Thursday, 19 April 2018

Fog on the Thames

I had a day trip to London to see a photographic exhibition, Vision 9 (see HERE), at the 'gallery@oxo' on the South Bank. It was a most enjoyable treat and a wonderful exhibition to see. I'd seen it advertised and realised that, of the nine photographers exhibiting, five are people I already follow on Facebook, finding their work very inspiring. So, even before I'd really thought about it, I'd booked a train ticket to go! All the artists are landscape photographers but they are producing some exquisite and unusual work, far removed from a straight landscape shot. Some use multiple exposures and ICM (intentional camera movement) or long exposures to produce work that sings with light and has an impressionistic feel.

I took my own camera, hoping for some city shots, but it was a poor day, dull and foggy and very cold. The view along the Thames looked almost monochrome, with the dome of St Paul's Cathedral and the skyscrapers in the City looming out of the mist in the distance.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Trains and boats, no planes

My family have just returned from a holiday and we arranged to meet up for a day, before they all started school/nursery/work again. Lo and behold, it turned out to be a dry and sunny day, even beginning to feel a little warmer. We met at Shibden Hall Park, near Halifax, as it is about equidistant between our homes and has lots for the children to enjoy. Away from the paths, it was horribly muddy, so we all got a bit grimy. Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun.

There is a miniature steam railway that makes a circuit of part of the estate. The girls love riding on that and loved waving to all the people we passed. We had a picnic (first of the year!). Then we bravely decided to hire a rowing boat. My daughter turned out to have some unexpected skills in rowing and navigated us safely around the lake, and the girls managed to stay on board!

My older granddaughter found a painted stone, hidden as part of the craze that is spreading around the country for people painting small stones with nice pictures or positive messages and leaving them for others to find. (Locally it's called 'Calderdale Rocks!') After that, she started searching for them and found three altogether. We took a photo of each one and then she hid them again for others to find. All rather sweet and it kept her amused. They had a longish stint in the adventure playground (both the girls are quite brave in climbing, sliding and jumping) and then a well-earned coffee and ice-cream on the café terrace in the sunshine concluded a most enjoyable day out. I feel so blessed to have them.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Dark Ages and daffodils

East Riddlesden Hall is the nearest National Trust place to me, so I can now take advantage of my membership and pop along there anytime. It is only small but it's pleasant: an interesting old manor house and ancient tithe barns, with a large pond in front and small but attractive gardens. It was another dull day, but the daffodils were in bloom in wide sweeps across the lawns. In the gardens at the rear there were few flowers blooming as yet, though the blue ones, which I think are Siberian squill, made bright drifts in the flower beds.

There was an event advertised: an Anglo-Saxon Experience Day. It was mainly aimed at children and there were some families in a side room, busily creating round shields. I had expected a few more costumed actors but there were only two or three, from a group called the English Companions. It was, however, interesting to read in their displays a bit about The Dark Ages, that period in British history between about 450 and 1066, after the Romans withdrew and before the Norman Conquest. Germanic tribes migrated from Europe and settled, and the Anglo-Saxon period effectively saw the birth of the English nation, English language and culture. Christianity was established and systems of government grew as various kingdoms (Mercia, Wessex and so on) developed. It was a complicated and turbulent time but it laid many foundations that still influence life in Britain today. The earliest archeological traces found at East Riddlesden Hall date back to 973 though the house we see now originated in the 1600s.

I'm always grateful for the volunteers and historians that seek to bring these times to life. I studied history at school but remember it as a fairly dry subject. It is only in recent years that I have really started to be aware of the evidence of the past all around us and to be interested, particularly in social history.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Leeds owl mural

I've tried to take a picture of this mural in Leeds city centre before, with little success. Then I had reason to pass through Leeds railway station and realised that from one of the platforms it is much more visible and accessible. I didn't know much about it, but searching online I found that it was commissioned as part of a street art project, 'A City Less Grey'. Called 'Athena Rising', it was painted on the east side of the recently revamped Platform building by two female artists known as Nomad Clan. (See HERE for more details). It is more than 150ft high and is believed to be Britain's tallest piece of street art.

The owl is the symbol of the City of Leeds (see HERE), and there are many owls scattered around on buildings and bridges so the subject matter is quite appropriate.

(Taking part in Monday Murals. Click HERE for more murals from around the world.)

