Woke up this morning to a welcome surprise…after 2 years of waiting the white stuff has finally returned to Surrey. I heard snow was forecast but hadn’t really got my hopes up, expecting little more than a dusting but pleasantly surprised to find about an inch or so. Within about 30 minutes of looking out the window I headed off towards the Surrey Hills more than a little excited if I’m honest – an inch of snow may not sound a lot but enough to transform everything into a fairytale white landscape.
In my excitement I wasn’t really sure where to head a sense of urgency fueled by thoughts of how long before the snow began to melt as it surely would or folks ventured out to explore the silent untouched snowscape. Having driven only a short while I couldn’t wait any longer and I pulled over to venture onto Banstead Heath near Walton on the Hill. Straddling the Dorking Road its more common than heath and is intermingled with small copses of oak and birch and its actually these that have drawn me to this location previously. Cold mornings often result in a bed of white frost and a layer of mist which swirls ethereal like between the spindly birch trees. Just strolling through the snow laden woods was a wonderful experience, silent but for the crunch of fresh snow under foot and frosted trees all about…never fails to conjour up the spirit of Narnia.
I spent quit a bit of time photographing the birch woods, always good subjects and even more so dusted with the fresh fall of snow their papered bark contrasting against the pure white.
Almost abstract in their monochrome simplicity…
After spending about an hour or so exploring the winter wonderland I wanted to find somewhere a little more off the beaten track so decided to head over to an old haunt near Leith Hill. The road from Dorking to Leith Hill takes you up through an old winding Drove Road with steep inclined sides straddled by beechwoods and pine forest on each side. Unlike the area around Leith Hill its rarely visited and offers a place of escape and hidden trails. There nothing quite like experiencing the earily quite of a pine forest in the snow.The uniformity of pine forests often makes it difficult to find interesting compositions so instead I decided to use my 70-200mm and try and focus on more abstract themes.
After wandering around the pine forest I made my way back to where the beech woods straddle the road. Here and in contrast to the rank and file of the pine forest, monstrous forms loomed out of the whiteness, bereft and naked limbs with long skeletal fingers reaching in all directions…wonderful stuff..my favourite image !
I wasn’t the only one one enjoying the beautiful snowscape, whilst at Leith Hill I got talking with two young ladies, Sarah Jane and Kiri. We ended up chatting and I discovered they were local artists taking photos as inspiration for their work. They then told me something which I have to say was terrible news – the area where we were standing they said, was destined to be an exploratory site for fracking. I had known about the threat of fracking near Leith Hill but never believed it would be given planning consent not in such a beautiful location. They told me that even in the face of clear opposition from residents and council alike the Government had decided to grant a permit. Apparently due to start in Dec this year and estimated to result in upwards of 1000 lorries (!!!) rumbling through this beautiful location…I dread to think of the damage and disruption it will cause not just to the environment but also to the local people and in particular the village of Coldharbour and surrounding Leith Hill area. To say I was dismayed and furious would be an understatement.
However some good news at least as it turns out the girls are organizing some exhibitions of their work to share their love of the area and generate awareness about the threat of fracking…an exploratory site can only lead to more plans undoubtedly at other locations across the Surrey Hills. I believe they have an initial small exhibition at the Star Pub on West Street in Dorking with an opening night is Sat 30th Jan which I will definitely try and attend. You can also find more information via the Leith Hill Action Group.