Monday, 9 February 2015

February 8th 2015 - Project month 2

What is already interesting about this project having just completed the second suite of photographs is the weather effect. Normally taking photographs one would pick a sensual day, or a subject bathed in sunlight, frost or snow for example. Angles could be chosen away from the sun for that perfect image. But with this project I have 2 fixed points I can not adjust from here on in - firstly the image is now fixed and the date and time of repeat shots is fixed.  I have to go with what I have to work with, and this becomes apparent in some of these images for February.  

The week prior to this weekend, we were in a cold spell of sunlit and below freezing days, quite spectacular. I'd driven back from Hertfordshire last night and the sunset was amazing over the M25 (added to by the 4 lanes of stationary car-lights I found myself in). I woke on Saturday morning and the temperature had risen, but fog had replaced clear blue skies, uniform grey clouds replacing sun kissed burnt orange clouds and the whole landscape just looked dreary and flat. Due to other commitments I only had Saturday afternoon to work, and later on Sunday afternoon which proved to be gloriously sunny but gave other problems I'd not envisaged.  

Saturday was bitterly cold, with the temperature hovering around 2 degrees but a strong breeze making it feel a lot colder. The light was appalling and really by 3.30pm it was too dark to capture the last 4 images of the day. They'd have to take place on Sunday. Sunday was around 8 degrees and at 4pm the light was bright and crisp from a winter's sun, However that sun was an hour from setting and directly in the line of fire so to speak of the remaining 4 images to take. That is however the challenge and the joy of doing a project like this, coping with the constants.

In summary, not much has changed since taking the first lot of images in early January, but one thing of note is that the landscape seems much more grey-brown than in January, when the weather had not cooled down enough to put the landscape to bed for the deep winter period of mid Jan to mid Feb. I hope by March 1st and 2nd some changes will be more noticeable. 

And so to the 17 images taken this weekend.....

Image 1 : No real change from January, though this time it wasn't raining

Image 2 : This field has dried out quite a bit since January

Image 3 : I realised by this point that trying to match an image on my mobile phone with what I attempted to take wasn't a sound methodology. For March I'll have postcards to refer to.

Image 4 : Could have been taken last month it has probably changed the least of all 17 images.

Image 5 : Despite this being next to a road I couldn't find the spot exactly. 

Image 6 : Some work had happened in the orchard, evident not only of the wheel-marks but ladders propped up in the trees where saw cuts were visible. 

Image 7 : As I walked to the river to take the image a brilliant blue kingfisher shot along the bank - a vibrant splash in a very dull day. A bit less weed in the river this month, presumably the lower temperature has slowed its growth.

Image 8 : Pretty much the same as in January, again dries path though.

Image 9 : Hard to believe in three months these will be full of blossom.

Image 10 : This was taken on Sunday and I've had the change the angle slightly, partly as the sun was directly in my eyes, I couldn't see a thing. Partly as the original image was a bit dull on reflection, at least this new one has a piece of field in it.

Image 11 : Again the sun was in my eyes, but this time is gave for a lovely colouration of the barn sides. While there, a robin and dunnock entertained me in the shrubs. The field to the left was also full of lapwing 'pee-witting' en mass to enliven the landscape with sound.

Image 12 : The sunshine on Sunday did work to my advantage with Woodspring Priory - it looks absolutely stunning as a rays of light lengthened. The view hasn't changed much but boy the light has. 

Image  13 : Another, and last, image taken on Sunday. That huge whiteout area to the top right is the sun. As an image its poor, but as I said at the top, I am fixed in time and place. So next month I'll come in the morning.

Image 14 : By now I was cold. No change here at all, although next to where I stood daffodils were emerging.

Image 15 : The footpath could have been taken last month - A Groundhog Day moment.

Image 16 : The cattle are still indoors at the farm but a bit more inquisitive than last time.

Image  17 : The river still flows under the bridge, so everything is fluid, just looks the same.

So tune in again, weekend March 1st and 2nd, what will the changes be.......

Sunday, 4 January 2015

January 4th 2015 - Project month 1


This weekend I have begun a project I've wanted to do for over 10 years. It's simple. I live in a little known part of Somerset (technically North Somerset due to the fall out of the Avon County demise in 1996). But before Avon came to be in 1974, it was just Somerset. Somerset or  Dorset were the only really serious contenders as a replacement home to Northumberland; my spiritual home. And Somerset has provided a warm welcome.

