South Stack sunset

It was my last evening in North Wales and I was running out of time. I had just bid farewell to the two guys from my photography forum who had joined me for most of the day and I was heading for the final destination on Holyhead. They had suggested I make a couple of detours along the way, but I was worried about missing the sunset. As I drove across the water to Anglesey, I looked right to see the Menai Bridge and wondered about turning off to find the little lay-by with a great view. I was torn. I had already packed more into three days than I should have done and the simple truth was that I couldn’t do any more.

The drive actually took longer than expected and the last few miles seemed endless. The lane was narrow and it twisted and turned around the western edge of the island. I had tempting glimpses of the sea as I drove uphill to the cliffs, which are an RSPB nature reserve. I already knew from my friends that there were no birds worth photographing after summer, so my long lens remained in the glove compartment.

Parking up by the visitor centre, I grabbed my rucksack and tripod before trying to get a view of the lighthouse. It should have been visible from the grassy edge, but the couple who had parked to my right had set up deck chairs and were clearly enjoying the view that I was now unable to see. I should have ventured a bit closer, but it seemed rude and instead I opted to head out to the lighthouse steps. It was a decision I was to regret later.

It was only a short walk along the road to the lighthouse entrance – a narrow arch with a sloping concrete path beyond. I knew this was deceptive, as there were over 400 steps down to the bottom of the cliff. The path twisted backwards and forwards and I had already seen a popular view photographed on one of the last stretches, with the lighthouse at the bottom and the setting sun over the water. I had dismissed that spot due to the amount of concrete in the shot, but I had seen one taken higher up. It looked as though the photographer had leaned over the wall, capturing several turns of the steps below, along with some of the cliff face and the lighthouse.

Well, either I was too short to see the view, or the gentleman in question had been lowered down the cliff face in a basket. I must have done around 250 steps and my left knee had gone ping about half way down. I gave it up as a bad job, but I still had the prospect of dragging myself all the way back to the top and even worse – the sun was nearing the horizon.

I hauled myself up as fast as I could, but now I had to find another viewpoint with only quarter of an hour to spare. I raced back up the road and finding a gap in the wall leading to a likely spot, I plunged down, negotiating the rocky path as quickly as possible. It didn’t do much for my poor knee or my fixed ankle and I arrived at the cliff edge in a state. There was no time to compose myself and throwing down the tripod, I set up my gear in record time.

The image featured above is what I was able to capture. It wasn’t the best sunset, but at least I got something. Once I had packed up, I realised there was a short, sloping path leading directly to where I had parked my car. The one I would have seen if I had stood just a little closer to the couple in the deck chairs.

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