Friday, 23 April 2010

Up in the mornings and out at night.

Well my sunrise, sunset season is well and truly under way.
Getting up at 4.40am at the moment and making a decision whether or not to go out, it's actually a hard call to make as cloud comes and goes quickly so I can get up and get out and before I've got the car off the drive things have changed completely.
Still you have to be out there to get a photograph and at least I'm lucky that I don't have hours to drive to my viewpoints.

Headed off to Steel Rigg a few mornings ago, the weather people kept promising a dramatic sunrise with the volcanic ash, the cloud was patchy so I had high hopes.

Steel Rigg (NY749677)

No one around, just me and the sheep with their lambs.
 I stood looking at the view and watching a patch of cloud build to my left but moving quite quickly to the right.
There's a group of trees near the top of Hotbank Crag and I noticed a light shining through the trees.
My first thought was that another photographer was up there with a red torch, well it was early and I was half asleep, but then I realised it was the sun rising.
And rise it did straight into the patch of thickening cloud, so it goes.
I did get some photographs to share with you, but not the fiery gem I was hoping for.

Steel Rigg (NY752675)

Sunset is another hit and miss afair but it's not as difficult to motivate myself to go out during the evening.
A trip to Walltown is easy and I can be there in minutes. I love wandering about up there, the views are spectacular, right across to Criffel on the Scottish Solway coast, looking over the plain that takes you past Longbyre and Gilsland following the route that Hadrian's Wall takes to the sea.

From Walltown to the sea (NY672662)

While I was up there a family came to enjoy the sunset, of course the first thing they did was stand on the Wall.
 I got chatting and asked them why, they told me it felt like they were walking in the footsteps of the Romans.
Maybe a viewing platform over the Wall, would solve the problem, then I'd complain it was ruining my views of course.

Walltown sunset (NY672662)

There's work ongoing to preserve the Wall, it's done using lime mortar exactly as would have been used in Roman times.
It takes much longer to 'set' and so is covered with tarpaulins, not pretty but necessary.
Heritage Consolidation Ltd, a local company, have been restoring this stretch at Walltown, plus they've cleared out the grass growing on the footings of the Wall and you can see from my photograph how much better that looks.

Walltown Crags

Night before last I picked up my camera and headed off to Housesteads, arriving just as everyone else was leaving. I wanted to get the criss cross bit of the Wall with the lowering sunlight catching the Wall stones.
I'd left home with clear blue skies and arrived to find cloud covering the sun.
Rang home and TT told me it was still clear to the west.
What to do?
Should I stay, or head back west, midges were biting but I could see a clear patch under the cloud.
I decided to wait until the sun dropped below the cloud. 
The sun was much further over than I had anticipated so if I missed my photograph tonight it would  be another 11 months before I got another chance.
In this shot I'm standing up on the only bit of the Wall that you are allowed to walk on, I would have liked to be to the north side of the Wall but couldn't see any way that I could safely get there, oh for the agility of a gazelle.
After 30 minutes the sun broke through and hit the scene in front of me exactly where I wanted it to, for once patience paid off.

Housestead Crag (NY786687)

Before the sun disappeared completely I set off back down the hill, lambs were gamboling, and seemed to be having such fun, don't know why they have such a burst of energy as the sun sets, but it's lovely to see.
Good weekend is forecast - hope you enjoy it.
Catch you later.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Here and there.

Haven't had many long walks lately, it seems like I've dashed out when conditions look good, snapped a few photographs and dashed home again.
Sounds like I'm full of busy doesn't it?
But really I'm not, I just don't know where the time goes, one of those 'age' things I suppose.
We've had lovely clouds in deep blue skies, setting Hadrian's Wall off to perfection, and Walltown always does me proud when there are nice clouds to photograph.

Walltown Crags, there were no planes to leave contrails so Mother Nature provided some of her own!

