Serendipity: “If by chance a lucky find” and I sure did!
Amazing Cloud Inversion at Dunstable Downs in Bedfordshire.
After a rainy day, we drove from St Albans to Dunstable Downs, one of our favorite spots. The endless rain finally gave way to a spectacular cloud inversion just as the sun was setting, and we found ourselves driving up the hill into the clouds, or rather, fog!
I quickly checked Drone Assist to make sure there were no other drones or kites in the vicinity of the car park, and then set off my drone, which I call “Buzzy.” She took off into the fog at dusk, and I could see her location thanks to her strobe light.
Since the sun had already set and the fading light of dusk was upon us, I had to turn up the ISO settings to film any footage at all. But as soon as I made this change, the wonderful world view of the Downs above the cloud inversion hugging the topography revealed itself. The end result was jaw-dropping, but the image would be very grainy and noisy. I figured this was a good trade-off, but I would have to look into noise reduction utilities in post.
I had realized from the moment we drove up the hill that I was in a fading light race against time. Luckily, my mobile signal was good up there, so I was able to quickly do my checks and set up.
I had visited the Downs hundreds of times when I lived in Luton, and even worked there for a period. I had seen blizzards up there, leant into the wind, flown a kite, followed ancient maps, and studied the archaeology of the area. I had even cycled down that slope many moons ago, and was rewarded with a spectacular tumble that resulted in a grazed knee and elbow! I was lucky it wasn’t worse!
There is said to be a Roman temple up there that was dedicated to Jupiter. The Icknield Way, which was a broad network of lanes with lower winter routes and higher summer routes, was perhaps used for pasturing sheep on the higher grounds during the summer months. There are also some deep hollow ways traversing the Downs to the foot of nearby Bison Hill, which are ancient to say the least!
On the far side of Pascombe Pit, (shown under the “D” of “Dunstable” on the video thumbnail) is the Five Knolls Barrow complex, as noted by 18th century antiquarian William Stewkley and investigated by Worthington Smith, who lived in Dunstable for a while and famously excavated by Mortimer Wheeler. There were some impressive finds (Google it, or ask an AI!).
The famous California Ballroom used to be situated on the road leading up the hill. I have seen so many bands there, and it was legendary for coach outings from far afield. Sadly, it’s gone now. We used to catch the bus from Stopsley directly to “California” (as the area of the ballroom became known). We would start by drinking a pint or two from the 60s art extravaganza “The Windsock” – a pub – an innovative “wonk” structure set on tripodic leg mounts with a seemingly curvy boat-like design. It was only standing for a decade or so before it was certified as “unsafe” and eventually demolished!
This area and landscape feature was a definitive corner of England, with Dunstable being an important geographically central crossroads of middle England. The ancient Icknield Way crosses the Roman Watling Street here, which was one of the four major Roman British roads. So all in all, after three years, we return to eastern England to the point where east turns into the midlands and home counties, and the visage towards the west. To me, Dunstable and the Downs meant there was hope from the drudgery of living in a claustrophobic busy urban conurbation.
In all the times I ever visited the Downs, I had never witnessed such an event as I did on this occasion. We had not planned to visit the Downs that day; it was a “spontaneous” moment! I hope you enjoy the video!
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