Sunday, 31 May 2009

Bogle Hole and disasters

Went out to Bogle Hole to try a shot I'd not done before. I was looking for a sunset but it was a clear sky, so this was just a recce really.

I love the names on the stretch between Cawfields and Winshields Crag and keep determining to find out the wherefores of them.

I parked up at Caw Gap just as someone was coming through the gate, a very nice American lady Brenda walking with her brother Ernie (and thier Mom on the flatter bits).

It is lovely to have so many tourists this year.

I headed off up the track, not one of the best for walking but I got to the spot that was my destination for the evening and set up. As always I was doing my 'maybe the view a bit to the right will be better' tracking back and forward when disaster struck, I lost my footing and went flying.

The camera was around my neck and it banged into my ribs, bounced to give me a swift upercut and knocked my specs off. The tripod went under me and I ended up with a wrist so bruised and swollen it was hard to move it.

I also ended up lying in one of the grooves worn in the path, head down and at a 45 degree angle, I was like a beached whale, what a state.

I eventually managed to right myself, damage to the camera remote, mud on the filters and me.

Do you know what I was thinking?

If that darned Google Earth satallite is recording this I'll die of embarrasement!

It did make me wonder just how many of the Roman soldiers building the Wall were killed or injured. It has to have been quite a dangerous site, with large bits of rock being cut and hauled up to 12 metres, soldiers must have fallen or had rocks fall on them. No Elf 'n' Safety in those days although I imagine the commanders had to account for losses.

I was actually very lucky, I didn't actually break a bone and was able to drive home but it is dangerous so please be careful.

Catch you later.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Chesters Fort

Now you may be forgiven for thinking there's only one fort on Hadrian's Wall worth visiting, that was certainly the impression I had.
All the publicity seems to be aimed at Housesteads but yesterday I went out to Chesters Fort, near Chollerford, primarily to see the museum I must admit.
But what a site, prime location, beautifully maintained, laid out with grass paths cut between the remains and first class display boards telling you exactly what you're looking at.

The star of the show has to be the Roman Bath house, right on the banks of the River Tyne and a stunning location, those Romans knew how to pick the best spot.

Chesters Fort is also much more user friendly for anyone with a disability, much flatter ground so wheelchair access is possible to most parts of the site. I was told they're working on making the museum easier to access too, at the moment it has steps.
I loved the museum so many large alters and stones, display cases with glass, pottery, tools and weapons all numbered with a book that explains what they are and where they were found. One or two of the pottery pieces looked very like some I made in my pottery class at schol - who'd be an archaeologist :)

Lots of families on the site which covers a vast area so the kids can run around and be noisy if they want without spoiling things for other visitors, each child is given a quiz paper and they were looking for the answers in the remains.
It's also a great spot for a picnic, there is a cafe though if you want a drink.

Yesterday it was very hot and the site is open so I was wishing I'd taken a sunhat - remember your suncream.

My conclusion is that Chesters Fort is a real gem of a place to visit and I'll be back.

It's an English Heritage site details here:

Tuesday, 26 May 2009


What wonderful weather were having. For a change bank Holiday Monday was a scorcher. It was the day of the Northumberland Show and thousands of people turned up, including my better half. I had planned to go but caught a bug and was too ill, I missed a great day I was told. Agricultural Shows are a great day out for all the family, each of the farming communities have them and there's something for everyone.

I might have missed the show but I've been out and about on the Wall with my camera and nature has been putting on a show, just for me it seems.

I went out to Kings Hill the other night hoping for a sunset. I love the names of the places along this section of Hadrian's Wall between Housesteads and Sewingshields, there's Kennel Crag, Clew Hill, Kings Hill and Kings Wicket and I always wonder why they have those names. I know the King is King Arthur, yes the 'round table' one, he was actually a Northumbrian King!

To the North of Kings Hill we have Kings Crag and Queens Crag, a lovely area to walk with masses of history attached. If you look at the OS map you'll see markings for standing stones and bronze age burial sites along with a few Roman remains like fish ponds. NY791693

The view from Kings Hill is one of my favourites, it's looking west along the line of all the crags, past Housesteads, Cuddys Crag, Hotbank Crag and all the way to the high point at Winshields Crag. It's open access land so I went through the gate at Kings Wicket and follwed a sheep track alongside the north face of Hadrian's Wall, hoping to catch the sun on the stones of the Wall and I wasn't disappointed.

