The lovely ruins of Bayham Abbey.

06 September 2019 – Bayham Abbey, Kent.

Bayham Abbey in Kent was founded in 1207 and existed until the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541. It was a Premonstratensian, or White Canon abbey and was built when two nearby abbeys failed and combined resources to build a new one. The ruins were modified in the 18th century after the new abbey was built to provide a better landscaping feature. Whatever was done to it, certainly did not detract from the ruins as it is a magnificent structure. One of the loveliest I have visited, and it has been a while since I visited one.

The abbey can be found just off the A21 on the way from Walthamstow to St Leonards, probably not too far off half way time wise. I have been planning to stop here for a while, and with no rush to get back to London, today was the day.

I took lot of photos, way more than I have here!

I was mostly alone during my visit, at different times three couples also walked around, but that was about it, I liked it like that. It was peaceful. I picked up the habit of walking around the outside of a ruin, before going inside when I visited the Khmer ruins of Angkor Wat. At that time it was a way of avoiding the crowds, though sometimes there are things to see on the outside that most people miss as they just charge straight through the centre. I walked round the outside first today.

On the edge of the abbey ruin is a summer house and the old gateway. I went there first.

The gate was closed and had a sign saying advising that on the other side it was ‘Private Property’, though the amount of bramble and head high nettles on the other side of the gate makes the sign rather redundant. No-one was going to pass through that mess.

There were not many original features left, this was one of the few original carved faces I found, a number of new ones have been added in modern times, as you will see later.

Entering the ruins I spent some time strolling around the various spaces, all slightly different.

I found lots of archways, I am a big fan of archways, one of the things I like the most in European ruins, particularly abbeys.

There were some small amount of detail left in the ruined walls.

My favourite bit was this tree growing on top of one of the old walls, this very much reminded me of the Wat Ta Prohm site in Cambodia where some of the trees that took over the ancient sites were left in situ, growing on and over the walls and buildings. I loved that place, and I love this one as well.

I really enjoyed the ruins, a highlight of the week, and highly recommend you visiting them if you are on the A21!

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Checking out my new(ish) neighbourhood.

September 05 2019 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

One of the unexpected joys in this inter-departmental civil service transfer that I am doing has been getting an extra week holiday, albeit in this case an unpaid week. Things are never simple in the civil service and one of the things that is more complex than it needs to be is moving to another department. This is especially so with all the Brexit changes going on, with staff being seconded and loaned all over the place. Nailing down a start date has not been easy in this transfer from the Cabinet Office to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. However, it is happening and I am starting my new role on Monday 9th, not the 2nd. The extra week off has been good.

I spent last week back in Walthamstow, getting a few things organised; buying some clothes for the office, attacking the mega ironing pile, all the little tasks that need to be done before starting a new job. I also went back to the office for the final time and handed in my laptop and security passes, it wasn’t time for a final farewell; that is happening over drinks next week.

I did go out and buy a new camera. I own three other cameras, none of them work properly;

  • The Panasonic GX1 I took travelling all those years ago, which no longer works, but does have three lenses.
  • The Canon 5d Mk1 that I dropped and broke the battery cover and is so old I cannot get a new one. It is also starting to be unreliable and I have been thinking of replacing it for ages.
  • The Canon G16 compact. Three scratches on the lens, one right in the middle which does effect image quality.

I have been thinking about new cameras for ages, the 5d is 12 years old, but I have lenses and other things that I could transfer to a newer version, a Mk4 or 5, but those camera bodies are over £2000. It is a magnificent camera, but it is really heavy and impractical for travelling or hiking. I looked at the Fuji and Sony systems, smaller and great quality, but I would end up spending similar amounts by the time I got lenses to go with the cheaper body from a different brand.

In the end I decided on going for another Panasonic Lumix – probably two of them in fact, one small and ‘pocket’ sized and a second, more professional version; though I can share lenses between them both, and having some already helps.

I bought a Lumix GX800 to start with, the cheaper ‘pocket’ sized camera. I like it because I can change the lens, which is unusual for a compact.

This week was going to be test week. My post from the gig on Tuesday night showed that its low light capabilities were excellent, way better than any of my previous cameras, which is a good sign. 

Which takes me back to the rest of the week. With another week off and El working I chose to come back down to the flat, with no tasks to do it was just going to be a relaxing time. Walking, reading, typing, photography was all I had planned, and pretty much all I achieved.

My first activity was to head back to Bexhill, and then walk to St Leonards. I wanted to see how long it would take. The answer is only 90 minutes, so it was closer than I thought. It is a great walk, mostly dead flat, but there are loads of small things to look at along the way. I may have to do a series of photos of the shelters along the Hastings, St Leonards and Bexhill sea fronts. I like them.

The following day I wanted to do a longer walk and get a few hills into the legs. When I was looking at the map of East Hill the other week I saw Ecclesbourne Glen Cave, and given my surface interest in caves and in the weird history of Hastings I decide that I would endeavour to find that on this walk. The cave can be found in Hastings Country Park, which I discovered today is bigger than it looks on the map.

It was pointed out during last summer’s drought that when flying over fields of drying and dying grass you could the outlines of things that had been buried or marked in the grass. Sites of ancient interest, some previously unknown became clear through the way the grass grew on top. While this is no ancient site, I have never seen football pitch markings on East Hill before, but this Google Maps image clearly shows ghost football pitches coming out of the grass. Love it.

I walked along the seafront, it was a busy day, I had thought the kids were back at school, but discovered it was a ‘teacher only’ day so there were a lot more families out than I expected. I took the steps next to the funicular up East Hill.

I particularly liked this shadow on the wall as the steps made a turn to run perpendicular to the very bright sun.

