Monday, 4 November 2013


This article is about the English county of Northumberland. This is a big subject and I shall not be able to deal with the whole county in detail in one article.

This is an area where i go on holiday with tolerable frequency. most of the areas I go to are both coastal and touristy. The big advantage of Northumberland at the moment is that the madding crowds have yet to discover that it exists.

The place where we stay in Northumberland is Seahouses. This is where I shall start this article and then we shall go on various day trips around Northumberland. there is, of course, a great deal of Northumberland that I have never seen and I would not want to inhibit anyone from visiting these places as well.  


This is a fairly small place that has a distinctly 'local' feel.  Seahouses is the harbour area of North Sunderland town.

The most obvious part of Seahouses, photographically, is the harbour. This is a working harbour, privately owned by by the North Sunderland Harbour Commission. When you go around the harbour you need to bear in mind that the locals are trying to earn a living, not be photographic models.

The activity here is variable. As with all maritime activity, it revolves around the tides. This means I am not able to give times of the day when it is worth visiting the harbour. Seahouses harbour is home to two separate boat-based businesses. There are fishing boats working out of Seahouses - mostly lobster, crab and fish for smoking. Seahouses still has small local smoke-houses that use the local catch. There are also a number of boats taking visitors out to sea either for fishing or for seal/bird watching. I am not interested in fishing and so will not comment on that, but I have been on a birding trip - more of that later.

When the fishing boats are in harbour, their lobster pots are left in neat, regular piles around the harbour. These are good for foreground interest in shots of the wider harbour and also as semi-abstract subjects in their own right. The geometric patterns of the stacked pots overlaid with wandering blue ropes can be particularly effective.

As the tide is rising in the morning (which might be very early - five to six a.m.) you will find the boat crews getting ready for a days work. At the other end of the day (again, the timing is dependant on the tides) you will find the boat crews unloading the day's catch and performing other end-of-day activities.

The other activity, boat trips, is also dependant on the tides but also dependant on the visitors' timetables. This means that the crews are less busy early or late in the day. This gives you opportunities to photograph the boats on their own or while embarking and disembarking surprisingly large numbers of passengers.

Not surprisingly, the visual appeal of the harbour changes with the tide. At high tide (twice a day) all the boats are floating in the water, which comes right up to the harbour walls. At low tide, part of the harbour is devoid of water and in much of the rest of the harbour there is insufficient  water for the boats to float. This results in the boats looking rather jumbled and forlorn.

The boat trips available from Seahouses are of two types - either a round trip in the boat with no stopping or a trip to Inner Farne with a stop on the island. The round trips offer good views of seals and water birds if you are happy to subject your camera to the effects of salt spray. My own attitude is that my camera is a tool and there is no point in preserving it at the expense of no pictures - others are more careful of their kit. The trip to Inner Farne is well worth the cost.  it is only available when the Nation Trust allow it - it depends on the progress of the breeding birds.  No landing is allowed if it would disturb the birds, but once the eggs have hatched, landing is allowed and well worth while. The island is crowded with puffins, guillemots, cormorants, tern and other sea birds.  Most of these will allow you to approach very closely and close-up photographs are easy. The only real downside are the tern - they are protective of their young and will peck the top of your head if you get too close to their nests - as they nest on the path avoiding getting too close is rather difficult, so wear a hat!






Monday, 26 August 2013


Spurn is unique in the British Isles.  It is, basically, a long boulder clay and sand spit extending out into the North Sea from East Yorkshire.

It forms the northern lip of the mouth of the Humber and is roughly five kilometres long in a southward curve and narrows to around 50 metres in places.  It has always been a dynamic feature and over the centuries it has moved considerably.  At the moment it is being eroded and it looks like Spurn Point might become an island.  This happens every two hundred and fifty years, roughly, and then Spurn rebuilds itself from silt in the sea.

