The plan had been to photograph The Winter Cumbrian Mountain express racing along the West Coast main Line behind an historic steam locomotive. One of many outings restored steam engines have with heritage trains on the main lines.
Bad weather wasn’t a problem. Wrap up well, rack the camera up to 1000 or 1600 ISO and keep a steady hand. In the past this has led to some dramatic and atmospheric shots. But as the Scots Bard once remarked the best laid plans of mice and men have an annoying habit of gannin’ aft aglee.
So it was on Saturday December 5th, the day that Storm Desmond visited the region. I set off from Durham in a general direction of west by south west while Desmond kept to his schedule in roughly the opposite direction. By the time I was past West Auckland and heading for the A66 it crossed my mind that this wasn’t such a good idea. Wind was buffeting the car alarmingly and branches and assorted other debris, including wheelie bins, littered the road side. Hefty branches and even full grown trees were lying beside road, some of them even in the middle of the carriageway. I reckoned if one of those came down at the precise moment I drove past the car would be squashed and I could get killed. Irene would never forgive me. How would she get to the Metro Centre?
On to the A66 for the long climb up Bowes Moor to Stainmore Summit the wind got worse and the car was struggling. Electronic traffic warning signs told drivers of high side vehicles to head back to the A1. I pressed on. Over the summit speed picked up and I swept down into the Eden Valley taking in the view of an articulated wagon on its side. I also noticed a lot of lakes where fields used to be.
First stop was Penrith Station to check if my train was on time. I wanted to photograph it at high speed there and later move on to the Settle and Carlisle Railway at Appleby and Kirkby Stephen to get it struggling up the long Pennine climbs. Not only was my train not on time, it was stuck at Carnforth many miles south and wasn’t coming at all. Neither were any other trains. The line was blocked by a landslide at Shap. I could head for home or put my outing to good use.
The latter course seemed the best option but first coffee was required. The coffee shop in Culgaith was a good idea except the River Eden had isolated Culgaith from the A66. This led me to my first photo opportunity where the old A66, the one before they built a dual carriageway, crossed the Eden on an historic hump-back bridge.
After being drenched there in blinding rain and buffeted by the wind the coffee shop in Temple Sowerby saved my life with home baked scones and jam and wonderful coffee. Drivers told me Appleby town centre was flooded so I headed there. Roads, homes and shops were under water but fortunately some of the town is up the hillside and I knew a rat-run to get to a couple of vantage points.
Cumbria Fire and Rescue and Police were doing a great job along with mountain rescue volunteers helping people evacuate their homes. I knew from my working days as a journalist in similar situations of major incidents that so long as you don’t get in the way or put yourself into a position where they have to waste time rescuing you, they let you get in with your job. So it was at Appleby and they gave me up dates on the situation and informed me when a rescue boat was about to come up the mainstreet.
How does a camera work in the wet? Mine are weather sealed Pentaxes so no problems but I only took out one body and one lens. The others stayed in the bag because I wasn’t going to risk swapping lenses or cameras over in that weather.
I saw a guy with a Nikon covered in plastic bags and the thought occurred to me it was almost Christmas because in the best traditions of The Nativity his camera was wrapped in swaddling clothes. But the driving rain made my front element well drenched and auto focus struggled and manual focus isn’t easy when you’re being blinded by rain.
So to home, just another day out taking photos. It would have made a good Assignment opportunity.