Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Herrington Country Park, Sunderland

A former Durham pit site, which was reclaimed and developed into the now known Herrington Country Park, the park is one of the largest in Sunderland and is home to a large selection of events including the Annual County Show, Marie Curie daffodil walk, diabetes UK walk in the park and many more. The park has cycle routes, boating lake, cycle/skate park, large amphitheatre created from grassed embankments and numerous sculptures/art works set out around the park. Herrington Country Park was once the site of Herrington Colliery, which closed in 1985. By that time the colliery waste heap was the largest in the North East and cast in the shadow of Penshaw monument, it was transformed into one of the premier parks of the North East.

A typical summers day presented me with an ideal opportunity to take some shots of the park from nearby Penshaw Hill. This vantage point was ideal as I had the bright sun behind me, bathing the park in light for long spells due to the sparse scattering of clouds. My first shot was taken between two pillars of Penshaw Monument as I faced south towards the park. A shadow of the Monument was cast across the grass embankment in front of where I stood, which was an ideal subject to fill the foreground, which would have been fairly bland without sun and shadow. This shot only shows a small section of Herrington Country Park, which lies to the right of the pond which is seen in the distance. Farm fields make up the bulk of this landscape shot and these are situated between the park and Offerton, just off the A183 single carraigeway. My second shot shows a larger section of the park although this, in fairness, is only a quarter of the actual size of the park. I was drawn to the landscape in front of me when composing the shot, opting not to pan too far to the right where the bright sun was 'Burning out' the sky. Once again, both shots were taken on a Canon 7D with a 18-135mm EF lens. A circular polarizer gave a nice effect to the cloud formation, adding some saturation to the blue sky in the process. The polarizer is a must for landscape shots - mine being a 67mm HOYA PRO 1-DIGITAL affair, picked up on ebay as a used item, but mint condition nevertheless. If you've just bought your first DSLR and fancy knocking out a few landscape shots (Ross!), then give one of these filters a try, they're worth shelling out for.

I'll be back soon. I'm trying to catch up on a backlog of blog images for you, including more low-light work in the shape of a Whitley Bay Sunrise, Latrigg Fell Walk in the English Lake District, Sunrise over Keswick and a few Angel Of The North shots. Until then...


Monday, 26 September 2011

Another Fell Walk - Catbells, English Lake District

After an enjoyable fell walking debut (Blencathra) in the English Lake District, I was more than keen to visit the National Park for another visit to the fells. During our recent 'Blencathra Weekender' I made a mental note of the position of the sun during different times of the day, keeping in mind the best area's of the Northern Fells where the sun would be behind me. My photography rarely involves shooting into the sun during the day - I only attempt this type of shot at dawn or dusk, so an idea of what I wanted was quickly forming in my head. I wanted some 'Big Shots', broken cloud, blue sky, fells bathed in sunshine, a lake or two - not asking for much is it? Naturally I followed the weather forecast during the days leading up to my visit, even though the Lake District weather can be very unpredicable and changeable to say the least. I was to make this trip on my own - no family, no friends, no workmates, just me. I find this tactic works best for photography - total focus, no distractions. I made the trip West along the A66 once again, a route I've become very familiar with lately. My homework was done and I'd selected another of the Northern Fells for my second climb - Catbells, a simple ascent with rewarding views across Derwentwater towards Blencathra and Skiddaw towards the Solway Firth - on a clear day of course. And a clear day was what I had. I arrived at Keswick mid-day, then made the twenty-minute journey via Portinscale to Catbells, parking in a nearby field for the sum of 'Three Squid'. With no OS map to follow I figured that the old-fashioned 'Follow The Sheep' tactic should do the trick. With camera in the backpack and drinks onboard it was time to leave the motor behind and begin the trek to the top.

