Thursday, 25 August 2011

Lakes Weekender (Blencathra) - Base Camp

Setting up base camp -

A conversation with a workmate took an interesting turn back in May 2011. Not quite sure what the original discussion was about but it quickly became something else - climbing mountains! Mr Llloyd said he liked the idea of getting away one weekend and doing something 'different'. He then went on to suggest a few of us should get our arses into gear and head off to the Lake District for a camping weekend, tackling a mountain along the way. Well, not being one for sleeping in a field I wasn't too receptive to the idea, half dismissing it at first, but then becoming more interested as the conversation progressed. Davey (Mr Lloyd), was a regular visitor to the Lake District, mainly due to his commitments with 25th Bournmoor Scout Group, so he knew the drill well as far as this game went. He often camped with the scouts on a remote farmers field at Scarness, on the edge of Lake Bassenthwaite, near the Northern Fells. After he'd sold the idea to yours truly I quickly realised an added bonus of landscape photography might just make this weekend an even better one, so I 'Signed Up' there and then. We quickly recruited two more, Lee and Brian, also known as Mezo and Nagzy. Don't ask me to explain! The plan was to camp, walk, climb, eat, drink and just basically have a good laugh. The plans were made a few weeks before we actually made the trip, which eventually took place on the weekend beginning Friday July 8th 2011. The main event over the planned weekend was to tackle a mountain and Davey suggested Blencathra, just off the A66 on the approach to Keswick. None of us apart from Davey had even heard of it, let alone climb it. To me, a mountain is a mountain, but this one had a sting in its tail. It was decided by Davey, he he, that our route to the summit would be taken via Sharp Edge. I'll not go into detail about it - click here for enlightenment!!!
Ok, so you've clicked the link and you now think we need our heads checking, he he. Ya know're probably right! More on our Sharp Edge experience later, but for now I'll tell the story of our arrival at Scarness at we set up camp for the weekend ahead... Our 90 minute journey from Houghton le Spring to Scarness wasn't a pleasant one, especially when you're on driving duty - it rained quite heavily. I made the journeyin my car with Davey, while Lee travelled with Brian, as we needed two set of wheels to transport all our gear...and beer! The weather forecast for the whole weekend wasn't good at all, but I wasn't too disappointed - it looked like Sharp Edge was going to be a non-starter......YESSSS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Didn't quite fancy it for some reason, he he. Davey led us to Broadness Farm, near the edge of Bassenthwaite Lake. He knew the place like the back of his hand after spending many a time here with his scout group. It was a picturesque location, with one of the highest lakeland fells sitting alongside us - Skiddaw, the fourth highest mountain in England. As the rain eased off we quickly pitched the tent, a four berth affair with a bedroom at each end and storage room in the centre, our 'Hotel' for the weekend! Picture 2 shows Lee and Brian after the final tent pegs were sunk. No sooner was the tent up, the kettle was on the stove and it was time for a brew. Then the heavens opened again and we quickly headed inside the tent. It didn't half lash down. At that point I questioned what the hell I was doing there, in a tent, farmers field, pissing down rain, and the prospect of tackling Sharp Edge the following day...he he, you end up laughing, if ya didn't, well...

