Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Busy day on Hadrian's Wall

Yesterday was bright and clear perfect for setting off Hadrian's Wall in a good light.
I was down at Willowford Farm early in the morning to witness the announcement that Hadrian's Wall is the first World Heritage Site to be awarded Fair Trade Status.

Our Roman soldier has a cup of tea with a visisting  Indian Fair Trade Cotton producer

A happy group of people cavorted in the sunshine with various blow-up Fair Trade items while photographers recorded them for posterity.

Making the announcement that Hadrian's Wall has Fair Trade Status at Willowford.

We even had a 'proper' Roman Soldier on hand to keep the locals in line.

Then in the afternoon it was a rehearsal for the Hadrian's Wall Illumination event that takes place on the 13th of March.
For yesterday's rehearsal lights had been set up between Hotbank Crag and the milecastle 37, just west of Housesteads Fort.
Lighting the gas beacons on Hadrian's Wall

Goodness it was busy, it seems you could hardly move for television crews and newspaper photographers, hope some great publicity comes from it.
I got to see that nice young man from Country File,Matt Baker up close, he's a particular favourite of mine simply because he's a local lad and very unstarry.

Matt from Country File
Of course in all this exaulted company I managed to fall flat on my face! I was trying not to get in the way of any of the tv people and didn't look where I was going, always a mistake on the uneven ground that surrounds Hadrian's Wall.
My thanks to Neil Carney from Hadrian's Wall Heritage and two of the TV people for helping me get upright again.
I decided after that I'd get out of the way and headed to the viewpoint on Cuddy's Crag, once there I didn't have long to wait for things to begin.

Dusk falls over the Military Way on Hadrian's Wall

As the sun started to go down the gas beacons were lit.
While not quite as big as I'd thought they'd be they were still impressive against a night sky.
The gas beacon

Then the burners were extinguished and flares were lit. These burn very brightly and make lots of smoke, but show up really well against the darkening dusk sky.

Flares light the way along Hadrian's Wall

A few more goes with the gas lights and the flares until all the TV groups had got the pictures they wanted and it was over.

Burners and flares at Cuddys Crag

Light on Hadrian's Wall

It was bitterly cold by this time and I bet everyone was glad to be heading home for a warm cup of tea.
Very spectacular though I'm looking forward to the event proper.
More details HERE

Catch you later - I'm off to soak my bruises.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

just some pictures of Hadrian's wall

Weather has been quite mixed today, the early promise of brightness didn't materialise and we had some very cold winds with 'gritty' snowflakes.
Then at 4.30 this afternoon the light changed and I headed off to Walltown.
Took some pictures, charged around with the tripod in my normal manner and then headed home.
Nothing much to say today so I thought I'd just share the photo's.
All taken on Walltown Crags. The one without any of Hadrian's wall on it looks across the valley to Longbure and Gilsland with the Solway in the far distance.
Catch you later.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Hadrian's Wall awash with visitors

Thick fog in Gilsland on Friday, in fact we'd been shrouded in fog for a few days but on Friday I could see just a chink of blue sky.

I was getting stir crazy and needed a break from trying to capture my perfect shot of the Gretna Starlings, so I headed out to Steel Rigg.
The trees were just ghostly shapes in the mist and mine was the only car in the car park.
I thought about going up onto Winshields Crag, hoping to get above the fog but then thought I'd just go along and see how the Sycamore Tree was faring in the mist.

As I left Steel Rigg there was a glimmer of light, I paused to take a photograph as two walkers  came into frame, perfect timing.
Figures in the mist at Steel Rigg

Then Peel Crags started to clear a bit and that confirmed my decision to head east.
It's probably my least favourite climb up the stone steps of Peel Crags, I especially hate the very skinny steps two thirds of the way up (my big feet weren't made for skinny steps) then when you reach the top there's a ladder stile to get over, as if you had breath to spare!

Peel Crags
Once you're on the top it is worth the effort.

I stopped to take some photo's as yet more and more walkers came past, nice to see the weather hadn't deterred people.
Of course it was the half term break so a lot of folk were on holiday, some had been to other places like the Lakes or the Northumbrian Coast and had popped to Hadrian's Wall for the day.

Walking into the mist

Happy to report visitors were impressed and planned to return.

Blue skies above Peel Crags on Hadrian's Wall

Above Castle Nick  on Hadrian's Wall

By the time I got to the Sycamore Tree the fog had all but gone.
Sycamore Gap

 I had planned to go on the circular route past the back of Hotbank Crag, with a stop to capture Crag Lough wearing white ice but the sky ahead had taken on a slate grey hue and snow had been forecast.