Sewingshields isn't one of the busiest spots but it has some lovely walks AND it has the Old Repeater Station to call in for coffee and a generous piece of cake. This was once a BT Telephone Repeater Station and it's now a B&B run by 'the laconic Les' as one journalist referred to him. He's one of the characters and a visit to his establishment should be on your must do list.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

While you were sleeping.

I was late back from last nights sunset shoot. It started well with interesting clouds but somewhere near the end fizzled out into a little yellow patch - some you win, some you lose.
As I was driving home I noticed the temperature had dropped to 4 degrees and if that didn't rise overnight I was on for a misty sunrise.

The new alarm clock is working well, and I set it for a 3.30am start, you will never know how tempted I was to switch it off and ignore it when it rang, so darned cheerfully, this morning.

The velux window of the bathroom was misted on the outside, opening it for a quick look out of the window I could see stars.

Just the conditions I've been waiting for.

Pulling into the car park at Steel Rigg I saw someone was parked up overnight in a van, I wondered if it was another photographer but the curtain were drawn so I guessed not. Overnight parking isn't allowed, but people do it anyway.

On Steel Rigg (NY751676) the mist was swirling, I did my usual running back and forward with a tripod trick, but today there were only sheep to watch me.

I love these conditions and shoot away like a machine gunner, my theory being if I take enough shots I'm bound to get one I like. I'd filled half a card before the sun actually came up.

Initially there was no cloud so the sun was a bright ball, I have a bit of black card that I use as an anti-flare thing, waving it about until the bright dots go from my viewfinder. Great when it's not windy but I can't tell you how many times I've photograhed a waving black card. The sun by now was catching the mists bathing them in a yellow light, catching the rocks of the crag and bringing thenm to life, it's so beautiful.
Once again I was the only photographer out on Steel Rigg. One of the magazines had an interview with a well known photographer, whose name escapes me for the minute, he listed the best places in GB and Steel Rigg was his best sunrise spot. I don't mind having it to myself but someone good could make so much more of the conditions than I can.
I love the way the low light was catching the cows in the mist giving them long shadows, I took some shots but they need some work. I'm useless at Photoshopping so it might be a while before they get done.

Cloud started to come in and as normal, behind me were beautiful stormy clouds bathed with red light, I had nothing to put in front of them but somehow with all that was going on in front of me I didn't mind too much.

5.45am and the cloud was building and I decided to head home (I can't tell you how tempted I was to wake the van people up) by 6am I was home and the sky was completely overcast.

I'd seen the best of the day and am looking forward to a repeat performance tomorrow.
Enjoy the Bank Holiday and I'll catch you later.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Bluster and Blisters

I called in to see Alison at Walltown yesterday, she runs the shop there selling a range of things that anyone walking the Hadrian's Wall Path might need.
She was having a really busy day with walkers popping in for sandwiches and something to drink, or in a couple of cases visitors asking for directions to 'The Wall'.

One or two people commented that there weren't enough places like the shop at Walltown, to stock up on food along the trail. I hadn't thought about it before but they are right. We have towns, like Haltwhistle, along the way but they require a detour, probably eating into a good three or four hours of any days walking.

One American lady thought a series of food vans along the route would be the answer but that's not something in keeping with the ethos of the National Parks. The B&B's do packed lunches but that doesn't help the campers or people staying in camping barns or the youth hostels.

So if you're planning to walk Hadrian's Wall Path it's something you need to think about.

Lots of overseas visitors already this year, all seemed to be enjoying the walk although there were some complaints that when the wind is blustery it makes walking hard. I did notice that almost everyone who came into the shop pounced with delight on those special plasters for blisters - and I can tell you from first hand experience they are very good. Nothing worse than walking with blistered feet.

Walltown (NY669659) is a natural place to stop, not only because you can get refreshments and a toilet break ( immaculate toilets) but the NNPA have provided plenty of picnic tables or mown grass to sit on for your break, you could also appear on the webcam.

Lots of ducks about to help you with your crusts too.

Catch you later.

Monday, 18 May 2009

17th May 2009

It seems ages since I was up for a sunrise so I set my alarm on Sunday and by 3.45am was on my way to Hadrian's Wall.

I'm trying to take at least two sunrise shots each month, so I'll know exactly where the sunrises for future years. I headed up the track from the reb box layby ( left over from the days when there were telephone boxes) to Cuddys Crag for the classic view along the Wall to Housesteads and beyond.