North Somerset is as the name suggests in the north of the county. Draw a line roughly along the middle of the Mendip Hills, continue out to  the Bristol Channel, turn right and head along the coast to Portishead and then head inland along the River Avon to Bristol, and keep going back to the Mendips at Burrington Combe. That's where I live, not all of it you understand, just a tiny part between Weston Super Mare and Clevedon, 2 miles from the coast across very flat farmland.  

So the project. As I mentioned it is simple. Within a 4 mile radius of my home, take one photograph each month of the same view. Over the twelve months, a record of changing seasons will develop. This is a prelude (I hope) to a much bigger project I've had bubbling through my mind these ten years, which, I'll not dwell on here.

The challenge however was, what to photograph? Oodles of options. I could just go to every village and photograph the main street or church and that would be perfect. Making it personal however seemed important, and with that, seventeen images came to mind, each with some connection to me over the 17 years I've lived here. Places I go, views I see regularly, walks I've been on. That sort of thing.

Given this is the first weekend in January, I saw no reason to delay. To my regret the weather was at best dull, at worst downright soggy. That however meant, to me at least, that the images for January do reflect somewhat the dark days before spring. Who wants sun kissed images?  The 17 were born over the weekend, and will be revisited on the weekend of February 7th and 8th. I wonder if the views will be any different?

Image 1: Wick St Lawrence village. I live here, well round the corner in the new estate, but a very pleasant hamlet it is. The church is home to a silent sanctuary on the first Saturday of each month - and we'd just been there.

Image 2 : Just a field in Wick St Lawrence, but around here there are a lot of fields like this. Small, intimate and containing old trees, usually willows and apples. Behind me was a saddleback pig, she nearly made it into the image, but I guess she'll not be there in a year's time.

Image 3 : The Oldbridge River from Puxton Bridge. I cross this bridge regularly. It's narrow, very narrow. Occasionally vans try and cross it and well, repair is often needed. The bridge does however offer fabulous views towards Congresbury, and in autumn often shrouded in mellow misty moments.

Image 4: The Church of St Saviour, Puxton. Deconsecrated in 2002 this church is a gem. I love it. Inside Georgian box pews and little else. Outside it is managed as a wildlife sanctuary, evidence of many badgers there even on Saturday. I stood at the far south east corner to take this image, which was maybe not the best choice as it does not show the leaning tower, slowly sinking into the peat as it has done since it was built around 1539.

Image 5: I wanted to record some of the lanes around here and this one from Rolstone to Banwell fits the bill nicely. Crack willows festooned with mistletoe, willow hedges ablaze with orange fire. Only 10 miles from the centre of Weston super Mare, but they feel remote in these flatlands. A scene I'm sure will look completely different in June.

Image 6: Orchards are everywhere in this area. Until around 15 years ago most were ancient and redundant. However the resurgent popularity of cider has meant that many an old orchard has been saved and many new orchards planted by Thatcher's, the local brewer (see image 9). This one is near Banwell and I like the fact there is a caravan in there too - suggests work to me.

Image 7 : The River Banwell at less than 10 miles in total length must be the shortest river in Somerset. Most of its length is now in canalised ditches like this one, yet here, just outside Banwell village where it bubbles to the surface from Mendip springs, it is teeming with life. Even on a cold January, waterweed proliferates, providing much needed cover for the many fish here.

Image 8 : Back in Victorian times if I'd stood here I'd have been mown down by a train. The Famous strawberry trains from Cheddar to Yatton (and thence to Bristol, Birmingham, London and beyond) plied their trade here. Cheddar being on the southern slopes of the Mendips is well known for cheese and some of the best strawberries in the UK. They really are delicious. The line closed in 1963 along with many others across the country. Now, it is a long distance cycleway and wildlife reserve and here it ventures through more orchards and newly planted woodlands.

Image 9: Thatcher's cider fields near Sandford. Sandford is on the northern slopes of the Mendips and this area is home to Thatcher's Cider. In the last 15 years I've seen field after field be planted up with apples, which in spring are a wonderful sight. I shall look forward to returning here often.