After a cuppa it was time to eat, so out came the gas stoves under a nearby tree and it was a-la carte all the way - NOT! Tasty nevertheless, and it filled that gap. The rain eased and a nice rainbow greeted us across the way (picture 1). As night time drew closer we headed off along the waters edge to stretch our forty-something legs. The place was quite desolate, give or take a handful of kids canoeing on the outskirts of the big pond. An hour later and we were back on our hotel complex, in search of firewood - time to get warmed up. We soon had a roaring fire going and we sat around it on our fold-up chairs, downing lager and cider in the process. This is the life! We chatted and joked on as the alcohol went down as the light fell. It was around 10pm by this time and we sat looking through the break in the trees across the lake. The water was almost still. Virtual silence, apart from a distant stream of cars on the A66 westbound at the far side of Bassenthwaite. Then total silence. The silence was broken when a rogue piece of wood spat from the fire and into Mezo's face...oh dear...we couldn't help but about impeccable timing! I do recall him sharing a four letter word with us as he rubbed his face to relieve the pain. Time for a group shot around the fire (shown here L-R, Ash, Davey, Brian and Lee). Shortly after 11pm, and after a few more 'Jars', we staggered back up the bank towards our glamourous 'Hotel'. It was time to rest those weary heads in preparation for our mountain climb the next day. I needed a good night's sleep, that was sure - didn't wanna tackle that hill without one. The rain started again as lights went out. Time for reflection before sleep. I was looking forward to the rest of our weekend although Sharp Edge was on the back of my mind. Never done anything like that before, and not having a head for heights it certainly made for an interesting and challenging time ahead. I intended to push myself, close to the edge, but not over it, he he.

Stay tuned for the next installment - Blencathra climb, via Sharp Edge!

Thanks for visiting,


Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Penshaw Poppies, Sunderland

The Oilseed Rape had died off near Penshaw Monument, leaving a once bright yellow field a mid shade of green, before the red carpet appeared. And appear it did, as the days turned into a week and a week turned into a fortnight, the poppies were there in abundance near one of the North-East's best known landmarks. I'd been waiting for this for three years. 2008 was the last time this particular field had a show of poppies and I remember taking a couple of shots that eventually ended up going to print, before sitting in a frame. A steady supply adorned the walls of Penshaw Tea Rooms, at the foot of Penshaw Hill. They sold well but I wasn't that impressed with the shots to be honest. I knew the re-appearance of the poppies would give me ample opportunity to put that right, so now I was armed with a Canon 7D it was time to cause some 'Damage'. I'd spoken to Tony, manager of the Tea Rooms and he was in the mood for a new batch of poppy frames, saying I was lucky the poppies were there this year, adding that the owner of the field had told him he intended to apply a chemical to the plants that would kill the poppies as they emerged, but the chemical in question had recently been banned from agricultural use, preventing him from using it. What a pity eh (wink).
As the poppies started to bloom around the edges of the field I decided to wait until the whole field was awash with red, which would really make a picture. A slight worry arose when my trip to Venice was only a few days away. Would my return be too late - would the poppies have died off after ten days? Well ten days later I returned to the UK and the first sign of good weather coincided with my ten minute car journey to Penshaw where I saw the field in great nick. Picture perfect - poppies everywhere. Time to set those idle hands to work. I photographed from the outkirts of the poppy field before making my way through the tangled mess and into the heart of the field where I photographed my best work. A small selection is shown here. This part of the field was the best location to shoot from - an ideal vantage point. Weather was warm, a slight breeze, broken clouds - happy days. I just knew these shots were going to light up my portfolio. I would like to think I got there. Sold a few already and more to go through the channels shortly. I don't know, there's something that attracts folk to photo's like these. All the better if you can include an iconic landmark alongside the red carpet. Say what you want about 'Life Up North', but I love this place. It's all here - the photographs go some way to reinforcing that statement. That is all. The world through my eyes, in photographic form...

Thanks for visiting.

