Sunday 31 December 2017

A Calendar For 2018













Take care.

Friday 29 December 2017

Battle Of The Barrels

It's that time of year again. The normally sane and respectable citizens of Grantchester and the surrounding villages take to the streets, full of Christmas pudding and good cheer, to roll huge wooden barrels in chaotic frenzied races, just for the fun of it.

Even more remarkably hundreds of their otherwise staid and reliable neighbours come to stand around in the cold to watch them. 

Various teams either volunteer or are hastily press-ganged and assembled by the organisers to contest a number of back-and-forth relay races along the Coton Road.

Besides watching the races, I also hoped to see many of my old friends from the village. That was how, having arrived early to get the perfect spot for photography, I wandered away just as the races began, to chat to various people.

As a result most of the photos shown here were shot over the heads of other onlookers. Long arms and a tilting viewfinder screen come in useful sometimes.

It was great to see so many young people competing this year. Things have changed since the old days when the race was the exclusive preserve of men who drank in the four village pubs.

Lots of fun was had by competitors and spectators, and money was collected for charities as well.

It's not usual to see the barrels airborne as the one in the photo above seems to be. Youth and enthusiasm can do strange things to the law of gravity.

After three-quarters of an hour or so of mayhem the races came to an end and my brother Les and I headed for The Crown at Eaton Socon for a roast dinner.

A few years ago I concentrated on the races long enough to shoot a video which, if you haven't seen it before, can be viewed here:

Take care.

Thursday 21 December 2017

A Break From Shopping

It's increasingly true that the same shops appear in every town and city across the land. And some occur in every city throughout the world. But that's because our eyes are firmly fixed on the glittering shopfronts and displays. Let your eyes drift up a bit and you'll find some varied and interesting architecture.

The Central Cinema in Cambridge's Hobson Street closed down as long ago as 1972 but was then re-opened as a bingo hall. Now it's boarded up and nothing seems to be happening, though it still gives a bit of shelter for those waiting for the bus on rainy days. Which is all rather a shame as its white-tiled frontage is a wonderful mix of Art Deco and Egyptian styles, so redolent of the golden age of cinema and the 1930s when it was built.

Cambridge has over 1,500 Listed Buildings which, according to Historic England, can be described thus: Listing marks and celebrates a building's special architectural and historic interest, and also brings it under the consideration of the planning system, so that it can be protected for future generations. However the Jack Wills clothing outlet is not one of them. It just shows what a wealth of interesting buildings there is.

I've often browsed through the books in Waterstones but I can't say I'd ever looked up at the fancy wrought iron balconies before. That's not a listed building either.

The entrance to the pedestrianised Sussex Street is marked by two fine buildings, Sidney House and Montagu House, the lower floor of the latter presently occupied by Costa Coffee. This whole development was built in 1928-29 by Sidney Sussex College with the upper floors being designed as student accommodation. James Montagu was the first Master of the college, being appointed in 1596 and the Montagu coat of arms is displayed high above the Costa trade mark.

Up above STA Travel's premises is this early nineteenth century structure in classical style but built in Cambridge brick which is a nice gentle shade of yellow when clean but quickly becomes dirty grey in urban situations.

This traditional half-timbered building stands in Cambridge's Bridge Street, as it has done since the sixteenth century. It's been altered a bit over the centuries but much of the original structure remains.

I've long admired the very ornate pediments, cornices, medallions and pilasters above the Hong Kong Fusion restaurant. It was built in the mid-nineteenth century but I haven't been able to find out why it was constructed in such ornate style. It is a listed building but the listing text pays scant regard to the decorative elements.

Number 10, Trinity Street gives you a good idea of how attractive Cambridge brick can be when it's been cleaned. It dates from the nineteenth century and is in what's called Venetian Gothic style and looks more like a University building than a fashion retailer which it is today.

There are several attractive half-timbered buildings on Kings Parade, opposite Kings College. Some of them date from the sixteenth century and may have been built as the finishing touches were being applied to the magnificent Chapel. If these shops were situated elsewhere they would probably attract more interest from sightseers (and photographers).

Take care.

Sunday 17 December 2017

Men Of Royston

In contrast to the grace, elegance and beauty of the swans in my last post, I came upon something a little more rugged and violent as I walked across Royston Heath on Saturday.

