Walking in Weardale – Stanhope Dene

In an unexpected blog development, I decided this afternoon to start capturing some easy walks so that visitors and locals-new-to-walking can get out and enjoy Weardale. Don’t expect lots of detail and accuracy – these routes will give the main gist of the walk and what to look out for.

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Stanhope Dene is a beautiful steep-sided wood that flanks Stanhope burn as it journeys from its source high on the fells to join the river Wear at Stanhope. The walk is just over three miles and should take less than two hours.

Parking is on the street near the Grey Bull or in the Durham Dales visitor centre, and there is an hourly bus service (Weardale Motors 101) Monday to Saturday. The route is on OS Explorer 307 (Consett).

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Take the footpath north from Stanhope Hall and follow this for the first leg of the walk, keeping the field boundary to your left. The path is steep and narrow in places and crosses two steep gullies. It can be slippery in wet weather. After about a mile the path circles left and there is a sharp drop to your right where the beck races below you.

Good views of a waterfall can be had before the path terminates at a stile that takes you into the field on your left. Keep the fence to your right for a short distance until you reach the field gate. Go through the gate and follow the track until it curves sharply round to the right to take you to the other side of the dene. You will pass some abandoned quarry buildings, and there are a couple of options for exploring the fell at this point. Stay on the track, heading south, until you come to the Crawleyside road.

Cross over to take the footpath on the other side of the road and follow this until you reach a sign for Ashes Quarry (you can stop and explore the quarry at this point). Take the downhill path that comes out onto a back road. You can turn right or left here, the next downhill road will take you back to Stanhope high street, where there are many options for refreshments.

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Hello 2017

2016 did not go entirely to plan. By the end of 2015 I was pretty sure that I wanted to take photography to the next level. I got myself a portfolio and dared to start thinking about selling my photos. Then I got stuck.

I blame my sister Zara. I commissioned her to install a mosaic panel during the Easter holidays. She left all her spare tiles and grout behind, and supervised my first attempt at a mosaic.

My sister’s amazing mosaics:

My first mosaic, and a more recent (slightly better) one:

The next month I dug out my pen and ink set (from an aborted attempt at calligraphy – I just do not have the patience) and gradually my creative energy became channelled into creating mosaics and pen and ink drawings (mainly winter trees, an extension to my winter tree photography obsession). When faced with a pretty view or dramatic skyline, instead of mourning the lost opportunity because I’d left my camera behind, I simply enjoyed the view. Any photographer will tell you that this is simply wrong.

On the left is one of my early pen and ink drawings. The bottom right one is my favourite so far:

It didn’t take long to start drawing horses:

It’s the last day of 2016, and this afternoon has been spent setting up a gallery of my framed pen and inks and my mosaics. I really didn’t see this coming a year ago, so I’m not even going to guess what I’ll be doing this time next year.

My gallery. Shout out to North Pennine Studios who did all the framing (including Zara’s mosaics)

Happy New Year!

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Best laid plans (again)

So about this time last year I committed to a new focus on photography, and I kind of might have said that I would use this blog to chart my progress.

Well, best laid plans and all that. At first I was too busy snapping to come over here and do any blogging. Then I got stuck in an editing rut. Then I switched my creative energies into making art. I’m now caught up with my editing, but have really slowed down with my snapping. But I’m still drawing. You can see a few examples of this year’s efforts below.

So what’s in store for next year? I’m not going to make any promises or predictions. We will just have to wait and see.

(But I did enjoy writing this update).

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Getting the hang of 500px

For those of you who don’t know, 500px is a photo sharing site aimed at photographers. A bit like Flickr used to be like but with a few little twists.

I wasn’t intending to join another photo sharing site. I’d made my peace with Flickr and had started posting again. I joined 500px purely to take advantage of their portfolio service. The photo sharing and marketplace communities were just ‘things that came attached to the portfolio’.

I joined 500px in late November, and immediately posted a load of photos to use in my portfolio. Curious, I took a peak at the community pages and I soon became hooked. With Flickr, you get more photo views if you have lots of followers, comment on friend’s photos, and post in the right groups. It takes time, but I enjoyed the community feeling, and always kept a weather eye on my photo stats. I was quite happy to upload entire sets in one go, and gradually give the best ones exposure by sharing in groups. 500px is a bit different. For a start, most people post one photo per day, maximum.

