}

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Bluebells at West Woods

I love Beech woodlands. I just can't get enough of them and whist autumn is my favourite season, it's hard to beat a beech woodland in spring. There is something uplifting about the new growth and accompanying bird song in woodlands during spring. Add a carpet of bluebells and it becomes the perfect antidote for a long grey winter like the one we've just had.

Bluebells at West Woods: Marlborough, Wiltshire
Bluebells at West Woods: Marlborough, Wiltshire

West Woods near Marlborough in Wiltshire is arguably one of the best woodlands we have in the West Country. I have visited on a few occasions in the past, but so far haven't managed to catch the bluebells and beech trees at their very best. I realised the other day, whilst planning my spring photography, that I'd not visited West Woods for some 7 years so I decided it needed to be on my bluebell list this year.

Bluebell Detail: West Woods, Marlborough, Wiltshire
Bluebell Detail: West Woods, Marlborough, Wiltshire

I visited the woods a couple times this month. While the bluebells were looking good on my first trip, the leaves had yet to appear on the trees in any great quantity. I made the most of my time by exploring to find the best potential locations and I also took the opportunity to work on a few close-up images which is not something I do that often.

Bluebells at West Woods: Marlborough, Wiltshire
Bluebells at West Woods: Marlborough, Wiltshire

I thought maybe the bluebells would start to turn before the trees were at their best but I needn’t have worried. When I returned the following week the bluebells were a magnificent display and the branches of the trees were full of lush green growth. One of the best bluebell woodland scenes I have ever seen and the icing on the cake was hearing the distinctive call of a Cuckoo, something I've not heard for a few years. Interestingly I heard my second Cuckoo of the year while in woodlands at Exmoor on Friday. I do hope this is a good sign as their numbers have been in serious decline for the last 20 years or so.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Grand Pier Weston-super-Mare

In my last post about Clevedon and Birnbeck piers I mentioned North Somerset's third pier, the Grand Pier. At the time I hadn't photographed it, at least not recently, and had nothing new to share.

Well, I have rectified that now after spending an overcast evening on the seafront of Weston-super-Mare at high tide so here she is to complete the set.

Grand Pier: Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset
Grand Pier: Weston-super-Mare, North Somerset

Spring has arrived in earnest now so I'll be moving inland for a while but I plan to return to the coast and continue what has become a bit of a personal project of mine. Watch this space....

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Two Piers

Here in North Somerset we are lucky to have two Victorian piers, Clevedon Pier and Birnbeck Pier, along our short coastline. As it's name suggests, the first of these is in the town of Clevedon and Birnbeck is Weston-super-Mare. We also have a third, post Victorian pier, The Grand Pier, also at Weston-super-Mare.

I realised the other day that it's getting on for nine years since I photographed Clevedon and Birnbeck piers. I had particularly neglected Birnbeck pier as I'll explain later. It was about time I paid both a visit again.

Clevedon Pier, North Somerset
Clevedon Pier, North Somerset

Clevedon Pier is by far my favourite pier. Sure there are grander, more elaborate and longer piers dotted along our coastline but to me the simplicity of it's modest size and design gives it a beauty few can match. Less is definitely more. There is obviously a lot of pride in the town when it comes to this pier too. Along it's length on the decking planks and benches are little brass name plates of all the people who donated to it's restoration and continued upkeep. To me this human element helps seal it as my favourite.

When photographing the pier in the past I have tended to use colourful skies and lighting but over time I have come appreciate that the pier perhaps requires something more subtle than that. This section of the Bristol Channel has a gentle feel about it and I have been considering creating some new images of the pier that better reflect the tranquillity I associate with it.

Clevedon Pier, North Somerset
Clevedon Pier, North Somerset

On Monday this week the weather was overcast with nothing more than a gentle breeze and the incoming tide was set to peak around an hour after sunset. Just what I had been waiting for.

When I arrived the beach was surprisingly busy, but people were just quietly enjoying the view. I was soon involved in the landscape and, making the most of the rocky shoreline and the gentle waves of the incoming tide, set about creating a set of images from the beach that conveyed the sense of peace I felt that evening. Two hours later, when the light had finally faded beyond the point when I could accurately focus, I noticed I was completely alone. Somehow everyone had slipped away unnoticed.


