Friday, 23 December 2016

Tommy And The Pebble Poppy, Seaham Harbour

Hello again,

Visitors to my Facebook page will be well aware that one of my favourite subjects to photograph is the amazing Tommy statue, at nearby Seaham Harbour. There's something special about this piece of art and you really do get that vibe when standing next to the big man. The craftsmanship that went into this creation is there for all to see, especially on closer inspection when you can judge for yourself. I've photographed Tommy on numerous occasions, during different seasons, day and night, and in all weather conditions. 

For anyone who is unfamiliar with the statue, Tommy sits thoughtfully, head bowed, rifle in hand, as he reflects upon the sheer horror of World War One during the first minute after peace was declared in 1918. This imposing metal sculpture, entitled 1101, owing to the fact the armistice went into effect at 11am on November 11, 1918, stands 9ft 5ins tall and weighs 1.2 tonnes. Built out of special corteen steel, it has been installed on Seaham seafront in Country Durham to mark the centenary of the start of the Great War.
Created by local artist Ray Lonsdale, the sculpture is also intended to represent Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which many of the returning soldiers endured. Mr Lonsdale got his idea for the piece after hearing a story about a soldier from nearby Murton who won a war medal. Tommy was originally on loan for three months to the former colliery town, but local residents instantly took him to their hearts and raised a massive £80,000 to make him a permanent fixture. He certainly put Seaham Harbour back on the map.
In the week running up to Remembrance Day 2016, an eye-catching display was laid out in front of the statue. Hundreds of hand painted pebbles were arranged in the form of a poppy, which is 18ft wide. The artwork is the brainchild of former serviceman Dave McKenna, who wanted to create something to link the statue to the town’s cenotaph. “We have had help from the cadets and Seaham Veterans group,” said Dave. The poppy will remain in place until this Sunday, Remembrance Day.“It is not a permanent, fixture, it’s just there for this week,” said Dave.

Once again my tea light candles made an appearance, and in such a fitting way as a tribute to all those who paid the ultimate price during warfare. Just as well these were battery operated lights, as it was blowing a gale during the ten minute photo session. I could see the waves crashing over Seaham Pier, in the distance. I drove down there to get a closer look, but the car park gates were locked. Maybe just as well - I was soon back in the car and heading home. Another job done ...



Sunday, 18 December 2016

Groverake Mine, Weardale, County Durham

Welcome to another blog entry at

A few months ago I found out about an abandoned mine on the outskirts of County Durham. I asked my friend Wikipedia for a brief insight to Groverake and this is what he came back with ...

The Groverake mine site is pretty much located at the convergence of three major veins, Greencleugh, Groverake and Red. The Burtree Pasture vein also continues to this point.
Mining at Groverake probably started in the 18th century, but it was the Beaumont Company who first developed major mining operations at the site at the end of the 1810's and they continued working the mine until the early 1880's. They drove adits and the two major shafts on the site that reached the Great Limestone. At their time they where mining for lead ore, but this was not that successful in terms of output. When the Weardale Lead Company took over the mine in the mid 1880's they had more success with mining for lead and they also mined for fluorspar. The spar operations had problems in the removal of silica and this limited its success. The mine changed hands a number of times until the 1940's.

It was not until the Second World War when the Blanchland Fluor Mines Ltd took over operations and eventually British Steel Corporation that the production of fluorspar ramped up with improved treatment techniques. These companies took Groverake to being the leading fluorspar producer in the ore field. British Steel drove a new level and extended the existing shafts. The Rake level was re-driven to give access to the upper levels of the veins and the Firestone level driven for access to the lower levels. The Drawing Shaft was sunk further into the Great Limestone to a depth of 91m. The Whimsey Shaft was sunk to the Three Year Limestone to a total depth of 165m.

In the late 1980's the Weardale Minerals and Processing Company acquired the mine, but in 1991 its parent company went into receivership resulting in another change of hands. The mine was then operated by Sherburn Minerals and worked until 1999. At the time of its final closure, Groverake was the last commercial fluorspar mine operating in the North Pennines.

The site is approximately a one hour drive from my home, through the heart of County Durham and into the sticks that is the countryside of Weardale. There is still remnants of our mining heritage scattered around the county today, and the route to Groverake exposed quite a few ruins and reminders of yesteryear, which was fascinating to see. This was my first visit into Weardale with the camera, so I was quite excited to make some pictures of the area, especially Groverake Mine, which was the focal point of this visit. I drove through Stanley, Annfield Plain and Tow Law, before closing in on Frosterley, Eastgate and Rookhope. From here it was only a short drive to the mine, passing the ruins of Wolf Cleugh Farm, along the valley. We parked at the top of the valley that overlooks the site, which is dominated by the remaining winding gear, which was a rusting hulk of structure that had withstood the test of time.

