Samson’s Cave

The spring tides in February were spent exploring Samson?s Bay, just east of Hele Bay, North Devon. Philip Henry Gosse in A Naturalists Rambles on the Devonshire Coast 1853 described it like this, and I expect it hasn’t changed too much since then as it is rarely visited:

“A little way beyond this point the traveller looks down upon a cove called Sampson’s Bay; it is girt in with rocky cliffs of great massiveness and wild grandeur, too abrupt and perpendicular to be scaled, even by the most expert climber. An ample cavern yawns on the western side of the bay, into whose depths, as the tide was high, the surf was dashing, with a roar that rivalled the discharge of artillery. I thought of the fine simile of Thomas Moore:
‘Beneath, terrific caverns gave
Dark welcome to each stormy wave
That dash’d, like midnight revellers, in’

A new friend, Alan, showed me the old mining track down, very overgrown but not needing a rope to safely access the beach. 2013 is the 100th anniversary of a shipwreck in the bay of a British Sharpshooter-class torpedo gunboat launched in 1889/90 but no-one knows for sure which one it is, and whether it was actually wrecked or just left to die! There was also a passenger steamer that ran aground here:

“Much excitement was caused in Ilfracombe and neighbourhood on Thursday evening” when it became known that the saloon steamer Alexandra, with about 300 passengers on boards, was ashore near Watermouth castle, the exact spot being Sampson’s Beach.” (Ilfracombe Observer August 22 1893 p 7 c 2)

But I was really here to explore the caves, of which there are many, including the largest of these Samson’s Cave. This cave is legendary, it might have got it’s name from an infamous smuggler said to have used it as a store house. It is probably the cave used for hiding contraband in the allegedly true story ‘The Call of Chambercome’ written in the 1850’s and set in the seventeenth century. A lot will have changed over 400 years, especially as the cave was mined for limestone and possibly silver up to 150 years ago. But it is still a fascinating place, awesome, sublime and majestic.
You’ll have to wait another few months for some finished images from here but the thumbnail images, or sketches are looking very promising. The top image is a sketch from my second visit and gives an impression of what might be achievable once I have spent some days editing, combining, stitching and merging the 128 RAW frames shot of this subject; over a time period of 65 minutes in a cramped position. I accesses Samson’s Cave just as the huge tide had left it?s entrance, sliding down an almost sheer, smooth rock wall to get in. A cave always looks its best when it is wet, ideally with water dripping from the ceiling.

This image is the first, stitched snapshot image from further back in the cave which I made on my first outing. Although I included more of the cave interior in the image it reaaly lacked colour because the rock was so dry and the composition is a lot weaker that the image above, seen as I retraced my steps to leave the cave on my first visit. Below is an iPhone snapshot of the outside of Samson’s Cave which looks far from impressive or inviting.

“Another name which conjures up visions of smuggling days is Sampson’s Bay – one of the most convenient spots along the coast for men who gained their livelihood by luring vessels to destruction. Sampson was a smuggler of repute.” (Ilfracombe Chronicle Sept. 1st 1933 p 6)
I’m indebted to John Moore who’s website devoted to Hele Bay is a wealth of knowledge.
Also I include below a quick iPhone snapshot using the AutoStitch app

Home Start Window – Bideford

I continue to get support from Home Start on Bridgeland Street, Bideford to dress their window and inside wall with images. This gives then something interesting on their wall to discuss and a partial shield from the stares of passers by, who hopefully look at my canvas instead. There is a 6 week turn-a-round of pictures, so the one above will be there until late-May.

Home-Start is a voluntary organisation offering support, friendship and practical help to families at home with children under 5. Home-Start recruits, supports and prepares volunteers who are parents, grandparents or have parenting experience to visit families who are under pressure.

The current print on canvas is of a place very dear to me that I visited recently on my birthday. It is Black Church Rock, Mouth Mill, North Devon. If Black Church Rock was in the USA there would be a car park at its trail head and an interpretive board explaining it geological history and deconstruction. This is an amazing piece of natural land art close to our foremost visitor destination, Clovelly; yet I?d be surprised if even 1% of it?s visitors ever experience it. This is one of the easiest parts of our wild coast to get to. A gradual walk down a stone track from Clovelly Court will take you all the way to Mouth Mill; and once on the beach a glance to the right is all that?s needed to see the spectacle.

Black Church Rock, as the name suggests, is constructed of very dark rock and the 24 photographs for this image were taken at sunset when there is a golden glow to the arches in high summer.Tthe rock face was exposed for longer than the sky to emphasise the colour it takes from the setting sun. The images were ?stitched together? on a computer using Photoshop.

Review in arts+culture magazine

Dave Green’s photo exhibition at the Tavistock Wharf revels in discovery of the North Devon coastline

By Heather Smith, on September 22nd, 2009 – from arts+culture magazine

Dave Green, a Bideford-based photographer, reveals hidden parts of the North Devon coastline in his solo exhibition at Tavistock Wharf.