Crag Lough and grey skies over Hotbank Crag

A caterpillar of people coming along the Wall
(Double click the picture to enlarge it slightly)

And if I'm honest my toes were giving me pain, I have arthritis and this week it's the toes turn to ache.
Still I had a nice walk, met some lovely people and got some photographs, what more could I ask?
Oh! and people are still standing on the Wall - don't do it, I get ever so cross with you!
Catch you later.

My best picture of the Gretna Starlings so far.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Walltown again

Despite the forecasts and early cloud, Saturday turned out to be a nice day.
Headed off to Walltown as much for the fresh air and exercise as to take photographs.
I'm not that fond of daylight photo's, I'm a bit like a bat, most comfortable when I'm out at dawn and dusk, but over the winter months the sun rises and sets well away from Hadrian's Wall.
Of course if I'm out and about the camera is with me, if not the Nikon DSLR then the Canon compact in my pocket.
On Saturday I had the Nikon, the light was good and there were clouds, proper 'chocolate box' weather.
I parked in the main Walltown car park and walked up the hill.

Walltown Quarry and picnic area

I'm feeling a bit jaded at the moment, there's only so many photographs you can take of the same scene, especially if there's not a dramatic weather condition to add that extra something.

Old quarry face with basalt pillars

I took the obligitory shot of the gnarly hawthorn tree and then wandered along the Hadrian's Wall Path, met a nice young couple from Liverpool who had stopped on their way up to Edinburgh. They seemes to be enjoying the experience so hopefully they'll come back for a 'proper' visit sometime.

Walltown Crags with a view west over the lowland towards the Solway 

Not many people about yet all but one of the folk I saw, were at some point standing on the Wall. I did say this wasn't allowed but some didn't believe me because "there are no signs to say we can't" and they're right.
I would have thought that common sense should tell you that it's not a good idea to stand on an ancient monument but have we become so used to signs telling us what we can and can't do that we no longer think for ourselves?
Walked along the top of the Crags smiling to myself that there was I telling people of the need to preserve our heritage when someone had quarried away a big chunck of the rock face and Hadrian's Wall along with it.

Someone quarried right through Hadrian's Wall

Got to Mucklebank Crag, I've never been entirely happy with photographs I've taken of this crag in the past, but the one I share with you today is the best so far, you can see the hump that is all that remains of this bit of Hadrian's Wall as it heads directly up this steep crag.

Mucklebank Crag and King Arthur's Well

To the right are the trees on top of the mound known as King Arthur's Well.
Not only Romans here but knights of the round table as well :)

I've just been looking at a superb book of photographs by Don McCullin, not his usual war photographs but photograhs of Roman ruins and blow me if he didn't have some of Hadrian's Wall, taken standing on the Wall - good job I wasn't around to see him I would have given him a right telling off!
Catch you later.
© Hadrian's Wall Path National Trail

Thursday, 11 February 2010

A different side.

Yesterday the weather was beautiful, I'd checked the tide times and discovered high tide at Bowness on Solway was mid morning, and I've been wanting to try my hand at photographing oystercatchers on the wing.
Bowness on Solway is the start (or finish) of the Hadrian's Wall Path, I find it a strange place not at all welcoming and the little hut that walkers pass through, is tucked away out of site.
Nothing to see of the Roman fort which once stood there
I imagine finishing a long walk here is a wee bit of an anticlimax, although I have to admit the walk on a beautiful day the walk along from Port Carlisle is stunning.

The Solway Firth an AONB, is the third largest area of continuous intertidal habitat in the UK and hosts thousands of wintering wildfowl and waders.

Oystercatchers in flight

Probably the best place to see geese and swans is over at Caerlaverock on the Scottish side of the Solway, birds are fed there twice a day so that's generally where they can be found.

Yesterday I wanted the sunlight behind me to highlight the birds plummage so it was that I came to be plodging through the mud that makes up the shoreline of the south side (and the English side) of the Solway
Asleep on the shore

High tide wasn't quite as high as I'd hoped so I had to go out to the birds, standing out like a sore thumb against the flat shore line.  Never mind I did get a couple of shots and discovered places that offer good views for when the tide is higher than yesterday's 5ft offering. Something for another day.

Oystercatchers on the mudflats
When the tide does go out it goes a long way as you can see on this aerial shot of the mud flats 
We called into the RSPB reserve at Campfield Marsh but, as usual, there was very little to see a few swans and a dusting of widgeon.

Widgeon and mallard on the shore, so cold the sea has frozen on the mudflats

After that we headed home.