From the makeshift car park I headed up a slight incline and over the cattle grid, which brought me to my starting point. According to the research I'd done the day before, an 'Obvious zig-zag path' is where I should have started my ascent up Catbells, but it wasn't so obvious to me - I missed the bugger completely! Obvious path? What Obvious path? Ah well, I found myself walking along a straight path along the bottom of the fell, just above the road, which I later learned was the 'Allerdale Ramble'. As I walked further it was clear to me that I was heading away from the Catbells summit and towards the nearby peak of High Spy, which is joined to Catbells at the top via Maiden Moor. Between the two peaks, along the Allerdale Ramble I noticed a very steep path to the top, so off I went, stopping to take a few photographs at more than regular intervals. The first shot (above) was taken where the Allerdale Ramble meets the steep path that I chose to climb - a panoramic effort looking over Derwentwater towards Blencathra. The second shot (shown here), and undoubtedly my favourite of the visit, was taken on the approach to the first scramble on High Spy. I remember stopping for a short breather before beginning the scramble, looking behind me along the Maiden Moor ridge. It was an excellent view, offering just about everything I'd visualised in my head a couple of days earlier. There was even a couple of fell walkers in the frame, finishing off a spectacular view. No point in admiring it for too long though - time to transfer this landscape vista to Compact Flash!

After negotiating a very straightforward scramble on High Spy I paused for a few more shots across the Newlands Valley. Another viewpoint that offered plenty in the way of landscape.
Sheep sat around me as I ran off a few frames. They appeared totally at ease in my company, which is not surprising considering the volume of people that cross their path on a daily basis. Mind you, with the wind creeping up and a steep drop below, I wasn't hanging around for too long so I scrambled up the final outcrop to the summit, where at least 20 people had already gathered. It was blowing a gale up top. A young lad was entertaining folk
by riding a monoclycle on the rocky summit. The entertainment value lay in the fact that he couldn't even perch his arse on the seat before being blown to one side, at least six times. He gave up eventually. Top marks for effort though.

After spending 20 minutes or so on the summit of High Spy, I made my way back down to Maiden Moor via the double rock scramble I had managed earlier. Once on the Moor I took the path that lead me along towards Catbells summit. More excellent views across Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite towards the Solway Firth in a North-Westerly direction. The sun had gone behind large clouds by this time, offering very little to no sunlight on the surrounding fells. Causey Pike stood to my left, looking every bit the next mountain on my list. Surprising how cold it gets up top when the sun goes in. I chatted to an American couple on the Catbells summit before reaching another rock scramble on the way down to the car park. They struggled with the scramble but I wasn't ready to hang around as the sun disappeared completely behind more cloud. Once over the rocks I paused to get my bearings, amazed at how tiny the cars looked in the field below, even though I was almost half way down the hill and now walking a zig-zag path. Ohhhh, so this is the zig-zag path I was supposed to follow on the way up !!! Ah well, better to be going down it than climbing up - it was a nightmare on the old joints! Two hours after leaving the car, I was back. By this time the sun had re-appeared and at ground level the heat was sweltering. Time to sit and take a well earned breather. Cool bag came out of the boot - freezing cold Coca-Cola went down without touching the sides. Another enjoyable walk - stroke - climb - stroke - scramble.
And that was that. Job done. Second one ticked off the list.

A few days later I sent my Catbells shot (no. 2, above) to Tyne-Tees Television, who presented it on one of their daily weather bulletins. The video clip can now be viewed in the monitor below - press the arrow on the control panel to view the footage. Until the next time, cheers!

Friday, 23 September 2011

Lakes Weekender (Blencathra) - The Final Word

The Blencathra blog ends here with a last offering of photo's and stats from our Lakes Weekender. It was a very enjoyable weekend and although it got off to a wet and miserable start the weather couldn't have been any better from Saturday morning onwards. Sunday morning involved a drive to Threlkeld where we parked up and walked to Keswick - an eight mile round trip! We had Sunday lunch and downed some beer before we returned to the car and made our way home, via Alston, one the top ten motorists roads in Great Britain. On our return to work the following day we reflected on a great weekend and started to plan another trip to the Lake District. Now, some 3 months later, I can reveal that we will be returning to the great outdoors once again, to climb Skiddaw, the fourth highest mountain in the Lake District National Park. This will take place in mid-October, so stay tuned for another account of our Lakes Weekender Part 2, here on my blog page. To finish off I'd like to show you a few more photographs from a collection of over 300, all taken during our Blencathra trip. Here are a few stats too...

