Scratching the Groyne Itch

From an aerial view, the mouth of the River Tyne looks like the head of an enormous sperm; the river forming the tail behind the pointed bulge created by the two long sweeping piers that stretch out from Tynemouth and South Shields.  At the end of each pier stands a lighthouse to guide shipping between these long defensive walls, and then the navigator can line up the high and low lights at North Shields to direct them into the deep water channel to take them upstream.

In the midst of these imposing structures is another, more modest piece of building work, yet photographically it steals the show to the extent that it could probably be classified as a cliché, i.e one of those images that every visitor to the area would create.  At the southern tip of that deep water channel there is what can only be described as a short bulge that extends seawards from South Shields.  Too short and broad to be properly seen as a pier or a sea wall it is nevertheless an important element in the design of the river mouth, for this bulge helps to divert the flow of the Tyne and prevent erosion of the shoreline that could otherwise result.  It is what is known as a groyne.

What makes the groyne at Shields so special however is the light at the end.  A beacon rather than a lighthouse, it is housed in what appears to be an octagonal shed atop a series of sloping legs that give it the appearance of something between the Martian tripods in The War of the Worlds and the lunar landing craft used in the Apollo missions to the moon.  What gives the light its particular appeal is that it is painted a vivid red colour.

With green bents grasses, blue skies, yellow sands and white clouds to give contrast it cannot help but be eye-catching.  That it has as its backdrop the equally dramatic ruins of Tynemouth Priory and the Collingwood monument simply adds to its appeal.  Today I was attracted by the opportunity to light the scene with the warm glow of the dying sun.  As you can see from the images I was occasionally lucky, and occasionally frustrated by the intermittent interference of clouds.  Some of the images are very much of that cliché category, some I hope are not, in particular the portrait of Alan who was fishing from the end of the groyne and enjoying the efforts that his friend was putting into the landing of his catch.  A very small crab.

 

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Pier to Peer

 

 

Though I’ve walked the length of Roker Pier at the mouth of the Wear many times, in all my visits to South Shields I’d never walked the pier there. Until today.

I’ve set foot (and tyre) upon it many times as I emerged from the road behind the amusements, but always to turn left and continue my way upstream.

As I’ve been saying in training workshops all week, without change we stagnate, so it was time to embrace that new direction.

Part of the reason that I’ve never ventured to the east, is that the lighthouse seems insignificant from the shore, and there are several reasons for this.  The Groyne light at Shields is more accessible, and being bright red is far more photographed, and compared to the lighthouses at Roker and Souter this is smaller, and bar it’s jaunty red and white cap, less noticeable.

Roker has an advantage here.  It is taller, and at the end of a beautiful sweeping curve that leads the eye to the edifice that holds the light, but at 2800 feet in length the pier is shorter than its Tyneside neighbour which extends into the sea for over a mile.  The Shields light is bound to look smaller, it’s further away and at the end of a pier which lacks the grace of Roker.  For much of the walk along its length the light is hidden by the sea wall.

Yet there were other rewards in store. The entrance of a yacht briefly excited me as I anticipated shooting it against the backdrop of the Tynemouth Priory ruins.  As luck would have it the vessel approached the target, then performed a 360 loop whilst dropping its sails before reaching the spot.

Then there was the lady who told me about the seal that was bobbing about.  A seal that through a telephoto proved to be a small marker buoy.  I needn’t have worried though.  There was plenty to aim my lens at.

The greater length of the structure meant more anglers, increasing my chances of finding a striking portrait.  They don’t come more fisherman-like than Alan.

 

Welcome to McElderry Country?

To the native Celts it was Caer Urfa.  When the Roman’s sought to fortify the mouth of the Tyne with a fort, they called it Arbeia (“place of the Arabs“), a name which could have been reapplied in the 19th Century when a Yemeni community was established there.  To us it’s South Shields.  Or just Shields.

Shields lies about 5 miles north from me, and though dwarfed by nearby Sunderland is the largest town in South Tyneside.  Like much of the region its history is entwined with coal and ships, and like many it has had to face the decline and eventual passing of these industries.  Seeking to reinvent itself as a tourist destination Shields and its environs branded as Catherine Cookson Country, though after 25 years of association with the prolific writer, who was born in Shields and drew on the history of the area for inspiration, the council have recently abandoned the brand.

The sands South Shields 1903
The sands South Shields 1903 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the signposts for Cookson Country have been removed, ostensibly because the gritty realities of her books aren’t something we want to be associated with any longer, and replaced with a sunny beach scene somewhat reminiscent of a 60’s postcard.  Shields is a resort town now and rather like Amityville in Peter Benchley‘s Jaws is keen to play up the sun, sand and sea, and play down the pit heaps and poverty (though thankfully not shark attacks!)

As a brand Cookson wasn’t tied to the seasons, but I wonder, for what percentage of the year do the golden sands of South Shields beach resemble these new road signs?

It’s mid-May, and whilst not high summer, we should be seeing temperatures averaging in the high teens.  My car told me it was 9.5 today. And very wet.

The dunes were deserted, as was the shoreline but for two young lads sprinting for shelter in the greyness.

No one playing football, though three determined individuals did fight the elements.  (You’ll get your balls wet boys!)

An amusement park out of season is a sad and shuttered place, but it seems worse when those same shutters are down at this time of year.

On the plus side you wouldn’t have had much difficulty in finding a table at Minchella’s Ice Cream Parlour!

Amidst all of this dreek misery the show must go on, and so I found Allan updating one of the visitor noticeboards nearby, and his eyes were able inject a little colour into the day.

Still it could be worse; and as Shields-born Python Eric Idle put it:

Always look on the bright side of life…