Back on East Hill I had a quick look for any sign of the Black Arches from above and was not disappointed to not find them, I had no luck when I was properly looking. The park is narrowish, so I headed off in the general direction of the cave. I was sort of hoping to find a sign, but if not I would use a map on my phone. The first sign I came across was not helpful.

As I was wondering what to do two teenagers walking a dog came down and just crossed the fence, they told me there had been landslides but it was safe and passable. I too crossed the fence; they went down a path heading towards the beach and I went along a path traversing the hillside. Looking at the map again with more knowledge and I could clearly see the landslip, it happened two or three years ago and the path was fine. Though vague in parts it was obviously well used.

I ploughed along for a while, finding different paths to follow, vaguely heading in the right direction, before finding a sign pointing to Ecclesbourne Glen, immediately followed by another saying the path was closed. Ignoring it the same as I did the last I started down the hill, seaward, eventually stumbling across the cave by good fortune rather than by good luck.

I do not know when the cave was first dug out of the small sandstone bank but I do know that in the late 19th century there were cottages nearby and gardens up near the cave. In 1893 John Hancox came to Hastings after his business had been bankrupted in London. He was given permission by one of the landowners to live in the cave, which a door was added to.

John lived in the cave until his death in 1918. He was found in the cave, which contained almost nothing. He slept on the ground and had a small fire for cooking. Though no one officially, or otherwise lives in the cave now, it is well used, and there have been numerous small fires lit in and out the front, along with the sad but not unexpected piles of empty drink bottles and food containers.

Leaving the cave I climbed back up to the main path and carried on walking through the Country Park, it is very nice up here, cool under the trees and fairly quiet, only dog walkers seem to come this way.

I walked as far as Ecclesbourne Reservoir before deciding to turn back towards Hastings. I was hungry and had no food on me. My normal careful planning, :), though I did have water, I am not completely stupid 🙂

I didn’t do a lot else with the week, took a few photos, learning how the new camera works so I don’t have to keep stopping, digging through a bag or pocket for glasses so I work out what button I pressed. I am very much liking the new camera.

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Night Beats, supported by Strange Cages @ The Piper

September 03 2019 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

St Leonards is constantly changing, gentrifying, and in my mind improving. I know not everyone agrees that the gentrification of this, or any other area, is a good thing; but hey, I am a property owner and anything that increases the value of my investment is a good thing! I am a middle aged, middle class man who likes, and can mostly afford good coffee, nice wine, good beer and music. Therefore I am very supportive of the addition of places that provide those things to St Leonards, even if the price of a pint is a lot more expensive than others.

Since I have moved into my flat the only closed pub in the St Leonards has been renovated, reopened, renamed as The Piper and rebranded itself as a live music bar and venue. It is very much my kind of place.

I popped in their for a quiet pint last time I was down and ended up staying there for five drinks, it was the sort of place where I felt comfortable sitting alone with my laptop and writing. In that case one of the many blog posts I managed to write that week. They were also playing some of the best music I have heard in a pub – almost as if they had been referring to my Spotify playlists. I have been back since, but not staying that long again.

They started having bands play a few weeks ago, a couple of really good acts have played there, including Toy, one of my current favourites, so definitely a place to be excited about. Tonight they hosted Night Beats, an American psychedelic/garage rock three piece. Though this is my sort of music I had not heard of them before, so this was a very good reason to head to a new favourite ‘local’ and go see a band, or two.

Last week I bought myself a new camera, something to be covered in the next post, so I it along tonight. It is pretty low end, but I was hoping that as it is new technology it would have better low-light capabilities than my other cameras. I was pleasantly surprised.

I got to the venue about an hour after doors opening and was a bit gutted as to the very small number of people there, however by the time the support band, Strange Cages, came on the crowd had expanded enough for there to be a good atmosphere.

Strange Cages are from Brighton, I had checked out a couple of tracks on Youtube and didn’t like them, but will always check out a live band. They were much better than their Youtube clips gave them credit for, and subsequent listening on Spotify proved their youtube presence is bad. Their last track was a long jam, reminding me a lot of early Pink Floyd, but the synth was a bit too twiddly for me. They did however, have the best drummer I have seen in ages, extremely aggressive and very talented. Worth going to see them for him alone. Though naturally I have no photos of him, mainly the front man. As always

Strange Cages.

Night Beats are just starting a European tour, so I guess this is a bit of a warm up show for them, small venue in a small town. The place was full one they got on the low stage, though I had not left the room between sets so was close enough to take photos before the crowd made its way in front of me.

The lighting was terrible, as is always the case in small venues. Why do they insist on those awful red or blue lights?

I had fun, they are a good band, live they were a bit more 60s garage rock than full on psychedelic rock. A good night out.

Night Beats.

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A view of Hastings, St Leonards and Bexhill

August 25 2019 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

I have a couple of weeks off between jobs and for this first week I am down at the flat. I wrote a little about the flat and the progress made since I bought it in March in this blog post and touched on the job I am starting. There will be more on the job at a later date.

I did not do a huge amount while I was at the flat; I did read, I did play records, I cooked and ate, drank wine, visited a couple of pubs and made a few walks. I was pretty exhausted from work and life and didn’t really feel up to much. I don’t think I spoke to anyone more than pleasantries when ordering food or drink. It was great having some space to just be in my head. It was great to have an opportunity to catch up on a backlog of posts as well 🙂 I enjoyed my time.

Yesterday I posted about a walk I took exploring some of the weirder bits of the area I live in. This post will wrap up the rest of the week, though as I said I did not do much.

