The Ups and Downs of Creativity Pt II

Whilst my last post demonstrated the upside of allowing the rules of creativity to guide your behaviour, this one certainly features some downs; quite literally.

After a week of continuous rain I hadn’t shot any pictures, and so made plans to photograph the outgoing tide at Sandsend near Whitby where old timbers create interesting patterns in the waters.  I’d checked tide times, light direction and weather forecast so was all set…. but at the back of my mind I was also aware that all of this rain might make a slight detour worthwhile.

If I visited Falling Foss first I should get some shots of the waterfall in full flow and make it to Sandsend for high tide.  My first mistake was parking in an overflow car park rather than the real thing, but this just meant a stretch of walking downhill to the waterfall.  I found a small fenced-off viewing area and took some shots of the cascade which is anywhere between 10 and 20 metres high, depending on which website you consult.  I even climbed over that fence to move a few yards to one side, trying to get a view without trees obstructing the view, but in truth I wasn’t really satisfied and felt that I had wasted my time coming.  I looked for a safe way down the cliff but the only possibility seemed to involve a substantial jump into a quagmire so returned to the fence, hoping that Sandsend would be more productive.

That was when I met a young couple and was asked by the man whether there was a way down that his partner could manage.  My decision not to proceed had been governed slightly by 15kg of equipment, but given that the lady in question was carrying a papoose with a small baby I was clear in warning against it.  We talked for a while about the waterfalls in the area (he had swum in the pool below Thomason Foss) and then went our separate ways.  He had reminded me however of something I’d read that declared Falling Foss to be one of the best UK waterfalls for swimming.

Connect, and be receptive – there must be a way down!

And so I followed another path which was heading downstream in the hope that there may be some steps down the cliff to the riverside.  I didn’t find any, but after a while there was a less dangerous looking slope, with enough trees dotted about to break one’s momentum if a footing slipped, which it did, several times.  Nevertheless I made it down to the riverside and was rewarded with this cascade pouring over a fallen log.

A passing dog walker who told me that there was a route to the falls from here, but that it was a bit muddy.  She’d given up because her small daughter had lost heart.  I shouldered my bag and set off.

Her definition of “a bit muddy” and mine clearly differed, especially when my shoe was sucked off and forward momentum planted my sock-clad foot shin-deep in more of the stuff.  I made it to the base of the fall, but I’m not sure it was worth the trouble.  Trying to find a shorter way back I was within a few feet of the viewing area but the last stretch of rock offered no purchase so it was back to the original slope and more of the mud.

Not being blessed with much upper body strength, having to haul my way back up that incline by tree roots and saplings was a challenge, so I was really glad to have that uphill walk back to the car when I finally made it.

Bloody creativity!

Why had I brought so many lenses and added all that weight to my bag?  The answer was in the boot of my car…

Being receptive means being ready when the opportunity arises.



On the day that Bernardo Bertolucci died, one of the articles I read contrasted his and Marlon Brando’s behaviour on the set of the notorious Last Tango in Paris, with a present day pairing of comparable stature; Paul Thomas Anderson and Daniel Day-Lewis.  Coincidence of course, but I’d spent a gloomy morning in Robin Hood’s Bay on the Yorkshire coast, where the Victoria Hotel is the setting for the protagonists meeting in Phantom Thread, ostensibly Day-Lewis final film and one written and directed by PTA.

For a film set in the world of 1950’s Haute Couture, the choice of North Yorkshire for the designer’s “place in the country” seemed a strange one (300 miles away?) but perhaps Anderson’s location scouts were concerned with the look rather than the practicality.  I’m pretty sure the film doesn’t say where this location is supposed to be, other than on some wild and windswept coast.  It certainly lived up to the billing when I was there.

Now despite the name, Robin Hood’s Bay has no proven links to Robin Hood.  (How could it when there’s no evidence that he actually existed?)  The locals make little or no reference to archer of Sherwood and in fact refer to the town simply as Baytown or Bay despite the fact that Robin Hood has been part of the name for seven centuries!

