Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

Sometimes things happen around you and you simply don't have a clue. When I began watching the local news on Monday (22nd January) I was certainly surprised to see images of the Northern Lights from various locations across the north-east that's for sure. I was even more surprised when I saw that someone had captured a cracking image up at the Tan Hill Pub, which is not that far away from me as the crow flies. Hoping for a repeat performance I headed out the following night, but despite clear conditions they did not appear. I did manage a couple of star trail images as a consolation though. The process of creating the star trails also brought back memories of the first time I ever saw the Northern Lights. One thing that stood out for me at the time was the motion, the fact that you actually see the colours swirling around, sweeping across the sky, or descending like a curtain. Then just as quickly fading to nothing - it was a truly wonderful sight.

The last time we had a good show of the Northern Lights this far south was in 2005 and fortunately on that occasion I managed to get some acceptable images that were used during the BBC Look North News.

Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)1.3
This image is from the 21st January 2005 Aurora Borealis over Teesdale and was used on Look North. Copyright David Forster

Examining at the EXIF file data from the 2005 images it was interesting to note that they were captured in the same month and only one night apart - the 21st January. The images were created using an old Canon 300D, but being one of the early digital cameras with a 6MP sensor it was not ideal for long exposure low light photography so they were a bit too noisy. That said at the time there was a lot of interest so they cannot have been too bad. Sadly by the standards of today they probably wouldn't meet the quality control requirements of most photo libraries so it would be great to capture some more images using the Canon 5D MK2.

A couple more images of the 21st January 2005 Aurora Borealis.
Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)1.2
The 21st January 2005 Aurora in Teesdale. Copyright David Forster

Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)1.9
The 21st January 2005 Aurora in Teesdale. Copyright David Forster

Star Trails from Last Night
This incidentally is from the same place as the 2005 images. The white buildings to the left have been demolished and there certainly seems to be a lot more light pollution from the east.

04D-2558 Star Trails
Last Night's Star Trails - Copyright David Forster

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

On a High in the Lake District - Crag Hill and Sail

It has been a frustrating few weeks weather wise which has had a knock on effect with my photography. Leaden grey skies, gale force winds and rain seem to have been the dominating weather events and producing decent images that will tempt editors to publish them has been difficult to say the least. Such frustrations were soon forgotten when a settled few days were promised by the weather forecasters.

The only slight problem was that I could not get out on Thursday and Friday when the weather had cleared due to having to complete image submissions and admin so would have to try and get a few decent pics while out walking with my wife Moira and our friends Graham and Sandra on Saturday. Through the week I tend to mainly work alone and focus fully on my photography, while at weekends I try to enjoy our walks and just take the odd picture. Separating work from my time with family and friends is not easy, especially when the weather has been poor all week and I am feeling the pressure to create more images to license. This business/leisure conflict will be something a lot of professional landscape and wildlife photographers and their families will appreciate I am sure. Fortunately Graham is a keen photographer as well so I don't feel too bad about holding everyone up, plus he can share the blame:-)

Clear skies overnight had led to a hard frost and a few low level mist patches so conditions up high looked as if they would be pretty good. The plan today therefore was to head up to the mountain of Sail (773m) and then continue on up to Crag Hill (839m), before descending to Coledale Hause and then returning along the Coldedale Valley past Force Crag mine back to the village.

From the village of Braithwaite it is a straightforward if quite steep ascent up past Stile End. With every frozen step the views opened up and by the time we reached the Base of Outerside we were stopping every few paces to admire the view or capture a few images. The views it has to be said were stunning in every direction and it was difficult to pick out and isolate scenes from the myriad of photographic possibilities. In the end it was the cold that drove us on and we made the steep pull up to the col between Sail and Causey Pike in fairly good time. Here I spent a while trying to capture Causey Pike balanced between Skiddaw and Blencathra on the left and the Helvellyn range on the right. Ahead through a mist veiled gap in the mountains I could also see the Pennines and the mountain of Cross Fell, but found it difficult to keep all three in balance due to the sloping nature of the foreground. I also tried to ensure I managed to get images where the viewer could pick out the tiny specks of walkers on Causey's summit to give a sense of scale, the only trouble was by the time I got my composition sorted they kept sitting down or wandering off. In the end I settled for the images below, partly because I was getting cold and partly because my companions had got cold and bored and had left me - again. They are always patient and accommodating but there are times when they get fed up of waiting, especially after hearing "just one more shot" for the umpteenth time. This time even Graham had gone on as well.