Until the next time,

Start: Scales Farm
Start (OS ref): NY343269
Map (1:25,000): OL5 English Lakes North East
Parking: Lay-by at side of A66
Distance: 7.7 miles (12.5 km)
Time: 4 hours
Difficulty: Very Hard
Climbing: 869 metres of ascent
Hazards: Grade 1 Scramble on Sharp Edge

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Lakes Weekender (Blencathra) - Sharp Edge Scramble

'It sounded like a good idea at the time'...

Not having a good head for heights, I anticipated a big challenge ahead of me as we arrived at Sharp Edge, the intimidating obstacle between Scales Tarn and the summit of Blencathra. Infact, to call it an obstacle is putting it very mildly - Sharp Edge looked very much the Bad Boy, even from ground level on the A66. As we arrived at the impending scramble, I was continuously weighing up my chances of getting through this ordeal in one piece. Would I scramble across the ridge safely or would I chicken out completely and walk back down the mountain in shame? We had now reached the start of the ridge. Time to scramble! Feeling scared but not willing to be beaten, I began to advance across the ridge proper. There was a gentle introduction to the ridge as the sides gradually begin to get steeper and longer. So far so good. Everything was going smoothly, then we came to crux. The part of the ridge where there was nothing to hold on to. The trouble with a hard part like this is that once you have crossed it there is no easy way of going back. After what seemed like a lifetime of indecision I made the move into no-mans land, my arse twitching as I went. Gingerly I stepped across the wobbly bit and from there onto a small flat bit from which I could grasp hold of some rock with all the strength that my hands could muster. The whole experience was down to climbing ability and making a series of decisions that could prove very costly should a wrong move be made. An elaborate chess game? Not really - not when your life is at stake!

Along the traverse we reached a gully. Davey and Lee were out of sight at this point and heading across the ridge quickly, as if someone at yon end was giving cash away! A few minutes on and I'd caught up with them as they sat on a ledge for a breather. Lee was admiring the view towards Hallsfell Top as Davey took time out to have a well-earned tab. Brian appeared behind me after a couple of minutes so we all sat for a while before continuing the scramble. At this point I thought about taking some photographs, but decided against the idea - I had no fancy for negotiating a backpack full of expensive gear on a rock ledge with 300 feet of absolute nothing below. Reflecting on the climb so far, I had doubts whether I'd make it across to this point. There was DEFINATELY no turning back! What choice did I have, apart from gritting my teeth and getting on with it. I also rembember asking myself whether I'd experienced anything as frightening as this in my entire life. I struggled to think of one example. Oh, f**k it! Let's get this over with, he he. From here we had a vertical climb of around 20 feet, with ledges to assist feet and hands. I double checked each ledge before making the decision to lend it my whole body weight before I pulled myself up and headed onto the exposed ridge top, known as Narrow Edge, for obvious reasons. This was the highest point on Sharp Edge and it took some bottle to look down from here towards Scales Tarn, as fellow climbers resembled ants from such a distance. Technical ability wasn't a problem during the climb as most of was down to common sense and awareness. Exposure was the main handicap, especially as the wind had a habit of creeping up on you every now and again.

