Think Before You Speke

APW_2289_90_91My usual base of operations in the Widnes area being fully booked, I found accommodation a little further afield on the fringes of Liverpool’s John Lennon airport, whose signage manages to borrow a line from Imagine without being completely cheesy (though I did have to remove the street lights from the picture to give truth to the quotation)

APW_2280_HDR-EditThis is the region of Liverpool’s motor manufacturing industry, the Halewood Jaguar/Land Rover plant being nearby; suppliers of two of the world’s favourite luxury brands.  Makes you proud to be British, though of course they are both owned by the Indian Tata Group!

Inevitably the area is peppered with factories and warehouses supplying the car plant, which means that even a fifth floor hotel room doesn’t benefit from the most beautiful vistas. untitled-1_HDR Even a moody sunset does little to prettify the surroundings.  untitled-10_HDR

Scanning the panorama that includes the airport control tower, you have the additional  though dubious benefit of the tanks and chimneys of the refineries of Ellesmere Port.  To be fair, the hills of the Clwydian Range, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, are visible on the horizon to the right of the view though so distant as to be irrelevant to the overall impression.

APW_2292_3_4-EditAnd yet there is a small patch of woodland in the centre of this industry, an oasis of heritage in a desert of progress.  The dual carriageway that streams passengers to the airport, morphs into a tree-lined avenue beyond it.  This is Speke Hall, a Tudor mansion that fell into disrepair and ruination before being restored by the Victorians and eventually being passed to the National Trust just before the Second World War.APW_2259_HDR

My work schedule meant that I wouldn’t have time to explore its secret defences (the house was built by Catholics; targets for persecution in the era of the Hall’s construction) or encounter any of the spirits that make it one of Britains most haunted buildings, but I thought I’d have time to shoot a few images of the exterior at least, capturing the typical black and white Tudor exterior, and from a distance I did. That was as far as I got though.  Until July, the property is closed to the public on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Another time perhaps.

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Swept Away

It’s been an intense week, full of surprises, challenges, power struggles, more surprises, delights, great beauty and an irresistible force, and so with a need to keep myself occupied today, I sought out a photographic subject that would be a suitable metaphor for those experiences.

I took myself into the North Pennines which as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was bound to provide me with a suitable place to shoot.  With Teesdale and Weardale ahead of me, I chose the former, though arguably either would have been appropriate.APW_4510_1_2  Passing through Middleton in Teesdale, a small market town that like some insect trapped in amber preserves the look of an earlier time, when it was the centre of the local lead mining operation, I continued on to one of England’s most famous natural landmarks; High Force.

APW_4506This is one of those locations that have been photographed to death over the years, so finding something original was an unlikely challenge.  Nevertheless, on a cold autumn day, I would at least have the advantage of not photographing scenes filled with fellow visitors.

As a child I recall a visit where the cracked shale that forms one of the three distinct geological layers in the gorge created by the water tearing stone away, was as great an attraction as the torrent of water; we sought fossils sandwiched between the split and cracked rocks.  I don’t recall being successful.

On another occasion, older but clearly still immature a group of friends and I tried to make our way long the river upstream of the falls, by jumping from rock to rock.  Inevitably my lack of balance played its part, resulting in a drive home with my trousers flying flag like from the car window in an attempt to get them dry again.

Too cold and wet for such shenanigans today, but the tumult, swelled by recent rains was impressive enough.

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Farne From The Madding Crowd

I’ve never been to the Farne Islands.

This wildlife sanctuary maintained by the National Trust lies just off Seahouses on the Northumberland Coast, so with a long weekend at my disposal, it seemed like a good time to rectify the matter.

If I’m totally honest I did nearly visit once before, but a planned trip turned into one of  the flashpoints of my marriage so it was aborted.  As I pulled into the car park at Seahouses I wondered if one of the other visitors had had a similar experience.

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The Red Barron (sic)

Because it had rained so much the previous evening, I’d checked the weather forecast before setting out on the 75 minute journey.  A young forecaster called Ben told me through a fixed smile that the grey start would quickly dissipate to bright and sunny skies.  Perfect.

I was a little disappointed then to find that as I drew nearer to my objective the skies were not so bright.  In fact they were rendered invisible by mist and fog, so I was surprised by the number of visitors in town on a murky Sunday morning.  Seahouses traditionally had two main attractions, the Farnes being one, and it’s reputation as a stop off point for quality fish and chips being the other.   Nowadays the whole of the Northumberland coastline is liberally provided with holiday lets and campsites that testify to the area’s growing popularity.

What brings people here?  Well for one thing there’s an excellent cycle touring route between Newcastle and Edinburgh, and with the growth of interest in cycling that has taken place in the UK following the successes Sir Dave Brailsford and his numerous medal winners, more and more people are taking advantage of this.  The name of that route is a further clue to the visitor numbers.  This is the Coast and Castles route.

Lindisfarne Castle
Lindisfarne Castle
Dunstanburgh Castle

Northumberland’s location on the border with Scotland means that it has seen more than its fair share of conflict over the centuries, and the county is studded with fortifications, from the Bastle Houses designed to defend against the raids of the infamous Border Reivers, through modest structures like Belford or Lindisfarne Castle, the ruined shells of Warkworth or Dunstanburgh, to the vast stone walls of Bamburgh and Alnwick.  The region’s appeal to the historian is obvious.   I thought of photographing Bamburgh while I was there, but sat atop its defensive cliffs it was lost in the mist.

APW_8740For walkers there is a 64 mile coastal path.  64 miles of beautiful, unspoilt beaches along an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  As England’s most sparsely populated county the ratio of people to acres of sand means that you can always find a space to build your sandcastle.  For me the broad expanses of sand provide opportunity to contrast the different textures sculpted by wind and tide,  from soft sand dunes held in place by bents grasses to the shattered rocks and crushed and cracked crustacean cases that litter the littoral.

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Arriving at the harbour to book my crossing, I was told that due to the weather there wouldn’t be a crossing for at least an hour, and that a decision would be made closer to the time about that trip.  I passed the time photographing the greyness of the harbour and it’s unsaturated colours before returning to the news:

“We will sail out and around the islands, but won’t be landing.”

I’ve never been to the Farne Islands.