There’s been human activity here since the bronze age, but the activities that made the town were nautical; fishing and smuggling, the latter benefitting from that remote location.   In fact this tiny place was economically more important than Whitby in the 17th century.  Perhaps though I should say tiny places, for RHB is a town in two halves; one down by the sea and sheltering behind a solid sea wall, the other atop the cliffs, windswept but safe from stormy seas.

Interestingly the two halves have different personalities.  Originally the lower town was home to the fishermen and smugglers; small houses, stacked tightly on the steep contours either side of the beck that bisects Baytown.  This creates a network of narrow alleyways that were perfect for hiding from excise men or press gangs.  The town’s own website claims that “a bolt of silk could pass from the bottom of the village to the top without leaving the houses”.

In contrast, those who lived on the cliff tops were the sea captains and ship owners.  Men of greater wealth and influence whose houses were larger and spread further apart, but nowadays there has been something of an economic inversion.  Robin Hood’s Bay is now a tourist trap; the smaller dwellings are mostly holiday cottages and second homes, whereas the upper town, being more remote from the beach is less attractive B&B territory, with cafés and bistros.  And that hotel.




Adventures in Modern Photography Part II

So what’s so special about Port Mulgrave that I should risk life and limb to reach it? (An exaggeration I know, but I could easily have turned back.)  That’s a question that would have been very easy to answer 150 years ago when the little port was a very different place to now, as can be seen from this old image.

In the mid 19th Century, local landowner Sir Charles Palmer began mining for ironstone on his land (this being the same area as the workings I visited a couple of years back).  With that mine being so close to the coast he very quickly established a complex of ramps, piers and staithes that enabled him to load the ore straight onto waiting ships.  Archive images show at least four could be loaded at any one time and so the port soon became a very busy establishment.  Fifty years or so later and it was redundant as deposits were worked out and a more productive mine was established that could ship its output from the much larger port of Whitby nearby.

The entrance to the mine, now sealed up for safety, is still visible behind some of the vegetation that gave me so much trouble getting onto the beach, but there’s little evidence of the rest of the workings.  The northern pier was deliberately blown up by the army in WWII as a barrier to German invasion; the southern pier has fallen prey to natural forces.  Even so the fragments make for some interesting marine photographs, as do the rusting engines scattered amongst the rubble; this is a coastline with wrecks aplenty, including of course the Admiral Von Tromp further south at Saltwick Bay.

No, the real attractions of Port Mulgrave were onshore.  Beyond the high water mark is a remarkable collection of fishermen’s shacks which show off a great deal of creativity on the part of their owners.  They do raise a question however.  Since none of the boats dotted about on the beach actually looked seaworthy, what do the owners of these boltholes come here for?  The challenge of maintenance?  An escape from home?  A place for male bonding?

Most visitors come here for another reason (though I had the place to myself when I was there) and one that doesn’t immediately become apparent.  I often photograph the coloured patterns and random juxtapositions of rocks at the coast, and there was plenty here to stimulate.  Look more closely at those patterns and it becomes clear that they are not so random after all; they are the product of evolutionary and geological forces that have been at work for millions of years.  Port Mulgrave is a leading beach for finding fossils, and arguably the best in North Yorkshire.  I’m no fossil hunter but once I started looking more closely at the broken shales I found more and more interesting geology.

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Finally in answer to the other question I posed yesterday…



Gatesville NY*

You know you’re in a town with a bit of history when you see street names ending in “gate”. In Durham there’s Framwellgate, Milburngate, Crossgate and Gilesgate for example. In the location I visited were a few more, including a pretty classy place for a fish and chip shop.

Now you’d be forgiven for thinking that these are indications of a fortified settlement at some point in the town’s history and that is sometimes the case; the few remnants of the castle that gives Newcastle its name include a defensive passage called the Black Gate.  We are in Yorkshire however, and if you visit York, where there are plenty of “gates”, you’ll find the passages through the defensive walls called “bars”.  Confused?

