Tuesday, 13 September 2011

RNLB The Four Boys, Amble.

No wind, no rain, no noise other than the Amble lifeboat coming into harbour with coxswain John Connell at the helm. Their pleasant chatter aboard was almost audible from the dock, the tranquility of the evening a beautiful bonus following the unpleasant August weather.
Consciously trying to absorb such a perfect atmosphere feeling part of the relaxed pace of Friday evening life around the harbour, I watched the crew until I couldn't see them any longer. The quiet was disturbed by the timely song of a curlew coming from the sandbank visible in the low tide.  I looked towards the north side hoping to see the curlew but it was dusk, silhouettes of seabirds, martins and waders dotted themselves indistinguishably along the ruins of the staithes, over the sandbank and through the air.
A short evening, it passed just too fast, but so beautiful.

The Lifeboat crew did not get much rest, they were called out to assist local vessel 'Fidelity' in difficulty 22 miles out to sea, thankfully the evening ended in happy conclusion.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Stuck In The Mud

During the floods that affected Northumberland in late summer 2008, the moorings on the Coquet estuary for Amble Boat Club were severely damaged. Some vessels were lost in the storm whilst members watched helplessly from the river bank.
Every now and then, taking advantage of a particularly low tide, experienced members cross the estuary to gradually secure their moorings back in their original position and  every morning last week they ventured onto the sandbank, hoisting and lifting the heavy chains and ropes, sinking in mud to their thighs hoping they were not going to lose their waders in full view of spectators.
For me it was easy work, watching as I was from the safety of the shore with a camera in my hand, but the nature of their work was well beyond my capabilities needing expertise that only years of sailing could provide. It was dangerous and strenuous, lifting and pulling, sinking deep into the mud with every step.
The air was fine and warm, no wind, such was the tranquility of the morning that an onlooker could easily be confused  into thinking the work was easy and safe. The beauty of the day could only be enhanced by the warm hospitality of the members, the spirit of their boating community was contagious and it felt good to be a part of it if only for a few hours.
Amble Boat Club use and sail their boats in the most traditional and unpretentious way, in a typically Northumbrian way, no frills, and if I wasn't such a coward and afraid of the sea I might join!   

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Thirty Years

It seems just a short time since I moved away from Amble, is 30 years a short time?
Much of the landscape of the town has altered, there are now streets with names I do not recognise, (I might need a sat-nav to find my way round my home town). We have a new town square which still does not have a familiar feel, but no railways or coal dust, no need for disciplinary action to be taken by my mother for using a shortcut home along the railway line and through the allotment gardens.
The harbour is spacious and clean; neither staithes nor coal barges, no grain silos, no terrifying noises apart from the herring gulls seeking remains of fish and chips. Even bracing a chilly north east wind, being around the harbour is an enormous pleasure; it is the focal point for the town, its identity, its pride. Local people meander to and fro out not just for an afternoon stroll but to meet people and chat, perhaps to the fishermen landing their days catch, feed the orphaned cygnet or the ducks then chat a bit more.
This friendly Northumbrian manner is something about Amble that thirty years hasn't altered, maybe what has changed is my appreciation of it all,  the people, the beauty of the coast, the abundant wildlife on the estuary and the unique qualities of our county.
Thirty years probably isn't a long time, just long enough for me to begin to see more clearly.

