Monday, 30 January 2012

Closer To Home - Rainton Meadows

It had been almost three weeks since my last outing with the camera, so I put the record straight with a recent visit to Rainton Meadows Nature Reserve in Houghton le Spring. That last outing - a 160 mile round trip that included visits to Bamburgh and Holy Island on the Northumberland Coast, was one that I'll definitely repeating soon, but my latest photo offerings were captured much closer to home, as mentioned above. Historically, January is a often a month of excellent Sunrises and Sunsets for me and 2012 has been no different - infact, this year has probably yielded more opportunities than previous years as there was one brilliant sky after another. If you can tolerate the 'Brass Monkey' arctic temperature then you're half way there, although there's still work for idle hands to do and a pair of wooly gloves comes in rather handy in these conditions. Of course I don't wear such 'Pussyfied' attire - well, maybe now and again, but keep that to yourself, eh.

So here I was, at Rainton Meadows, with my 11 year old son, just killing an hour or so before tea. Walking to the first pond we passed a young couple - the lad was armed with a Canon 5D Mk2, which was capable of doing a lot of damage with the attached 500mm telephoto lens. Of course, I couldn't tell when passing that it was a 5D, the strap gave the game away. I experienced a slight tinge of envy because of the kit he was carrying - full frame with top notch glass attached, it must have tipped the scales at around 4 grand, easily! As we passed he noticed the loaf of bread in my sons hand, then told us there was a hungry Swan on the water ahead of us, and that he had no bread himself and as a consequence he got no decent close-up shots of it - not that he needed close-up's anyway, with that size lens. Tough titty eh, get yersel' away son and leave it to the experts, he he!

The sun had just set in front of us and some colour lifted the sky as I took my first couple of shots. I was literally three feet away from the Mute Swan as I photographed it, all the time being wary that it may have a dig at me at any given moment. But the grub was the key and I was confident it wouldn't 'Bite the hand that feeds.' That was the case, so things went smoothly during the short time we were there and the big bird eventually fettled a full bag of Warburton's without hesitation. Hungry Swan indeed. Composing the shots was very straightforward - Swan, Sky and the inclusion of a reed bed to emphasise the habitat - it worked ok and the colourful sky finished the shot off quite well, although beforehand I had hoped for a better sky - beggars and choosers, and all that. Natural Life is an interesting subject to photograph, although I don't devote much time to it as I'd like to, mainly due to the fact that my biggest lens only covers the 300mm mark, but maybe sometime in the future I'll get more 'Into it.' Until then here ya go - two shots taken with the trusty Canon 7D and 18-135mm lens on it's widest setting. Happy snapping.

Back soon, Ash

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland

After much planning, and more intention than enough, I finally visited the Northumberland Coast last weekend for some Sunrise Photography. I recall a Blog entry of mine last October, when I announced that a trip to Bamburgh Castle was imminent, but one thing or another scuppered my plans and the outing never materialised. Three months later, and a willingness to let nothing get in the way of a January trip to the same location, and suddenly here I am driving north on the A1(M) at 6.30am. I had plenty of sleep the night before and my preparations had actually started three days in advance, so everything was neatly in place by the time I awoke at 5.45am on Saturday morning, the day of the event. I had been out the night before for a nice Indian scran and the plan was not to pouch anything too hot otherwise I might be in a spot of trouble the next morning. As it was, I'd put away a mild 'Lamb Tikka Bhuna', made the necessary bog stop the next morning before I left for the coast, so that side of things was taken care of and I felt confident I wouldn't be running around like a loppy dog, looking for a netty amongst Bamburgh sand dunes at 8.00am. So the plan was to leave home at 6.15am, to arrive at Bamburgh Castle around 7.30am, giving me ample time to find a vantage point and get my gear set up with time to spare before Sunrise. I packed my camera gear into the car, along with flask of Coffee, Wellies, Spare Socks, Goodie Bag, and Music. I drove the car off the drive at 6.17am, two minutes over planned departure, which was neither something or nothing. The morning chill was something else, and it took a good fifteen minutes to fill the car with warmth - the temperature outside was minus 2 degrees! After 15 minutes on the road I passed the Angel Of The North whilst filling me fat face with Salted Peanuts - not the usual typical breakfast fayre I put away on a Saturday morning - it's usually cold Vindaloo, leftover from the night before! As I reach the bottom of Bowes Incline my eyes are drawn to the chimneys over Team Valley and the smoke that bellows from them. The smoke instantly freezes upon exit and rises high into the morning sky, offering a great photo opportunity, but I'm stopping the car for no-one and nothing. I pass the MetroCentre and the odd car here and there before crossing the River Tyne near Scotswood, noticing the still water and the perfect reflection of the riverside buildings and street lamps. Again, a great photo opportunity in front of me, but I'm heading somewhere else so I quickly leave the reflections behind. I'm now on a clear stretch of the A1(M) and there's not much company on the road, other than the chill-out sound of Enigma playing through the speakers. It's now 6.35am and I'm warm as toast by this time, still pouching those Salted Peanuts and beginning to think today is going to be a good one.