The term actually has Viking origins; their word “gata” meaning a street; so street names make much more sense now – they don’t have to be passing through the walls to earn the suffix.

Was my theory right though?  After all, just because a town can trace its history back to Anglo-Saxon times doesn’t mean it will preserve that history.  Well on this occasion we can relax.

There are half-timbered buildings like The Wakeman’s House (no capes or mini-moogs in sight) that date back to the early 17th Century.  Further out from the centre there are grand Victorian villas.

The Market Square layout is believed to date back to the 12th or 13th Century, and includes a very imposing obelisk designed by Wren’s assistant Nicholas Hawksmoor (he liked a good obelisk did Nick).  Apart from its great height its the oldest ornamental obelisk in England.  Take a look at the symbol at its apex – we’ll return to that later.

The Morris Dancers aren’t a permanent feature, but they did add to the sense of Merry Olde England on the day of my visit, but once I ignored the distraction they provided I spotted more structures of interest.  Peeking over the roofscape a pair of towers hinted at the main objective of my visit, but closer by was something I’ve not seen outside of London; a cabmen’s shelter, and in this case a mobile example.  These were provided to allow cabmen somewhere to eat and relax while waiting for fares.

And then there was the Town Hall.  Classical in design, it’s stuccoed exterior bears an inscription


There’s that word wakeman again, a reference to a historic role that Rick’s ancestors may well have undertaken, though in his case somewhere nearer London.  A wakeman was effectively a nightwatchman, who would stay awake and patrol the streets on the lookout for criminal activity. Here in Ripon the position was similar to that of mayor, but with responsibility for law and order. In what may well be one of the world’s longest ongoing traditions, it is believed that Alfred the Great gave a horn to the townspeople so that they may keep a watch for Viking marauders.  The blowing of a horn at the four corners of the market cross (now the obelisk) at 9.00pm continues to this day, though it is purely ceremonial.  The town’s pubs would doubtless be in uproar if this marked any sort of curfew!

One last and very important point.  I’ve referred to Ripon several times as a town; like Richmond and Hexham it feels like a market town, but it is not.  Those towers belong to a cathedral, which makes Ripon a city, albeit one of our smallest.

Plenty more about that cathedral later, but for now back to that tradition…

*NY – North Yorkshire not New York!

Caught Nabbing

I’m sure it happens to plenty of photographers.  You happen upon an interesting location.  You weigh up the possibilities and make decisions about angle, composition, exposure, depth of field, and more.

The image on the back of the camera looks acceptable so you move on, but then you upload it for processing and find something on your computer screen that is just…


You reach for your creative skills in Lightroom or Photoshop to try to give it some hint of atmosphere, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.  You knew the scene had potential, but you didn’t quite find it.

And then you stumble across the work of someone else who did!

New Zealand photographer Tinasch shot this perfectly acceptable image of a boathouse in Bavaria,tinasch but I wonder if she has seen what a Croation called Mladen achieved on a rainier day.archangel

I mention this because I recently visited Saltwick Bay for a bit of seaside solitude and shot a few images along the way.  It’s a popular spot for photographers in mid-summer for it has a unique aspect that means both sunrise and sunset can be shot over the sea at that time of year.  Add in the topography of Saltwick Nab to the north and the submarine conning tower of Black Nab to the south and you have the compositional elements to make a great shot.

Of course on a fairly flat October day it was a different story, though perhaps it was my response that was the problem.  Either way I shot Black Nab from a few different spots using both long and short exposures without much of a sense of achievement.

And then I saw this shot of the remains of the Admiral Von Tromp on ViewBug.  It isn’t even credited to the photographer who shot it so I can’t sing his praises (though I would have cropped some of the foreground I think).uncredited Saltwick Sunset

If I’d tried shooting the outcrop from the south I’d have found the wreck too and would have been overjoyed at the possibilities.

