Birkdale Common is the wild, desolate high ground where Yorkshire meets Cumbria; a place of bleakness and beauty; and as Birkdale and Great Sleddale becks join, the source of the River Swale . As you pass Pry House, high above Keld, you leave behind the last human habitation until you reach Nateby, seven miles to the west.
When it snows (but still remains passable**) it’s a wonderful place to visit with a camera and on this occasion the subject became Crook Seal, a centuries old abandoned farmhouse sitting by the roadside. The series of shots was taken after a snow fall on a cold February morning with the sun hanging low in the east. With each I was trying to capture Crook Seal set within its surroundings. The first three (above and below) are taken from east of the farmhouse to make best use of the light. Each shot uses the road (with tyre tracks) to underpin the composition. Each tries to include interesting features of the landscape in the background. Each keeps the roof line below the horizon. Similar compositions, but taken from different angles.
The final photograph (below) is taken from the west, against the sun and therefore against the rules of photography. As I composed, shielding the lens from the sun with my hand, I heard the sound of the quad bike from behind, stepped aside to let it pass, then waited until it crested the hill before pressing the shutter.
Shooting into the sun mutes the colours. The sky, slightly overexposed, has no hint of blue, just cold grey. It’s altogether a much colder picture. The road now provides depth to the image; the tyre tracks in the foreground lead out into the middle-distance before the road is lost to sight as it heads into the snow covered moorland. Crook Seal dominates the composition as it cuts through the skyline, but pointing the camera down the dale captures the vastness of the landscape. The small, but essential element of the composition, the farmer riding the quad bike, conveys the feeling of isolation when crossing this bleak place and so completes the picture.
Without the bite of the wind and the feel of the cold to provide context, the first three photographs makes a winter’s day on Birkdale Common look almost inviting, hospitable even. Perhaps you’re even now considering making an offer for Crook Seal! Beware for they give a false impression! The forth tells the true story. The story of a cold, hard, desolate place; a place of beauty perhaps, but a place that during the winter months you hurry through quickly and do not linger!
** Take care as in winter this is a extremely harsh environment and definitely not a place to get stuck!