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Border Blue Sky

By |2019-05-17T13:13:59+01:00May 17th, 2019|Categories: The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , , |

East Coast railway train crossing the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick Upon Tweed in Northumberland.
East Coast railway train crossing the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick Upon Tweed in Northumberland.

It was a quick hop, skip and a jump over the Scottish border last weekend with blue skies high above. The weather couldn’t have been any better. It was far removed from the mist and rain of Edinburgh a few weeks before.

The last time I’d visited the borders was in 1992. That visit was part of a family holiday that achieved legendary status. In 15 days we visited various locations in Northumberland, moved into the border areas of Scotland and then finished the holiday in the Lake District. None of it had been planned.

Some twenty-seven years later I found myself travelling back along that same road heading north.

St Abbs (twinned with New Asgard)

A last minute booking found a rather nice old coach house near St Abbs, a beautiful Scottish fishing village. Just recently the harbour in St Abbs was seen in the Avengers Endgame movie as New Asgard – Thor’s new home. It looks and feels a lot like visiting a Cornish fishing village, especially if the weather is favourable.

St Abbs is a well-known location to divers. A boat full of divers were heading out as we arrived. Suddenly the alarm went for the lifeboat. Men dashed down to the lifeboat station, the doors opened and the lifeboat was lowered down to the water. Everything became clearer a few minutes later. Another diving boat came into shore at speed and it was only as it got closer that you could see someone on the deck performing CPR. Sadly a diver had got into trouble and had to be taken away by ambulance.

St Abbs may have been in a Hollywood movie but top billing had to go to the weather. Blue skies with occasional clouds floating by made the weekend feel more like August rather than May. The light was just perfect and reminded me of the quality of light you get in Cornwall. I was only away for the weekend but it felt more like five or six days. It’s always good to recharge the old batteries.

Bass Rock

Further up the coast is Bass Rock, a huge domineering piece of rock that was a prison at one point in its history. The photograph of the rock was taken from the impressive Tantallon Castle. It took some time for the ship to get into the frame as it made its way to the port at Leith.

At first, I thought there were small marks were debris on the camera sensor. Only later, when I was viewing the image in Photoshop, did I realise it was hundreds of birds in the air around the rock. The rock is home to over 150,000 gannets as well as shags, guillemots, razorbills and seals.

The lighthouse is built on what remains of a castle but the key role that the rock had during the 16th and 17th century was that of a prison. James I of Scotland sent his political enemies to the rock during the 15th century and later covenanter martyrs were sent there after Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland in the 1650s. These days the only residents are the birds.

Bass Rock - a bird colony, a site for a lighthouse and, in the past, a prison.
Bass Rock – a bird colony, a site for a lighthouse and, in the past, a prison.

By the River Tweed

Berwick Upon Tweed is a town I’ve passed through on the train quite often, but my last actual visit was in 1992. Where do the years go?

The River Tweed runs through the town and the three bridges crossing the river are iconic. The Royal Border Bridge is a very impressive piece of architecture dating from the 1840s. The railway bridge is so well engineered and constructed that very little adjustment has been needed for it to handle the heavier, modern trains. The only repair work required by the bridge took place in the mid-1990s. A nice recent addition (2009) is a lighting system that can illuminate the bridge in a variety of colours.

The photograph at the top of the post was taken along the fantastic riverside path running next to the River Tweed. The viewpoint for photographing the bridge and trains crossing was perfect.

Up and Away

With the weekend over it was back to base. The plan is to have more quick weekend visits to other areas close at hand. Spur of the moment type trips. Lindisfarne, Kielder forest and more Scottish border locations are just a short drive away.

From the Archive: Final Frames

By |2018-09-28T16:45:02+01:00September 28th, 2018|Categories: The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , |

This image is one of the final frames shot during a project documenting the Territorial Army – renamed the Army Reserve in 2014 . I was just about to get a lift back to the Squadron’s HQ when i saw this scene of an AK assault rifle hung on the back of an army truck. Two or three frames were quickly shot, a few words exchanged with some of the soldiers and i was back in an Army Land Rover heading back to the HQ.

Over twenty years later, the image remains a favourite. For me, it sums up the subtle blend of military and civilian life in the Territorial Army.  The dented stainless steel Boots flask placed next to an assault rifle seems slightly out of place. It’s an object more likely to be taken to a picnic or to the work place than the battlefield. Ironically, after photographing helicopters flying overhead, troops dashing around and engaging insurgents hidden in the trees, it’s the peaceful tone of the still life image that appeals to me most.

In the years since the image was shot, the Territorial army faced an uncertain future only to find a new lease of life in the post 9/11 world. T.A soldiers served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and are increasingly taking on a bigger role with the British Army as consecutive UK governments attempt to ‘balance’ already financially strained defence budgets. Rather than reduce the army reserve, it now looks as though the plan is to expand the reservist numbers and their role within the Army.

Revisiting the image for this post, i came across a rather nice 16×12 print of the image made by my own hand in a darkroom many years ago. It’s now hanging on a wall in my house. The Territorial army project might be over twenty years old, but it remains a benchmark for my work as a photographer. It’s certainly a project i’d really like to revisit again.

The photography project Territorial Army can be found at https://www.richardflintphoto.com/portfolio/territorial-army/

From the Archive: The Climbing Photographer

By |2018-08-17T22:03:38+01:00August 17th, 2018|Categories: The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , , |

A man climbing on a gate and fence to photograph two highland cows at Trossachs Wollen Mill, Kilmahog near Callander in Perthshire, Scotland

After the rather serious tone of last month’s archive post, i thought this month would have a little photo humour from 2013. The photograph, shot using an iPhone 3GS, is of an over keen photographer trying to get a clear shot of Hamish the Highland Bull. His discarded walking stick rests against the fence.

