Wednesday 30 November 2011

Looking Forward, Looking Back

As I looked out on a grey and gloomy sky I found myself wondering what the next month might hold so I pulled out my December photos from the past few years to see....

That's not snow; it's frost. Taken just last year at the beginning of December. The river at Grantchester as the summer visitors never see it. Indeed as I've never seen it before, despite rambling around the area for forty years or more. Better finish off with a nice sunset taken from Hunstanton cliffs a couple of years earlier.

Take care.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

The Rough Road To The Islands

While at university in the 70s many strange and attempting-to-appear-strange people drifted in and out of my circle of friends. Two of them drifted away to the island of Mull on the west coast of Scotland and were never to return, as far as I know. They left a few discarded ideas and memories, some of which surfaced unexpectedly in this song:

                            The Rough Road To The Islands 
May your dreams not come to harm on the rough road to the islands
   as you search for deeper meanings where the mountains meet the sea
May good fortune bear you safely through the wild and lonely highlands
   and I hope it won't be long before you're rolling home to me
                                                                           rolling home to me
                                                                            rolling home to me
        and I hope it won't be long before you're rolling home to me.

May your spirit be unbroken, may your thoughts remain sincere there
   for the message of the ocean may well pound upon those shores
And though city friends won't understand, write down the words you hear there
   and I know it won't be long before their mystery is yours
                                                                       mystery is yours
                                                                         mystery is yours
        and I know it won't be long before their mystery is yours.

For it is long ago men came that way and stopped to build a church there
   and they loudly sang the praises of that land of rocks and rain
There are flowers grow among the rocks for those who care to search there
   and I hope it won't be long before our city blooms again                        
                                                                     city blooms again
                                                                 our city blooms again
          and I hope it won't be long before our city blooms again.

The ideas which they left me were these:
- a book by Jack Kerouac in which he mentions sitting beside the sea hearing voices in the sound of the waves.
- a tape of a tape of a tape of Gaelic hymns from the Isle of Lewis.
- the realisation that "Goodbye" doesn't always mean "See you later".

Take care.

Moving Towards Monochrome

My recent post "On Top Of The World" included a colour picture of a dead tree etched against the sky. This provoked a comment from Jim aka Wayfarin' Stranger asking if I'd seen the photo in black and white. Well, I had, but only because Jim himself had posted a similar image in monochrome just seven days before; it made me wonder if my photograph would look as arresting. Then I began to wonder if ought to so blatantly steal Jim's idea. After much soul-searching the answer is.....

....not quite the same image that I posted before but definitely the same tree! So how much do I use black and white? And the answer is - Not very often! I see in colour and that's how I usually like my photos. But sometimes removing the colour adds something to the picture. The two main categories for B+W are, firstly, where a stark or gloomy atmosphere is required which colour would dilute and, secondly, where too much and too many colours distract from the compositional lines of the shot. There's also an interesting halfway-house where just a hint of colour is left. I'll let you decide how the following photographs were contrived, whether they count as monochrome and whether it was all worth it!

They were all wholly or partially monochrome at some time during their protracted birth!

Take care.

Saturday 26 November 2011

Further Necessary Steps...

....if we're ever going to finish this mile of English road. And if you've heard that the rolling English roads were made by rolling English drunkards then you're in for an inebriated experience, for the rest of our journey one right-angle bend follows another in rapid succession, as we descend slowly to the bridge over the river.

Next to the White Cottage stand a row of brick cottages and opposite that a house which is now the vicarage, but was formerly the church warden's house and was known as Cresswell's after one of the past inhabitants.

The vicarage is conveniently close to the church, which wasn't the case with the two former vicarages - more of one of those later. Faithful readers of this blog may remember that I wrote about the church here.

Crossing the road again, (on one of those dangerous bends mentioned earlier - the risks I take to bring you this stuff!) we come to two more cottages in the care of the Cottage Improvement Society which stand next to the footpath which can be followed through the Meadows and right into Cambridge. Students from the University used to call it "the Grantchester grind" which shows that they must have been a) very unfit; it's only 2 miles of level walking, and b) totally oblivious to the beauty around them.

Back over the road again (more risks!) there's a tiny little house which was once the gatekeeper's lodge for Manor Farm. Friends of mine lived there for a while and found that, unlike the Tardis, it's even smaller inside than it looks from outside. It was also not a good place for people who disliked the sound of church bells. Or tractors.