The beach here is quite steep, and very stony, there is sand at the low tide mark as all the pebbles are pushed up the beach with each tide. The beach environment changes what feels like daily, particularly recently as there have been some very high tides and the wind has been blowing, what feels like all summer.

I wanted to get some photos of the sea crashing on the pillars under the pier, so walked along there just before high tide. It was not worth the effort as not a lot was happening, maybe the conditions were not quite right. I walked on up to town for a bit, and on the way back home I spotted this chap on the groyne below Goat Ledge Cafe so stopped to take a couple of pictures. He didn’t get wet which really surprised me.

The following day was a lot calmer and for my next photographic mission I wanted to see how far under the pier I could get, so went out walking at low tide. It was significantly more successful than the high tide walk. I took a number of photos of St Leonards reflected in the puddles left by the outgoing tide. It was really nice, St Leonards looks magnificent from down here.

Under the pier at low tide I was as disappointed as I was at the high. I am not sure what I was hoping to visualise down here, but it was not what I saw. Perhaps, like yesterday the light was not quite right, it was the middle of the morning, so not the best timing, though I was aiming for low tide, not the right light.

I was amazed, though not sure why I was amazed, at the amount of old fishing net and line that was caught in the struts and beams of the pier. There was a lot of it. Everywhere. Disgraceful.

Next weekend (31 August) sees the start of the Coastal Currents art festival, centred in Hastings and with exhibitions at various locations up and down the coast, it is similar to the e17 Art Trail I was involved in back in June; one day I may join in! There are some interesting exhibitions happening including one in the basement tunnels under the closed Observer building in Hastings. I have seen some intriguing images coming from the curators and am keen to have a look.

The entrance to the Observer basement is in Gotham Alley so it was there I headed next, hoping for a sneak preview through an open door. I don’t believe Gotham Alley is the official name of the alley, but I can see why it is called it!

It is also the host of a lot of the old graffiti and street art in Hastings. I recognise this artist but for the life of me I cannot remember who it is.

Though this is clearly a Sweet Toof, a very old Sweet Toof.

Like so much of Hastings, there are buildings on cliff edges, banks and sand stone mounds. Gotham Alley is backed at one end by a sand stone wall and like all sand stone walls this has been hollowed out. A small shelter has been carved out of the rock, how long ago I have no idea, it looks old. Was it an animal shelter or the home to a hermit? I am not sure what it us used for now, lunch time smoko for those who work in the buildings nearby? street drinkers? It does not look the most comfortable.

El joined me for the bank holiday weekend. On the Sunday we caught the train to Bexhill, the next town down the coast. We have driven through it, but not really stopped for a decent look. This was our first day trip away from the Hastings and St Leonards-on-Sea area since I took the flat. It was nice to get out and see of the surroundings.

I liked Bexhill more than El, it is an OK town, nothing special. It has two record shops and numerous second hand and book shops, which is a great thing, and loads of pubs and cafes, also a good thing. We did find a great pub for lunch, nice food, good beer and all for an excellent price.

The main reason I wanted to come to Bexhill was to visit the de la Warr Pavilion. This lovely building was opened in 1935 and is mentioned on numerous occasions in the wonderful war memoirs by one of the UK’s funniest men, the late Spike Milligan, who played concerts here while on training for the Second World War. It is a fabulous building with some lovely art deco features, I am a sucker for any building with curved walls.

On the bank holiday Monday we drive back to London quite early, avoiding the worst of the traffic and the potential for being stuck in my poorly air-conditioned car in traffic on one of the hottest day of the year. It was the longest I had stayed in the flat so far, and i very much enjoyed it!

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Exploring the mysteries of Hastings.

August 25 2019 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

The line where the bigger town of Hastings ends and St Leonards-on-Sea starts must be a very thin one and have I no idea what is St Leonards and what is Hastings. They form one larger entity, though I suspect that those who live in each of the towns identify wholly with that place. Though who wants to live in a weird place like Hastings!

Hastings is an old place, much much older than the new St Leonards. It has history, and a well documented history at that; at least as far as the events of 1066 are concerned. Think about that year for a moment, 1066. That was 953 years ago, a seriously long time, yet we all know the events of that year; invasion by the Norman French under William the Conqueror , the Battle of Hastings, and the death of King Harold. Things we all learned about in school. Hastings existed before the battle, it likely had a Roman port (now long gone due to the shifting coast line), and pre-roman bronze and iron age artifacts have been found on both east and west hills. It is an old place.

Old places, ancient places, come with history; and with history come tales of good and evil, of weirdness and the unexplained and unexplainable. Strange things have happened, sometimes those things are bad and ghosts or memories of those events remain behind. I am not saying Hastings is haunted, though over the years it has attracted a number of interesting characters who chose to make Hastings their home. Charles Dawson, the infamous Piltdown Man hoaxer was from Hastings and the ‘evilest man in Britain’ Aleister Crowley lived the last of his years, eventually dying here. Crowley supposedly cursed the town from his death bed, and this curse apparently can still be felt today, 80 plus years later.

During my home hunting I read ‘The Stone Tide’ by Gareth E. Rees who had recently moved to Hastings from London. His previous work based around Walthamstow Marshes had been a favourite read and this one was no different. The book is part fiction/part factual and contains numerous references to the weird and wonderful bits of Hastings.

With a week off between jobs and time to spare now the bulk of the spring and summer house work has been completed I decided it was time to try and find some of the odd references noted in The Stone Tide, explore some of the lesser know highlights of Hastings. My first mission was to find the Black Arches and the Minnis Rock.

The Black Arches are three arches carved into the cliff face near the top of East Hill, from West Hill apparently they look like they could be the doors of a church . The Minnis Rock is also on East Hill, so it seemed logical to try and find the both at the same time.