Birnbeck Pier at Weston-super-Mare is very different. I believe it is the only pier in Britain to form a bridge to an island but in some ways this has meant it became a rather non-symmetric affair that reaches out to the island where it seems to sprawl out into the Bristol Channel. This was a pier all about Victorian engineering rather than style. Perhaps this is why it was eventually closed in 1994 whereas it's newer sister, The Grand Pier, has continued to thrive, despite it's main pavilion twice being completely gutted by fire. Birnbeck's location, hidden away quite a distance from the main seafront, probably didn't help.

Clevedon Pier, North Somerset
Birnbeck Pier, North Somerset

Sadly it has fallen into serious disrepair in the intervening years. When I visited it in 2007 I simply could not see how to photograph it. I think the depressing state it was in (it's a lot worse now) left me without inspiration and I failed to see the pier as part of the landscape. I was just an eyesore to me that day and I only made one black and white image during that brief visit.

Inspired by my images from Clevedon the previous day I decided it was time to re-visit the pier and I set out in high spirits, determined to discover some of the pier's beauty.

Clevedon Pier, North Somerset
Birnbeck Pier, North Somerset

The weather was again calm, but the sky was full of broken cloud which was going to add a little interest to the sky. As with Clevedon Pier, I chose to work from the shoreline to show the pier within it's environment, using long exposures in the dusk light to soften the cloud and water in contrast to the fixed iron structure of the pier and rocks on the shore. The incoming tide was going to peak a little later this evening but the nature of the rocky shoreline meant I needed to be careful and plan ahead so as to not get cut off by the tide and leave myself with an unfamiliar rock scramble in the dark. Having watched the tide for around an hour I had a reasonable idea of how fast it was rising and I was able to plan ahead my final compositions as as part of my retreat up the shore.

I'm pleased to say that having spent the evening with Burnbeck Pier I now see it from a different perspective and these two evenings have re-kindled my love of this stretch of coast.

For more information on Burnbeck Pier, or to donate to the restoration fund, hop over to The Birnbeck Regeneration Trust.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

West Pier, Brighton

Last month I had the rare chance to spend a little time walking down the seafront at Brighton and Hove with my daughters, Natalie & Sally. They were were performing in Brighton that evening as The Honeyfire and we had arrived with a couple of hours to spare.

West Pier, Brighton & Hove
West Pier, Brighton & Hove

We quickly moved away from all the hustle and bustle at the busiest part of the seafront and headed towards the remains of West Pier which suffered major collapse in 2002 and two fires in 2003. It has been three years since I last visited Brighton and there was noticeably less of the structure visible this time. The weather gave the scene an appropriate dose of melancholy and I took the opportunity to make a couple of images before heading back to for an evening of music.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Cornborough Range, North Devon

I've just realised it's the autumn equinox today but much as I am looking forward to the beautiful colours of autumn, in this post I'm taking one last look back to Summer. Specifically to an evening I spent at Cornborough Range on the North Devon coast.

Cornborough Cliff: North Devon
Cornborough Cliff: North Devon

Cornborough Range is an expanse of rock only revealed at low tide and contains a wealth of coastal wildlife. It's one of the few places where you can access the beach from the cliffs that run along this stretch of the South West Coast Path but it is often deserted, even in the height of the British summer holidays. No doubt the mile or so walk from the nearest car park plays a part!

Cornborough Range: North Devon
Cornborough Range: North Devon

It's a shame that most visitors miss this spot but it does mean I can enjoy the beach all to myself with only the occasional walker peering over the cliff. Perfect.

The evening started off with the remains of the day's rain clouds moving inland to leave clear sky over the Atlantic. With the sun already low in the sky, this created a great combination of drama in the sky and warm lighting on the landscape. I made a few images at the top of Cornborough Cliff where the windswept grass made for a great foreground. Shortly afterwards I was on the beach. Sadly the clouds were soon all but gone but not before turning a lovely pink.

Cornborough Range: North Devon
Cornborough Range: North Devon

You really don't have to walk too far to find compositions which are literally at your feet almost wherever you walk. I'm always surprised that I've seen so few photographs taken from Cornborough Range. Most seem to be taken from the cliffs. I don't ponder this for long though and I am soon at work making the most of the light.

I hung around for a while after sunset in case anything interesting happened but, as I suspected, the upper atmosphere was relatively clear that day and there was to be no interesting dusk display. Time to return to civilisation.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Wreck at Westward Ho!