In just a couple of weeks the sun's arc has taken it from coming up just over the trees on Housesteads Crag, to now rising over the crag at Sewingshields, so it's moving quickly.

I prefer it when the sun is further north to Hadrian's Wall, because as it rises the light catches the Crags and the Wall stones.

I stood up on Cuddys Crag, just me and the cows from Bradley Farm out there to enjoy a wonderful morning. (plus the white bag of stones still looking like a dead sheep)

In the six years I've been photographing Hadrian's Wall I have only once met another photographer up for the sunrise on Cuddys Crag. NY783686

I bet up the Northumbrian Coast at Bamburgh it was standing room only yesterday.

The light was amazing with a real 'watercolour sky' I zoomed in on Sewingshields Crag as the sky was colouring up, it's just so beautiful.

With any sunrise nothing much happens for a while, then it all happens at once and I'm composing shots and taking pictures, desperate to catch every second. Perhaps it lasts just 10 minutes then it's all over.

Yesterday the sun came up in a big golden ball and soon it was too bright for wide angled shots, but I waited around wanting to catch a shot of the sunlight glancing off the crags at Housesteads.

Eventually I could see the shot I was after, I carry a bit of black card about 10x8" and I use this to prevent the dreaded flare on the lens for these photographs, it's cheap and it works - well most of the time.

Happy with my morning I headed back to the car passing the sheep and lambs as they were getting up for the day, 5.45am and I was on my way back home, passing a weasel, rabbits and a roe deer buck on the way.
I just love this place :)

Catch you later.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Where to go..

Sometimes when I leave home to go and take photographs I don't actually have a destination in mind.

Although I suppose the high crags part of Hadrian's Wall doesn't cover that many miles, the way the land form is means the conditions can differ dramatically mile by mile.

As I head through Greenhead and up Glenwhelt Bank I always have a sense of anticipation. Of course I have favourite spots but it seems to me the list of favourites changes almost as much as the weather. At the moment it seems to be the area around Cawfields that draws me, and so it was when I last set out for a sunset.

This time I parked at Caw Gap and headed west along the Wall to the high point above Thorny Doors. NY724669
What I particularly like about this spot is the fact you have a good view east or west, because while the sun set to the west often, in the best pantomime traditionfind the best cloud colour is 'behind you'.

When I did this stretch of walk with the archaeologist I spoke of imagining the soldiers who built the Wall and on these lovely nights my imagination runs wild.

I'd thought the Wall had a finished height of 2 metres, but no it was actually 12 metres high, up on the ramparts it must have been like being on top of the world.

Oh, for a time machine - to view Hadrian's Wall as it was when new, golden stones catching the rays of the setting sun, soldiers on patrol, locals going about their business feeling protected.

It's amazing to touch the stones adding your 'layer' to all those other hands that have touched that same stone, down through 1800 years since it was first laid in place. As a little aside I was also told the Romans didn't have wheelbarrows, so that's a lot of stone to haul about manually.

I'm a romantic, I know but places do have an atmosphere and for me the atmosphere here at Cawfields is always a happy one.

Come see for yourself :)

Catch you later.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Wildflowers and Romans

Today I decided to visit the milecastle at Poltross in Gilsland.

I suppose because it's on my doorstep, so to speak, I've passed it without taking much notice of it yet it is the best preserved Milecastle on Hadrian's Wall. You can see the form it would have taken, the oven and stairs up to the ramparts are still in evidence.

The Victorians put the railway right next to it and I suppose it's a blessing they didn't build a few yards to the south or there'd be nothing left.

Locally I've heard it referred to as the 'King's Stables' but I have no idea where that name came from.

The Milecastle lies above the Poltross Burn and, at this time of the year, the little valley the burn runs through is awash with wildflowers.

I headed into the wood there, and it was magical, bluebells and the pretty white stitchwort flowers. Butterflies dancing from flower to flower in the sunshine and the sounds of the burn as it makes it's way down to join the River Irthing.

I easily counted 15 different wildflowers and plan to go back with my macro lens to get some close up photographs.

I know I've said it before but so many people set themselves a searing pace for walking the Wall and don't have time to enjoy the sights and sounds along the way.

Catch you later.

Monday, 11 May 2009


Well one thing in favour of sunsets is that you generally have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen when you set out, unlike a sunrise!

On Saturday we had a lovely day and as it was drawing to a close, I could see the potential for a nice sunset. I've bought a new sling pack camera bag, just big enough for my filters and it would be a good chance to try it out.

