Northumberland in mono …

… by now these images should show hints of springtime colour but Northumberland, for the most part, remains determinedly black and white.  To quote Joan Didion, we live entirely by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.  Put simply, March, and now the beginnings of April, do not fit my narrative line.  I have put 498 miles on the Yamaha since January 1st and squeezed five rounds of golf between the snow showers. Every mile and every fairway I have been clobbered up to the nines with multiple layers and thermals.  Enough is enough – let’s skip spring and go straight to summer:

Sandhoe in the snow

Snow and frozen puddle – on the road to Fawcett Hill

Afternoon light, Beaufront Woodhead

Up the hill to Beaufront Woodhead

Under March skies

The wrong line

St John’s, Whitfield

Misty morning, Beaufront Woodhead

Misty morning, Beaufront Woodhead

Hexham in heavy rain

Stublick Chimney

Towards Branchend

To emphasise the point, these last two images were taken today, 1st April. I was on the way to Allendale Golf Club to take part in the first competition of the year – it soon became evident this was not a practical proposition. I turned around 😦

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The Cross

Given the proximity of the ‘b’ and the ‘n’ on the QWERTY keyboard, this place could be easily dismissed as a typo.  Approaching from the east via Gilsland and West Hall, Bewcastle seems impractically distant from anywhere.  In the words of Peter Davidson, it feels like the last of England.  The sheep and cattle roam free under the Border’s wide skies, at a point where Northumberland, Cumbria and southernmost Scotland meet.  Davidson compares its remoteness with that of Norway’s northernmost Sami territory, Finnmark.  It was probably this, more than anything, that determined I must go.

And yet, for all its remoteness, there is obvious evidence that, at various times in ancient history, this place possessed significance.  There is the corvid haunted castle, the church which stands on the same land once occupied by a Roman fort and, within the graveyard, the Bewcastle Cross,  the finest Anglican Cross in Europe. Dating from the 7th century, it is dedicated to Alcfrith, son of Oswiu, King of Northumberland who ruled from 641 – 670 ADwww.bewcastle.com.

Bewcastle Cross, St Cuthbert’s Church

St Cuthbert’s Church

Peter Davidson again – The Idea of North – Topographies , Britain:  The point of the Bewcastle Cross within any idea of the English north is the absolute, internationalist sophistication of its iconography and execution: the vine scrolls are eastern Mediterranean in inspiration; the panel of Christ is derived, via Ireland, from Coptic sources. This is as sophisticated an artefact as the England of the late seventh century was capable of producing: it has details consonant with the sculpture of contemporary Rome.  It forces a reconsideration of the whole question of centre and periphery, standing as it now does in a hamlet at the very edge of England where to go further north you would have to walk to reach Scotland.  By drove roads, moss-troopers’ tracks, memorised secret paths to the frontier.

Rome, 1141 miles

The road to New House

Between Park Farm and The Wilderness

The ford at Rawney

These last images are from a four mile, circular walk that heads north from Bewcastle towards New House, west to Park Farm, south to Lyne Bank Bridge and east, back to Bewcastle.  Examine the OS map and the entire area is criss-crossed by footpaths, bridle paths and farm tracks – the memorised secret paths to the frontier.

We will return – not least because Bryony and Joy at the relatively nearby Scypen were so welcoming, late on a March Sunday afternoon.

OS Map view of walk

Winter-misted Hills

Beyond our neighbours’ frosted washing lines,
Their silvered slates and chimney-pots,
Our borderland begins …
Make what you can of it, for no one knows
What story’s told by winter-misted hills.

Douglas Dunn – Northlight 1988

Fawcett Hill

Looking west from Fawcett Hill

Towards Beaufront Woodhead from Fawcett Hill

No way through to Beaufront Hill Head

Cabin crazy

This is the sort of thing that I find interesting, particularly when I have been cooped up for too long.  Anyone who uses a Fuji X camera appreciates the remarkable jpegs it is capable of producing straight out of the box.  However, as a ‘serious’ photographer, I feel obliged to shoot in RAW to provide maximum scope for adjustment – change to exposure, recovery of highlights, adjusting shadows etc etc, the possibilities are endless.  Consequently, I spend happy hours post-processing an image to the point where sometimes it is almost as good as the film simulated jpeg produced by the camera.

There are other options – Photoshop Camera RAW camera calibration contains all of the film simulation profiles which, at the click of a mouse, supposedly provide immediate conversion to the preferred profile – except that, even to this amateur eye, they don’t look as good as those produced in camera.

Enter Fujifilm’s X RAW Studio – I don’t know if this approach is unique to Fuji but it seems a very neat solution. This isn’t just another RAW processor, instead it enables access to the image processor inside the camera.  Consequently, what you get is exactly what Fuji intended; not only that, it is non-destructive so you can generate as many film simulated versions as you like, all from the same original RAW file i.e. if you are shooting RAW + a simulated JPEG, you are not constrained to one version of the JPEG.  There are detailed explanations of the set up and conversion process on Youtube – this is a good one.

