Kielder’s Golden Darkness

More money may have been spent in one year bailing out the banks than has ever been spent on scientific research (yes, in all fields, ever), but there’s one shimmering product of that research nestled in deepest Northumberland, chest deservedly puffed with pride…

As I cranked up the radio over breakfast yesterday, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing — some really good news.

I joined just in time to hear that Northumberland National Park had finally been awarded Dark Sky Status by the International Dark-Sky Association. In fact, the highest possible accolade — Gold Tier Dark Sky status.

Why is this particularly great news? Because a key Northumberland National Park attraction, positioned very close to the English/Scottish border, is Kielder Observatory.

Coincidentally, right on the night of their big announcement, I’d booked to attend another of the observatory’s legendary Jupiter Nights — my third visit in the last year or so.

Jupiter and Four Moons, Kielder Observatory, Northumberland National Park

Jupiter and four of its moons, captured by ITE — iPhone To Eyepiece 😉

My companion for the journey, visiting from Korea, had never seen a true night sky. 

Due to the terrible air pollution in her home near Seoul, the most she had ever seen was one or two stars attempting to break through the smog.

So, with such a great facility nearby, how could I not suggest the journey to Kielder to experience the night sky at its finest?

A Patchy Start…

On arrival, conditions were mixed and, at one point, heavy cloud completely obscured the sky.

Through one of the powerful telescopes, we’d managed an early glimpse of Jupiter along with its moons but it would be great to enjoy more.

Thankfully, the biting cold wind parted the clouds, unveiling the night sky — complete with a faint Milky Way and shooting stars to boot.

As the perfect half moon set in the west, the sky became darker and darker, the stars stronger and stronger — a near perfect night to observe the heavens and remind ourselves that we’re a ball of rock tumbling around in organised chaos. A gift.

The Moon, Kielder Observatory, Northumberland National Park

The Moon from Kielder Observatory, again captured by ITE…

A Breath of Fresh Air…

The award of Gold Tier Dark Sky Status is huge for the North East.

Northumberland National Park is one of only a handful of Dark Skies across the globe. Moreover, it’s the darkest sky in Europe and the third biggest Dark Sky in the world.

Gary Fildes can now press on confidently with his ambitious plans, which include a state-of-the-art planetarium (for those nights when the cloud-cover lingers) and the installation of a one-metre aperture telescope.

Not only that, 1500 square kilometres of Northumbrian countryside will now be protected from the vagaries of increased light pollution — any planning applications will absolutely have to take into account the area’s newly-awarded status.

All-in-all, a breath of fresh air to see less being recognised as so much more

PRINTS AVAILABLE!

I’ve made Kielder Moon into a beautiful, affordable 6×6 inch print on 10×8 inch paper — you can find it on this dedicated page.

New Print: Peel Island

In August last year, I wrote a post entitled The Lake District and I.

One of the photographs from that camping trip has always stuck in my mind — the view over Peel Island (of Swallows and Amazons fame) on Coniston Water.

Peel Island, Coniston Water, 2012 by Jack Lowe

Over a year on, I’ve finally made the time to work on the print of this photograph, one that encapsulates so many of my experiences and feelings about the Lake District.

Largely, as you can see from the sky, I guess those feelings tend to revolve around an imminent drenching.

Indeed, at the time, I mentioned beauty in dankness.

For those who don’t know — if you’re vaguely dry in the Lake District, it’s about to rain. If you’re soaked to the skin, it’s raining already…

If you’d like a stunning signed, numbered and embossed Archival Pigment Print of this photograph, you can purchase yours from my Lake District Collection.

Great North Humanity

Until a couple of years ago, like Charlie Brooker, I would never have dreamed that I’d become a runner.

I’d watch the London Marathon on television and be full of admiration for those who took part but it was always in a separate box for me, not part of my life.

Ditto for the Great North Run.

Living in Newcastle, however, the difference with the latter was that I could hear it all going on outside my own bedroom window.

The loud tannoy, the cheering crowds and, of course, the Red Arrows.

As Sue Barker looked at me judgementally, I even photographed the GNR on television in 2006 as my contribution to Julian Germain’s Running Line.

Great North Run 2006, Sue Barker

Sue Barker judging me for watching in bed in 2006…

Finally, watching it from the comfort of my bed in 2011, I thought, “This is ridiculous. I’m reasonably fit. I need to get off my backside and give this a go!”