04D-1961 The View NE from the Slopes of Sail Towards the Summit of Causey Pike, Blencathra and the Helvellyn Range Lake District Cumbria UK.
Causey Pike with Blencathra (left), Pennines (distant centre) and the Helvellyn/Dodds range (distant right). Copyright David Forster

04D-1996 The View NE from the Slopes of Sail Towards the Summit of Causey Pike, Blencathra and the Helvellyn Range Lake District Cumbria UK.
People on the Summit of Causey Pike. Copyright David Forster

04D-2037 Three Runners and the View NE from the Slopes of Sail Towards the Summit of Causey Pike Blencathra and the Helvellyn Range Lake District Cumbria.
Fell runners heading towards Causey Pike. Copyright David Forster

I eventually caught up with everyone enjoying a bite to eat in the sun on top of Sail, but rather than sit and enjoy my food and the view, I bolted it down and again set to work trying to achieve a few images before the cold drove everyone away onto the next hill.

04D-2091 The Mountain of Crag Hill from the Summit of Sail Lake District Cumbria UK
Crag Hill from Sail. Copyright David Forster

This time Graham stayed with me and we spend 20 minutes or so capturing various images of the extensive views to the north-east. In fact he had been a bit crafty and had done a quick reccy of the summit while waiting for me and had spotted a couple of good compositions for us to try.

04D-2120 The Summit of Sail and the View NE to the Mountains of Skiddaw and Blencathra Lake District Cumbria UK
The view NE towards Skiddaw and Blencathra. Copyright David Forster

By the time we had finished the others were nearing the top of Crag Hill and we picked up the pace to catch them up enjoying a coffee on the summit. We all thought the view from Sail was wonderful, but the view from up here was simply stunning and again it was difficult if not impossible to know where to point the camera. Thankfully the wind was very light and after spending twenty minutes or so capturing some video and still images I also managed to convince the others to do a bit of impromptu modelling. Eventually though, it simply got too cold to stand about and we reluctantly left the summit and headed for Coledale Hause, stopping briefly at Eel Crag for a few more images.

04D-2147 The Mountain of Causey Pike and the View NE Towards the Helvellyn Range from the Summit of Crag Hill Lake District Cumbria UK
Causey Pike from Crag Hill. Copyright David Forster

04D-2228 The Summit Trig Point on Crag Hill and the View NE Over the Mountains of Skiddaw and Blencathra Lake District Cumbria UK
Ordnance Survey Trig Point on Crag Hill with Skiddaw and Blencathra ahead. Copyright David Forster

04D-2451 Hillwalker on Eel Crag Looking Down the Coledale Valley Towards the Mountains of Grisedale Pike Skiddaw and Blencathra Lake District Cumbria UK
Coledale Valley from Eel Crag. Copyright David Forster

Time was getting on so rather than follow the footpath towards Grassmoor we took a direct route and paid the price for this by ending up on some steep loose ground. We were also in the shadow of the mountains now so the camera equipment was put away and we carefully made our way down to Coledale Hause itself. After a short rest and a drink we then had a steady walk down the valley past Force Crag Mine and along the track to get back to the campsite in Braithwaite just before sunset. All in all it was really enjoyable day - all we need now is some more decent weather.

These of course are only a small sample of images from the day and you will be able to find more on My Images on Alamy in the coming days

Cameras used today were Canon 5D Mk2 for stills and the Canon XA10 for video.

All text/images copyright David Forster

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

My New Blog

After quite a few requests from readers asking to be able to make comments on the entries in the Blog/Field Notes section of my site I have decided to offer this opportunity here.  I will continue update my photography Blog, but it will still only cover landscape and wildlife related photography subjects.  On here however I will add a few more things relating to the outdoors, education, wildlife, reviews, news etc.  There will probably be a few rants as well - just for balance.  For completeness I have also copied the entries from my other site onto here, but this Blog really starts from today 17th January 2012.  Anyway I hope people will find one or two things that interest them and of course please feel free make comments.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Visiting Kircarrion

After the rock art of Barningham Moor, I decided to continue with the historic theme and visit the tumulus of Kirk Carrion (marked as Kirkcarrion on the OS map) above Lunedale. This ancient Bronze Age mound is thought to have been the burial place of Prince Caryn. In the book "England's Last Wilderness" (1989) by David Bellamy and Brendan Quayle they suggest that Kirk Carrion means Caryn's Castle, however the word "Kirk" is usually accepted as meaning Church, therefore Caryn's Church may be another interpretation.

