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Photographing High Rocks

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Visiting High Rocks

I have driven past High Rocks on a number of occasions but oddly I had never ventured in. I’ve had a drink across the road and expected to climb there at some stage until an injury put paid to that.  For some reason I wasn’t thinking about the potential it might offer a Landscape Photographer. High Rocks is, after all, a ‘Site of Special Scientific Interest’ and replete with wonderful formations, tones and textures of peri-glacial sandstone.

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First Impressions

I had mixed feelings when I first explored the site. Perhaps the same mixed feelings I have when I see ‘captive’ wildlife photography. Shooting a lion in a cage to me lacks that special feeling of shooting in the wild. That said, these small wonders of mother nature should not be dismissed because they sit behind fences and a turnstile. They are well worth the small entrance fee.

I didn’t really know what to expect as I had chosen to limit my research. I often do this when visiting a location for the first time. I prefer not to have my expectations skewed and like to approach an area as a fresh canvas without pre-conceived ideas of how it has been photographed. This is not to say that most of the best photographers don’t, in their careers, tick off well-photographed scenes. For me, it is about creating an image that captures my feelings towards the scene.

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I was actually gobsmacked when I first entered. This was here, all this time and I hadn’t seen it. Here in front of me were these giant looming sandstone structures. I use ‘giant’ sparingly but within our local landscapes, their scale and variation to the norm are quite striking. Again this is not a purely wild landscape and  I did attempt to limit the images I made to the more natural characteristics of the site, choosing to limit the ‘landscaping’ and more man-made elements.

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Another ‘human’ downside found sadly at most sites is the wanton vandalism caused over decades, by visitors thinking it clever to carve their names in the soft rock faces. It is such a shame that such a wonderful natural resource is blighted in this way. Is it some peculiar throwback to prehistoric cave painting? Naturally, people evolve at different speeds and perhaps these peri-glacial formations uncover some subconscious desire to mark one’s territory? Needless to say, it is something I have seen the World Over. Humans needing to make sure others no they have passed by.

What you will definitely enjoy is the scale and variety of the site. I personally loved the way that trees, some perhaps introduced and others wild, were almost interwoven with the Ardingly Sandstone formations.  In places, the trees shape the rock and alternatively, the trees have yielded to the sandstone. The tension cracks formed between some of the giant stones are big enough to enter and walk through. High Rocks is one of the only sites in the UK where this geological phenomenon is visible. The variety of tones and textures in the rock faces are a joy to behold. The ability to traverse the top of the stones via aerial bridges may not be for the faint-hearted but is a lot of fun and affords you a very different perspective. I look forward to taking my trusty ‘assistant’ who is not one for heights. 😉 EDIT. I did take her and we had a number of refusals 🙂

I was also lucky enough to have the site pretty much to myself, bar a few squirrels, rabbits and a pair of deer. It is a wonderfully quiet and contemplative place.

When I returned from High Rocks and started to do more real research I learned of various sites that had similar sandstone outcrops, all minutes from my doorstep. They all form part of the wider ‘Wealden Group’ (see the resources at the bottom and especially the wonderful Sussex Geo Diversity Partnership site).I’ve decided to visit each one in turn and look to see what they offer ‘photographically’.

Creating Images

Photographing High Rocks I preferred to focus on presenting the Rocks as a wilder or more natural environment. As ever I was interested not just in the wider landscape but the components within the landscape. It was about the texture, the tones and the contrasts between them. I also wanted to keep the images I created quite timeless. The Sandstone offers up so much subtlety in colour and texture. The balance between the stones and the trees competing for water and light is a key feature of many of the images. Of course, the site comes alive in Autumn with added colour and the new textures of leaf fall. There are some nice wider vistas from atop the Rocks and it pays to get there early on a calmer day to concentrate on achieving sharper images using a decent tripod. It is wise to walk about and absorb the location, its features before deciding what aspect you would like to capture. The longer you spend the more you will naturally see and your approach will change.

My next port of call will be Eridge Rocks.

Useful Resources


High Rocks is located on High Rocks Lane (just off Fairview Lane), TN3 9JJ. It is just a 5-minute drive from either the A26 or the A264.

High Rocks

The site features a restaurant, bar and is a popular Wedding Venue. Car parking is provided free of charge to patrons. The entrance to the rocks is located across from the main building. Tickets can be purchased from the Bar downstairs. Adult Tickets are £3 to enter the Rocks and climbers or boulderers pay £10.

High Rocks Wiki

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