As the site is public access, it was a simple case of undoing the latch on  the gate before walking down the bank and into an olde worlde existence, despite its desolation. You could almost hear a pin drop. I stood for a moment to reflect. I almost felt like I'd been transported back through the decades to a time when this place was thriving. I could almost hear the noise of workers and the smell of industry, the operation in full flow, just as it would have been. Horses and carts, bellowing chimneys on the nearby stone houses. Then I reminded myself for a split second ... of the death that happened in 1989, and my work was not done. It was almost a pilgrimage of sorts, a visit to understand what went on here and why it no longer operates. A sign of the times, let there be no doubt. Time stops for no man.

I explored the site for an hour or so, often sitting down and simply looking at what lay before me. I could here the loose corrugated metal rattling every time the wind got up, which added to the feeling that was quite sad in a way. The workers quarters stood to my left, minus a roof, plus a set of lockers. On closer inspection I noticed reminders of the past, including an old pair of steel capped boots, cigarette boxes, clocking in cards and a bash hat. Rafters above my head threatened to collapse at any given moment - that was obvious. Not wanting to become a victim, I got out of there and continued to explore. This place was going take more than one or even two visits to get around properly, so I took a few shots and made my way back to the car. It was indeed an eye-opener, a fascinating place steeped in mining history. I must return and return soon. Unfinished business!


Saturday, 17 December 2016

Welcome To Aerial Photography!

Hello again,

It's not often I get to introduce a totally different perspective to my photography, until now. This comes in the shape of my new toy - a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced Quadcopter, with an on board camera, which is capable of capturing 12 megapixel stills and amazing HD video footage. I looked at these toys last year, after seeing some amazing aerial photographs, but after quite a lot of research I canned the idea in favour of a new camera purchase. Fast forward another year and I found myself looking at drones once again, this time with more than a vested interest. It was time to take the plunge. I had to get my hands on one of these, not so much for the photography side of it, for video, surprisingly enough. Idea's were coming thick and fast, even before I parted with my money, so it was nice when I arrived home with a P3A and an excitement at what was around the corner, so to speak.

My first test flight was near Penshaw Monument, Sunderland. It was nerve racking, I have to confess. I'd read stories of fly aways and malfunctions, etc, so that thought was always going to creep in now and again, but all went well during my maiden 20 minute flight. I played safe and kept the aircraft within sight at all times, monitoring its position on my mobile phone, which was attached to the remote controller. Live video streaming is a brilliant thing and the DJI GO app was very simple and straightforward to use. I was well impressed with the stability of the aircraft, even at high altitude with a stiff breeze. Everything was in place and the tools were there at my disposal - all that remained was the job of pulling in some nice video and photographs. I got to grips with the intelligent flight mode, which allowed me to program the aircraft to fly in around an object in a perfect circle - auto pilot at its best. The first flight flew over (pun intentional) and it wasn't long before I brought the drone back to its home position, allowing it to hover at around 5 feet from the ground, before catching it with one hand and shutting down the props. Job done. Phew, it was back in one piece!

Here is a few shots of my maiden flight - the first of many ...

Cheers, Ash

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Sunrise - Herrington Country Park, Sunderland

What can I say - I've been AWOL once again and this time it's been longer than ever. My blog page has been put on the back burner over the last few months due to other commitments, but I'm back once again and hopefully it won't be a fleeting visit.

Strangely enough, I'm taking off where I left off, with more Mute Swan images. This time it's a sunrise visit to Herrington Country Park, Sunderland on a mild morning in early December 2016. I had the place to myself, give or take the odd dog walker here and there. The warm colours were beginning to show on the horizon when I arrived at the park, around 7.30am, so I had a feeling this was going to be a productive outing. No filters or long lenses, just a Canon 5D3 and a flash gun, including the chosen lens, a 24-105L.

As anticipated, the sky kicked off with some fine colour just before sunrise, so I set to work knowing it wouldn't last too long. It's a game of patience waiting for the swans to take up the ideal position for the composition I wanted. As there was a pair of swans I waited for a gap between the two before hitting the shutter button. When one bird obscures the other it doesn't make for a good photo and I also try to capture them with a side profile or head on, rather than the back of a head. It's a tricky game, it has to be said. I can easily run off a dozen frames before I finally bag a keeper, but it's all part of the fun and the challenge. The swans are at ease with the flashgun and are more bothered about whether they're gonna get fed or not, which they always do. It's the very least I can do when they're willing to pose for the camera, but throwing food to them always attracts a posse of ducks, which I don't want in my shots as they're nothing but a distraction.

Here is a few shots from this morning's visit. Glad I made the effort to lift my arse out of bed today!

Back soon, Ash