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.
Long before Channel 4 unleashed Tony Robinson and the rest of the Time Team crew upon us I was interested in archaeology, (studying Latin and Ancient History at school has that effect) and so when there was a dig taking place locally I was excited to see what was going on.
This was in the mid 70’s, when a team led by the formidably-named Professor Rosemary Cramp of Durham University‘s Archaeology Department excavated the site of the former monastic buildings to the south of St Peter’s Church, the monastery that gave name to this part of Sunderland; Monkwearmouth. The site was 1300 years old.
I remember looking forward to visiting the dig one weekend, but when the day came it was cold and wet, miserable conditions for digging and scraping at ancient stones. I don’t recall whether it was my own reaction to the conditions, or the lack of geniality on the part of Professor Cramp et al, but I didn’t stay long!
Today, despite being one of the most historically significant buildings in the area (together with St Paul’s at Jarrow it is seeking World Heritage Site status due to their links with St Bede) St Peter’s is overlooked by many. In fact when I showed one of today’s photographs to my younger daughter she had no idea where it was. To many now the name is more associated with the nearby campus of the university and the sixth form college which adjoins it.
Visiting today I found similar conditions to the day of the dig. Whilst the church is intact, little of the original Anglo Saxon structure remains, other than the west wall and the porch, though the characteristic steep sloping roof profile is retained and continues to influence other buildings nearby. The intertwined serpents that once guarded the entrance arebarely visible, as it the statue set into the wall above the porch, which was presumably damaged during the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII. It’s a pity that this little gem seems so forgotten by the hundreds who commute past it every day.
Even the perimeter wall has character, I have no idea when it was built but the variety of masonry used in its construction would not be considered nowadays.
Just beyond the perimeter I prematurely met today’s portrait subject; Winter. It was almost inevitable that I should meet an Asian student with the university so close at hand. I wonder if she has any idea of the history she was passing.