Sunday 25 February 2018

A Bare Bones Landscape

Just south of the small town of Royston the land suddenly rises up like a great grass-covered wave stretching east and west as far as the eye can see. As you come from the flat farmland of Cambridgeshire its height is accentuated by its sheer unexpectedness. Anyone who takes the trouble to ascend the 50 metres or so to the top of the rise finds themselves in some strangely un-English scenery.

The fields stretch away in a succession of gentle swells broken by occasional scanty hedges which do little to impede the wind. There are few trees and the plough has scored through the thin, chalky soil to give the terrain a cold and frosted appearance.

I got off the train at Ashwell and Morden station and crossed the busy A505 road and commenced the trudge up Gallows Hill where, standing on a Bronze-Age burial mound was a clump of suitably dark, skeletal trees.

The footpath network here is sparse and doesn't obligingly connect up unless the walker resorts to a little road walking. But the roads are straight and it's so quiet that approaching cars can easily be heard above the singing skylarks and the occasional mewing buzzard.

The views are so far-reaching that there's a real "top of the world" feeling here, even though the elevation is modest indeed.

And yet every so often land, light and atmosphere conspire to create subtle flowing scenes. Where does that look like? Mongolia? Patagonia? Certainly not Spring in Hertfordshire!

A little further along and yellow catkins against a blue sky remind me that I'm just a few miles from home.

By now the overnight frost had departed from the top inch or so of the muddy fieldpaths making them greasy and unpleasant walking. At intervals along the edge of the field there were large flints, moved aside from the line of harrow or seed drill. These flint nodules appear in layers within the chalk and are composed of a hard, black, glassy form of silica. The exact process of their formation puzzled geologists for decades and, if anyone's interested, a clear and concise explanation can be found here

Stone-Age man, of course, had taken an interest in flint from the dawn of history because it was found to be perfect for making cutting tools, as when it was split open it produced sharp-edged shards, which could be further perfected by a skilled "flint-knapper".

Our path then enters Fox Covert where woodland survives despite the thin covering of soil. The path soon erodes down to the bare bones of the root system.

And in the wood my eye was attracted to a sawn-through log. Chainsaw-marks, tree-rings, the cracks of age and a pioneering strand of ivy combine to make a pleasing picture, in much the same way that geology, history and the hand of man have interacted to form the scenery.

Take care.

Monday 19 February 2018

Bending The Rules

Most of the photos I show you are an attempt to illustrate things of interest or beauty that I've seen. It'd be nice if you could see them for yourselves, or better still go out and find things in your own area. I'm a rough and ready sort of photographer and my shots nearly always need a bit of tidying up on the computer. But every so often I get a bit carried away.....

There's a lot of things you can click on with a photo-editing program and I start to get curious what different combinations might create. The flowers above are the result of combining an in-focus and a blurred version of the same shot and then fiddling about to make what I think is an appealing effect.

I saw some prints by the artist Eric Ravilious and thought it might be possible to recreate the look with a photograph. I still don't know if it's possible; this popped up on the screen before I got there and I thought I'd stop while I was winning. 

A sort of pop-art poster of a seedhead. Sort of.

This is a compound image - four separate photos and a black background - of the folk band Lankum (previously known as Lynched). Then I've worked all over the picture with a smudging tool to push the colour around to look a bit like a painting. 

One of life's happy accidents. Again it's a blend of an in-focus and a blurred image, but one that came out better than I expected.

A narrow street in Cambridge. I've no idea how it ended up like this!

Most of the time though these "experiments" end up as a murky mess and get deleted! Normal service will be resumed soon - when it stops raining and I get rid of my cold.

Take care.

Friday 16 February 2018

Trifles And Tidbits

Grade One

The Village College is an institution which, as far as I know, is only found in Cambridgeshire. It was the brainchild of Henry Morris who was Chief Education Officer in the county for over 30 years. The idea was to build schools for 11 to 16 year-olds in their home rural areas and also to provide classes for adults in the evenings. Their links to the local community have always been very important. 

