MOUNTAINS, hills, cliffs, caves and islands stamp their rocky and imposing presence on the landscape.
But they also exert a pull on people’s minds and often occupy a special place in local culture.
For Northumbria University’s Keith McIntyre, it is Marsden Rock on the South Tyneside coast which fascinates.
The rock, with its distinctive arch, has been portrayed numerous times in paintings, photographs and the postcards of yesteryear.
The rock and its caves were a playground for generations of youngsters and its summit a colony site for seabirds.
The Victorians could climb the rock via wooden steps and Keith has an early postcard which shows a choir performing on the top.
But 17 years ago this month, the unthinkable happened.
“The arch of Marsden Rock, immortalised by artists and celebrated in postcards, songs and family photographs, collapsed during the night,” said Keith.
“In an instant, the vast span was no more and a wide, gaping space now existed between two giant columns of magnesian limestone.”
A year later, as a result of safety concerns, the free-standing pinnacle left by the collapse was demolished using high explosives.
But the changed Marsden Rock continues to draw people to it.
“We don’t have many islands off the North East coast, and at high tide at Marsden Rock an island is formed,” said Keith.
“Although less than 100 metres from the shoreline, it sits tantalisingly close, yet isolated in the currents and waves.
“It is a reminder that this landscape was once connected and extended further out into the sea in past millennia.
“The desire to capture the rock in a photograph, drawing or painting remains strong despite the absence of the arch.
“Tourists, geologists and artists are still attracted by its immensity.”
They include Keith, who lives in Ryton in Gateshead and is head of the university’s department of arts.
Today his exhibition, Moladh Marsden Rock, opens at the Customs House Gallery at South Shields, and it runs until March 24.
It includes Keith’s huge drawings of the rock and a selection from the postcards he has collected which feature the landmark.
Moladh is a Gaelic word meaning “in praise of” and reflects how the exhibition has its origins in the Outer Hebrides.
Keith, wife Sheenagh and their sons Lewis, 25, and Casey, 21, who are both studying geography at university, are creating a home and studio from a ruined church on the Hebridean island of Berneray, roughly two miles by three, in the Sound of Harris.
The islands were once connected by sandbars, but these have been replaced by causeway roads.
There is an environmental debate on the impact of the causeways on tidal patterns and flow, and Keith has watched his local beach disappearing.
This prompted an interest in how the landscape changes and the way in which Gaelic proverbs portray rocks as always remaining and holding a sense of history.
“We are facing unprecedented changes to our climate,” said Keith.
“We are meddling with things we don’t know much about.”
Keith carried that interest into an exhibition last year at the National Trust’s Wallington property in Northumberland, in which artists were invited to respond to the hall’s paintings by William Bell Scott, which portray historical scenes from Northumbrian history.
Keith showed giant pen and ink drawings of rock formations at places such as the Farne Islands, Lindisfarne and Steel Rigg on Hadrian’s Wall.
Marsden Rock is up there with such locations .
When Keith moved to Tyneside from Glasgow 20 years ago, he visited Marsden.
He said: “I was overwhelmed by the rock, and I was staggered by the number of postcards which portrayed it.
“Marsden has a particular affection in the hearts of the local population.
“The collapse of the arch was greeted with disbelief, shock and dismay. But it still has an awesome presence because it is a huge rock. People like to sit and look at it.”
Keith visited South Shields Museum and Gallery to view photographs and paintings of the rock.
“There was one of a man just sitting and contemplating the rock, its sheer beauty, and nature,” said Keith.
“A lot of people have been contacting the Customs House about how they remember the rock, and the sheer shock they felt when the arch fell down.”
More rock memories are needed.
Esen Kaya, visual arts curator at the Customs House, said: “As part of the exhibition we would like people to share their memories and thoughts about their relationship with this rock.”