That evening I decided to go to Gretna to try, yet again, to get a decent shot of the starlings, there are so many of the birds that you'd think it would be easy but fading light makes it difficult and they aren't roosting in the same place each time.

Last night I stood on the motorway bridge waiting to see which way they were going then headed down to the potato field.

A murmuration of Starlings

Starlings are constantly flying in to join the group

Getting ready to go down to the roost, as I was watching a peregrine flew over my head once they were safe the starlings went down into the conifers.

Got a couple of shots I like but I managed to lose my car keys and in the dark it was impossible to find them.

I'm indebted to Mr Eric Stanwix and Mr David Stephenson, who helped my search and incredibly kind when they had a long way to go home.

TT got a lift from our neighbour Richard and brought the spare key so at least we got home.
I rang today and a replacement for the one I lost would cost £185 plus VAT - for a car key!
Borrowing a metal detector we headed back there this afternoon and thankfully found the keys.
It was nearly a very expensive Starling shot.

Both of these sites can be reached within 45 minutes from Gilsland, so if you're coming on a winter holiday and fancy a break from walking these options might be to your taste.
Catch you later

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Bright light through the fog on Hadrian's Wall

Woke up yesterday to a beautiful morning, just a light frost with a clear blue sky.
As soon as I was able, I got my camera and headed off to Hadrian's Wall, there's a certain point on the road out of Gilsland where Walltown Crags appear much closer than they actually are, don't know why but they do, anyway yesterday I could see some mist swirling about the tops of the Nicks.

Could be interesting conditions, a couple of years ago I was out in similar conditions and took a photograph that won me a DSLR.

Yesterday the interesting mist turned into thick fog, I called into Cawfields Quarry just in case something inrteresting developed but no, fog it was, just two people appearing alongside the Wall like ghostly centurians of long ago.

Mist at Cawfields

Reluctant to go home I set off to visit the good folk at Saughy Rigg Farm, one of  the Hadrian's Wall B and B's, beautifully situated for visiting the best bits of the Wall.
Brad was in the middle of extensive refurbishment works so I didn't stay long but headed down to the Northumberland National Parks Authority Visitor Centre at Once Brewed
The best place ever for information on Hadrian's Wall!
It only opens at the weekend during the winter months and Pam was on duty yesterday, I hoped she might have some leaflets about the Illuminating Hadrian's Wall event, I keep meeting people walking along the Wall who have heard nothing about this event.
I thought I'd have a few leaflets in my bag to hand out to people who express an interest in the night of lights.
Guess what, there are no leaflets it seems all the information is online.

Had a word with Peter, he was one of the NNPA Wardens and has recently retired, he told me the fog only started at Housesteads and that the local hunt was meeting at Limestone Corner. I set off east, saw the hunt gathering through the fog which had obviously moved east since Peter travelled the road and decided that I should just give up on photographs and head home.

As I drew level with Winshields Farm Campsite (tel 01434 344 243) I noticed a chink of blue appearing through the fog.

I turned up towards Caw Gap and then headed up the Hadrian's Wall Path towards Cawfields. This is one of my favourite stretches of Wall, the views are lovely yet it still has that feeling of bleakness.

Cawfield Crags

Cawfield Crags looking towards Walltown

The sun broke through, catching the stones of Hadrian's Wall and the mosses and lichens that grow on it.
(My challenge this year is to photograph the various plants growing on and near the Wall)

Cawfield Crags above Thorney Doors

I took some shots, including a group of four walkers, enjoying the fresh air and not at all put off by the varied weather conditions.

A walk on Cawfield Crags

After ten minutes the sun disappeared and the fog returned, never mind I had a couple of photographs to share with you and I went off home happy that my excursion had been fruitful.
It's almost a year since I started this blog and I'd like to thank those few who have followed my ramblings from the beginning.

Catch you later,

Saturday, 6 February 2010


One of the viewing points for the Illumination of Hadrian's Wall is likely to be Birdoswald and I went out to get some pictures to show you the views from there.
It's a nice circular walk from my Gilsland home, about 5 miles if I meander in my usual fashion.
I walked through Gilsland village and noticed just how untidy it looks.
I suppose when you live in the Village you don't notice the crumbling wall outside the village hall, or the old caravan covered in green algea that obviously hasn't moved for years, but visitors must.
It's never been a pretty village but it could look better and people do try, when the hanging baskets are on the hall and pretty planted tubs by the bus stand in the summer it cheers the place up.
I went on up the Hill, taking the footpath through the field that cuts off the corner past Kiln Hill Farm, Michael has some of his cattle in there and they bellowed a  bit as I passed them by.