St Leonards is to the west of Hastings, so it made sense to start by walking to the top of West Hill. The hill separates Hastings Old Town and the new town. Hastings Castle sits on the top of West Hill, and there are great views over the sea and up and down the coast.

Just along from the castle , and over a low fence is a sand stone cliff edge, cracked and gullied; slowly collapsing and being worn away by the elements. I stopped to take some photos of the names that have been carved into the sand stone over decades and worn down by the feet and bums of thousands of visitors ever since. Letters carved on top of old letters. Nothing was very obvious, it was hard to read any of the messages. Note of undying love, going the way of most youthful undying love.

I had read that the Black Aches were visible from West Hill, though only in winter. Summer foliage made it impossible to see them from both afar and up close. They were right, I could not see them from the hill, but there was a good view over the old town that sits in the valley between. Below my feet are a series of caves, that make up part of a paid for attraction, one that I will wait to visit with El.

There are two paths to the top of East Hill from the western side, one is steep and stepped and near the funicular on the sea front, the other runs up behind All Saints Church, I headed to All Saints, I don’t like steep. Entering the churchyard from The Bourne I passed what appears to be the most recent grave stone, it is at least the most looked after one. It had an Illuminati eye symbol on it, coincidence as to its condition? Maybe an early sign that some mysterious and secretive forces have been at play in Hastings.

The churchyard was in a sad state of repair, it is obviously old, most of the grave stones are so worn by the weather that nothing, or virtually nothing can be read on most of them. Some had fallen down, thankfully not many, and a lot had vines and bramble growing over, across and around. I quite liked it. It was peaceful and shady in the quite relenting sun.

Only two of the stones, had anything recognisable, one a broken angel and the other a Masonic symbol.

I walked up the path behind the churchyard, a gentle gradient towards the top of East Hill. I was trying to see any sign of the Black Arches or Minnis Rock, though the advice that summer was not a good time was very good. Everything was covered in brambles and ferns, ivy and a variety of trees and shrubs I am not going to even attempt to name. Hopeless.

Rather than look for caves or sign of caves I was looking for paths off the main track, thinking that whatever was there would have been accessed from this main path. Spotting a well worn side path I ducked under a branch and headed up towards the cliff face, and found something. I am not sure what it was, it definitely was neither of the things I was looking for, but it was a something. A very shallow cave carved into the sandstone, hidden behind trees.

I got up close to have a look at some of the things carved into the face. Like the sand stone cliff edge of West Hill this rock face has been visited and defaced for centuries. The clearest I could read was 1882.

The newest, and freshest, it looked as if it were carved yesterday, which it could well have been was from this year.

Needless to say I am going to go back when the winter has come and the trees are free of leaves and the brambles have died back a bit. I spent a bit of time walking around the cliff top and the paths below, trying to find any sign of the Black Arches or Minnis Rock, but nothing was visible through the dense undergrowth and trees. There were numerous paths and I tried all of them without successfully finding either of my objectives.

I finally gave up and took the lower path back towards the road, cutting up a set of steps to High Wickham, a short road with houses on one side that was very popular with artists in Victorian times. I crossed back over East Hill and down the steps to the sea front. Totally unsuccessful in my mission. Though the lovely old, saggy, Tudor houses on All Saints are always worth walking past.

On the way back home I stopped to take a photo of the Burton Tomb on West Hill Rd in St Leonards-on-Sea and just down the hill from my flat. This is not to be confused with the West Hill in Hastings by the way. So many hills! James Burton and his son Decimus and other members of the family are interred here in this very Masonic looking structure.

James Burton was the founder of what is now known as Burton St Leonards, the area of the town I live in, he was responsible for the design of the streets and building some of the wonderful houses, his son Decimus carried on the building after his death. There will be more on Burton St Leonards in a future post.

That night I spent a little more time researching the location of Minnis Rock and the Black Arches and returned the following day. Realising that 20 ft past the steps I cut up to High Wickham was the location of Minnis Rock. I am not sure why this is call a rock, it is three small and shall caves, linked internally.

There is confusion as to their history. One claim is they were cut in the 18th century, though a painting from 1663 shows something similar. Some say they were built for hermits, some as a place of worship and others as a place to shelter livestock before entering the town itself. I have also seen reference to Three Bears Caves, but for life of me cannot find that reference. Confusion and mystery abounds !

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Progress report on the flat.

August 25 2019 – St Leonards-on-Sea.

Time for a great leap forward in, err, time. The previous post was set at the start of June and here we are now, entering the last week of August. Photographically, it has been a fairly uneventful period; we have not been up to much in the preceding three months, so there was nothing really to write about. Though it has not been completely quiet, we have been to the flat a number of times. I have slowly been filling the space with, mainly second hand, furniture. In the one and only prior post about the flat I commented that I was going for a 60/70s vibe and I have very much stuck to that. The antique/vintage shops in St Leonards have very much benefited from this.

The other thing that has happened was being successful in applying for another job, which I will start sometime in September. The role is with another government department, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. I am still working in technology, though for the first time in 30 years I am not working in an IT department. I will be working in a data and analysis team, though I am looking after their technology, I am looking forward to it. I have yet to agree a start date so I have two, maybe three weeks off between jobs. I am now into week two; hence the flurry of posts in the last week. I very much need this time off as I was burning out, though at least this time I read and understood the signs and took action.

I have mostly completed the things I am going to do the flat in these first few months of ownership. It is now time to visit and just enjoy it all, rather than continuously spending money and doing small jobs. I have bought all the furniture I am going to buy, the last thing was a bed for the second bedroom. My sister is visiting from New Zealand at the end of September so I thought it appropriate that I have a bed for her, much better than making her sleep on the floor!