Ashley Corr

Friday, 12 August 2011

Penshaw Countryside

April 2011 saw the Spring weather take a firm hold in Houghton le Spring. It was a mild season in many respects - overcast skies and rain were evident most weeks but we had our fair share of sunshine too. One place I was drawn to, yet again, was Penshaw Hill, a ten minute drive from my home. I supply quite a lot of my work to Penshaw Tea Rooms & Nursery, who in turn sell it on their premises. The Tea Rooms look out onto Penshaw Hill and its dominating Monument, making it an obvious attraction and customers are surrounded by a selection of framed prints, by yours truly. Over the past two and a half years they've sold dozens of frames, including my mounted prints, canvases and postcards. Sales continue to do well as I write, so hopefully that will continue for some time to come. Naturally I'm always on the hunt for new photographs of Penshaw Monument so I tend to visit the National Trust site every few weeks to update my collection. My best selling images up to 2011 were of the nearby poppy fields which I shot during Spring 2008. Since then the oilseed rape hadn't been planted so I didn't get the opportunity to update my poppy shots, which by my own admission, weren't that good. That all changed however in Spring 2011 when I drove past Penshaw Hill towards the A19 dual carraigeway. I noticed to my left that the oilseed rape was in bloom and this signalled the arrival of the poppies once again, although that would follow the yellow carpet once it died off, probably in early May.

My first shot (shown here) was taken on an embankment next to a busy road near Penshaw Hill. I wanted a variation of shots from different points near the field, although the location of Penshaw Monument and the field itself meant I was shooting towards the Monument from similar angles. Situated on the edge of the field I included the wooden fence in the foreground, rather than have little or no interest in this part of the shot, as in my second effort shown below (shot 2).
Again I chose a day when there was plenty of broken cloud - something I prefer to add to landscape shots, as opposed to a clear blue sky or even an overcast one. I like those picture-postcard type shots and I've tried to capture that kind of Spring scene here. In ful bloom I'd say the oilseed rape only lasts a couple of weeks at most. As it begins to die off you begin to see the emergence of the poppies, usually scattered around the outskirts of the field, which was again the case in 2011 as red began to replace yellow. This shot was taken from a position right in the middle of the farmers field. No poppies in these shots though as I knew they'd be getting plenty of attention during the next few weeks, once the yellow had gone. As you can see in my third and final shot, the rapeseed was by now few and far between, but that was ok - I'd got what I wanted and that was that. All I needed now was the poppies, and plenty of them. It was time to update my collection of images and I knew a good batch would sit well in frames too. It wasn't long before the fields were in full bloom - but did I get what I wanted?
Results shortly...

Cheers, Ash

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Venice - Part 3 (Fond. Dogana)

The third and final part of my Venice blog concentrates on my journey through San Polo to Fond. Dogana, the most southerly part of the city. I was more than happy with the photographs I'd taken on the east side of the Grand Canal and more opportunities followed as I hit San Polo on the west side - gaining access via the Rialto Bridge. By this time it was early afternoon and the temperature was up there, which isn't something I'm a big fan of. I don't mind big heat, but when there's no let up it usually has me hunting down a shaded refuge for a short while. I remember the tee-shirt I was wearing was stuck to my back for the best part. Yes, I remember it well - navy and white hoops, very similar to that worn by those gondolier chaps. All I needed now was a straw hat and two litres of brylcreem and that was me suddenly impersonating one of them. Mind you, when they're asking 100 Euro's a pop for a 30 minute trip in a gondola, I could have made a few bob! Ah well, maybe another time - for now I'll just stick to impersonating a photographer.

My first shot (above) is a typical scene along the Venice waterways, although I don't remember the exact location. The tower was leaning over to one side, not as much as another famous tower but it was easily noticable along the canal where I stood. Two identical bridges give access to either bank of this particular waterway and these add to the shot considerably - there's hundreds of them in Venice, which often give a good excuse to stop when taking photographs of the oncoming gondola's. Again you can see many motor boats along the waters edge - the Venetian residents equivalent to our 'Car on the drive.' Many of the apartments at each side of the canal actually belong to hotels, although you rarely see a reception entrance or a sign telling you which hotel it is. On thing for sure, these rooms won't come cheap but are probably worth every penny when you're commanding a prime spot in a place like this. I'd love to have photographed Venice at dusk when the place is lit up, especially along the Grand Canal towards Rialto and an overnight stay in Venice would have been the way to go, but seeing as I was based at Jesolo the idea never really got off the ground.
Continuing my journey South towards Canal Della Giudecca finally reached Ponte Lungo, another bridge that led me along a waterside path to my eventual destination - Punta Della Dogana. It was here that I had an excellent view across the water to San Marco (shown here in shot 2), with its dominating Campanile Tower. The sky offered an excellent backdrop with those fluffy white clouds that have a knack of finishing of an excellent landscape shot, or seascape in this case. Of course, the obligatory boat enters the frame to add some foreground interest. The buildings to the right of the shot are situated along the edge of Canal Di San Marco and this is where many of the tourist boats reach Venice from places such as Schiavoni, Arsenale and Punta Sabbioni, which is where I arrived from.

