Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Coastal Challenge - photography commsion for Shepherds Walks

Nordic Walkers take part in this 26mile challenge.

Photographing Long Distance Challenge Walks

The Coastal Challenge - May 4th 2014 - Budle Bay to Alnmouth

I have been photographing events for Shepherds Walks (based in Rothbury) for two years now but I always get the same feelings of anticipation and excitement each time. The first Challenge of the season was along a beautiful stretch of Northumberland's Coastal Path, from Budle Bay to Alnmouth, some 25 miles. A long walk, which cannot be done without considerable forethought and hopefully, some training. 

Having photographed the same event last year I  it was a little apprehensive as I hope the photographs would be as good and that the weather would present the right conditions to show Northumberland at its very best. This time I had to take my son with me, who got roped in to help out, and therefore due to teenage lie ins, I did not leave in time to catch sunrise on the beach. By the time I reached Alnmouth after an hours drive at 6am, Jane and Jon Monks were already setting up the check in tables and the participants had begun to arrive. No time for porridge and tea! The day started beautifully fresh, and promised to be dry. Phew!

Check in - the participants are issued with a numbered tag and punch card which gets punched at each check point. Afterwhich they board a bus to the drop off at Budle Bay to start their walk. The 26mile route follows part of St Oswald's Way (96miles) the route taken by St Oswald from Linesfarne to Heavenfield near Hexham.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A little bit of me time!

Woke up feeling frustrated at my seeming lack of ability and time recently to be able to get out and about to walk or to take pictures. Its due to my time being pulled in all directions to satisfy the needs of everyone else! However a quick texty conversation with MartinTheHills an appropriate metaphorical kick up the backside reminded me how accessible the best walking country in the UK is for me, and that I didn't actually need to commit all day for a walk. The kids would survive without me being on their back for getting homework done. A quick, 10 minute drive up the road is all it takes for me to be on the Hadrians's Wall path, one of the UK's best known National Trails. 
Photo taken in August 2013 from Highshield Crag looking east.
So I packed up a limited amount of kit, a map, a dog biscuit or four, my Nordic Poles should I feel the need for a "burn" and my favorite hat. I bundled Welly into the Pootmobile and off we went.  Sunny but blustery and a little bit of a rain drizzle threat, but it felt good knowing that I was going to get a blast of fresh, Northumbrian air.

I fairly quickly decided that I wanted to walk around the Brocolitia Fort area as I have not visited that part yet and wondered what sort of archeological monument it was. So I parked the car in a layby, climbed over a stile and onto the route there. Welly managed this stile fine as it was a stone one with nice broad steps.
 We headed west into a very strong head wind and into some very boggy fields. Then I wished I had paid more attention to my kit and put my gators on!

Fortunately there were no sheep initially which meant Welly didn't need to be on a lead, so off he trundled, eating as much sheep poo as he could stomach and scratching up mole hills looking for the elusive creature that  makes them! Ears flapping, he was undeterred by the wind!

We had some challenging stiles to get over which were definitely not constructed to aid dog walkers (but this is sheep country so I forgive). I tried to show him how to cross the stiles by patting the steps, but he clearly felt that I should lift him over in places. Refusing to do this, generally he got over in a panic that I might leave him behind. And when there's gravy bones in my pocket this was definitely not a position he wished to be in.

Welly got the hang of the ladder stiles eventually.

This area is not the most dramatic part of the Wall to walk, and my mission was not to indulge in photography. It was purely to get a blast of air and get the old legs back into shape for the forthcoming Challenge Walks that I have been commissioned to photograph for a second year. 

If you are walking the Hadrian's Wall National trail from the west though, this pretty level section will probably be a welcome relief after the ascents and descents of the Steel Rigg and Houseteads area. Its interest is the massive landworks the Romans built - huge ditches to protect their border - it is incredible that they moved so much earth and stone! It certainly thwarted Welly and I from getting back to the car, as we were stuck on the wrong side of them after going off trail for a little peak!

I didn't Nordic Walk in the end either.... camera round neck, dog on lead, and far to many bogs to trudge through to contemplate getting in the zone!


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Get those endophines going!

  • I was chatting to my work colleague today about how giving Welly (my dog) a cuddle and a stroke before I got up in the morning set me up right for the day. "Its all about the endorphin release" I commented, to which she replied "if only we could bottle cuddles with our dogs, we'd be rich!"

  • Which naturally led me onto the other things that help me lift my mood, especially in the winter. There's chocolate and the first taste of wine from a glass, that give me a rush of satisfaction.