Below are some updated images of the place.

Often the little things make all the difference, like this little rack I bought from Ikea. Simple, but it has allowed me to use the very small amount of drawer space in the kitchen much more effectively. I quite like the look of it as well.

The same with the mirror I bought for the bathroom. There was a mirrorless cabinet here which I moved as this was the only space for a mirror. Simple things done well. The Nordic way.

Unsurprisingly the main room has had the most spent in fitting it out. I have bought dining chairs since the last post which just showed a table.  Recovered 60s Danish chairs, they were pretty close to being the most expensive thing I bought, El went halves with me on them. I have also (finally) gotten around to getting a couple of street art prints I bought framed, that poster was from the 2013 Baroque the Streets exhibition in Dulwich.

I am still to work out what to do with the weird square white plaster thing on the wall. Current thinking is to do a large portrait diptych of one or two photos. Not sure yet. I am going pick up some cheap frames this week and see.

The record cabinet is 60s Danish; the amp and turntable are very new. The speakers sound amazing, though are not quite the right colour, but they were £30 from a charity shop and they are a great purchase. The red square you see in the bottom corner, and they appear elsewhere are old power-points. I have no idea why they are red, but they will be going. Which reminds me; I must ring the sparky!

The sofa is English, made not too far from home in Walthamstow, again from the 1960s. It is great to have space to put some of the absolute loads of books that El and I have, as well as finding a use for the space under the extensive hearth area.

Since the last post the main bedroom has been painted, mostly a dark grey, with one light grey wall. The room is really big so the dark walls and roof reduce some of the space. Having sloping walls means it is hard to fill the empty space with furniture and it is impossible to hang pictures on the walls. It is also gets a lot of sun, so the original pale walls were far too reflective. The dark works, though the painter was very unsure !

I have also gone for a mustard and grey colour scheme, which is quite ‘on trend’, this will flow further through the house as I decorate, though you can see that in the soft furnishings I have bought.

The flat has a ton of storage, so this sideboard I bought to act as a dresser is semi-redundant, but I really like the look of it and needed something in the bedroom to fill space, as well as store more books.

The final room I will work on will be the second bedroom. But it does have a bed, so no floor sleeping for my sister, or any future guests.

That is it for now. As I said at the start, I doubt I will do much more to the place till winter, when I may start to decorate. In the meantime I have more prints to hang on walls, and a whole load of records to take when I go back down in the next few days.

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E17 Art Trail Exhibition. Wander to Wonder.

June 2019 – Walthamstow.

Around a year ago I discussed the idea of exhibiting some of my photography as part of the  biannual e17 Art Trail, which was due to happen in June 2019. I approached my local cafe at the time but they already had an artist lined up. I learned at this point that venues for the art trail are booked two years in advance. It is a very popular time.

I next approached Tony who owns the Walthamstow Cycles bike shop, and discussed the idea of displaying some photos of Epping Forest in the shop. Tony introduced me to the forest a few years back and I have bought both my bikes from him. Not that I use them anymore. Lazy or time poor. I am going with lazy.

Tony was very keen on the idea, and we both let it lie for ages. Around the start of March we had to do a few administrative things, and I had to get an advert written for the trail guide. I then let it lie again until May when I had a holy crap moment as I realised I had to print and frame a whole load of photos, then hang then. By the end of the month.

The art trail has been running for a number of years now and is hugely popular. There were around 250 exhibitors in a number of venues all over the borough, there were a couple of really good photography exhibitions so I was in quite good company! The theme this year was ‘Wonder’.

There were a couple of tense weeks as I trolled through hundreds of images of the forest to try and come up with a theme. I also had to decide on a number of images I could print and frame without breaking the bank. I chose to use some cheap A4 size frames from Ikea as well as use a couple of the large frames I had in the exhibition last year. I would have loved to have used all the frames, but printing 11 images at A1 is not cheap, and these were to displayed in a working bike shop, large sheets of glass hanging on walls was not going to be practical.

I chose the seasons as a theme and displayed three or four images of each season round the various walls. Each season also represented a different location in the forest. There are some may interesting places in the forest, often with their own unique micro-environment.

The photos I displayed are below.

I hung the photos two days before the Art Trail started on a Saturday though we did not have the opening until the following Thursday. The basement of the shop was not this tidy and organised when I started.

The opening went well, a few people turned up and I hung around drinking beer with some of the attendees and the bike shop guys until about 9:00. I had some good feedback and very much enjoyed myself.

I must go and pick the photos up now, the Art Trail finished in June and it is now August ! The displayed images are below. The top image in each section was printed as a 4″ * 5″ along with a brief introduction to the prints.

Spring

Summer

Autumn

Winter.

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Photosketch. Part Two, the instant film photos.

May 6 2019 – near Settle, North Yorkshire.

Photosketch Part Two.

Yesterday’s post was all about the Photosketch day, what it was about and how the day went. This one will, hopefully, be much less verbose. 

The objective of this, the second of two walks, was to experiment with instant film cameras; both Polaroid and Fujifilm Instax in a variety of Yorkshire Dales environments. I have never used an instant camera, and I don’t recall any of my friends having them back when they were more common. Everyone else on the walk had used them, and some brought their own along for the session.

When Polaroid stopped making the film in 2008 there was an outcry from the millions of fans around the world, with many buying bulk and hoarding. In 2010 the Impossible Project started manufacturing film for the Polaroid and the world took a long sigh of relief, and things carried on as normal. Fujifilm has been making their Instax cameras for almost as long, and never ceased production like Polaroid. The Instax films are smaller and a more traditional photo shape than the good old, almost square, Polaroid.

