Way back in January I commented on my experience in corresponding with an enigmatic woman known only as Mrs Smith.  Not surprisingly, given her reluctance to divulge anything more than the most infinitesimal details about herself, the relationship was destined to go no further, but I was thankful to her for introducing me to Seaham‘s Chemical Beach.  I was inspired to make an early start one morning to capture the sunrise over the multicoloured “sands” that comprise the beach, and looking back at them now I think some of the shots were really beautiful.

Today I returned to this unique stretch of coast having met a friend (strangely also by the name of Smith) for a walk in the area.  Whilst I’d originally planned to walk a different stretch of Durham’s Heritage Coast Walk, Seaham provided an easy destination for a rendezvous, and courtesy of Lickety Split, a coffee with complimentary miniature ice cream, so it wasn’t far to go and park up for a chance to explore both the Chemical Beach and the adjoining Blast Beach with the benefit of daylight.  (Attractive nomenclature, but these names reflect the historic industrial use of these landscapes, and whilst nature is fighting back there is still plenty of evidence of previous human intervention.)

Having walked the length of the Chemical Beach over sand and shingle stained red by oxides or black by coal dust we decided to round Nose’s Point to its neighbour, which proved to be more eventful than I’d anticipated.  From the cliffs above this looks like a scramble over a few rocks.  When faced with it on the ground the scale becomes rather different.  The cliffs soar above rendering people tiny by comparison – Jackie is in both of these images, but unless you know to look for her, she is lost in the scale of the landscape.

This wasn’t a day for dramatic imagery – the bright sunshine presenting the challenges of a dynamic range beyond the capabilities of a camera sensor, but it was good to emerge from the boulders to see what the Blast Beach had in store;  another towering limestone needle, row upon row of sea-washed timber piles, tortured steel rails and at the shore line two large steel wheels and their axle.  There was clearly serious industry here.  I’d love to see some pictures from that era.  Today though was not for setting up the tripod and filters required to make full use of the opportunities that this beach provides.  Today was about conversation, and given Jackie’s background in Film and TV design there was plenty of raw material around us, these beaches having featured in Alien³, and less glamorously in Vera!

I think I’ll be back though.


Same sh*t, different colour uniform…

…is how someone described the result of changing employers to me recently.  It seemed to sum up many people’s experience very nicely, and provided a parallel to my experience today.  For a change I headed north before hitting the sands, and strode out over the dunes at South Shields.

It had originally been my intention to try to find some nice leading lines from the rough fences that criss-cross the dunes, but on discovering that the fences were there for the protection of rare plant species the option to trudge amongst them was gone.

And so I reverted to type, walking the high water mark in search of interesting flotsam, chatting to kite surfers, and photographing anything that caught my eye, which was much the same as I usually shoot at Whitburn!

The two kite surfers were Mick and Mark, two brothers out celebrating the latter’s birthday with a bracing dose of sea spray.  If you enlarge the vertical shot with the kite at the top, you’ll see Mark horizontal in the breakers.  You certainly know how to party guys!


The Chain Gang

Sunderland has long been connected to the National Cycling Network as one of the earliest routes (the C2C or Coast to Coast) finishes here.  Arguably you could say it starts here too, but anyone fancying the ride is well advised to ride it from west to east and take advantage of the prevailing wind direction.

I’ve ridden it three times and though the knees are getting a bit rusty I still take an interest in cycling matters.

Given the incredible performances of British cyclists this year in a number of competitions, there are many who feel this could be a great opportunity for cycling in this country, not just as a sport, but also as a mode of transport.  Watching those who travel the seafront you will find riders on the road, on the prom, on the footpath and on the cycle path.

Whilst this invariably infuriates the anti cycling lobby, it is hardly surprising given the half-hearted attitude to providing cycle routes in this country compared to many of our continental neighbours.  Councils think that a splash of green tarmac is all that’s required to provide a cycling facility, but rarely examine the practicalities of using them when they are full of parked cars, end abruptly with no obvious alternative, or direct you across lanes of busy traffic.

The cyclist invests their personal energy in creating momentum and they are reluctant to lose that momentum if they can help it, so I had little chance of getting a real portrait of one of them unless they stopped voluntarily.  The closest I got today was this chap, slowed by changing traffic lights his frustration clearly visible.

Let’s hope there more than just the lights that change.

After the boys of summer have gone…

Don Henley – The Boys Of Summer

Nobody on the road,

Nobody on the beach,

I feel it in the air,

The summer’s out of reach.

The strong NNE winds bringing cold air and wind chill were enough reason to keep people in today, so I’m going to let the pictures do the talking.  If you’ve seen some of my kite surfing shots in the last week, you might have spotted one man who loves taking to the air, and this morning I was lucky to catch him before he entered the water.

This was the third time I’d spotted him in the last few days, and he explained to me that the kite surfers have been waiting six months for conditions like these.  His name is Russell and he shared with me his secret weapon – the thick neoprene gloves that  keep his hands warm are fine for the control bar that steers his power source but would presumably be too thick to hold the larger boom used to steer when windsurfing.

Thanks Russell for providing me with some great opportunities this week.


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!