July 17th: It’s all over in a Second or Two – Roadside Shooting at the Tour du France

As most of Yorkshire knows only too well, it’s all over in a second of two! Or at least that’s how it seems if you stand by the roadside for several hours to wait for the greatest bike race in the world that is Le Tour (a.k.a. The Tour du France) to go past. Out of all the places that we could have watched Le Tour, Jawbone Hill in Oughtibridge was where we washed-up. As one of the top-ten places listed on the Sky website – we figured it would be good. For starters, it was on a hill so the riders would be going slow – right? Access wise – Jawbone Hill camping was right there too, with its built-in ringside (ok… roadside…) viewing. Double bonus. All we have to do was rock-up late Saturday, pitch the tent and wait up for the great show on earth to roll past. Piece of cake – what could be better or easier for that matter?

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There’s no shortage of erudite cycling commentators far more qualified than me to talk about the actual race itself – so this post is more about shooting Le Tour from a roadside shooters perspective. Thanks to Google Earth I had already driven up and down Jawbone Hill several times in the comfort of my own house to get an idea of where might be best to photograph from. I’d worked out where the sun (assuming it wasn’t cloudy) was gonna be in the sky (sic) and roughly which sections would be back-lit and where would be in shadow. Sadly though, there were still many known unknowns. How many others were going to be roadside too? Would the crowd all surge forward and block the view? Would the weather play ball or would we be treated to a day of interminable grey or worst still, rain? Would there be any restrictions to moving about as spectators? More questions than answers so it seemed like it was all going to be a bit of pot-luck. Walking up Jawbone Hill it was obvious that it had a number of steeper ramps and a steep(ish) finishing straight. By 10am on race day Sunday 6th, some 6 hours before the action, the frontline viewing spots behind the roadside barrier on the finishing straights were already taken! Folks sure seemed keen but I guess 6 hours for a ringside view of Le Tour might not be an unreasonable return?

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In the end I settled for a position on about half way up Jawbone, on the beginning of the outside of a bend which came after a decent straight. Waiting for the riders gave an opportunity to try out some angles and do some crowd watching. I was pretty chuffed with one shot especially which for me summed up waiting for the TDF when a young gent got down with the vibe and worked on his TDF Road Art. I would have been rude not to snap some of the more memorable aspects of the TDF ‘caravan’ has it rolled past and it was an opportunity to practice focus tracking and panning.  By the time the helicopters arrived and signalled the immenent arrival of the riders themselves I’d distilled my game plan and was sorted. Rightly or wrongly I’d decided to shoot the first group of riders as they approached my position with a 70-200mm then switch to a 24-70mm mid-range for the close up stuff as more riders came past. I added an on-camera flash, with a booster pack for faster recycling, to fill the shadows. I opted for a wide aperture for the telli shots – primarily to separate the action from the background but stopped down a bit for the mid-range shots to give more depth of focus.

Anyways, here’s my shots as the caravan and Le Tour tackles Jawbone Hill. I think my game plan worked ok although it nearly fell on its derier as I’d not factored into the equation that ahead of the first riders is the official red race car – complete with outriders - which nearly obliterated the long shot down the road look that I was after. Totally by luck than judgement as the opening group came towards me I was able to snatch a few shots of the riders once the lead vehicles had pulled past. It hard picking a ‘best shot’ but this one sums up what I’d envisaged.

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Apologies for the delay in posting – technology failure caused by the BSoD (Blue Screen of Death) took a wee while to get sorted – but here at last is a full gallery of the day…

Cote du Jawbone - race minus several hoursCycling RoyaltyBy heck lad, here comes t'caravan...She was still playing when she hit Sheffield too - apparently!Fruit never tasted so good?Part of your 5-adayAye - big hills and great teaNow thats a big teddyLovin' it...French strong armTDF road artEgh up - here comes TDF!French chips...Bear in the airYep - after 6 hours waiting, finally here comes to TDF!Le Tour is here!The openning group charging Cote du JawboneThe openning group charging Cote du JawboneThe openning group charging Cote du JawboneThe openning group charging Cote du JawbonePorte and Froomy goes by...Way to go guys...Toni MartinClose-up and personal #1Close-up and personal #2Close-up and personal #3Eh up - is that a yellow jersey I see?Eh up - is that a yellow jersey I see?Yep - le yellow jerseyYellow jerseyPates brings up the rear (sort...off...)...

