and well-being so extravagant that they border on the realm of comedic brilliance. Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether the traditional media outlets themselves grasp the absurdity that now permeates their prognostications.
As an idea sparked within me like the sudden illumination of a lightbulb, I envisioned the magnificent spectacle of colossal waves, stirred by the relentless force of high winds, crashing dramatically against a tranquil harbour or a sturdy quayside. However, a formidable obstacle presented itself—the scarcity of suitable quaysides along the Lancashire coastline, ideal for capturing this awe-inspiring scene. The prospect of Blackpool crossed my mind, though I hesitated at the thought of navigating the promenade while evading less pleasant obstacles like dog shit and dodging the airborne flurries of sea-sprayed human turds.
After some contemplation and extensive online research, a new possibility materialized on the horizon—the port of Whitehaven, majestically perched 132 miles away along the rugged Cumberland coast.
With a vigilant gaze at the digital realm of weather maps, my intent was to unravel the intricate path and timing of the impending tempest named Agnes. As I delved into the virtual tapestry of meteorological data, it became increasingly evident that Whitehaven was the quintessential locale for my endeavour. The storm was predicted to make its dramatic debut upon the coastal horizon at approximately 5 o’clock in the evening, bearing with it gusts of wind reaching a formidable 60 miles per hour. This precise timetable, I surmised, would grant me ample daylight to capture the tempest’s tumultuous beauty through the lens of my camera and afford me the necessary hours for a journey to that coastal haven.
Enthralled by the prospect of this thrilling escapade, I embarked on the next step in my plan: contacting my dear friend and accomplished landscape photographer, Pete Rowbottom. Hailing from the post-industrial town of Wigan, Pete possessed both a shared passion for photography and the coveted title of Landscape Photographer of the Year Award winner. Having been away from the art of capturing landscapes for an extended period, he eagerly seized upon the opportunity when I presented it to him. With a sense of anticipation and excitement, our arrangements fell into place, and I was soon to collect Pete on my route to the M6 motorway; the gateway to our storm-chasing adventure.
Our journey to Whitehaven, spanning a leisurely 2 ½ hours, unfolded with an unexpected pause for sustenance at Rheged. This serendipitous interlude transpired along the picturesque A66 road to the north of the Lake District. As we pressed onward, drawing nearer to our destination, subtle but undeniable signs of nature’s impending fury began to materialize. The once gentle wind grew in strength, and the rain showers that danced upon our windshield escalated into tempestuous downpours of unrestrained ferocity.
Our descent into Whitehaven from the north marked the commencement of our quest, and our initial destination was perched upon a hillside in close proximity to an intricate relic of an old mining era—a ventilation shaft chimney known colloquially as “The Candlestick.” This elevated vantage point held the promise of granting us a panoramic view, extending down into the bustling harbour, enabling us to meticulously strategize our positioning and points for composition, steering clear of the unruly surf and towering waves which could sweep us helplessly out to sea.
We orchestrated our parking endeavour with precision, securing a spot as close to “The Candlestick” as the winding roads would allow. Our trajectory then led us toward Wellington Lodge, a lofty old coal mining building commanding a sweeping northward vista of the harbour and the restless sea beyond. During our drive to Whitehaven, we had engaged in fervent discourse, crafting strategies for photographing amidst the throes of an unforgiving storm, all while endeavouring to protect our precious camera equipment from the relentless assault of moisture. In my mind’s eye, I had painted a vivid tableau of the tumultuous conditions that awaited us—a scene where I clung to the harbour wall, locked in a battle against the elements with a camera and tripod teetering on the brink of oblivion.
Yet, reality unveiled itself as a poignant disappointment! The sea lay almost eerily tranquil, its surface barely disturbed, yielding only to a gentle swell of the greenish mass. There were no formidable white horses charging toward the shore, nor a cacophony of foaming seawater relentlessly crashing against the timeworn stone fortifications. In fact, there was nothing, a stark contrast to the grandiose tempest that had been prophesied by the weather forecasts in the days preceding our arrival. This was not what I had envisioned—no tempestuous spectacle, no raging sea—only a mere hint of wind and sporadic showers, nothing akin to the dramatic narrative that had been foretold.
Our leisurely saunter led us to the illustrious West Pier, where we embarked on a contemplative journey along its considerable length. Amidst our amiable discourse, we dissected the grandeur of this engineering marvel, pondering the optimal vantage points that would grant us the most captivating compositions.
As the footsteps of our return journey echoed on the pier’s surface, a sudden deluge unleashed its fury upon us. Raindrops pelted us relentlessly, creating a staccato symphony of liquid percussion. West Pier, a testament to substantial engineering prowess, unveiled its dual nature, constructed on two distinct levels. The lower tier nestled within the man-made harbour, offering a haven for cargo unloading. It remained sheltered by a towering wall, a sentinel guarding the quay’s outer boundary, which stood vulnerable to the unforgiving embrace of the Irish Sea.
Our meticulous survey revealed the prime location atop the higher pier wall, providing a commanding perspective along its entire expanse. Seeking refuge from the relentless downpour and buffeting winds, we huddled next to a set of time-worn stone steps at the embarkation point of West Pier. We waited patiently, granting the blustery shower its momentary reign.
Approximately ten minutes elapsed, a span marked by anticipation and a palpable sense of eagerness. In a serendipitous moment, Pete seized an opportunity to ascend the weathered stone steps at the quayside’s threshold. His ascent was rewarded with a breath-taking spectacle—a horizontal band of resplendent yellow gracing the distant horizon. This radiant tableau was intermittently veiled by the shadows of a foreboding squall, heavy rain cascading from above, and crowned by ominous, brooding clouds.
In light of this sunlit revelation, our decision was resolute: it was time to assemble our photographic equipment and set to work.
This location was nothing short of a “one-shot wonder,” a place where the ever-shifting dance of the clouds and the ebb and flow of light played out in a spectacular symphony upon the canvas of the Quayside. Each passing moment brought a new chapter to the story of this coastal vista. Our approach was multifaceted: we sought to capture the ethereal beauty through long-exposure images, a technique meant to render the sea into a mesmerizing blur. However, the unforgiving elements conspired against us. The camera and tripod demanded unwavering stillness, a nearly impossible feat in the face of relentless 60 mph winds.
Undeterred, we also engaged in the art of short-exposure photography, bracketing our shots to encompass the dynamic range of the scene before us, complete with the captivating rain squalls that punctuated the horizon. Much of our time was devoted to shielding our equipment from the ceaseless rain, our hands plunged deep into pockets, our backs hunched against the prevailing weather, and our bodies forming a protective barrier around the cameras. The fierce gusts taunted us, threatening to tip over our steadfast tripods, precariously perched upon the lofty pier wall.
As we stood sentinel for an hour, witnessing the skies weave a tale of biblical proportions, they gradually began to fade, yielding to the encroaching night. The town behind us gradually awoke, its lights flickering to life and casting their luminous reflections upon the tranquil waters below. Realizing that our photographic endeavours had reached their twilight, we embarked on the task of packing up our gear. With the darkness inching closer, we ascended from West Pier, making our way back to the welcoming embrace of Wellington Lodge, not far from where our trusty vehicle awaited.
With a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, we reached a collective decision. Our next destination: a charming pub nestled in Keswick, conveniently en-route, beckoning us with the promise of respite and an opportunity to review the fruits of our labour. Here, we could huddle around the small LCD screens on the backs of our cameras, savouring the satisfaction of our photographic conquests while enjoying some well-deserved refreshments.