What better way to invite the Summer in with some clear nights and a once in a lifetime opportunity, that opportunity being comet NEOWISE.
It was a short and fleeting night on Dartmoor, but an experience that will stick with me for a lifetime and won’t be forgetting any time soon.
With a little over 18-hours spent within the National Park. With a climb up one of the more popular Tors, watching the semi-wild Dartmoor ponies playing in the golden light, as the sunset over the park and welcome in the night. Bringing the Milky Way, Jupiter, Saturn and that following morning, comet NEOWISE surrounded by noctilucent clouds.
It’s was certainly one of those pinch yourself moments. Is this really happening, am I actually awake?
For us adventure, outdoor photographers, this is why backpack camping or wild camping is so addictive and therapeutic. Living in the moment as corny as it sounds. Surrounded by the wild and vast emptiness, with the sound of the wind and witnessing rare moments like this with no disruptions from the busy chaos of city lights.
Of course, with a jam-packed night like this, being prepared was key.
Bivvi bag for quick escape in and out of some shell of protection, all the usual sleeping arrangements – Sleeping bag, mat, stove and so on.
Most important coffee!
Arriving shortly after 3pm on Dartmoor, we have plenty of time to get up on to one of the Tor’s and find a somewhat sheltered spot from the winds.
Dartmoor for all its wonders, can be very bleak and unforgiving and with vast rolling hills and emptiness means any wind or poor weather coming in is pretty much left to roll in undisturbed and cause a nightmare.
Despite the warm sunshine and Summer warmth, the top of the Tor greeted us with a chilling wind coming due North, but the view made it all that more worthwhile. A 360º undisturbed view surrounding us.
Our only shelter, the granite slabs and pitching further down the hill side. However, the benefit of using a bivvi bag, was I could lie down anyway and perched myself near my ideal spot to catch comet NEOWISE with minimal effort.
As fantastic as Summer is to get out and go camping. As photographers it leaves a very long window for opportunities. The traditional Golden Hour, Blue Hour and then the darkness of night.
However, no stars would make an appearance until gone 12am, leaving a narrow window to see the Milky Way and planets rising South from us.
NEOWISE was some hours away too, with the comet not making an appearance until the early morning hours around 3-4am.
With a wander about the top of the hill, compositions and ideas set. It was time to return to my sheltered spot in the rocks and brew up a fresh coffee and prepare dinner and watch the sunset.
Hours to go before the show would begin, it was now the perfect opportunity to get some rest. Alarms set for midnight and now to wait.
Climbing out of the bivvi bag was unpleasant to say the least.
The sleeping bag and bivvi was toasty and warm, outside of that was bitterly cold in the freezing wind. With numerous jackets on by this point, it was time to get moving.
Picking off each location I had in scouted that evening. As the camera fired off each shot, I would sit and hide out of the wind.
It’s surprising how quick the night goes when you start shooting. Starting at 12:30am and shooting right through to 4am flashed by and with only a few hours running about. I’m glad I opted for the bivvi bag. I could quickly jump in and out getting warm again or a quick 30 minute shut eye.
Before I knew it, I turned around and there the comet was. Hoovering over the Northern hills of Dartmoor, with the predawn glow licking the tops and noctilucent clouds to complete the spectacle.
The broken night’s sleep was worth it!
Power bank nearly out of juice running the lens heater. Batteries nearly exhausted from the cold and myself flagging. It was time to return to the bivvi and sleep until light. Frustratingly this wouldn’t be that far away.
Dartmoor had one more surprise to come.
As the sun rose and light returned, our camp was rudely awoken to the sound of galloping.
A large herd of ponies decided it was time to wake up and play as they bolted over the plains and on to the Tor’s.
Quickly diving out of the bivvi sac once more and following them close behind. From the top of the granite pinnacle with breakfast and coffee brewing and watching the sky turn from pink to orange and back to blue. As the wild ponies below enjoyed breakfast too.
It was the end of a great night on Dartmoor. Welcome to summer and a warm return to wild camping after lockdown measures in the UK.
Tim Peake: “Great campsite too”.
You can keep up with more of Matts adventures and photography on his instagram and website below