Millstone Grit

I had probably been sat there for too long. The weather report had given me a brief window between the two weather fronts which were moving across the country from the north, but in my defense it had been a long haul up the steep fell side, and the giant gritstone boulder I had found provided the perfect shelter from the bitter wind which was sweeping across the moorland behind me. The day had started off fine and cold with a bright glishy sun which reflected off the tumbling waters of the Flushiemere Beck. With the stream gently chuckling between it’s frozen banks I walked along the icy track towards the old mine shop of Flushiemere House high above the small hamlet of Newbiggin, and from there I left the main path and started the climb to reach the weathered stones of Carr Crags. From my perch amongst these stones I looked out across the vast panorama of fells that make up the skyline of upper Teesdale, each peak carried its own snowy mantle which glowed in the low afternoon sun. But while I soaked up the mountainous vista, around me the clouds were quickly turning darker by the minute, bringing with them fresh gusts of snow. It was starting to look like I didn’t have much time left to explore before the weather would completely close in around me.

What had drawn me here was the hope of finding some relics of a long gone industry which existed here high up on the bleak shoulder of Jame’s Hill.  For centuries the hard rough sedimentary rock these crags are made of had been used to make millstones. From what I had been told these stones were strewn throughout these outcrops like loose change, each one carved by hand but then abandoned before they could be completed. It seems strange to think that after all that hard work they should be left to weather and erode. It turns out the carvers where the victims of a changing market driven by a desire for softer flour that could be milled with fine-grained millstones imported cheaply from the continent. In the end it literally was just not worth the effort to get these stones down the hill.

The first millstone I came across was probably only 20 feet from where I had been seated. It lay on a broken stack of stones half buried in snow-covered turf, but as I started to compose my shot the snow which had been till then only falling as small flurries  was quickly becoming a blizzard. Despite the worsening conditions I tried my best to capture the scene taking as many exposures as I could before deciding to move on.

Millstones

Millstone on Carr Crags, Liquid silver emulsion on watercolour paper.

With my back to the  now increasingly savage wind and snow I picked my way along the crag. Here and there I could make out more evidence of the people who spent their days working here. Tucked into a mass of rubble I saw a small circular cell, like a cist made of rough hewn stone it seemed most likely to have been built in an attempt to provide some protection asgainst the prevailing winds, a simple testament to the working conditions.

It was an incredible feeling to be enveloped in the squalling snow, watching it smudge out the landscape, there was an intense feeling of isolation, of being removed from the day-to-day world far below. Soon it became obvious that the weather was not going to break and I had run out of time to take more pictures. So I decided to head for the safety and comfort of home and by using the compass bearing which I had originally followed to reach the crag I descended through the swirling snow. Along the way down my mind kept drifting back to the millstone carvers and what they must have endured to hew these millstone from the hard unforgiving gritstone, only for all their endeavours to come to nought due to our love of soft white bread. Now the sound of pick and chisel has been replaced with the croaking call of the red grouse, and the stones have become home to the mountain hares.

 

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