Impington, in 1939, was the fourth to be built and, it may surprise you to learn, is a Grade I listed building. The reason for this high designation is that it's the only building in the UK to be designed by the pioneering architect and founder of the Bauhaus school, Walter Gropius. He had fled Nazi Germany and  formed an architectural partnership with Englishman Maxwell Fry. Gropius soon moved on to the USA, but not before designing the Village College at Impington.

Grade Two

Believe it or not this late nineteenth century water pump is a listed building too, though only a common old Grade II. As you can see it's very smartly painted and bears the words Bamford's Frost Protected Lift Pump. Bamford's of Uttoxeter was founded in 1845 as an ironmonger's shop, but grew to be a large manufacturer of farm equipment, not ceasing production till 2008. Henry Bamford's grandson Joseph Cyril Bamford founded a rival company which still exists. It's known by Bamford's initials - JCB.

What's The Time?

A rather crude sundial high on the wall of Oakington Church. "God always cares" it says, but not enough to get the time right in this corner of the world it seems. This was taken at 11 o'clock but the shadow seems to indicate about a quarter to twelve. The metal part has got bent no doubt. Incidentally that metal bit that casts the shadow is called the "gnomon". Now that's a word that's bound to come in handy someday.


Weather vanes are a feature of many buildings and I often think I'll collect photos of them but rarely remember to take a snap. I rather liked this fox relentlessly pursuing its prey while a (real) starling perches cheekily on his tail.

Places To Live

You can end up at some dodgy addresses in England. Who'd want to live at either of these...

Meanwhile these two, unusual as they are, might appeal to certain enthusiasts....

And here's a special address that I should have really posted on Valentine's Day....

Take care.

Wednesday 14 February 2018

It's All About The Orchids

The University Botanic Garden in Cambridge is holding its Orchid Festival and once again there's a wonderful display of these exotic flowers in the greenhouses. It's on till March 11th if you happen to be in the area.

And if you're not in the vicinity then I hope that you've enjoyed these few photos.

Take care.

Monday 12 February 2018

A Garden In February

A gloriously sunny winter's day to wander around the Cambridge University Botanic Garden...

There was the usual February display of snowdrops. Many other gardens make a big thing of their snowdrops and advertise special "Snowdrop Days". Despite the lack of fanfare the gardens here are no less impressive.

OK, now lets wander round and see if anything else is flowering...

Hellebores of many colours are at their best just now. For those of you who ask from time to time, my camera is fitted with a neat, hinged display screen so I didn't have to lay down on the cold wet ground. And I can still get up OK, so no need to worry about me!

A white version of the Hellebore or Lenten Rose as it's sometimes known.

I think that's a Viburnum, though I didn't check the little label (it's not, it's a Daphne as Rosie has pointed out in a comment below). It has an almost overpowering fragrance which is always a surprise to encounter in mid-winter. The red stems of the dogwood form a colourful, unfocused background.

The main avenue looks good at any time of year and I don't think I've shown you it before on this blog. In a normal formal garden the trees are planted so that everything is symmetrical and balanced. This garden however was designed by Charles Darwin's teacher, John Stevens Henslow, to instruct his students in botany. He has taken the opportunity to illustrate the different growth habits of similar trees, so a tall upright version is often contrasted with a low, spreading variety of the same type of tree. It looks a bit strange but draws the attention to his point.

At the end of the avenue is a fountain which is popular with children (and ducks) later in the year. There's still some ice on it this morning.

Here's this month's interesting bit of greenery.

The picture above looks as though it could be somewhere tropical, but I'm afraid we're still in a rather chilly Cambridge. So lets have a peep inside the greenhouses...

And it's also the time of year when they have the Orchid Festival which we'll investigate fully in the next post.

Take care.

Monday 5 February 2018

Snowdrops And Other Small Friends

Just one month ago there were two small clumps of snowdrops in the village wood. As in other years they were just the warm-up act for the show that was to follow. All around the village there are tiny specks of optimism springing from the wet, cold ground.


Take care.