Scratching the Groyne Itch

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.



Fresh Inspiration

A business meeting took me to Maryport today, a small town on the coast of Cumbria with a proud maritime history that goes back to the Romans, although whether you consider being the birthplace of Fletcher Christian part of this proud heritage rather depends on whether you consider him mutinous rebel or heroic champion.

I was going to write about the place as a frontier town, small, quirky with a fierce independence.  Certainly this character was written large on the faces of the majority of those that I saw on Senhouse Street, but to do so would have needed a gritty portrait to make my point.  Dressed as I was in suit and tie I wasn’t armed for rapport building, and was viewed suspiciously by many so I abandoned this idea and satisfied myself with the port itself.

Here was a whole new vista of coastal imagery for me to feast my lens upon, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking.  Exploring the maze of routes around the harbour I found Alan sitting contentedly at the end of the pier, waiting for the line on his rod to tighten, but enjoying the autumn sun in the meantime.  A different shot to my original intent, but still true to the spirit of the place.

Pier to Peer



Though I’ve walked the length of Roker Pier at the mouth of the Wear many times, in all my visits to South Shields I’d never walked the pier there. Until today.

I’ve set foot (and tyre) upon it many times as I emerged from the road behind the amusements, but always to turn left and continue my way upstream.

As I’ve been saying in training workshops all week, without change we stagnate, so it was time to embrace that new direction.

Part of the reason that I’ve never ventured to the east, is that the lighthouse seems insignificant from the shore, and there are several reasons for this.  The Groyne light at Shields is more accessible, and being bright red is far more photographed, and compared to the lighthouses at Roker and Souter this is smaller, and bar it’s jaunty red and white cap, less noticeable.

Roker has an advantage here.  It is taller, and at the end of a beautiful sweeping curve that leads the eye to the edifice that holds the light, but at 2800 feet in length the pier is shorter than its Tyneside neighbour which extends into the sea for over a mile.  The Shields light is bound to look smaller, it’s further away and at the end of a pier which lacks the grace of Roker.  For much of the walk along its length the light is hidden by the sea wall.

Yet there were other rewards in store. The entrance of a yacht briefly excited me as I anticipated shooting it against the backdrop of the Tynemouth Priory ruins.  As luck would have it the vessel approached the target, then performed a 360 loop whilst dropping its sails before reaching the spot.

Then there was the lady who told me about the seal that was bobbing about.  A seal that through a telephoto proved to be a small marker buoy.  I needn’t have worried though.  There was plenty to aim my lens at.

The greater length of the structure meant more anglers, increasing my chances of finding a striking portrait.  They don’t come more fisherman-like than Alan.


Sea Fever

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

Sea Fever, John Masefield

I’ve lived with the sea as my neighbour for the last twenty years.  Prior to that I lived only a couple of miles from the coast, but in truth I didn’t appreciate the sea’s ability to mesmerise until it was a constant companion.

In my role as a consultant I get involved in change management, so I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the Heraclitus‘ phrase “Change is the only constant” or similar.  It has become such a cliché that it virtually guarantees a roll of the eyes from many who hear it.  Yet when it comes to nature, change is certainly a constant factor.  Another piece of wisdom attributed to this ancient Greek philosopher is that “no man ever steps in the same stream twice”, meaning that the flowing waters that the man steps into are always different, and that the man himself is changed by constant experience.

This is how I view the sea – forever changing, and this lies at the heart of my fascination with it.  It’s surface can be smooth and mirrored, lightly rippled, marbled with foam, windswept into white horses, or churned into milky whiteness as tidal forces thunder against seemingly immovable rocks (though in time the sea will win that battle, slowly eroding its geological foe).

The there’s the colour reflected from the skies above, sometimes blue, often grey, occasionally green, and at sunrise (I live in the East) burnished gold.  The skies themselves add to the variation, providing a myriad range of cloud formations that cast their shadows randomly across the waters.

The voice of the sea is equally variable, from gentle lapping on soft sandy shorelines, through the crackle and rattle of waves onto pebble beach, to the crump and crash as it explodes onto battered sea walls.

We have two of my own pictures blown up and displayed within our home and they are both coastal shots, such is the inspirational power of the sea and its fringes.  Elsewhere a watercolour of Watergate Bay has pride of place; a simple composition of sky merging into wet sand contrasting with the green of the cliffs rising above.

It’s a pity therefore that so many of those who join me on the beach seem to have no time to enjoy its beauty, being more focused on their dogs or the simple act of walking on the sands.  They move randomly in their own spaces almost as if they’re auditioning for the next Resident Evil or some other zombie movie.

Still they don’t spoil my enjoyment so why worry.  Even a simple rowing boat in an expanse of otherwise plain water can delight me, providing options for compositions that favour the sky or the water’s edge.

As I left the beach I saw a combination of sky, sea and green cliffs that reminded me of the lovely watercolour.  The final image is more detailed than the picture that inspired it, but I like the outcome.

Standing above all of this and taking in his own selection of this magical vista was Alan.

It seemed appropriate to shoot him in profile rather than disturb his enjoyment.