This photo was taken at the Trossachs Wollen Mill in Kilmahog near Callander, Perthshire during a trip up to the Highlands of Scotland in September 2013. The rather adventurous photographer was part of a coach tour and had decided that a bit of elevation was needed to get a good shot of Hamish the Highland bull. It took him a few, rather unsteady attempts, to finally get himself in place but he eventually got his photos. The advantages of climbing up didn’t actually appear that great to me.

The town of Callander is worth mentioning. The small Scottish town is on the eastern gateway to the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park and on the edge of the Highlands. Callander is often referred to as ‘the gateway to the Highlands’. As such it’s a popular town, busy with tourists either visiting Callander or making their way to the Highlands. I stayed overnight in 2014 and had an enjoyable but brief explore down by the River Teith. After Callander, you start the atmospheric climb up into the mountains of the Highlands.

A group of people looking at a Highland cow at Trossachs Wollen Mill, Kilmahog near Callander in Perthshire, Scotland
Not Hamish! A Highland cow with fans – Trossach Wollen Mill at Kilmahog, Scotland

A mile up the road from Callander,  the Trossachs Wollen Mill provides another welcome rest stop oasis for the weary traveller. Whether heading to or coming back from the Highlands, it’s used by coach tours, cars and bikers alike. It’s perfectly placed as a stop to stretch the legs, get some food and plan the next part of your journey. The Woollon Mill features a very busy restaurant and excellent gift shop packed full of Scottish souvenirs. The headline act, however, has to be the very popular, hairy and iconic highland cattle.

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Hamish the Highland cow

A post shared by Richard Flint (@richardflintphoto) on

Hamish the Highland bull was undoubtedly the star and most likely, the most photographed bull on the planet! He’d even pose for you! Seeing coach tours of people trying to photograph the superstar bull was funny, if slightly surreal experience. The lengths that people would go to always surprised me – the climbing photographer being a good example! When you think about it, there must be thousands of photographs of Hamish all over the world!

Sadly Hamish died in 2014 at the very grand age of almost 23. He was, apparently, the oldest bull in the UK and the second oldest in the world. The average lifespan is around 14 years. The Trossachs Wollen Mill’s other Highland cattle, Honey and Hamish Dubh, a black Highland Bull, carry on the good work.

From the Archive: Walking the Dog

By |2018-07-19T11:27:36+01:00July 17th, 2018|Categories: The Test Strip Photoblog|Tags: , , , , , , |

A couple walking their dog on the beach near Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk, UK

This is an image from 2016 but only just been recently added to the Norfolk gallery. Just viewing this photograph puts me back in a year that i’d rather forget, though that feeling is starting to fade with the passage of time.

Nearly two years ago, I ended up going on an unplanned trip to Norfolk for a week. My mother, who’d been diagnosed with terminal cancer just a few months before, had wanted one last final family holiday even though her own health was failing at a terrifying pace. We all needed a break after the months of bad news stacked on bad news. No silver lining had appeared. No miracle was going to occur. Emotionally we were all exhausted. Burnt out.

With hindsight we should have made the decision to holiday a lot earlier, but the chemotherapy and other hospital visits had made the possibility of getting away impossible. With the chemotherapy cancelled due to my mother’s weak health, the opportunity arose to take that holiday at the end of September 2016. Very quickly we made the decision to go to Norfolk and, as it happened, we made it just in the nick of time. Within a week or two of our return my mother would be incapable of travelling anywhere.

The ‘holiday’ took place in September 2016 and went better than I could have imagined. The change of scene did us all good even though my mother didn’t have the physical strength to get about that much. Norfolk had been an old family holiday favourite so it was a friendly and familiar place. Best of all, the travel distances involved were not huge. It was an escape, if only just a partial one, that enabled us all to relax us a little bit.

Sand blowing over the beach near Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk

I’d visited the beach near Burnham Overy Staithe on numerous occasions and taken one or two good images there including the photo of the man walking along the beach (carrying his boots) in a thick sea fret. Happy memories. To get there you have to walk along a winding path, probably about a couple of miles from the harbour car park at Burnham Overy Staithe. On a calm late summer evening, it’s a great way to enjoy the view, listen to the sounds of the Norfolk coast and soak up some fresh sea air. Peace. Bliss. Escape.

A strong but warm wind blew across the beach which seemed to blow all the worries away. The strong wind didn’t deter other visitors from enjoying the beach and it was those people that i concentrated the camera on. Photography is a great therapy. It can provide a purpose and an mental distraction just when you most need it. The instinctive mental process of looking for photos blocked out any other thoughts. I see a shot. One couple were particularly enjoying the vast expanse of space, their dog energetically chasing a thrown bright red ball again and again across the sand.

Chasing the red ball - a dog runs after a thrown red ball on a beach near Burnham Overy Staither, Norfolk, UK
Chasing the red ball – Norfolk Beach

The wind was incredibly strong and did cause some problems keeping the camera steady, but the light was bright so i did have a wide variety of shutter speeds to choose from. One thing i did want to capture was the movement of the fast moving sand so i tended to keep the shutter speed as low as i dare – around 1/80s @ f/22 for the top dog walking image, moving up to 1/250s @ f/11 for the lower red ball image.

The dog walkers were among the last pictures taken on the beach before i walked the couple of miles back to the car park.

The camera was a Nikon D3 using a 80-200mm Nikon f2.8 lens.

More images from the Norfolk project can be found HERE

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