Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

Last week I was privileged to cover the NUM’s march and rally in Barnsley to mark the 30th Anniversary of the Miners’ Strike. Below is the piece that I wrote for the Barnsley Unite Community Support Centre blog.

30 Years On: NUM Miners' Strike Commemorative March

The weather was dreadful. Really, really dreadful. But then again, it was Glastonbury weekend, so maybe it should have been expected. With a display of the grim humour that got many through the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike, it was suggested that Thatcher was behind the heavy rain that lashed the NUM march through Barnsley, in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the year long strike. “She pissed on us in life and now she’s pissing on us in death”.

Hundreds gathered in the historic Miners’ Hall at the NUM headquarters in Barnsley, in preparation for the short march through Barnsley town centre. On display was the paraphernalia of a once proud industry that had bound communities together, clustered around the pit heads of South Yorkshire. An industry that was cruelly crushed by a government hell-bent on destroying the unions, in their determination to further a free market agenda that dogs us to this day.

30 Years On: NUM Miners' Strike Commemorative March

The march began to assemble in the increasingly heavy rain. With union banners on display from collieries and regions all over the country, the over-riding atmosphere was of camaraderie and of pride. The brass band struck up and the march was off in a blaze of sound and colour, in defiance of the slate grey sheets of rain.

30 Years On: NUM Miners' Strike Commemorative March

Just off the Dearne Valley Parkway lies Cortonwood. Now a retail park with stores such as Argos, Sports Direct, McDonalds and Matalan, it is hard to believe that this was once the site of the colliery where the strike started. It seems sadly symbolic that in this place, where men once hewed coal from the ground and began the march out that led to the most bitter strike of recent history, the forces of commerce have moved in. Bulldozed away the remnants of industry and replaced them with stores full of consumer goods, fast food and minimum wages.

When the strike began, I was an 18 year old coal worker, bagging coal at a distribution yard in Huddersfield. I still remember the gritty crunch of coal dust in my mouth and how it ingrained itself into your skin. I remember how the old guys who drove the delivery trucks, after a lifetime of handling coal had been stained a dirty grey colour. I had nothing but respect for those that did the job of hauling coal to the surface and when the lorries started to bring coal from the working pits into the yard (under the pretence that it was destined for hospitals), I resigned.

30 Years On: NUM Miners' Strike Commemorative March

30 Years On: NUM Miners' Strike Commemorative March

Back at the Miners’ Hall, there was a rally. Looking out over the sodden congregation, Ian Clayton opened with the observation that soon the steam would begin to rise and that it probably wouldn’t be the first time in this historic venue. Ian and all of the speakers that followed, Kevin Coyne from Unite, Women Against Pit Closures and NUM President Nicky Wilson, gave fine speeches, full of pride in their culture and defiance against the neo-liberal machine that has brought the industry to the brink of extinction.

Sadly, Owen Jones didn’t show up, but George Arthur of the Freedom Riders gave an often humorous insight into current policing practises, following the arrest of two Freedom Riders protesters at Sheffield train station earlier in the week. NUM General Secretary Chris Kitchen closed the rally by ironically thanking South Yorkshire Police for assisting in the town centre road closures, “the last time the police showed me where to park was at Orgreave”.

30 Years On: NUM Miners' Strike Commemorative March

There is still hope for the future of the coal industry in the UK. The NUM and Unite have joined together in a venture called Coal Combine. At the Carbon Capture & Storage / Coal Combine Seminar in January, delegates from deep mines, surface mines and coal burning power stations took part, uniting not just the two unions but workers from the energy sector. The newly launched website can be found here.

I attended the march as a photographer, but that 18 year old coal worker of my past marched under the banners in solidarity with a battle which may have been lost, but shoulder to shoulder with my comrades in the war for rights and justice which continues.

