Bloodied from the Wreckage

Let’s be  clear.  I’m not seriously hurt.

If you’ve read my recent post about the clothing choices required of a wandering photographer you’ll understand that some shots require the right protective gear, and on this occasion I didn’t have it. So I didn’t yomp across wet sands at low tide. Nor did I continue my drone flight as soon as it became clear that the winds were too strong.

I was back at South Gare for that low tide, because in a small bay near the steelworks lies a wreck.  The wooden ship that met its end here at Brann Sands is sadly nameless; the circumstances of its demise have also been lost in the years that have passed since, so any romantic tales are pure speculation.  The sandy bay is fairly innocuous with no rocky outcrops to explain the vessel’s presence.  With my highly limited maritime knowledge it seems that a vessel grounded on a sandbar might have been successfully refloated at the next high tide, so of course I wanted a look so that I could formulate my own theories.  But not today.

Scanning around the bay I spotted another boat of interest at the far end of the bay.   Though clearly a more recent victim of the sea, this was no more identifiable, the bow having been badly burnt, presumably by some beach revellers rather than as part of the original accident.

I grab a few shots and make my way back to the stretch of sand dunes that separate the bay from my abandoned car, and this is when it gets tricky.   I didn’t take note of my entrance point and now I’m faced with a number of possible routes over the undulating ground, and from memory only one of them is both reasonably direct and relatively clear of the sort of flora that my bare legs would like to avoid.  I don’t find it.

And so I’m treading gingerly through nettles and over brambles when I crest one of the dunes and hear voices.  A good sign that I’m nearing the well travelled route?  Quite the reverse.  The voices belong to a couple who had deliberately left the beaten track and are now having sex as a guy with a camera and a very obvious telephoto lens arrives.

I avoid eye contact and keep walking in a straight line.  Off any track whatsoever and down a steep slope where slow and controlled descent is impossible.  My pale flesh is sacrificed to their privacy.

I hope they had a blanket!

(I returned the following day to capture some of these images – including the drone shot at last!)


Turned Out Nice Again*

I have been to this part of the North West before, because I have a vague childhood memory of my father taking me on a pleasure flight from Southport beach sometime in the 1960’s.  It was probably my first experience of flying.

Nevertheless the intervening years have erased all other impressions, so my expectations of Formby were influenced more by the singer and ukulele player of that name than any genuine memory of the place.  Incidentally George Formby inherited the name from his father, a music hall entertainer who it is claimed saw the name on a railway sign.

Regardless of the truth of that story a synaptic link existed that in my mind equated Formby to a seaside entertainment town like Blackpool, and in this respect the story of Eric Morecambe’s stage name probably played a part too.

Whatever the background to my mental picture however, it was completely wrong.

Needing to do some writing for work I decided that with the sun shining I should find a pleasant seaside spot rather than the darkness of my hotel room so I headed out from Bootle early one morning in search of the National Trust managed nature reserve on the Formby coast.   My route took me through the town, which is clearly one of the wealthier areas of the region.  I learnt later that many a footballer has lived here, and passing the high-walled, security-gated properties I  could well believe it.

But onto the car park and into an area of Special Scientific Interest.  This reserve isn’t just beautiful, it’s also home to some rare flora and fauna.

Firstly out into the pine-woods, and the opportunity for some early morning sunlight piercing the gloom through the trees.

Then the woodland begins to thin and an undulating landscape appears which is home to one of the UK’s rarest amphibians, the Natterjack Toad.  Being so rare I didn’t see any, nor even the occasional ponds that the toads make as their home, but then I was in a hurry to find a seat and get to work.

Over the sand dunes now, and onto the shore; a wide open space of sky, sand and Irish Sea (and a fair distribution of wind turbines in the distance).   The dunes are at risk of tidal erosion, and so the local residents bring their discarded Christmas Trees each year to create a slightly incongruous defence work.