 

 

 

Posted in Cycling, Events, Photography Tagged , |

July 3rd… The Big Tamale…

After what seems like forever, tomorrow is the big tamale a.k.a. Le Grand Depart or in simple words, the start of The 2014 Tour de France, arguably the greatest bike race on the planet…

It been a long time coming, but it’s here at last, Yorkshire’s big moment on the big stage that is the TDF. For months yellow bikes have been hung on/off most conceivable vantage points the length and breadth of Yorkshire. Farmers have painted their sheep yellow.  One café owner has covered the outside of their emporium in monster red dots! The roads have been re-surfaced and hitherto common grazing fields turned into one-off campsites. Sheffield’s ‘un-known’ Jenkin Road has been dragged from quiet suburbia and trust into the lime-light and is (very nearly) rubbing shoulders with Alpe d’Huez, or Mont Ventoux!

It’s fair to say that many will be out there over the weekend getting involved but fair play to you if you’re staying at home watching the footie or Wimbledon.  I’m off to Jawbone Hill. Wherever you go, let’s hope it a good ‘un…

Not every bike will be on the Yorkshire roads this weekend...Yorkshire - the roof of the TDF?Opps - boot anyone?

Posted in Cycling, General

June 8th: Northumberland Coast – Not your typical Coastline…

Plagues and lotus were about the only things missing off the agenda according to the weather forecast for the recent bank holiday so we had zero expectations when we set off. The vague plan was to have a few days R&R on the Northumberland Coast; walk a few miles, cycle a few more, run a few as well and maybe, just maybe pull down on some problems…

DSC_6823_000_lo resI’ve been a fan of Northumberland ever since my first visit back in the late 70’s. The climbing is tough but super satisfying. I find the scenery stunning and the coast just something else completely. So many times I’ve been up there when the bad weather that was hammering the rest of the country never seemed to make it that far. The beaches knock the much lauded southern counterparts into the proverbial cocked-hat! I’m talking visually and water quality wise although as anyone who has been up there will tell you, there’s often a breeze that keeps temperatures a tad suppressed. If only…!!

Officially designated an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), the section of coast north of Amble and Alnmouth right the way up to Berwick Upon Tweed on the Scottish border is the amazing. Dunstanburgh Castle is the southern beauty; then Bamburgh and then Holy Island (Lindisfarne) in the north are the three stand-out locations that most folks have seen/heard about. We didn’t have a plan as such but having ‘done’ Holy Island and Bamburgh relatively recently we naturally gravitated towards Dunstan. Following the monsoon on the Saturday we had two incredible bluebird days – back-to-back sunny days that couldn’t have been much better.

Photographically, the area is a peach – although being a bank holiday we certainly weren’t alone, far from it in fact! Any photographic skills text-book will tell you that sun-rise and sun-set are the two golden hours in the day; but when you’ve a family with you, you have to take the opportunities when you can. I took the easy option and opted for sun-set rather than the totally unpalatable 4-5:00 am starts that hunting sun-rise shots would have meant. As I say, both days were stunning although strangely both evenings failed to live up to expectation.

I’ll upload two galleries from the trip; firstly a collection of colour shots and secondly some black and white conversions.  I’d never photographed at Dunstanburgh Castle before but it’s on the list now as a ‘must re-visit’ venue. I was utterly taken by the Castle and the surrounding area and I’m confident that you’ll get different conditions on every visit. The beaches are amazing  - not least the boulder-field just north of Dunstanburgh Castle. Don’t forget to drop-in to Craster too – another amazing ‘must visit’ spot.

