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Monday, December 28

Carse of Gowrie - a "new" stomping ground

Nikon D700, 28-105 Nikkor. Digital? Calm down and read on!

It seems ages since I was last updating the blog regularly so I thought it was about time I got the finger out and started writing again. We've settled well into our new home in Dundee but, to be honest, I haven't exactly been a human dynamo when it comes to the decorating and DIY side of things.

The spare room that Cath and I are using as a bedroom just now will eventually become a sort of office with, amongst some other things, my computer and scanner in it. Before that happens, I have to redecorate what will be our bedroom and revamp an en-suite bathroom. I'm not even half-way through that job so I've nowhere to set up the computer.

I'm writing this on a laptop in the dining room which is fine as far as it goes but it isn't hooked up to a scanner and I've no photo tools on it beyond some toy-like Apple system software. Plus, I haven't worked out a film developing regime yet - and I've got a couple of films to develop. The old house had a stainless steel sink in the kitchen that was fine for developing but the new house has an oddly-shaped ceramic thing that offers no advantages whatsoever over a square or rectangular sink beyond the fact that, presumably, it must have looked "cool" to some equally odd designer years ago.

So, I'm not as ready to get stuck into the blog and photography as I would have liked by now. Still, I have to make a start sometime so this is it.

After ten years of exploring the countryside to the east of Dundee - an area I really didn't know at all before we moved to Carnoustie in 2005 - I'm now turning my gaze in the direction of what's likely to be my new photographic hunting ground - the Carse of Gowrie.

This is an area I know very well but not really as a photographer. When my older brother and I were kids, my dad would drive us out to the countryside west of Dundee - often as not the Carse - on a Sunday when my mum was cooking the dinner. My dad would park somewhere, open up his Sunday Express and read the John Junor column whilst we youngsters would run about fields, climb trees, fall into burns, molest sheep, etc. (That was a wee joke about the sheep. Only my brother did that. Ha ha.)

The Carse is a fertile plain sandwiched between the River Tay (which, in case you didn't know it, has the largest flow of water of any UK river) to the south and the Sidlaw hills to the north. On its eastern flank is Dundee whilst Perth guards the western approach. Overall, it measures around 20 miles by two. The Tay was once much wider than it is now and much of the Carse is reclaimed land. There are walls, where the plain meets the Sidlaws, said to have some rings set in which were once used as boat moorings. These walls are now about a mile from the river's edge.

Nestling in the hills is the lost village of Pitmiddle which can trace its history back to the 12th century. Up to the middle of the 19th century it was a wee hamlet where farmers and later weavers would produce their goods and trundle down the hills to load them onto the boats. The draining of the plain robbed them of their easy access to local markets. At least, that's the version of events that I prefer. Some say it was mechanisation that rendered their craft obsolete. That has an "all-too-true" ring about it but I prefer the more romantic explanation.

Either way,  the village steadily withered and died, the last resident leaving in the late 1930s. All that's left are a few crumbling walls and the odd flag stone which once marked the entrance to the cottages.

Much of the Carse is commuter territory now although it's visited by tourists in the summer who journey there to shop at a large garden centre and several antiques outlets set up in the hills. There are also at least five castles, a monastery, a winery, a handful of little villages, and an airfield which hosts a huge, weekly car boot sale and a regular car auction. You can also go sky-diving there for charity or just bragging rights.

Orchards, some dating back 200 years, were once a feature of The Carse but well over half of these have disappeared, largely through lack of management. There are 20-30 still in existence although some are now no more than a tree or two. One claims to be visited by the ghost of a monk - many were started by monks - and I'm looking forward to dropping by that particular orchard. Could there be a wee project there, cataloguing what's left?

My first photograph for a number of weeks is at the top of the post. It was taken on my Nikon D700. Fear not, however, as I've not gone over to the dark side. I was on a drive through The Carse with my mother and daughter and decided to take the Nikon along with my Olympus OM2 so I would have something to illustrate this post with. 