Sunday, 15 April 2018

In reserve

I've mentioned before (see HERE) the small nature reserve that has been started near Hirst Lock, on a boggy field that was once part of a farm, beside the canal on the edge of Saltaire. It's the brainchild of the Hirst Wood Regeneration Group, who had already transformed a scrubby patch by the lock into an attractive garden. Some three years in the planning, the reserve officially opened in September 2015. Despite some problems with vandalism, it is beginning to establish itself and is a pleasant place for a stroll.

On the first (and only, so far!) warm, sunny day we've really had, a few days into April, I had a little walk in that direction. Everything is really behind this year. Daffodils were only just beginning to flower (although the smaller narcissus were a little more advanced) and there was at that stage hardly any blossom or signs of trees in bud. Nature's energy is literally held 'in reserve' but the warmer weather soon encourages growth to speed up.

The reserve is used for educational purposes by the local primary school. They have made a nice little mosaic picture, which clearly shows the mature tree near the reserve's entrance.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Artistic licence

It has continued wet and cold here, apart from the odd day when there have been a few tantalising hints of warmer sunshine, so I still haven't been inclined to get out much to take photos. (Where is Spring?) I have, however, spent some time processing images and attempting a few artistic effects. It's fun and very absorbing. This is another picture of reedbeds, taken at the Leighton Moss RSPB reserve, where I visited in late March. Don't ask me what I did to it! I just kept on trying different things... but ended up quite happy with this result.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Gibson Mill

One final post from Hardcastle Crags... This shows Gibson Mill from the back, beautifully reflected in the mill pond.

Thursday, 12 April 2018


Remarkably, this old range and kitchen is still on the top floor of Gibson Mill, a relic of when the place was a busy restaurant in the early 1900s.

It seemed to fit the theme for March in my online photo group, which was 'Abandoned'. I suppose you could argue that it is hardly abandoned, since it is now in the care of the National Trust. But it was clearly abandoned at some stage. I don't think you'd get far trying to cook on it now! I can vividly picture waitresses in long black skirts, starched white aprons and frilly caps, rushing in and out for the orders.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Now and then

Gibson Mill has a fascinating history. It was built in 1805 as a water-powered cotton mill but, as the Industrial Revolution gathered pace, the initial attractions of the site (alongside a fast flowing river to power the waterwheel) became more of a hindrance. The valley is narrow and when packhorse transport was overtaken by rail and road, it became increasingly difficult to get supplies and goods to and from the mill.

It finally closed as a mill in 1902 but was almost immediately reopened as a restaurant. During the previous decade the wooded valley, full of waterfalls and picnic spots, had became a tourist attraction and various small pavilions had opened, serving refreshments to cater to the weekend visitors from the nearby industrial towns. The mill became an 'entertainment emporium', with first and second class (!) restaurants, a dance floor and later a roller skating rink. At its height in the 1920s, the area was attracting 500,000 visitors a year. People were transported from Hebden Bridge railway station in open carriages called wagonettes that could transport 25 people at once, pulled by teams of four horses. The last owner left the mill and the estate to the National Trust, on his death in 1956.

You can see from the photos that superficially the Mill is still very similar to what it looked like in the early 1900s. It is, however, now one of the NT's flagship sustainable enterprises. Apart from a telephone link, it is completely 'off-grid', generating electricity from a water turbine and photo-voltaic panels, heating from a bio-mass boiler and having composting toilets.

(Old photos are taken from the display panels around the mill. Hope nobody objects!)

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

A walk round Hardcastle Crags

The National Trust not only cares for many historic properties but also manages huge areas of the British countryside and coast. One area locally that falls under its jurisdiction is Hardcastle Crags, a wooded valley very near to where my daughter lives in Hebden Bridge.

My granddaughter attends a Church of England primary school, and they were having a special Easter service in the adjoining parish church. She had a part in it, so I went along to watch. It was an early start for me, and then it was all over by 10.30am so I had the rest of the day to play with. Although it was a bit dull and drizzly, I decided I'd take a walk round the Crags. (There is no entrance fee to the NT's country areas but my newly acquired membership of the organisation does give me free parking. It would be rude not to use it!)

The valley has many way-marked trails of varying lengths and difficulty. I set off on the red route, scrambling up through woods and outcrops of millstone grit and returning along the riverside. Much of the walk was paved with old stone flags, which usually denote ancient packhorse routes. The local area was home to many handloom weavers in the 18th century, so there was a busy trade of goods criss-crossing the valley on horseback.

