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

Opportunity Knocks Once?

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.

Greta Spout

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.

Cheers

 

Graham

 

 

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

Gone But Not Forgotten

image

I took this photograph of Middle End Farm in Teesdale many years ago just after leaving college. At the time I couldn’t afford my own large format camera so I borrowed a good friends MPP, neither did I have the money to buy sheet film but luckily for me I had a small stash of Polaroid Type 665 Pos/Neg film kept at the pack of the fridge from my students days! So I spent a great rainy afternoon exploring the landscape of this fantastic dale which in future years was to have such a massive influence on my work.

It was a lovely film with beautiful soft dream like tones and of course being instant you knew how it turned out straight away! But at the time I didn’t realise how much trouble Polaroid was in and when it went under many of my  favourite photographic mediums including Type 665 went with it! Looking back if only I had the foresight to stock pile as much as I could! But there’s light at the end of the tunnel a new instant 5×4 pos/neg film is now on sale called New55 and I can’t wait!!

Exciting Things Are Afoot!!

Last week I had some fantastic news that one of my liquid silver emulsion pictures “Dwarfie Stane, Hoy” had been accepted to be part of the ACTINIC Festival show in Edinburgh this summer!!

GrahamVasey_DwarfieStane,Hoy

Dwarfie Stane, Hoy. 100x75cm liquid emulsion on water colour paper.

I originally took the picture back in August 2013 when Helen, Alice and me travelled to the far north for a holiday on the isles of Orkney, and when I heard about this competition out of the four photographs I submitted it was this one I hoped they would pick! The exhibition will take place in July and has been organised by a fantastic group called Alt-Photo Scotland who dedicated to connecting and promoting alternative photography in Scotland and beyond so it really is a great honor to be chosen to display my work amongst some of the best in the world! More information about dates etc to follow!!

http://www.alternativephotographyscotland.org/

Oh and if your interested here is the original blog post!

https://grahamvasey.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/fifty-nine-degrees-north/

Cheers

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.

 

 

 

The Great Look Out!

This is a bit of a late post. It was at the end of Febuary and I was back in Swaledale with my friend Gareth and my dad for another walk, this time to the summit of the mighty Great Shunner Fell! Not only was it my first proper fell walk of the year it was also my first attempt to climb this impressive mountain, which dominates the heads of Swaledale and Wensleydale and at 716 meters above sea level and just so happens to be the third biggest fell in the Yorkshire Dales.

It was a bright sharp day when we set off from the small village of Thwaite which nestles in a fold of hills near the head of the dale. We followed the path of the Pennine Way up the long slopping ridge along the edge of Stock Dale towards Shunner Fell Rake. As we slowly climbed up the slope stopping here and there to take pictures the more the summit loomed above us. Beneath its domed top, snow cornices still clung to the ridges and gullies on the fell sides.

The higher we ascended up the fell’s broad shoulder towards Shunner Fell Rake the more this mountain started to live up to the name it was given by the Norse settlers who came to this part of the world in the 10th century “Sjon’s lookout hill” from the Old Norse, Sjon + haugr meaning hill. All round us the views started to open up. To the north Teesdale and Mickle Fell could be seen with Stainmore and the A66 lying in between, to the south the high tops of Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough. We stopped for a quick break beside the large cairn which marked the beginning of the steep rake to the summit.

Shunner Rake Cairn

The cairn is a fantastic example of the wall builders art and must have stood over 6ft tall, it had slump to one side slightly giving it the impression of stoop old man. We had a quick cuppa as we soaked in the wild grandeur of the landscape that was stretching out before us before continuing on our journey along the rake which is an old Cumbrian term for a steep path or track up a hill. The closer we got to our goal we were treated with more glorious panoramas and mountain vistas, now Wild Boar Fell and Mallerstang could be seen and behind them the Howgill Fells could just be made out.