I took the same shot on the OM2 and 50mm f2 macro Zuiko but the film is far from finished so it will be a little while before I'm in a position to post the results. We were driving along a straight stretch of road when I glanced to my left and saw the scene. It has some of the elements I like such as the reflections in the water and a moody sky.

I braked to a gentle halt, grabbed my camera bag and told my mum and Freya to wait there as I'd only be a few minutes. "Where do you think we'd be going?" was my mum's retort as she looked out at the rain and windswept plain. Very funny, mother, and quite sharp for an 85-year-old. See how you like the bus next time. :}

The digital file was breathed on a little in the toy software but just by doing the things I can do in the darkroom. It will be interesting seeing what the film shot is like by comparison. My OM2 is still playing up, by the way, even with it's winder strapped to it. The wind on mechanism is slipping, a fault that an internet writer claimed could be by-passed by the winder. Well, it mostly works with the winder but I've lost a few frames where the shutter won't release because it's not fully wound on. I might have to retire it to my camera cupboard and get the OM1 out instead.

So that's a wee introduction to the Carse, a stretch of land that we'll get to know better in the months ahead.


David M said...

Welcome back.
Very nice shot, too.
And now, a puzzle. "...gone over to the dark side..." you say, but in reality, by not using film, you've left the dark side, haven't you? You've moved to the light side. This doesn't seem to express what I think you meant to say at all.
My puzzle is to find a better expression for moving from one side to the other, or moving from the other side to one. Can your extensive readership and fan club come up with anything better? I'm afraid it's baffled me.

Herman Sheephouse said...

Hooray Bruce - you're back - hope the kick up the arse worked its wonders.
You know you've told me more about the Carse than I knew in 25 years of living near it - it sounds like it's somewhere I should be exploring too, but I know very little of it really.
Oh and if the OM is no good, remember I've got some Nikons in need of exercise . .

Herman Sheephouse said...

"Oo er, 'ee's gone and come over all 1's and 0's en'ee"

Bruce Robbins said...


The website, gives the meaning of "the dark side" as:
"The evil and malevolent aspect of human personality or society, often referred to in a lighthearted or comic context."
Seems pretty accurate to me - in a comical context, of course!


For the benefit of other readers, I should point out that the kick up the arse you refer to was your advice to me to get the finger out and do something and, yes, it had the desired effect. Life is too short to sit watching sport all day on the TV and libertarian videos on Youtube. I love the Carse and feel right at home there in a way I never did on t'other side of Dundee. In fact, I was out there again yesterday in the pouring rain with, hopefully, some atmospheric shorts to show for it.

David M said...

Bruce, you're quite right of course. As usual.
But nevertheless...

DcAnalogue said...

Welcome back Bruce! We missed you here..:! ;-)

amos said...

You've been missed!

Richard Warom said...

Nice to see your back. I look every morning to see if you've climbed out of your coffin and low and behold this morning Bruce the moose as I affectionately call you is alive and well. Happy new year. Richard

Paul Blanchard said...

I had to memmorise the name of this area in Grammar School Geography sixty years ago as the prime source of Raspberry Jam!
Never forgot it although I understand the Jam has gone/Paul

John Carter said...

Thanks you for showing up again, I've missed you.

Pritam Singh said...

I'm not signed in to your blog but I am a regular reader. I have enjoyed your comeback-after-a-long-break article very much.
Thank you.

Tony Cearns said...

Good to hear from you again. I remember 35 years ago I did my army training at Barry Buddon which is quite close to you. Since then I have often thought it would make for a good area for photography, but I guess it is closed off as it's a military zone.

Bruce Robbins said...

Hi Tony,
Barry Buddon is still accessible at certain times. They fly a red flag when it's off-limits but there are still plenty of opportunities to walk or cycle, right down to the lighthouse at the water's edge.