Peak District Photography Guide - Surprise View, Owler Tor, Padley Gorge & Higger Tor

21st February 2013

This is part 1 of a 3 part Peak District Photography Location guide.
View part 2 > Guide to Curbar Edge and Baslow Edge
View part 3 > Guide to Mam Tor, Castleton and the Hope Valley

I receive quite a few emails asking about the locations of photographs in my galleries, particularly for photography locations in the Peak District and Derbyshire. These are normally from people who like myself have limited time for photography and have to fit in a few outings when time permits. This is normally when on holiday or quickly before work and will be visiting the Peak District for a day and want to include some of the more popular easy to access views and don’t have time to be out location scouting. Being able to be in the right place at the right time with landscape photography takes time and in depth research, looking at sun charts and solar calculators are necessary to make maximum use of your available time on location without having to spend time looking for something to shoot when you arrive in the dark and possibly waste a trip by not being in an area where you are likely to come back with good results. Whilst many people complain that some people only take shots of well known locations and use the tripod holes of other photographers, you may argue that by doing this you are reducing your chances of making a long trip and not coming back with anything usable, I have found it also to be true that the most photographed scenes are the most popular for the simple reason that they are the best views in the area. It takes time to get used to a location and learn how the light falls on the landscape in certain areas, the Peak District is a great example of this. The quality and direction of light falls completely differently on the landscape than it does in the Lake District or on location in the Scottish Highlands. The great dark peak edges of Stanage and Curbar along with Higger Tor in the Peak District are well trodden by photographers, the ease of access along with near guaranteed results at either sunrise or sunset make these locations ideal for when time is limited to explore more or the lesser known areas of the Peaks.

In a series of short guides to photography locations in the Peak District I intend to answer the email queries and direct other budding landscape togs to some of the best known spots starting with the small highly popular and ever productive area around the Longshaw Estate, Padley Gorge, Owler Tor, Surprise View, Higger Tor, Carl Wark and the lesser trodden Burbage Edge. Parking at the Surprise View car park (which is also the first Peak District Dark Sky discovery site if anyone is into star gazing or Astro photography in the Peak District) will give you access to a number of great locations, which ever way you choose to walk from here there are plenty of opportunities in all directions.

I have made a quick Google map with some of the best locations along with the most convenient parking spots in order to quickly pin point on a map where some of these photos were taken from.

View Surprise View Photography Locations in a larger map

Many photographers make use of the Surprise View car park to start their peak district photographic adventures; this car park is an ideal place to leave the car (remember your credit/debit card for payment - no cash accepted now) if heading to Millstone Edge, Over Owler Tor or just over the road to rock formation of Owler Tor & Lawrence Field.

Lawrence Field from Owler Tor

One of my favourite places for a dawn shoot is Over Owler Tor which is a short 15 minute walk up the hill from Surprise view; you will pass the Mother Cap rock formation and end up at a rocky outcrop with stunning views all around you.

Taken from just above the Surprise View Car Park looking down towards Grindleford

You can shoot looking up to Carl Wark & Higger Tor, along the ridge down towards Hathersage & the Hope Valley or back down towards Surprise View. There are numerous rock formations to include in the frame.

Rock Formations on Over Owler Tor looking towards Higger Tor

The impressive rock formations at Over Owler Tor make a great subject, at sunrise the rocks really catch the light as the sun makes its way above the horizon. In this shot the sun was right behind me, to get the right angle I had to set up the camera with the shadow of the tripod in the frame, I used the self timer to make sure my shadows were out of the shot and then back at the computer I needed to quickly clone the shadow of the tripod legs out of the frame.

Over Owler Tor

On one of my sunrise trips I took a path leading from the Mother Cap back horizontal to the road along the top of the tree line, being exposed and quite flat there is not a lot of interest to photograph here, however when the light plays ball and the sunrise is working to your advantage you will be able to pick out some interest in the rocks and trees.

Over Owler Tor back looking towards the Mother Cap and Surprise View

Further along this path the terrain begins to rise up, it is here that the views towards Burbage Edge and up towards Carl Wark begin to make composition easier, the scenery here is quite mixed with a large amount of rocks, abandoned millstones and also birch trees which break up the view.

