Fade to grey

Whilst “The Grey” could describe Liam Neeson‘s performances since the tragic death of his wife Natasha Richardson, it is more precisely the name of a recent film in which he plays the leader of a group of men pursued by a pack of murderous wolves who pick off their victims until only Neeson’s character remains.

It also describes today pretty accurately, a day in which the thrice a minute sounding of E♭ above middle C has been a constant feature.  It’s the note of the nearby foghorn and it has been hard at work all day as the coast has been smothered in the white gauze of thick mist.

It did have parallels with the Neeson film at times, but this moment of drama aside it doesn’t make for attention grabbing pictures.  It’s a classic case of “be careful what you wish for” after I bemoaned the hard light yesterday.  This couldn’t be more diffused!

Still it made for nice plain backdrop against which to shoot the very sprightly Joe; a picture of health at 75 which he attributes to his regular walks along the promenade.  Had his expression not been so amicable, a portrait in this light could have had a feel of Richard Avedon about it!  Shame I didn’t realise at the time!

What I did realise however, was what a great background it would be for startling starlings! (It’s worth clicking to enlarge the image for the full effect.)


It was a beautiful morning today, little discernible wind, bright sunshine and the beach was fully exposed by the receding tide; a perfect day for walking.  Of course you don’t need to go to the lengths of bringing seven dogs to enjoy the pursuit!

For some it seemed that even walking was not enough, for as this couple walked to the waves she appeared ready to swim, but then turned 90 degrees and strolled barefoot in the shallow waters.

It was so summer-like that the beach was alive with swallows, skimming low over the sands, stocking up ahead of their long return to Africa later in the year.  I tried in vain to capture them in flight, but their speed and incredible manoeuvrability leave you with a blur every time.

Of course, this being an English summer, the experience was short-lived, for in truth the sky was cloudy and this bright spell with its attendant sense of warmth nothing more than a brief interlude before the next wave of cloud cast shadows covered the beach and cooled things down once more.

For me though the combination of light and shade was perfect, and combined with the reflective powers of wet sand gave me the opportunity to get on my knees and produce something a little more artistic. 

So job done except that I didn’t have a portrait yet.  The council worker out watering the temporary floral arrangements that are deployed in advance of the forthcoming International Airshow would have been a good picture, but believed he was prevented by council regulation from being photographed.  Doubtless for fear of ridicule at irrigating the planters during such a spell of unsettled weather.

I met Joe shortly afterwards though, and he explained that he would normally be at the gym, but was suffering from a knee injury.  Nice day for a walk then.


*For those who remember Joe & Petunia with affection!

Near the bendy spring?

The village of Bywell in Northumberland was once a busy medieval market town, yet little remains of the settlement now.  I was told many years ago this was due to the plague, though I haven’t been able to confirm this by any recent research – it may have been cleared by the landowner for agricultural purposes at some point in history. What makes the place remarkable is what does remain.

The medieval market cross still stands atop a stepped plinth but where shops and houses may have crowded together behind it there is now just green fields.  A little way to the north lies the 15th Century gatehouse tower of Bywell Castle, but it is to the South and West of the cross that you may find something extraordinary for separated by no more than a few yards you will find not one, but two churches with Anglo-Saxon origins.

St Andrew’s has the more complete features of the period; the high pointing roof, defensively thick walls, and the best Anglo-Saxon tower in all of Northumberland.  It is no longer used as a church though the building is conserved.  Although improved and extended in the medieval period its origins go back to the mid ninth century.

St Peter’s was the reason for my visit today as I will be photographing a wedding there very soon.  It was probably built even earlier than its neighbour and is believed to be the site where Bishop Egbert of Lindisfarne was consecrated.  There is less evidence of the Saxon church left here, it having been substantially altered in the 13th Century.

Trying to understand the meaning of old names is often a challenge.  I grew up in a part of Sunderland (another Saxon settlement originally) called Fulwell.  Some would tell you that this means exactly what it says; that there was plentiful water there, whilst others would say that it derived from “foul well”, meaning that the water was poisoned or unclean.  Two very different interpretations!

Bywell is not quite so extreme, but good old Wikipedia states that it means “bend in the river”, which would make sense since it is situated precisely at such a location, where as others take it more literally to mean “by the spring”.  Personally I would question the latter  – why would a spring have such significance with the river so close at hand?

Anyway back to St Peter’s where I was meeting bride and groom to look at the possibilities for photography that the church provided.  This would have gone very smoothly… had we not activated the security alarm as soon as we opened the door!  There may not be many people in the area, but they all knew we had arrived!  Just as the alarm reset itself we were joined by Maddy and Joe who will be singing at the wedding.  They rehearsed a couple of songs and were doubtless glad not to be accompanied by the wailing of the alarm.

They will sound great on the day.  Maddy’s voice is as beautiful as her smile, and Joe’s guitar playing is as understated as his!  I can’t wait to hear more.