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

 

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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 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.

 

 

 

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!!!