Sunday, 30 August 2009

The golden hour

Another sunrise, it's coming over the horizon at
about 6.10am now so it's not quite as much of a struggle to get up early.
A clear sky with stars everywhere except right in front of me, meaning the sun was coming up through a big dark cloud.
I climbed up to the viewpoint on Winshields Crag (NY743675) and enjoyed the gentle sounds of a morning coming to life. The sky coloured up in a subtle watercolour effect and I happily recorded the scene.
From here you get a panoramic view to the east, over Crag Lough, Hotbank Crag, way over to Sewingshields and beyond. It's a great spot but because people generally walk the Wall from east to west, people simply don't turn around and miss out.
Then it all seemed to be over and I headed down the hill thinking of breakfast, but, as often happens, the light changed.
I did a very quick about face and headed back up the hill at as fast a pace as I can manage, arthritic knees and all, every step of the way I'm repeating my mantra to the light, 'please wait, please, please wait'.
I passed the two lambs at a trot and was amazed when I got my tripod set up to find them posing so nicely for me, probably stunned by my antics.
It's always difficult shooting photographs straight into the sun, you always get flare, I carry a bit of black card to shield the lens, sometimes it works and with this shot here I had only one intrusive flare spot to clone out. But the Wall is just so beautiful bathed in golden light I just had to try to capture it.
I took loads of shots, a big flock of finches were landing on the Wall then flitting up into the light like sparkling butterflies, moving to quickly for the camera shutter speed to record them, but beautiful to see.
Thank goodness for digital at least I can take photographs with a chance they'll work, it seems to me you have so much more latitude than was ever available with film.
I love being out when the world wakes up and usually I'm alone but I could see another photographer high up on Peel Crags. When I got back down to the car park at Steel Rigg I stopped for a chat with his wife. I think maybe my car coming into the car park had woken them up, he's a professional photographer called Don Bishop from Somerset, and I look forward to seeing what he managed to get of our bit of Northumberland - he's also a renowned steam train photographer and author of several books.
There was another Pro photographer at Steel Rigg but he was still asleep in his tent (camping on the overspill car park - and you all know what I think of that sort of behaviour!)
until we woke him up gossiping. He obviously wasn't a morning person and was grumpy, but then you do meet all sorts on Hadrian's Wall.
Catch you later :)

Saturday, 29 August 2009


Nice sunny day on Tuesday so I took the chance to get out in the fresh air and headed off to Sewingshields Crag.

It's coming to the end of the school holidays and everyone seems to have headed up here to Hadrian's Wall at the first hint of sunshine, the car park at Housesteads was completely full, fortunately I know of a space not to far from Sewingshields and managed to park.

It's a steady climb up to Kings Wicket, the hay had been baled up in rolls and I spent some time trying to get a picture against the blue sky, but the angles were wrong. Grass hay doesn't have the same wow factor that a nice straw roll has does it?

Once up on the Hadrian's Wall Path I was amazed at the numbers of people about, this is usually one of the quieter spots, but in an hour I must have been passed by thirty or forty people.

Great news for the local economy.

(But here comes the grumpy bit!)

I was, however, dismayed by the numbers of people climbing over the Wall, it seems the signposts at Kings Wicket and Kennel Crag by the wicket gates need to be clearer. Folk were going through these gates, which are for the Penine Way, discover they're on the wrong side of the Wall and instead of retracing their steps they climb over.

At this point the Wall is also a field boundary and I wonder how these folk would feel if someone went climbing over their garden fence -I'm sure they'd object.

Of course if they'd been watching the Look North programme the other night they'd have seen Paul Paxton on one of his 'great short journeys' out at Cawfields and standing on the Wall - not setting a good example.

A real autumnal feel in the air now, where has the year gone?

Soon my season for sunset shots will begin as the sun moves back around towards the line of the Wall.

It's a lovely season with low light and gorgeous colours, already the trees are laden with berries, are we in for a snowy winter I wonder?