In case you’re wondering, the bouldering mat and boots never saw the light of day as the weather nose-dived on our last day. Still, it gave us an excuse to get the slackline out – although that’s no easier when it’s lashing it down!

Dunstanburgh Caste sure stands well on the coast north of CrasterSo good here's a portrait shot of Dunstanburgh Castle as wellAnd another with the sea rolling inEmbleton Bay, north of Dunstanburgh Castle, has golden sands as far as you can seeDunstanburgh Castle from the beachDunstanburgh Golf Course. I don't play golf, but if I did this is one venue I'd go forDunstan floraLobster pots in Craster harbour. Lying in the lea of the castle, Craster is a cracking little venueDusk falls over Dunstanburgh CastleThe late setting suns blasts Dunstanburgh Castle and the bouldersDunstanburgh boulders await the incoming tideNight falls over Dunstanburgh CastleDunstanburgh Castle doing an impression of The Mittens in Monument ValleyNight falls over Craster harbour as late-evening 'crabber' hang inLow tide renders Craster harbour silentDusk and Craster HarbourAnd a landscape version of Craster Harbour too

Posted in Photography, Scenic, Travel

June 7th : Gear Review – Rock Shoes for 2014

The world of rock shoe manufacturing doesn’t stand still for long and this year is no exception. The June edition of Climber magazine is on the shelves and it features a review of no less than thirteen pairs of new shoes by yours truly selected from two categories – beginner, intermediate and all-rounders shoes and specialist performance shoes. If you’re in the market for some new shoes it might be worth taking a quick look through as there’s some surprises in store…

DSC_6253_lo resI, like many climbers, have had my favourite shoe manufacturer for years – 5.10 in my case. However, doing back-to-back shoe reviews for the last two years (see below) has opened my eyes to new products on the market today. More and more though I see experienced climbers trying new shoes looking for any advantage they can get – in my case to buy-back age-related declining performance!

Although most of the shoes tested are brand spanking new, typically they build on previous designs and features looking to spring-board off popular feature sets. Unusually though, some manufacturers have gone retro for 2014 and have re-introduced slightly remodelled shoes from yesteryear.

I commented last year to the effect that there was a huge number of rock shoes on the current market and there’s more coming to market all the time. That trend seems set to continue. Similarly, there’s a veritable mix of lace-ups, velcros and slippers as well as low volume/narrow fit to high volume/wide fitting shoes. Surprisingly, all five of the specialist performance shoes tested are slipper-based shoes with some throwing-in a Velcro closure as well to supplement fit/performance. Perhaps this is proof that slipper/velco fastening shoes are now more popular than traditional lace-ups.

Included in the 2014 review are the following shoes:

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Beginner, Intermediate and All-rounder Shoes: Boreal Marduk, Edelrid Blizzard, Evolv Addict, Evolv Defy and Elektra, Five Ten Guide and New Pinks.

Specialist Shoes: Boreal Satori, Boreal Dharma, Edelrid Cyclone, Evolv Nexxo, Scarpa Stix and the Tenaya Ossi.

Here’s some visuals to check-out too…

Yours truly - supervised by Simba - putting the new Pinks thru their paces on the age old classic Hampers Hang (Font 7a)More Hampers Hang actionAnd the flip-side of Hampers Hang

 

 

Posted in Climbing, Reviews

May 16th: Stanage Sunset – the finest there is?…

Sunsets don’t come with a guarantee – you just have to be out there at the right time and in the right place. Tonight was exactly that – grey and un-inspiring one minute and the awesome the next. I got some shots off tonight out at Stanage – did you?