If my ramblings are clear as mud, perhaps this will make more sense – this is the same image – shot in RAW and Acros + Red filter JPEG and these are four versions of the same image with four different Fuji film simulations:

  • Top left is Vivid/Velvia with strong grain;
  • Top right is Acros+Yellow filter with strong grain;
  • Bottom left is Sepia with no grain;
  • Bottom right is Classic Chrome with no grain.

Not only are these none destructive edits to the original RAW file, the subsequent JPEG edits are also preserved in *.FP1 files so they can be reloaded and amended further.  All of this done with the convenience of a large monitor, rather than peering into the camera’s LCD.

How often I will use X Raw Studio I am unsure, given that I am already post-processing with Photoshop CC, ON1 2018 RAW and occasionally ON1 B&W (this remains a very effective mono engine even though replaced many releases ago).  Nevertheless, it is good to know the option exists.

Anyway enough of that.  The reason I am going cabin crazy is down to the endless hours in front of this screen.  The Siberian snow has now been replaced by a dull wet slushy thaw and I can find no enthusiasm to go outside – unlike the previous few days.  This has been the weather in and around Hexham:

Our under-used postbox – we haven’t seen a post person in days.

Egger from Oakwood – on a smartphone – too weighed down with shopping, even for the diminutive X100F.

The view from Hexham Bridge using a smartphone – as above.

The road down to Hexham

A flock of sheep ane behind, a Flock of Seagulls

Dead Man’s Fair

Winter has returned with a vengeance.  Ever since Michael Fish and the great storm of 1987, the Met Office and the BBC et al have taken to issuing a variety of coloured weather warnings and individually naming every balmy breeze that blows in from the Atlantic. Much like out-of-date motorway hazard displays, the effect on the population is that we believe less and less and are totally unprepared when something genuine turns up.  The Boy Who Cried Wolf should be compulsory reading.

On this occasion I am not complaining, I love the snow.  Over the winter I have been scheming how to get back to the Lofoten Islands but, as it turns out, the Lofoten weather has come to Hexham.  Some of this ever-present desire to head for Scandinavia has been enhanced by my reading of Peter Davidson’s, The Idea of North.  This learned, encyclopaedic work is full of gems.  Housman’s A Shropshire Lad is deservedly renowned but I had never come across this extract from his Last Poems.  Some poetry has the power to get under the skin:

In midnights of November,
When Dead Man’s Fair is nigh,
And danger in the valley,
And anger in the sky,

Around the huddling homesteads
The leafless timber roars,
And the dead call the dying
And finger at the doors.

To quote Davidson, Dead Man’s Fair is the crucial phrase and its original meaning is specific – the last fair of the year at Church Stretton was held when winter weather made the homeward journey dangerous.  But the phrase moves out from its local English meaning to the idea of the first days of November as the point where the divisions (or defences) between the living and the dead are at there most abraded – All Soul’s Day, le jour des morts.  It acquires both the meaning of the annual time of the dead but also an extraordinary momentary implication of a fair attended only by the dead.  This implication is as disquieting as the heterodox medieval idea of the compagnie des morts, the lonely company of the dead passing in the dark on the winter roads:

Lonely roads behind the castle

Looking north east

Looking east across the field

From the road to Fawcett Hill

These images were taken yesterday, since then the weather across Northumberland has deteriorated – the first is the usual time-lapse across the field and the second is various views from indoors – the best place to be 🙂

Carter Bar

According to Wiki: Carter Bar forms a popular point for tourists to stop and take photographs on the Anglo-Scottish border. There are two marker stones on either side of the A68 for this purpose, the original stone created by local Borders stonemason, Edy Laub. Upper Redesdale, the Scottish Borders (including Tweeddale) and to the east, the Cheviot hills are all visible from Carter Bar. However, its altitude means snow is possible even in late spring and early autumn, and the Carter Bar pass can be subject to frequent snow-related closures during the winter.

Perhaps I should have read this before setting off on the Yamaha.  A hint of warmth in the air around Hexham convinced me this was just the day for a round trip to Scotland along the A68.  Everything was fine until Byrness village when the already biting wind chill bit harder, snow appeared in the verges and a persistent layer of ice was visible at the northern end of Catcleugh Reservoir.

By the time I had climbed the 418 metres (1,371 ft) to Carter Bar, the landscape was mostly white.  Fortunately, the roads remained clear and ice free.  Pulling into the viewpoint lay-by I was hoping to see The Borderer mobile snack bar but they had sensibly upped sticks for the winter.  There was nothing to do but extract the camera, take some quick shots, try to get some heat into my fingertips and head back south (I really do need heated grips).  Not the most comfortable ride but a thoroughly energising 77 miles.  Next task, wash off the salt and muck from the bike … and me:

The lay-by heading north

The A68 looking south into Northumberland

The lay-by heading south

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