Northumberland in Photographs by Nathan Atkinson
After I had completed my first book, “County Durham in Photographs”, I was given the opportunity of working on a similar book for Northumberland. Neighbouring County Durham, Tyne and Wear and Scotland, it is a county rich in history and legend. Clearly the book would have to include famous landmarks such as Sycamore Gap, Holy Island, Bamburgh and Hadrian’s Wall. Like its sister work, I also wanted to include places less well known, so I started a bit of research to compile a list of spots to visit and then sorted them into various routes.
I admit that at times, I was disheartened when a full day of shooting didn’t pan out as expected. I took a drive to Riddlehamhope Hall. After completing a long walk in a freezing wind, I found it had been demolished. I also attempted several times, to take a specific shot of Warkworth Castle but the weather was never right.
However, apart from those small hiccups, I came across some weird and wonderful places such as the Cateran Hole. Amidst a huge area of moorland there is a small grassed area with a set of steps down into a cave. There are many theories to its existence, but most believe it was used by smugglers. Hartburn Grotto was another amazing place, a cave surrounded by woodland modified by an 18th century Vicar as a changing area for bathing in a nearby river.
I was keen to explore areas around the Cheviot and found a set of waterfalls known as the Three Sisters or the Hen Hole. I carefully planned my route and luckily got the weather spot on. Carrying a heavy bag of camera equipment, I started a gruelling slog through thick peat, nearly standing on an adder which had decided to bask on the footpath! Legend has it that the Hen Hole is home to a group of fairies who play the sweetest music ever known. Anyone lured remain trapped there. Thankfully there was no music playing when I visited.
Another visit was to photograph Reiver Longhorn Beef’s herd in Hexham. These magnificent beasts possess huge curved horns and although look aggressive, were quite docile. I spent a good couple of hours amongst the herd who graze on traditional meadow pastures by the River Tyne. The villages of Ford & Etal are also a delight to visit. Home to the Joicey family, this estate offers plenty to do. Visit the corn mill or walk the Flodden battlefield or ride on the steam railway.
One of my favourite locations are the Allendale flue chimneys which sit on the top of the moors. Historically these two chimneys were part of a long set of tunnels from a lead smelt mill. The idea of the tunnels was to maximum lead retrieval by regularly scraping the residues from the inside. I have visited many times and taken a huge variety of sunsets from that location. The place is stunning.
To finish off, if you want to celebrate your next New Year with something a little different, I can recommend heading to Allendale for the Tar Barl. Forty-five local men carry whisky barrels filled with burning tar throughout the town before igniting the ceremonial bonfire. Definitely something you wouldn’t forget in a hurry.
A big thank you to the local businesses who gave me permission to photograph their fantastic land.
The book is dedicated to Damian Dixon who lost his life at Howick in January 2019. My thoughts are with his friends and family.
Nathan Atkinson and Simon McCabe's book Northumberland in Photographs is available for purchase now.