Looking back along Sharp Edge it was clear that we were over half way, which was quite comforting and already I was becoming a lot more confident in seeing this drama through. A reminder of the perils came in the shape of dead sheep below - a statistical reminder of what could be. Once you are at the eastern end of the ridge, the excitement starts. There is an easy path to the right for the first part if anyone wishes to use it, but sticking to the crest of the ridge is far more fun. As with all slate ridges you do need to be aware of slices of loose rock. Half way along the ridge you will reach a point where a large slab of smooth and badly angled slate sits on the ridge crest. I remember seeing a couple of lads on all fours, negotiating this section and holding on for their lives. This slab is known as the Bad Step and is one of the Lake District's most dangerous and most prolific accident spots. After crossing the Bad Step I was at the end of the ridge and it was now time to scramble up the rock face, known as Foule Crag, towards Atkinson Pike. There was a wide gully slightly to the right, but by this time I was rather enjoying the whole experience and opted for the route straight ahead, offering a more challenging climb. The business end of the climb was behind me, although Davey and Lee were in front and heading towards the top of Foule Crag at some pace.

Foule Crag must have been at least fifty feet of rock face, and the last part of the climb/ scramble. At this height I could still hear the distant call of the many sheep below, plus the sound of laughter from other climbers behind me on Sharp Edge, probably trying to make light of a very scarey situation, he he. With my tee-shirt stuck to my back and sweat running down my forehead I made my way up Foule Crag, with Brian following suit behind me. To my left was a ridiculous drop to Scales Tarn - it must have been 300 feet, easily. Feeling quite pleased with myself for getting this far, I reminded myself that the job wasn't done yet. One glimpse of the Tarn told me that. It looked tiny from where I was standing. I'd made it this far with sunglasses on and although they helped to shield the bright sun, I couldn't help but think they would hinder my eyesight as I searched for the best ledges to use. A bit late for that though - I was almost home and dry! I was surprised how quickly I negotiated Foule Crag, there was obviously plenty left in the tank. My whole body, especially my legs and lower back, were on fire by this time, but there was no time to waste as I now had Davey and Lee in my sights at the top of the crag. A few minutes later I joined them, taking a very well deserved break whilst we sat admiring the view and reflecting on the drama. We sat for quite a while, chomping on snacks and drinking heavily from our bottles. I was chuffed to bits at this point, realising I'd conquered my fear of heights and even asking myself 'Did I really have a fear of heights in the first place'. I must have had, as I know exactly how uncomfortable I felt when the scramble began, yet I grew in confidence as I put more rock behind me.

We sat for quite a while yet there was still no sign of Brian, who was at the back of our group when we arrived at Sharp Edge. As we waited further a dozen or so climbers passed us, with one lady saying she'd passed Brian on the way up. At least he was safe - we were beginning to think he'd come a cropper! An elderly couple with a Golden Labrador came over the top of Foule Crag, just before Brian, who looked very uncomfortable to say the least, telling us he had a bad case of cramp in his knee's, which caused his delay. Lee and Brian were off Sharp Edge together, with me following them 15 minutes later. Brian appeared 20 minutes after me, along with another group and we exchanged some banter before taking group photographs of eachother - a friendly bunch they certainly were. Soon we off again, making our final accent to the summit of Blencathra, where at least 30 people had already gathered. A concrete ring marked the summit, but there were no signs of a cairn. The wind had picked up considerably by this time and the coats were out of the rucksacks. The panoramic views from the summit were outstanding and many of the Northern Fells could be seen, as well as Derwentwater in the distance.

I took a few shots on my mobile phone, including panoramic stitches, which turned out quite well. After 15 miuntes or so we headed back down the mountain to Scales where Brian's car was parked. It was a novelty to see a few fell runners pass us as we descended - what the hell are they on!!! The joints were taking a hammering on our way down the fells so it was a case of 'Steady Away'. I had a funny feeling we'd be heading straight to a pub, and so we did. We reflected on the whole walking, climbing & scrambling experience at the Sun Inn, Bassenthwaite Village. The sun, incidentally, was still beating down as we sat outside the pub. We had the place to ourselves and knocked back a couple of pints whilst Brian downed a coke - driving duty, you see. A big pat on the back to the four of us, who, as inexperienced 'Forty-Pluses' taking on our first real mountain (including Sharp Edge), and conquering it, it was an achievement not to be underestimated. Four went up and four came back. Maybe half the enjoyment was the whole fear factor, yet I feel like doing the whole thing again, soon!

