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

 

Advertisements

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

Looking Back to a trip to the far North.

The other day while looking through an old paper box full of prints trying to find something Helen could use for Christmas cards I came across a load of prints from my journey around Iceland. All the photographs where printed for my book The Bones of the Sea which was published on blurb.  The pictures where taken in 2007 when I was lucky to be able to join one of my photographic hero’s Bill Schwab on one of his workshops to the far north. There where five other guys joining me for this journey Jerry Conway, David Bram, Dan Henderson, Tim Rudman, David (Ike) EisenLord and Clay Harmon all of them very skilled photographers and great people to be stuck in a van with for week!

These prints are just a few of the many I took but I’ve been wanting to post some on my blog for a long time but a little while ago the hard drive failed on my old PC so all of the files on it where lost (that’s digital technology for you!) so it was really great to find these prints.

Hall of Mountains

Hall Of Mountains, Stokksnes, Hofn

Sand Dune

Sand Dune, Stokkenes.

Lake

Myvatn, Northeast Icleand.

Clearing Clouds

Clearing Clouds, near Skagafjörður, Northern Iceland.

BlackSand

Black Sand and the Skagi Peninsula, North Iceland.

Wind blown grass

Waving Grass, Hunafjörður, Northern Icleand.

BlackKirk

Black Kirk of Búðir, Snæfellsnes.

Prow and Knott

High and Dry and Grundarfjörður, Snæfellsnes.

Because of hand luggage restrictions at the time I could take a small camera bag (I didn’t want to risk anything thing too valuable in the hold) on the plane with me, that meant restricting myself to only a couple of cameras,  my old Rollicord TLR and a much more modern Mamiya 7 which had the benefit of  being very light and having interchangeable lenses. By the end of the 10 I had unbelievably shot 60 roles of Ilford HP5 film, my cameras where almost glowing, but it was hard not to take photographs when every day brought new places to explore. It was a great trip and a really great experience to meet Bill and all the other guys Iceland was an adventure I will never forget.

Cheers

Graham

Within the Landscape

While I was out testing the new Voigtlander beast I also took along my little Rolleicord TLR camera. A recent discovery of using lighter fluid to clean and lubricate sticking shutters has meant a host of my old cameras springing back into life after only a couple of drops of this magic medicine. The last few times I used the Rollei I had loads of misfires and fogged frames, but after a few little drops of lighter fluid the shutter was once again fully operational. I also had another happy discovery, while searching through a draw for a cable release I came across a little leather rollei case containing a set of Rolleinar 3 close up lenses. By adding these additional lenses (one for the taking lens and another for a viewing lens) means you can get much closer to your subject matter. These are handy because the humble little Rolleicord can only really focus on an object about 80cm away, but by fitting  these extra lenses to the camera you can focus right down to something 20cm away…..I know exciting stuff!!

Susan and Joana 005

Not only are they a useful little attachment they are also a superb quality lens and I was stunned by the sharpness and detail of the pictures they produced. It was great fun being able to take my little camera out again and use it in a whole new way, it really got my mind racing with thoughts of new photo possibilities. Here are a couple of the best shots of the day.

flotsum

Winter Flotsam, Hp5+ developed in Prescyol, printed on Foma Chamois.

Wire PostT Crop

Litchen Post, HP5+ developed in Prescysol, printed on Foma Chamois.

Thanks

Graham