A Rugby Union game was taking place between Royston's 1st XV and Saracens Amateurs. Not teams of the highest calibre it's true, but nevertheless a fast, exciting, physical game for those few of us who were willing to stand out on "the blasted heath" on a cold December afternoon.

Royston, in the black and white hooped shirts, soon began to overwhelm their opponents by both speed and power.

There were some very large men involved and in Rugby the biggest and strongest often come out on top. Royston's powerful scrum dominated the play.

One smaller person was definitely in charge however. 

I'm not about to explain the rules (yes, there are rules!) to those from lands deprived of the beauties of Rugby Union Football; we'd be here all day and you wouldn't be much the wiser. Lets just say there's a lot of pushing and shoving, grunting and groaning, and pulling and pushing.

But there's also a lot of exciting running moves....

....and skillful passing.

...till things are brought to a sudden, crunching conclusion.

Royston ended the game victorious by 39 points to 7, according to the results published online, though to tell the truth I'd lost count towards the end of the game. 

I was also beginning to lose the feeling in my fingers towards the end of the afternoon as there was a bitterly cold wind blowing across the heath.

Take care.

Friday 15 December 2017

Winter Swans At Welney

It's all very well liking nature and the outdoors; enjoying tramping through fields and woodland; and getting home with muddy boots, damp clothes and cold feet. But every so often one craves a little bit of luxury. Nothing wrong with that.

So it was that yesterday my brother Les and I made our way to the Wildfowl And Wetland Trust's reserve at Welney to admire the spectacle of the Whooper Swans and other birds that congregate here during the winter months.

The picture of the modern visitor centre (above) doesn't really convey how luxurious the experience is: there are meeting rooms, a shop, video screens and an excellent cafe with views out onto the neighbouring fenland. Then there's a bridge which leads over to a heated observatory - far too swish to be called a hide.

And what can one observe from the observatory? Thousands of birds which make this place their winter home having fled the harsher climes of the Arctic. In the photo above you can see four Greylag Geese  swimming in the foreground; then behind them is a mass of Black-Tailed Godwits conserving their energy by standing one one leg and dozing with their heads tucked under their wings; and behind them an assortment of geese and ducks as well as some Whooper Swans.

The Whooper Swans are what most people come to see. They are only here during the winter, migrating down from Iceland. Exactly where in Iceland was something of a mystery at one time and I remember reading Sir Peter Scott's account of his pioneering trip to discover the remote valleys where they nested during the summer. It's fitting then that they come to Wildfowl and Wetland's centre in winter, as the Trust was founded by Sir Peter.

Also here in large numbers are the little Pochards, which always look a bit like bathroom toys. Nearly all the Pochards here are males, the females, very sensibly, winter down in the Mediterranean.

There are also some of our resident Mute Swans, recognisable by their orange beaks with a black knob at the top. 

We went for a stroll along to the other (unheated) hides where we were lucky enough to get good views of a Marsh Harrier gliding effortlessly over the washes, causing chaos among the other birds. There were also several Stonechats perching conspicuously as we walked between the hides.

But then it was time to return for a cuppa and a toasted teacake in the cafe before going back to the main observatory (above) to await the 3.30 swan feed.

The birds seem to have an uncanny sense of time and started gathering before the observatory in anticipation of feed time.

Then, as the sun began to set, (yes, it sets at about 3.45 pm at this time of year) the wheelbarrow full of grain was pushed along in front of the observation windows and the swans were fed.

The fading light made photography a bit tricky but a few pictures threw up interesting results like the amazingly blurred wings of this Mute Swan.

The commentary assured as that the birds actually have plenty to eat without this little treat. The mallards however, greedy as ever, didn't seem to agree!

It was beginning to get dark as the feeding concluded.

As night fell the distant lights of Welney village began to glow on the horizon, the sky darkened, and more swans flew in from the surrounding fields to roost for the night. Meanwhile the floodlights began to illuminate the birds in the foreground at the end of a memorable day.

Bird-watchers list of notable birds:

Whooper Swans, Mute Swans, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Gadwall, Pochard, Pintail, Shoveler, Shelduck, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Coot, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Redshank, Lapwing, Black-Tailed Godwit, Cormorant, Heron, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Pheasant, Stonechat, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting, Tree Sparrow (many on the feeders near the cafe) and a Barn Owl flew from a post near the car park as we started for home. 

Take care.