Thursday 26 February 2015

Look Up....And Occasionally Down.

Back in the days when I worked on a farm the words "Look up!" were used as an all purpose warning. "Look up! The boss is coming", Charlie or Bert would say to bring an end to our unscheduled break behind the straw stack. The phrase was also used when looking up would be a totally inappropriate response, as in "Best look up when you go down the yard; there's a nasty patch of ice!"

But looking up's generally a sound course of action when you're out with the camera....

....if you're in Wisbech you might see these ornate chimney pots...

....whereas if you're on the corner of Bene't Street in Cambridge (where everybody else will be gawping at the Corpus Christie clock) you can see that the London County Bank opened a branch here in 1867. Nowadays an illuminated plastic sign would do the job, but back then there was work for the stone mason.

Over in Saffron Walden, high up on a wall, is this fine example of a fire insurance plaque. I wrote a post about these here, in case you're interested. This one is for the Royal Insurance Company from Liverpool. The bird at the bottom is supposed to be a cormorant, which is the crest of the city. It's usually refered to as a Liver Bird in this context.

In a country church (I think it was Weston in Hertfordshire) are these ugly mugs...
Nobody seems too sure about what they represent, though there are many theories. Perhaps they are sinners who are condemned to spend eternity holding up the weight of the church roof.

Looking down you might find something like this....
...a carving of a Green Man, a mythical being who is covered in leaves and seems to be a representation of the pagan spirit of the woods. Again it's difficult to see why he should be in church. The Green Man is however a very popular name for pubs.

Speaking of pubs....
....on the corner of The Champion Of The Thames pub in Cambridge's King Street is the above sign. It's on a curved board which makes it impossible to read without having to wander back and forth in the traffic. To save you risking your precious lives I can tell you that this is what it says...
I'll drink to that!

But while wandering in the little side streets which lead off of Mill Road I noticed that some of these are still in place...'s just a boot-scraper and I remember seeing these when I was four or five years old and therefore much more down on that level. All the roads around here are paved and patches of grass are few and far between, so they must date from the time when horses pulled carts and waggons on the streets and did what horses naturally do.

Take care (and don't step in any!)

Saturday 21 February 2015

The Day Awakes

This is how the day comes to life on Grantchester Meadows, beside the River Cam, near Cambridge:


Take care

Thursday 19 February 2015

Hatfield Forest - Stepping Into The Medieval

Today you are invited join me on a visit to a Royal Hunting Forest, but first a couple of sights seen on the way there. It was a fine February day and I made a little detour to photograph the snowdrops at the thirteenth-century Takeley Church.

Then on to the remains of an old railway halt on the former Bishops Stortford to Great Dunmow line, which is now transformed into a pleasant path for walkers and cyclists.

Ascend a few steps and you're in a landscape that has survived intact from a time before even the church was built. We know that William I had an interest in the place and that the first King Henry used it for hunting, but it's likely that the forest had been in existence for much longer than that.

For those who understand the word "forest" to mean endless-ranks-of-coniferous-trees-planted-geometrically-and-unsympathetically-across-the-landscape Hatfield Forest will come as a bit of a surprise. Sure enough there are trees, but there are also open spaces too.

Oliver Rackham, that great authority on ancient woodlands, (who sadly passed away only last week, aged 75), felt that Hatfield was unique in that it still maintained all the elements of the old hunting forests namely - deer, cattle, pollards, coppiced woodland, scrubland, mature timber trees, grazing land and wetland.

It should perhaps be mentioned that it also has a cafe run by the National Trust and a major airport just a couple of miles away! But even so it does not take too much imagination to fancy yourself stepping back several centuries, particularly if, like me, you wander off the main paths to encounter herds of fallow deer grazing on the forest rides and skittering off into the thickets.

The picture above shows what happens when a tree is "coppiced". The tree is cut off near to ground level and then within the next few years it regrows a crown of thin vertical shafts. These poles are very useful for all kinds of jobs, but were especially handy for making fences and hurdles. Pollarding is a similar process except that the trees are cut off six to eight feet above the ground so that new growth is protected from browsing animals.

Meanwhile some trees were left to grow to provide larger timbers for house and barn construction and also shipbuilding. 

Animals were grazed there. Deer were hunted for venison. Rabbits were raised in specially constructed warrens. The forest was also source for berries and fruit, edible fungi, birds and their eggs. Firewood could be collected. Goshawk chicks were taken to be raised for falconry. Charcoal was manufactured. All in all it was managed to produce maximum output and was a far cry from either the "wildwood" or the rather bleak monoculture of modern forestry.

In 1729 part of the forest was bought by the wealthy Houblon family who were responsible for constructing the lake, the planting of some non-native trees and the construction of a picnic-house decorated with shells. 

This landscaped area is where the National Trust has based its shop and cafe while leaving the rest of the forest gloriously unaffected.