Westward Ho! on the north coast of Devon is a place I have written about quite a lot. Not surprising really as I visit often on family holidays and I’m lucky enough to be able to stay here at a relative’s flat which makes for a useful base when working in Devon and Cornwall.

Wreck, Westward Ho!
Wreck, Westward Ho!

The area has a lot to offer a photographer and even when on holiday I find myself watching the weather for photographic opportunities. It’s just too tempting to grab my camera and pop out for a ‘couple of photographs’ when the conditions are right. The nature of the coast is such that even after almost 10 years of visiting, there is always something new to discover.

There are two known wrecks on the beach at Westward Ho! but due to the constantly shifting sands they are not often visible. In fact, until the winter storms of 2014 which briefly exposed much of the beach’s hidden secrets including an ancient forest and evidence of an early human settlement, I don’t think I had ever seen the smaller of the two. Since then both wrecks seem to have been a regular feature of low tide.

On this particular day only the larger of the two wrecks was exposed. This wreck is widely thought to be either the ‘Salisbury’ of London, lost in March 1759, or the ‘Sally’ of Bristol, lost in November 1769. No other ship of this size is known to have been lost during this period.

Dusk, Westward Ho!
Dusk, Westward Ho!

The weather had been unusually hot, even for June, with a clear blue sky. Not the ideal weather for landscape photography but as the evening approached and the temperature started to drop, cloud started to drift in over the sea. I decided to take a walk along the beach to cool off and naturally I picked up my camera gear.

The tide was on it’s way out but still had some way to go as I watched the sun set. I had seen the wreck exposed at the previous low tide so I was sure it would appear again. I made a few pictures of the clouds reflected in the wet sand before walking towards where the wreck should be. I soon spotted the timbers protruding though the sea so while I waited for the sea to retreat I planned my compositions to make the most of the colour and clouds in the dusk sky.

I wanted to photograph the sky reflected in the tidal pool created by the wreck but I had to wait for the tide to reach it’s lowest point so the waves no longer disturbed the surface of the pool. This gave me a few minutes to enjoy the cool air and quiet solitude before recommencing work. In no time at all the colour in the dusk sky was fading and the tide was on it's way back in but I had my picture.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Golitha Falls & Engine House Ruins

Well, this blog has been a bit neglected for some time now hasn't it? No excuses other than I've been busy with other stuff but, I'm back.

Last week I paid Bodmin Moor in Cornwall a long overdue visit. My intention was to explore some of the old mine engine houses scattered around the moor at Minions. The weather looked promising but, as is so often the case, forecast and reality did not match. I was greeted with a flat grey sky and no sign of the sunny spells promised. No matter. I had a backup plan.

Golitha Falls: Cornwall
Golitha Falls: Cornwall

After a little roaming around identifying possible compositions should the weather improve later, I headed off towards the River Fowey just down the road. In particular I was keen to investigate where my OS map had the words 'Golitha Falls' promisingly printed in blue.

Golitha Falls is a section of the Fowey which descends down a gorge surrounded by ancient woodland. I've always loved woodland rivers and there is something particularly exciting about exploring a stretch of river for the first time so my change of plan was very welcome. Golitha didn't disappoint and before I knew it several hours had passed. When I noticed the light dimming I decided it was time to return to the moor too see what was going on above the green canopy of the trees.

Abandoned Engine House: Cornwall
Abandoned Engine House: Cornwall

A thick layer of cloud greeted me at the car park but there was a little time before sunset so I returned to the mines. Despite being very pleased with my day at the falls, the cloud layer was still a bit of a disappointment. Temptation was to leave in search of evening tea but I noticed a small break in the clouds drifting vaguely towards where the sun should be. I had no desire to watch a spectacular light display from behind the wheel of my car so I started planning a few compositions to make the best of any potential sunlight should I be lucky.

Unfortunately the patch of clear sky missed the setting sun. The hills the other side of the Tamar Valley briefly received the last of the day's sunlight but nothing in my immediate vicinity. My thoughts were starting to wander back to food but I vowed to go the distance so I patiently waited.

I was soon to be rewarded it seemed as as the cloud started to thin and break up. I made a couple of images before patches of colour started to appear in the sky. Soon warm light bathed the scene before me and I had just enough time to make the image you see here before the colour was gone.