 

Sunset out west from StanageSunset out west from Stanage - wideSunset over Stanage #1Sunset over Stanage #2Sunset over Stanage #3

Posted in Photography, Scenic

May 14th: Spring Collection – the best route ever, Garage, green stuff and yoga…

So, as spring slips away and we flip over to summer it’s a good time to reflect on what we’ve achieved thus far – and then to enviably project forwards! I think that spring is perhaps the most uplifting time of the year; winter’s over and suddenly everything starts to rejuvenate as though by magic. Green shoots emerge all over the place and a cornucopia of flowers follow soon after. Spring is a time to start over; leave the comfort of the climbing wall, and go and get acclimatised to slick, slopey (non-coloured) footfolds on new climbs as well as to try a few new activities. As a photog, it’s a great time to capture new photo opportunities…

Riglos_000_low resAs springs go, 2014 has been pretty dandy for me I’d say. It’s been a time to get back into climbing slowly so that old injuries are carefully managed. It seems to be going OK at the moment and although it’s been a slow and careful progression just before Easter I pulled in what I think might just be the best route I’ve ever done – ever! And given I’ve been climbing a shade over 40 years, it must be good – right? What’s that you say – what’s the route? OK, if you really wanna know, and obviously you do, it La Fiesta de los Biceps at Riglos. I’m holding back on this one but I’ll give you a taster right now.

Meanwhile, back on planet home, Garage Buttress at Stoney has been a great venue and one which just keep on giving! Easy access, virtually perma-dry and some great climbing – though not (thankfully) to everyone’s taste! Oh yes, and there’s some selfies I shot whilst doing a rock shoe review; a piece of cake using the intevalometer which is in-built in the D800. Non-climbing subjects have featured a fair bit of super-rich and season flora, such as bluebells and wild garlic, with some family-based biking shots and even a yoga shoot thrown in for good measure!

Photographically it’s been interesting too. Not though for what I’ve been shooting, more for what I’ve been shooting on. When I’m looking for the absolute max my go-to camera is my D800. However, if ‘light is right’, then it’s the Sony RX100 without a question. I’ve lugged my D800 up routes before and it ain’t fun! Amazingly though, and like most folks these days, I’m anyway packing a camera even it’s the 8mg camera on my Samsung Galaxy. It doesn’t hold a candle to either of the other two if the chips (sic!) are  down, but it’s a whole load better than nothing and for on-line consumption it holds up pretty OK. Horses for courses you might say!

Here’s my spring collection then for you – shot on any one from the D800, the RX100 or the Galaxy…

It's tough, but someone has to test rock shoes! The new Pinks from 5.10 hanging out off Hampers Hang, StanageClimbing archioligists take note; an early 'nut' recovered from the ivy on Garage Buttress, StoneyKristian on his new super-crimpy F8a  at GarageRuth putting Jill through her yoga pacesYoga's fun too - honestVibrant Spring colours are beautifulBrinciffe Edge Wood bursting into lifeFornby Beach, Liverpool, won't you believe!More scouse bluebells!And yet more bluebellsYorkshire wild garlic flowers #1Yorkshire wild garlic flowers #2Yorkshire wild garlic flowers #3Yorkshire wild garlic flowers #4Chelsea Park, Sheffield #1Chelsea Park, Sheffield #2The Beach - yeah, really @ Easter!Trail ridingThe drive to Riglos, SpainThe view out the back of the refugio, Riglos, SpainRiglos TowersFiesta Tower - and yep, it's nearly 1000 foot tall!La Fiesta de los Biceps, the cruz. Quite probably, the best route in the world!la bateria F7a  on El Sendero, Santa Ana

Posted in Climbing, Environmental

April 21th: Mojo Rising (Old skool bouldering at The Breck)…

I remember the magazine images clearly. They conveyed an urban, gritty feel to the climbing which looked distinctly esoteric – a locals’ local, albeit with some gnarly testpieces. Over the years I’d never been to the crag nor had I ever spoken to anyone else who has climbed there – or, perhaps more accurately, I’ve never spoken to anyone who wanted to admit they’d climbed there! Thirty odd years had passed since the magazine article and I’d all but forgotten about it then, flicking though Grimer’s Boulder Britain guide, there it was on page 184 and less than a mile from where the in-laws lived! “Yeah, we used to climb on Granny Rock as kids” said my wife to my surprise. I added it to the list of places to check-out – at some point…