Great North Run 2006 for Julian Germain's Running Line

“Feel Better”, the banners read…

And, lo, it was decided. I trained wholeheartedly, ran my first Great North Run in 2012 and raised lots of money for the Lifeboats in the process.

Great…?

It was indeed great but very hard. This year I ran it for the second time and it was even better. So much better that I’m more bitten by the bug than ever.

So why is the Great North Run ‘great’?

For me, other than its obvious size, the run is so humbling and moving…

The humanity and endeavour is extraordinary. Folks of all ages and abilities running together for charity, for loved ones or simply for themselves.

When the going gets tough, you only have to glance over your shoulder and see a fellow runner who’s recently undergone cancer treatment to know it’s simply time to suck it up and get on with it!

The personal and collective achievement is astonishing.

Real Ale for Real Runners…

With 56,000 entrants, this is now the largest mass participation event in the UK (much bigger than the London Marathon) and the largest half marathon event in the world — it really does have to be seen to be believed.

Great North Run 2013, Runners on Central Motorway

My wife captured the throng as it passed the mile mark on the Central Motorway…

Even among so many peopIe, I’ve yet to hear a cross word come from the lips of anyone involved (not true of other ‘sporting’ fixtures I’ve attended with similar crowd sizes).

The same goes for the crowds who turn out to show their support, crowds that are practically unbroken on both sides of the road for 13.1 miles.

Then there are the sights and sounds:

…the children holding out their hands for high fives…

…the drumming bands pounding out their beats, tapping into our primeval nature…

…supporters handing out beer as “real ale for real runners”…

…Elvis singing for us, ever-present year after year around the eleven mile mark…

…not to mention the Red Arrows forming the customary heart in the sky over the sea.

Give it a Go!

If, like I did, you feel that the Great North Run ‘isn’t for you’, I urge you to reconsider and give it a go. It’ll likely enhance your life in so many ways.

I’ve particularly enjoyed the fundraising element and have nearly reached my £2000 target for the Tynemouth Lifeboat Station this year.

The Great North Run 2014 reminder service is now open, so how about it?

One Last Thing…

On finishing this year’s run, there was an extraordinary statistical coincidence — once the data from so many runners had settled, my finishing position and bib race number actually matched!

Great North Run 2013, Matching Position and Bib Numbers

I tend to get very excited about this kind of thing. The probability of this happening in an event with 56,000 entrants must be extremely slim.

Picture the scene:

  • I applied online to enter the Great North Run;
  • The ballot closed;
  • My running number was assigned to me based on my predicted time;
  • On race day, I made my way to the start line and stood in the designated zone;
  • I started the 13.1 miles and competed among the hustle and bustle;
  • 2 hours 12 minutes later, I crossed the finishing line in a position that matched my bib number!

What are the odds, I wonder, and how often does it happen?

It seems that I could even have placed a £1 bet on it and I wouldn’t have had to work another day in my life!

A mathematician friend of mine seems equally intrigued and is looking into it.

I’ll keep you posted…

By the way, if you’d like to support my fundraising efforts, please click here (donations of any size are much-appreciated).

From The Cobb

From The Cobb, Lyme Regis, 7th July 2013 by Jack Lowe

From The Cobb, Lyme Regis, 7th July 2013

Now available as a signed, numbered and embossed print in The Sea Collection.

Bridge Gazing

Wandering in the lower reaches of the Ouseburn Valley here in Newcastle, it’s impossible to miss one of my favourite locations — a spot where a collection of fine bridges has spanned the valley in some way shape or form since the 18th Century.

To stroll among these marvels of civil engineering is breathtaking, a sensation akin to gazing at an art gallery laden with Old Master paintings.

Byker Bridges, Photography by Jack Lowe

Byker Bridges, 2003

My favourites are the 280 metre 1839 railway viaduct and the 800 metre long 1982 Metro light-rail bridge, both from very different times but both individually stunning.

I’ve really missed having access to this part of our local habitat…

Over the last couple of years, the railway viaduct has undergone a £10million refurbishment during which time the surroundings have become a no-go area; a scaffolding-clad 24/7 hive of bustling industry.

