Millstone Grit

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.

Millstones

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.

 

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The last Home of Holgate

It’s hard to think that in twenty-first century England there are still places which can be considered to be truly remote, when for many of us it may seem such a small and over populated island. But once you venture beyond the main dales roads of the Pennines into the deep folds and hollows that make up its vast hinterland of fell and moorland you can still find abandoned cottages and farmsteads where the changing world, with all its economic pressures, has made it impossible to scrape out a living within this harsh environment. Holgate is one such place, what was once a busy little hamlet is now a collections of broken barns and houses left to the mercy of the elements.

Locked Door

The Locked Door. Fomapan 100 5×4 90mm Angulon lens, Salt Print.

The settlement of Holgate like many others in the dales was always a community on the edge. It existed within a marginal environment and to make a living the farmers had to scratch their fields and pastures from the moorland around them. This practice of enclosing and improving parts of the open fell was known as Intaking and it was the endeavour and hard work of farmers and labourers of Holgate and similar upland farmers that kept the wilderness beyond their dry stone walls at bay. But this was a working community and the farmers were supported by a host of professional people. Records from 1841 show that 26 people called this little hamlet their home including a schoolmaster,  shoemaker, mason, labourers and a dressmaker. Holgate together with Helwith and Kersey Green made up the New Forest township in the parish of Kirkby Ravensworth and in 1822 the parish records state that there were 67 people living within the 2,000 acres of common land and moorland, now only 10 people live and work in the whole area and Holgate itself is completely abandoned.

Broken glass

Broken Pane, Fomapan 100 120 6×9. Salt Print.

When you visit this lonely place in its advanced state of decay it’s hard to believe that it has been less than 25 years since the last resident locked their door and said farewell. It hasn’t taken long for nature to take its toll on the building. As you peer through open doorways and windows, as we did back in April, you can still see the remains of home comforts, a few sticks of old furniture, the fire places and kitchen stoves. The last house to be inhabited was Holgate house itself, built in 1741 the initials of its first owner the wealthy yeoman Leonard E. Spenceley are still proudly carved into the lintel above the front door, and until the 1990’s it was still a working farm. But now the roof slates have fallen rain water has seeped in and brought down ceilings. Moth-eaten curtains now hang in tatters from broken window panes, and soon it will be impossible for anyone to gain shelter in what was obviously once a grand little house.

The last Home

The Last Home. Fomapan 100 5×4, 90mm Angulon lens. Salt Print.

It was fascinating to visit and explore Holgate and soak up the gothic atmosphere of the decay, but always in the back our minds was the thought that this was once someone’s home. These places are time capsules showing us a glimpse of the past. But who knows how long they will remain until the elements finish the work they have started and reduce them to a pile of stone foundations.

A Journey into Mirkwood

mirkwood stream

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 Blog

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.

 

In a World of Rust

World of Rust

An ancient tractor sits crab like, slowly sinking into the gravel, surrounded by the flotsam of last winter’s storms, with nothing to protect it from the elements other then a battered old tarp lashed down with frayed blue nylon rope. Along the coastline of Britain there are dozens of these aging machines which for decades have been used to haul small fishing boats from the surging tides. To the passer by it must seem dead, redundant, a relic from a long done industry, but beneath scraps of faded paint and flaking rust, black treacle like grease and gear oil has kept the salt and grit at bay, protecting it’s bright metal innards. Maybe one day soon it will cough and bark back into life, it’s cracked sun bleached tyres breaking free of the sands grip , to rumble down the beach once again to were surf meets the sore.

Rolleicord TLR, Expired Agfa APX 100 film developed in Tanol for 13 minutes and split grade printed on Ilford Warmtone paper.  

It’s that Time of Year Again!

2016christmas-card

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!

fallonmag1

Once again Garrett Fallon and Nick Fallowfield-Copper have done sterling work putting together another great edition which is a available here http://fallonsangler.net/product/fallons-angler-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…

mirkwood-framed

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!

All the best,

Graham

 

 

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

 

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