Corbridge and snow …

Winter has returned, or maybe it never went away.  Certainly the conditions in far north Wick were milder but I doubt that still holds true.  This is just a small collection of images taken in and around Corbridge earlier today – I have processed them differently but they all come out the same – cold:

St Andrew’s Church graveyard, Corbridge

Umbrella time – Corbridge Post Office

Who cares about the weather, as long as we’re together.

The from the bridge looking east down the Tyne.

Mike Anton Estate Agents, Corbridge

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The Far North

Wick has been on my agenda for some time, almost five years to be precise, ever since my Highland Railways post from February 2013.  The ScotRail Club 55 discounted price has expired but with enough forward planning, you can still go a very long distance for not very much – in this instance, from Hexham to Wick and back for £66, a journey not too far shy of 1000 miles.

I set off with some trepidation – Wick and I have form.  Back in the summer of 1987 I flew there from Edinburgh on a business trip.  It is one of those airports that is disconcertingly close to the sea.  For the last half mile approach, there is the distinct impression that the plane is about to do a Captain Sully on the Hudson.  As it turned out, it wasn’t the landing that was the problem but the take-off a few days later.  Around 15:00 on a Friday afternoon, Loganair unceremoniously cancelled the return flight and left me stranded.

Taking to the railways was also full of uncertainties – the Far North Line, from Inverness to Wick, has a well documented poor reliability record.  Aging rolling stock and a single track with insufficient passing loops means that disruption to one service snowballs across the rest.  The occasional thump of shrubbery against windows also testifies to poor trackside maintenance.  I need not have worried.  All seven of the connecting services over four days ran exactly to time, the Inverness to Wick sections included.

The problem with the Far North Line runs much deeper than reliability.  Travel by car from Wick to Inverness and under normal circumstances it will take about two and half hours.  Travel by rail and it takes over four.  It is all down to geography.  The line takes the long route around three firths: Beauly, Cromarty and Dornie such that the distance by rail is roughly twice that of a well trained crow on a still day.  All three firths are crossed by road bridges with no accommodation for rail.

At least these rail routes to the heads of the firths take in modest areas of population.  This is not the case north of Helmsdale where the line wanders inland to avoid the major civil engineering challenge and associated cost of constructing a line over the Ord of Caithness.  The consequence of this 19th century decision is that the line travels remarkable distances to go to the very epicentre of the middle of nowhere.  For the idle rail enthusiast with no desire other than to observe the empty majesty of the Flow Country, this is heaven.  For the good people of Wick and Thurso and a commercial enterprise dependent on attracting passenger traffic, it is not what the doctor ordered.  To have survived post Beeching is a minor miracle.  I am just grateful it has and with the support of the Friends of the Far North Line, I trust it always will.

Kildonan Railway Station

An overnight stay provided the opportunity for only the briefest impressions of Wick.  Seen in a dull, clouded January light, it is a monochrome austere town.  There is no graffiti, no primary colours and no evidence of the too-familiar chain stores.  This creates an air of independence and self-reliance.  Grey stone and grey pebble-dash is contrasted by brown woodwork; individuality is expressed by the shade of brown wood stain. Everywhere there is solid 19th century architecture which will outlive its original purpose; the place has a curious magnificence.

It also seems prosperous – there is major construction work down by the harbour whilst oil rig support vessels are moored to the quayside alongside modern fishing boats, although nothing like the herring fleet numbers that crowded these waters in the 1800s.  In the busy harbourside cafe, Wickers World, the preferred choice of dress is hi-viz and hard hat.  If ownership of German SUVs is a reliable indicator of general prosperity, then the people of Wick are doing just fine.  This is a collection of images taken on the evening of my arrival and the morning of my departure.  Before too long I will return – by car and with golf clubs.  The links course, three miles north of the town, is just too tempting.

Cutting Edge Barbers

Ronnies Restaurant

The Camps Bar.

In 1651 Cromwell’s Army formed an encampment before moving on to invade Sinclair and Girnigoe Castles.  This area of the town is called The Camps.  Temperance (Scotland) Act closed all licenced premises in Wick for 25 years from 28th of May 1922 until 28th May 1947, with the Camps Bar being the first to open its doors.

Birons Ironmongers

The Post Office – Pulteney Town, Wick

The harbour, Wick

The lifeboat – Wick harbour, late afternoon.

The lifeboat station – Salmon Rock – no longer in use.

Fishermen’s huts Wick Harbour

Catherine, out of the water, Wick Harbour

Wickers [sic] World Cafe – Wick harbour.

Across the road from Wickers World.

Farewell to Wick – the train back south

… No sooner has the sun,
Swung clear above the earth’s rim than it is gone.
We live as gleaners of its vestiges.

Damon’s Lament for His Clorinda, Yorkshire, 1654
Geoffrey Hill – 1978

Sunrise over Wick harbour.