For me, Spurn starts at Kilnsea and my visits always start with a cup of tea in the Blue Bell cafe.  The Blue Bell also has a small exhibition about the geology, ecology and history of Spurn. Next to the Blue Bell is a smallish car park and on a sunny day this rapidly fills up. There is also a public toilet in the car park.

The road in Kilnsea goes just past the car park and then stops.  The road used to go a deal further but erosion of the boulder clay cliff has destroyed it.  You can clearly see remains of the road down on the beach. If you walk right to the end of the road and look left, there are the concrete remains of World War II defences - a pill box and gun emplacement are still identifiable.  These are also down on the beach and are lying at a variety of angles.  At low tide, they are stranded on the sand and at high tide they are mainly submerged.  The state of the tide is very important at Spurn and it is worth extending your visit over five or six hours to get both low and high tides.

WWII defences

My normal walk here is to start at kilnsea and then walk along the beach (which means low tide) on the northern side of of Spurn to the point.  When walking any distance on any beach, it is rather important to keep an eye on the incoming tide and to abandon the walk in good time if the water gets too close.

Anti-tank defences
The water along here is the North Sea and is fairly clean and green although clay is also clearly visible in the water.  Photographic opportunities along here include seals in the sea having a good look at the humans on the beach.  They don't stay on the surface for long but will repeatedly reappear.  A longish lens (200 mm or longer) is best for the seals as is a tripod.  Also along the beach you will find a series of lone anglers staring patiently out to sea.

As you reach the curve of Spurn you will come across the remains of wooden jetties or landing stages.  All that is left of these is a number of lines of large timber baulks sticking out of the sand.  These are well weathered and make good subjects, either alone where you can make the most of the textures or in groups where the lines become more important.

Timber baulks
At low tide, these are entirely in the dry sand and it is possible to get down amongst them.  At high tide their bases are submerged and the sea comes up to the cliff.  At this point they are still quite interesting but the photographer needs to be on the cliff.  For me, the ideal time to reach this part is as the incoming tide reaches the bases of the baulks.

Along this Spurn beach you will see the occasional cargo ship approaching the humber. Apart  from this there is usually little of note along here unless you are a keen birder. this is a prime place to see the various species of tern, skua and other migratory sea birds.  Not far past the relics of the jetties I head inland and join the road. This road is composed of rather small concrete slabs lain on sand - it is not particularly flat or level.  This part of Spurn is a nature reserve run by YWT. Dogs are absolutely forbidden - even if shut up in your car! It is also partially covered in san.  Following this to the point will reveal other photographic opportunities.  At the Point is a coastguard station and associated buildings.

More baulks
 Spurn has two lighthouses.  One is on the highest part of the the Point and looks like a standard Trinity House lighthouse - round, curved profile, painted black and white. The second lighthouse is hexagonal and sits on the beach. the front door of this beach lighthouse  is quite a way up and I would think is only accessible at high tide.

Around the general area of the coastguard station there is a certain amount of old, weathered marine equipment . If you like rust, this is worth looking at, particularly the tractor.

All the shipping visiting the Humber posts - Grimsby, Immingham, Keadby, Gunness, Goole - pass by here and there are usually several cargo ships in the offing.

Walking back to kilnsea along the road, you are now on the southern edge of Spurn. The water here is the Humber rather than the North Sea and is brown in colour and muddy. There are no beaches on this side but at low tide there are extensive mud flats that are home to a huge variety of wading birds.  That long lens and tripod will be handy here as well.

As I said above, even this road is rugged and needs a fair amount of fitness. You also need to keep aware of cars driving stealthily along on the sand covered road - they make almost no sound!

As you go back to Kilnsea, you will leave the YWT reserve. Just before the gate, there is a warden's office with a small display about Spurn wildlife, and during the day a warden who ill help with understanding the wildlife you have seen. 

Once you leave the reserve, the road is tarmaced and stable. Walking is now easier and the cars faster!  About half way between the reserve and Kilnsea is another small car park. This is not visible from the road but the two small access roads are - on the left as you walk to kilnsea. From this car park there is a short wooden walkway to a hide by a 'scrape' where you can watch and photograph water birds.

