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.
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!
A day off work and for once the weather looked like it was going to turn my way, a perfect excuse to head out up the dale to take some pictures. Over the last few weeks I’ve spent most of my time either working in the darkroom creating prints for my gallery Gallerina or sad to say desperately trying to catch a salmon before the fishing season ended, thankfully I was pretty successful with the first one but not so much with the fish. Anyway it was a great feeling to be heading out again with my camera and though there were a few days in which I could flog the river into a foam in the pursuit of a silver tourist I think I made the right choice. Although pretty soon it was obvious that the weather was not going to be as kind as I’d hoped when gusts of wind started to rock the car as I drove along the moor road. With the higher tops pretty much out of the question I needed a plan B, somewhere a little more sheltered from the elements. A quick change in direction saw me heading South towards the village of Bowes. Beneath the village and it’s dramatic ruined castle sat in the corner of the Roman Fort of Lavatris. It’s pretty hard to find a place with more history than Bowes and and in a more dramatic position stood beside the old Roman roads that crossed Stainmore something that wasn’t lost on artists and writers over the centuries such as Sir Walter Scott who in 1832 created his poem Bowes Tower which was illustrated in watercolour by William Turner. It has to be said that it’s very hard to find a better place to spend an autumn morning than on the banks of a wooded moorland stream and the Greta must be one of the best. A short walk along it’s banks and I could hear the wind whistling through the upper branches of the trees but around me was still and quiet apart from the sound of the stream which was rattling around it’s boulders, I soon came to my destination the picturesque waterfall of Mill Force, which takes it’s name from a mill that once stood beside it. There are still some substantial remains left to explore, one of the most dramatic is the two concrete pillars that must have carried a walkway or sluice gates to control the flow, they now stand like standing stones, scarred from the battles with years of savage winter spates, slowly being eaten away by the river.
Mill Force Piers, HP5+ taken with Shen-Hao 5×4 and 90mm Schneider Angulon with MPP 6×9 120 back.
I had one last treat as I was taking down my camera gear, suddenly a few salmon and sea trout started to leap up the falls, one after the other making their way upstream towards their spawning grounds. The Greta is a tributary of the River Tees, a river who’s estuary was so polluted by heavy instustry that it’s once prolific runs of salmon were reduced to nill and it’s only in recent years that they have started to return, so to see them running is always a privilege, and I didn’t miss my fishing rod once….honest!!