Michaels cattle

The path passes through a little wooded dene, quite a steep climb on one side but there are steps to help you up.
As you come out of the wood you can see Birdoswald Fort across to your right with the line of Hadrian's Wall in front of you.

Hadrian's Wall at Birdoswald

Through the field of sheep to the kissing gate and out onto the road.
The view from the road at Birdoswald along the Wall to Walltown in the distance is always spectaular, it's a good stretch of Hadrian's Wall here and so easily accessible.

Birdoswald looking towards Walltown

Birdoswald looking west

For my walk today I head east following the Hadrian's Wall Path to the bridge abutments above Harrow Scar, from the top here looking down towards Willowford you get an idea of just how determined the Roman's were. It's a bridge building exercise that would tax todays engineers yet the Roman army managed to build a very impressive structure, as shown on the interpretative boards on the lower abutments.
Nowadays you have to walk down the hill and cross the River Irthing using the new Willowford Bridge, impressive in it's own right, a gentle arc over the river.
I love to look for fossils here especially after we've had a heavy flow of water to churn things up a bit.

Fossil at Willowford

There are some fine remains on this eastern side of the Roman bridge and a long line of Hadrian's Wall takes you up hill to Willowford Farm, one of our local Bed and Breakfast places and a great place to stay, right on the Wall.
The track takes you alongside the Wall back to Gilsland, notice the Willowford Farm access track it runs along the line of the defensive ditch that was to the north of the Wall.
Gilsland Village

Friday, 5 February 2010

A fine weekend

Sunday was fine and bright.
Biting cold as befits the last day of January, but you layer up and have a hat to cover your ears and head for the hills.
I parked in the old telephone box layby and set off up the footpath that is part of the Pennine Way.
It heads uphill through the field of Bradley Farm ewe's fat with lamb, over the stile and up past the Lime Kiln.
At one time there were lots of these kilns but most have fallen into disrepair, this one has been restored and very fine it looks too.

The Lime Kiln (NY781683)

The path passes in front of the kiln and curves on up the hill. Some wonderful views from here looking south over the Pennines, still snow tipped and on a clear day the Lakeland hills are visible. A good excuse to stop and catch your breath for it's a steep climb, well maybe a youngster can bound up but I like to pause now and again.
The path leads you up to Rapishaw Gap where the Hadrian's Wall Path and the Pennine Way path cross. I'm still researching my viewpoints for the Hadrian's Wall Illuminations event and I head off to the east and up onto the stone steps of Cuddys Crag. This is the viewpoint used on the Illuminations website and one of the most beautiful views on the Wall.
Just a touch of frost on the stones of the path so I set up my camera and wait.
I usually like to include a figure in my shot, it gives a sense of scale to the Wall I think.
On this lovely day people were out in force, a group of walkers from Haltwhistle came by, too many for my purpose but they passed by with a cheery 'good morning' greeting. Shortly afterwards a heavily laden hiker came into view, he was wearing red, always a plus, and he was wearing proper walking gear, blue jeans and trainers just don't do it.
I took a photo making sure to ask his permission as he passed.

Walker on Cuddys Crag (NY783686)

Cuddys Crag heading west (NY783686)

I wandered about checking out the various viewpoints, although I have a feeling this part of Hadrian's Wall will be the first destination for most photographers on the 13th so maybe it's not for me.
I wandered back down to Rapishaw Gap and then made the climb up onto Hotbank Crag, still some snow about on this crag, frozen solid it will be some time before it melts away completely.
The views from Hotbank Crag don't feature much in Hadrian's Wall literature but I love them.

Hotbank Crag (NY777685)

The way Hadrian's Wall undulates across the crags always brings a smile. From here you can follow the Wall all the way to Sewingshields and as a viewpoint it has definate possibilities. It's a bit further from any parking area so not as many folk will be heading here.
There's also a view west over Crag Lough, I love 'twofers' viewpoints.

Hotbank and Crag Lough ( NY774684)
Feeling the need for a coffee I decide to head back, there's a lower level path here that runs parallel to the Wall following the Roman Military Way. It's much flatter that Hadrian's Wall Path and the views aren't quite as spectacular but it's a pleasant walk on a nice day.

Housesteads Crag from the Military Way (NY780685)

Soon I'm back at the car and heading home, at this time of the year most of the cafes are closed, I toy with the idea of stopping at the Twice Brewed pub for a bowl of their superb soup, but in the end I just go home.
It was a grand walk out though and at this time of the year every nice day is a bonus :)
Catch you later.