STRANGE shapes have been appearing across the North Pennines – transforming ruins into eye-catching features on the sprawling hillside.

Last week, hikers, cyclists and drivers were baffled when a voluminous red inflatable seemed to engulf a stone hut near Cow Green Reservoir, in Teesdale.

Word spread and photographs of the extraordinary scene were shared on social media, and it did not take long for people to realise it was the work of environmental artist Steve Messam.

The installation was part of his current project Architect of Ruins, which temporarily turns ruined structures into fantastical follies and visual landmarks.

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In the summer, he created a similar piece in a winding house which served a Weardale mine in the 19th century.

And in October, he filled the skeleton of a dilapidated railway wagon at Westgate with a billowing white inflatable.

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Each was in place for less than a day – just long enough for photographs and film to be captured for an exhibition next year.

Mr Messam, who is based in Middleton-in-Teesdale, said: "Teesdale and Weardale are home to hundreds of ruined buildings, they have no function but are a reminder of the past.

"For just a day or few hours they become a fantastical piece of architecture, it has no purpose whatsoever other than to look good.

"Each piece gives that old ruin its day."

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All the pieces are created using ripstop nylon, some of which Mr Messam recyled from previous artwork, and inflated into or around the building using a battery powered fan.

They are held in place simply by air pressure, so no damage is caused.

Over the next few months, Mr Messam will create three or four more installations and the images and footage he collects will be turned into huge billboards to exhibit across the region next year.

The pieces so far have been kept secret, largely to prevent crowds of people turning up to see them while coronavirus restrictions are in place.

Mr Messam's previous work included the yellow fabric sails 'Hush' in Upper Teesdale, last summer, and a bridge made of 20,000 sheets of red paper in the Lake District, in 2015.

He said: "We couldn't encourage people to come and see these latest pieces, yet there were still about 50 people visited Cow Green to look and take pictures.

"Hopefully we can tell people where the next ones will be."