Travelling by train, particularly on the near-empty carriages of the Far North Line, is one of the most relaxing modes of transport devised by man, with or without the clickety-clack of sleep-inducing rail expansion gaps. However, there is mild frustration for the photographer – a fine landscape is only visible through mucky windows which reflect the carriage lights. This is the near-best moving image I could manage – a video of the Inverness to Edinburgh line heading south on the final day:

(dig around on this site and you may find various tweeted phone images from the same journey).

Stublick

According to Keys to the Past, Stublick Colliery is one of the best surviving 19th century collieries in the country. It has a well preserved range of colliery buildings, including an engine house, store and furnace house and chimneys. The colliery worked the small Stublick coalfield and supplied coal to nearby Langley and Blaghill lead smeltmills. The buildings are Grade II Listed Buildings and the site is a Scheduled Monument protected by law.  The mine closed in 1926.

Stublick Colliery

There is a pleasing circularity to this arrangement.  Turn 180 degrees and on the horizon is Stublick Chimney. A large flue system ran up the hill to the chimney from the nearby Langley smelt mills to vent noxious fumes produced by the furnaces.  The chimney is visible on the horizon across Stublick Bog.

Stublick Chimney as seen from the colliery.

OS Map of Stublick and Langley

Stublick Chimney and the flue are marked on this version of the OS map while the long gone smelt mills were north of the larger reservoir in Langley.

The colliery is unmarked but is adjacent and immediately south of Stublick Farm.  The farm is also abandoned but with planning permission for restoration and development to create three dwellings.

Stublick Farm, Langley, Northumberland

Stublick Farm outbuildings

At any time this ‘development opportunity’ would demand significant vision and optimism. On a bleak, snowy January, it just seems impossibly daunting.

Apropos of nothing, here is another snowy video from Beaufront Woodhead:

Music: Hero’s Theme by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/…)
Source: http://www.twinmusicom.org/song/280/h…
Artist: http://www.twinmusicom.org

Hummed Low …

The green truck hummed low
Oh, we took only back roads
We drove miles of country
We saw an old barn burning
Skies were a light blue
All the billboards read untrue
I read them, each one
We passed by the thousands
Was a full sun and I knew
That up rose a bright moon
Casting shadows like dancing sparrows

It is my Blip birthday today 🙂 – 1460 entries and four years on Blip.  In some respects it has got in the way of blogging on WordPress, the constant daily quest for a new image.  The upside is the incentive to use a camera everyday while the quality of images across the site provide a constant source of inspiration.  In some respects it has enhanced my enthusiasm for photography while feeding my sometimes obsessive-compulsive tendencies.  In celebration, these are a few images taken recently – at this time of year and in this weather, I probably would not have bothered but for Blip:

On Windermere, from Waterhead

The view from Stock Ghyll Lane, Ambleside

More from Stock Ghyll Lane – inspired by John Martin 😉

The longhorn dreaming of sunlit prairies.

Fawcett Hill on a snowy day

A bend in the North Tyne between Barrasford and Chollerton.

The loneliness of the long distance golfer – Tyne Green, Hexham

The light has gone

A blizzard blowing in

Ouseburn, Acros and …

… other things.

Like Seaton Sluice, Ouseburn doesn’t sound too attractive, something underfoot which should be avoided.  It turns out that names can be deceptive, Ouseburn is quite pleasant despite its mucky industrial past and living in the shadows of three viaducts which span the valley.

A brief period of snow after Christmas has been followed by leaden skies and persistent rain, not the best start to the year.  Après la neige, le déluge.  Nevertheless, on Wednesday afternoon we got lucky and a walk from the Side in Newcastle to the Ouseburn Valley was lit by a bright winter sun, splintered by the Tyne Bridge.

In the dull days before this Newcastle outing, I had spent many happy hours fiddling with the settings on the Fuji X100F. I am mostly a RAW man but I remain addicted to the jpeg film simulations available on Fuji X cameras and so shoot both.  When it comes to colour, I am mostly convinced by the argument that RAW records all of the data from the sensor and allows you to decide exactly how the final image should look.  However, when it comes to black and white I am not at all sure I can get anywhere near the simulations that Fuji provide in camera.  This is particularly true of ACROS as explained at fujifilm-x.com:

Other manufacturers are also implementing the idea of creating “graininess” to enhance image texture. FUJIFILM is not the only brand doing this. You can find “Grain” filter in readily available photo processing software, and many monochrome photographers add “grain” to achieve the monochrome film like effect.

Most of them try to achieve this by adding “grain-like element” to the original image. They simply add another layer of “dotted graininess” on top without changing the original photo composition. So something becomes unnatural in the process.  “ACROS” is different.

We developed it from the core of the image file to achieve a very complex and natural like grain expression. Optimal and different grain expressions are added to highlight and low light areas. You would not find unnatural dotted graininess in the highlight areas just like how the monochrome film behaves. In the low light area, you would see the graininess just as it would appear with monochrome film. There is undulating grain within the picture. And it adds depth like no other.

