Glutton for Punishment

One of the advantages of living on your own is the freedom to indulge in whims.

This why only a couple of weeks after my unsuccessful attempt to find a beautiful sunrise over a frost covered Whitby I was setting my alarm for another 5.45 start, this time to try the coastal hamlet of Staithes.


I’ve been here before in the company of “one who got away” and so the town’s cobbled alleyways had nothing new to offer me beyond their emptiness so early in the morning, and consequently I found myself gingerly picking my way through brambles and briars on a hilltop called Cowbar Nab. Though owned by the National Trust I’m guessing they don’t want to give visitors encouragement as it’s predominantly a seabird colony.

Down below in the harbour I could see I wasn’t the first here. A man leaning over his tripod was presumably shooting the dockside buildings including the Cod & Lobster in the glow of the lamps that are dotted through the little town. No matter I was in good time for my objective; to see a sunrise breaking over the hills bathe the rooftops in warm, golden-hour light.

Instead my vantage point proved the perfect place to watch the clouds coalesce over those same hills so that any hope of seeing that golden light was completely extinguished. I know that you should never leave a sunrise too soon and so was patient enough to catch a trace of colour through the rain veiling the horizon, and again through the occasional fissures in the cloud but this wasn’t the scene I envisaged. I shot dozens of images but know all along that it would be question of choosing only one from among so many that differed only slightly as I tracked the light moving to the right.

Satisfied there was no more to be achieved I made my way down to the town in the vain hope of finding something interesting.  It’s hard to believe now looking at the handful of vessels that shelter behind the harbour walls or further up the Staithes Beck, but in the early part of the last century there were about 80 fishing boats operating here.

I reached the spot where my fellow photographer had stood earlier and tried a couple of long exposure images.  That’s when those clouds burst. First with rain, but then with hail driving from the North Sea.

One of the disadvantages of living on your own is the freedom to indulge in whims.


On A Cold & Frosty Morning

Stepping away from the heat generated by my last post and into the cold of a wintry Yorkshire, I returned to the town of Whitby in the hope of shooting a beautiful sunrise over the headland where the Abbey ruins are silhouetted. At this time of year the alignment means that from just out at sea this should be possible.

There are two issues with this; the first relatively easily resolved. Shooting from the sea, even were I to charter a boat would be a technical nightmare, necessitating fast shutter speeds to cancel out the boat’s movement, but in low light that would mean very noisy low quality images. The light trail made by one small vessel demonstrates my point, and that  was from within the protection of the harbour.  Fortunately the town has a solution.

Whitby has a plethora of piers. I exaggerate of course but on either side of the mouth of the River Esk are stone piers with a history that goes back to the 16/17th Century (though there had been wooden structures to protect the port since the early 14th). In the early 1900’s these were augmented by a pair of extensions that reached further out into the North Sea.

That level of engineering is no longer justified in a town where fishing and exports of alum are no longer major industries and the piers have suffered; the bridge linking the East Pier extension to its parent is long gone so it is now accessible only by boat. Scarborough Borough Council now faces the challenge of how to maintain, repair these structures and though economically unattractive they are so much a part of the town that any proposal to scale back or abandon them would be controversial.

The West Pier extension is still intact however and so I found my spot to wait in the January cold for the sun do its job. And here was my second issue.

Being an hours drive away from Whitby requires a certain amount of commitment to be there before first light, a commitment that there is no guarantee will be repaid. Even in January I had to be up at 5.45 and as the year progresses so earlier sunrise makes a return trip less likely. So I gambled on the sun repaying my enthusiasm.

Sure enough the sky began to develop a pink tint just above the ruins. It grew brighter and spread a little further, and then… nothing. Gone. Just the clouds, the sea, the cold and the walk back to town along that pier.  


At least the tourists and Goths that throng the streets hadn’t risen yet so I could capture some more genuine local colour.

I did at least catch the golden hour around the marina as a consolation prize, and amongst the seabirds found an unexpected sight.  At least there was some red about that winter’s morning.

Where do I begin?

The Tees bridges I’ve written about were sort of “freebies”.  Shots that I have taken when in the neighbourhood.  But what should I do with my first free weekend on Teesside?  Head for the hills?  Or Grade I listed Acklam Hall?  Those options will come in time I’m sure, but for me there was only one place to begin really.  The Coast.

My new home is 15/20 minutes away from the sea, one of the factors that influenced the move, but I have to say that my nearest stretch of coast isn’t classically pretty.  All the same as a photographer I found my first trip very rewarding.  I went to South Gare, though it’s not an area that makes you welcome.  A private road leads behind the steelworks with plenty of signage to deter the unauthorised visitor, but even when you get past that stretch you are met with a myriad of further warnings and admonishments.