There were six different camera models to choose from, some quite old, and most not being used in a long time. Though all had been cleaned, there were still a lot of artifacting and strange marks from the rollers. I loved them.

I started with one of the Polaroid cameras. I liked it, so simple. Point it. Press the button. Wait a few seconds for the photos to emerge, then stick the photo in a pocket to develop somewhere warm. There is nothing fancy with these plastic cameras, no focusing, no setting aperture or ISO, fixing shutter speeds. Nothing. just point, then click.

For my first image I wanted to test the tonal range of the camera to see what it could actually do with contrasting light. I am still reflecting on Robert Macfarlane’s new book ‘Underland’ as it has challanged me to think more about my environment, and think a little about what is below my feet.  Not that I was moving in to an underground system, I just took a photo of a hole in one of the dry stone walls. I am assuming this was to allow small beasts out of a paddock, it is too small for a sheep and a farm dog would just jump over. I cannot think of any other reason for it to exist. It was a view into a place I had never been, and one that was not accessible. OK, it was just another field, but hey, I wanted to create some sort of drama!

The photo did require me to lie down on the damp stony ground, and get up quite close to the wall. Point. Click. Done. New experience.

It was cold and windy up on the hill. I was advised by those wiser than me in the ways of instant film to stick the print under my jacket and into my armpit as the chemicals on the paper require warmth to do their magic. It would happen, but it would take some time. And here is the first image.

I was quite pleased. I love the light leakage at the top and bottom, though I really like the roller flashing a lot more.. They do add to the image. It is all slightly out of focus, but that does not bother me at all.

My second attempt was out in the open, with quite even light. I had no idea what this digger was doing up in this field. It was in good condition, so didn’t appear to have been here for long, but there were no tracks or other sign as to how it got there. I am wondering if it is used to bury carcasses ?

I was pleasantly surprised to find that even though this was taken only a few minutes after the first one the light artifacts and leakage were slightly different. There was no predicting what was going to come out of this camera, and I really liked that.

As we were walking up the field to enter into the next section of the walk the heavens just opened and dumped a whole load of very cold rain on us, it was very brief, but quite heavy. I snapped this image of Steve taking a photo on his phone as the clouds sat just over his head. I have no idea what the bright thing in the bottom corner is…

I like that these images, just look old, and slightly degraded; the loss of focus and the the flat light as a result of time and poor technology. Not that they were taken an hour ago.

At the highest point of the walk there was a collection of rocks overlooking a low bluff. I was working my around the edges and saw this small entrance point. I have no idea if it was short or long, it was small, it made me wonder what was there. Was it an entrance into the underland, to the below/ Who knows.  I took a photo, triggering the flash this time. Different artifacts.

By the time we reached the next area to explore I had used up the film in the Polaroid and it was time to swap to an Instax. The camera I was given was a lot newer than the Polaroid and had significantly less noise and light leakage, but I could not work out how to turn the flash off, it just refused to not fire. It had one more function than the Polaroid, light or dark. Otherwise it functioned the same. Point. Click.

My first play with this camera was in a small section of pine forest.  I literally crawled in to the very dense low-hanging trees for the first couple of shots. Before I knew about the always-on flash, I was trying to capture the very low foilage, the very high moss and tree litter, and the thin gap of light working its way in between. I just got a lot of very bright flash.

Similar to one of the photos I took with the Polaroid I ended up with this strange thing in the foreground, in this case, right across it. No idea what it is, nor why it is there. it did ruin it for me, and it was the worst photo of the day. Things got better once I was not close to anything.

I really like the colour palette in the Instax, it has the yellows and grey that I really like, and the green is quite muted. If only they made a version bigger than 2.5 inches.

Crossing the wall we started down a gradual slope back towards our start point at Fleur’s house. The light was just wonderful as we walked and I took a number of photos on both the instant and the normal camera as we walked.

We stopped for a while at these two trees, native trees are so rare in the dalesl it was an interesting place to take some photos. This is, I think, my favourite of the Instanx photos.

Somehow I managed to accidently take two photos (It is now three months later and I am typing this in the pub, and I have no recall as to what button I was trying to press). However, I like both photos. They break so many rules of photography; the horizon is not straight, nothing is in focus and there is what looks like hair on the lens; and I rarely take photos of people, so a personal ‘rule’ also broken. Fleur and Rachel.

That was the last of the images I took over the course of the day. I very much enjoyed working with this group of people, and with the instant cameras. Back at Fleur’s place we had a very enjoyable session reviewing the range of images we all took. No-one took the same thing, we all have a different eye and different ideas. The important lesson I learned from the people and the day was they are all valid. 

The next Photosketch is in the Peak District on the 8th September. I recommend it. Check it out here.

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Photosketch. Part one, the day.

May 6 2019 – near Settle, North Yorkshire.

Photosketch Part One.

This will be a two part post, primarily due to a large number of photos to show. This first post will be all about the day and the images taken on my camera. The next post will be all about the Polaroid and Instax images I took as the day progressed.

The reason for this trip to the North Yorkshire Dales was to attend today’s Photosketch walk. It was the excuse I needed to come north, get out of my comfort zone and share a day with some very talented, exciting and experienced photographers.

The event was advertised on the Twitter feed of Al Brydon, a photographer I follow and whose work I greatly admire, I have made a number of images that Al has directly influenced. Al and fellow photographer Fleur Olby organised Photosketch, a photography based walk by Fleur’s home near Rathmell, a village even smaller than the nearby Settle. The village had a car park, and that was about it, no shops, no pub.