The volcano in Iceland erupting was supposed to bring rich red sunsets and sunrises - so I headed out to Crag Lough thinking the reflected colour in the water would look good.
I arrived early so I climbed up onto Hotbank Crag, one of those bit of Hadrian's Wall that gets the pulse racing, it's a steep climb.
Evening light is hitting the north face of the Wall right now and there's no footpath up to that side.
No, I can't just climb over it, you can see where people have though and scrapped off the lichens with their scrambling. It's got so bad that the Footpaths Officer is getting signs made to put along the trail asking people not to climb on the Wall. Think of all the cloning out that will intail.

Hotbank Crag looking east

There are new boats on Crag Lough, white ones with blue covers, they don't have quite the wow factor the old mahogany boats had but I'd rather have them there than not.

Crag Lough sunset

One of the resident swan's came swimming towards me, I often see them on the Lough but they don't often come within camera range.
Swan on the Lough
It was an okay sunset but not the big dramatic event I'd been hoping for, nice without contrails though.

So to another day and I'm heading out to Caw Gap, this is one place you can get to the north side of the Wall without climbing over it, it's not a particularly easy path but you're on the right side for the light.
The sunset was shaping up to be a bit more of an event than last night had been, I perched myself on a narrow bit of grass, taking care to remember not to step back and don't look down.

North side of Hadrian's Wall at Cawfields

Some lovely colours in the sky and the sun went down as a big ball, as usual I took so many photographs that I haven't had time to go through them all yet.

Sunset from Cawfield Crags

I started to head back down to the car, it would take a bit longer because I had to backtrack almost to Caw Gap to cross through the gap in the Wall and then retrace my steps on the official Hadrian's Wall Path. As often happens, once the sun went down the sky coloured up with a multitude of shades.
The sky over towards Thirlwall Nicks was gorgeous.

Panorama from Cawfield Crags looking towards Thirlwall Nicks.

The views on the way back to the Cawfields Park were a joy to behold and I kept stopping to snap 'just another shot'.
The moon was up by the time I reached the car, a beautiful sliver of a crescent moon with Venus shining bright beneath it.
Yet again I was reminded how lucky I am to have all of this on my doorstep.

Catch you later.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The joys of early morning

As the year progresses the sun moves back around Hadrian's Wall.
A quick check of the Metcheck site tells me that I have promising conditions for a sunrise shot.
For a change when the alarm goes off and I look outside I discover the forecast was right, so often weather conditions change by the hour, and I'm up and ready to go, keen to get back into the swing of early mornings.
I'd got my timing wrong, should have been up and out a good 15 minutes earlier, and then I was delayed having to defrost the car, but eventually I was underway.
As I was short of time I headed to Caw Gap, from parking the car I can get into place within 15 minutes, so it's a good standby viewpoint for me when time is short.

View towards Winshields Crag

The sky was a beautiful rich red as I parked the car but again these things change quickly, it had faded to a more gentle hue by the time I got everything up and ready.
I took a few photographs, the view here has a great lead-in line of Hadrian's Wall and then follows the line of the Wall as it climbs up to the highest point at Winshields Crag, if my sun position website was correct the sun should be coming up right in front of me.

I stood by the Wall listening to the world come awake, the dawn chorus seems to happen about an hour before dawn as the darkness fades, but the evocative call of the curlew, and the raucous call of the pheasant, helped me remember why it is that I love this time of day so much.
Even the putting of the shepherd's quad bike, as he checked his flock for overnight arrivals, seemed to fit in to the gentle pace of a day waking up.
Pippets and rooks fly before me, too fast to be captured on camera, lambs called and ewe's answered, I take a big deep breath of our fresh Northumbrian air and know what it is to be content with your lot.

Sunrises over Caw Gap

Eventually the sun comes up over the hill and I capture the scene and maybe I have taken the same sort of shot many times before, but I just love this time of day and photography is a great excuse to be out there.

View west from Cawfields to Walltown

It didn't take long for the sun to rise and get too bright for my camera, I wasn't quite ready to go back home so I took the long way back past Gibbs Hill where I could see mist rising from Greenlee Lough.

Road to Gibbs Hill and Greenlee Lough

I'd like to photograph the Lough there properly on sunrise but it's a difficult place to park and one of the landowners gets really ratty if you park on the side of the track.
On this occasion I pulled over took the photograph and then turned back the way I'd come, heading down to Steel Rigg for another quick picture before finally taking the road home for breakfast.

