There are some places that stay with you, and though the precise details may fade over time the sense of the place, the emotional connection to the landscape and the weather remain with you for years. These memories haunt your imagination waiting for the chance to return. A telephone conversation with a friend and fellow photographer Alex Boyd about his move to a small village on the west coast of the Isle Of Lewis, one of the most incredible windswept pieces of land in the United Kingdom, brought memories flooding back of my visit, one bleak and blusterly April, way back in 2005.
It was a fishing trip with my friend Gary who is a farrier on the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Gary had a few jobs booked in on Lewis so the plan was to mix business with pleasure and between shoeing horses we would have a cast on some of the hundreds of wild lochs that dot the island. We where probably lost when I took this picture, I can remember driving down the small moorland track trying to find another loch to fish, and the sting of the wind and the rain as we climbed out of Gary’s van into the teeth of an Atlantic westerly. In the distance huddled into a fold in a ridge sat a small pool of water shining out in contrast to the dark brooding backdrop of the rugged mountains and billowing gun metal clouds.
After I put down the phone I went to find the negatives because I suddenly realised it was just the picture to give as a thank you to another friend William Marshall for another trip into the hills in search of trout!
On the bank of one of my favourite pools stands a grand patriarch of a beech tree casting it’s branches across the river like some ancient Entish guardian from Tolkien’s Middle Earth. During the cold stirring of spring these gnarled boughs are bare and skeletal but come the warm days summer trout will lazily rise to sip insects off the waters surface beneath it’s shady verdant canopy. Years of harsh winter spates have undercut the bank revealing it’s giant roots and there I often see the marks and foot prints of otters in the soft sandy silt, these often elusive creatures seem to have gained a liking for the invasive Canadian Signal Crayfish which has done so much damage to our own native species. The remains of their brightly coloured claws and crunched up carapaces are littered everywhere. Spring has been particularly late in the dale this year with snow and frost lasting to the end of April but those warm and heady evenings beneath the tree will be back soon.
Many of you may not know but photography is not my only passion, I have another which has sometimes kept me away from the darkroom when I should have been working and sometimes away from my bed when I should have been sleeping, and that is the gentle art of fishing. So I was over the moon when I was given the opportunity to combine my two passions and create an article for the wonderful fishing journal Fallon’s Angler. I had a fantastic time exploring some of my favourite rivers with my 5×4 camera and a fishing rod while trying to capture some of the essence of being on the bankside and fond memories of fishing with my grandfather.
If you want to find out more and maybe purchase a copy to read for yourself please follow this link
January and Feburary have sped into March, everything has seemed to pass me by in a blur. I’ve been really lucky this year to have two big commissions to occupy my time. Both have taken sole priority in the darkroom with hours spent developing and pirnting leaving very little room for anything else. With a bit more time on my hands over the last few days I’ve managed to go back over some of the negatives which I shot during the little spare time I had. But wether it was because I had my mind on other things or the gods of photography weren’t similing down at me I had limited success to say the least. A fantastic afternoon spent at Paddy’s Hole and the South Gare near Redcar, despite some beautiful low winter sun, was a complete right off with negs so thin they were unprintable!
One picture did turn out how I envisioned it though. Just before Christmas I was lucky enough to meet up for a fell walk with fellow blogger Matt O’Brien for a tramp across Bowes Moor. I’ve been following Matt’s website www.mypennines.co.uk for a while now and when ever I see a distant fell or hidden dale I like the look of, nine times out of ten you can bet Matt has already been there and written an excellent route map and report about it, so I was really excited to be joining him and his friend Paul Crozier to explore the remote summit of Collinson Hill, high overlooking the remote Spital Park and Stainmore.
We had orignally planned to start at Sleightholme but a fallen tree from the previous nights tumultuous weather was blocking the narrow road so we had to double back and start again from Bowes. Now the map took us along the banks of the flooded river Greta which looked like it had only just started to drop back, if we had started a few hours earlier even the foot bridges would have been a struggle to cross. Throughout the days walk I was constantly reminded of how the country had been battered by the storms, the moors were awash with sheets of water pouring off the crags and peat hags, creating new waterfalls everywhere, and though I took loads of pictures it was a shot of one of these new cascading spouts of water which turned out the best.
Ziess Super Ikonta, Fomapan 100 film and Foma Chamois Paper.