A great experience, with a mixture of emotions - fear, trepidation, apprehension, surprise, elation, and some.

Until the next time...

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Lakes Weekender (Blencathra) - Up to Scales Tarn

The time had come to begin the main event. Our Lakeland adventure was about to get serious as we took our first steps from Scales Farm onto Blencathra. The initial climb up Mousethwaite Comb was a wake-up call for the entire body, as we made a steep accent in a north-easterly direction through ferns and bracken. After only a few minutes of walking my legs were burning but this was quite normal and I expected aches and pains along the way, but not this early into the climb. We were walking for at least 20 minutes before we took our first rest, at the top of the Comb. The views from here were something else! The valley in front of us resembled a patchwork quilt and it was from this viewpoint that I took my first photographs, with the lads sat in the foreground, savouring the view (picture 1). A couple of fell walkers passed as we rested but that was all, there's were no others to be seen for a while after that. After ten minutes rest we resumed our walk, turning left and heading through Mousthwaite Comb in a northerly direction, continuing along a path that skirts the top of the crags above the old disused quarry levels that were marked on our map. Eventually we reached the ridge at the back end of Mousthwaite Comb. We now had Blencathra to the left and Souther Fell to the right. From here we had a great view down to the River Glenderamackin Valley and the quiet, desolate and grassy Back o' Skiddaw landscape. We then headed along the path above the River Glenderamackin Valley for around a kilometre until we reached Scales Beck. After turning left we followed the path that ascends the beck, firstly crossing it then ascending its route up to Scales Tarn, passing a steep, noisy waterfall on our left. This part of the route was quite busy with other fell walkers, all friendly and acknowledging as we crossed paths. During our walk through the Glenderamackin Valley the target of our fears come into view, our first sight of Sharp Edge. It looked more than intimidating, to say the least. We had rested a couple of times before we reached this point so my legs were ok, recharged, so to speak - I felt confident that by the time we actually arrived at Sharp Edge it wouldn't look as bad as it first looked, and that we'd go across it, no bother.

It wasn't long before we reached our last resting place before tackling Sharp Edge, an ideal place for a spot of lunch - this was Scales Tarn. Off went the backpack and out came the pasties. Davey took one bite and threw it away, saying it was a bit too rubbery for him. I reckon the sight of Sharp Edge right in front of us had suddenly made him lose his appetite...he he. Lee (Mezo) was hesitant about the job in front of us, saying it was now getting windy and it mightn't be a good idea to attempt the daunting ridge climb after all. Although I didn't let on, I was quite happy to go along with this as I didn't quite like the look of what I could see - tiny ant-like figures climbing an exposed ridge with a fall of atleast 300 feet to either side! Oh dear - BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY!!!!! I looked behind me as we sat, but Brian was lying on his back, eyes shut and looking very exhausted - no feedback from him. Davey brushed the wind issue aside very quickly and said 'Reet, are we all ready then'. I think our arses were twitching somewhat as we got to our feet and prepared ourselves for glory or death!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! At Scales Tarn the path to Blencathra summit splits into two - one heads up an obvious shale path (Brunt Knott) to Sharp Edge, and the other goes to the left - a much easier, although steep route to the summit and Atkinson's Pike. I overheard one walker saying to his friend 'I'm not bloody climbing that' as he pointed to Sharp Edge. They then opted for the easier route and off they went, dismissing the Edge in no time at all. I couldn't help but wish I was accompanying them as we headed up Brunt Knott towards 'The Edge', the only other route to the summit. Talk about getting 'The shit end of the stick'.
This was it - the talking had been going on since early May, eight weeks ago from todays climb. Sharp Edge was right in front of us now and there was no turning back. I looked at it in awe before looking down towards Scales Tarn (picture 3), which was glistening in the early afternoon heat. From here the Tarn looked a long way down and we weren't even on the ridge yet, which climbed a lot higher than where we now stood. My face must have been a picture, he he. I'm sure I felt the colour draining from my face as Davey and Lee disappeared over the first rocks and onto Sharp Edge. They were off and running. Brian looked at me and said 'Ready when you are'. I smiled and replied 'No problem, squire' before turning to begin the ridge climb. Talk about false smiles and all that...LOL! As I negotiated the first section of the crag (picture 4), my mind started playing tricks with me. I remembered during my research of Sharp Edge I discovered that there had been over a dozen fatalities and many other incidents at this location - the most dangerous ridge climb of all the fells in the English Lake District. Can't say I was a happy bunny at this point, but I intended to push myself and my ground level comfort zone was now a distant prospect as I grabbed the bull by the horns and threw caution to the wind. Here we go...
Cheers, Ash