Metro Bridge, Photography by Jack Lowe

Metro Bridge, 2003

We’ll be able to wonder among this gallery again soon, however, as the scaffolding is finally coming down.

The rejuvenated viaduct looks truly resplendent in its new raven-black coat.

Ouseburn Viaduct, Newcastle upon Tyne

The scaffolding comes down, March 2013

The Ouseburn Valley, Newcastle upon Tyne, Google Earth

The Ouseburn Valley as seen by Google Earth (the railway viaduct is still covered here).

In a couple of years or so, when the scarred landscape has had time to recover, I’ll look forward to rephotographing this favourite spot…

— Signed Prints

I make prints of Byker Bridges and Metro Bridge that are numbered, signed and embossed — you can buy them directly from my Cornerstone Collection.

England, Scotland and Berwick

Almost as far North as you can possibly journey within the bounds of England lies Berwick upon Tweed, nestled just a couple of miles from the Scottish border.

On Saturday, I made the 65 mile rail journey north with a friend to see Paul Kenny’s latest show open at The Berwick Watchtower.

As we wandered the streets of this garrison town, the sensations we experienced were odd and uneasy, enough for us to discuss it regularly throughout the day…

The mouth of the River Tweed — Berwick on the left to the North East and Tweedmouth on the right to the South West...

The mouth of the River Tweed — Berwick on the left to the North East and Tweedmouth on the right to the South West…

On the face of it, Berwick is pretty. However, it doesn’t take too long to sense a melancholy and fatigue hanging over the town.

There are small pockets where this isn’t the case but, overall, Berwick certainly appears to be a very northern outpost burdened with a tangible raw edge, perhaps the bleeding edge of the ongoing economic crisis.

Buildings look tired with many high street shops closing or, indeed, closed down. Local estate agents, too, seem awash with property for sale.

There is, however, plenty to admire as some of the architecture is stunning, not least the beautifully named Royal Border Bridge — a vital artery carrying the East Coast Mainline, connecting this remote town at high speed with the rest of the country.

The Royal Tweed bridge over the River Tweed, joining Berwick upon Tweed with Tweedmouth

The Royal Tweed road bridge — an East Coast Mainline train heads to London over the Royal Border Bridge in the distance…

To my mind, Berwick’s outpost feel is largely due to its geography, eclectic history and confused identity where, in the modern era, one can still be left wondering, “Is Berwick Scottish or English?”

Embroiled in bitter, bloody border wars for so many years, it’s hard to know.

The Tweed boils beneath the Old Bridge at Berwick upon Tweed

The Tweed boils beneath the Old Bridge…

Technically, Berwick is English after the most recent capture in 1482 but that’s not always been the case.

In fact, it was even recently pondered whether or not Berwick was technically at war with Russia after it was ‘left out’ of the conclusion to the Crimean War in the 1856 Treaty of Paris!

Perhaps you can now begin to see why I describe an eclectic history?

Not helping matters, Berwick Rangers FC remains the only English football club in the land to compete in the Scottish Football League.

Railway Street, Berwick upon Tweed

My kinda street…

All-in-all, an unconventional day out and one to get the cogs turning.

Paul’s show, of course, look resplendent — his Seaworks so appropriately on display at the coast.

Ultimately, though, it was time to journey home and leave this very northern outpost behind, carrying plenty of feelings to digest and thoughts to ponder about this quirky nation of ours…

Berwick upon Tweed Railway Station

Home time — a train rushes through the pretty railway station at Berwick upon Tweed…

Snow Business

Today, the sun’s been shining and the snowy weather is fast becoming a distant memory.

Some scenes captured over the last few weeks as I trudged around in the white stuff…

Wintery view of the snow in Newcastle upon Tyne from Heaton overlooking Jesmond Vale

Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne

Wintery view of the snow in Newcastle upon Tyne looking down the Byker Link

Snow clouds loom over the Byker Link, Newcastle upon Tyne

Wintery scene from Newcastle upon Tyne to Gateshead as seen from the Byker Link

High rise flats bathe in the skinny sunlight across the river in Gateshead

Wintery sunset from Newcastle upon Tyne to Gateshead as seen from Jack Lowe Studio

From my studio, another stunning wintery sunset over Gateshead

Wintery view of the snow in Newcastle upon Tyne from Heaton overlooking Jesmond Vale

From the sanctuary of our home…