It's a beach which wouldn’t figure in the long list of unspoilt, scenic views for which the North East is known.
But for photographer Neil Atkinson, Blast Beach at Seaham in County Durham is just as big a draw.
The beach, on a coastline which is now recovering from decades of coal mining and spoil-tipping, is the location for one of Neil’s photography teaching workshops.
The workshop is titled Life on Mars. Indeed, the beach was used in the film Alien3.
“Although it looks other-worldly, like a Martian landscape, it’s actually the result of an extraordinary combination of man and nature,” says Neil, a professional photographer with 40 years of experience.
“The cliffs contain thousands of tonnes of buried mining and heavy-engineering equipment. Rainwater falling on the cliffs filters through and emerges, stained, as blood-red lagoons.
“The rocks around the location are also stained orange/red.
“A few hundred yards away, another part of the cliff is being slowly eroded, with engineering relics gradually becoming exposed and emerging from the cliff faces.
“This is an absolutely amazing location for unique landscape images and people won’t believe it when you tell them that you haven’t invented the colours in Photoshop.”
Blast Beach figures in an exhibition of Neil’s work called Shoot the North, which opened yesterday in his home town of Whitley Bay.
The display, at the Whitley Bay Big Local pop-up shop in Park View, runs until the end of the month.
Neil offers 15 different themed workshops.
“The workshops look at different aspects of the North East environment and culture,” he says.
“I’m very interested in the natural world and also in the built environment.
“It’s unthinkable to run out of things to photograph in the North East. We are very lucky to live in such a rich environment.”
In 2005, Neil wrote and presented the Tyne Tees TV photography series A Moment In Time.
He will lead a group of youngsters on a photographic mission as part of the Whitley Bay Big Local Partnership’s summer youth activity programme.
The youngsters and accompanying adults will experience Neil’s Marooned workshop on St Mary’s Island in Whitley Bay.
It involves studying the architecture of the lighthouse, the island’s wildlife, rock formations and the photographic potential of the sea.
Other workshops include Waterfalls and Bridges in Jesmond Dene in Newcastle, a street safari around the city, a tour of its historic buildings and a night-shot visit to the Quayside.
A Holy Island workshop includes sunrise and sunset photography, while another takes in Durham City’s heritage. Secrets of the Wild focuses on nature.
“I’m consumed by both the natural world and architecture,” says Neil.
“I am also interested in social history. In old churchyards, the stones often have the occupations of people, which provides an idea of their way of life, and social and economic standing.
“We no longer put occupations on gravestones.” Neil’s favourite photographic location is Roughting Linn, near Wooler, in Northumberland, with its waterfall and one of the best examples of prehistoric rock art in the region.
“For me, it is one of the most spiritual places in the North East,” says Neil.
The Whitley Bay Big Local movement, backed by lottery funding, is run by residents with the aim of improving the town.
Carol Alevroyianni, Whitley Bay Big Local Partnership board member said; “The exhibition gives a rare chance to see Neil’s individual take on the wonderful landscapes, buildings and hidden treasures that are right here on our doorstep.”
The exhibition is open between noon and 4pm every day, except for Sunday.
The Marooned youngsters’ workshop is on August 19, from 9.15am to 12.30pm. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for booking details.
More of Neil’s work on www.neilatkinson.com