From an aerial view, the mouth of the River Tyne looks like the head of an enormous sperm; the river forming the tail behind the pointed bulge created by the two long sweeping piers that stretch out from Tynemouth and South Shields. At the end of each pier stands a lighthouse to guide shipping between these long defensive walls, and then the navigator can line up the high and low lights at North Shields to direct them into the deep water channel to take them upstream.
In the midst of these imposing structures is another, more modest piece of building work, yet photographically it steals the show to the extent that it could probably be classified as a cliché, i.e one of those images that every visitor to the area would create. At the southern tip of that deep water channel there is what can only be described as a short bulge that extends seawards from South Shields. Too short and broad to be properly seen as a pier or a sea wall it is nevertheless an important element in the design of the river mouth, for this bulge helps to divert the flow of the Tyne and prevent erosion of the shoreline that could otherwise result. It is what is known as a groyne.
What makes the groyne at Shields so special however is the light at the end. A beacon rather than a lighthouse, it is housed in what appears to be an octagonal shed atop a series of sloping legs that give it the appearance of something between the Martian tripods in The War of the Worlds and the lunar landing craft used in the Apollo missions to the moon. What gives the light its particular appeal is that it is painted a vivid red colour.
With green bents grasses, blue skies, yellow sands and white clouds to give contrast it cannot help but be eye-catching. That it has as its backdrop the equally dramatic ruins of Tynemouth Priory and the Collingwood monument simply adds to its appeal. Today I was attracted by the opportunity to light the scene with the warm glow of the dying sun. As you can see from the images I was occasionally lucky, and occasionally frustrated by the intermittent interference of clouds. Some of the images are very much of that cliché category, some I hope are not, in particular the portrait of Alan who was fishing from the end of the groyne and enjoying the efforts that his friend was putting into the landing of his catch. A very small crab.