I think that’s what they call a kick-self moment.

Still, it gives me a good excuse to go back!_PW_9007-Edit-Edit-Edit-Edit


Life’s Simple Pleasures

With summer drawing to a close, at least as marked by the long school holiday, the seaside draws many to enjoy the last few days of sun and sand.  I’m also part of this throng, though the evidence elsewhere on this blog proves that I’m not simply a fair weather visitor.

Bouncing from coast to coast as my work takes me west and my home returns me to the east, I’ve left the Irish Sea behind for today’s post and returned to the North Sea, this time on the North Yorkshire coast.

Just a short distance short of Whitby, the town made famous by Bram Stoker and now home to Goth festivals, fish and chips galore, and a smattering of jewellers specialising in the jet which is washed up on these shores, is a small village called Sandsend.  Village is perhaps a misnomer, for this was originally nothing more than two rows of dwellings overlooking the shore, separated by a small beck flowing into the sea.APW_5987-Pano-Edit

The local alum works led to its growth, and though that no longer provides the demand, Sandsend’s setting makes it one of the most expensive places to buy property in the county, but no matter how costly the cottages and houses, enjoying the beach requires little sophistication.

Ingenuity was on display however.  Digging and damming water channels to irrigate sand castle moats is commonplace, but here people were working on a larger scale.  By slowing the flow of East Row Beck a small reservoir was created, and so Sandsend had both paddling pool and boating lake to add to its attractions.APW_6011

Not my usual coastal subject matter, but a short walk to the north (where the sand does indeed end) provided both interesting geology as well as more colourful possibilities, and by virtue of having J with me, one of my rare appearances from behind the lens.  Well we can all enjoy the sun and sand can’t we?


Back so soon Persephone?

After the thick mists which regularly obscured Watership Down at dawn last week, it felt as if, following an unusually warm summer, we were in for a more Keatsian autumn.  The trees and bushes are bent under the weight of abundant fruit, the leaves redden, and days grow shorter.

The ancient Greeks (and several other early civilisations) tell the story of how the goddess of the harvest, Demeter, sees her daughter Persephone abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld.  In her grief, she forsakes her agrarian duties, causing the onset of winter and the accompanying withering and death of vegetation.  The resultant disruption led to some tricky negotiations within the pantheon and bout of underhanded trickery involving pomegranate seeds, but eventually a compromise solution was reached whereby Persephone would spend half the year above ground with her mother and half with Hades, her new husband.  The daughter’s return heralded the return of warmer weather as her mother’s joy was restored, usually coinciding with spring.

I was in North Yorkshire this afternoon so picked up a sweater and light jacket before leaving with my camera, first for the beautiful village of Osmotherley, and then to the former Carthusian monastery of Mount Grace Priory.  It wasn’t cold as I left Durham, but over the 45 minutes of my journey the temperature rose by about three degrees and I arrived to find myself bathed in sunshine.  The Three Tuns, a noted pub in the village was empty; not because they had no customers, but because every one of them was taking the opportunity to sit outside.  It’s very nearly October; these were the last weather conditions I, and clearly many others, were expecting.

And so I have two galleries of images here; the autumnal fruits that are the last efforts of Demeter before she neglects the world, and the bright, golden hues of an unexpected burst of summer.  Persephone had clearly forgotten to pack something.

By Carol Ann Duffy

Where I lived—winter and hard earth.
I sat in my cold stone room
choosing tough words, granite, flint,

to break the ice. My broken heart—
I tried that, but it skimmed,
flat, over the frozen lake.

She came from a long, long way,
but I saw her at last, walking,
my daughter, my girl, across the fields,

in bare feet, bringing all spring’s flowers
to her mother’s house. I swear
the air softened and warmed as she moved,

the blue sky smiling, none too soon,
with the small shy mouth of a new moon.