Monday, 13 September 2010

Heavy Horses before the sunset

Another relaxing weekend. It's been a while since I've spent a weekend just pottering about. The thing is our pottering about, seems to be most other people's idea of a full scale expedition. This Saturday was one of those such quiet days.

After a bit of a shopping tripette to Wells, in Somerset, which seemed to involved many hours in the Good Earth Cafe reading the Saturday papers and precious little shopping, we tootled off down to the North Somerset Ploughing Match at Brockley, just outside Bristol.

Julie is a bit of an equestrian fan and my saying there would be heavy horse ploughing at the event, swayed her to accompany me. The thought of spending an afternoon with me getting excited as I stood in a field with many oily ragged boiler-suited gentlemen of the soil, doesn't readily appeal to a refined lady of breeding. But mention there will be horses there and she's brushed her hair and in the car faster than a pickled onion drops into a vinegar substrate.

I love ploughing matches and wrote about this self same event last year. By far the bulk of those ploughing on Saturday were vintage tractors (some of which were new to the agri-market when I were nowt but-a lad in farming, and now are seen as quaint ancient machines - makes me feel old). But as ever, it's the horse ploughing teams that get all the patting and ooing and aaaaarring. And I have to say, who can blame them. Watching heavy horses ploughing is a wonderful sight, and not for the feint hearted.

Sam (L) and Poppet (R)

Heavy horses may be the gentle giants of the equestrian world, but there are some serious muscles under their sleek coats all controlled by a few leather straps and quiet words from the ploughman. Just wonderful to watch. And it's a good job the weather forecasters managed to yet again get the weather completely wrong for Saturday otherwise Poppet and Sam's harness brasses would have been soaked.

Speaking about things with rippling muscles under their sleek coats, this fan of a good ploughman's lunch hove into view to tickle Poppet's ear. Shocking!

But to give you time to recover from that unfortunate image, here is another of the team back in action. After all that's why we'd come here.

This is Henry, a Clydesdale

But of course there were tractors too, and this model was the very first tractor I ever drove as a nowt but-a lad 12 year old on Harry's farm in West Boldon, between Sunderland and Newcastle. Happy days remembering the excitement of being a 12 year old and knowing exactly what I wanted to do as a man - and so at 16 I left home, moved to a hill farm in North Northumberland and became a farm student. The best experience of my life.

I asked herself to photograph me next to this Fergie and made her promise to put it on my Christmas present list. I'm awaiting the answer! Not long after this we had a sniff the silage moment, actually more than one such olfactory moment (while perusing the produce event of the show). Silage was my nickname at Durham Agricultural College and the smell of it still makes me revert to warm summer days rolling the silage clamp in a Fergie, or frosty winter mornings opening the clamp before dawn in my Leyland 272 to feed the cows breakfast in the hemmel, and that sweet scent of summer wafting over me in midwinter. Good memories.

That was the afternoon. We popped home for a cuppa and then headed down into Dorset for a sit on our favourite hill. There was a reason for doing this today, and it was successfully achieved.

When we got there it was about 7pm and the sun was beginning to set. I'm not a spiritual person normally, but that hill is such a spiritual place for me and has been for 30+ years, I can come to it time and time again and it always changes it's mood, it seems, to reflect mine. I brought Julie here in March for the first time and she too has now fallen in love with it's timeless atmosphere.

While Julie headed off for some quiet reflection, I managed to take some sunset photos. I like this one above of her walking alone on the hill as the sun finally reached the horizon. As she said, somewhere the sun was rising, a never ending cycle. And I quite like this one below of the clouds, as we looked out towards the sea, just after the sun set.

Not all the photographs I take with this new camera work. Digital skies are difficult to capture if the main subject such as vegetation is in the wrong spectrum. Often the camera is fighting to correctly expose on the subject and so the sky then becomes burnt out. Get the sky to be perfectly exposed and coloured, often means the subject is in silhouette. Manual photography will compensate somewhat, but that takes time and fiddling. So this photo below is a classic case of the former problem.

There was wonderful sunlight reflecting on the fence and grass heads but try as I might, because I had to face the sun, the sky is just burnt out. But all is not lost. As an actual representation of the image on this September evening this was rubbish. But by the magic of digital manipulation in post production, the following effect was achieved, more like a moody misty winters day - the sunlight changing for frost. Well I think so. I wonder what do you bloggers think? Who says the camera never lies!!

By 9pm we were sitting in the dark at the hill so decided to end the night down at West Bexington beach where from just past 10 o'clock we sat for half an hour in the dark listening to the waves crashing on Chisel Beach. Around us were fishermen casting into the high tide (and apparently the fish were not being caught) and the night sky was crystal clear. There were millions of twinkling stars overhead, the Milky Way was as milky as I've ever seen it and as we sat on the shingle, not one but 4 shooting stars past overhead. I love this part of Dorset, absolutely love it. And sharing it with Julie these days adds such a wonderful dimention to my love of this area.

But let me end this posting back in the afternoon of Saturday and a celebration of heavy horses, pulling the plough........ when the oil runs out, these gentle giants will once again be the backbone of human kind. And well deserved too.


  1. sounds like a great day! The photographs are stunning me d....on the exposure issue though....yes manual is a good idea but on these occasions a nutural density graduated filter is the best way to sort out the exposure diffences. Otherwise take 2 or 3 exposures whilst keeping the camera in the same place and use layers and the eraser in photoshop.
    Andrew H

  2. Ahhahh, Mr H, that's okay for you to say - you know what you're doing. i may have a go at layering again, never quite got used to doing it proper like.... bring back film!

  3. Sounds a perfect way to potter to me. Beautiful horses and I love the sunset photos. Glad I am not the only one to struggle with into the sun photos. I really must experiment with photoshop.

  4. Thank you Robin. The advice from my friend Andrew is good, he's a professional photographer and have given me some fabulous advice over the years. Keep clicking :-)

  5. Hey Andrew, sounds a bit of a marathon here too ;-) A wonderful illustrated read... a farm student? Now there's something I had never heard of. Lovely to hear a bit about what has taken you to where you are now.

    Loved all the photos... favs were you and the tractor and one with the sheep. Clydesdales
    are just so majestic aren't they. Skies just ask to be photographed... enjoy your challenges there. That's one I haven't mastered at all. You do pretty well from where I'm sitting :-D

  6. I do like heavy horse and have a friend in Hexhamshire who still farms with horses (as seen on TV 'The Last Horseman'.
    I keep meaning to go down and take some pictures for my own blog and might well do so one day.
    Thanks you for your kind comment on my blog - it's nice to hear from a Reiver in another part of England.