Take care.

Sunday 15 February 2015

Lights In Motion - The e-Luminate Festival

I took a stroll around Cambridge's festival of lights last year, but it's back again, bigger and better in 2015. Last year I took a lot of photos and a short video, but this time I concentrated on taking moving pictures. I filmed a lot then chopped it down to a manageable 3 minutes for you. 

The organisers say that one of their aims was to bring attention to buildings that might otherwise not be noticed by local residents. Regular readers of this blog will know that there's not much danger of that happening with this local resident!

Click on the image below to watch the video:

In case you want to know the places you've just seen:

  • street scenes in Rose Crescent and Trinity Street
  • Cambridge Guilhall with market traders packing up their stalls
  • Trinity Street with the tower of St John's College Chapel appearing, in green, in the background
  • several views of St John's College Chapel lit with different colours - "Colour Definition" by Dan Kirby and SGM Light 
  • the Mathematical Bridge, Queens' College - "Crossing" by Sudio of Cinematic Architecture and Showave
  • the Fitzwilliam Museum - part of "Light Progression" by Susie Olczak, Pulsar & Hawthorn
  • the Senate House and The Old Schools Building with projected black and white images - "Line" by Ross Ashton, Panasonic and Hawthorn - incredible stuff!
  • passing appearances and soundtrack by the good people of Cambridge

Take care

Thursday 12 February 2015


When you stroll through narrow Victorian terraced streets, where the front door opens right on to the pavement, you can't help but notice all the little ways in which the householders have individualised their properties. Here's a selection of door-knockers; still popular despite the invention of the electric doorbell!

Take care.

Monday 9 February 2015

Backstreet Shuffle

When the railway companies wanted to come to Cambridge their proposal met with lots of opposition from the University who thought it would intrude upon their idyllic way of life. Exactly how direct their actions were has been debated ever since, but the upshot was that the railway swerved away from the town and the railway station was built out in open country.

The college dons weren't the only cunning operators however, both the local landowners and then the railway-builders themselves soon managed to manipulate things to their advantage. In order to build their tracks the railway companies were forced to buy up large parcels of land that they didn't really need; no one was going to sell them a strip just wide enough to lay their tracks.

So the railway companies decided to build houses on the spare land, initially for their workers, but then for the increased population which the railway attracted. Mills and factories were built in the area and their workers needed housing. As a result the construction of railways became a very lucrative enterprise.

If you look at a map you'll see that Cambridge is a very lop-sided city; its growth is nearly all eastwards towards the railway, while the "city centre" is, in fact, completely off-centre, over by the western edge.

These streets are not much visited, apart from by those who live there, and are not much photographed either. However something made me want to investigate and see what I could find to point my camera at. It involved a lot of walking for not many photos, but I hope that what I found is of some interest, particularly to those from other countries. 

Such high-density housing is common enough in Britain, particularly in the industrial towns built during the nineteenth century. It was before the advent of the motor car so everyone had to walk to work or to the shops. Nowadays in Cambridge almost everyone has a bicycle. But is this landscape ever....


Probably not, though when we've lost most of these streets, in another century or so, they'll no doubt be a campaign to save them for posterity.  

You can see from the "Sold" signs in the photo above that these homes are still popular today, mainly perhaps because of their nearness to the city. In fact they are probably more sought-after than ever; I remember a time when people had mainly heard of these streets from the criminal court reports in the local paper!

Maybe there are some dodgy characters still lurking behind the curtains keeping an eye on passers-by!

* * *

Speaking of dodgy characters.... I never thought there'd be any "huge prizes" to give away because the mystery photo of my last post....

....the one on the left, started out as....the one on the right, which was moss on an old mobile home, which also had snail trails on it. So no wacky baccy was smoked to produce such a psychedelic image. Just what I was on to be photographing snail-trails is another matter.... 

Take care.

Saturday 7 February 2015


Somehow I've collected the following four images on my laptop. I usually give my photos a little tweak; just a some gentle persuasion to encourage them to along the path I had visualised for them. Every so often I get rather carried away and push them into unknown and unexpected territory. 


This house in Saffron Walden has a very Gothic appearance, totally at odds with its surroundings - even before I started messing about with it. It was really a pleasantly sunny day, not a spooky moonlit night.

No real reason for this, just entirely decorative. It started out as some leaves on a tree.

Another battered gravestone from the Mill Road Cemetery. For this effect I desaturated the image to black and white then added a bit of contrast. But before I did that I made a colour copy which I then blurred to an unrecognisable coloured smudge. By adding the two results together I achieved the rather nice (I think) effect above.

What can I say?!! The above photo was produced without resorting to any mind-altering chemical substances. Would have made a nice album cover for Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, Cream, Big Brother and the Holding Company........

Huge prizes to anyone who can guess what this picture started out as. 

Take care.