Shunner Fell pool

At the top we found a very comfortable shelter cairn so we hunkered down for a while out of the cold wind, mixed with occasional snow flurry, soaking up the atmosphere of the summit before starting our long descent down to the Buttertubs Pass and then back to Thwaite. This was by no means an easy route as it meant crossing the enticingly named Grainy Gill Moss and Grimy Gutter Hags. When people started to name these places they didn’t just pick names on a whim they were often descriptive and created to form a kind of oral map of the landscape so “Grain or Grainy” means a meeting of gills or sikes and “Moss” is the old term for a marsh or peat bog with that in mind we where pretty thankful the ground (if you could call it that) was still part frozen as I have no doubt that we would have been up to our ears in peat if we tried it on a wet summers day!!

I took a few more pictures before we dropped down onto the road that would lead us back to the car just as more dark clouds swept across the fell.

Clouds Over Shunner

Once we dropped down to the massive limestone sink holes of Buttertubs the rest of the walk was on tarmac which always makes the journey a bit longer than it should, even more so this time because I knew I had a 6 hour shift behind the bar at work to look forward to. So sadly this time we didn’t have the pleasure of celebrating what was a fantastic day out in the hills, we will just have to save it for later!!

 

Cheers

Graham

 

About Two and Six

Just up the road from were I live is the village of Cockfield, it sits on Cockfield Fell which is a broad piece of rising heathland bounded on it’s northern side by the fast flowing river Gaunless. The fell at almost 350 hectares is England’s largest scheduled ancient monument and within you will find numerous places which show remains of people living here from Iron Age, the Roman period and the Middle Ages. This was also a place of industry, coal mining began here as early as 1303 when a licence was granted by the Bishop of Durham. The mining steadily grew in its importance and by the 19th century the South West Durham coalfield was opened and the population of the area grew significantly, in fact some of my partner’s ancestors were among many who came here for work. The last Coal Mine closed in 1962 when the last of the coal had been finally worked out of the hills. But this place is not just a land resevered for the past, it’s also a living landscape. This is common land shared between the land owners of the parish which is managed by a group called the Fell Reeves. This means that local residents can pay a yearly rent for a “Stint” which gives them the right to graze their animals on the rough pasture of the fell side.

The stockholders are also allowed to build sheds on their stints, so not only will you seen live stock roaming across the land you will also see all kinds of sheds, stables and shacks dotted across the fell. A few years ago I came across a very weathered little pigeon cree standing beside the road, I drove past it time and time again until one morning a thick fog covered the hill the setting seemed perfect.

Come In Number 6 Bromide

Come In Number 6. Fomapan 100, 90mm Schneider Angulon f6,8 lens.

But as I said this is a working landscape and one morning I drove down the lane only to see a work team clearing the ground were Number 6 once stood, and for a few years all that remained was a small patch of bare earth. But this shouldn’t been seen as a negative, it’s a sign that there are people who still use the fell for it’s true purpose maintaining it for future generations.

The other day while driving back from a fishing trip in Teesdale I spotted another timber shed standing on the hill above the river, a number 2 painted on it’s side. Learning from past expirences this time I acted a bit quicker and returned a few weeks later to take some pictures.

Number 2 Shed

Wind Torn. Fomapan 200, Schneider 90mm Angulon f6,8 lens.

There was a stiff north westerly breeze blowing while I was there and the whole structure seemed to rock and sway with it. The elements had certainly took there toll and looking at it I wasn’t sure if another stormy night would beat any work parties and reduce it to a pile of rotten timber and ash-felt. But maybe when it does collapsed or is pulled down somebody will decided it’s a good spot to build something new and the circle will begin again.

While doing a bit of research for this post I came across a number of interesting articles on Cockfield Fell, there is a lot of information on the Keys to the Past website (which is always very useful) and the Northern Echo has a couple of interesting pieces from past publication. Here is a link to one which includes an incredible local poem which dates from March 12th 1878 when the fell must have seen it’s most intense period of heavy industry..

Bleak and Charmless…the fell is a hard place for all.

Cheers

Graham

 

 

 

 

 

 

Land Of Lead

 

These days I usually head out to the hills by myself and I don’t often get chance to go walking with my friends. So when I got a call from one of my best and oldest friends asking me if I wanted to head out for a walk I wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity! We made plans to meet after the new year. By then more snow had arrived and as we drove through Richmond and started to head up Swaledale the landscape quickly became a winter wonderland of snow and ice.

