Orford Ness

There is a terrifying beauty to this place.  It appears post-apocalyptic which, given its history, is as it should be.  Throughout the 20th century the site was used for a wide range of military research programmes, not least by the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment.  Meanwhile, at the northern end of the ‘island’, the Cobra Mist structure stands as a monument to the experimental, Anglo-American, over-the-horizon radar system.  The vast complex is now privately owned with rumoured plans to use the building to house an IT server farm.

To the frustration of local volunteers, much of the site is in decay and the National Trust has no interest in maintaining the infrastructure, their primary concern being the bird sanctuary.  Even the lighthouse is under threat – perilously close to the shingle beach, the expectation is that one more violent winter storm could see it collapse into the sea.

Orford Ness provides a timely reminder of “Oppenheimer’s deadly toy“.  The research that was undertaken on this site cannot be un-invented.  The threat of Armageddon remains.  Indeed, it could be argued that the threat is greater than at any time since the Cold War with the potential for terrorists and rogue states to get their hands on such technology.  Leaving the ‘island’ behind on the ferry to Orford, there is the distinct impression that school children are being wound up to agonise and protest over entirely the wrong threat.

Towards Black Beacon from AWRE 1

Derelict structure around AWRE 1

Looking south towards AWRE 1

More dereliction at AWRE 1 (you cannot reach the Pagodas)

Left behind – sole survivor

Towards the lighthouse

The lighthouse showing desperate attempts to shore up the underlying supports – “one more bad winter and it could be gone”

The lighthouse from the south

Black Beacon

Black Beacon from the lighthouse

Black Beacon

The approach to AWRE 1

The lighthouse

Advertisements

Witches’ knickers …

… and other monochromes, from a walk between Portmahomack and Tarbat Ness lighthouse.  To get here, head for Inverness, cross the Kessock and Cromarty Bridges, follow the A9 north, by-passing Invergordon, until a turning right is signposted Fearn and beyond.  We are here because of golf, a ‘research’ trip for Golf in the Wild – Going Home – golf doesn’t get much wilder than this.

It is also a fine place to stay regardless of the golf: Known in Gaelic as ‘Port MoCholmaig’ or St Colman’s Port, Portmahomack can trace its roots back to 800 AD. Today, this pretty fishing village is well-known locally for its picturesque setting. The only village on the east coast of Scotland that faces due west, Portmahomack can enjoy spectacular sunsets. And because it is situated in an area of the Highlands renowned for its low rainfall, the village doesn’t suffer with those pesky West Coast midges! – http://www.portmahomack.org/

A remarkably flat landscape for much of the road towards the tip of the peninsular, the landscape was purpose-built for aerodromes.  More than seventy years after the end of World War II, there is much evidence of the decaying infrastructure that supported RAF Tain.  It is also prime farmland, more reminiscent of the Great Plains than a land steeped in ancient Pictish history.  There are the inevitable too-yellow fields of oil seed rape but also, acres given over to potato crops, much of which ends up in crackly packets of Walkers Crisps.

Once you reach the coastal village Portmahomack, the landscape roughens up such that the golf course is anything but flat which makes for a thoroughly entertaining 10-hole layout at the top of the village. Golf was first played here in 1894 and the current club established in 1909.

Portmahomack even has its own Carnegie Hall which, by happy coincidence, was playing host to Lizabett Russo on the night we arrived.

These photos ignore the golf as I am honour-bound to occasionally entertain the Good Wife/part-time caddie with walks that don’t include greens and fairways:

Witches’ knickers

A shed

Wide open spaces

Oil seed rape.

Tarbat Ness Lighthouse.

Tarbat Ness Lighthouse.

Whitby

Bram Stoker spent a great deal of time in Whitby and at the Royal Hotel.  It is said that while looking out of from his window at the Royal he found his inspiration for Dracula by watching a large black dog leaping from a ship that had run aground on the foreshore.

We have his room – the foreshore is visible, the wind is howling; there are any number of black dogs straining on reluctant leads in the sideways rain.  The staff all have Transylvanian accents; the steaks are a touch too rare.  At breakfast we are joined by the undead.

The Dracula convenience store – late night shopping only

Whitby attracts the Goth community and it is easy to understand why – not just the Dracula connection but that very Victorian, very black material, Whitby jet can be found everywhere among the narrow streets and cobbled alleyways. It is a Hammer Horror film set with perfect backdrops – the steep, steep steps to St Mary’s and the ruined Abbey lording it over the town.

Despite this, it is also a place of romance, light and poetry.

West Pier – Whitby

Last of the light – Whitby

Things Passed Away

In lapis, dun and grey, heave, swell and gale
are stilled; the whispering mast and shingle-roar
silenced.  Small boats of larch and oak and prayer
take on the storm with slender oars and straining sail.
Umber and ochre beget beast and bale,
the harvest art, the scythe, the brooding moor,
and, as lowering clouds advance upon the shore,
the lover waits, the mother saves the veil.