Kilnsea (and the Blue Bell) are now in sight and I find a last pot of tea in the Blue Bell to be appropriate.  If you finish your visit to Spurn too late for a last cup, of tea in the Blue bell, all is not lost. Just up the road towards Easington is a pub called the Crown and Anchor who do a decent pale ale and pub food (I suspect they do other drinks, but I have never asked).
young deer seen near the canal Scrape

Friday, 2 August 2013

Kirkby gravel pits

These are flooded gravel pits that now form a nature reserve.  On the other side of the road are working pits.  There is not much of landscape appeal here although some views over the flooded pits can be quite good at sunset.  The main interest is in the birds.

There are a number of resident species here and a great many migratory birds.  There is a hide close to the car park which contains a daily list of what has been seen.  There is also a walk from the car park which takes you to the far end of the main pit and from there it is possible to use a tripod and long lens to get better shots.

It is not just birds, however.  I have seen both stoats and mink.  There are at least four species of Peltigera lichen and several Cladonia.  As it is a damp place, there are lots of insects, including darters and damosselle flies


Lincoln is a small city in two distinct parts.  In some ways it is a pair of market towns.  The two parts are known locally as Uphill and Downhill.  the two are linked by the famous Steep Hill.  I shall treat the two parts separately.

Uphill is, as its name suggests, on top of the hill.  the hill is a limestone ridge called the Lincoln Cliff, that runs from the Humber in the North down the western side of Lincolnshire towards Grantham.  East of Lincoln, the ground slopes fairly gently to the Rasen and Witham valleys.  West of Lincoln, the scarp slope  drops steeply (Steep Hill!) to the Witham and Till flood plains and on to the Trent.

Uphill Lincoln is the original Roman Colonia from which Lincoln derives its name.  There are some small Roman remains here but not much.  What there is has been repaired and adapted over the last two thousand years.  Photographically, the only significant Roman relic is Newport Arch.  In Roman times, this was the northern entry into the city through which runs Ermine Street.  This arch was incorporated into the 'new' city walls by the Normans and now incorporates a porter's lodge which is still in use (and modernised).

There are other Roman relics (cistern, wall in West Bight) but there these are not interesting photographically.

The Normans have left a great deal in Lincoln and this is very interesting.  The two most obvious are the castle and the cathedral.  Building the castle was the first thing the Normans did on reaching Lincoln but the current building is slightly later but still Norman.  The most obvious part of the castle is the curtain wall and this offers a lot of photographic opportunities.  It is possible to walk about three quarters of the way around the castle, the southern wall being blocked by modern (Victorian) housing.

In the south-eastern corner of the curtain wall is an observatory tower which usually flies the Union Flag (I think it always flies the flag, but familiarity breeds contempt and I don't take as much notice as I might) and a keep in the middle of the southern wall.

There are also a lot of photographic opportunities inside the castle grounds.  The downside is that there is an admission charge and, once inside, they tolerate amateur photography but not professional photography without permission so you cannot sell any photographs taken inside the castle walls.  Inside the castle walls are a number of Georgian buildings including a chapel that has photographic potential.  This includes solitary confinement pews where each prisoner could see the priest but not each other.

The castle also, incidentally, houses one of the for remaining original Magna Cartas.  This is stored in dim light  to preserve it.  While you may photograph it  if you wish, you are not allowed to use flash so photographing it is just about impossible.  Still worth looking at, mind, if only for the calligraphy.

If you do pay the admission charge, it is well worth your while to climb the curtain wall.  You can walk most of the way around the castle - at least, when I visited four or five years ago you could.  Part of the wall was not accessible due to restoration works.  From up there, you have amazing views of Lincoln and the surrounds.  This is the only place in Lincoln from where it is possible to see the entire cathedral in one go.  My earlier comments about professional photography do not apply to pictures taken from the castle.

