Safe Homecomings, 2016

Thoughts of home after the uncertainty of carefully picking your way up river past sandbars and shoals.

The Seaman’s New Guide, revised by J.S. Hobbs in 1847 remarks:

“The sands at the mouth of the Tweed shift so frequently that marks cannot be given and the pilots are obliged to examine and sound entrance after every gale.

Nevertheless it may be useful to know that, in general, Tweedmouth Church Steeple kept in a line over the centre of the roof of red tiled house situated directly to the eastward of the chancel window NW by W 3/4 W will lead over the bar and abreast of the lighthouse at distance of about 1/3 of a cable.

From thence a course should be made with the pier nearly as far as its inner elbow but avoiding the Crab Rock which is cleared to the west by keeping Berwick spire just open to west of the King’s Bastion near the flagstaff.

The vessel must then steer to the SW till abreast of the Preventive Mast on Spittal Point when a course may be shaped along the beach on the western side so as to round its curve near the Carr Rock where the best anchorage will be found.”

A gloomy day on the north east coast of England was not at first glance an ideal time for taking photographs. But the day had some redeeming qualities. A high tide for one. A sea fret rolling in from the North Sea. One or two occasional rain showers, but not drizzle. So maybe …

I found myself walking out along Berwick’s stone pier watching the River Tweed rushing past to meet the incoming tide. The weather was so grey that the harbour lights on the pier were lit up. An idea began to work its way to the surface.

As the old seaman’s guide makes clear, the entrance to Berwick Harbour was not a trivial task. It involved a lot of hanging about waiting for high enough water. Then to find the best anchorage you needed to follow a zigzag course lining your boat up with all sorts of pieces of riverside furniture and dwellings.

Much easier now to find the harbour lights and line them up to find the way in, veering from one set to the next on the way up to Tweed Dock.

And that’s what I saw that morning with the sandbar at the mouth of the Tweed covered by the tide, surf breaking on its seaward side. No need these days to line up red tiled roofs. Just follow the lights in. Or more prosaically, use your GPS system to tell you precisely where you are.

I was imagining a sailing boat, perhaps a mediaeval carrack on the run back from Flanders with a return cargo of red pantiles for the roofs of Berwick as ballast. They had dropped their more valuable cargo of wool from the Border Abbeys in the Antwerp market and were now heading home. And now they were having to contend with finding their way up the Tweed on a misty morning.

With this picture I wanted to capture some of the uncertainty involved with carefully picking your way past sandbars and shoals with home just across the river exerting a pull on your attention. All this after a difficult crossing perhaps.

Safe homecomings, 2016

I wanted to reflect the lack of clues in the surroundings. A long exposure took care of reducing details in the water, and disguised the perils hidden just below the surface. The turbulent water became deceptively calm. The mist acted as a natural suppressor of the distant view The chimney from the old fertiliser factory neatly mirrored the harbour lights. You could still pick out some of the houses across the river at Spittal though, but only just. Home, but not just yet.

The direction of view is out to sea, looking back at dangers passed. Off to the right are calm waters, and safety.

Despite my misgivings about talking too much about camera settings and other configuration matters which aren’t too important, these are the bits of information about this picture some folk find useful:

  • Camera: Canon 5Dmkii
  • Lens: Canon EF 24-105mm L
  • Focal length: 24mm
  • ISO: 100
  • Exposure: 20 seconds at f9.5
  • I use Lightroom and NIK software for sharpening and noise reduction.

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