I checked the Hadrian's Wall webcams and noticed that the Walltown webcam was showing what looked like swans on the lake there. Thinking they would add something to a shot I had in mind I decided to make my destination Walltown.
I generally allow myself an hour and a half before the actual sun sets, as the light can be really beautiful as the sun gets lower in the sky.

Arrived at Walltown to find the swans determined to stick to the bit of the lake that was in shadow and, as I hadn't brought anything that resembled food, they couldn't be coaxed out to a brighter area.

I headed up the hill and onto the Hadrian's Wall Path, stopping at the hawthorn tree which is probably almost as often photographed as the famous sycamore tree.

Lovely light picking out the contours.

The wind was fierce and at one point I got blown over onto my back with the tripod on top of me. No harm done but I made sure not to go too near the edge of the crags.

As I was setting up a shot another photographer hove into view. He was dashing about full of the joy of this wonderful light and trying to capture as much of it as he could. He was staying in Carlisle for the weekend, so had to dash off back for dinner while I stayed on for the actual going down of the sun.

Walltown is a great place, lots of parking and easy access (if you're mobile) to some great bits of Wall, and the most spectacular views west to the Solway and Scotland.

Eventually the sun set with some fire in the sky to make it all worth while.

I have to admit knowing that I can 'pop' out to a great stretch of Hadrian's Wall on a whim makes me feel so lucky.

Hope you're enjoying this lovely weather.

Catch you later.

PS We found a walking pole at Cawfields Quarry a week or so ago. If it's yours please contact the NNPA Visitor Centre at Once Brewed and they'll give you my contact details.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

By the light of the silvery moon

Sometimes I'm up so early the moon is still about.

I was looking through my pictures and came across a shot taken, very recently on Cuddys Crag, of the full moon and it remined me of something I wanted to blog to you about.

When I first came to Gilsland, six years ago, I was delighted by the starry skies we get here. On a clear night the stars look so close you could almost touch them.

I downloaded an astronomy map and was able to identify several of the better known constellations by eye. A telescope would be even better!

Pity those of you living in cities don't get that chance, light pollution kills any chance of star gazing.

I know there's an observatory in Keilder but I'd guess, once you're outside of Haltwhistle's zone of light pollution, up on Hadrian's Wall you'd get a pretty good view of the night skies.

The air here is good and clear, you only have to look at the amount of lichens growing on the Wall to know that's a fact.

We've also had wonderful displays of the Northern Lights (allegedly :) , and despite my young neighbours trying to wake me up to see them, I slept on through the whole display, much to my disgust.

I've always wanted to see the Northern Lights so I'm hoping this year could be my year.

So..... if you're a star gazer this could be the place to be.

Hate to brag but we really do have everything to offer on Hadrian's Wall.

Catch you later.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

I can see for miles...

Some people say that Hadrian's Wall was built as a defensive measure, others say it was built as a way of controlling movement, a sort of customs post.

What is indisputable is that the Roman Army chose a great place to build Hadrian's Wall, using the natural contours and landform to accentuate the mighty Wall riding on top.

Todays slot belongs to the zigzag tree high above Simonsburn Common between Chesters Fort and Limestone Corner. There are bits of the Wall still in existence on this stretch but I chose to picture the hawthorn tree that's been growing on the line of the Wall for many years. One lady told me her son used to look out for the tree as he went back and forward to school each day, he's now in his 40's. The views behind it show the flatter plains to the north and, for me, the tree illustrates the harsh conditions the soldiers would encounter as the winds roared up the valley.

Just to the west of this tree is Limestone corner where huge boulders have been strewn like dice across the hill. Some of the stones bear the marks where the Roman builders tried to break them apart. Pass this and the Hadrian's Wall Path takes you over Fozzy Moss towards Sewingshields Crag, walking on the crest of the Vallum Ditch for some of the way. b A flatter stretch and perhap some might not think it very interesting but because it's a moss and there's water, in the summer months your feet are buzzed by beautifully coloured red of turquoise Darter's.

Catch you later.

Monday, 4 May 2009

out with an expert

I was recently invited to walk on Hadrian's Wall with an archaeologist and, at the weekend, we met up at Cawfields.

We decided to walk east from Cawfields car park, along the Hadrian's Wall Path towards Steel Rigg, a great walk for amazing views in both directions.