Lakes Weekender (Blencathra) - Arrival @ Scales

After breakfast it was time to consult the OS map to establish the route we would take from our starting point at Scales to (hopefully) our arrival at the summit of Blencathra. Davey advised, being competant in these matters, and it was agreed that we would take the route he suggested, which would indeed involve a scramble over Sharp Edge. Fully eqipped, we were soon in the car as Brian drove us to Scales where we parked up and quickly got to grips with the business end of our Lake District visit. The sun was shining brightly and there was plenty of blue sky and broken clouds - maybe I should have brought my Canon kit instead of the Sony swivel body affair. Never mind, I intended to get photographs no matter what, even with my mobile phone. The sceond shot (shown here) was taken by Davey and shows Brian, myself and Lee making final preps before we headed up Blencathra. After passing through the five bar gate at the mountain foot I paused for a short while and looked behind me, taking in the view across towards Great Mell Fell. A picture appeared at that moment and I snapped the view on my mobile phone, shown here (picture 3). I turned around and faced Blencathra once again. time had finally arrived to climb my first mountain, and what a way to start - 728 metres of ascent, covering a distance of 5 miles during an estimated time of 4 hours. Here we go - time to climb!


Lakes Weekender (Blencathra) - Early Morning, Day 2

During the night the rain barely stopped - I know that because I didn't get much sleep. Not sure why that was - maybe a combination of a few things - never camped in a farmers field before, couldn't get comfortable, rain lashing off tent, no ear plugs, brian's constant snoring! Oh well, nowt to do but suck a lemon and get on with it, I suppose. At 5am, during a rare doze, I was awoken by more noise as Brian went to make a phone call in his car, making little attempt to close the door quietly. Then the door slammed again, and again. Surely this a wind-up! I decided to get up for a bit of fresh air at this point so off I went, grabbing my camera en route. I made my way down the embankment towards Bassenthwaite lake where I was greeted with almost still waters. The sky was overcast and it was a pretty miserable dawn all round. No colour to be had so I set about taking a few black and white shots at the edge of the lake. Here comes Brian with his camera, Mr Nagzy, the noisy customer! We took a few shots before heading back to base camp where Davy and Lee were just rising. The kettle was on and Davy asked 'Who the **** was making all the noise earlier'. He he, so Brian ended up on pot duty after we had breakfast, which consisted of bacon sandwiches made with eggy bread. Another cup of tea and the sun suddenly came out and the low cloud cover lifted. By the time we were ready to leave camp for our assault on Blencathra, the weather had improved dramatically and it was in with the tee-shirts. The sun was beating down and glorious weather was now on our side as we made the car journey from Scarness to Scales, where we would eventually park up and begin our climb up Blencathra. Any chance of the Sharp Edge route being cancelled had by now evaporated - looks like it's imminent! Never done anything like this before, and with only a couple of hours sleep under my belt this was scant preparation for what lay ahead. Adversity sometimes go in your favour though, so I was quietly confident I was gonna get through it unscathed. As we made the journey along the A66 to Scales I was about to find out whether this was my thing or not. No head for heights - this was gonna be interesting!