Manor Farmhouse itself can be seen by looking over an ancient brick wall. It's an intriguing building with gable ends facing in all directions, huge chimney stacks in unlikely places and a variety of different architectural styles. You might as well ask a Hollywood actress her age as enquire about the age of this building! Parts of it are thought to be very old but a number of facelifts and reconstructions have taken place through the centuries. An old story states that there is a tunnel leading from the house to Kings College in Cambridge and believe it or not the start of a tunnel has been discovered. However it's probably just an old sewer leading down to the river. One can imagine that someone might have escaped down such a tunnel, possibly at a time of religious intolerance, and turned up in the college having travelled down the river, giving rise to the story.

Dodging back across the road again we find Spring Lane leading down to Parson's Meadow, where in days of yore the vicar kept his horse.

Next to the lane is a small gate leading into The Orchard Tea Gardens. In summer this is very much on the tourist trail from its association with the poet Rupert Brooke who lodged at The Old Vicarage which stands next door to the Tea Gardens. It's going to take us a little while to get there as we're following the road around.

Dove Cottage may be familiar to some of you as I wrote about it in an earlier post. It was once used for keeping pigeons but is now the house of the farm manager. In the garden is a pond which was once part of Manor Farm's moat. It was common for farm houses to have such a feature in the past, partly for reasons of status and partly to provide fish to supplement the diet in the winter months.

Running up next to the moat is a hidden footpath which was once a road used for bringing grain to the water mill. Like many old tracks its legal status as a right of way has been maintained despite its falling into disuse as a road.

Yew Garth is a rather fine old dwelling which was once the home of Professor Willmer who published his sketchbook "Old Grantchester" back in the 70s. Much of what I know about the village I found in those pages and it also inspired me to find out more about my local area. The central portion of the house dates back to the 17th century at least.

Then it's past Ivydene, which I always think of as Mr Clamp's house. He still lives in the village and can still be seen out walking on fine days despite being over 100 years young. Then it's past Lyndewood and Riversdale, past the main entrance to The Orchard to arrive at the Old Vicarage, seen above. The odd-looking chimneys are to be seen on several houses in the village. This is where Rupert Brooke once lodged though I'm led to believe that he wasn't particularly punctual paying his rent and often wrote the lady of the house a few lines of poetry in lieu of cash! The present occupants are Lord and Lady Archer, aka Jeffrey Archer and Dr Mary Archer.

Another footpath leads around to the Millpond where in teenage years I would come on the punt which my friends and I had restored, having found it wrecked in the river. The local policeman said "If nobody claims it you boys can keep it". The mill burned down in 1929 but the house survived and still stands on the mill bridge. I wrote about the mill here. Just for a change here's a photograph of the back of the building.

And that concludes our mile of English road. As you can see it's packed with history and there's probably even more that I've left out because of lack of space and lack of knowledge; much more remains to be discovered. Lets finish with the words of Rupert Brooke, as he sat in a cafe in Berlin, dreaming of home:

Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

Take care.

Top Of The World!

A free day. A fine day. A day to blow away the blues, put away your cares, pull on the walking boots and just get out there. So, with camera, binoculars and map, I hit the road. Or more accurately the rails, since I hopped on the train, rode a couple of stops up the line and got off at Ashwell and Morden station. The station is shared by the two villages, Ashwell and Morden, but isn't in either of them; it's in Odsey which doesn't even get a mention.

First a gentle climb up Gallows Hill which did its best to look as threatening as its name implies, despite the generally benign weather. When you see a little copse of trees on a hilltop in England you can often find an old Bronze Age burial mound squatting at the highest point and this was indeed the case, though a rather low and scruffy affair it turned out to be. The views northwards were already opening up despite the modest elevation. But the path then turned downhill to Heath Farm which thankfully lacked the usual welcoming committee of disreputable dogs.

I then had a stretch along a quiet and narrow country road. The feeling on these low, rolling chalk hills, with their huge fields and wide-open skies is really one of being "on top of the world". Once this was all heathland used for grazing sheep, the last stronghold in Southern Britain of the Hooded Crow, also known as the Royston Crow from the name of the nearest market town. But the Hoodies are to be seen no more on these hills, though birds of prey are making a real comeback in recent years. Right on cue a shadow crossed the road and I looked up to see the first Buzzard of the day. (Note to US readers: a completely different bird to your buzzard).

It's difficult country to photograph satisfactorily. The sheer openness of the country, which is its charm, disappears as soon as you put a frame around it. It didn't stop me from trying though!

I came to a junction of roads and found myself at one of those half-familiar scenes. Somewhere I'd flashed through in a car with a brief thought of "might be some photos there" and then given it no more consideration. But here I was now with as much time as I wanted. Snap-snap-snap!