Around 7.00am I pass the historic town of Anlwick and notice bright red sky to my right, on the coast and exactly where I'm heading. There's an hour to go before sunrise, yet there's enough colour on display to start photographing right here and now. No good to me though, I'm thirty minutes away from my destination and I've still got to get off the big road before heading inland to my eventual stop. Hopefully the colourful sky is a rehearsal for what will follow, before and during sunrise, at which time I'll be tripping the shutter and grabbing what I can. At 7.15am I'm finally off the big road after getting caught behind a haulage wagon on single carraigeway for a good few miles. I'm still on schedule and the planned arrival time of 7.30am becomes reality as I now see the illuminated Bambugh Castle ahead of me in the distance. The bag of Salted Peanuts have bit the dust by this time and I'm feeling rather sickly - greedy 'Bar Steward' that I am. I enter the small village of Bamburgh and pass through it, approaching the grand castle on top of the craggy outcrop. Up the ramp and towards the castle car park I go, stopping the car at precisely 7.30am - things are looking very good indeed! There isn't a soul to be seen, just me, a backpack and a hefty tripod, as I step out of my trainers and into a cold pair of green wellies. There may be the need to walk into the incoming tide to get the necessary shots, so the wellies are a must if I don't wanna get the toes wet.

From the castle car park I head through the sand dunes and onto the beach, and a fine beach it is. The tide is low but incoming, so I'll need to monitor it as I photograph from the beach, as the tide has a habit of creeping up and I have no intention of becoming marooned. By 7.40am I'm off the dunes and onto the beach, where I want to be, and for the first time I'm about to photograph a sunrise at a location that has been on my wish-list for far too long. The day has finally arrived and colour begins to burst through the clouds at 8.00am. The purple hue is a nice backdrop for the silhouetted castle and I'm now beginning to mentally compose my shots, before unpacking my gear and getting down to work. And I'm not the only person with that idea in mind on Bamburgh beach - there must be around a dozen or so of the like-minded folk, all jockying for position along the sands as the tide crept in slowly. I photograph a couple of snappers as they lean forward, looking into their viewfinders as they, like myself, make pictures of the scene that appears directly in front of them. I'm remotely firing off frame after frame as the incoming tide swirls around my feet, and I feel them sinking slowly into the sand. I'm unaware that I'm about to get a good soaking as I take my eye off the ball, so to speak. I'm engrossed in the stunning sunset that now unfolds around 8.30am and the freezing cold water of the North Sea suddenly flows over the top of my wellies and I'm suddenly a far from happy bunny. I continue to photograph from the same spot on the beach and as the sun rises above the castle and the colour in the sky diminishes. I call it a day and head onto dry land. I'm soon back at the car park and supping a cup of hot coffee from my flask - just what the doctor ordered. I stand for a while and watch the waves rolling in as I pour myself another cup. It's a grand view. A few minutes later I make a swift sock change before slipping into my hiking boots - no more soaking wet feet.

I finish off with a few shots of Bamburgh Castle from the sand dunes. One particular shot is shown here with the sun bathing the foreground grasses, as well as the castle itself. At 9.15am I'm back on the road and heading north to Holy Island for some more photography. Bamburgh was an experience and now that I've done my first sunrise shoot from its sands, I'm now aquainted with the location and know where to grab the best shots. I'll be back soon for more of the same. I hope you like the selection I've posted here, and don't forget to click them to reveal enlarged versions.

When on the road I fettled a bag of Salted Peanuts, a Gregg's 'Spicey One' Pasty, a bar of Toblerone, half a box of Miniature Heroes and two cans of Pepsi. However, I balanced the boat of healthy eating by eating a single white grape. Aren't I good? (wink).
Until the next time...Ash

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Seven Sisters - Daily Visits

Hello again. Regular visitors to my Blog page will be aware that during the Winter months I make regular visits to the Copt Hill Barrow, also known locally as the Seven Sisters, situated in Houghton le Spring. A quick 'search' of my Blog will throw up previous entries where I have visited the monument to photograph it during different seasons. I rarely bother photographing it in Summer as the leaves are thick and the silhouette against a bright sunset is nowhere near as effective as it is during Winter when the leaves are long gone. A week of great Sunrise and Sunset photography yielded my latest batch of silhouette shots and I can't remember a week like it, as it was one brilliant sky after another. In the meantime, here is a brief description, copied and pasted from another web page...

