Journeys in the North East (Part 3) - The North Pennines AONB

Blog - Phil-osophy on Landscape Photography > Journeys in the North East (Part 3) - The North Pennines AONB
20/11/2014 - 20:48


Day 2



After breakfast John (the host for my adventures in Northern England), his son Jacob and I drove off to collect his niece Bethany - she is studying an A Level in Photography and was keen to get some hints and tips for her interest in landscape photography. We headed off to the Pennines  - after yet more cups of tea & coffee. I don’t think it’s possible to pop into a house in the North East and decline such offerings, the pace of life at weekends seems unrushed and they are a most hospitable, pleasant and enquiring people up there!


A picnic lunch by the River Derwent in the charming village of Stanhope was had. We drove out of Stanhope to the South West heading over the moors by Edmundbyers, off in the direction of Teesdale. The lure of the overhanging waterfall of Summerhill Force was drawing us on. The drive across the moors was spectacular, so many places that were tempting to stop at.




Teesdale is a charming vale indeed and I wished for more time to be able to wander about it, to aquaint myself with its harmonious mix of farms, drystone walled fields, quaint cottages and the upland backdrop that surrounded it. The walk up Bow Lee Beck was a pleasure, fiery hues of oak, birch and beech bedecked the rapids and minor waterfalls. Summerhill Force finally appeared in the distance, though we heard the roar of the falls far before.


After introducing Bethany to how to use her digital SLR camera on manual setting, we moved on discuss composition ideas. We talked of subracting elements from the framing that distracted; studying the transient light and shadows; the effects of varying the time exposure on the texture of the water; the use of polarizers and neutral desnity graduated filters... and much more. Bethany produced some really great photos and was appreciative of the mini workshop session, quite amazed at the effects of filters in balancing the light in a composition.


'Summerhill Force' - Upper Teesdale, North Pennines AONB


At Summerhill Force (from the Old Norse word 'fors') the Bow Lee Beck tumbles over a shelf of grey limestone. Below the limestone, are layers of sandstone and dark shale. The sandstone & shale layers are much softer than the limestone above and are more easily eroded by the water. This causes undercutting of the limestone and has formed the large overhang.

Local legend tells of a 16th century outlaw who hid here while on the run from the Constables of Barnard Castle. William Gibson was said to have been a likeable rogue. Friends supplied him with food and dry clothes while he hid behind the waterfall in his dark and secret hideaway.


I waded out into the flow of the beck wearing my wellington boots and walking with my walking poles, taking care on the slippery rocks below. After waiting for several folk (including John & Jacob) to enjoy walking behind the curtain of the falls I thought I had things all set up... a great burst of transient  light, a plesaing composition... then whoosh! another plume of windswept mist from the falls came gliding over ready to land on the filters on the end of the lens. This process of dodging misty spray / drying filters / re-composing went on several times and finally I got an (almost) breeze free moment, wonderful light and the photograph above was made. It was an effort to make but so rewarding to make that photograph  - to stand before such a grand waterfall, in a beautiful location on a glorious autumn afternoon.


John had spent time making some great photos of the light on the trees lining the river and some of the falls. Bethany had produced more photos including some intriguing abstracts.


It was with a sense of wishing that I had a TARDIS like The Doctor, to extend my stay, as we drove back up into the high country. Dales trailing into high moorland hills – layers of arcing hills with their characteristic wet heath and purple moor grass fringed watersheds. Vast tracts of wild blanket bog on the plateaus and graceful slopes stretch as far as the eye can see.


'Stanhope Moors' - North Pennines AONB



l am ever drawn to theatrical transient dappled light on the hills. This moment of an approaching weather front & low autumnal afternoon light seemed a most pleasant stage for such ephemeral lighting. I raced down the slopes, having spotted the serpentine curves of the beck and the flowing grasses to be intruiging elements to be included in a photograph too. It was, on reflection, a rather a high wind chill at 400m a.s.l.  - but I was too absorbed to be bothered by the cold breeze until the ephemeral luminance had faded within a few short minutes.


The scene above looks down the East Whiteley Burn - as transient light falls upon Steward Shield Meadow near Whiteley Rigg. Bells Hill and Hope Head lie beyond. Longlaw End and Bolts Law are the  500m high ridges in the far distance.


Heather, cross-leaved heath, hair's-tail cottongrass, bilberry, common cottongrass, cloudberry, deergrass, crowberry and bog asphodel – along with a plethora of species of peat building sphagnum moss add to the tapestry of this vast, alluring and undulating landscape.


The wild and open moorlands of the North Pennines AONB are home to many birds inclduing red & black grouse, hen harrier, merlin, short-eared owl, curlew, golden plover, dunlin and twite.


On and on we travelled back towards Tyneside, savouring the wild landscapes as we drove by.


Another stop was made near Edmunbyers when gentle golden hour light was falling on Swandale Cottage and Limerick Edge beyond. My eye was caught by the sinuous trackside winding its way up the moor and by the arc of the drystone walled meadow with the sheep. A panorama was made just in time before the light faded as the weather front to the south blocked out the low sun.


'Swandale' - Co. Durham, North Pennines AONB



We bid good day to the moors as we left the Pennines, I look forward to the next time I visit and hope to get a chance to explore them for longer.






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