In 1805, Gibson Mill, a water-powered cotton mill, was built, harnessing the power of the river, Hebden Water, which runs through the valley to join the River Calder in Hebden Bridge. The mill forms the focal point of the Hardcastle Crags trails, and now has a café, gallery space and educational facilities.

Though the countryside still seemed held fast in the grip of winter, I saw quite a few birds as I walked through the woods, including a great spotted woodpecker, which didn't stay still long enough for me to photograph. Upstream from the mill, I saw a grey heron. They do stand still - sometimes for hours!

The path back to the carpark ran alongside Hebden Water, which tumbles over little cascades and has many points where you can cross by stepping stones or packhorse bridges, another sign of how busy this now quiet and peaceful valley once was.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Sizergh's swans

The lake in the gardens behind Sizergh Castle is home to a pair of mute swans. They have built a nest on the island in the lake and one of the pair was on the nest, though I couldn't see if there were eggs laid. The other (I presume the male) was gliding around, feeding. Swans usually mate for life and use the same nest year after year, rebuilding it as necessary. Both take turns to guard the nest.

I was on a raised terrace so perhaps the swan didn't spot me. At any rate, for once, I got decent photos. Swans usually turn their backs and hide their heads as soon as they see me! What was captivating was how clear the water was, so that I could see the bird's head under water and watch how it was feeding. Fascinating. 

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Sizergh Castle's gardens

Sizergh Castle has extensive gardens within a larger estate. When I was there at the end of March, winter still had the UK in its grip, and there were only the first signs of spring, with the small Lakeland daffodils coming into bloom. In a few weeks, once the weather warms up a bit, I imagine the grounds will be much more colourful as spring bulbs start to flower and trees burst into blossom.

At the side of the house there's an interesting limestone rock garden, which had some early narcissus and winter flowering heathers bringing a little colour. Later, it will be much brighter, as there are some acer trees, over 100 years old, that will have gorgeous russet leaves.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Sizergh Castle

I've joined The National Trust, so I aim to visit as many sites as I reasonably can this year, making the most of my membership. I started by visiting Sizergh Castle, not far from Grange over Sands. It's a substantial medieval house, set in rather beautiful grounds. It has belonged to the same family, the Stricklands, since 1239. The family still reside in one wing of the house and, apparently, still use the state rooms too, when the house is not open to the public.

The square tower on the left of the photo above is the original medieval (1300s) solar tower. The house has evolved around this over the centuries, as various generations have extended and altered it to suit their purposes. The house contains fine Elizabethan oak panelling and has furnishings reflecting styles from Elizabethan through to Regency and Victorian. The whole house contains many family portraits and more recent photographs, which makes it feel very personal and welcoming.

During the Tudor period, the Strickland family were very wealthy. Catherine Parr (who became the 6th wife of Henry VIII) and who was a relative of the Stricklands, is though to have lived here after the death of her first husband. When I visited, there was an exhibition of letters written by Cecilia Strickland (1741-1814) who owned the house in the 18th century. Her husband died and she fought to keep the house for her son's inheritance, despite her own ill-health and an ongoing struggle to afford to maintain the buildings. It was rather moving to read her letters; she sounds to have been a very strong and determined woman. It's lovely the way the National Trust these days works so hard to make history relevant and illuminating. I really enjoyed my visit.

Friday, 6 April 2018


A selection of ducks that came near enough to the hides for me to photograph:

At Leighton Moss there is large population of teal. They are small dabbling ducks; the males have very attractive plumage and the females are rather less showy, mottled brown. Some breed here but many are winter visitors from the Baltic and Siberia.

For many years I overlooked and could never identify the duck below: a (male) gadwall. I've got better at spotting them lately. They are not especially common, only about 1200 summer breeding pairs in the UK, though more overwinter here. From a distance they just look grey but seen close up they are actually rather pretty, with nice faces and subtly patterned plumage.

Below is a very elegant duck, a male pintail, with a sweep of white up its neck and the characteristic slim, pointed tail feathers. They were right over the other side of the scrape so my photo is enlarged and heavily cropped and thus a bit grainy.

Moorhens (not really ducks) are quite common but lovely to see, darting busily about. The males, close up, have attractive subtle colourings with a grey-blue belly and brown back. Their red and yellow beak is distinctive.