....the sky soared above the little signpost....

....the road dipped away through the trees....

....strange patterns made by distant fields....

....a fragment of grazing land...

....and this odd, almost monochrome, image. The chalky soil give this sepia-toned effect. What appears to be a brown sky is just more fields beyond the trees.

A little further along my way I spotted more photographic opportunities. This skeletal tree was outlined against the sky. The kind of tree that Health And Safety no longer allows to stand anywhere that children might venture, with sad consequences for some insect- and bird-life.

Some rough grazing land near the village of Kelshall where the dead grasses were catching the light. A Red Kite appeared in the sky, twisting and turning as it grappled with a gusty wind.
A herd of thirty or so Fallow Deer skittered across the horizon. Then as my walk drew towards its end there was a reminder of the past; a flock of sheep grazing peacefully in the late afternoon sun.

Take care.


Wednesday 23 November 2011

Wrap Artists

As I was walking along Trumpington Street in Cambridge the other day I glanced across the road to look at the lion statues which adorn the front of the Fitzwilliam Museum. They usually look like this:

Fine noble beasts as you can see. But today something was different:

What on earth was going on?
Luckily there was someone there to ask. He was, he explained, from the Oxfam shop in Mill Road which is a rather more wacky and artistic establishment than the usual racks of unstylish clothes and unwanted knick-knacks found in other charity shops. It was already starting to make some sort of sense. He handed me a leaflet "Oxfam Unwrapped" which explained about giving presents in the form of gifts to help the needy in developing countries - repair a school, dig a well, but a goat, that sort of thing. This exercise was to gain some publicity to the cause. To prove it the Mayor and assorted press people duly arrived. Quite how wrapping up a lion symbolises Oxfam Unwrapped I can't explain. I just love the way the second lion appears to have decided to ignore the whole absurd nonsense!

One more picture taken close by, but nothing to do with any of the foregoing:

Take care.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Shall We Walk A Little Farther?....

....a little farther along our mile of English road, that is. We'd got as far as the old school, I believe, scarcely 100 yards from our starting point!

We've come now to the village green, or rather what's left of it;  it's been whittled away over the centuries till now it's only a few paces across. It was probably never particularly extensive as the meadows which lie a short distance away down beside the river have always served for grazing animals, playing cricket and other purposes usually carried out on the green. The cottages above were actually built on part of the green.

Opposite the cottages stands one of the village's four pubs, The Green Man. It once served as a coaching inn and there are outbuildings behind the pub and the neighbouring house which tell of its former use. The building probably dates back to at least the sixteenth century when a pub called the Three Tuns is recorded as having been on this spot. Pub names have changed throughout the centuries.

Just east of The Green Man stands another pub The Red Lion, which has also been known as The Axe And Saw at times during its history. This was the pub I first frequented, somewhat before my eighteenth birthday, but with the blessing of the landlord of the pub, the village policeman and the local vicar!

The vicar at that time was a man who regularly hung his cassock up behind the pub door "to keep an eye on the rest of his flock". As he often pointed out "Jesus turned water into wine, not the other way about!". He allowed the young people of the village to play croquet on the vicarage lawn, mend our boat in his garage and take a short cut through his garden whenever we wanted. The pub landlord had tragically lost a son who was about my age, which was probably why he liked our company. On one occasion, so the story goes, someone barged into the pub, interrupting the landlord's conversation and demanding to know where the toilet was without any 'please or thankyou'. The landlord pointed out the direction, "It says 'Gentlemen' on the door, sir," he added, "but don't let that deter you!" As for the policeman, he played rock'n'roll piano on a Friday night and as he observed "It's easy for me to keep an eye on you lads when you're in the pub!"

It was even more convenient for him that the Police House was directly opposite the pub. Although there is still a policeman living in the house he's no longer the 'village bobby', if you need the police now you have to phone the main police station and they send out someone in a car, eventually.

Next to The Green Man is a large thatched house known as Byron's Lodge. The poet Byron did have some connection with the village and was supposed to have swum in nearby Byron's Pool, but no one seems to be too sure about his links to this house. 

And next to that is The White Cottage, a picturesque building with a fine show of roses in the front garden during the summer months. E N Willmer, in his book "Old Grantchester", published 35 years ago, tells us that the house has been occupied down the years by a butcher, a scrap-metal dealer, a Nobel Laureate, a professor of music (Sir William Sterndale Bennett, no less)and an authority on the preservation of African big game.

Well, we've still got a fair way to go.

Take care.