A Morning at Whitley Edge

A cloudy morning on Royd Moor

A cloudy morning on Royd Moor

As far as sunrises go, it was about as bad as it could get. I could see when I awoke, that the skies were laden with cloud. But you don’t really know what it is going to happen until you are there and often some of the best shots come from the worst conditions. Those moments when the sun punches through the cloud and produces dramatic light don’t come from clear blue skies.

Besides, it feels like a bit of a cop-out to go back to sleep once you have taken the trouble to haul yourself up at stupid o’clock and I was keen to get out anyway. So at 5.15am on a Sunday morning in Spring, I found myself gazing at grey leaden skies above Royd Moor, near Penistone.

An 18th century guide stoop, with wall built around it.

An 18th century guide stoop, with wall built around it.

I’ve shot around Royd Moor numerous times, as there are some wonderful views towards Woodhead Pass and Black Hill. Also, it has some fascinating old stone walls that probably date back to the Enclosures Act (I have written about High Bank Lane on this blog previously), but I’ve not been there for sunrise before and was curious to see how it would pan out.

Even when the sky is obscured by cloud, there is often a bright patch to indicate where the sun will rise. Sometimes even a gap in the cloud through which a chink of light can develop. This morning there was nothing! I had parked near the observation point that looks out over the wind turbines on Spicer Hill, as I knew that this would offer the clearest views of the eastern horizon and walked a short way down High Bank Lane. Sunrise came and went unheralded, not even a noticeable increase in light levels. Still, it was a good morning for black and white, so I rattled off a few hopeful shots of some of my favourite views.

Across the fields to Crow Edge.

Across the fields to Crow Edge.

As the time was about 5.45am, it was far too early to admit defeat, so I decided to head for nearby Whitley Edge. Another favourite spot that is hidden away above Crow Edge that hasn’t been photographed to death, like some of the more popular locations.

I was also keen to take another look at the ruins of Lower Whitley Farm, as it had been used as the set for external shots of Jamaica Inn, in the recent BBC adaptation. This is another spot that I have photographed a few times and I noticed that the production team had made quite a few changes, such as removing the wall around the yard, clearing rubble and building a few extra bits of set.

The ruins of Lower Whitley Farm at Crow Edge.

The ruins of Lower Whitley Farm at Crow Edge.

The ruins of the old farm are a perfect setting for a period tale of dark doings. Brooding on Crow Edge, the decaying hulk is surrounded by boggy fields and collapsing dry stone walls. I find that abandoned buildings often have a melancholy air about them. It is as if the fabric of the building soaks up the lives of its past inhabitants, their hopes and fears, laughter and arguments and allows those stored up emotions to seep out as the building decays. Lower Whitley Farm has this in spades.

The building is now fenced off, although just a few years ago, it was open for exploration. A small farmhouse is attached to a series of barns, with the largest of these set centrally behind a fantastic arched doorway. One of the smaller barns still has the rotting remains of wooden stalls for animals. How many more winters the old roof will last is anyone’s guess.

I worked my way around the house, lining up views through old gateways and trying a few shots through the fence. It was then that I noticed scurrying movement around me, in the reeds that cluster around the boggy patches. Hares were racing after each other in pursuit of a female, oblivious to my presence. I sat and watched them for a while. I may not have got much by the way of light but sometimes it’s just good to be out!

Whitley Edge, looking towards Crow Edge and Hepworth.

Whitley Edge, looking towards Crow Edge and Hepworth.

On A Yorkshire Moor

Millstone Edge at Standedge, Overlooking Ammon Wrigley's birthplace in Saddleworth.

Millstone Edge at Standedge, Overlooking Ammon Wrigley’s birthplace in Saddleworth.

Over a hill the west wind loves,
There lies a quiet glen,
Far away from the roaring world,
Far from the strife of men ;
Out to the south a lordly wall
Reared by no human hands,
A cloud-dark wall that overlooks
The windy heather lands.

Crags to the north like fortress bold,
A proud arrogant steep,
That shelters from the raiding storms
The winter-harassed sheep ;
Out to the east a rising fell,
Striped like a tiger’s skin,
With raking flank of yellow grass,
And ribs of darksome whin.

