One of my earliest memories is lying in the grass on top of a hill in the hot sun with a gentle breeze caressing my young face. I was only eight years old, yet I was already beginning to understand that it is life’s simplest pleasures that are the ones to be cherished.
I’ve forgotten where that hill was, and my parents don’t remember that day, even though it has given me such a lasting memory. I know it was somewhere in the South of England but exactly where eludes me.
I grew up in a small village in North Hampshire and I came to love its beauty and that of the neighbouring counties. My love of nature extended into adulthood, so I suppose it was natural that I’d start to love photographing nature too.
I’ve explored many interesting places with my other half, Sandy Chestnut, always with cameras in tow.
Of course, you can take a photo anywhere, but some places offer more varied or interesting subject matter than others. Some of the ones we have found we never tire of visiting again and again through all seasons because of their photography appeal and subject matter.
Through a series of blogs, I would like to share a few of those special places with you.
Let’s start with Danebury Hill near Stockbridge in Hampshire.
Danebury Hill is an iron age hill fort with ramparts and impressive countryside views on all sides. It’s an important site for both archaeology and conservation.
It can be quite popular amongst dog walkers or those just out for a stroll and some exercise but there are two free car parks.
You can either park at the bottom of the hill and walk up across the field from there. If that sounds a little too energetic or if time is limited, then you can always drive part of the way up the hill to the second car park where there’s easier access (and a toilet).
Head out of the car park through a gate onto the hill.
Here, as you stroll up over the short cropped grassy slopes, you will likely be greeted by a small herd of Exmoor ponies and your first photo opportunity.
The ponies have remained largely unchanged since the Ice Age and are classified as endangered by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.
They roam semi-feral in high moorland areas across the West Country.
They are wild and shy animals but will come quite close if you are patient.
There is a warning sign advising not to get too close though. They aren’t tame and can get defensive if they feel threatened, so it’s a good idea to take along a long lens.
We usually use our Canon 70-200mm portrait lens. It’s the perfect length to stay far enough away from the animals to capture them in a natural way but without the need for a tripod.
The ponies move around a fair bit, but we’ve seen them on every visit. Sometimes they are easy to see on the lower slopes of the hill and occasionally right beside the car park.
Other times you have to seek them out as they shelter from the weather in the trees.
An obvious place to take a shot from is the trig point just outside the ramparts of the hill fort as it gives far reaching countryside views in all directions.
On a clear day you can see for miles, so if breath-taking panoramas are what interest you then this is a good place to start as you cannot ask for a more stable platform than a trig point
A short walk up the hill takes you into the basin of the hill fort itself.
The encircling ramparts have a well-maintained perimeter path from which you can enjoy more lovely countryside views and an occasional glimpse of army helicopters out practicing from the nearby air base.
The copse of trees in the high spot in the centre was once a focal point for pagan religious gatherings but now provides shelter for grazing animals.
There are many options for different views and angles and dog walkers always make great subjects in their colourful clothes
But what I enjoy photographing most at Danebury Hill are the giant, ancient beech trees that surround the site. Immersing myself in the trees I feel like a character roaming Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings
The Canon 16-35mm lens is handy here to capture textures and the interplay of light and shadow, but it’s good to carry a longer lens too as some unusual bird life and shy mammals can be glimpsed if you look carefully.
On the way back down the hill there will always be time to spend a quiet moment lying in the grass with the sun on my face.
It’s not the hill from my childhood, but it’s a pretty good substitute.
This blog was originally posted on the Royal Photographic Society website.
Photos by Sandy Chestnut and Jana Murray