But soon, beyond these whelming cobalt seas,
young men will reel, mistaking smoke for fret
and blasted shells for raining ore or jet,
seeking dolphins as they to darkness yield.
Then, painting dark on dark when life has ceased,
charred bones become ivory-black and stain the field.

Jane Poulton
March 2015.

The Cross, St Mary’s, Whitby.

Over the rooftops and houses

St Mary’s Whitby

Romeo, Romeo, I’m your Juliet
I’m the pot of gold that you haven’t found yet
And I’m here, right here

The Fratellis

Happy, smiley, people – in the rain at Whitby

A short walk …

… to Errington, not in the Hindu Kush.  An ordinary March Sunday in Northumberland, we parked the car west of Cocklaw and walked the 1.5 miles to Errington and back.  A quiet corner of the county, there is little to see you might think.  Except, the fields were full of detectorists hunting Anglo-Saxon gold and not finding it – the farmer presumably does well out of their optimism.

At Cocklaw Farm there is a pele tower built by the Erringtons in the 15th century and was the family seat for two hundred years until they moved into Beaufront castle closer to Hexham. It escaped the usual robbery of stone in the 18th and 19th centuries due to its isolation and is now used for storage of farm machinery and livestock. It still stands almost 40 feet high but the wooden floors have collapsed, leaving in place only half of the ground floor vaulted lower ceiling which will soon fall in – ecastles.co.uk

In this image of wary sheep, Chollerton Farm and Mill is visible on the horizon to the left – an early 19th century farmstead with a windmill, threshing mill, steam engine house, boiler house and chimney as well as farm offices and cottageswww.keystothepast.info

In the distance, Chollerton Farm

In a field adjacent to Cocklaw Farm was this fine beast:

Handsome beast

This view north from near Errington is towards Middle Farm and Beaumont House – just east of the former, the OS map includes a marker for a ‘Hydraulic Ram’ but nowhere on the Internet is there any reference to this mysterious device:

The view north

We turned round once we reached Errington – this image taken last August when everything was greener:

Errington House

So, nothing much to see 🙂

Kyle of Lochalsh

My room is beneath the first ‘L’ in Lochalsh and I am sat at the adjacent window, to the front, looking out on the Kyle as I type this post. If this was a postcard, I would scratch “I am here” in BIC biro.

The Lochalsh Hotel

It is now all too easy to pass by this hotel – once adjacent to the Isle of Skye ferry, it was at the centre of things as all vehicles bound for the island queued for anything up to five hours, but never on a Sunday. This little gem from Alan Whicker and the BBC Tonight programme, November 1964:

Sat at this window on April 24th 1973, I would have seen a dark blue Mitchell Van Hire, 18cwt Bedford CF, board the Skye ferry. The driver, dressed in a too-long purple jumper knitted by an earlier girlfriend, a pair of too-wide flared jeans, a straw hat and Mexican sandals made from old car tyres, we were heading for Glen Brittle and perfect Spring sunshine. How things have changed. The road now sweeps across the Skye Bridge, I have arrived by train, it is February and it is wet and very windy. It is an odd time of year to come to the Highlands.

Inverness Station – the Kyle of Lochalsh train

Arriving at Kyle of Lochalsh

I have always wanted to travel the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh railway, along with the Mallaig and Wick lines, some of the world’s most scenic railways. Up to end March it is possible to travel anywhere in Scotland on ScotRail for £17 return once you have purchased a £15 Club 50 card.

There was one slight flaw to my cunning plan – the journey north from Inverness was in complete darkness. I might as well have been travelling on the London Underground. Nevertheless, the journey south, tomorrow, starts at 12:08 so the landscape will be revealed in all its glory – assuming there is no mist.

To fill in time on a damp day, I took the bus from Kyle of Lochalsh to Elgol and Glasnakille, on the west coast of Skye. I was one of three passengers throughout the entire trip. The bus stops at Elgol for tea with the driver, Gordon, and immediately the BBC news comes on the radio at 1pm, we must get back on board and head for Glasnakille. It is timed like an Apollo launch.

Gordon

It was at Glasnakille that I was joined by a local lady bound for Broadford – she described it as a ‘course’ day. The conversation flowed from there, covering such diverse topics as Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull who once lived in nearby Strathaird House; the clearances; education – up to eleven there is a local school but thereafter children must board at Portree, the only secondary school on the island; the high volume of traffic in the summer; midges – you just have to out up with them and, the dreaded camper vans. By the time we reached Broadford, I felt like a local. Gordon would be back at 15:22, on the dot, to take her home.