Just out of Cawfields car park you come onto the Hadrian's Wall Path at Hole Gap, and there before you is Milecastle 42, it's not that long ago I found 3 'Roman soldiers' there enjoying a picnic lunch. They were part of a re-enactment group, and while some people might think it's a bit silly to get dressed up in costume I thought they were very brave.

Up onto Cawfield Crags, from here you can see the Vallum and Military Way, oft talked about but seldom seen in such a clear way.

As is normal it was windy up on the Wall and my companion told me it was considered unmanly for Romans to wear trousers, can't have been much fun for them with that wind whistling around their nether regions. No wonder one of the Vindolanda tablets record a young man begging his mother to send him more warm undergarments.

Up and down the dip that's called Thorney Doors and up again towards Caw Gap, looking back west from this high point you can see how the Wall winds its way to Walltown. It also gives an idea of how easy it would have been for soldiers manning the Forts and Milecastles along the way to signal each other.
From Caw Gap looking east you see the Wall climbing up over Bogle Hole and onto the Winshields Crag, at 1132 feet it's the highest point on the whin sill of Hadrian's Wall.
Views east from Winshields, are wonderful yet so often I see walkers, head down just striding out determined to cover as many miles as possible without actually taking in any of the landscape around them.

The Wall is covered with mosses and lichen, wild flowers grow in the shelter of the Wall and butterflies are drawn to the flowers. I prefer the tortoise approach, slow but steady, stopping now and again to enjoy nature.

It seems to me that the Hadrian's Wall Path is busier than ever this year so if you're just thinking about a trip here please book up now as I'm guessing many of the B&B's will be full if you leave it too long.
We came down to Steel Rigg and then walked back to Cawfields using the road and footpaths to the north of the Wall, giving us views of the crags and perhaps an appreciation of the skills of the builders of Hadrian's Wall. It also made it a circular walk which I prefer.
I really appreciated being out with an expert, lots of my questions answered, many of my romantic bubbles burst :) but it made me wonder if it was something an enterprising person could do, organise walks with various experts.

Durham University are doing various studies on the way people use Hadrian's Wall

Today's picture shows the view you get as you come down from Winshields to Steel Rigg.

Catch you later.

Friday, 1 May 2009

1st May 2009

I've got a new alarm clock and it went off at 4.15am just as I'd ordered. Some rain on the window but broken cloud so I had high hopes for a May Day sunrise shot.

As I was heading out I spotted a neighbour of mine up and out at this silly hour, Georgia's a Morris Dancer with the Hexhamshire Lasses and was on her way to dance in the May Day sunrise.

I wanted to climb up onto Peel Crags this morning, at 11 degrees it was too warm for mist but it's a lovely, and popular viewpoint. I passed through a herd of Galloway cows from Hotbank Farm, they seem to like the shelter the Wall gives as I often see them there early in the morning. A bit further along and I came across a little flock of sheep with lambs and hoped they'd hang around for a photograph.
I set up above Castle Gap, including the milecastle in the dip, Highshields Crag and Crag Lough in the shot. One of the classic views you see of Hadrian's Wall. (NY759677)

The sun was due to rise at 5.33am but by then the cloud had thickened and there were a few spots of rain. As often happens, to the west there was a little bit of colour and patches of red sky immediately overhead but nothing I could include in a shot. Photography requires lots of hanging around waiting for light, or heavy rain, confirmation that it's time to pack up and try another day.

I could see rain heading my way over the Pennines so I decided to wander back along the top and take some shots of the cows with the Wall. I was setting up when one of the bullocks decided my tripod would make a really useful scratching post, I had to hang on for dear life but once he was finished he allowed me to take his photograph.

While all this was going on some beams of sunlight broke through the clouds, not enough to pick out the stones of Hadrian's Wall but worth a shot or two. (NY755675)

Back along the Hadrian's Wall Path, past the new stone walls, which probably won't last long with the sheep jumping back and forward over them. Down the crag face path, always a bit tricky and up the hill again to the car park. As I crested the hill there were another round of sunbeams for me to photograph, nothing with the WOW factor but quite nice photo's for my smugmug site.

This part of Hadrian's Wall is one of the most popular parts for visitors, not the folk Walking the Wall but people just out for the day, it's really the only part I see families with young children which is such a shame when the Wall has so much to offer.

Lots of rooks calling, a wren, a wheatear, pheasant, geese from Greenlea Lough and something that has a call like someone scraping a spoon down a washboard, maybe partridge?
I'll have to research that one.

Home for toast and honey by 7 oclock.

Catch you later.