Whenever one of my photographs has received any sort of special recognition on the site ViewBug, I am asked to complete a short biographical questionnaire about the image and my approach to photography, and one of the questions asked is:
What do you carry in your camera bag?
I must confess that I find the question a bit of a pain to answer, because apart from my camera body and two “go to” lenses the answer to the rest is “it depends”. If I’m shooting people I may opt shallow depth of field, whereas if I’m heading out doors a wide-angle could be handy. Wildlife may need more zoom so time to pack a teleconverter. Shooting on a beach? Take the “snowshoes” that fit the tripod so it doesn’t sink into the surface or collapse, and so on. I have what amounts to a plastic bag that would enable me to submerge the camera into the waves or rock pools. Never used it.
For my most recent shoot though, there were more important considerations. My plan was to shoot a nearby abbey at sunrise, drive to Staithes where I would walk part of the Cleveland Way before a short detour down onto a beach and then back to my car via a cup of tea and a sandwich in the small town. Nothing particularly challenging there yet I wish I’d been better equipped.
I arrived at Gisborough Priory at about 6.45am. I knew that it adjoined the small church in the town of Guisborough (different spelling) and didn’t anticipate any difficulty in making my way to the one wall that still stands. First mistake. There was a wall around the ruin, for though only one wall still stands, enough remains at ground level for English Heritage to seek to maintain it and therefore you can only visit during opening hours. Hardly conducive to shooting a sunrise when you can’t get onsite until 10.00am. The solid metal doorway embedded in the wall was firmly locked too. Further along there was an emergency entrance with a wooden gate and pointed wooden palings. It was low enough to lift that camera bag and tripod over, but just too tall to step over without injury on those wooden points. Would there be some purchase where the fence met the wall? No, and besides which I’d be trespassing if I entered. Did I find a way in despite my lack of ladders, ropes or crampons? I couldn’t possibly comment.
And so onto my coastal stroll. The profile of my walk shows it wasn’t a long one so I was wearing walking shoes rather than boots but being winter I had lots of layers. Layers which I regretted as I ascended those steep climbs with 12kg of that camera bag, but was glad of when standing on wind blasted cliff tops. All the same once again I was badly prepared for what faced me.
The paths along the route were muddy; and this wasn’t a problem as I began my walk because the ground was hardened by the sub-zero temperatures overnight. The rains responsible for that mud were to through me a new challenge when I reached my objective at Port Mulgrave however. There was a sign across my path advising that the route was closed due to landslip. No matter I knew from my map that there was an alternative so followed the road a little further and joined that. Soon I encountered another of those signs, but at a point where the track diverged so naturally I followed the branch that bore no warnings.
There was still lots of mud here, but also patches of bracken which seemed to offer a firmer footing, though that was
undermined by the trip wires of briar that snagged feet and clothing. Grabbing at bushes and small trees to stabilise myself when sliding or pitching forward from the long trailing bramble stems around my feet soon left me with torn gloves and flesh. Most of them were thorns. I’d neglected to include chain mail among my layers.
Part of the way down I wondered whether it was even possible to proceed further and stopped to shoot the bay from above, before carefully packing my gear way again in case of fall. That was enough to convince that there was a way for there was smoke rising from one of the shacks in the small bay. I recall from a brief dalliance with orienteering some decades ago that this sort of terrain is called “fight”. I was participating without weaponry.
I eventually emerged from the undergrowth directly behind one of the shacks where no path existed, but as I worked my way around to a more open space its occupant emerged to hear me express my disbelief at a broad route upwards, roughly stepped with large stones.
“I wouldn’t bother with that on the way back up.” he told me. “The mud’s so deep it’ll come over the top of your boots.”
He was right of course, but thanks to planks, fixed ropes and a point where the slope had an embedded wooden ladder of sorts I was glad that I ignored his advice on the way back. As I reached the top I had to step over a small barrier. It bore one of those signs that advised me of the path closure.