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.
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.
It wasn’t until late March that I finally got the chance to finish the double exposures which began life on my makeshift kitchen table studio. By then the late winter darkness had started to open up to the beginnings of spring and a weak sun shone through the bare branches of my chosen location. I had nicknamed this place Mirkwood (the title I also gave to one of my Stag Skull pictures that began this series of work), not only as a nod to the dark woods of J R Tolkien’s Middle Earth, but also to William Morris’s anglicised term for Myrkviðr the mythical black forest of Norse poetry. It’s a strange, sombre kind of place, tucked deep into the side of the dale and divided by a clattering moorland beck, while the high sided fells cut out most of the sun light. The ground has always been damp when I’ve visited, centuries of fallen leaves have turned the woodland floor into a marsh which sucks at your boots. The little direct daylight and the sodden ground has forced the trees to grow gnarled and twisted, hung with lichen and scarred by past winters, their knotted boughs creaking in the gentle breeze. The wood has proved inspiration for a number of my pictures and I never tire of the myriad of shapes the branches form, every corner provides something new, it really is a place that envelops you and takes you out of modern world.
As with the other pictures in the Dain Series I had taken multiple exposures in the studio to experiment with in the wood. So armed with four pre exposed film holders I spent the afternoon exploring the different contorted shapes of the ancient trees while all the time surrounded by the sounds of running water and early spring bird song. Hunting around the wood it didn’t take me long to find some possible backgrounds to compliment my fox, but one of the things I love most about this double exposure method is that no matter how much I try to envisage what my final picture will look like, it is not until the film is finally developed when I really know what I’ve managed to accomplish. But thankfully once again Mirkwood did not let me down and one of the negative compositions turned out just how I hoped.
Fox Wood. Fompan 100 5×4 sheet film. Double Exposed in Camera and then developed with Tanol 1-1-100, printed with Foma Liquid Silver Emulsion.
Happy Christmas everyone. There have been plenty of ups and downs this year, and though I would have liked to spend a lot more time in my darkroom (once again I have too many yet unprinted negatives) there have been few highlights for me.
Many of you may have seen that back in April I had my first ever article published in the brilliant Fallon’s Angler publication, well would you believe it, they liked it enough to publish another of my articles in issue 8!
Another highlight of my year has been Gallerina, the wonderful gallery that have represented and supported me for so many years, relocating to their brand new home at No 1 Victoria Road Darlington. Richard Gwen and Helen worked tirelessly to transform a tired and neglected old building into a warm and welcoming contemporary art space. So for this new setting I decided to try something a little different, push myself outside of my comfort zone and began work on a series of new pieces using multiple exposure techniques to combine traditional still life photography with my liquid emulsion landscapes and using this new process to explore more deeply the folklore and mythology connected to our landscape. More to follow…
So finally I would just like to say thank you to everyone for continuing to support my blog it really makes it all feel worth while. Merry Christmas to you all and a happy New Year!
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
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.