Looking back I feel a little disppointed that I didn’t get to capitalise on such a great day in the hills and hopefully when I have a bit more time I’ll have another look to see if I can salvage anything else but I think this photograph does sum up something of the essence of the day so all in all I’m pretty happy.
It’s been a harsh winter so far with days and days of high winds and rain battering the North of Engalnd and Scotland. Rivers have been bursting their banks and destroying bridges roads and worst of all people’s homes. Like usual I have fallen behind with my blog posts but back in November before the worst of the weather hit I visited the Low Barns Nature Reserve which is run by the Durham Wildlife Trust with the aim of testing out some more expired Polaroid Type 665 a photographer friend had sent me from Sweden. The reserve is nestled in a broad bend of the River Wear and it’s made up of a fantastic landscape of deciduous woodland and reed fringed lakes and ponds, perfect environment for wildlife of all kinds. A brief gap in the weather meant I had chance to explore. By all the flotsam spread in amongst the trees along the river bank it was obvious it had only just started to fall back but it was still very high and was running the colour of strong tea. I slowly worked my way upstream finally reaching the remains of an old ford which had become a torrent of churning water. It provided the perfect subject matter to sum up the weeks weather.
The pack of Polariod worked perfectly producing a lovely fine grain negative full of beauiful tones, starting to really get rehooked on this expired Polariod malarky sadly some stocks are becoming harder and harder to find!
It was a great afternoon spent in a wonderful place but this was only the beginning of the wet weather and soon Cumbria, Yorkshire and now Galloway in the South West of Scoltand were being hit with massive floods, very sadly causing wide spread destruction to some of our most beautiful towns and villages forcing people from their homes.
If you have ever driven across the A66 motorway as it crosses over the wide expanse of fell and moorland between Bowes and Brough called Stainmore you may have noticed a black metal sign standing a short distance below the road. The sign is a replica of one which stood beside a train line that once past by here and simply reads “Stainmore Summit. Height 1370 Feet” this is the highest summit of any railway track in England and was an engineering feat of it’s age. But like so many of these rural lines “The South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway” didn’t survie the Beeching cuts of the 1960’s and the last train to pass this point was on the 5th of April 1965.
The Stainmore line has interested me for a while and few years ago I visited it not far from the summit sign and the photographs I took became one of my first posts on this blog called “Return to Bleath Gill” . On that morning in March 2013 a late fall of snow had covered the hills and the old railway embankments were covered by deep drifts. However this day couldn’t have been more different as I stepped out of the car to meet my friend and fellow photographer Gary Liggett on a bright crisp Autumn morning. So under a clear blue sky we started to follow the course of the line towards Bowes, soon reaching a shallow cutting lined on both sides by crumbling stone walls and the occasional gnarled alder tree. The rains the night before had turned the old bed of the railway into a quick flowing stream, almost transforming it from it’s heavy indusrtial past back into a moorland beck. It was then that I realised that in my rush to get ready I hadn’t brought all of my film. All I had was my 6 sheets of 5×4 in my grafmatic back and one role of 120 I found at the bottom of my camera bag, but luckily for me I still had what was left of my pack of Type 665 polaroid. So I was going to have to be careful with what I chose to shoot especially as the light was becoming more and more promising. Clouds had started to sweep in from the west casting long shadows over the landscape, it was becoming a perfect day to be on the moors with a camera.
All Became Water, Stainmore. Polaroid Type 665.
We continued on and soon the cutting opened out onto an embankment with a river, in fact River Greta running below us and infront wide views across the Forest of Stainmore. In the far distance a small plate layers hut came into view, it still had it’s chimney but it windows had been blocked up long ago. As we got closer we could see it’s door had been left off it’s hinges but inside it still had it’s small open fire hearth. These little shelters must have been a real life saver in cold days, which are common up here even during the summer. How many times during the life of this hut had it provided a respite for the railwaymen caught out in the snows and driving winds of deep winter?
The Long Haul, Stainmore.
As we passed by the hut and carried on it became obvious it was going to become increasingly difficult to get much further so we decided to turn round and start walking back towards the cars. Throughout the morning we hardly noticed our slow descent, but now Gary and I could really start to feel it as we headed back up towards the summit. It was turning out to be a long and steady haul and things were being made harder by the fact the ground which seemed solid at the begining still frozen from the previous night, had now thawed turning everything into oozing marsh. By time we reached our starting point we were both covered up to our knees in mud. Well at least it was at the end of the walk and not the begining.