Tag Archives: Tar Barrels

Beauty beyond images

As a photographer I like to record images but sometimes I’m glad I didn’t take a picture that wouldn’t have done justice to the original vision. Two such occasions occurred within a few hours of each other while we were away in Weardale over the new year period. We had booked a cottage in a small village called Sunniside which is near Bishop Auckland in Country Durham. We knew the village because we had stayed at a smaller cottage just down the road earlier in the year. Both cottages are owned by the same man and as we had the full tribe with us this time we thought we better take the larger of the two. Most of the snow in the south had melted by the time we set off but further north there was a lot more snow around. In fact as we drove into the village there was still snow in the middle of the road and by the look of the piles on the roadside the road must have had to have been cleared by a snowplough at some point. When we reached the cottage the paths were icy and the doorstep was very slippery. After unloading the car we left the kids and headed off to the chip shop to get something to eat.

I find that there is nothing so frustrating than driving along and seeing something that would make a good photograph but not being able to stop and take one. This usually is more prevalent during the day but occasionally it happens at night too. Tonight was no exception – as we drove along the dark road the headlights of the car picked out a fence that bordered a field and hanging from the cross pieces of the fence were hundreds of icicles. The headlights of the car illuminated them and the light reflected off them, it was truly beautiful. I couldn’t stop to photograph them because we needed to get food and had no idea what time the chip shop was open till, also it wasn’t really safe to pull up as there was a great deal of snow on the roadside so I had to drive on making a mental note to maybe return the following evening to see if I could get a shot. Sadly that night the thaw started and the icicles were gone.

Icicles on hanging basket in back garden of cottage

The second opportunity presented itself the following morning and again there was no time to stop as we were already running an hour late to meet my brother at my dad’s house. The village of Sunniside is in a very rural setting and consists mostly of the main street and a few houses behind that. The village itself is surrounded by fields and as you travel out of the village the fields open up on either side of the road as you leave the village. These fields fall away from the road on both sides but on one side the slope is quite steep and there is a fine view down towards Bishop Auckland. The other side of the road has a number of wind turbines scattered across the fields which afford their own sort of beauty as they spin slowly in the breeze.

That morning had been very misty and the sun was struggling to break through, a watery outline could be seen through the haze as it struggled to make itself known as it climbed to it’s height as the time approached midday. It was just after 12 when we set off to go to Sunderland to meet up with my family. As we drove east out of the village we passed the houses and the little farm building at the end of the street where we take Ben to see the sheep on out nocturnal walks. As we passed the last building and the fields took over we saw the most beautiful sight. the sun had broken the cloud cover and although it was itself still hidden behind the clouds the rays were protruding above and below. The bight rays of light we then bouncing off the snow covered fields and producing the most spectacular celestial display – almost biblical in it’s grandeur! Almost everyone in the car stopped and just went wow!

Red Sky in the Morning

The sun just before we set off that morning

Once again I couldn’t really stop and I don’t think I had my camera with me anyway. I think that maybe that was a good thing as any photograph, no matter how good, could have reproduced the sight we were witnessing. It would have probably produced a really great picture but I doubt that it could ever have been as good as the real thing. So I consoled myself with this though as I drove on – I still think I was right on both occasions and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t have reproduced the images that are still in my head as I write. I guess sometime you just have to put the camera down and record those images into your brain instead.

There was another set of visual images that I witnessed while we were in the north that made me have very conflicting feelings about the same phenomenon! As we were returning to the cottage one night we drove over a hill road and as we went over the brow of the hill there was a wonderful view of the town below with all the lights from streets and houses spread out before us and I thought to myself isn’t that beautiful. No sooner had that thought crossed my mind than I remembered that it conflicted with another thought I had had in the early hours of New Years Day as we returned from the Tar Barrel ceremony in Allendale. The traditional new years eve event takes place in a small town on top of the moors about 8 miles outside Hexham. To get there we followed the SatNav as although we had been before we had always travelled from my dad’s house so I set the SatNav to find the best route. I should have known when we got to the end of the road through the village and the road sign pointed right to Corbridge and the SatNav told me to turn left that perhaps we could be in trouble!

The route it took us on ran down through Weardale to Stanhope and just after we left the town it told me to turn right. Initially I missed the turn off and had to do a u-turn to get back onto the route. The road it directed us on was quite narrow and started to rise quite sharply! It turned out to be a single track road that took us up onto the top of the moors through darkness and snow covered fields. The route twisted and turned in the darkness, went over cattle grids and had ominously tall poles on either side of it to show snow ploughs where the road was! We climbed and climbed until we finally levelled out and as the road did we hit this patch of ice which, in the darkness looked just like a bit of damaged road surface but it must have been about 4 inches deep in the middle of the road and the car bounced over it rattling and shaking. We slowed right down as we began our descent and we did come across two or three more patches but we were ready for them this time.

The Allendale Tar Barrel Ceremony

The road that we had travelled on had taken us to a height of around 1000ft above sea level to a place called Rookhope which is an old lead mining town where, apparently, the Poet WH Auden first realised he was a poet! I’m sure if it hadn’t been so dark and scary it would have been a beautiful trip. We slowly decended down to the village of Allenheads and got back onto a main road which took us without incident down to Allendale itself where we arrived in time for the tar barrels. Sarah had already told me that we weren’t going back that way so I figured we would head back towards Hexham afterwards and then pick up the A68 which would take us back to Sunniside.

As we left the tar barrels behind we travelled out of Allendale and along the road which runs the 8 miles down to Hexham. Although being much bigger than the road we had arrived on it still runs across the moors and as we drove through the darkness I was aware of a huge amount of light pollution in the sky. There seems to be two sources, one closer that the other and I guess the distant source was coming from Newcastle some 30 miles distant. It was this light that I thought spoiled the dark of the night and ruined any chance of seeing stars and other astronomical effects that I would later consider to be beautiful when seen in a different context a few days later. Strange how things can be ugly and beautiful at the same time!

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