Behind the Fox House Inn is an area full of photo opportunities, I’ve only visited this part of the area at sunset when the sunlight is over to the left as you look up to Higger Tor. The area was used as training area during World War 2 by American troops so there a lots of rock fragments and blast scars in the rocks to add some interest.

Looking towards Carl Wark and Higger Tor

Further around the valley is Burbage Edge which has a quarry in the past, the remnants here give lots of opportunities on this lesser photographed edge. I found some abandoned Millstones around half way up the edge which lined up nicely in the evening light with Carl Wark & Higger Tor.

Millstones on Burbage Edge

Higger Tor can get very busy on weekend mornings with numerous photographers so the car park can be quite full. Luckily Higger Tor has 3 sides so there is normally plenty of space in order to do your own thing and not get caught up in photographs of others. I have found you can normally judge the friendliness of other photographers by the size of their photo rucksack, those with all of the kit I tend to avoid.

The sun will rise at the far end of the Burbage Valley for a lot of the year (check solar calendar to make sure you know where it will rise) so you can choose which side of Higger Tor to shoot from, the best light I have found is early September when the direction of the edges matches the location of the sunrise nicely, you will also get the best of the Purple in the Heather on the 2 least exposed side of the Tor where it is more protected from the elements.

Higger Tor Sunrise - taken in early September

Taken from Higger Tor looking past Callow Bank towards Stanage Edge

Padley Gorge is another popular spot for Photographers in the Peak District, this is in part due to it being one of the only areas with waterfalls & cascades in the national park and being so easily accessible makes it a hotspot particularly at weekends.

Top end of Padley Gorge - a popular picnic spot

Autumn at Padley Gorge is very spectacular and this is when it really does get busy, don't let this put you off though as there are plenty of areas to explore both by the stream and in the woodland surrounding the gorge. The top of the gorge has the largest of the falls and was the scene of my first snapped tripod accident :(

The lower end of the falls up from Grindleford Station has opportunities galore and really is a case of exploring to see what can find, you will not need to look far to find inspiration around here as there are photo opportunities everywhere you look.

The falls become much more spectacular after heavy rain when the water levels rise and become much more spectacular, this shot was taken after a weekend of heavy rain.

In the next guide I will concentrate on the great edges with photography locations and views at Curbar, Baslow and further to the north Stanage Edge.

Click here to view my complete Peak District Photography Gallery >

About Nick
Nick Cockman is a digital photographer from Sheffield specialising in UK Landscape and Seascape photography.

Follow me on Twitter →
Follow me on Facebook →


Photo comment By Mike: dropped in to look at the Owler Tor stuff. Many superb images. I've bookmarked your site and will be making several more visits. The interactive maps are a bonus
Photo comment By Chris Ashurst: Hello Nick. Stunning photos I was born in Sheffield and grow up in Rotherham I started photography 3 years ago at the age of 55 never to old. I am coming up to Rotherham to see my mother and was looking for somewhere to shoot landscape I live in Dorset but always loved Yorkshire and the Peak District around castleton ,Buxton,wharncliff graggs ect so I found your guide spot on and will be using it all next week whilst taking the dog for very long walks and hopefully many good photos many thanks Chris
Photo comment By Martyn: Great blog Nick, I'm off to the Peak District tomorrow, and you've certainly given me plenty of inspiration. Thanks very much.
Photo comment By Danny: I have been wanting to go to the peak district to take some photos for a while now. having come across your blog and seeing your great shots its given me the kick up the butt to travel up there and get shooting.
Photo comment By Ash: Hi Nick, I just wanted to say thank you for providing me with very good, detailed information about these locations. Many thanks. Ash
Photo comment By Dean: Hiya Nick, love your stuff I've got a question if you would be so kind, I do a lot fo astro photography at surprise view but I'm wondering if I'm missing out on even darker skies elsewhere in the peaks for my astrophotography?
Photo comment By john newton: hl nick wonderful pics I am 84 stroke 2 years ago and can't wait to get up there with my stick and camera bag regards john
Photo comment By Nick: great photos, new to photography been on about coming up to the peaks for ages. Thanks for the inspiration will definately be traveling up there in the next few weeks.
Photo comment By joy carew: Great pictures, thanks

Leave a comment

Your Name
Your Email
Your Comment
No info required here, please press the button below.