Going Back

Eliphant Stone

My previous trip to the millstone quarry on Carr Crag had been incredible, but I couldn’t help but feel that the weather had cut my exploration a little too short and I knew there was still a lot more to be discovered. So a few weeks later with some better weather in the offing my dad and I walked down the now familiar track towards the ruins of Flushiemere House. Together we followed the path which slowly wound its way up the small dale past the old mine shop with the aim of reaching the northern most end of the line of crags. Here we hoped to find evidence of the people who visited this remote corner of the Pennines thousands of years before us, and like the millstone carvers that followed them they had left their marks upon its coarse weathered stones. These carvings known as Cup and Ring marks are thought to date to the early Neolithic period around 5,000 years ago just when humans began to cultivate crops and domesticate animals. Their original meanings are now sadly lost in the mists of time though the people who made them seemed to favour certain locations within the landscape. The most common places are on boulders and crags which overlook valleys particularly if there are springs near by, a few marked stones have also been discovered set into streams themselves. Archaeologists have also discovered mounds of burnt material close to certain sites, all these clues are thought to hint at the ritual importance of these areas. It is also worth remembering that the landscape of the Pennines was very different in the Neolithic period. Before the arrival of intensive pastoral farming and mining the dales were densely forested and the valley bottoms often choked with marshes and wetlands, Carr Crags and other similarly rocky outcrops could have formed clear ground above the tree line, a perfect location for hunters to watch the movements of game below or the early farmers to oversee their herds.

Cup

After negotiating our way through the snow-covered peat hags we reach the crags and soon started to see boulders covered in carvings. Ranging from small thumb size peck marks to large soup bowl sized cups that covered the surfaces of the massive stones. The the carvings seemed to be more primitive in their designs compared to the more complex patterns found on the boulders of Barningham Moor to the south but the sheer volume of markings was astonishing.

Surface

We worked our way along the line of the escarpment stopping now and again to examine the boulders as we went till we reached the location of my earlier visit. Now with the better weather conditions it was possible to see the full extent of the workings. Together we must have found over a dozen millstones all in different stages of creation from the roughing out all the way to the finished article. A few of the worked stones had obviously failed during their carving, an unforeseen fault in the fabric of the stone which led to all the carvers labour going to waste. Looking at the scale of the quarrying it left me wondering was this the result of a large workforce, or generations of small groups of people scraping out a living in these tough conditions? Who were these people who toiled up here on this exposed fell side 600 meters above sea level? Neither could I get over the thought that when the day came to stop work for the last time, what must it have felt like to just down tools and leave all their hard work to the elements? Once again Carr Crags left me with more questions than answers, holding onto is secrets until another visit.

I thought I would add little note about the pictures. A recent sort through my darkroom led to the rediscovery of a packet of very out of date Kodak Bromide Grade 2 photographic paper from the 1960’s. To cut a long story short I couldn’t help but give it a go, and I’m happy I did because the results were remarkable. Not only did they have a wonderfully warm tone, but also a fantastic textured finish which shows through even in the scans I’ve posted, sadly I only have two or three sheets left!

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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

 

 

Wind and Rain

It’s been a harsh winter so far with days and days of high winds and rain battering the North of Engalnd and Scotland. Rivers have been bursting their banks and destroying bridges roads and worst of all people’s homes. Like usual I have fallen behind with my blog posts but back in November before the worst of the weather hit I visited the Low Barns Nature Reserve which is run by the Durham Wildlife Trust with the aim of testing out some more expired Polaroid Type 665 a photographer friend had sent me from Sweden. The reserve is nestled in a broad bend of the River Wear and it’s made up of a fantastic landscape of deciduous woodland and reed fringed lakes and ponds, perfect environment for wildlife of all kinds. A brief gap in the weather meant I had chance to explore. By all the flotsam spread in amongst the trees along the river bank it was obvious it had only just started to fall back but it was still very high and was running the colour of strong tea. I slowly worked my way upstream finally reaching the remains of an old ford which had become a torrent of churning water. It provided the perfect subject matter to sum up the weeks weather.

RiverWear

The pack of Polariod worked perfectly producing a lovely fine grain negative full of beauiful tones, starting to really get rehooked on this expired Polariod malarky sadly some stocks are becoming harder and harder to find!

It was a great afternoon spent in a wonderful place but this was only the beginning of the wet weather and soon Cumbria, Yorkshire and now Galloway in the South West of Scoltand were being hit with massive floods, very sadly causing wide spread destruction to some of our most beautiful towns and villages forcing people from their homes.

 

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

 

About Two and Six

Just up the road from were I live is the village of Cockfield, it sits on Cockfield Fell which is a broad piece of rising heathland bounded on it’s northern side by the fast flowing river Gaunless. The fell at almost 350 hectares is England’s largest scheduled ancient monument and within you will find numerous places which show remains of people living here from Iron Age, the Roman period and the Middle Ages. This was also a place of industry, coal mining began here as early as 1303 when a licence was granted by the Bishop of Durham. The mining steadily grew in its importance and by the 19th century the South West Durham coalfield was opened and the population of the area grew significantly, in fact some of my partner’s ancestors were among many who came here for work. The last Coal Mine closed in 1962 when the last of the coal had been finally worked out of the hills. But this place is not just a land resevered for the past, it’s also a living landscape. This is common land shared between the land owners of the parish which is managed by a group called the Fell Reeves. This means that local residents can pay a yearly rent for a “Stint” which gives them the right to graze their animals on the rough pasture of the fell side.

The stockholders are also allowed to build sheds on their stints, so not only will you seen live stock roaming across the land you will also see all kinds of sheds, stables and shacks dotted across the fell. A few years ago I came across a very weathered little pigeon cree standing beside the road, I drove past it time and time again until one morning a thick fog covered the hill the setting seemed perfect.

Come In Number 6 Bromide

Come In Number 6. Fomapan 100, 90mm Schneider Angulon f6,8 lens.

But as I said this is a working landscape and one morning I drove down the lane only to see a work team clearing the ground were Number 6 once stood, and for a few years all that remained was a small patch of bare earth. But this shouldn’t been seen as a negative, it’s a sign that there are people who still use the fell for it’s true purpose maintaining it for future generations.

The other day while driving back from a fishing trip in Teesdale I spotted another timber shed standing on the hill above the river, a number 2 painted on it’s side. Learning from past expirences this time I acted a bit quicker and returned a few weeks later to take some pictures.

Number 2 Shed

Wind Torn. Fomapan 200, Schneider 90mm Angulon f6,8 lens.

There was a stiff north westerly breeze blowing while I was there and the whole structure seemed to rock and sway with it. The elements had certainly took there toll and looking at it I wasn’t sure if another stormy night would beat any work parties and reduce it to a pile of rotten timber and ash-felt. But maybe when it does collapsed or is pulled down somebody will decided it’s a good spot to build something new and the circle will begin again.

While doing a bit of research for this post I came across a number of interesting articles on Cockfield Fell, there is a lot of information on the Keys to the Past website (which is always very useful) and the Northern Echo has a couple of interesting pieces from past publication. Here is a link to one which includes an incredible local poem which dates from March 12th 1878 when the fell must have seen it’s most intense period of heavy industry..

Bleak and Charmless…the fell is a hard place for all.

Cheers

Graham