At the tip of Fond. Dogana was a large white statue of a man holding a lizard. The design must have stood around ten feet in height, undraped and sporting a rather small penis. Well, you couldn't help but notice it! Groups of girls stood giggling nearby, pointing, before having their photo took next to it. One girl grabbed the manhood while her friend lifted her camera to take a shot, when this scrawny little fella dressed in a policemans uniform jumped out from seemingly nowhere and went apeshit!!! 'NO TOUCH, NO TOUCH' he shouted, as the startled girl pulled her hand away as if she'd received an electric shock, he he. This fella was obviously the 'New Starter' in the police station and had been assigned to the job no-one else wanted. His brief must have been to stand there there all day and make sure no-one touched the statue. Poor lad was about four-foot nowt and five stone wet through! It was funny watching him from afar, trying to look menacing with his truncheon and handcuffs, big black leather boots and hat. He looked like summat from a Wacky Warehouse kids party - in fancy dress! Wish I'd taken a photo of him now. Ah well...

From there I made my way along the waters edge facing Bacino Di San Marco to Palace Genovese. Crowds were taking a breather on the palace steps looking down towards a young Japanese couple that were having their photographs taken. At first it appeared that they'd just been married but it was soon obvious that they hadn't. Another Japanese guy was taking the shots, probably for his wedding photography portfolio, while a girl followed, occasionally spraying the bride's hair and touching up her make-up. There were many obvious pointers that this was an exercise to promote a photography business in Venice - plus the bride and groom were rowing most of the time! I attached my 300mm lens and took a few candid shots of the wedding shot. Quite pleased with them considering I was in the shadows during the 2 or 3 minutes I was there. The couple looked immaculate though - have to give them that.

Finally it was time to head back over the canal and wait for my boat back to the mainland. I made a few more pictures before reaching the docking area, including a well photographed scene of the Venetian gondoliers with the island of San Giorgio Di Maggiore in the background (shown here, shot 4). The gondola's in the shot were out of service at the time, hence the waterproof blue covers. A quick visit to a nearby toilet followed before I made my way towards the docking point where the Marco Polo boat was due in a few minutes. While waiting I watched the world go by, doing a spot of people watching to kill my last few minutes in Venice. At this point along the promenade are many gift stalls and cafeteria's and if you fancy one of those fake Gucci bags - ya know, the ones that fall to bits after a week, well, there's plenty of African immigrants knocking those out. Barter with them if you decide to take a chance on a bag - these fella's will sell their granny for a few Euro's. One of them tried to grab my arm as I walked past. I told him I wasn't 'That way inclined', then he said 'Quality Dolce Gabbana Leather, Sir'. I thought to me'sel 'He he, leather MY ARSE'. I shook my head and walked past the Garth Crooks lookalike as my boat arrived. That was it - I was out.

Venice - never to be forgotten. Fantastic place!