Monument: Seven Sisters round barrow, Copt Hill, Houghton le Spring

Parish: Sunderland

County: Tyne and Wear

National Monument number: 32055

National grid reference (s): NZ35344921

The monument includes the round barrow known as Seven Sisters. It is situated in arable land on the western flank of Copt Hill and is 300m south of Copt Hill public house. The barrow mound is 3m high and approximately 25m in diameter. It is of earth and stone construction. The stones include magnesian limestone and sandstone. To the west and north west of the mound there are visible remains of a surrounding bank. An aerial photograph of the monument indicates a further boundary to the west and north of the mound about 25m from the edge of the mound, and a rectilinear cropmark to the east believed to be the terminal of a cursus. Excavation of the barrow in 1877 by Canon William Greenwell and Mr T Robinson revealed that the primary burial was a Neolithic cremation believed to be an example of an axial mortuary structure. There were also several Bronze Age cremations and inhumations, and an early medieval inhumation.

Between Monday 9th and Thursday 12th January I visited the Seven Sisters each day, twice at sunrise and twice at sunset. Winter, especially January, has historically presented the most colourful skies at each end of the day, so if you like to shoot silhouettes then this is one of the best locations in the North-East of England for this type of photography. I'm lucky, I only live round the corner, so within ten minutes of leaving the house I'm 'Set up' and ready to work. During the golden hour - 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset, I captured many images, all recorded in RAW format at 18 Megapixels on a Canon 7D. I used a bog standard 18-135mm lens and a 10-22mm wide for the images shown here. Each lens gives different results in their own right, although the wide angle glass gets you right up close, almost on the barrow itself, and you can still fit it all in! The close angle offers a sense of drama as the trees tower over the lens, and if the right sky is available, you get drama on a big scale, which is exactly what I was after. Two of my shots show 'One Man And His Dog', which has almost become an obligitory fixture for me when I photograph the Seven Sisters. Scale is quite important here - I always try to include people whenever they present themselves and this place is a favourite haunt for Man and his Best Friend, so you're never short of the odd 'Extra' or two entering the frame. Some folk walk round the barrow when they see me, thinking they might be spoiling my shot by walking over the top, which is never the case, as a walking man and dog offer a nice profile in silhouette (as shown here, shot 3). And there's no escape, as this fella walked round the barrow and I still caught him and his dog. It worked quite well. Just for the record, the first and last of my four shots were taken at Sunset and the middle two at Sunrise. Whether it's 8.30am or 4.00pm it makes little difference, as I was freezing to the bone, despite wearing two fleeces and a jacket as well as the black wooly 'Bin Man' hat. I switch off to the cold - little choice, but looking back I'm glad I did. It wasn't long before I was back in my house and sat down with a cup of coffee while the wife massaged my feet. Well, maybe I made the last bit up, he he, she wouldn't go near my feet with a knotty prop!

And now to the last shot. And it's colour all the way - once again. I love this one. I showed a friend this shot and he thought it had been captured in Africa, of all places. Houghton le Spring is a far cry from the African continent, although you often see the odd 'Elephant' walking in and out of the Silver Grid (Local Chippy). And before I forget, some of you may have noticed the obvious discrepancy - there isn't actually Seven Sisters, but Six, after one was burned down a few years ago by some brain-dead 'Chav' who obviously had nowt else better to do than torch the Monument. Tosser! Ah well, he's cursed now - history and myth of the real Seven Sisters (Witches) will catch up with him sooner or later - card well and truly MARKED. Ah well, it is on that note that I shall wind up my latst Blog entry and finish off by telling you that another scribble or two will follow shortly. As mentioned earlier this week, I planned a visit to Bamburgh Castle on the Northumberland Coast, which is where I eventually ended up yesterday after planning and later postponing my previous attempts to photograph on location.So stay tuned for more low-light Sunrise photography, this time on the sand with the imposing Bamburgh Castle silhoutted against yet another dramatic sky as the sun rose. For a sneak preview check out my Historic Northumberland gallery over at (Images 24-27).

Full write-up coming soon.


Thursday, 12 January 2012

Lumley Castle, Chester le Street

Lumley Castle is a 14th century quadrangular castle at Chester-le-Street in the North of England, near to the city of Durham and a property of the Earl of Scarbrough. It is a Grade 1 listed building.