04D-1710 The Ancient Hilltop Tumulus of Kirkcarrion in Lunedale Teesdale County Durham UK
Kirkcarrion from the south (also called Kirk Arran on the 1856 OS maps). Copyright David Forster

Prince Caryn's spirit is said to wander the local fells having been disturbed in 1804 when a local labourer found the Cist while removing stones from the mound to build enclosure walls on Crossthwaite Common. Inside he found an urn containing the earthly remains of the prince which were subsequently removed by the local landowner to Streatlam Castle. Later the mound itself was enclosed by a wall and a number of Scots Pine trees were planted to mark the spot. Now mature the outline of these trees are a familiar sight from many viewpoints across the dale. This includes the Pennine Way footpath which passes close by.

04D-1715 The View from the Ancient Hilltop Tumulus of Kirkcarrion North East Across the Farmland of the Tees Valley Towards Stobgreen Plantation Teesdale County Durham UK
The View from Kirkcarrion North East towards Stobgreen Plantation. Copyright David Forster

While it is only a short walk up to the mound the view over the valley and the farmland below is wonderful. As I stood there photography temporarily forgotten, listening to the wind sighing through the pines, it was easy to appreciate why this place was chosen as a burial site. Located as it is high above the confluence of the Tees and Lune Rivers, ready to greet the warmth of the rising sun, it must already have been a special place for these people. Indeed it would also appear that this place still holds a special significance today because someone had placed a small wreath and a few flowers close to the small cairn that marks the top.

Back to the photography - while the sun was shining, a bitterly cold north westerly wind stole away what little warmth there was and to warm up a little I had a quick stomp along the boundary wall to a point just short of where the Pennine Way crosses it. From here it is possible to get a slightly elevated view of the mound, but unfortunately today the extra height and more open aspect of the moor meant the wind continually buffeted the camera and tripod.

As I needed to use a graduated filter to balance the sky and foreground, yet at the same time needed to ensure I had an adequate depth of field I was forced to use a longer shutter speed. This coupled with the strong wind made it difficult to achieve a sharp image at first. This problem was eventually overcome by using my body to shield the camera from the wind and with a little perseverance I managed to obtain a few sharp images before the sun began to drop behind the hills to the southwest. The fact the sun drops below these hills an hour or so before sunset at this time of year means the sun does not actually illuminate the trees with the best light, so instead of hanging around I slowly made my way down, making a mental note of possible viewpoints for future visits on the way.

04D-1868 The Ancient Hilltop Tumulus of Kirkcarrion in Lunedale and the View North East Across the Tees Valley Teesdale County Durham UK
Final image just before the sun disappeared. Copyright David Forster

Text and images copyright David Forster

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Ancient People of the Moor

Barningham Moor
When it comes to photography I always try to convince myself that no matter what the weather it's always worth going out. It is not always the case of course, but very often exploring a new place, looking for future viewpoints, or simply focussing on abstract details, or streams in spate, helps me feel I have done something positive despite the conditions.

Today was one of those days. I only came away with a few record shots as opposed to wonderful vistas and moody skies, yet it was still a brilliant day out and certainly well worth the effort despite the wind and incessant drizzle.

Carved out by glaciers an age ago Barningham moor is a wild and exposed landscape. Nowadays like much of the landscape in the North Pennines it is managed for grouse, but in Bronze Age times and possibly earlier it was home to a group of people we know virtually nothing about. What we do know is they must have led a life that was far from the on the edge subsistence lifestyle that is often portrayed when discussing the Bronze Age and beyond because they were also an artistic bunch and left us with some wonderful art. This is not your transient modern art if you know what I mean, this is "Rock Art" pecked into existence thousands of years ago with primitive tools. This art is not a five minute effort such as an unmade bed, a cow in formaldehyde, or a multi million pound painting that looks like its been done at pre-school and should be stuck on the fridge of some proud parent, as opposed to the wall of a museum. No this is art that required commitment and time and will have taken days, weeks and probably months of effort to create. The overall collection will most likely have taken many years, possibly even generations to put together. The reasons why our ancestors put their time and effort into carving cup and ring marks and building stone circles are not really understood. There are plenty of theories of course, burial cist covers, way markers and ceremonial stones to name but a few, none of which I might add are universally accepted.

