5 tips for photographing Corfe Castle
Corfe Castle is one of the bucket-list locations for landscape photographers visiting Dorset’s Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Strictly speaking, it isn’t on the Jurassic Coast, nor indeed close to a beach.Instead it’s a few miles inland on the Isle of Purbeck, which isn’t actually an island. Confused? Never mind. It is, nevertheless, a beautiful ruin nestling in a pass through a ridge of hills. It was built in the era after the Norman Conquest in 1066, and reduced to a romantic ruin in 1645, during the English Civil War. It is now owned and managed by the National Trust.
1. Choose the right time of year
While Corfe Castle looks imposing in any season, the best one has to be autumn. The castle is surrounded by rolling hills, fields and woods, so you’ll benefit from golden colours on your shot. It’s also a little less crowded than summertime, when cars throng the only main road to the nearby seaside town of Swanage, which passes through Corfe village.
2. Choose the right time of day
For me, the best time to visit Corfe Castle with a camera – and tripod – has to be dawn. The sun rises over the Solent to the east and turns the stonework of the castle a beautiful golden hue. By visiting on a still morning in the autumn – the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, as the old saying has it – you stand a good chance of capturing the castle floating above a sea of fog, as above. A further advantage to photographing it the castle in October is that the sun rises a lot later than in the height of summer, sparing you a crazily early start. I left home in Romsey at about 6 am to get to Corfe for sunrise just over an hour later. To get there for sunrise in early July, I would have been staggering out of bed at about 3.30 am!
3. Choose the right location
Bearing in mind where the sun rises, the best location from which to shoot the castle is Challow Hill, to the east. There’s a steep footpath with steps (but no handrail) that lets you climb up to an embankment that runs around the hill half-way up. But for the purposes of photography, this is high enough. It’s about level with the top of the castle, so the perspective works well. You can of course climb to the top of the hill for a truly aerial view, if you prefer.
If you visit at sunset, there’s an alternative view that works well. Take the road that heads south off the main road at the foot of the castle – it’s signposted for Church Knowle – and stop after about half a mile. There’s a footpath eastwards across the fields towards the village that gives you a good view looking north-east towards the castle.
4. What to shoot and how
As well as the classic view of the castle above, the village is also picture-postcard pretty. Include it in your panoramas and zoom in on details, such as the church and heritage railway station. Over to your right, on a non-foggy day, you will also enjoy sweeping views over woodland and Wytch Farm, a working oilfield, towards Poole Harbour.
5. How to get there and where to park
Corfe Castle is about 2 ½ hours from London via the M3, M27 and A31. Once in Dorset, follow signs for Wareham and then take the A352 towards Corfe Castle. Once you get there, just before the village, turn left up Sandy Hill Lane. About a quarter of a mile up the hill, you’ll find a small, free car park. Walk back down towards the village for about 200 yards to find the path up the hill on the right, just before the railway bridge.
Bonus: What else to shoot in the area
You’re really spoilt for choice! I thought about continuing on to Kimmeridge Bay, just a few miles away. Since a visit mid-morning would yield the best photographic results, I decided against it. Had time permitted, I was tempted to pay a visit to Milton Abbas, another beautiful village nestling in the hills near Blandford Forum. Instead, since I needed to get home, I settled on a detour to Badbury Rings. The road past it between Wimborne Minster and Blandford undulates over a series of humps making for interesting photos, if slightly hazardous driving!
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