Catch you later.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The High Point

I've been treating myself to one of those fancy 'flashing light' spirit levels for my camera, so needing to give it a try out I headed off to Winshields Crag (NY742675)
It's the highest point on Hadrian's Wall and the views are spectacular in every direction.
You park in the Steel Rigg car park, and as it's still the main holiday season the car park was full with the overspill field in use.

(By the way I should mention, the car parking charge is £3 a day but you can go from Walltown to Housesteads and points in between on that one pass -BUT if you're coming for a week get the £8 pass from the Once Brewed Visitor Centre it's much better value)
Back to Winshields, head back out of the car park, turn right over the wall stile and head up the field.

I've noticed there are loads of butterflies warming themselves on the stones of Hadrian's Wall and plenty of wild flowers for nectar, on Thursday there were also masses of black flying insects!

A couple of gates to go through on your journey up hill, please do remember to close the gates behind you and latch them properly, the Wall is single skin for a part of the way up although the foundations of the wider Wall are visible.
Eventually you reach a good solid chunk of Hadrian's Wall and just beyond that is the white (well decidedly off white at the moment) trig point. I believe with all the new technology these trig points are now obsolete but it would be a shame if they weren't there.

Had a chat with one of the NNPA Rangers who was doing a survey to see what jobs needed doing over the coming months. It's easy to think the Hadrian's Wall Path takes care of itself but it would be a very different place if it weren't for the work of the Northumbria National Parks Authority and their team.

I love the view east back down the line of the Hadrian's Wall Path, especially using a zoom lens to exagerate the bumps and curves of the land. I stood around for a while waiting for some light, patience is a virtue, and had a chat with the farmer who came up the easy way, on his quad bike.

Then the light came and I spent the next ten minutes running back and forward to try and capture my shots.

There's a new Cafe at the Winshields Farm Camp site, the farmer had recommended the home made scones with blackcurrant jam, so I felt obliged to do some research on your behalf.

I have to report the coffee, scones and welcome were excellent.

Took ages to clone out all the insects and the spirit level worked a treat.
Catch you later.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Walltown to the rescue

Another early morning and another climb up to Cuddys Crag.

I had hopes of seeing meteorites but they were quickly dashed, it got foggier the higher I climbed. I could see the moon by looking straight up but that was it.

I hoped the rising sun would burn off the fog enough for me to get a photograph, I tried convincing myself it was getting clearer but it wasn't, so I walked back down the hill again to the car.

Now when I've got out of bed at 4am it pains me to return home without as much as a shot fired, so I called into Walltown Crags on the way home.

For some strange reason I find Walltown a really difficult place to photograph, it has all the right ingredients but I can never seem to put them together in the right way. There was some mist over the crags at Mucklebank and some nice diffused light, lovely conditions, but....
Took lots of photographs, including some 'snapshots' of a flock of fieldfares mobbing the red berries on the rown trees.

I couldn't believe the fieldfares were here already, we don't normally see flocks until late September. Could be a sign of a hard winter, better get the thermals ordered now!

I went back with my 200-500mm lens that afternoon, hoping to get a good shot of them feeding on the berries, but they'd moved on.

I'm sure you realise that I love this area, I'd love everyone to come and see how lovely it is for themselves.

Catch you later.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Morning mists

Out at Great Chesters Farm a few mornings ago, it's where the remains of Great Chesters Roman Fort are and I was looking for some nice misty shots of Cawfields.

Arrived to find a lot more mist than I was counting on and walked up the Hadrian's Wall Path, past Burnhead B&B. I was hoping that by taking the high ground by Great Chesters Farm I'd be able to get above the mist and get some nice views of Cawfield Crags rising above it.

Alas it wasn't quite high enough but I decided to try a few shots anyway.