For petrol heads …

On my first ride out on the Tracer this year I bumped into three guys doing publicity shots for a new AMG Mercedes C63s V-8 Bi-turbo at Cawfield Quarry, close to Hadrian’s Wall.  It is a desirable beast which sounds very purposeful, even on tick-over.  Fundamentally, it’s all about the thrill of speed, which makes you wonder why you would spend quite so much on such a car when could buy a garage-full of motorcycles for the same money. On two wheels, exposed to the elements, you really do get to find out what speed feels like.

Accompanying the post on Blipfoto I included a link to this video which for some reason became inaccessible – so here it is embedded in WordPress:

AMG Merc C63s V-8 Biturbo.

On show at Cawfields Quarry

And the Tracer – it can probably keep up, in a straight line

This was also the week that Nissan announced they would not be building the X-Trail at their Sunderland plant, all of which put me in mind of a prophetic piece written by Holman W Jenkins Jr, for the Wall Street Journal in September 2017 – Standby for a global car crash

German politicians and journalists have spent much of the summer  condemning Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche and VW for ‘dieselgate’, saying they’ve besmirched the tag “Made in Germany”.  And it’s true that the conduct of firms like VW, which cheated on emissions tests, was egregious.  But it’s also true that the emissions scandal arose entirely from the politically correct meddling of European politicians whose pursuit of meaningless reductions in carbon dioxide forced car-makers to replace petrol models with diesel ones, thereby making air in European cities significantly less breathable.  And it was politicians and policymakers who provided the loopholes exploited by car-makers because they wanted to ensure that their cars remained marketable.  Governments from Berlin to Beijing are now doubling down on that mistake by insisting that car-makers build electric cars that can only be sold at a steep loss.  With oil at $50/barrel, and petrol engines continuing to make impressive efficiency gains, that will require an even more implausible magic act to preserve car industries and jobs.  A car-wreck is coming that will make dieselgate look like a fender bender.

 

Nancy

I have been ploughing my way through David Nasaw’s biography of Andrew Carnegie.  I have been panning for gold.  Carnegie was an avid golfer and somewhere in this 878pp tome there are unique, if short references, to the man’s passion for the game.  Golf in the Wild research can be a slow and laborious process.

I mention this only because I have been itching to move on.  Intrigued by the reference to Nancy Ridley in the previous post, ‘buried by the Lych gate’, at St Cuthbert’s Beltingham, I was curious enough to buy her long-out-of-print Portrait of Northumberland, first published in 1965.  I am a short way into its pages but her descriptions of Roman Wall Country are instantly recognisable, a litany of names and places I know intimately by foot, by car and on motorcycle.  It is our home.

After too many years ping-ponging between northwest England and the south, chasing IT’s filthy lucre, it is odd that I should find myself tied to this place, at the very edge of England’s last wilderness. Now, nearly twenty-five years in the same place, it would be unthinkable to be anywhere else other than here.

‘Here’ is a landscape that would be entirely recognisable to Nancy but her introduction to Portrait of Northumberland is from another time entirely – “The Tyne still maintains its reputation as the greatest ship repairing river in the world” – “Every Northumbrian town has a live-stock mart for the sale not only of home bred but also Irish cattle” – “This is one of the most popular holiday districts in Northumberland where the same people go year after year.  There are many good boarding houses in Allendale Town”.  Sadly, the ‘same people’ are now most likely to be found on foreign beaches.

Nancy’s introduction also includes many references to the Great North Road which in her time would have run through the heart of towns and cities on its way to the Scottish Borders and beyond. The same would have been true of the old Newcastle to Carlisle A roads on their journey through the Tyne Valley.  We walk round with computing power in our pockets, unimaginable in 1965 but, the most visible aspect of change are the roads and vehicles on them – this from newcastleuncovered.com

In contrast, these recent images from around Beaufront Woodhead present a landscape unchanged since Nancy’s time and long before:

Lone trees on the lane to Acomb

Broken gate

Unbroken gate

Bridge on the lane to Acomb

This morning, while snow still lay all around we drove to the Allen Gorge car park and again walked to Beltingham, this time in search of Nancy’s grave. It should be easy to find but even after a relatively short time, the headstone is almost indecipherable:

Nancy’s grave – almost indecipherable

Time, she says,
“There’s no turning back,
keep your eyes on the tracks”
Through the fields, somehow there’s blue
Oh, time will tell, she’ll see us through

Finally a technical point re the images – generally I will shoot in Acros (+Yellow filter) so I can see the tones of a mono image on the camera LCD. Then, I will normally process the RAW image, sometimes colour, sometimes mono – for once these are all straight Acros jpegs from the ‘can’ – tweaked with the Camera RAW filter in PhotoShop CC. Interestingly, it is surprising how much shadow detail can be recovered even from a jpeg. Use of the original Acros image also preserves the film grain that Fuji have worked so hard to emulate.