Photowalk 01: Mothecombe to St Anchorite’s Rock

This walk was my first visit to the Erme Estuary. We walked from Mothecombe to St Anchorite’s Rock and back. We didn’t actually set out with any clear objective in mind; there is a stretch here of the South West Coast Path that we have yet to complete and with no possibility of circular walks or public transport it needs to be filled with there and back walks. Whenever we have a free hand we don’t tend to walk very far or fast; I often joke that if we ever complete the coast path (we’ve done nearly three quarters of it now over five years) we will have broken it down into the most stages and completed it at the slowest speed on record. I am largely the culprit here as I spend too long taking photos en route.

On this walk I took with me the Olympus OM-D EM-1 with the 12-40mm and 75-300mm II, and the Sigma DP3 Merrill. You can see the locations of the various photos on the following map. [Hovering your mouse over the markers will bring up an overlay with the title of the photo; clicking on the marker will show the photo.]

This is a very attractive area and is unique in that unlike the other South Coast estuary locations in this area (Fowey, Looe, Newton Ferrers, Salcombe, Dartmouth) it is entirely undeveloped, the area being just dotted with farms and country estates.

The first shot that I took on the way out with the E-M1/12-40 was this stand of trees which the OS map names as ‘The Grove’. I was taken here by the rich colours, partly due to salt burn in the trees, and the horizontal lines: [Note that you can click on these photos to get a bigger version and also scroll through all of them in the lightbox that pops up.]

Stand of fir trees known as 'The Grove' near Mothecombe in the South Hams of Devon

1. The Grove, Mothecombe

You might not notice it without closely inspecting it but the image is a little soft, despite focusing on the trees the autofocus seems to have grabbed the sky for some reason, or perhaps the ‘hole’ in the tree centre right. I did get a much sharper capture with the DP3M on the way back but it is zoomed in too far due to the fixed 50mm lens (75mm FF equivalent) and the shot loses scale and impact.

I didn’t take too many shots on the outward leg as it was the middle of the day and I knew the light would be better on the way back. Having said that, you have to think sometimes about exactly what the light is going to do later on, something I failed to do with this shot:

South Battisborough from the South West Coast Path near Mothecombe, South Hams, Devon

2. South Battisborough from Bugle Hole

It shows a cottage on the edge of South Battisborough looking up from the coast path at Bugle Hole. I took it on the way out with the DP3M. I really wanted a closeup though with the E-M1/75-300 combo but I couldn’t be bothered to change lenses thinking that I would get the shot on the way back. The only problem was that on the way back the sun was lower and the hill on the left was shading much of the grass in the valley in front of the house. There’s an obvious moral to that one.

The next shot has little merit and is included only because it shows (what ended up as) our destination, St Anchorite’s Rock, the peculiar bump right of centre on the hilltop. The sun was streaming in from the side on this one and it took multiple gentle passes with a graduated neutral density filter in luminosity blend mode in the top left quadrant followed by a lot of burning on a soft light layer to render anything worth viewing:

St Anchorite's Rock from above Butcher's Cove on the South West Coast Path in the South Hams, Devon

3. St Anchorite’s Rock

When we finally reached our destination, St Anchorites’s Rock turned out to be a fairly unprepossessing lump of rock from below and I didn’t record it. The rock climber in me had me scrambling about on its face though and I decided that I wanted a shot looking along the coast towards Burgh Island that included it (which involved climbing about a third of the way up it and perching on a ledge):

Looking East towards Burgh Island from St Anchorite's Rock in the South Hams of Devon.

4. Looking East from St Anchorite’s Rock

A shot like this really reveals the power of shooting in RAW rather than jpeg. This a flat hazy scene yet there is a wealth of detail that can be coaxed from the image with the right tools.

f/7.1 is the textbook diffraction limit on the E-M1 (it’s actually visible above f/5.6), the 12-40mm is already past its best at this point, and I was already getting softness shooting at f/9 to try to get as much in focus as possible but the laws of physics impose limits and the rock is still not in sharp focus. However, this image can be broadly separated into two planes – close and far, allowing a little trickery that wouldn’t be possible if looking at an image with a continuous gradient from near to far. The trick is to apply different capture sharpening settings to the rock and to the background. The incredible deconvolution powers of FocusMagic here turn a 4 pixel blur in the rock into something acceptably sharp at this scale. Beyond that resolving detail from haze is all about contrast and microcontrast and Color Efex Pro has some of the best tools going for this in Pro Contrast and Tonal Contrast.