  • However the effect is very short lived! But walking, in particular Nordic Walking, really has immense power to make me smile and has a long lasting feel good effect! Even in the winter, heading out first thing for a brisk hour long walk completely changes my whole outlook on the day. If it's fresh and frosty all the better. Walking for well being is definitely backed up by research too.
  • Walking and other exercise leads to the release of the body's natural happy drugs -- endorphins. Walkers who walk at a higher heart rate pace will notice this effect more than those who walk at a slower heart rate pace. But even at a slower pace, most people notice an improvement in mood.
  • Many physicians recommend adding regular walking and exercise as a natural treatment to relieve a bout of depression. The cause of depression is related to brain chemistry. By getting your brain to release more of the happy chemicals -- the endorphins -- you achieve naturally what many prescription drugs and herbs try to do artificially.*
  • Walking gives you time to think, as well as time to get away from stressors. Getting out of the stressful environment, breathing the air, and feeling your body move is natural stress-relief. Other ways walking can relieve stress:
  • Put physical and mental distance between you and the stress-causing environment.
  • Many people carry stress by tensing their muscles. By getting into your correct walking posture and form, you un-knot those muscles and put them to work. Nordic Walking enhances walking posture by increasing your core strength, elongating your neck and making your shoulders move correctly while you walk. 
  • Observe the environment around you; enjoy the trees, flowers, birds, gardens, sky, storefronts. Green exercise has enormous benefits. 
  • Feel your body in motion and reconnect with yourself.
  • Wear off stress-eating calories.
  • Take time to work through problems and possible solutions as you walk.
  • Talk and laugh with your walking partner to relieve the stress. Walking with an organised group also increases motivation.
  • Let off steam and vent with your walking partner.
  • Lower your blood pressure and your heart health risk, which can be increased by stress.
  • So why NORDIC WALK rather than walking normally. Nordic Walking increases the effort and intensity of the walk and therefore increases the beneficial effects of walking. In addition learning a new way to walk, and especially with new acquaintances you may meet in a group, enhances enjoyment of the activity. It is very stimulating for the brain to learn new things, and doing so increases a sense of achievement. All the more reason to SMILE!

  • Nordic Walking with Janey Monks of Shepherds Walks
  • For more photos of Nordic Walking in Northumberland click here.

  • * If you feel you are suffering from stress or depression, Pootle recommends that you visit your GP. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Time to Resurrect the Blog.

A whirlwind year has passed with as many ups as downs, a few achievements and a fair share of set backs on my new(ish) life in Northumberland.

This time last year was hideous. 

But 2013 developed into a year where I actually started living in the present, rather than bitterly trying to retrieve the past, purely because it was known.
So these are what I consider to being my small, but significant achievements of the year:
  • Achievement no.1 - qualifying as a Nordic Walking and Fitness Instructor.
  • Achievement no 2 - having a photographic commission to document Challenge Walks for Shepherds Walks in addition to other commissioned photography.
  • Achievement no. 3 - Gaining employing as a UK travel consultant with Shepherds Walks Holidays
  • Achievement no. 4 - Looking healthier (ie yes I finally put on some weight).
  • Achievement no. 5 - returned to the classroom as a supply teacher on an occasional basis AND enjoying it! (occasional being the essential element here)
I have not blogged during the year at all as there were so many mixed up variables and "u" turns that really any readers would have got quite dizzy (and I would not want to inflict my dizziness on others.

However I still am working on my next main step, which is the overall goal. I have the bank account and brand name. I have equipment and contacts. I still need a website however, and this I hope will be the step that opens up my window of opportunity to actually earning a living in the fitness and leisure sector.

If you have been watching my progress and waiting for the big launch... it is coming. I promise. You have been very patient! But all the little things I have done have been my little steps. You can only take little steps sometimes in life, but they can add up to a huge journey eventually!

Why not visit my Facebook page for a gallery of images here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Nordic Walk with Shepherds Walks

I was absolutely pleased as punch when Jon emailed me to ask if I could do some promotional photos for their Nordic Walking program. The day of the walk from Bolam Lake to Shaftoe Crags had arrived and so it was an early start to get Welly walked before going to the start point. Unfortunately I couldn't take him with me as I didn't want to be watching where he was whilst trying to take pictures.

It was a beautiful drive up to Bolam. Heavy frost on the trees and glorious blue skies had me very excited for some really great landscape shots. However on arriving in the car park it was just plain foggy and cold. Jane was already instructing some new walkers in how to get the most out of the Nordic technique and had them squashing imaginary lemons underfoot and striding around the parking area.

Once the rest of the group arrived there was a proper warm up and a reminder about how to use the Nordic poles to enhance posture and walking. There was various comments about who had the silliest hat too and despite the cold everyone was keen to get walking. 


There was a short walk through the woods before going out onto the road to make our way to the track that would take us up to Shaftoe Crags.

I had to do a lot of running to get in front of the walkers who were able to stride at quite a pace on the easy road surface. I used a 55-200 lens so I could photograph them at a distance; I did not want anyone to feel uncomfortable about me sticking a camera in front of them!

We quickly managed to get off the road and onto the public bridle path that would take us through some fields and onto the moors. Jane stopped the group just to chat about the route in a little more detail and help with any technique issues that she had spotted on the easy stretch of the road. It allowed anyone who was feeling at all uncomfortable to ask questions. A change of terrain also meant removing the paws from the poles. 

