Of barges, trains and automobiles

Railway in Surrey
Recently I have started to retrace my steps along the Wey Navigation towpath with a view to getting some more up to date pictures for a possible book project.  Most of the Navigation runs through pretty countryside but there is one spot, between New Haw and Pyrford, where it runs close to, and is indeed crossed by, the M25, Britain’s busiest motorway.  It is not the most picturesque of landscapes but still full of interest for the photographer.  I enjoy the challenge of trying to make images here.
The M25 crosses the Wey
Although not conventionally beautiful, this is a very significant spot in the history of transport.  Here, within a few paces of its passage under the motorway, the Wey Navigation meets the Basingstoke Canal. The Navigation is not a canal strictly speaking but a river made navigable, and it predates the canal age by some hundred years.  Thus the Basingstoke Canal (opened in 1793) represents a later evolution of British transport, although it was never as successful as the Navigation and fell into disuse first. A sign here points to Thames Lock (3 miles), Guildford and Godalming (12 miles) and Greywell Tunnel (31 miles via the Basingstoke Canal).
The M25 and the Wey Navigation near New Haw
Immediately after its junction with the canal, the Navigation passes under a bridge that carries the main London to Southampton railway line (1838).  The railways of course were a further development and largely responsible for supplanting the canals as the principal means of goods transport.
Railway in Surrey
Railway in Surrey
Then there’s the motorway, the next stage in the development of transport.  An iron footbridge next to the railway bridge adds a further layer, albeit rather older and more environmentally sound!
railway in surrey
I have had a few funny looks from people during my visits here, and on a couple of occasions people have stopped to ask me what on earth I am photographing.  Yet, rather amusingly, I am clearly not the first photog to see potential in this location, although I don’t think I would ever go to such lengths to advertise my Flickr photo stream!

railway Surrey

Some people will do anything to get people to look at their photos

In some of my shots I have tried for a desaturated, moody look, to suit the industrial feel of the place.
Railway in Surrey
But sometimes I just can’t resist going for colour.  When the late afternoon sun peeps under the motorway, it almost looks pretty.
Railway in Surrey
The next shot does not properly belong here as I took it at Weybridge Station, while waiting to meet my daughter.  But it was taken on the same afternoon as some of the earlier pictures, just a few minutes later, and it has got a train in it…
Weybridge Train Station
Of all the photographs I have taken here so far, strangely my favourite has no train.  I like the simplicity of the brick bridge against the sky. It seemed to demand a contrasty black and white conversion.

Black and white railway bridge

ISO 50, 16mm, f/16, 11″
ND .6 Hard Grad, Circ. Polariser, .9 Pro-glass

The little iron church

Esher, Surrey
The tiny, corrugated iron, ‘mission’ church of St. George is in the hamlet of West End, near Esher in Surrey. It was built in 1879 on land given by Queen Victoria so that the poor labourers of the village might be able to worship without the steep, muddy climb into Esher. Despite its temporary nature, the church, which overlooks the cricket green, is currently 134 not out!
Many thanks to my friend, Tony Antoniou, who kindly popped round yesterday to re-calibrate my monitor and at the same time showed me how to get better results from the HDR facility in Photoshop CC. This photo is my first effort using the tool properly. Tony is a talented photographer with a flair for environmental portraits and image manipulation. Do pop over and have a look at his website.

Fort Grey

Fort Grey, in Roquaine Bay on Guernsey’s West coast, is one of the Channel Islands’ many ‘Martello’ towers.
It was built in 1804, during the Napoleonic Wars, for defence against the French.
During WW2, the occupying German forces used it as an anti-aircraft battery. The tower was restored in the 1970s and opened as a shipwreck museum in 1976.


Looking North towards WW2 tower

The area has seen plenty of shipwrecks over the centuries, as it is fringed with extensive reefs.


Looking North from Fort Grey

A canon on the roof of the fort points towards the Hanois reef, nemesis for many a vessel. According to the Guernsey Museums website, between 1734 and 1978 over 100 ships were wrecked in the Hanois area. The earliest known wreck dates back to 1309.

Looking West towards Hanois lighthouse

Looking West towards Hanois lighthouse

The museum, well worth a visit, displays relics, paintings and photographs of many of the local wrecks, together with their often tragic stories.

Royal Holloway

University of London
I thought I’d share some images of the college where I am currently studying. The Royal Holloway is a college of the University of London, but based a little outside London itself, in leafy Egham.University of London
The main building, known as ‘Founders’, was designed by William Henry Crossland for Victorian entrepreneur and philanthropist Thomas Holloway as a women’s college. It became part of the University of London in 1900 and accepted its first male students in 1945.
University of London
The magnificent Victorian building seems a very fitting background for my particular degree, a Masters in Victorian Literature and Art. I am in the final stages now, with just my dissertation to go.
University of London
I have for some time now been promising a review of my latest acquisition, the Fuji X-E1, to follow up on my review in January of the Sony NEX-7. I hope to write it this weekend so if you are thinking of investing in a mirror-less camera, watch this space.

The seventh day of Christmas: New Year’s Eve

I thought my photograph of Hampton Court on New Year’s Day 2009 might be suitable for today’s blog, as 2012 draws to a close. It has been a difficult year for me personally but a tremendous year to be British. Tonight I am celebrating in another place rich in British history, Dartmouth in Devon (of which, more another day).
A very brief potted history of New Year’s celebrations: Julius Caesar instituted January 1 as the first day of the year. January is named after Janus, the Roman god with two faces that looked into the past and into the future. Romans celebrated New Year by making sacrifices to Janus, exchanging gifts, decorating their homes and throwing parties. In medieval Europe, Pope Gregory XIII established January 1 as New Year’s Day in 1582. But the celebrations today retain much of their more pagan origins. One ancient tradition that still continues, particularly in Scotland, is ‘first footing’. At midnight, the Old Year is let out through the back door and the New Year let in through the front door. The first person at the New Year to pass over the threshold should bring coal or, more likely(!), whiskey for luck in the year ahead.