Sitting with my back to the sea and wind while I worked I was aware of the strange ways that sand combines with the elements to produce works of otherworldly sculpture.  Had I had more time at my disposal to wait for the sun to sink lower once more I’m sure there would have been some dramatic shots available, but instead the clouds came and I had to retreat before my work was soaked, though the option of a short cut through the largest patch of nettles I’ve ever encountered wasn’t so attractive.

Not before I spotted the other endangered species in the distance.  A bit cuter than a toad don’t you think?

*Turned Out Nice Again is a 1941 film that starred George Formby, as well as a song that he recorded, although the song doesn’t feature in the film.  It seemed appropriate as the sun lit up the dunes and produced these wonderful velvet shadows for me.APW_5738-Edit-Edit

Costa Cleveland

I’ve posted images from this part of the world previously, but courtesy of my friend Julie I was able to explore Saltburn’s beach in a little more detail, beginning with the stretch below the towering walls of Huntcliff, the brown ironstone that was once extensively mined stained white in places by the nesting gull population and green in others by vivid swathes of weed liberally daubed where there is water to sustain it.

The cliffs are hazardous with the risk of rockfalls, but there is plenty of space below to pass in safety.  Venture nearer however and the rocks reveal hidden treasures for these rocks are layered with fossils.

The incoming tide prevented further exploration to the south of Saltburn, but did at least provide an opportunity for reflection as we turned back.  APW_2341

APW_2342_3_4Of course there was still the long stretch of sand reaching north to tempt us, but first we had to pass the pier.  Now I’ve photographed the pier to death on a number of occasions, but on this occasion I found a couple of new reasons to lift camera to eye.

Mock Turtle?

The famous Saltburn Yarm Bombers have revealed their latest work here; a range of knitted figures inspired by Alice in Wonderland, and though I don’t remember much mention of rain in Lewis Carroll the heavens chose to open at that moment.  Not such a problem though as the wet boards of the pier provided a mirror-like surface for further creative options.

It didn’t stay wet for too long so the journey further north to Marske wasn’t so unpleasant but there weren’t too many taking advantage of the sand and sea.  (Well just Julie, but I’m far too gallant to share!)APW_2459_60_61

Regimented (Venezia 219)

You’ll pay a premium to make use of the facilities of the private beaches on Lido (though Rupert Everett famously challenged their right to keep him off their sand), and for that you’ll get better quality sand (cleaner), a sun bed and shade, your own changing room, and a security guard to chase the riff-raff (and British actors) away.

I can’t help but be reminded of a military base though.


Farne From The Madding Crowd

I’ve never been to the Farne Islands.

This wildlife sanctuary maintained by the National Trust lies just off Seahouses on the Northumberland Coast, so with a long weekend at my disposal, it seemed like a good time to rectify the matter.

If I’m totally honest I did nearly visit once before, but a planned trip turned into one of  the flashpoints of my marriage so it was aborted.  As I pulled into the car park at Seahouses I wondered if one of the other visitors had had a similar experience.

The Red Barron (sic)

Because it had rained so much the previous evening, I’d checked the weather forecast before setting out on the 75 minute journey.  A young forecaster called Ben told me through a fixed smile that the grey start would quickly dissipate to bright and sunny skies.  Perfect.

I was a little disappointed then to find that as I drew nearer to my objective the skies were not so bright.  In fact they were rendered invisible by mist and fog, so I was surprised by the number of visitors in town on a murky Sunday morning.  Seahouses traditionally had two main attractions, the Farnes being one, and it’s reputation as a stop off point for quality fish and chips being the other.   Nowadays the whole of the Northumberland coastline is liberally provided with holiday lets and campsites that testify to the area’s growing popularity.

What brings people here?  Well for one thing there’s an excellent cycle touring route between Newcastle and Edinburgh, and with the growth of interest in cycling that has taken place in the UK following the successes Sir Dave Brailsford and his numerous medal winners, more and more people are taking advantage of this.  The name of that route is a further clue to the visitor numbers.  This is the Coast and Castles route.