The fog really came down in the fields but I think it made for nice atmospheric shots of the walkers coming through the mist!

  I loved these massive trees. They must be hundreds of years old. 

Jane is a very encouraging and enthusiastic about Nordic walking. This is perfect posture and technique below, leaning forward and driving the poles though with the shoulders to drive you forward. Its a great cross body work out so strengthens the core and back!

Across the field and then onto a track.

Then we came to a farmyard!

Once we were through the farmyard slurry (no pictures allowed as it would put you off) we stared to climb up onto Shaftoe Moor.

It was a very easy incline and again I did alot of uphill running to keep ahead for the pole users! They were quick. Jane suggested to everyone to lift their poles briefly the feel the difference in pace without the poles. Using them definitely helped with walking on an slope. 

The reason this location was picked for a walk is because it is like a big walk in a little walk. The terrain was easy but mixed and the view from the top of the crags helped all the walkers realise why walking is so valuable, not only just for health but also because it gives us greater access to the landscape that you would not capture from the road. 

Just as we climbed, the mist began to lift and we ermerged on the "summit" to this stunning view of Northumberland below!

There was still mist in the low ground ahead of use but we could see the wind turbines in the "wannies" rising out of the cloud.

Everyone on the walk was really impressed with the view and a long time was spent up there in the sunshine picking out what we could see. For some of the group this was their first every "summit" and they were suitably impressed. It was a remarkably easy walk for such a scene.

Unfortunately during a "reccy" of the walk earlier in the week Jane had found that the planned circular route back down the crags was inaccessible due to the bog like conditions, so we had to return the same way. However this time it was warm and sunny so the landscape felt new all the same.

What a difference 45minutes make, from going from fairly freezing temperatures to having to take a layer off! (Even removed my hat!)

On return to the starting point, Jane ensured that everyone stretched and cooled down properly to ensure that any muscular aches were eliminated! The group definitely felt as though they had a good work out and were all in high spirits!

The great thing about this Nordic Walking course is not just enthusing the participants to walk for health but definitely increased their desire to get out into Northumberland and walk more often, and in whatever weather conditions. 

(Nordic Walking courses and 5 mile walks can be booked with

Thursday, March 7, 2013

An Invitation Part 1 - The Reccy

It was some time ago that I meet Jon and Jane Monks of Shepherds Walks. I knew about their walking holiday venture before I even knew I would be living in Northumberland, through research for diversifying what I could offer alongside my French accommodation. I have been lucky to get to know them since moving here as a "consumer" of their walks and their lovely Capricorn Socks!

I was absolutely thrilled to be invited to take some photographs for them to help with the promotion of the initially the challenge walks and then the Nordic Walking Courses that Jane runs. Being a keen Nordic Walker myself I thought this was a great opportunity to be outside and learn some new routes used by Shepherds Walks for their walks and courses.

The first shoot was to start at Bolam Lake near Belsay. So I thought I head up there and go for a pootle with Welly and work out some good points for making pictures. Jane rang while I was at Bolam and let me know the exact route which was out of the country park and up a bridle way to Shaftoe Crags. I made a mental note of the route, but decided a walk with the dog around the lake first in case I needed to put him on a lead up to the Crags (thinking there might be livestock up there).

I got a bit distracted from the walk by the lake wildlife! 

I did not know there were so many swans at Bolam Country Park! I took the chance while I was by myself to take a few pictures of them. My favourite ones were when the swans were against the dark backdrop of vegetation. The swans were very obliging in the most but the opportunity didn't last long at this spot as they were agitated by Welly barking at them. To him swans are very, very scary. 

It was also minus temperatures and lying on my belly taking pictures of these majestic birds was getting nippy. So Welly and I made our way on the two mile walk up to Shaftoe Crags.

The first part of the trail was easy enough. The farmyard was a disgusting mess of slurry. But the onward walk gently uphill rewarded Welly and I with a marvellous Northumbrian View (despite the fog) for very little effort.

The highest point was marked by the triangulation marker, but the interest was really the sandstone rock formations that created this relatively small hill.

I am sure the pathway must be an ancient track; there are lots of rock shelters here and I understand archeological digs have found bronze age flint weapon heads, from when hunter gatherers moved through the area.

I was on the look out for interesting curves in the path or places which would make my pictures for the Nordic walk the following day have a little bit of flare. I hoped to capture the walkers in the landscape, not just the walkers.

We headed back down the hill, through the slurry, and back to the car. The forecast for the walk day was to be sunnier than this day so I hoped for some good images!

Of course isn't possible to go home easily when the blasted dog refuses to get in the car. He had thoroughly enjoyed scrambling over the rocks and the open space of the moors, which were surprisingly sheep free
A classic Welly refusal to admit the care is the next move.
Part 2 - The Nordic Walk to Shaftoe Crags Next.