Shortly below the rock we encountered a sheep doing a sterling impression of a dog. It looked attentively at us, cocked its head to one side as if listening to us, and didn’t back down as we approached it:

Sheep below St Anchorite's Rock in the South Hams of Devon

5. Sheep, St Anchorite’s Rock

The sheep is sharp enough in this shot but on close examination the focus is actually on the grass behind. I had focused on the sheep’s eye. I took several other shots of the sheep from different angles and different zoom levels and on every occasion the E-M1 refused to focus on the sheep. The autofocus grabbing the background is something that has been noted by others on Internet forums as an issue with the E-M1/12-40mm combo. On reading up what could have helped here was to focus on my feet first so that the autofocus was moving from close to far when picking up the sheep, rather than moving inwards from infinity (as it had been focused in previous shots). I’ll try to remember to keep an eye out for this in future.

The E-M1 struggled again and was unable to deliver a single useable shot from about 20 taken at Bugle Hole (I took a few on the way out and on the way back). It does this sometimes. Every single shot was soft. I will be posting about this problem soon, which I suspect to be caused by shutter shock in shots taken around 1/200s. The DP3M delivered stunningly clear images here including this one:

The jagged rocks of Bugle Hole near Mothecombe in the South Hams of Devon

6. Bugle Hole, Mothecombe

On the right of the coombe where the picture of the house was taken was a large area of gorse topped by this pair of trees. One is clearly dead and the other looks to be on its way out. This was taken with the E-M1 and the 75-300mm lens. Very sharp at 171mm (and up to about 220mm). Although the colours are strong the shot isn’t quite as effective as I was hoping but I can’t really put my finger on quite why I am slightly disappointed with it:

Dead tree and live tree near Mothecombe in the South Hams of Devon

7. Dead and Alive

Whilst descending the steep path towards Meadowsfooot Beach I took this shot of the hillside opposite and Mothecombe Grove. The salt burn to the pine trees is very obvious in this shot; it is a wonder that they can can survive at all. This shot with the DP3M really brings out the staggering acuity of this lens combined with the Foveon sensor. The detail in this image is astonishing.

Salt burnt pine trees in Mothecombe Grove in the South Hams of Devon

8. Mothecombe Grove

Up until this point we had only seen one person on our walk, an elderly but very fit lady who lived locally, who told us that she knew of no reason why St Anchorite’s Rock was so-named as there was no local history connecting it with a hermit or hermitage. On our return to the very pretty Meadowsfoot Beach there were quite a few people about, enjoying the late afternoon sun.

On the outward leg of our journey we had walked over Owen’s Hill on the left but on the way back the tide was out and after walking across the beach we were able to clamber over the rocks of Owen’s Point at sea level into the mouth of the estuary. Another shot with the DP3M with stunning detail:

Meadowsfoot Beach, Owen's Hill and Owen's Point at the mouth of the Erme Estuary in the Soutrh Hams of Devon

9. Meadowsfoot Beach

Taken whilst walking between the rocks of Owen’s Point, this is the first image I have captured with the DP3M that (I think) displays what is commonly called the ‘Foveon 3D effect’:

Owen's Point between Meadowsfoot Beach and the Erme Estuary in the South Hams of Devon

10. Owen’s Point, Erme Estuary

Once around the corner and onto the estuary proper we came across areas with fascinating rippled patterns in the sand, along with a large tree making its way down the river. It is hard to envisage the fluid dynamics that create such regular patterns. These are both shot with the DP3M:

Tree trunk in the water behind grooved sand in the Erme Estuary in the South Hams of Devon

11. Tree trunk in the Erme Estuary

Ripples in the sand of the Erme Estuary in the South Hams of Devon

12. Ripples in the Sand, Erme Estuary

I should probably have used a little more depth of field in the second one. Again, the E-M1 was unable to capture a single usable image at this location; on examination all the shots were between 1/160s and 1/250s, and again I suspect shutter shock of being the cause.

The last shot of the day is a shot with the E-M1 of the marker for where to wade the Erme Estuary. This is the only place on the South West Coast Path where there is simply no other option but to wade a river (that is, no summer foot ferries). It is only possible at low tide. I don’t know who goes out to build these markers though the clue is probably the fact that the whole area is privately owned by the Flete Estate:

Location marker for the Erme River wading point on the South West Coast Path in the South Hams of Devon

13. Erme Crossing Marker

Photowalks is an occasional series showcasing our beautiful countryside in the South West of England with images taken during walks. The images are generally ‘snapshots’ rather than carefully executed photos in optimal lighting conditions. I touch a little on facts about the area, what I was trying for in the images, what went right and what failed, and sometimes the post processing that was necessary to recover a shot.