Back soon...AC

Monday, 1 August 2011

Venice - Part 2 (Rialto Market Area)

Stepping out of St Mark's Square and into the Napoloenic Wing I headed into the unknown through an archway that led me to Calla Larga, which included exclusive shops such as Louis Vuitton. With only my backpack and a map of Venice for company I was about to begin an exploration of this unique City, as a sense of excitement gripped me as to what lay ahead. I was confronted by a maze of narrow streets with tall buildings, which looked like they probably did 50 years ago, retaining character during the passage of time. Many had those old wooden velour shutters, which were all closed, probably to keep the heat at bay. Then again, the residents of Venice mustn't be short of a bob or two, so I reckon Air-Con must come as standard. These three and four storey buildings looked rather run down from the outside but I dare say the interiors are a very different matter. As I stop for a minute to find my bearings, courtesy of my map, I find myself stood outside a pizzeria-stroke-cafe. The smell was something else. What is it about freshly baked bread? I gazed into the window to see an array of pizza, wraps, sandwiches, rolls and cakes. To be honest, I didn't have a clue what was in most of the sandwiches as they were individually labelled in Italian. All I could understand was the prices, and they weren't cheap. I was in there like a dog after a bone, buying a small rolled pizza that looked the best of the bunch. I waited a short while until it was lightly crisped off in a toasting machine before it was handed over in exchange for 5 Euro's. Add to that a 500ml can of coke and I was more than happy, toddling out of the shop with a look of satisfaction on my face. I was now back into the soaring heat as I parked my arse on a nearby bench overlooking Rio Del Veste. Time for lunch.

Feeling a tad more than content after my 15 minute pit-stop I was on my feet again as my map began to draw me towards the famous Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal. As the early afternoon heat started to get the better of me, I remember taking the odd wrong turn or two before getting back on track and heading through Calla Del Fuseri, which took me in a straight line towards Palace Loredan and eventually to the edge of the Grand Canal. The area was very busy - top heavy tourist numbers in every direction, and that included the canal itself! As well as Gondola's, the canal in front of me was a highway for motor boats carrying food supplies and drinks to the many homes and restaurants on the Venice waterways. The Rialto Bridge (Second shot) was the focal point of interest and not only was it a photogenic subect as the gondola's passed under its arch, but the view from the bridge itself was equally as attractive as I looked back along the Grand Canal. Almost everyone around me were using camera's, and why not, views like this don't come along every day! I'd safely say, with hindsight, that this was my favourite viewpoint in the whole city - an ideal position to capture a bit of everything that Venice had to offer.

More sightseeing followed, as I wandered through more narrow streets that ran parallel with the Grand Canal, heading upstream towards the Pescheria (Fish Market), on the San Polo side of the canal. It certainly wasn't my map that guided me to this point on my journey, but the strong smell of raw fish that filled the air. Intrigue got the better of me so I entered the Fish Market to see exactly what had been landed. I somehow assumed that the catch would have naturally been pulled from the Med, so I was more than surprised when I read the origin of Gamberoni (Jumbo Prawns) and Red Snapper was Argentina. The prawns were like nothing I'd seen before - 'Jumbo' is a modest way of describing them! Money was exchanging hands at a sharp rate as the place was packed with customers looking for a good deal. Best sellers appeared to be Tuna Steaks, Shark, Lobster and Sea Bass, as well as Gamberoni. Brought to the market by boat, the seafood left the premises in Venetian carrier bags, by the dozen. As I passed the last stall on my left an apron clad fisherman was gutting a huge fish on a slab - it's head bared a striking resemblance to John Prescott in more ways than one, just before the knife came down, detaching it from its body. Within a few seconds I was out of the building and enjoying some much needed fresh air. I stood near the jetty where the fish was delivered to the market, looking up the Grand Canal, which is where I captured my third shot (shown here). Gondola's was passing regularly, as well as the usual
motor boats that service the City's businesses and homes. Straddling this section of the Canal were the many buildings, side by side, including Palace Brandolin, Palace Broldu and
Ca' Da Mosto. This was to be the most northern point of Venice that I visited before heading west across San Polo, to my evental destination Punta Delia Dogana, the southern gateway to the Grand Canal.

More of this next time, including some photo's of a Venetian wedding that I stumbled across. Until then, thanks once again for visiting.