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.
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.
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.
Many of you may not know but photography is not my only passion, I have another which has sometimes kept me away from the darkroom when I should have been working and sometimes away from my bed when I should have been sleeping, and that is the gentle art of fishing. So I was over the moon when I was given the opportunity to combine my two passions and create an article for the wonderful fishing journal Fallon’s Angler. I had a fantastic time exploring some of my favourite rivers with my 5×4 camera and a fishing rod while trying to capture some of the essence of being on the bankside and fond memories of fishing with my grandfather.
If you want to find out more and maybe purchase a copy to read for yourself please follow this link
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.
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.
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.
In my last post I was reminiscing about the loss of Polaroid pos/neg film, especially my favourite the Type 665 pack. Well the devil makes use for idle hands and it wasn’t long before I couldn’t just sit and dream about past triumphs and I was searching through a popular online shopping site in search of a pack of Type 665. At first I didn’t have much luck, mainly because, as stocks of this film become ever more rare the price goes up but I kept on looking and eventually found a pack which sounded promising. It was pretty old film and had technically expired in August 1990! But in the description it stated the pack was unopened and had been stored in a fridge, so I decided to take a chance and buy it.
There are a few risks in buying any old expired film particularly when it comes to instant type films such as polaroid, if the pack of film hasn’t been stored correctly the liquid chemicals which do the developing and fixing can dry out and make the material completely useless. All these thoughts went through my mind as I set off to the edge of Hamsterley Forest a few miles up the road from my home in County Durham. Last Autumn I had driven past the top edge of the forest and I was struck by the stark forlorn looking birch trees left behind by the felling of the pine trees, it seemed to be the perfect spot close to home to try out my new film.
The Shen-Hao loaded and ready to go.
It was with a great deal of trepidation I pulled the tab of the first sheet of polaroid from the camera back (kindly loaned to me from my old college tutor John Quinn) and I had no idea it would work as well as it did!! I only took a few exposures wanting to save the rest of the film for another day, storing the neg part of the sheets in water to wash off the masses of black gloop that covers them after you have peeled them apart.
Once washed and dried I contact printed my favourite of the two negs on my usual Fomapan Chamois fiber based paper. I think this a negative I will definitely return to!
I took this photograph of Middle End Farm in Teesdale many years ago just after leaving college. At the time I couldn’t afford my own large format camera so I borrowed a good friends MPP, neither did I have the money to buy sheet film but luckily for me I had a small stash of Polaroid Type 665 Pos/Neg film kept at the pack of the fridge from my students days! So I spent a great rainy afternoon exploring the landscape of this fantastic dale which in future years was to have such a massive influence on my work.
It was a lovely film with beautiful soft dream like tones and of course being instant you knew how it turned out straight away! But at the time I didn’t realise how much trouble Polaroid was in and when it went under many of my favourite photographic mediums including Type 665 went with it! Looking back if only I had the foresight to stock pile as much as I could! But there’s light at the end of the tunnel a new instant 5×4 pos/neg film is now on sale called New55 and I can’t wait!!