Whatever the theories I like to think of these symbols as having a spiritual as well as a practical purpose for our ancestors. Perhaps some stones such as those with cup and ring marks (the rings symbolising ripples in water when you throw a stone in) were for springs providing safe drinking water, or water with some special significance. Others such as the grooves and cups could perhaps have been terrestrial maps of the area with villages, huts, tracks, or indeed burials marked. Perhaps they were even celestial maps of the stars which must have played an important part in their understanding of the seasons and therefore their lives. These symbols may have been left in their raw state, or may even have had natural colours added to enhance the designs and make them stand out? All the half baked musings of a layperson of course, but then the so called experts have little more to offer when it comes to why.

Viewing such art, which across the country ranges in date from 3,500 - 6,000 years ago tends to leave me with more questions than answers. Apart from the who did it and why did they do it? I also wonder what tools did they use and just as importantly where are the tools? What was the landscape like at this time, was it wooded, did these people live here permanently, or were these places summer camps? And on a miserably wet day like today, what was the weather like? With the cloud down and our hoods up to keep out the rain we made our way to the start of the steep sided Osmaril Gill, stopping every now and again to examine rocks for markings. On some rocks there were obvious markings, but on others the effect of relentless erosion over millennia made it difficult to tell the difference between natural and manmade shapes. Any passer by who did not know about the moors history would probably walk past many of these stones without a second glance, while the sceptical layperson would simply argue the markings were nothing more than natural erosion.

There are however several rock panels that leave you in no doubt that these markings are manmade and there is one rock panel in particular that lay undiscovered under the turf until 2006 that will convince even the most hardened sceptic. It was this newly discovered panel that was to be our first objective. Finding the panel was fairly easy using the GPS but would certainly have been easy to over look, the only sign being a few less distinct cup marks where a sheep track had worn away the vegetation. At this point it is worth mentioning that it is not acceptable to completely remove any turf or moss covering the panels, as it will expose the carving to the elements. In this case part of the slab is already exposed due to the sheep track and it is easy to gently peel back the already loose vegetation to reveal a significant part of the stone.

04D-1321 Hidden Panel
The recently discovered panel. Note the area with the green tinge to it where a sheep track has exposed it to the elements. Copyright David Forster

With wind, rain and leaden skies it was simply a case of capturing a few record shots of the parts of the panel where the loose vegetation could be gently peeled back and replaced before moving on to Osmaril Gill where a worn but still discernable cup and ring marked stone lay on the steep sided valley.

04D-1378 Osmaril Gill Stone.
It is thought that this stone has slid down the steep valley sides over the years. Copyright David Forster

04D-1358 Osmaril Gill Stone Closeup
A closer view of the cup and ring marks. Copyright David Forster

Once found we again only managed a few record shots due to the weather before moving on to the stone circle at the head of the gill. Frustratingly the stones in the circle do not show fully as they are partially buried and coupled with poor weather again meant disappointment from a purely photographic point of view.

It's amazing to think that these cup and ring marked stones carved out an age ago by these ancient artists played a significant part in saving this wonderful piece of our countryside from destruction. In 1998 wind developers wanted to destroy the area by building twenty-five, 54m high wind turbines across the moor. Fortunately local people led by a lady called Elizabeth Mann managed to put together a compelling argument that these ancient stones and the landscape itself was worth saving. This campaign eventually resulted in planning permission being refused in 1999.

Moving onto Eel Hill we visited the final stone of the day. This stone has a deep cup carved in it at one end and a line of three cup and ring symbols running diagonally across it. It stands in a stunning position with extensive views over the plains to the North and East towards Teesside, the coast and most spectacular of all - the rising sun.

Eel Hill Stone. Copyright David Forster

Sadly today there was little time to stand and stare, the grey clouds and an already darkening sky would mean a walk through the forest in the dark if we lingered too long. Despite wanting to get down before dark we were still on the lookout for interesting shapes to photograph and while descending the slopes of Eel Hill, our imaginations running wild, we spotted this head shaped stone staring out across the moor towards the north east waiting for the sun to rise.

04D-1428 Osmaril's Head Low Res
And just for fun - Osmaril's Head - Well it looks like a head to me anyway. I will leave it to your own imagination to decide if you want to link it to the people of the moor. Copyright David Forster

Further information on the area can be found on Alen's site Because they're there He has written several articles about his recent explorations on the moor.

All images and text copyright David Forster