Thursday, 30 January 2014

Helm Crag near Grasmere

We try to get across to the Lake District whenever we can spare the time and there is the chance of decent weather over there. It's been difficult of late, with rain coming in from the Atlantic keeping the west side of the country dull and plenty wet. However today's forecast was for sun.

Helm crag is a popular walk from Grasmere, but one that we had never tried. It's not far, about 2 miles, but there's a fair climb with a little bit of scrambling, particularly if you elect to climb the Lion rock.

Not for cars?


Climbing the crag you get a good view over towards Easedale where the stream was running full and could be clearly heard  from a distance. Easedale tarn is visible from the top of the Lion rock.

So much for the sunshine - Grasmere town and
lake from the crag

The Lion and Lamb rocks. Not the best view and no sense of scale. Best seen from the north I think when you can see the body of the "lion", and they are much larger than this image suggests.

View from the top of the Lion rock.

Sony NEX 6 - Pentax 28mm f3.5 K, Samsung 35mm f2, and Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Friday, 17 January 2014

Circular Cycle Ride

The advantages of being retired are too numerous to mention, but one in particular I enjoy, the ability to get out and about when the sun has some prospect of showing its face. With a forecast of cloud cover and limited sun, but an unseasonably high temperature of 7 degC, I had to make the most of it.

A ride I do once or twice a year involves a circular trip to Consett heading up the Derwent valley and coming back down "The Hill" through Stanley etc. I don't know the total distance, maybe 40 miles, with a climb of around 600 feet ( it always seems to be more!).

The route uses paths which are part of the UK's Coast to Coast (C2C) cycle way across northern England. The paths diverge at Consett offering a choice of destinations on the east coast, either Tynemouth or Sunderland. My route starts and ends in Washington (ancestral home of George and now the base for Nissan UK) using the more northerly path along the Derwent Valley for the climb up to Consett and coming back down the more southerly track.  The entire route is very largely off road.

The day started grim, overcast and not warm, but, by the time  I had cycled the 9 or so miles to the river Tyne near Felling the sun had decided to briefly co-operate.

A patrol boat moored on the north bank

Cycling along the quayside, past the Baltic gallery and over the Millennium bridge, the gloom descended once again. The ride along Newcastle quayside is always a pleasure, despite the weather, and on reaching the mud flats opposite Dunston coal staithes, Curlews could be seen and heard seeking food at low tide.

Dunston staithes - long retired

Further to the west in Scotswood is where Lord Armstrong set up his Elswick works, producing armaments, ships, locomotives and all manner of engineering equipment. As well as providing employment for many thousands, the citizens of Newcastle can thank Armstrong for the provision of Jesmond Dene, the Victoria Infirmary and the college that became Newcastle University. Hordes of visitors enjoy a trip to Cragside, Armstrong's Rothbury estate, now in the possession of the National Trust.  

A small part of Armstrong's Elswick site is now home to the BAE tank factory, whose activity has shrunk to a fraction of what it was, and that is about to go as it has been announced that the factory is to close.

Armstrong/Vickers/BAE factory

Crossing the Tyne using the Scotswood Bridge, the route travels through Derwenthaugh Country park in Gateshead, previously home to iron and other works, but now wonderfully returned to nature.

Clockburn Lake - Dewenthaugh Country Park

The cycle route leaves the park to join the old railway track to Consett along the Derwent valley. This is a steady climb, and with the ground soft due to recent rains, rather hard work. There are forested sections on either side of the track, but occasionally you are treated to a view from a viaduct or a gap in the trees. There is a good view over towards Gibside, the National Trust property, while this is Red Kite country; although today they were in hiding!

Sadly some of the old bridges have been taken out, which means plunging down into a depression followed by a steep ascent on the other side.

I did get a glimpse of a couple of colourful Jays, while wrens darted about at the sides of the track.

I think this is near Edchester, where there are the remains of a Roman fort.

Approaching Consett I saw the last of the sun for the day and, tired and thirsty, looked for sustenance at the newly opened Tesco superstore. I was pleased to see the provision of a bike rack under shelter,  but the detail design leaves much to be desired. It's very much a case of style over substance. The racks are placed far too close to the wall, so that you cannot get the frame of the bike sufficiently close to the higher point in the rack without jamming the wheel against the wall. The red things are almost purely decorative, I can't envisage how you could use them. Why people don't just specify standard Sheffield Stands I don't know, I suspect that they are cheaper and they are certainly much more functional. I did fill in a feedback form, hopefully someone will take action.

Update: This evening a representative from the store phoned to ask what the problem was with the bike racks and promised to have it placed on the agenda for the management team to consider. Fingers crossed!

Never fear the store has a cafe offering reasonably priced refreshment, tea and a fruit scone for less than £2.50. I guess that my camera lens steamed up on entering the warm interior as this shot below lacks contrast.

Rolling back down "The Hill" - as it used to be described by the railwaymen that used it - via Stanley, there was no sun, so no pictures.  In comparison to the Derwent Valley it is more open with fewer trees, the gradients are steeper, and more of the countryside wild moorland rather than farmed. It does have a huge advantage, in that, barring a short section to the west of Beamish, it is almost entirely hard surfaced, so no sinking in mud!  

This route passes close to the North of England Open Air Museum at Beamish, which is always interesting to visit, while you can use the cafe there without having to pay for entry. There are a few  interesting sculptures along the route, that, had the sun shown its face, you might have seen here!

The gradient is particularly steep near Beamish, where, in the days of steam locomotives, two were required to push the heavy iron ore trains up to Consett.

Sony NEX 6 16-50 Sony lens

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Rainbows - Tyne Valley

On Tuesday we walked from Riding Mill  to Corbridge along the Tyne Valley. It was muddy underfoot, but the sun shone most of the time with only a few drops of rain. Excellent conditions for rainbows.

River Tyne near Riding Mill

From the footpath through the Farnley Estate

Sony NEX 6 Probably Pentax 28mm K f3.5 and Zuiko 50mm f1.4

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Pentax A 35-70 mm f4 zoom on NEX 6

This one has dwelt in my drawer for some time, and it wasn't until I read that it had a macro function that I decided to give it a try. In fact it will focus down to 0.25 m at a focal length of 70mm ( or 105 mm on the NEX). Here's the result, click for a larger image -

A pair of sweet pea pods about to release their seeds

An actual pixels crop

OK it's not going to replace your dedicated macro lens, nor even maybe your favourite prime on extension tubes, but it's not at all bad and the zoom does make framing easier.

Following this, I was encouraged to try the 35-70 against a collection of 50 mm primes at f8, and, while it didn't come top of the class, it wasn't at the bottom either! It's quite usable.

I also tested my Pentax 35-80 budget auto focus zoom, and that was dreadful!