One Colliery, Two Sunrises and a Firing Range

Northumberland is one of those places that just calls me back again and again. I could spend no end of time exploring this most sparsely populated of England’s counties – with or without the camera. But with so much to take in and ever changing light there’s always a different shot to be had.

So in the company of one of my photographer friends and in the wake of a pleasant new year in Newcastle, we set off up the A1 towards the remote and beautiful north.

First on the list of places I wanted to visit was the Woodhorn Colliery Museum. A previous drive around Durham and Northumberland had enlightened me as to just how little of the area’s mining heritage is actually still evident (see ‘Nothing to See Here’; May 2014), so it came as no surprise to learn that this hidden gem is the most complete and well preserved example of a late Victorian colliery in the north east.

The sky was perfectly blue and the wind biting, but the warm and striking new visitor centre offered up an engaging exhibition of life through the decades of an industry that once dominated the skyline everywhere you looked. Woodhorn’s headstocks are now only just about visible above the treetops of the new QEII Country Park that masks the old coalfield, its winding houses and blacksmiths among the other deservedly listed buildings that you can also have a nose around. Definitely worth stopping by and it’s free to get in, if you don’t count the stealth car parking fee…

A few stops later and we arrived at the Lindisfarne Inn, base for a few days and conveniently situated for access to Holy island and two very different sunrises. I can’t praise this place enough, and having stopped there in the past for a drink this was the first time I’d actually checked in. The rooms were great, the food fantastic and the staff really friendly and accommodating. My kind of place and somewhere I’ll be sure to return to.

Now with such perfect weather there was the small matter of what to do between sunrise and sunset that made the most of the days and satisfied my slightly off-centre interests. Our attention was drawn to the Northumberland National Park – as beautiful a place as any and with the added bonus of a military firing range right in the middle of it – complete with wrecked military vehicles bearing the battle scars of relentless target practice. The problem comes in actually finding them, the ranges being such a maze of narrow roads that it’s easy to get lost, go round in circles and leave them without seeing anything. We’d tried before and come face to face with the smoking guns of a rocket launcher primed and ready to fire – but nothing else.

 

This time we made sure in advance that the red flags were safely put away and that there was no firing scheduled. After poring over the Google maps at breakfast we eventually located the wrecks, programmed the satnav and drove straight upto… a gate. There was an unmapped compound blocking the road. A quick detour ensued and we finally arrived at the subject of the day’s pictures. Perfectly desolate, perfectly lit by the bright southern sun and perfectly set against a backdrop of rough moorland and deep blue skies. Job done, and save for a few walkers and the odd parked car, we didn’t see a soul. Time for coffee and cake in a near-deserted Alnwick and a drink in Bamburgh on the way back.

But there was still the small matter of the perfect sunrise over Holy Island and that came on the last morning. The dawn drive across the causeway presented an eastern promise in the form of vibrant red skies behind the silhouette of the distant Bamburgh Castle – but it was Lindisfarne Castle itself that was my target as I waded into the gently lapping North Sea and set up a tripod. The skies began to turn pink and a golden glow hit the stone. I think I’m happy with the shot I got (main picture, top) but it will look different next time. It always does…