My opportunity came yesterday on Easter Sunday. I think that Easter is a great time to grab a power top-up and Fontainebleau (where else) would head my list of venues – given the choice. It’s fair to say that The Breck would be a good deal lower down my list. However,  as we’d pitched-up on The Wirral at the in-laws it was either travel and go indoors or nip down to The Breck. I had little more than an hour or so to spare so it wasn’t a hard decision – The Breck it was.

Grimer’s intro is classic: “The holy grail of graffiti and urban chic with highball crimping and ghosts of old heroes”. The sun was shining and the bluebells were out and it seemed a tad surreal almost – a climbing retreat amidst such domesticity. Situation wise, I couldn’t help but draw parallels with Sissy Crag in Sydney – but let’s stop right there! The delightfully named Bluebell Wall seemed the obvious place to start. Think Burbage North size-wise but add a concrete topping and then some railings immediately behind. Warming-up was interesting; Bluebell Crack, Fagan and Melancholy all seemed about the same grade despite being 4+, 4+ and 6a respectively. They were high too – this was real old skool bouldering especially as I was travelling light and was sans pad! The final twist was that you either had to down-climb the problem or traverse along the top and then drop-down an easier problem; good for the head and a bit extra mileage!

Bluebell Wall @ The BreckJust opposite, Granny Rock looked tempting – and lowball! The blocky front face was covered in easy ledges but the back-side had a handful of problems including a couple of traverses and some pretty impressive graffiti! It seemed an unlikely place for some quality climbing but all four blocs give just that – Positron Traverse at 6b stood out. Amongst the graffiti I spotted a collection of shabby pockets leading from the middle of the wall to the left arête. It’s an entertaining little link and it soaked up all my remaining time. I couldn’t leave though, and nor should anyone else visiting for the first time, without nipping over and have a look at Overhanging Wall – home to Al Rouse’s Direct 7b+ and Steve Haston’s Dyno 7c+. Both looked good, shockingly high and distinctly old skool – a remarkable testament to the standards achieved yonks ago. Grimer’s descriptions were bang on the money.

Visits to the in-laws will never be the same again!

Mojo rising - selfie of me on Granny RockCrimping the graffiti

Posted in Bouldering, Photography

April 14th: Ain’t the Peak District an awesome place…

Despite having lived within a stone’s throw of the Peak for coming up forty years now it never fails to take my breath away with what an awesome place it is! Sunday just gone, was a perfect example – just incredible…

Sheffield was havin’ a bluebird day; a cloudless blue sky day, reasonably calm and peaceful – spring was fully in the air. Not so out in the Peak where there was a full-on hooley blowing. Cyclists were being blown all over the place (I know, I been that zig-zaging cyclist earlier that morning), walkers (these that cared more about their comfort than their cool appearances) had their hoods up and jackets fastened and east-facing (ie sheltered) buttresses seemed to be pulling more climbers than usual.

Paraglider above StanageFrustratingly, and despite it being an absolute drop-dead gorgeous day, there was not much action going down and – not understandably – zilch activity upstairs. Simply there was nowt to shoot – so I didn’t! Boo hoo. Last night though I was doing some work on my photo archive and came across a bunch of pixs that I’d shot a couple of years back on a similar (but sans wind) day that had been sitting (quietly) on my hard drives ever since. As I hadn’t captured anything yesterday I thought I’d share the pixs from the archive. They make the point though that the Peak really is an awesome place – on every level!