Steel Rigg
Catch you later.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Hadrian's Wall when the sun shines

Okay that title is maybe a teensy bit misleading.
It rained yesterday but at six oclock the skies cleared and for a couple of hours before sunset the sun did shine.
I decided to go up to Birdoswald, the best sections of Hadrian's Wall with views face east, not  a first choice for sunset shots, but I wanted to try and capture that rich evening light catching the stones, and if there was good cloud over Walltown Crags then that would be a bonus.

Hadrian's Wall at Birdoswald with Walltown Crags on the horizon

Panorama, double click the picture to see it at a larger size.

Michael, who farms this area, has his sheep grazing around the fort at Birdoswald, they look so cute in their little plastic macs.

The east Gate at Birdoswald

I wandered about taking my pictures, the ground is extremely boggy, at one point my tripod took on a definate tilt as one of the legs started to sink, remember to bring good boots if you're planning a trip.
The lambs were calling and one very small lamb had obviously become seperated from the ewe it ran all over the field pitifully bleating, to no avail.

The south gate at Birdoswald Fort

Some of the ewe's are so protective of their babies while other's will only take notice of them when it suits them, a bit like human's I suppose.
It's starting to seem like spring is really here, at long last.
The grass is growing thank goodness, it's been an expensive time for the farmers who've had to buy in feed, wild flowers are starting to show with pretty little Celandines leading the way and I saw a bee on the pollen rich Pussy Willow catkins.

Sunsets at Birdoswald

As the sun went down over Birdoswald and the sheep I felt quite optomistic, no matter what man does the world keeps turning and the seasons come and go.
Catch you later

Monday, 5 April 2010

How not to

I usually head off by myself, photography is a solitary hobby, too much standing around doing nothing at all, for most people.
Good Friday turned out to be good, weather wise, TT was off on one of his bike rides, so I decided to head off south of Hadrian's Wall onto the moors around Plenmeller.
Although there's not a lot of miles between Hadrian's Wall and the North Pennines the terrain is markedly different.

The Nicks of Hadrian's Wall from Broomhouse Common

I drove out to Plenmeller, south of Haltwhistle and parked up in a pull in near to the start of the footpath.
Through the gate and along the track, passing through a conifer woodland, it has the feel of an old estate and probably has something to do with the nearby Unthank Hall.
The Highland Cattle were grazing in the field to the south of me, I love these traditional breeds like the Highlands and Galloways they're much slower to mature as beef cattle so not a good money crop for most farmers.

Dry bracken and yellowed grass with tumbles of rock.

At the fork in the track you head up to the right, to the left is a lake but that's now out of bounds due to problems of vandalism. It's actually not a terribly interesting lake, being surrounded by conifers and with very few wildfowl.
Up the hill the footpath crosses a stile and passes behind Warren House, a derelict cottage, since I was last up here the roof has caved in. Over another stile and onto Broomhouse Common and area criss crossed by footpaths. Last time I was up here I saw a ghost and while he wasn't around on this visit, there's still an atmosphere that makes the hair on your arms stand up.

The view from the moor by Warren House

Here's where I admit that I didn't have a map with me and my mobile phone battery was down to one bar.
I had told TT where I was going but this is a huge area and needs to be treated with respect , it's also not as busy with people, so please don't do as I did, at the very least make sure you have a fully charged phone.

The wall runs N/S and is a useful landmark.

I was heading towards the waterfall on the Park Burn, I remembered it as being a pretty little fall although quite hard to access.
On Friday it was full of water, and yet again I was foolhardy enough to decide to go down a very steep hill to get level with the river. The track down is little more than a sheep track through the heather, eroded in places and needing a lot of care.

Waterfall from the top footpath

I had my biscuit break at the bottom and watched a dipper who seemed happy to sit and watch me back for a while. I changed to my 300mm lens thinking I'd be able to get a nice dipper shot, but the minute I lifted the camera up to my eye the dipper took off.

