In Them Thar Hills

A little inland from Whitburn lies another village on Sunderland’s northern fringes; the village of Cleadon, whose name, like the Buckinghamshire mansion Cliveden, points to its location amongst cliffs.  In Bucks those cliffs have been cut by the nearby Thames, in South Tyneside the name refers to Cleadon Hills, a limestone ridge dividing Wearside and South Tyneside that was once a series of islands in a prehistoric sea.

Though I had no idea of their geological origins there were a pretty cool place to play when I was young.  A couple of miles walk from home, and remote enough from shops to justify packed lunches, they were a location made for adventures.

Their elevation made them an obvious choice for kite flying, the wartime pillboxes (now demolished and overgrown with gorse) were a ready-made inspiration for such un-PC games as Japs and British, and for some their remoteness from home made them a safe location for illicit drinking and early attempts at smoking.  I recall one particular occasion when with Martin Burlinson and Stephen Jude I took a brand new pair of running spikes to try out on the plateau atop the hills.  That I lost them that same afternoon did not win me friends at home!

Though not of great height, their location as the tallest point for miles around makes gives them clear views towards Tyneside in the north and Wearside to the south, so it is believed that the Romans at nearby Arbeia in South Shields may have stationed a look out post here.  If that is true then no visible signs remain and the site is dominated by two much later structures.

The first is the shell of a 19th century windmill, similar in design to those nearby in Whitburn and Fulwell, its working life curtailed by a storm after fifty years of service, then used for artillery practice during the first world war.  Its workings removed and its timbers long since rotted away, its masonry nevertheless stands proud.

The second structure is altogether more ornate, for an Italian bell tower rises to the west of the windmill.  The campanile holds no bells however for this is in fact a chimney, part of the water pumping station sited 100 feet below the tower’s apex.  Pumping stations with their accompanying reservoir were other sources of attraction for young boys as potential sources of frogs and newts.  Cleadon’s defences were impenetrable however, its high walls not only difficult to overcome on entry, but preventing a speedy exit if caught trespassing!

The area has always been a popular spot for equestrians; my daughters both learnt the basics nearby so it was not surprise that I should meet two women out for a ride today.  Unfortunately the 70-200mm lens that I had fitted was not built for including both, except at distance, and it was a challenge to fit both horse and rider in for either of the pairings.  This then is Lucy on her mount Trooper (not the quality I would like to do justice to such a beautiful smile, but that was the trade-off for backing away to include Trooper).

From such a lofty vantage point I wonder if she spotted my running shoes?

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A Robin in Summer

I’m ultra busy for the next couple of days with two photoshoots from Bananastudios to process and a wedding on Saturday, so I trust you’ll excuse the shortness of the entries today and tomorrow.

The second of those photoshoots is this afternoon with my daughters and their cousin Abby, so this morning I was waiting to collect one of them from the hairdressers.  For the first time in a while there was a break in the rain, and even the occasional patch of blue in the sky.  Nothing to get excited about, but closer to summer than we’ve had for a while.

The village was busier as a result, with more people willing to stop and chat with one another and strolling leisurely from shop to shop, rather than making short dashes from car to shop doorway to avoid the soaking that would result from any sort of tardiness.

Finishing his pre-holiday preparations with a last-minute haircut I met Robin, a former colleague from my days in banking.  No problem finding someone to shoot today then.

Enjoy your holiday Robin and thanks.

Rivista trimestrale*

Three months into my Project 365 and it seems a good time to take stock, so last night I looked back on all of my experiences to date.

What surprised me was that considering that the majority of the pictures have been taken in the North East, how many nations have been represented in my portraits so far.  There are at least 14 countries apart from the UK that have supplied one of my subjects (it’s possible that some of those I’ve assumed to be Anglo Saxons have a more exotic origin, but unless there’s an accent to give them away I haven’t tended to ask.

I don’t consider us the most cosmopolitan of regions yet I have representatives from Europe, Asia, Australasia, and North America.  Must go out and find some South Americans!  What is perhaps surprising is that amongst the Europeans I have met there has not been an Italian thus far.

Italians have made themselves at home in the UK for nearly two thousand years, thanks to the Roman invasion ordered by Claudius in AD43, the migration of Italian bankers in the middle ages, and then when the Napoleonic wars ravaged the agriculture of Northern Italy another wave came to these shores in search of a better living.  This last group almost exclusively established food businesses, and so “Britalians” became known for their ice cream parlours, coffee bars and restaurants.

Of course when I refer to them as Italians I do so to identify their geographic origin, since Italy as a nation was not formed until the middle of the 19th Century when the various regions that had built up around the mediaeval city states were unified in 1861.

My experiences of Italians when I grew up were of Italians in the food trade, the Notariannis and Minchellas provided the sea front ice cream cones of my youth, and slightly further afield I encountered Rianis and Di Mambros in Houghton le Spring where my father’s business was located, and Valente in Seaham where he was born.

Whether my love of Italian food goes back to these fondly remembered days, or the travels my family and I have made in that beautiful country I cannot say, but it says a lot when my birthday yesterday was marked with everything I need to make the perfect cappuccino or espresso and a rather nice bottle of grappa!

The lack of Italian representation is therefore all the more surprising.  I was in Gabriele’s, provider of great pizza since my teens and local institution celebrating last night (but didn’t take Nevio’s picture as I was off duty!), to my mind the best restaurant in the Sunderland and South Tyneside area is Romano’s in Cleadon, and our regular walks along the coast take us past the door of Little Italy, so no excuse!  My blog has even been read in Italy, which makes this omission all the more inexcusable.

Time to put that right, so off I went to Gabby’s again.  I could have added Portugal to my list of countries with some of the other staff, but it was the real Italian that I was after and sure enough he was there by the bar and happy to pose.  Second bite of the ciliegio!

*Quarterly review

Walk, Don’t Walk

One of the aspects of cycling that I always enjoyed was the fact that I became aware of so much more of my surroundings when I was on two wheels.  That degree of awareness is multiplied when on foot, and on a beautiful spring day there was no reason not to make the most of the opportunity.

The Sunderland/Everton game was over, so there was nothing keeping people at home – there should be plenty of potential subjects to photograph.

Hitching a lift with Gill as she went to the hairdresser I decided to walk the mile and a half from Cleadon to Whitburn in search of images.  I was soon proved right; there were lots of people out and about, but the problem was that nobody was walking.

Two beautiful girls on horseback would have looked great, but getting them to stop and control their steeds on a busy road wasn’t really on.

I turned onto the quieter Moor Lane where I spotted a couple of pedestrians up ahead… …and walking away from me!  There were plenty of others heading my way, but they were all in cars.  As I reached the outskirts of the village I thought there would be more people about on foot, but there were no immediate signs of walking life.  I began toying with the idea of trying to photograph someone who was driving.  Technically challenging due to the need for a fast shutter speed to reduce motion blur, and perhaps a polarising filter to remove windscreen glare.  It was a matter of desperation really.

One local resident looked at me with a degree of superiority.They clearly had no intention of walking anywhere, but then my luck changed.  No one that I could stop and shoot, but at least they were moving slowly enough to get in focus.

And then a car, but a convertible so no glare issues.

And finally my subject: a masterpiece of co-ordination; his clothing blue and white, like his hair, beard and bicycle.  I didn’t stop him, but we were at least able to exchange an acknowledgement through eye contact and then he was past me and gone forever – a case in point of the advantages of pre thinking your camera settings and being ready for likely eventualities.

As I returned home I did finally find another pedestrian though!