The cathedral is an amazing building.  The same comments apply to the cathedral as to the castle.  Entry costs (currently £6.00 which can get you in daily for a year) and amateur photography is allowed but not professional without permission.  Access to the cathedral is from the West Front.

Lincoln Cathedral is one of the largest and most beautiful cathedrals in Europe (not just my opinion, but generally shared).  Work started on the cathedral in 1072 and is ongoing.  the structure we have now is not being altered but there is ongoing repair and restoration which results in new carvings.  The big downside of the restoration work is that significant parts of the cathedral are covered in scaffolding and will be for many years to come.  As one part is finished, the scaffolding moves to another part.    I am hoping to live long enough for all the work to be done and to be able to see the cathedral with no scaffolding at all.

Cathedrals are strange buildings because they have four fronts and no backs.  Approaching the cathedral from the city you first come to the West Front.  This is where the main entrance is.  The core of this  is solid Norman with rounded arches (known as Norman or Roman arches).  the doorways have concentric lines of carvings which are a mixture of stylised animals and geometrical patterns. There are three doorways in this Norman part and over each is a serpent which are reminiscent of Jörmungandr, the Midgard serpent of Norse legend.  These carvings always remind me that the Normans were only one hundred years away from being Vikings themselves.

Around the Norman core of the West Front is a more modern and more graceful Gothic extension. This dates from 1140-odd with a frieze dating from 1123 to 1148 and a line of kings and queens. interestingly, in the aftermath of the civil war, the iconoclasts removed the heads of these kings and queens.  Later, the Victorians restored this part of the cathedral and replaced the missing heads with new, bearded heads - including the queens!

The South Front has little to commend it photographically although there are new carvings between the south and south-east transepts.

Photographically, the most interesting part of the exterior of the cathedral is the East Front. Here you will find the Chapter House which is decagonal in plan and surrounded by flying buttresses.  This is seen to best advantage early to mid morning - after around 11.00 am (GMT) it will be in shade.  There are also several small (i.e. person sized) doors hidden away which can be interesting.  The East front is also a good place to get refreshments as there is a refectory here that sells tea, coffee, cakes and light meals. There are also public toilets available.

From the East Front there is a road running down hill.  This is Pottergate and contains a number of houses in a variety of architectural styles dating back eight hundred-odd years.  At either end of Pottergate is an archway that used to be the access/exit from the Cathedral Close wall.  To me, this area cries out for monochrome photography.

Between the castle and cathedral is a square called Castle Hill.  On the cathedral side this is bounded by the Exchequergate.  This was originally the formal entrance to the Cathedral Close.  This building is not Norman but does date from very early on in the life of the cathedral - a date of around 1300 is the best that I can find.  There are three arches in the Exchequergate that give through views between Castle Hill and the Cathedral Close.  Leading away from Castle Hill is the Bailgate which is one of Lincoln's main shopping streets.  This leads to the Roman/Norman Newport Arch already mentioned.  South from Castle Hill is the famous Steep Hill leading the traveller down to the Downhill shopping area.  This hill is well named and is not really for the infirm.  At the bottom of Steep Hill is the High Street.  This is pedestrianised down to the railway station and is a normal traffic bearing road below the station.

Part way down the pedestrianised portion you come across the Stonebow (from the Norse "stennibogi" meaning a stone arch).  This is a fourteenth century archway that used to sit in the medieval city walls. This Stonebow houses eh guildhall and Mayor's Parlour.  Continuing down from the Stonebow we have a normal modern shopping area with all the chain shops you would expect.

Worthy of note (at least photographically) is the Witham river and the medieval bridge over it dating from 1160.  On this bridge is a row of shops dating from 1550.  Either side of these shops are steps leading down to the river bank.  On of these is known as The Glory Hole.  Going down one of these steps will take you to the Brayford Pool.  On one side of teh the Pool is the University of Lincoln in a number of modern buildings.  On the opposite side is a cinema and a number of restaurants.