The concept behind Photosketch was for a diverse group  to get together to create photographic art while walking, taking to time to think about and reconnect with nature and the outdoors. It sounded like just the sort of thing I needed to drag me out of a long photographic slump. I liked that this was about making art.  I needed to be reminded that photography is art, and I do it to be creative, not for Instagram followers.

I was a bit pensive going into this event, Al and Fleur are great photographers and I knew there were others coming, they were probably good as well.  I felt a bit of fraud coming along. What if I sucked? We were supposed to show some photos as part of the introduction, my images, my style, my lack of a ‘body of work’, would those be held against me? Would there be sneery looks at my ineptness? Breaking my main camera on Saturday didn’t help much either, cannot even look after my equipment!

As you would expect these were ridiculous thoughts.

Fleur picked me and a couple of others up from the train station in Settle, and we set off in her Land Rover (so much more appropriate here than in London) to Rathmell, where we met Al and the rest of the participants in the towns only highlight, the car park. There were five participants in all. Most of them seemed to know each other, either by reputation or through working together previously. I was not intimidated by this at all, oh no, not at all.

The day started with an introduction session in Fleur’s office/studio/barn. She lives a long way from nowhere, it is very remote and very beautiful. Pretty much all of my event mates were professional photographers or ex degree/masters students; all had exhibited before. In galleries, not in cafes like me. I felt inadequate to start with, however they are all lovely people and once we got talking things all balanced out. We are all human, and all love what we do. We are all equal, just different.

The day was split into two, a short walk to a small ancient swamp forest near the end of Fleur’s property, followed by lunch and then a longer walk into the moorland above. For the first session we took our own cameras, the afternoon was all about playing with instant cameras; both Polaroid and Instax.

The forest was beautiful, very small, very quiet, verging on eerie. It would have been magical to spend some time here alone, absorbing.  There is an interesting mix of light marsh grass and twisted beech amongst rock and fern. There was a very brief moment as we arrived were the light was stunning, though it did not last long enough to get cameras into action.

I was trying to think about my photography in different ways, take things slowly, looking at the details, watching the others; trying to get the feel of the place and get that onto the sensor in the back of my camera.

I wanted to think a bit like Al in the short period of time we had., time when I was largely on my own and able to think and focus.  A lot of Al’s work is underexposed, dark and very moody, allowing the viewer to interpret more from the things that cannot quite be seen than what can be seen.

I had to take a couple of my more usual impressionist photos though 🙂

After a very big lunch and a long discussion covering art, photography, books, nature, place and a wide range of other vaguely related subjects we all donned boots, coats, woolly hats and headed off up the hill and onto the moorland above Fleur’s house.

We were all given an instant camera, with a pack of film. I started with an old Polaroid, others had a range of different Polaroids and Instax cameras. The idea behind this longer walk was to play with this different technology, look and think about what we were going to take images of, not just snap away taking dozens of frames of the same thing with the hope of getting one good image. The instant cameras meant we could review the results today. I have never used an instant camera before, I was the only one who hadn’t, all the others regularly shot film, or used old plate cameras and were ued to thinking about taking images over a longer period of time.  This sort of low tech was what they were used to. I will talk about the instant camera experience in the next post. It was fun.

We passed an old farm house on the way and I got told off for taking photos. The locals do not like the ruin porn thing, displaying the slow decline of the rural way of life. Fair enough I guess.

The moorland was amazing, I really liked it up on the hills, we had a few zones to take pictures, with 20 or so minutes in each as we covered the six or so mile walk. It was moody and cold up in the hills and at once point it rained heavily, though fortunately briefly. The clouds were amazing and I was gutted I did not have the big camera as the wide angle was perfect for this environment. The little G16 did OK though.

We dropped down into a small section of pine forest, passing a really cool mountain bike loop on the way. The pine forest was an interesting change from the open and mostly treeless moors, and Iiked the closeness and darkness of the trees. We didn’t have long there unfortunately, I think I could have gotten quite ‘lost’ in the depths of this large grove.

Walking back down from the top we were again exposed to some massive views, with big clouds, big horizons and wonderful contrasts between the yellowy grasses and the grey sky. I took way too many photos. This is my sort of place, though I was supposed to be not taking cliché Phil photos today. I couldn’t help it, and I know I was not the only one…

Watching sweeping rain showers batter the horizon from our position of relative dryness was dramatic and inspiring and I wanted to stay longer, however those clouds were not all ‘over there’ and we could see them coming our way, with growing rapidity.

Apart from the pine forest, we saw very few trees, coming across two trees together we stopped to take a few photos, they were almost unique in that environment.

I had a lot of fun with the instant cameras, I had a go with both types and took about 24 photos. All the cameras were old, some hadn’t been used for a while so results were unpredictable, there was a lot of roller noise, but for me this just added to the joy of the images. This was my favourite, a landscape Instax. I will show some of the rest in the nex post, maybe tomorrow.

It was cold out, so the instant photos took a while to develop, even stuffed into pockets close to body warmth.  Back at Fleur’s we spent some time looking at all photos we had taken, comparing images and effects from the different cameras and discussing experiences. It was really nice, quite education, and interesting to see the varierty of styles. I very much enjoyed it. adly and all too soon it was time to be dropped back in Settle, the day was done 😦

It was a good day, I learnt some things, met some brilliant people and came away feeling validated that I can make good images. I just need to find my thing, as I don’t have a thing at the moment. It will come !

Big thanks to Fleur and Al for organising, and to Steve, Rachel, Kristell and Phoebe for being great company and good teachers.

The next Photosketch is in the Peak District on the 8th September. Check it out here.

