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2000 Years of History

IMG_5025I really cannot believe that it is already four months since my last blog post. Where has all the time gone?

Well, first of all I have been working hard with my business partner Mike to get the school photography business up and working.

We are wanting to take the usual Brian James attitude to professionalism and apply it to the world of school portraiture.

It seems that everyday I am hearing about over priced and low quality school photographs of the children of my friends and family and so I decided to do something about it.

There will be more soon on the school project. But in the meantime I have been busy doing the normal “bill paying” stuff and had little time to get out and about to take the fun shots for myself.

Tonight was different though. There had just been a wonderful thunderstorm which cleared most of the heaviness from the air and what was left was a wonderful summer evening sun.

I realised that there was not much time and absolutely no planning but I just had to get a camera out and take a photo of…well….anything really.

Grabbing Alfie’s lead (my dog) I jumped into the car, put the roof down and headed off East toward Gilsland. I remembered that there was a little bit of the amazing Hadrian’s Wall just on the outskirts of the village and I hoped I could get there before I lost the sun altogether.


My association with Gilsland goes back over 40 years to when I was an Air Cadet and we came across to Padderburn Farm on the edge of the RAF station at RAF Spadeadam. Gilsland is right at the bottom of the entrance road to the site and a lovely, friendly little place.

IMG_5028I don’t come out this way anywhere near as often as I really should. The entrance to the village is always well kempt and always a joyous sight to see after you go over the little level crossing on the main Carlisle to Newcastle line.

Of course, as I was in a hurry to catch the light I should have known that I’d be held up by a train using the crossing and I was.

The area is steeped in history and by far it’s most famous attraction is the wall build two thousand years ago by the Roman Emperor Hadrian to keep the marauding Picts out of England. It stretches from Bowness-on-Solway in the West all the way across to Wallsend on the east coat banks of the River Tyne. In fact Wallsend is my own hometown and the house where I used to live as a child was built directly on top of the original path of the (long gone) wall on it’s way down toward the river and the fort of Segedunum

Parking in the little visitors car park beside the primary school Alfie and I got out of the car and put a lens onto my camera. Well, I say Alfie and I, really I sorted the camera and Alfie ran amok in the car park, deserted apart from my own car.

IMG_5024I looked around quickly and saw that I was going to be lucky as the sun, low in the sky, was in that lovely ‘warm’ phase.

The wall is clearly visible from the road and so we headed off toward the small gate and cattle grid over on the other side.

Now I really don’t think that Alfie was taking this photography thing seriously at all as all he wanted to do was run around and play in the long grass. That in itself was ok except that each time I was nicely lined up for a shot he would run to the extremity of his eight metre lead and jolt the camera from its rest. And to make matters worse I really don’t think he cared one jot.

Looking over the fields gave a wonderful contrast between the lush green trees and grass and the warm orangey brown of the centuries old sand stone so prevalent in this area.

We walked through the gate and right up to the wall. Now I’m always very careful not to get silly when I am near things like this. It really annoys me when people climb all over these artefacts of a previous time. The damage which can be done is often irreparable.IMG_5032

The wall is a mere shadow of its former self, standing several metres lower than it once did. But the sense of awe come upon you as you stand beside it. Two thousand years ago on the very spot I was standing a Roman Centurion walked. Not just somewhere near by but actually right here at around 65AD.

Much of the wall has been removed by the many generations of locals over the years to be reused in buildings all around. But even so, it is still fascinating to see just how skilfully the builders and stonemasons were in their day using pretty rudimentary tools by todays standards.

Just how many modern structures will be in any form of existence in the year 4016? I doubt many.IMG_5031

Looking away from the sun back toward the East the colours in the rocks which make up the wall really came to life. The sun was getting better and better and the pictures better and better.

I was so pleased that I decided to head out to this spot as it was bringing the joy back into photography for me. The very reason I took up what was a hobby some 50 years ago.



I usually only check the screen on the rear of the camera occasionally, usually when I first start shooting just to check everything is working ok. When I’m happy that it is I rarely resort to checking it. Lets face it, we didn’t have an instant access screen on the old film cameras. In those days you took the shot and waited a week for the prints to come back to see if they had worked.

The technology in a modern Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera is amazing……..when it works!

IMG_5033I had been merrily taking photos of the area and each shot seemed more thrilling and better than the last when I noticed an error message on the rear screen. A 02 error telling me that the camera was unable to see the memory card.

Now I had just bought a new all singing and dancing 64Gb high speed memory card and put it into the little 1200d camera only last week. It now looked as though it was causing me problems.

I removed and reseated the card then switched the camera on again. All looked good…until I pressed the shutter again and the same fault appeared.

Another reset and a quick check of the playback revealed that all those great shots had failed to save. I felt like a fisherman fretting over the huge fish which managed to get away and left him with nothing but a tall tale to tell.

IMG_5030The original 16Gb card was now sitting safe and well in the camera case which was also sitting safe and well in the boot of my car some half a mile away from where I was now standing.

Lesson learned, always keep a spare memory card with you wherever you are shooting.

Sometimes I long for the relative simplicity of my old Olympus OM1n. No memory cards, no auto focus, no auto exposure, no white balance, no…. well I’m sure you get the picture. You could even take good ‘rule of thumb’ guestimate shots when the battery was flat.

By the time Alfie and I got back to the car the moment had gone and the warm summer sunset had passed. Opportunity missed. No pictures of the little milepost, no pictures of the sweeping curve as the wall heads Westwards toward the Solway coast.

The good thing is of course that I now have the perfect excuse to come back another day and finish what I started. All is never lost.

Until the next time, I shall bid you all goodbye and good snapping





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