Monday, 31 January 2011


Approaching the RNLI station at Amble last summer, I was looking forward to viewing the new inshore rescue craft. Poking my nose inside the boathouse, a young girl offered me some guidance on its performance, GPS, radar and other technical issues about which it was blatantly obvious I did not fully understand and I gave up trying to pretend I did. Nevertheless, she persevered and did not lose faith in me!
In fact, her friendly manner was disarming and my first impression was that she must be around 17, 18 at most. Thinking it commendable that a young girl would have so much interest in the lifeboat,  I asked her how she knew so much about it, a family tradition perhaps? A voice spoke from behind me, her Grandfather proudly informing me that she is infact a crew member, I was stunned! She just didn't look old enough. I laughed at my own naiveity and enjoyed  Rachael's conversation as she showed me over the new boat.
This week, I met Rachael again and am inspired by her motivation and confidence. The commitment she shows towards the RNLI, the rest of the crew and the job we ask them to do is of course the same commitment given by every crew member, but her young voice is striking as she talks about the seven day a week call out, the busy bank holiday periods and fitting all of this around a job which pays her a wage. Hers is probably a lifestyle and level of responsibility we rarely attribute to a young person today.
Good luck with your training Rachael.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Carry on Ploughing!

A warm welcoming breeze, flat sandy land next to the river North Tyne and a packed lunch with flask, perfect recipe for a good mornings work.
The days event was organised by Charlie Halliday (top left) on behalf of the Northern Area Vintage Ploughing Association and hosted by Park End Farms.
The atmosphere between the contestants was that of a great sporting event, keenly observing their opponents progress whilst offering a few pieces of 'helpful' advice to those who might look just a little too confident.
It is so good to see young people involved in rural happenings like this, they give the more experienced contestants cause to worry!

Winners were Ian Thompson of Holme in Lancashire and Ray Alderson of Bolam near Darlington won the trailer class.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Newton and Craster, Northumberland

After a week of high winds I finally got to go to sea with Gary Little, the only remaining commercial lobster fisherman fishing out of Low Newton.
Excited at the prospect my constant chatter was politely entertained and we launched the runner heading for his boat 'Hauxley Haven' moored further out in the bay.
Blue sky, turquoise sea the atmosphere was just amazing but around 40 minutes later I was on the verge of asking Gary to take me back to shore, I had not felt as ill as this for years! Looking through the camera lens made me feel incredibly sea sick but luckily, I had to move to the other end of the boat to allow Gary space to haul in his pots and standing up was was a huge relief and I felt I could make it to the end of the trip.
I got to see sea creatures that I had previously only seen in books, all returned carefully to the sea along with small lobsters, soft ones and hens marked for preservation.
Some lobster were seperated from the rest of the catch to be supplied to The Ship Inn for their renowned Friday night menu, the remainder was to be sold to the fishmonger at Craster.
Once I found my 'sealegs' I had a fantastic trip, the effects of which stayed with me through supper and breakfast - Rocking and Rolling!

Read about Gary in The Northumbrian Magazine October issue 2010.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Sweet Promise

Somehow, visiting Amble harbour is always enriched by chips with batter and a cup of tea and it was whilst feasting on this banquet sitting on a bench by the dock that I watched a man walk past me pushing a bogie laden with tools. He spoke to everyone as he passed sharing a few words and a joke. It didn't take much journalistic instinct to spot that he was a local man on his way to mend a boat.
Chips duly eaten and feeling refreshed by a sweet cup of tea I decided to follow him just to see. Indeed he entered the boatyard behind the harbour and began to unload his tools next to a Northumbrian Coble undergoing restoration. He was more than happy to chat and allow me to take some photographs of him while he repaired a splinter on the side of the boat.
I discovered that 'Sweet Promise' is a traditional Northumbrian Coble built in Hartlepool around 100 years ago, restored by Hector over four years from 1978.
Hector Handyside grew up in Amble living next to the Little Shore, a place we visited regularly as children, a lovely little bay sheltered with breakwaters from the anger of the North Sea and a family favourite still. I told Hector I was on my way to photograph in the boatyard and discovered that this was where he spent his working life.
We chatted for the next two hours and he extracted almost my whole life story and I never did make it to the boatyard, but if I had I could not have had a more enjoyable afternoon.
Reluctantly leaving to keep a prior arrangement I said to Hector with deep sincerity that I hoped I would meet with him again during my photography in Amble and he wryly replied, 'That would be nice, and maybe next time you could interview me?'