And one grey rock, like pagan god,
Solemn as death, and lone,
That oft, maybe, the hill tribes made
Their ancient worship stone ;
The strange wild people of the past
Have vanished race on race,
And we, like shadows on the grass,
Now pass before its face.

And one clear stream ordained to be
The singer of the heath,
A fairy rising with her songs
From mystic wells beneath ;
The silver mist on wet May moors,
The wild autumnal rain,
That gave their music to the hill,
The stream gives back again.

A singer, that from ancient days
Hath charmed this purple height,
Still singing through the bracken green,
A chorister in white ;
And I poor singer, doomed to seek
My songs with weary thought,
Can never like this streamlet feel
The songs that rise unsought.

O’er pebbles, laid like Eastern floor,
With tiles of every hue,
A jewelled houri flashing down
Long corridors of blue,
And roaming seaward takes the wave,
A gift from moorland wells,
North Sea hath its grandeur from
The rugged Yorkshire fells.

And here there comes on driving wings,
Red-singed by autumn fires,
The Moorcock, lordliest bird that loves
The lusty northern shires ;
And here a falcon strikes across
The lark-hushed spaces high,
A moment-poised, then comes to earth,
A dagger from the sky.

And where the wind-song shakes the grass,
And all the hollow fills,
I lie and hold communion with
The spirit of the hills ;
And nought of greed of petty strife,
Or human fret is here,
But one great feeling sways the heart, –
To worship and revere.

A temple built by nature’s hands,
With transept, nave and aisle,
And hallowed by the holiness
Of some cathedral pile ;
A minster where Eternal rites
And harmonies abound,
The sky above, the moor below,
And the great God around.

Ammon Wrigley (1861-1946)
Songs of a Moorland Parish, 1912.

Here I’ve presented Ammon Wrigley’s ‘On a Yorkshire Moor’ in complete form, as there is little of Ammon’s work on-line and what there is, is either snippets or fragments.

Ammon Wrigley was one a Yorkshire’s greatest poets and as his books are now long out of print, only to be found via second hand book sellers (which can be a bit on the expensive side), I’ll be occasionally posting his work here to make sure that at least a small selection is freely accessible.

Ammon Wrigley’s work has been a huge inspiration to me and I hope to do my bit to make sure that he is not forgotten.

Sunrise on Stanage Edge

Winter's End

Sunrise over Stanage Moor

As summer approaches, sunrises are getting earlier and earlier. Not that I expect that this is news to anyone, as it happens every year. The Easter Bank Holiday weekend was beckoning and I was itching to get out for a sunrise.

I usually like to be in position about half an hour before sunrise, as sometimes the dawn colours can be better than the actual sunrise itself. This also allows the opportunity to scout out a few views and angles towards the point on the horizon where the sun will rise and I enjoy watching the landscape slowly awake. On this particular day (18th April 2014), that meant being in position by 5.15am, for sunrise at about 5.45am.

Choosing to head for the southern terminus of Stanage Edge meant that I was spared a long walk and climb in the dark, as I was feeling a tad on the lazy side. Walking towards the edge, I was reminded of the last time that I had been here for sunrise, one February morning a couple of years ago, when I arrived to find the edge encased in a verglas. Lethal underfoot without cleats or crampons, I lost count how many times I’d slipped and stumbled!

Besides a thin line of cloud on the horizon, the morning was looking almost entirely cloudless. Although this makes for a lovely day, in photographic terms it isn’t necessarily a good thing, as a bit of cloud catches the warm light and can add a lot of interest and atmosphere to an image. On cloudless mornings, sometimes you get a nice glow of colour around the horizon (depending on the amount of moisture in the atmosphere), but the light becomes harsh very quickly. This makes being in position early even more important, as you need to work quickly and make the most of any colour before the sun rises to any great degree.