Every photo goes onto a ‘fresh’ photostream and in the first few minutes will be seen by a fair few people. If enough people like (vote for) your photo is becomes ‘upcoming’ and gets even more views. Photos with 80 points become ‘popular’ and the real goal is to get a photo with a high enough score to get onto the top of the Popular photostream. The more points you have, the harder your photo has to work – the first Like will get you about 30 points, while you need many likes to move from, say, 97 to 98 points.

The actual points you get per like depends on lots of things, including how active you are on the site, and photographers who use gaming tactics (to get more likes) are penalised. After 24 hours your pulse score (total points) is handicapped. This is to stop the same photos staying at the top of the Popular stream.

I soon felt disappointed that my early photos had such low scores. This was because I uploaded them in batches, so they didn’t make it into the Fresh photostream. I ended up deleting loads and have been re-uploading them, one at a time. I was a very happy bunny when my first photo made it to Popular.

It’s a great buzz when you post a photo you are really proud of and lots of other photographers agree, but 500px has to come with some health warnings. People are viewing lots of small photos, and scrolling down quickly, so photos that stand out from a crowd always get more votes. My beloved London street shots (eventually I’ll share them here) never got out of Fresh, and I now only post street photos if I want to put them in my portfolio. I’ve also posted photos from the same shoot, and scratched my head that one will get stuck in Fresh, then the next day a lesser photo will make it to Popular.

The other health warning is that, unlike Flickr, a lot of explicit photography is posted without being marked ‘adult content’. Some of it is tasteful, most of it is not. I’ve managed to filter most of this out of my streams, but am missing out on great photos as a result.

An unexpected benefit is that 500px is helping me to become a better photographer. There are some amazing photos on 500px, and I am feeling really inspired to take better shots myself. I am also much more critical of my own work, only choosing the best ones to share. Here is the photo that 500px members think is my best photo so far. I’m still working through my back catalogue, so I hope to be posting even better shots in the coming months.

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Getting out of bad habits

I’ve made a commitment to improve my photography, I’ve made a list of areas where I want to improve this year, I’m all set to go but, oh no, what’s this?

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Look at all those dust spots in the top of the photo (hides in shame)

One of the things I was determined to (I mean, I am determined to) try this year is better landscape shots. I needed to practice getting more of my photo in focus – wider depth of field. I whacked up the F number to maximum and hoped for the best.

When I got the photos up on my laptop I noticed two things – grainy images, and blotches in the sky that appeared in the same place in different photos. I still think of my camera as new, but I’ve actually had it for three years. This was the first time I’ve noticed dust in my images, and I’m ashamed to admit, the first time I’ve even thought about cleaning the sensor.

Cue mild panic and much internet searching. There’s lots of advice about sensor cleaning on the internet. The best site I found is Cleaning Digital Cameras. Then I had to gather my materials (easier said than done). Finally, today, it was time to clean my sensor.

First I had to mop the downstairs floor and hoover upstairs. The environment has to be clean and dust-free. I was not simply trying to find distractions, honest. Eventually I ran out of other-things-to-do. Time to get this done. I’ve been ‘looking after’ my Dad’s camera ever since I moved Up North. With noble intentions (no, I was not using his camera as the guinea pig) I cleaned the sensor. The process was embarrassingly easy.

Hands trembling, I did the deed on my own camera. Two swipes of the sensor swab and the job was done. I promise to take more care of my sensor in future.

Now I just have to tackle the grainy-image problem.

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My sensor cleaning kit

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Wilful destruction

Here are some photos taken in January 2015. It took a long time for my border collie Holly to get bored of the garden pond, but she never gets bored of ice. Holly’s job (as she sees it) is to remove all the ice from the pond. Unfortunately for the pond, ice is sharp, and there’s a puncture somewhere. My mission this winter (if we ever get one) is to find and fix it. Wish me luck!

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Time for a new plan

I’ve been neglecting my blog. Again. I’ve been thinking about what to do, and I’ve come up with a plan. I like taking photos, and I’ve reached the point where I need to give my photography more attention. Do I give up on the blog? I don’t want to, so I’m going to try and turn Muddy Tracks into a photography blog. I don’t know if this plan will work, but I’m going to give it a good try. Watch this space…

Oh, and Happy New Year!

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