ACROS also changes the output of graininess depending on the sensitivity setting. As the sensitivity gets higher, stronger grain effect becomes visible, just like film.

We also think that it is very unlikely that any RAW conversion software would achieve what “ACROS” achieves. We all know that there are excellent RAW conversion software in the market, but we also believe that the magic of X-Processor Pro is not so easily solved.

These are the results with only minor tweaks in Photoshop – simulation is ACROS with a yellow filter, noise reduction at -1, highlight tone at -2 and sharpness at +2:

Newcastle Quayside from Lombard Street

The Newcastle Arms, directly beneath the Tyne Bridge

Newcastle Quayside – Tyne-Tees Steam Shipping Co. Ltd. All that remains is the DFDS ferry to Amsterdam.

The Toffee Factory and the Tyne Tees Steam Shipping Company – Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle.

Tyne-Tees Steam Shipping Company – Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle.

We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do – Mother Teresa.

Boats at the mouth of the Ouseburn.

Mustang ‘S’ally, American Diner, Ouseburn.

The Ship Inn, Ouseburn.

Of course, I see what I want to see and I am not sure the subtleties of ACROS grain are particularly evident in these images.  So, to finish off, here is a portrait of my middle son, Matt, being subjected to the ACROS treatment.

Happy New Year, one and all.

Matt being given the Fujifilm ACROS treatment.

A Merry Christmas

It is time to sign off for the year – wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2018.

And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”   Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Approaching Honningsvåg, Norway – 23rd December 2014 on the Hurtigruten Ferry.

Anything could happen …

In the summer of ’41 a year had passed since the Dunkirk evacuation and the immediate scare of invasion had subdued. In the east, the Germans were encircling Leningrad for the beginnings of a siege that would last 872 days and cost in excess of 632,000 lives.  Nothing was certain, none of the outcomes we now take for granted were known.  Anything could happen.

My father was completing his final year at university, evacuated to Cambridge from Queen Mary College, London the previous year. At some point in late 1940 or early 1941 he had applied for a position at ICI, Manchester and made the trip north for an interview.  That war time rail trip resulted in an offer of employment from Hexagon House, Blackley on 25th March subject to him obtaining a first or second class honours degree.  Dad’s commencing salary as an industrial chemist would be £275 per annum with a £24 war supplement, working for either the Explosives Group (Billingham or Ardeer) or Dyestuffs Group (Blackley or Trafford Park). The offer letter also included this standard caveat:

In view of the Company’s promise to make every possible effort to reinstate those of its employees on 3rd September, 1939 who serve with the Colours, the question of retention in the Company’s service after the war of any employees engaged since that date must be subject to the prior claim of those individuals.

Nothing was certain.

In the early summer of ’41 he would pack up his few belongings and return to his parents home in Andover to await the exam results.  A short bike ride across town to his girlfriend’s house would have helped fill the waiting hours, a welcome simplicity after the years of wartime travel to and from Cambridge.

I am bewildered by what happened next, just a few days after his girlfriend’s eighteenth birthday.  Dad was extremely capable, studious and meticulous.  Popular, good at games and fiercely loyal he was nevertheless a reserved character who never drank; there would have been no distractions.  I can only imagine the disappointment and foreboding when the news came – he had only achieved a B.Sc. pass degree.  A telegram was sent to ICI Blackley.

Agonising days later, a letter postmarked Blackley, Manchester 23rd Aug 41, landed on the doormat at Rooksbury Road, Andover:

Dear Mr Down,

We are writing to thank you for your telegram and confirmatory letter dated 20th August advising us that you only obtained a pass degree in your recent B.Sc. examination.

In normal circumstances this would disqualify you for a position with us, but we have referred to the notes which we made during the interview and have decided to make an exception in your case.  In the attached formal letter we are making you a conditional offer of a post at our Trafford Park Works, and if all is well we will expect you start with us on Monday, 1st September.

We feel sure that your work will justify the confidence we are placing in you …

The formal letter contained some further conditions: the aforementioned reinstatement priority for staff who served with the Colours, a medical examination and the following:

It is understood that our offer and your acceptance of employment are subject to your final allocation to the company by the Allocation Committee of the Military Recruiting Department of the Ministry of Labour.

In the dark days of ’41, this vaguely Orwellian government department was tasked with balancing the manpower needs of the Register of Protected Establishments with those of the armed forces; that summer both were suffering significant shortages.  On August 23rd 1941, final allocation to Imperial Chemical Industries was by no means certain.

Ultimately Dad justified the confidence placed in him.  Starting on 1st September 1941 he stayed with the company until his retirement, forty years later.  He married his Andover girlfriend in 1943, and one year later my sister arrived.  The war ended and eventually, perhaps with some reluctance on my mother’s part, I made my appearance.  In August 1941 none of this was known.  Anything could happen.