Wishing all my blogging friends a very happy New Year.

St.Helier in black and white

While we were on Jersey in the summer, I took the opportunity to try out some high contrast black and white photography along St.Helier’s seafront.

St.Helier is Jersey’s capital.  According to Wikipedia, it has a population of 33,000.

The city is named after Saint Helier, an eremetic monk who believed that living as simply as possible brought one closer to God.

The Hermitage of Saint Helier perches on an inhospitable crag of rock out to sea.  It is now joined to Elizabeth Castle but, during St.Helier’s day would have been a place of austere isolation.

Poor St.Helier’s reward for all his privations was to be murdered by pirates.

His hermitage can be reached at low tide by a causeway or at high tide by Elizabeth Castle’s amphibious ferries.

Over on The Shed blog today I write about five more of my favourite images from the Gallery.

Jersey’s Occupation Relics

Jersey WW2

Jersey’s history is written across the island, from a Neolithic passage grave (of which, more another day) to magnificent Medieval and Tudor castles. A more recent episode in Jersey’s history is also etched on the landscape; during World War 2, the Channel Islands were occupied by the German army.


This one’s now a holiday rental

The islands were occupied on 1st July 1940 and were liberated more than five years later, on 9th July 1945. During the occupation, extensive defences were built all over Jersey, even on top of the Tudor Elizabeth Castle.

German pillbox on top of tudor castle

An incongruous site

Numerous pillboxes, batteries and other defences were constructed, using slave labour from the defeated peoples of Europe. At La Hougue Bie, a moving display tells their story. The defences included three enormous observation towers.

WW2 tower Jersey

Does this remind you of the cylons in original Battlestar Galactica, or is that just me?

Although, in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, the impulse of the islanders was to bury the signs of occupation, more recently this part of the island’s history is being explored and preserved. Some sites are open, manned by volunteers, on certain days and the Jersey War Tunnels museum is always open and offers an informative, moving yet balanced account of the war years.

St.Ouen's Beach, Jersey

Remains of WW2 beach defences

Most of the pillboxes and batteries remain derelict, however, stark reminders of this difficult and tragic time.

WW2 tower, Jersey

Creepily atmospheric in fog

Needless to say, they also provide an opportunity to try some moody, grainy photography, with the assistance of willing teenage son in black hoody.

Derelict war tunnel, Jersey

Someone has been decorating

Some of the derelict structures have been used, although all signs of habitation seemed pretty old.

graffiti in war tunnel

What does this mean?

Teenager in derelict war tunnel

Moodiness comes with the territory

More about Jersey tomorrow.

An Autumn garden

landscape garden
Sheffield Park is an eighteenth century landscape garden in East Sussex owned by the National Trust.
landscape garden
Sheffield (meaning sheep clearing) Park is mentioned in the Doomsday Book. The garden was landscaped first by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and then Humphrey Repton.
landscape garden
In the nineteenth century planting for an arboretum was begun. Arthur Soames purchased the estate in 1910 and continued the massive planting programme, much of which still exists today, and is particularly regarded for its Autumn colour.
Sheffield Park landscape garden
We were a little early for the best leaves but there was still plenty of colour. If you live anywhere within striking distance of this beautiful garden, I recommend a visit. Just don’t forget your camera!

More Autumn colour tomorrow.

Bamburgh Castle

Several people have recently asked me about the header image for this blog. It is Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland. In August 2009, we spent a very enjoyable week in Northumberland, England’s most Northern county and its most sparsely populated. Even in the midst of the summer holiday season, it was easy to find peace and solitude.

We stayed in Seahouses, just down the coast from Bamburgh, and with spectacular views of the iconic castle. Despite Northumberland’s reputation for terrible weather, we had a week of sunny days and, every night, spectacular sunsets.

Bamburgh Castle stands on a basalt outcrop. The first written record of a fort on the site dates from 547CE but a fort had probably been there for at least a century. The Vikings destroyed the original fort in 993. At the heart of the present castle stands a Norman structure. Further building took place over the next several centuries but the castle finally fell into neglect in the 1700s.

The Victorian industrialist William Armstrong completed restoration of the castle and it is still owned by the Armstrong family. It is open to the public and has also been used as a location for several movies, including most recently the 1998 film, Elizabeth.

If you are ever in the area, Bamburgh Castle is well worth a visit, but beware: last admission is at 3.30 and the castle closes at 5 but the staff were so eager to get home that they started clearing us out at 4.30. An hour is most definitely not long enough to see the castle and admission is not especially cheap!

The Cobb

Our summer holiday this year will be spent at Lyme Regis, a lovely little town on the coast of Dorset. It is steeped in history and features in Jane Austen’s Persuasion:

the principal street almost hurrying into the water, the Walk to the Cobb, skirting round the pleasant little bay, which, in the season, is animated with bathing machines and company…are what the stranger’s eye will seek


The Cobb is Lyme Regis’s famous harbour wall. In Persuasion, one of the characters takes a tumble off the Cobb. In a later novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles immortalised “quite simply the most beautiful sea rampart on the south coast of England”.


Lyme Regis is on The Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site for its wealth of fossils from the Jurassic period. It was here that Mary Anning (1799-1847) discovered, at the tender age of twelve, the first complete ichthyosaur. She went on to become a renowned palaeontologist when the science was in its infancy. Lyme Regis Museum, a fascinating place to visit in its own right, is built on the site of Mary’s home.