Perhaps this was why on my first visit here several years ago I didn’t stop to explore, but contented myself with a single image of the steelworks in action.   At the time it was “mothballed” in the hope of a productive future.  Those hopes, like the furnaces themselves, have since been extinguished, though this is where Dorman Long made the steel for their iconic bridges.

South Gare is a man-made, 2.5 mile extension to the mouth of the Tees, providing additional shelter to the shipping that continues to service the industries here, and is effectively a recycling scheme, since the “land” is all slag; waste from the steel works that was fashioned by a small army of Irish navvies in the 19th Century.

It’s a fairly bleak place to await the sunrise on a winter’s morning with the wind ripping through the bents grasses of the dunes and the landscape dominated by vents and chimneys of the chemical industry and the cadaver of the steel plant.  And yet there is life here.  Fishermen come to access a small harbour built into the gare, anglers ignore the signage and fish from beyond the lighthouse, and the dunes themselves, protected by all of those deterrent signs, are an SSSI (a protected conservation area – Site of Specific Scientific Interest) that draw birdwatchers too.

And not just life.  It may be gritty and industrial, but there’s also beauty in the first light of morning.



Good things come to those who wait

In a recent conversation with my daughter Megan about the autumn foliage she had remarked that I should have plenty of opportunity to see this along the riverside in Durham, for in the days when she came to school here, she often noticed the trees as she crossed the river at Elvet.

My route in and out of the city rarely takes me here though so it seemed unlikely that I’d be there with camera in hand at the right moment when the leaves were sufficiently transformed, but before the autumn winds had plucked them from branch and twig.  As I was working from home today I felt virtuous enough to have a short burst of exercise before I began and so took a short cycle ride to the very spot that she had recommended and to be honest I was a little disappointed.  The light wasn’t right and whilst there was plenty of turning foliage it still seemed all too green, and whilst I took a couple of shots up and downstream from one of the numerous boat houses I didn’t really have much hope of finding anything useful.

I had already stowed my camera away and was remounting my trusty steed when I glimpsed a brace of clouds above me each bearing the slightest brush stroke of a dusty pink.  Nice, but not enough to make a decent image from, but then I looked down again at the waters which had donned similar raiment in tribute to their celestial neighbours.APW_0232

APW_0293-EditBy the time I resumed position by the water the pink had already taken on a more golden hue, but none the matter.  Deliberately underexposing to maximise colours and silhouettes I fired away until I thought I had sufficient.  I resumed my journey until I met an old friend given interest by the low lighting.  Much better than my torchlit plans would ever have produced.

Turning away from the beast and suddenly the green leaves around me had taken on a different colour altogether.  The rising sun was bathing everything in beautiful soft golden light that accentuated every yellow pigment in the trees and in the masonry of Durham’s magnificent Norman heritage which rose above them.  APW_0304_5_6

It was a perfect morning which unsurprisingly filled my head with an old jazz standard

Softly as in a morning sunrise

The light of love comes stealing

Into a newborn day

Softly As In A Morning Sunrise lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II


Shy bairns…*

Whilst out on Friday, I had a bit of role reversal; I was setting up my tripod to shoot some slow shutter shots of the sea lapping at the foot of the promenade steps, when a softly spoken Irishman approached me to request one or two of my pictures.

Wesley had no way of knowing what I was shooting, or whether I was in any way competent, but I think he probably made some assumptions from the equipment I was lugging about.

He explained that he was conducting a service at a residential home this weekend, and that whilst staying at Sunderland’s Marriott Hotel he had been lucky enough to see both a beautiful sunrise and the recent stormy seas.  He wanted to use these as a metaphor in the message he was to share about life and how beyond every storm the light will dawn.

Well on the day it was easy to provide him with some pictures of waves crashing against rocks and the sea wall, but I needed to dig through my archives to find some calmer waters.  Having recently corrupted my image database this proved harder than I would have wished, but nevertheless I found a couple of suitable options which I emailed to him.

Had I waited another 24 hours…

This morning the wind had dropped to the point where the shoreline flags were untroubled.  The tide was out, and whilst there were still rainclouds in the sky, the sun was breaking through above the mirrorlike surface of the Whitburn lagoon.  Although I shot some 70 or so images, there was only one picture that I had in mind and I got it here.

The trouble was that most of the people sharing the view with me were former subjects, so I was struggling for a portrait.  The lazy flap of a heron’s wings drew my attention away from the bay and back to my car where I met Neil who agreed to be photographed today.

He was strolling along the cliff tops with his Sunday paper, scanning the water but with probably less pleasure than me.  The calm that gave me my reflection was not so ideal for him.  He is a surfer.

*…get nowt!  (If you don’t ask, you don’t get)