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Victoria Caves

May 5 2019 Part 2 – Settle, North Yorkshire.

Inside the cave mouth it is near silent; no bird call, no wind. Just the occasional bleat of a ewe calling her lamb, and the steady yet slow drip of water falling from the rock above It feels like the outside world is slowly ceasing to exist. The further I move into this, most shallow of caves, the more the outside disappears. As light slowly reduces so does sound, natural noise cancelling headphones.

Caves terrify me. That is not totally correct, as THIS particular cave doesn’t terrify me. It is quite large and open and at a glance it does not appear too deep and foreboding. Being a law-abiding citizen, I am not going to pass that safety rope, so I don’t have to explore its crannies and tunnels. I can safely ignore any paths into the dark below, into the underland. It is they, and the unknown terrify me.

One person who does know what lies in the dark below is the author Robert Macfarlane, who has just published a new book ‘Underland’. Exploring ancient and future history by looking at what is under our feet and hidden from view. Cave systems, mines and melting ice fields revealing all sorts of things that humans have buried or disappeared. I started reading it in the pub on Friday night, and have been reflecting on the passages I have read over the weekend, I am going to take my time with this book. it intrigues me.

After five hours of job application writing I was finally ready to back out again, it was getting late in the afternoon, though I still decided to take a walk up into the hills and try to find Victoria Cave. It was clearly marked on Google maps and was do-able in the time I had between now and it being too dark to be out wandering alone in strange hills.

The first 40 minutes just seemed to be uphill, with a little bit of flat before going back up hill again. I am not as fit as I used to be, but managed to keep pretty good pace given I didn’t have a lot of time.

I love the dry stone walls here in Yorkshire. There are very few trees in the hills. Not knowing the old history of the area I am assuming that this was not heavily forested back when these walls were built, some possibly date as far back as the bronze age, though those old stones will be very low down in the walls as remedial work has taken place over the centuries. They are a thing of beauty, and control in this otherwise slightly disordered landscape.

I wish I had taken more time, exploring the bluffs and craggs that surrounded me would have been so much more interesting than writing job applications. Though I guess being in work allows me the time to indulge in walking and photography in places that are a way from home.

At the top of the first climb I came across this ruin. I have no idea what it was, and do not really want to know as my imagination ran riot trying to work it out. Why are there blast holes in both directions on that panel, what the heck blew holes that size?

I also want to know if this plate, made in Bishopsgate, in what is the heart of the finance centre of the City of London is covering, is there something under here ? did it blow up ?

There are not a lot of trees here, the land does not look it would sustain many, and I wanted to photograph each and every one. How old are they? And why one? So many questions.

It is very unusual for me to not be listening to music, I have headphones glued to my head on my commute and as much as possible in the office. I play music when I cook, sometimes it is why I cook. I am playing music as I type. I listen to it a lot. Except when I am walking in the country, when I walk I want to listen to nothing but the countryside and the questions in my head. There are often a lot of questions.

My object for this afternoon’s walk, the Victoria Caves are somewhere in this bluff, the Attemire Scar. There are a lot of cave systems in the Dales, including some managed commercial systems. If I had more time I would have had a look at some, though I doubt they would be as amazing as those mega caves I visited in Malaysian Borneo. I am intrigued by what fears me.

I reached the cave about 5:00pm and had a sit down, a drink of water and a snack bar. I had walked quite quickly up to the cave as I had no idea how long the loop would take to do. The return journey was simpler than the way there. So arrival with plenty of time meant a relaxed walk back.

The cave is not deep, or at least access is not deep, there is a lot of rock fall and most of the cave is roped off. I could have gone deeper, there is no-one there to stop you, but I am a chicken so only went as far as the barrier. The darkness, dankness and silence was calling me further in, I really wanted to see and learn more, perhaps find someting so far undiscovered, new bones, a few coins. Something newly revealed by rock fall or fissure. 

The caves were discovered in 1837, the year of Queen Victoria’s coronation, hence the name. They were apparently an archaeologists dream find, with loads of prehistoric bones as well as a collection of Roman and pre-Roman artifacts. The question remains as to what it was used for.

Between the main cave and the much smaller second cave I found two climbers, playing on a wall. The wall was not high, not particularly dangerous looking, though I was terrified just walking up the scree slope to the caves. As well as not doing dark narrow tunnels I also do not do heights, and the older I get the worse the vertigo gets and I really struggled getting back down from the caves to the level grass below.

The path that makes up the second half of the loop was more clearly defined than the one I followed on the way up, which was at the best of times a mown strip in the grass. This path leads to a nearby car-park, and then the road,  following a very wiggly line of dry stone wall.

I came across another solitary tree, as this one was in my path I stopped to take a few photos, intrigued as to how and why it was growing on this particular rock outcrop.

I think this is a hawthorn. I love how nature has allowed a seed to grow between the rocks of this harsh environment, forcing its way up into the light, pushing the rocks apart to allow its growth.

I was soon walking down the road towards Lancliffe, passing these very friendly lambs on the way, I thought they were trying to come with me for a while. Maybe my sheep voice is better than my Scottish accent ?

On the outskirts of Lancliffe I passed what I am assuming is a private forest, possibly surrounding some large manor house. The variety of shades of green in the walls, the moss on the banks and the trees was incredible and I have failed to capture them with any accuracy. The light was low and I had no tripod. After spending so much time with few trees, it was wonderful to be reminded of why we need more, not less of these wonderful things, and that wandering amongst them should not be just the privelidge of the wealthy.

That was pretty much the end of the walk. It was lovely and I wished I had more time to enjoy it. I did deserve the massive meal and couple of pints I had in one of the pubs!

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