Image 10 : One of the many bridelways which crisscross this ancient landscape. This one connects Wick St Lawrence to Sand Bay on the coast. Until recently it was almost impassable but work by locals and the Council have opened it up. We walked it in September for the first time.

Image 11 : There is no reason to take a photograph of this derelict barn other than I liked the look of it. It lies hard by a lane heading to Woodspring Priory. Quite overgrown but to my eye a worthy contender for the developing seasons...good spot for blackberries by the look of it.

Image 12 : Woodspring Priory. This ancient Augustinian Priory was founded by William de Courtney in the early 13th century, and dedicated to Thomas Becket. Now it is owned by the Landmark Trust (one can stay here) and is surrounded by National Trust land. Even in 2015 it is still an isolated spot.


Image 13 : Sand Bay looking towards Kewstoke, with Knightstone pier just off. I spend a lot of time here. This is an image I'd not normally snap, more often catching the sand, or the dramatic sunsets here. Today however on this project's quest I tried a different view. Hard left is the beach hut I sometimes sit in if the wind is bad. The dunes are awash with summer flowers. Inhabited since Iron Age times, Worlebury Hill woods beyond were clear felled for WW1 and replanted. An historical reminder for this project that nothing stays the same.

Image 14: The post box at Ebdon Bow. I've always loved this post box, still in use, since noticing it when I first arrived. Ebdon Bow is only a farm and a couple of houses. I've photographed this box many times and it is a reminder to me of what civilised society aims for, such as an universal postal service when we need it. It was recently repainted so I presume it isn't going to disappear too soon.

Image 15 : I've no idea if anyone uses this footpath, but historically it must have cut off a long loop of the lane out of Wick St Lawrence. At the opposite end is the post box in Image 14. Recently someone has cut away the brambles and opened up the path. Looking today however, no sign of footprints.

Image 16: Ebdon Bow Farm, home to Mr Green. Most farms around here are dairy and this one split by the lane I drive through every day to and from work. In summer the place is alive with swallows, but in early January, just muck and more muck. That's farming for you!

Image 17: The final image in this project is Ebdon Bow bridge. This 200 year old hump-back bridge has surely a story to tell. It's also the second outing for the River Banwell which is nearing the end of it's exhausting few miles flow to the sea. Another wildlife haven and I live not half a mile from here in the new part of the village. At this point the river is tidal and today it looks like the tide is out.

I shall return to these images in the first weekend in February.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

November 29th 2014 - Reflecting The Somerset Levels

Spent the afternoon wandering around the Shapwick part of the Somerset Levels today. The end of November weather was a bonus, not a breath of wind and in mid afternoon sunshine 12 degrees warm. Julie and I began with a coffee at Eco Bites near Shapwick, we love it here as to the birds, this 'Christmas' robin and a sociable reed bunting.

After this, it was onto Shapwick Heath and marvelling at the sublime reflections in a still almost mirror like water atmosphere.

Sunlight through Primeval ferns at the waters edge

This is not upside down - the water was that mirror like.

Stumps in water

Reeds, water and blue skies

I got Julie to lob a stone in here to add the circle ripples to an otherwise perfect reflection.

The sun was beginning to drop so while waiting for the starlings, a few arty shots too

By 4pm we were in Meare Heath hide and watching the starlings flood past. Everyone else was elsewhere, we seemed to have the place to ourselves.

By the time this heron arrived the light was shocking but whacking up the ISO I managed a final reflection shot.
We left the hide at 4.30pm and walked back through the woodland to the car. Such an atmospheric walk and allowed us to reflect on the day.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

November 25th 2014 - Winter's grip

"Tracks led everywhere on the tell-tale white mantle of snow. The roe, the rabbit, the fox and the hare had left their stains. The spoor of pheasant, woodcock and blackbird marked the surface where they had striven for sustenance beneath the snow-covered earth. Below a holly bush, where snow had not penetrated, the tiny wren, his tail cocked upright, flitted about amongst the leafy carpet. At the eastern end of Blackburn Lake the leafless silver birches stood out against the white background like witches' brooms"

So wrote Henry Tegner (1901-1980) in 1953 in his story of a roe deer, The Buck of Lordenshaw.