It is named for its original creator, Sir Ralph Lumley, who converted his family manor house into a castle in 1389 after returning from wars in Scotland. However, after being implicated in a plot to overthrow Henry IV he was imprisoned and ultimately executed, forfeiting his lands to the Earl of Somerset. In 1421 the ownership of the Castle reverted to Sir Ralph Lumley's grandson, Thomas. By the nineteenth century, the castle had become the residence of the Bishop of Durham, after Bishop Van Mildert gave his residence of Durham Castle to the newly founded University of Durham. The castle thus became a hall of residence for University College, Durham. Castlemen, as the students of University College, Durham are known, spent their first year at Lumley Castle and subsequent years in the Castle at Durham. Lumley Castle was sold in the 1960s by University College to fund the building of the Moatside residential halls in central Durham, in order to keep all students on the same site. The role of Lumley Castle in University College's history is still commemorated by students in the biannual 'Lumley Run'.

In 2005, the touring Australian cricket team was said to have been haunted during their stay at Lumley Castle. Shane Watson got so spooked that he slept on the floor of teammate Brett Lee's room. Even the Australia media officer Belinda Dennett said: "Several of the players were uneasy although a lot of them in the morning said they were fine." Australia are not the only cricket team to said to have been scared by hauntings. In 2000, three members of the West Indian cricket team, including captain Jimmy Adams, checked out of the same hotel because they were scared.

In 1976, management of the castle was handed over to No Ordinary Hotels (although the property is still in the possession of Lord Scarbrough), who had the castle turned into the 59-bedroomed hotel it is today. It is also a picturesque backdrop for Durham County Cricket Club's Riverside Ground, which was first used in 1995.

These two shots were taken at dusk yesterday evening. There were a scattering of parked cars on the drive in front of the castle, which hampered my chances of getting the shots I wanted, so I improvised and done the best I could. Ancient castles and brand new Mercedes cars don't go hand in hand! A very photogenic castle is this - the grounds and nearby golf course are very well kept and there's Squirrels all over the place - photographing them is a different ball game altogether.

Back soon with more shots of the Seven Sisters, Houghton le Spring.

Until then, see ya.


Wednesday, 11 January 2012

2012 - Another Year In Photography

Happy New Year to each and every visitor to - I hope the festive period was a good one and that the new year has started well for you. Me, well, I always over-indulge during the Christmas holidays, as you do, especially where the grub and grog are concerned, so now is a time of false New Year Resolutions once again. Visit the gym, get in trim, get a proper diet and tow the line - yeah, right...(reaches for the phone to order another curry from his local 'Injunz').

The Christmas/ New Year period was a very quiet one for Mr Corr. Only got out once with the camera and that was to bump up my 'Event Coverage' page by photographing the Boxing Day Dip at Seaburn, Sunderland. Apart from that little outing I was totally anonymous with the camera for ten days, so the time has come to continue my days out 'On Manoeuvres' so to speak. I'm planning some low-light work during the next few days and that will include visits to Lambton Castle (Chester-Le-Street), Seven Sisters (Houghton le Spring), and finally the main event - my long awaited visit to the Northumberland Coast for a shot at some sunrise photography on the beach near Bamburgh Castle. Saturday 14th will see me make the one-hour car journey up to the Castle, getting me there with plenty of time to set up my gear in time for sunrise at 8.25am. Just one snag though, I'm out for a birthday meal at an exclusive 'Injun' restaurant on Friday night so I'd better opt for a 'Mild One' as I don't to be searching for a public convenience in the middle of Bamburgh sand dunes at 7.30am!

Finally, thanks to those kind folk who have prepared me nicely for the nuclear 'Fall Out' the morning after my too regular hot curries. I have been given a whole manner of items to aid my recovery in the 'Ring Sting' department - Ring Of Fire Toilet Wipes, Vinda Loo Roll, not to mention those condiments that cause the bother in the first place - Spontaneous Combustion Hot Sauce, Dave's Insanity Sauce (Special Reserve), along with countless Air Fresheners! Oh dear, I've got myself a dodgy reputation due to my passion for those 'Injun' culinary delights. I must wise up for 2012 and get with the program!

Anyway, that's enough of the prattle. I may return with a 'Curry Tale' at a later date, but for now I'll leave it at that and get down to the task in hand - some new photographs to kick off 2012. I'll catch ya soon folks - very soon. Until then...neck those chilli's and send your recommendations my way. Always on the look out for all things spicey, despite the greater looseness of the stool.

I can be contacted here -