As I Look To The West

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.

Lewis Loch

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!

Cheers

 

Graham

 

Beneath The Broad Beech Tree.

Beach Tree Pool

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.

Reel and Tree

The Long Haul

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

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

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.

Cheers

Graham

The Spirit of a Mountain Climber

Today is the birthday of Frank Smythe probably one of the greatest mountain climbers of the early 20th Century. He was born on the 6th of July 1900 and from an early age he had a deep passion for the hills. During his climbing career he pioneered two new routes on the Brenva Face of Mont Blanc, the first ascent of Kamet (India) which in 1931 was the highest mountain yet climbed, and made attempts on Kangchenjunga (the second highest mountain in Nepal) and Mount Everest. His most successful expedition to Everest saw him reaching 28,120ft only a 1,000ft beneath the summit setting an altitude record for climbing without supplemental oxygen that was not broken until 1978! But what is rarely written about Frank Smythe was that not only was he a great alpine climber but also a passionate and gifted photographer. He didn’t just simply record his expeditions, he created stunning photographs of breath taking quality of the mountain landscapes he explored which he published in his numerous books such as “Camera In the Hills” “Over the Welsh Hills”, “Alpine Ways” and many more.

So in my own way I decided to celebrate the birthday of this great man by posting a few pictures from one of my own adventures in the hills. They where taken on a friend’s stag weekend in the southern Lake District. On the morning of the walk a heavy mist had rolled in off the Irish Sea, it lay thickly in the valleys and it wasn’t until we started to gain some height that the landscape around us really came into view.

Fox Haw

Fox Haw and Long Mire. Ilford HP5, Yellow Filter.

The objective of the days climb was the steep rocky peak of the Caw which rises sharply from the craggy mass of the remote Dunnerdale Fells. As we began to near the summit more and more distant fells came into view, Ulpha, Harter, Grey Friar, and the lofty summit of White Maiden. After a quick break on the summit which was just about big enough for us all to sit and have a our lunch we started our descent back.

Caw in the Mist

Caw and Cloud. Ilford HP5, Yellow filter.

We were picking our way down through the crags and mosses back towards where we started earlier that day at Stephens Ground when I stumbled across a small pool of water. It was crystal clear and through its base ran a thick seam of quartz which carried on up through the rock face beside it. I love finding hidden places like this, often overlooked they can be a microcosm of the greater landscape.

Roots of the mountain

Roots of the Hill. Ilford HP5, Yellow filter.

It was a memorable day spent in the hills with great friends and I hope Frank would have approved of the pictures. Though only 1,600ft the Caw is a small hill compared to is more famous neighbours, but what it lacks in height it certainly makes up for in its grandeur, it is a true mountain in every sense, and as Frank put it himself;

“Comparisons between low hills and high hills are invidious. There is no denying the grandeur of the Himalayas; there is also no denying the grandeur of the British hills. I have seen Snowdon on a misty September morning as far removed from earth as Kangchenjunga. Altitude in terms of figures counts for little. It is the instant vision that matters”

                                                                                Frank S. Smythe, “Spirit of the Hills”

 

Thanks for reading!

Graham

 

 

Whitby In Spring Time.

I discovered a fantastic old northeast term the other day in a book I’m currently reading called Landmarks written by Robert Macfarlane, and that is “Lambin’ Storm” the name given to the gales which batter our coastline in Mid March, and not to be proven wrong that’s just what mother nature gave Helen and me on our visit to Whitby the other week. A blustery cold north easterly wind had whipped the high spring tides into a furious white foam and waves rolled in and crashed against the stone walls of the harbour. Now some people may think we were mad to venture to the seaside in such conditions, but for me I don’t think you could ask for a better day to walk along the pier as the sea crashes against it while the wind pulls at your hair and your clothes, plus it makes sneaking into a cosy pub afterwards even more rewarding.

Whitby Pier Lith

Lambin’ Storm, Whitby. Carl Zeiss Super Ikonta 6×9.