We where heading for Surrender Bridge which sits high in the fells above the small town of Reeth. From there we wanted to explore the ruins of the Old Gang Smelt Mill one of the best preserved relics of lead mining industry that’s once dominated this landscape.

It’s a steep drive up to Surrender Bridge and the higher we climbed the worse the roads became. I couldn’t help feeling grateful that I had just replaced my front tyres, and for once I had someone with me who could get out and push. Very soon the road had completely vanished beneath the snow, but luckily it stated to level out a bit so we decided it would be safer to park up and travel the rest of the way on foot.

It seemed like an age since me and Gareth had last been out walking together, and it didn’t take long for us to fall back into our usual banter of music, films, and on this particular trip the Viking Saga’s! Crossing the mysteriously named Surrender Bridge, talk turned to the possible origins of it’s name, which as far I’m as I am aware know one alive today knows? On the OS map higher up the fell they have marked a Surrender Ground and a Surrender Moss which I think all took their names from the local Surrender Mine, but where that name comes from who knows?  We followed the Old Gang Beck up its little dale and quickly we started stopping to take pictures. The landscape was breath taking, the thin dusting of snow gave a dramatic contrast to the dark heather and the dry stone walls, while all the time clouds constantly rolled over the fells.

North Gate To Brownsey Moor

North Gate to Browney Moor, 90mm Schneider Angulon and Fomapan 200.

Soon we reached the dramatic ruins of the Old Gang Smelt Mill. I often come across the remains of lead mining on my walks and I still find it hard to believe that these places where once the centres of a major heavy industry which boomed throughout the 18th and 19th century, at it’s hight employing 1,260 people in Swaledale alone. The days freezing weather brought into sharp foucus what the men, woman and quite often children had to endure to earn their daily wage. But by the 20th century cheap importants forced all the mines to close, and in the end the Old Gang Lead Mining Company which was once one of the largest employers in the dale was sold for £25 in 1933. We climbed above the old smelt mill to explore the ruins of the massive peat store. The huge structure was said to hold up 3 years supply of dried peat to feed the fires of the mills in the valley below. The game keepers had been hard at work burning back the heather for the red grouse, and the charred remains seemed to suit the subject matter somehow.

Peat House

Peat Store, 90mm Schneider Angulon and Fomapan 200

Soon the weather started to close in around us as heavy snow laiden clouds started to move across the hills, so we decided to leave the higher summit for another day and beat a retreat back to the car before it became buried in fresh snow.

Throughout the day we talked a lot about the Norse settlers who came to these dales in the 10th century and left there mark in many of the place names and dialect of their descendants. Many of which I’ve used in this post such as dale, fell, beck many of which can be seen in the place names of Norway and Iceland. But a poem kept returning to me which I first read as student which though not really Nordic seemed apt for days weather….

“Where has gone the steed? Where has gone the man? Where has gone the giver of treasure? Where has gone the place of banquets? Where has gone the pleasure of the hall? Alas, the gleaming chalice; alas, the armoured warrior; alas, the majesty of the prince! Truly, that time has passed away, grown dark under the helm of night as though it had never been. Now there remains among the traces of those dear people a wall, remarkably high, painted with serpentine patterns. The might of ash spears has snatched away the men, the weapon greedy for carnage, notorious fate; and storms beat upon those heaps of stones. A falling snow storms fetters the earth, winter’s howling. The darkness comes; the shadow of night spreads gloom and send from the north fierce hailstorms to the terror of men. The whole kingdom of earth is full of hardship. Here wealth is ephemeral; here a friend is ephemeral; here man is ephemeral; here kinsman is ephemeral; all this this foundation of earth will become desolate.”

Wanderer [Book Of Exeter]

See the Anglo-Saxons could write a pretty good tale as well Gaz!!

If you want to see more photographs from our trip to the fells please have look of my friends blog post:

https://numberofthegaz.wordpress.com/2015/01/21/old-gang-smelt-mill-swaledale-north-yorkshire/

Thanks once again for reading!

Graham