Sunday, 22 February 2009

The Act of Observation

Geordie lads, Saltburn Pier

It's an often overlooked pastime, just observing. But over the last few years, it's one that I've grown quite fond of. As most of Tyneside's population enjoyed living out life on Saltburn beach, we spent a pleasant hour just watching. While shafts of sunlight came and went across the beach, it was a wonderful way to spend time.

Wait for me...

Along the cliff top walk of the Cleveland Way, the tiny beachside steel village of Skinningrove had paired houses and allotments. Fascinating ghettos of battered wood and corrugated iron for retreating to when it was best to be out of the house.

Shed, Skinningrove

There are always surprises on these trips to noodle about on old allotments, to sidle between fishing boats on lonely beaches. A strangely enriching form of beach-combing, in a way.

Friday, 13 February 2009

The Book of the North

Alright then, I'll say it. I've entered a bit of a blank patch with blogging. It feels like I've sailed into the Bermuda Triangle without quite knowing how I got there, or what I do to get out again.

It's not like there's nothing going on though. Quietly bringing up the rear at the Kendal Winter League races. Quietly rueing the ease with which I entered the Helvellyn triathlon without as much as a thought to the practicalities of the training required, or the monumental effort it'll take for someone like me to finish before teatime. Quietly learning to swim properly in what feels like the dead of a Thursday night.

It's all about the quiet gestation of plans, a sea change in thinking, some sort of re-evaluation.

Some of the most enduring memories of last year came from wild camping on shorelines with the distant memories of crofters' lives drifting about us like sea mist. These places shouldn't have felt like home, but they did. And this year, we'd like to do more.

A book that leads us on these journeys is none other than Hamish Haswell-Smith's The Scottish Islands. It's a guide book like no other. It's more a mythology that winds Scotland's past with it's present. An examination and an explanation of why landing on a bare, uninhabited island feels more than it should. Extraordinary stories, Norse invasions, amazing communities and cultures, improbable island owners. It's all there.

With this compass to the past permanently out, pages spreadeagled, perhaps a bit of quiet planning a good thing..

Monday, 2 February 2009

The Rim of the Volcano

A few years ago now, I was working on one of the remote islands that make up the Aleutian island chain. In case your geography is a little sketchy that close to the international dateline, I'm talking about a tiny chain of islands that set a bold curve between Alaska and the eastern tip of Russia.

Umnak Island is dominated by the huge crater volcano of Okmok, and this photo shows the top of the crater wall. We'd been blessed with a blue sky day (there aren't many of those there), but all of a sudden, a load of high, mackerel clouds pulled in. In a few moments, a low cloud which had been skimming the flanks of the volcano, spilled over the crater wall and sank into the void below. It was noiseless and bizarre.

I'm messing about with a slide scanner, which is why it's both grainy and covered in the accumulated dust of a slide with a tortured past. But I thought it was an interesting abstract photo nonetheless...