The day out also gave me chance to put a film through a vintage Carl Zeiss Super Ikonta folding camera which because of  some corrosion on the film gate and a little fungus in the lens had been put to one side. A little bit of black model paint sorted out the rust problem but all I could do for the lens was give it a good polish. Thankfully the fungus seems only to be in the front element and I couldn’t see any evidence that effecting the quality of the lens.

Whitby Pots

Pots, Whitby Harbour. Carl Zeiss Super Ikonta 6×9.

For these photographs I wanted to do something different. I’ve been saving some of my favourite black and white paper, Forte Museum Weight, which was made by a once great Hungarian photographic company called Forte, sadly they closed down a few years ago so the paper is no longer in production, so these last few boxes are probably the last I’ll ever have. One of the great attributes of this paper is it’s perfect for developing with Lith which are specialist developers used in a highly diluted solution and create a warm grainy print with a unique tonal range. The paper is usually over-exposed by 2 or 3 stops, then when the required density of image is achieved it is ‘snatched’ from the developer and placed into a stop bath. Lith printing can produce a very wide range of different colour and tone effects, and the contrast can be adjusted by varying the exposure time and development time. The image colour varies a great deal from warm – brown, olive, yellow, pink through to ivory, giving each print it’s individuality. The Lith developer I used for these photographs was Fotospeed LD20 which is  readily available and easy to use, but there are a number of others on the market. I really like this method and definitely feel it captured the atmosphere of the gritty, windswept day we spent in beautiful, unique Whitby.

 

 

 

Seasons Greetings!!

Snow flurry Xmas Letter

This photograph was taken on a cold winters day in the Howgill Fells below Wild Boar Fell. A sudden snow storm enveloped me and I was just able to capture this shot before everything disappeared in a blur of white. It’s not the greatest picture but it does make one look forward to a warm fire side and a hot cup of tea…or a nice dram of Islay Whisky??

Thanks to everyone who has been following my blog and liked my posts. It’s been a great year and I have thoroughly enjoyed creating this blog and the responses I received have been fantastic and I can’t wait till next year to find some new places to photograph!!

Happy Christmas everyone and I hope you all have a happy new year!!!

The last of Autumn’s Bounty

 

It was a cold misty morning and me, my friend Mark and Monty (Mark’s lovely gun dog) were walking beside the Bedburn river in Weardale, trying to find some of the river’s seasonal visiting salmon and sea-trout which have made their way upstream from the sea to their spawning redds were they were born. Both Mark and I are keen fly fisherman, sometimes too keen, and every year when the fishing season draws to a close we talk about heading out and trying to find some spawning fish, and atlast we managed to get out by a river. We parked up near Hamsterley Forest and started slowly making our way upstream peering into every likely nook and cranny of the stream. It didn’t take too long and after about 20 minutes of walking we saw our first dark salmon hanging in the current. Though the river was  pretty low it was still stained from peat from the surrounding moors it wasn’t until the fish was aware of us and started to move that we got a good look at him. He quickly got spooked and swam off upstream creating a bow wave as he went and in the process disturbing another larger salmon further up the pool. As we carried on we saw evidence that the fish we had just seen were probably just a few stragglers as we soon started to see the occasional dead kelt (a fish that has spawned) washed up on the banks of the stream, a sure sign that the main run of fish had already completed their task. Contrary to common belief not all Atlantic salmon and sea-trout die after they lay their eggs unlike their Pacific cousins quite a few survie and swim back to sea maybe to return again, but for many the ordeal of the journey is just too much. There was one I had to photograph, it was the remains of a large male sea-trout swept by the current onto a gravel island in the middle of the river surrounded by the rest of the spoils of autumn.

Sea trout Kelt

Shen-Hao with Schneider 90mm Angulon lens and Ilford HP5 film.

It’s great to think that these fish return every season, not that long ago the River Wear which the Bedburn flows into was like so many of the rivers in the Northeast of England and suffered from pollution from heavy industry, and it’s runs of migratory fish had almost completely vanished, but now they have returned in there thousands back to the streams and becks where they hatched. A true miracule of mother nature!

Cheers

 

Graham