Northumberland 2021: Part One
26 May 2021
So, a job in Northumberland meant that I had a new county to explore! I drove up the day before (leaving less than an hour after my second covid injection) as the agent had very kindly arranged a covid test first thing for me, parked up in a nearby layby to get some sleep after the long drive and was at the testing site first thing. Fortunately for me, one of the crew signing us in and guiding us on where to go, happened to be a local. As we got chatting, he suggested several locations that were worth going to, and I left aiming for the closest, St Cuthberts Cross and Church Island in Alnmouth. The car park he directed me to was no longer available, as the road to it has now been blocked off, but I found a nearby spot and started the hike down to church hill. The weather wasn’t particularly promising, but it actually suited the shot I hoped for with the Cross, so I wasn’t put off just yet. I pushed on past the little derelict chapel I noted at the bottom of the hill, aiming to get that as I came back, and breached the top of the hill at a fairly windy and cloudy moment. My intention to try and get a shot of a moody cloud streaking across the sky towards the cross, but I haven’t actually worked out how to get a shot like that. Seems wind/cloud direction and speed are a big factor! I tried several shots, most didn’t give it the bleak, lonely feel I wanted, because the background looked full and populated, but I finally found a spot I liked and ending up squatting down in a grassy part down the side of the hill. Several people passed through on daytime walks with their dogs, but everyone was lovely, and they all moved out of my shot really quickly. I guess this is obviously a popular spot! It also seems most photographers get nice sunsise or sunset shots from here, but where its up high and alone, I wanted a shot with a colder, empty, lonely feel to it. Although close to what I envisioned, my shot wasn’t quite what I hoped for a) because the clouds were blowing across the scene rather than into it and b) they were moving so slowly despite the wind, that I simply couldn’t get the effect no matter how hard I tried! I decided that I would have to retry another time but for now I was getting battered a bit by the winds where I was so exposed, so I decided I would try the little church lower down.
This little hill by the way is called Church Hill, and the cross is believed to mark the spot where in 684, the former monk and prior, Cuthbert, agreed to leave his life as a solitary hermit, and to become the bishop of Lindesfarne after King Ecgfrith of Deria and Northumberland petitioned him in person. He died a few years later in March 687, and was subsequently venerated to become Saint Cuthbert, one of the most popular saints in medieval England. I have no idea when this cross was first placed here, but this particular one certainly didn’t look ancient. If they are always made of wood they must eventually rot being exposed like this, so, I guess, must also need regular replacement. Its a nice spot to visit though, being high up on its own little hill, and surrounded by wetlands, with views across the river and coast that are well worth exploring.
Down this hill a little, near the bottom, are the ruins of a small mortuary chapel built around 1870. In the grey weather, I tried a couple of different positions, but the scene was a little flat no matter where I stood. As I contemplated what I could do here, two elderly gents passed by and got chatting with me. ‘Where is your accent from?’ asked one eventually. I have never been asked where I was from like that before, and for a brief second I stopped to wonder what accent (!!) We chatted for ages, and the men offered several other location ideas that I could visit, most already on my list, but it was good to hear confirmations on them, and recommendations for new ones! They went on their way, (actually inside the ruins) to have their lunch, and I noted a glimmer of sunlight trying to poke through onto my scene. This showed that the side I stood on was all in shadow, so I moved round and took a photo from the other side, which caught another, smaller, glimmer of light, and this time a hint of some moving cloud. The sun didn’t reappear again but I could see that above the low cloud, there were patches of blue coming. I waited for a while, but sunshine clearly wasn’t going to happen anytime soon here, and I ended up feeling that this whole location might actually be better at a high tide, with a nice warm morning or evening sun anyway. So I ended here and headed back to the camper for some lunch.
As I sat in the camper making lunch and thinking of where to go, I decided that as I had a few days, maybe I should just start at the top, and work my way down, simply exploring and working out locations for now. Once I finished eating, I looked at my map, and headed up to the top of Northumberland and to Berwick upon Tweed in particular.
The drive up was really easy – one road pretty much! As I drove, the dark sky was to my left and lighter blue was coming through to my right. At one point I passed a sight that I have ever since kicked myself for not stopping at. Not that I could have done so easily from the dual carriageway I was driving on. It was the striking sight of a very dark sky, with the sun shining brightly on 3 white windfarm windmills, and lighting up the grassy hill in front into a lush green colour. It was a surprisingly beautiful and simple sight of something I would never consider photographing… but alas, it disappeared into the distance in my rear view mirror as I sped away at 60 mph. Its still in my head though, and I remember where it was – so should I ever get lucky and spot that sight again, I will make sure I stop!
