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, 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, 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.
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!!
Hello, well this is my first real post on my new blog, I have decided to start with a small project I started a few weeks ago. The heavy snow that arrived in the Uk after Christmas lead me to rediscover this incredible short film created in the 1950’s about a steam train trapped in a snowdrift high up on the Pennine fells. To see the film please follow the link!
The film inspired to find what remained of the old railway line where the engine was stranded close to the Stainmore summit. So I decided to create a mini series of photographs based on what I found when I visited the location.
When I got there the weather was bleak, the sky was still heavy with snow and a deep drift lay across the derelict remains of the track bed. I decided to travel light and used a couple of my favourite vintage 120 folding cameras a 6×9 Frauka Rolfix and a Solida III both have Schneider lenses. The film was Kodak TriX 400 which I developed with Prescysol developer.