‘Discovering’ these shots languishing on my hard drives is a tad embarrassing really hence a metaphorical note to self – “update your portfolios you puppet!”…

Running off Carl's Wark down towards the Burbage BrookMicro-light above Burbage ValleyParaglider above Stanage

Posted in Adventure, Aviation, Running

April 7th: Shine a light…

Although it’s a tad retrospective now – the last month or so has just disappeared – March’s copy of Climber magazine carried my review of the latest in so-called hands-free (aka head torches) lighting. From the uber Mammut X-Sun (a 950 lumen monster) through to the delimitative Petzl e+Lite (a 25 lumen emergency unit) there really is a headtorch for every occasion…

Without a doubt, headtorches are an essential part of climbers’ kit-bags. Today, cheap headtorches are sold in main stream supermarkets from as little as a fiver a pop whilst the specialised shops sell the top-end units costing anything up to £250 quid. They’re used for all manner of activities – anything from dog-walking to emergency services through to elite athletes for climbing or other extreme sports. As power and functionality vary, so does size and cost. The review covered fifteen different units as well as giving the low-down on the plethora of batteries and LED types currently in use. If you don’t want to be left in the dark (I know – crap pun…) then check the review out.

Incidentally, as part of the review I dug-out my old Petzl Zoom headtorch from the bottom of the wardrobe and compared it with the X-Sun and the e+Lite (mentioned above). The results show quite plainly exactly what the R&D departments have achieved in the 30 odd years since Petzl first brought their legendary Zoom to market. Take a look for yourself at the pixs below and the difference is obvious. For the geeks amongst us, the e+Lite delivers the same (25 Lumen) output as the Zoom albeit at a fraction of the size/weight whilst the X-Sun knocks out over whooping 38 times more light than the Zoom.  The times sure are a changing…

And here’s a shot of the X-Sun and the e+Lite alongside the old past master, the Zoom…

 

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Posted in General, Reviews

Feb 12th: F-BO14 – not just another boudering comp…

Saturday the 8th February saw a fair few of the UK’s bouldering elite gather at the Foundry in Sheffield for the F-BO14 bouldering competition. Since it first opened its doors, the Foundry has long been the scene for climbing comps – those of us who have been regular visitors over the years will remember the then sixteen year old Chris Sharma appearing in a Foundry bouldering comp back in the 90’s! F-BO14, is the latest in that series, and what a cracking event it turned out to be too…

The morning qualification round saw the elite, the good and the would-be’s all rubbing shoulders on no less than 25 problems – all carefully devised and crafted by the setting team which comprised the regular Foundry setter, Rob Napier, Percy Bishton (on sabbatical from The Works) and guest setter and strong-man/ex-British bouldering champ, Ned Freehally; nothing if not a strong, stout and sly setting trio! Collectively, they served up a veritable cordon beau menu of problems. One problem had just three holds arranged in a horizontally manner rather than upwards! Challenging the paradigm indeed!

Emerging from the quallies as the lady finalists were Shauna Coxsey, Michaela Tracy, Diane Merrick, Katie Maxwell, Gracie Martin and Ella Russel. The six-man testosterone-laden crew comprised Thom Arnold, Nathan Phillips, Cailen Harker, Martin Smith and Ben Moon. Yep, that’s THE Ben Moon who is back on the scene and pulling down with remarkable determination once more. The stand-out performance from qualification was supplied by Shauna who flashed every single problem to return a perfect score-card!

The finals were run using the familiar bouldering comp format – two climbers (one male, one female) both climbing at once on two problems over a four minute slot before back to isolation. Both legs were pretty closely contested. Shauna Coxsey emerged in top place – though she was pushed hard by Michaele and Diane. Shauna dropped the very last problem of the day on her first attempt (her only mistake of the day). Michael came second with Diane in third. Sadly Ben Moon sat the final round out but Stu Littlefair stepped into Ben’s place and provided some great entertainment climbing bloc #4 by starting upside down! Unconventional, but seemingly effective and a definite crowd-pleaser. Martin Smith came in first with Ethan Walker in second and wild-card Stu picking up third.

A cracking day all round – here some snaps…

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Posted in Bouldering, Events