For a change I had company on my outing and we set up our tripods, hoping to get some shots of cows and sheep through the mist. It is a public footpath so I thought the cows would be quite safe, they seemed to be all youngsters in with the bull, but they were skittish.

They would come forward, simply being nosey and then charge away.

My companion stayed where he was but I'd spotted some sheep nicely grouped and headed over to get a shot. The cows went daft, charging back and forwards.

I grabbed my sheep shot and then we decided to beat a hasty retreat through the gate on the other side of a cattle grid, it wasn't that the cows were particularly aggresive but a few tons of beef charging around with the chance of a passing blow was just a bit more of a risk than I wanted to take.

Back down to the car park and after a quick stop to catch some nice light on the Vallum it was home for breakfast.

Just a quick note to say on the last few occasions I've been out at Cawfields Quarry early on there have been camper vans parked up for the night.

The fact that there's a toilet/washroom there and all without charge,( they seem to ignore the parking charge - I checked the winshields) is obviously a draw but by illegally parking overnight they are depriving our local businesses of income. Camping charges are reasonable and we need the revenue.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Greenlee Lough

In March I blogged about my trip to Greenlee Lough, at that time the NNPA was constructing a boardwalk and I promised to get back to you once that was finished.
I went out there on Wednesday eagerly anticipating a gentle stroll from the road to the Lough
Ha! Gentle stroll, in my dreams.

Once you've gone through the smart new gate you have to work your way across uneven terrain, roughly following a line of telegraph poles.

As yet there are no way markers, those helpful little yellow arrows to keep us on the straight and narrow, and because this isn't one of the more popular walks the route isn't terrible obvious.

Highland cows and Jacob's sheep graze the early part of the walk then you pass through damp meadowland full of butterflies. I was delighted to see a lot of the coloured ones, in our garden at home we seem to be getting just the white ones.

The track takes you up to a small wood, private and no access allowed so follow the wall along until you spy a bright new pole that marks the start of the boardwalk.

Michael and the NNPA team are to be congratulated, they have made a splendid job of the boardwalk and it's blending into the surroundings very well. Once you're on that you can make good time, passing through areas of cotton grass, Millet grass and countless species of wild flower - stunning on a nice day.

7 mute swans on Greenlee Lough but it's not easy to see anything else as access to the waterside is limited to the hide, which the birds seem to take delight in going no where near.

I took the old route up the hill back to the car which I thought I'd parked carefully. Certainly not blocking anybodies access and miles from anywhere but I got back to find a polite note asking me not to stop there again.

So bear in mind there's no parking anywhere near the Lough. The official walk starts at Steel Rigg, covers 7.5miles and is rated as strenuous.

After I'd done the walk I went into the Once Brewed Tourist Office and discovered they have a new leaflet that explains all of this, so make that your first port of call.
Catch you later.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Walking the Wall

Walking the Wall is a great idea, walking ON the Wall as so many people tend to be doing lately, is not.

I went to Willowford and Birdoswald on Saturday, lovely weather and loads of people out enjoying the day. But just about every group I came across were walking on top of the Wall.

Some had really small children and in places the Wall is over 6 ft high with an uneven top. I'm wondering who they'd sue if their child fell and was seriously injured, you can bet they wouldn't accept any blame themselves for being silly enough to allow a child up onto the Wall in the first place.

I'm not a great fan of warning signs everywhere, but I do think English Heritage should do more. Hadrian's Wall is a historic monument, yet folk treat it like an adventure playground.

The river at Willowford is one of my favourite spots, just by the bridge is a lovely area to stop for a picnic. The River Irthing is fairly shallow at this point so dogs and children can play in the water. Lots of good boulders for building dams and forts or a sculpture if you have an artistic bent.

Look out for the dippers and wagtails, on Saturday I saw a kingfisher there, a beautiful flash of flourescent blue. Amongst the stones are loads of fossils, mostly shells but sometimes plant fossils too.

Come along and enjoy our lovely area but please respect it.

Catch you later.