Henry Tegner was writer, naturalist and a deer expert; president of the Deer Society, firstly gaining his knowledge of deer in Dorset before later later moving to Northumberland. Here he continued his work from the village of Whalton near Morpeth.  He wrote 25 or so books, primarily centred around the Northumbrian landscape and the wildlife that it contained. The Buck of Lordenshaw is as far as I'm aware the only life-story of a deer that has been published. His description is as mesmerising and evocative as other more familiar works about a single species, such as Tarka the Otter and yet this life and death struggle of a roe deer in and around the Cragside Estate near Rothbury is largely forgotten. As is this wonderful author.

I have a first edition copy of that book next to me as I write, and flicking through the pages I am drawn back again to that part of remote Northumberland. This week in Somerset winter has finally showed it's first fingertip grip on a mild autumn, a light frost covered the fields. December next week yet snow, significant snow, seems far off. However Tengers words on the page I am looking at, transport me back to an often taken woodland walk in winter.

"Silence reigned over Cragside save for the soft whisper of the snow as it fell upon the fir tree... It intensified the boundless silence of the whole countryside".

It is a silence I remember fondly and hope to relive again this winter. Many is the time I have walked in the winter wood. Snow knee deep at the woodland edge slowly thins as I push forward past long dead summer vegetation into the corral of trees around me, into a silent world. Is the countryside silent? Muffled maybe. Snow provides the silence of the wild, save for the crepe and scrunch of boot on snow, a tactile satisfying sound no other substrate can mimic. Tread gently and my foot silently sinks into the opaque void, but, apply a little pressure, and the tell tale crepe of compressed flakes brings joy to my activity.  

Crepe, crepe, crepe my footfall softened. I hear my breath leaving me, billowing in a condensed cloud as I move. I am removed from the ground I walk over, soft snow obliterates form and shape, all is uniform, all is silent. I stop and listen. Nothing but silence. Nothing but the thick curtain of trunk and branch, dark against the pale sun bleached winter sky. The dark wood is silently observing me, and at leisure for the first warming rays of April sun. Then these woods which now sleep a deep midwinter's sleep will awaken to spring's choral, the willow warbler, the pied flycatcher, the chiffchaff and redstart will jostle for song borne soundscape.

Today though I am remembering the joy of a wood in winter, I revisit to a silent world, lost in thought, my stride is measured and steady. Lost in my own thoughts, time stands still, yet it has begun to snow, softly. Single flakes breakthrough the canopy mesh to float silently and alone to the woodland floor. I watch them, spinning in unison before being absorbed into the snow-mass within. Without, a heavy fall has begun, dark clouds against the white landscape, swirling flakes coating the trunks of the outermost trees. But, inside the womb like cavern of a winter wood, single flakes gentle fall, in silence. I catch one in my gloved hand. So light, so delicate yet in a moment it is gone, returned to its liquid state by my internal heat.

Light is fading now, I retrace and make my return across the fields. Illuminated from below, the landscape has a pearlescence to it,  unique to a winter snowfall. Even indoors the radiance of light from below adds a glow to a room that even without looking will confirm that indeed snow has fallen overnight. That terra firma pale glow extends dusk well beyond its scheduled timeframe. A buttermilk glow may further brighten the west sky. No torch is required to light my way home today. 

Trees silhouetted against the fading light stand isolated in the white of a countryside at sleep. Maybe a robin will break my reverie as the smoke of a cottage fire drifts listlessly up into the falling flakes.  The pheasant metallic nasal call likewise drifts from some unseen hedge, it is a sound of winter to me. The countryside is closing down for the day. Along the field I walk, my face both hot and chilled with the exertion against a cooling air. I'm home, where I shall sit warmly and wish it will all remain as I remember it, for another day. I never tire of snow.

Henry Tegner's daughter Veronica Heath carried on his country diary traditions and wrote for the Guardian for 35 years. In one of her last postings she recalled 6 of her personal favourites. For me, reading Henry Tegner's simple description of the silence of snow, did what all good country writing aspires to do, to simply transports memories into a clear view, the natural elements, the suggestion to a spirit of place.

Images: Top to bottom:
Fallow Deer - Stock Gaylard Estate, Dorset 2007
The view from my home-office over to Wales 2011
The big field, East Grafton, Wiltshire. 2010
Through the hedge, Somerset 2012
Julie's Tree, Wilton, Wiltshire, 2011.