Lindisfarne Castle
Lindisfarne Castle
Dunstanburgh Castle

Northumberland’s location on the border with Scotland means that it has seen more than its fair share of conflict over the centuries, and the county is studded with fortifications, from the Bastle Houses designed to defend against the raids of the infamous Border Reivers, through modest structures like Belford or Lindisfarne Castle, the ruined shells of Warkworth or Dunstanburgh, to the vast stone walls of Bamburgh and Alnwick.  The region’s appeal to the historian is obvious.   I thought of photographing Bamburgh while I was there, but sat atop its defensive cliffs it was lost in the mist.

APW_8740For walkers there is a 64 mile coastal path.  64 miles of beautiful, unspoilt beaches along an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  As England’s most sparsely populated county the ratio of people to acres of sand means that you can always find a space to build your sandcastle.  For me the broad expanses of sand provide opportunity to contrast the different textures sculpted by wind and tide,  from soft sand dunes held in place by bents grasses to the shattered rocks and crushed and cracked crustacean cases that litter the littoral.

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Arriving at the harbour to book my crossing, I was told that due to the weather there wouldn’t be a crossing for at least an hour, and that a decision would be made closer to the time about that trip.  I passed the time photographing the greyness of the harbour and it’s unsaturated colours before returning to the news:

“We will sail out and around the islands, but won’t be landing.”

I’ve never been to the Farne Islands.

Ground down

This was the penultimate weekend on my beach.



I know I have no right to be so possessive, but in the years that I have been taking pictures upon its numberless grains of sand I feel I have grown to know it intimately, and probably more so than many who pass this way.  The beach has been my companion for nearly 20 years, and as my marriage (which has spanned a similar number of years) ends so I will be heading soon for pastures new, with hopes and aspirations to match.


Today I mused upon the power of nature, and how like the Hindu Lord Shiva it is both beneficent and destructive.  In the midst of tough and windswept grasses it provides a burst of colour with a rogue patch of daffodils, yet elsewhere there is plenty of evidence of its power to destroy.  Shattered and eroded stones litter the beach; and the sand itself is a constant reminder of the natural world to reduce even the hardest stone to tiny grains that are     susceptible to even the tiniest breath of wind.


APW_1342-EditTimber is just as defenceless, and there is plenty of evidence around of wood, both natural and shaped by man, that has been unable to withstand Mother Nature‘s moments of aggression.


She doesn’t get things all her own way.   There is evidence here of man’s presence, in forms that seem to have a right to be here, and in plenty of other forms that don’t.  APW_1335-Edit

Unwelcome as this detritus my be, nature is or will be the victor, interring the remains within the sands and grasses, like some archeological exhumation in reverse and creating in infinite range of shapes and textures.


It’s complicated!

An Ill Wind

As I went cycling this morning I was acutely aware of how much things had changed since yesterday.  There was still some warmth in the air, but that air was moving much more rapidly.  As both bike and rider’s knees creaked their syncopated complaint at the effort they were called on to make I pedaled on into the headwind.  As I laboured along, my mood was not helped by the presumably Californian woman speaking occasional reminders of how much slower than my best pace for the same stretch I was.

The sky was heavily overcast too.  Was I going to get a soaking on this ride?

The wind had of course announced itself to me earlier in the day when I quickly walked part of the beach in search of images.  Today’s shoreline visitors had non of the leisurely approach of yesterday’s individuals.  Today you were there with a mission, and you weren’t going to hang about in this wind once it was fulfilled.  It was predominantly a day for dog walkers, and whilst their pets enjoyed the wide open space of a beach at low tide, the flying grains of sand forced their owners to keep their heads down.  There were some who benefited from these conditions of course.  As I arrived I could see one pale sail out at sea, but it was clearly going to be joined by others quite soon.

The wind surfer who stopped to provide me with a portrait was delighted.  He’s been waiting forever for these conditions.  Some were clearly enjoying themselves.


APW_0423-EditOthers maybe weren’t!APW_0425-Edit

As I completed turned to complete the loop of my bike ride the wind was now at my back.  The voice from Silicon Valley soon changed her tune then!