His work is a continuation of his childhood fascination with ?looking for that elusive hidden rock pool teeming with life or being the first person to tread over the sand and discover a cave?.

Seemingly undaunted by tides, he continues to ?discover?, squeezing his adult self into narrow tunnels formed by the pounding ocean and wedging himself at the back of sea caves. He documents his artistic endeavour using a digital camera. In Turbulent Passage, Baggy Point, North Devon 2008, a trail of sea foam on the smooth, untouched sand creates a feeling of isolation and imminent danger, but also wonder at being able to see something usually hidden from the human gaze.

In these meticulously-created Constructed Photographs, Green overcomes the problem of lighting in the cave that would result in dark, detail-less images by taking many different, long-exposure shots and stitching them together in Photoshop. The edges of his work are often left jagged, as if individual photographs have been placed together ? la Hockney. The results are images that reveal the exquisite tones and textures of the rocks within the cave and pictures that have both depth and movement. The viewer is taken on a journey from the dark space of the cave to the glare of the outside light, the secret openings and slick, smooth rocks provoking analogies to birth and ?the feminine.?

The biggest surprise, perhaps, is the way in which Green?s images manage to turn the most hostile and remote of environments into an almost comforting space.

Another highlight from the exhibition is the selection of camera-less images from the1990?s. Created by placing natural materials ? seaweed, nettles and leaves ? directly onto 5 x 7 photographic paper and using the action of sun, water, fixer and developer to form unique pictures, these ?photograms? have a surprisingly wide range of colour and tone. There is evidence of Green?s love of stitching here too as the smaller images are rearranged to create different ?wholes?.

The exhibition runs until Saturday, September 26.

Communication with Bats

I was making the most of the spring tide on Friday 18th September and exploring a bit of the North Devon coast I hadn?t accessed before, via Mouth Mill, on the Hartland Coast. At low tide, midday, I found a shallow but very high cave under Windbury Head with 2 grand pillars of rock holding the cliff up at it?s entrance. The shallowness of the cavern meant I couldn?t photograph it from the back as I usually would so I snuggled up to the wall on the left-hand-side and started to make my constructed image, photographing the boulders at my feet first and moving along the floor and up the right-hand wall with my camera. As my Olympus E3 focuses it emits a high pitched sound; this sound attracted the bats, I?m assuming, as I made no sound and used no flash. The bats, (I?m rubbish at identifying them, bigger than those seen on the Tarka Trail South of Bideford, you could clearly see their ears!) 2 of them flew in formation around the inside of the cave mapping it, then back to the top, out-of-sight, then after seconds, came out again and flew lower down until they were within a few feet of me; then they were gone taking exactly the same flight path back to their roost. I had stayed still all of this time, happy to watch them, and didn?t take anymore pictures whilst they were flying; I was shooting at 1/10 of a second anyway so I couldn?t have photographed them. It seemed as though as soon as they had discovered that it wasn?t another bat making the noise they were happy to go back to bed. I finished taking photographs and didn?t see them again.

It?s unusual to find bats in these sea caves because at high tide the sea is well inside of them and the surf is pounding up the sides and back. In fact, it?s rare to find any life in these places because the environment at high tide is so violent, only the most stubborn limpet will cling onto these walls. However, in this cave, the ceiling was so high, a good 30 feet, and with plenty of jagged crevices to make a home for a bat. I?ve only found bats in one other cave in the cliffs here, and that one was always dry.

I bring these things on myself!

After writing about how things change I was reminded of another current image, which will be in the Ruby Expo, which has changed – through my own mistake!

Atlantic Aperture (collapsed) was shown originally at Trelawney Garden Centre with Atlantic Aperture, shown one super-imposed on the other above. Following is the text that accompanied the two images:

We are living on the frontier of climate change here in North Devon. Our coast is living proof of historical changes through different heights of sea level and the comings and goings of Ice Ages. As the speed of change increases, so does the evidence. In the three years I?ve been photographing the North Devon coast I?ve seen caves disappear as their roofs have collapsed into the sea. This image is a combination of two that are in this exhibition; the original ?Atlantic Aperture? was shot in the spring of 2006 and the other was the same place one year later. This was an eight metre high tunnel, a passage from a small sheltered bay to the roar of the Atlantic, situated just west of Hartland Point and only accessible at low tide. Now, buried under a huge landslip, it?s only entrance is from the sea.

Anyway, I digress. I went to print Atlantic Aperture (collapsed) for the Ruby Expo, as they had accepted the image I had sent them as above, however, search as I might through my computer, external drives, back-up DVDs etc I could not find the image. So I resigned to making it again from scratch. Bizarrely after half a day of concerted Photoshop effort it turned out different, I believe better, than it was.

I?m not sure if there is a moral here. It ought to be ?keep your workspace clean and tidy?, ?file everything away in a methodical fashion?, ?always make a back-up of your files?. But my loss is also my gain as the new construction from the original frames is better than it had been. Perhaps the moral should be all of the above plus ?occasionally re-work your images?!

New version of Atlantic Aperture (collapsed), Hartland, North Devon 2009