Close up of the Park Burn Waterfall

I took my waterfall shots then climbed back up the slope using the dry stone wall to help me up.
The weather, which had been nice when I set off was taking a turn for the worse so I decided to head back. There's a dry stone wall running more of less north-south across the moor so I was able to get my bearings from that.

Dry stone wall

The moor was alive with wildlife, masses of big fat rabbits, and quite a few rabbit remains, sky larks, curlew and lapwings calling and displaying in the air above me. I was careful where I put my feet although it's probably a bit early for eggs. Pippits and dunnock hopped around the rocks and amongst the heather black grouse called. I was lucky enough to spot one but it was too far away for a good photograph. More mosses and lichens and no doubt on a day when I could linger there's be hosts of insects to spot.


When I got back to the footpath to the car I discovered the Highland Cattle had come up into the wood, the hay feeder was there for them. I stopped to take some photographs and laughed to see their muddy legs, you'd think they had knee socks on. Eventually they got tired of posing and wandered off.

Playing in the mud

I got back to the car looking forward to home and a nice cup of coffee.
If you'd like a guided walk of this area check out the Haltwhistle Walking Festival Spring 2010 programme.
Catch you  later.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Hadrian's Wall - April Fool

I was sitting in the conservatory at home watching the clouds skud across the sky thinking how beautiful they looked.
I've just bought a book on cloud spotting fromThe Cloud Appreciation Society and was trying to identify the type.
Suddenly it came to me that the Sycamore Tree on Hadrian's Wall would look jolly impressive with a backdrop of big rolling clouds so I gathered together my photographic equipment and headed off to the Wall.
Of course it was April the 1st and it seems nature doesn't know the 12 noon rule so when I got to Steel Rigg Car Park the sun had gone and it was hailing.
Sycamore Gap

That's the thing about Hadrian's Wall it seems to have it's own eco system so weather on the Wall can be totally different within a mile or so.
I like to check the NNPA webcams before I set off it does give me an idea of what to expect.
Anyway I hauled out the plastic carrier bag, wrapped it around my camera and set off to Peel Crags. I positively hate the climb up those steep rock steps, I have big feet and they don't fit very well on the narrow steps so I took the lower track that runs parallel to the Wall.
View to Hadrian's Wall from the lower track

There's a spot not too far along where you can see the Hadrian's Wall Path and cut uphill to join it or, you can stay on this lower path and end up at Sycamore Gap.
By the time I got to the Sycamore Tree the hail had stopped and the sun was playing hide and seek. I set up the camera, while the clouds weren't those big boiling jobbies that I had a Gilsland they were well worth a photograph and for a change the Sycamore Tree was free of visitors.
The clouds were moving really fast, I have 10ND filter, looks like black glass, it slows the shutter speed down so that I can record the movement. Played with that for a while but there was too much cloud and I couldn't get the effect I was after.
Rain over Gilsland viewed from Highshields Crag

I climbed the path up to Highshields Crag,and nearly got blown off my feet by the gale force winds. Pretty scary I have to tell you and really brings home just how powerful Nature is.
Crag Lough below me was huge with the rain we've had recently, I don't think I've ever seen it as full.
After another push from the wind I decided to head away from the edge and potter back along the Path.
Above Castle Gap and the swollen Crag Lough

As usual I took a few photographs from the hill above Castle Nick looking towards Hotbank. There are still patches of snow on the lee side of the Wall and I could see across to the North Pennines where there's a substantial snow cover.

Snow on the North Pennines from Hadrian's Wall

Back along the track and not wanting to face the gale going down the side of Peel Crags I cut across to the lower track, passing the Hotbank Cattle grazing by Peel Bothy.
The climb back up to Steel Rigg was very muddy and very slippery so if you're heading out there for Easter have good cleats on your boots or be careful how you go.
When I got back home TT told me those big angry clouds had dumped a substantial amount of wet stuff on Gilsland, I could see that happening from my high point on the Wall but fortunately it had worn itself out before it got to me and I stayed dry.
I'm off to Plenmeller Common now, it's a while since I've been there and the on my last visit I saw a ghost, hope he's away for Easter.
Catch you later.