Wind and Rain

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.

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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.

 

Graham

 

 

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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

Into the Woods

In my last post I was reminiscing about the loss of Polaroid pos/neg film, especially my favourite the Type 665 pack. Well the devil makes use for idle hands and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t just sit and dream about past triumphs and I was searching through a popular online shopping site in search of a pack of Type 665. At first I didn’t have much luck, mainly because, as stocks of this film become ever more rare the price goes up but I kept on looking and eventually found a pack which sounded promising. It was pretty old film and had technically expired in August 1990! But in the description it stated the pack was unopened and had been stored in a fridge, so I decided to take a chance and buy it.

There are a few risks in buying any old expired film particularly when it comes to instant type films such as polaroid, if the pack of film hasn’t been stored correctly the liquid chemicals which do the developing and fixing can dry out and make the material completely useless. All these thoughts went through my mind as I set off to the edge of Hamsterley Forest a few miles up the road from my home in County Durham. Last Autumn I had driven past the top edge of the forest and I was struck by the stark forlorn looking birch trees left behind by the felling of the pine trees, it seemed to be the perfect spot close to home to try out my new film.

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The Shen-Hao loaded and ready to go.

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It was with a great deal of trepidation I pulled the tab of the first sheet of polaroid from the camera back (kindly loaned to me from my old college tutor John Quinn) and I had no idea it would work as well as it did!! I only took a few exposures wanting to save the rest of the film for another day, storing the neg part of the sheets in water to wash off the masses of black gloop that covers them after you have peeled them apart.

Broken Birch

Once washed and dried I contact printed my favourite of the two negs on my usual Fomapan Chamois fiber based paper. I think this a negative I will definitely return to!

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

All Alone On Cotherstone Moor

Well like for many my December was frantic! Every year it doesn’t matter how much I try to plan a head it always ends up mad dash to get everything sorted. But it’s always well worth it particularly this year with three separate print commissions and one off the wall sale all from Gallerina. All this work certainly kept me on my toes, so when Christmas eve finally arrived it was lovely to sit back and relax with the family and enjoy the festive holiday. But in all this madness I did end up with one free day, and lucky for me it coincided with the first snow fall of the year.

It was a Saturday and we had originally planned to pick our family Christmas tree, but plans soon changed when we found out Little’n was being taken to the Panto by her Nana. So with the day now free I decided to revisit a spot I first found back in the Autumn.  On that day gale force winds had meant it was pretty much impossible for me to capture the photograph I wanted, so it has been on the top of my list of places I had to go back to ever since.

The drive up there was definitely interesting and I had to take care in negotiating the numerous patches of snow and ice along the small road that runs across the moors between Bowes and Cotherstone. As I reached the highest point of the journey the days objective came into view the small rocky summit of Crag Hill.  From the road side it was a short walk to its top where in amongst the rough gritstone slabs and boulders which give this hill it’s name stands probably one of the most incredibly weather-beaten trees in Teesdale. It’s incredible to think that for decades this tree has stood what ever the elements has thrown at it leaving it twisted and scared, but for all that it  still stands on it’s wind swept craggy hill side.

Crag Hill

Lifting Cloud Over Crag Hill. Schneider 90mm Angulon f6,8. Fomapan 200.

During this trip I also got chance to try out my new Grafmatic film back. It holds standard 5×4 sheet film but instead of like the conventional double darkslide which only holds two sheets this carries six. The film is held in thin metal septums which are mechanical pushed to the front each time you want to make an exposure and then rotated to the back once exposed.  It’s really neat plus it is a lot more compact that carrying normal film holders, and on this trip it performed really well.

So that was my first post for 2015 thanks for reading!!

Graham

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

 

Balderhead and Shacklesborough

In my last post I had written how the weather had me trying to find shelter beside the River Greta from a howling north westerly wind, but as it often does in these northern parts it soon started to change. With improving conditions I was able to go back to my plan A and start exploring the high moorlands surrounding the lonely top of Shacklesborough at the head of Balderdale. I’ve been to the summit of this gritstone outcrop a couple of times in the past but I wanted to try and photograph it within the greater landscape and try to capture it’s sense of isolation. With my camera bag packed and my boots on I set off along the footpath to Crawlaw Stone Rigg, well I say path there wasn’t much evidence of any path on the ground just miles of rustling moorland grass…  so even better!!  As soon as I made the ridge of high ground above Hunder Beck the pork pie like summit of Shacklesborough appeared on the horizon, and as I climbed higher, far off in the distance Lunehead and the brooding shape of Mickle Fell could be seen. The whole scene filled me with a humbling sense of space, no wonder the Northern Pennines are home to some of England’s last true wild places.

Shaklesbrough

Shacklesborough, Shen-Hao 5×4, 90mm Schneider Angulon with Fompan 200.

From this direction it’s easy to see where maybe (well at least part of) the name Shacklesborough may have come from. The word borough comes from the Anglo-Saxon burg or the Norse Berg meaning fort, and from where I stood it certainly looked like some ancient fortification, with it’s steep craggy sides perched on top of a high spit of land, but where could the word shackles come from I’m not so sure. The noun comes from the old English to fetter or restrain, sober terms indeed to name a distant hill, it could also come from the other old English word scacol meaning tongue of land, Fort on the ridge perhaps?? In many of the Anglo-Saxon poems the ruins left by the Romans and early Britons where often accredited to “the work of gaints” as an eplanation of something which has passed out of memory. Maybe when the people started to settle in these upland areas they saw this place and thought it to be some ancient ring work built by a people long since vanished?

After all these Tolkienesque thoughts of fortresses and long lost kingdoms I decided to move on. By this time the sun had begun to climb higher and had started to burn off the morning clouds. Now for most people this would be the highlight of a nice day in the hills however for a black and white photographer searching for the dark isolation of the fells, sunny blue skies don’t really do it for me, so as I came to the deep gully of Crawlaw Gill I had just enough time to take one more shot before all the cloud had completely gone.

Shadow over Hunder Gill

Shadow Over Crawlaw Gill, Shen-Hao 5×4, 6.5inch Rank and Pullin lens, Fomapan 200.

After this I started to make my way back to where I left my car, it had been a productive day but I still feel like there’s more to explore so as soon as some more favourable weather returns I’ll definitely be back!

Here are a few notes on the photography in this post. The film I used for this trip was Fomapan 200 which I wanted to develope in traditional staining developer called PMK Pyro. It’s a great developer and I used to use it lot in my work because I like the contrast of the negatives it gives me which I feel print very well with my condenser enlarger. Sadly a while ago my usual supplier stopped selling it and I’ve struggled to find a new source, but after a bit of search online the other day I discovered you can now buy a dry kit made by Photographers Formulary from the Imaging Wharehouse which is great news.  The usual development time for the film is 12min at 20c but you need to agitate every 15sec which is great for conventional spiral developing tanks, but I find this a bit of a pain with the Combi-plan tank I use for my 5×4 sheet film, so I doubled the development time to 24min and which meant I only needed to agitate every 30secs which is a lot more managable, dead simple! Other than that everything else was pretty straight forward with all the prints being printed on Foma Chamois paper.

Thanks for reading!

Graham