As my drive on continued, I altered my course slightly. Before I hit Berwick, I decided to drive on another 5 minutes to just step (literally) into Scotland, simply because I randomly fancied getting as far north of England as I possibly could, and solely for s**ts and giggles – well since it was so close, why on earth not eh?! (is this work or a holiday? – does it actually matter?!!) I sent photos to the family of my feet in both countries, looked at the little bit of wall there, and tried to follow the route it would have taken with my eyes, since we are not able to follow it with our feet. There really wasn’t much else there to mark this otherwise important position, so the stop didn’t last much more than 5 Minutes itself. Childish giggles for myself over, I drove down to find my location.
Berwick Upon Tweed was on my list because I had seen a boat sculpture, a viaduct and a bit of the old castle all fairly close to each other and I hoped to find them to see if I could get them to work in one shot. I parked up and went on a reccie trip, leaving all my kit in the camper (I suspected this site would look best at sunset.. which was still several hours away) I travelled through a really lovely park bit that was beautifully set out and very peaceful, and found the three elements for my hoped for composition very easily. I explored what I could, taking photos with my mobile but I couldn’t find a way to get all 3 elements in the shot together in a pleasing way (to my eye), so I just sat on the boat and relaxed instead. If only I were a few feet taller! This area was just SO peaceful though. Despite being in a big town, I could only hear birds and the tide lapping at the shore – it was an incredibly beautiful spot. The sun finally made a stronger appearance, and I found myself here for over an hour just taking in the calm and warm sunshine. I reminded myself that I was just 24 hours after the jab, so was mindful not to overdo anything -this weather and location being perfect to help encourage me to take things easy.
As I sat I realised the tide was actually going out, and that by the time sunset would be here, the view might largely be mud rather than a nice reflective water. Since I hadn’t brought down my kit anyway I decided to just rack this one up as a place ‘yet to do’, and I picked another location for the evening. As the sky had mostly cleared, I thought there might be a chance for a nice sunset, so picked a location I thought might work perfectly, and one I had been dying to see in person. Bamburgh Castle – a castle photographed a huge number of times and one that was sure to look great regardless of what happened with the weather. I hoped this would be as equal a corker location for me, as it clearly had been for all the other photographers whose pictures I had admired. The drive was very easy (as were all the locations along this coastline I found!) and the walk to the beach was equally so. I was standing in position within a few minutes of parking and taking in the wonderous sight that was reflected perfectly in the wet sand where the tide was on its way out.
I wasn’t alone either, there was another couple here, both with their tripods out, Peter and Caroline, and we happily got chatting about the view, our experiences, locations we had visited and our kits. (Peter had the most awesome lightweight tripod, Caroline had the same Benro geared head on hers as I had!) They had been here a number of times before, coming up to Northumberland from Cornwall regularly to tour and get photos of areas they loved. They suggested a number of further sights for me to try, most, again, on my list, and a couple that weren’t. The longer we waited for the sunset though, the quicker the cloud in the sky disipated sadly, until we were left with a clear blue sky and nothing to reflect the sunset colour. We all tried what we could however, and even though it was disappointing, at least we had a beautiful warm colour on the castle itself, and I had already manage a lovely reflection shot with some interesting cloud, when I’d first arrived.
Mildly disappointed it wasn’t looking like I would get a colourful sunset cloud, I looked behind me to see where the sun was in relation to the horizon (would there be enough time for any cloud to form?!!) and was in awe of the sight. It was just dipping behind the little lighthouse here, throwing the evening sky and sand into deep oranges over to the west, and silhouetting another photographer standing right behind me, that I hadn’t noticed turn up. She was a younger woman, very much focussed on what she was doing, chatting quietly with a man who was with her, so I didn’t distract her with conversation of my own (I tend to talk a lot sometimes!!) She was photographing the view I was looking at, and definately had the right idea though, so I swung my camera around to capture this sight instead, photographing them in the scene (see header pic). I then stepped to her side and photographed the lighthouse as well. Seconds later the sun was gone, and the colour immediately dimmed with it.
I messaged a friend who told me that there was going to be a supermoon that night, and when I excitedly brought up my Photopils app, it looked like the moon may well come up behind the castle at around 1am!! Exhilarated at the prospect of a nice moon and castle shot, I decided to stay put with the camper and come out a little later. Within the hour however, there was heavy cloud on the horizon and by midnight the sky was covered… this wiped away any chance of seeing any stars and definately not a supermoon. 🙁
With my options stripped, I just went to sleep where the camper was. Perhaps by dawn the sky might be clear….