Warm light at sunrise, on the rocks of Stanage Edge

Warm light at sunrise, on the rocks of Stanage Edge

The sky to the east lightened degree by degree and bands of pale pinks and orange began to form around me. A pin-point of light appeared eventually as the sun rose above the thin band of cloud on the horizon. It is remarkable how quickly the sun rises and soon it was too strong to shoot directly towards but was now casting a warm red light onto the rocks of Stanage Edge.

It is during this period that I am at my most frantic, scurrying around lining up views and angles, shooting a few frames (I always bracket my shots), change position slightly – maybe try a lower viewpoint, then dash on to the next view. The sun was gaining height in the sky quickly and was now lighting up the peaks of Over Owler Tor, Offerton Moor and Eyam Moor, clustered around Hathersage.

As I was lining up another shot, I caught sight of something moving behind me, reflected in the screen on the back of my camera. My first thought was that it was a large cat, but on turning around, as all I had was a view of its backside, couldn’t make out what kind of creature it was. It was bigger and broader than a cat, with much shorter back legs. It clambered onto a rock and turned slightly, I then realised that it was a badger. I have never seen badgers on moorland before and was more excited than I expected. In fact, I think that I exclaimed, “wow, it’s a badger” to no one in particular.

The badger disappeared down the edge and was soon lost from sight amongst the rocks. I moved on and took a few more shots but by now, the light was becoming too harsh and the colours had faded from the brightening sky. I found a spot that offered a little shelter from the wind (it is surprising how cold the wind can be at that time of day, even on a sunny morning) and sat for a while, taking in the sunlight hills and moorland around me.

I stopped by the famous (and most photographed) millstones. The light wasn’t reaching them yet and thin patches of frost lingered in the sheltered spots on the western facing slopes of the edge. I sat for a while watching a couple of Ringed Ouzels (I think) flitting around the rocks. It is always with a degree of reluctance that I head back to the car.

Light Across The land

Sunlight floods the peaks around Hathersage

Music For Landscapes Pt3

Ambient 4: On Land – Brian Eno

The fourth in Brian Eno’s series of ambient albums, is possibly the darkest, most haunting of them all. A combination of electronica, acoustic and natural sounds, recorded in the landscape, On Land has an eerie beauty born of melancholy loneliness.

The passage of time becomes irrelevant as this album traps you in the moment. A fragile majesty carries you through each track, a procession of geographic places each with their own atmosphere, where human presence feels to be an intrusion. This is not a ‘chill out’ album, it broods under darkened skies and transports the listener to elemental soundscapes.

I don’t want to say too much about this album, it is better experienced than described. At the time of its release, On Land was a ground breaking album and it still sounds as fresh and different today, as it did over thirty years ago.

brian_eno-on_land

Ambient 4 – On Land. Brian Eno
1. Lizard Point
2. The Lost Day
3. Tal Coat
4. Shadow
5. Lantern Marsh
6. Unfamiliar Wind (Leeks Hills)
7. A Clearing
8. Dunwich Beach, Autumn, 1960

Listen to the full album here.

 

Winter Sunrise on Higger Tor

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At first nothing but dark silence,
stretches across the moor.
Frozen and still in the ice,
under the crystalline moon.

Ice puddles recall footprints,
of visitors past.
But I am alone,
none are here now.

Nothing stirs in this liminal place,
even the wind.
Frosted rocks suspended,
waiting for the warmth of the sun.

A sliver of light to the east,
pale but gathering strength.
A line of division,
chasing away the colourless night.

The horizon becomes a delicate spectrum,
of blues and pink.
The moor begins to wake,
red grouse the first early risers.

Colour stained clouds,
announce that the sun is near.
Bright heralds of the coming,
of the Golden One.

Finally, there it is,
a pin-prick of light at first.
Rising pale and red,
out of the cloud.

How many civilisations,
have worshipped this moment of magic?
Raising great stones,
to mark it’s coming?

The rocks of the tor glow,
to greet the arrival of the sun.
Red hot coals,
amongst the white ashen frost.

Light floods across the moor,
yellow grass and brown heather.
Both set ablaze by the fire,
that rises in the east.

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