Saturday, 31 December 2016

Milnerfield trees - and controversy



Two trees in the winter sunshine. I've photographed these two in all seasons (click the 'two trees' label below) and I like how winter reveals their structure and shape so well.

The trees are in fields above the Leeds-Liverpool Canal near Dowley Gap, just past the aquaduct. Behind and to the left, the newly bare branches reveal a few buildings, which belong to Milnerfield Farm. The farm dates back to the 1860s, originally built by the Salt family on their Milnerfield estate. It has been run continuously as a tenanted dairy farm since then. The landlords have recently submitted a contentious planning application to demolish many of the existing farm buildings and build a business park for innovative technology start-up companies, backed by Bradford University and the College. According to press reports, the farmer was not even notified of this prior to the application's submission, which seems very mean. There is, inevitably, a lot of local opposition to the plans, preferring to retain the existing farm, which is in the green belt, and fearful that any change would open the way to housing developments in the area. I am not sure when the final decision will be made.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Don't feed the birds


The flock of geese that live around the river and canal in Saltaire has got bigger and bigger over the past few years. There are Greylags and Canada Geese and it appears to be the latter that are now causing a particular problem. I wrote, back in 2011, that there were only a couple of Canada geese but now there are something like thirty. Thirty birds cause an awful lot of droppings and they are really messing up the park paths, grass and cricket pitches. People do feed them - unhealthy bread mostly, as I wrote yesterday - and this practice is discouraged, though it seems to be having little effect on people's behaviour.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Feed the birds


People have been feeding the birds in this spot by the bridge in Saltaire for the past couple of hundred years, I have no doubt. Mostly it is white bread that gets thrown. The message that bread and cake is harmful to ducks and swans (and also gathers unhealthy bacteria and pollutes the water) does not seem to prevail. Some of the narrowboats sell special duck food and it is always better to give them peas, oats, sweetcorn or lettuce. (See here.)

Note, the gaudy ice cream boat that is moored here on the canal for nine or ten months of the year has been transferred to its winter moorings up at Shipley Wharf. The stretch beside the church looks so much more photogenic without it.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The fence


You may recall that this area suffered terrible flooding a year ago on Boxing Day 2015. (See here) There are still a few homes and businesses struggling to get back up and running but, by and large, everything has recovered, thanks to enormous efforts from local communities. The Bingley allotments where my friend has a plot were badly damaged. I had the idea to make and sell greetings cards (see here for the story) to raise funds to help them replace some of the fencing and sheds. I am proud to say that we raised over £1000 from the project. It has contributed to the sparkling new metal fence, in my photo, which separates the allotments from the public right of way that goes into Myrtle Park. A large section of the old Victorian railings was swept away by the floodwater.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

All aglow


The Saltaire Living Advent Calendar windows are still lit around the village until the 5th January. This one is not an 'official' advent window but the owners of this house nevertheless always make an effort with their decorations. This particular window is at the far end of Albert Terrace, the cobbled lane alongside the railway line, and as such is highly visible right along the length of the street. It is lovely to see such a warm glow emanating from the little Christmas tree and brightening up the view.

Monday, 26 December 2016

The heron stands guard


It's a relief to see the river level as low as this at this time of year. (Such a contrast to Boxing Day last year! See here.)  The resident heron on the weir beside Roberts Park was barely getting his feet wet, a couple of days before Christmas.  Repairs are still ongoing at the riverside flats and offices in the New Mill. You can see the amount of wall that has had to be rebuilt where the river breached it on Boxing Day 2015.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Christmas gifts


'On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. 
Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts 
of gold and of incense and of myrrh.' Matthew 2:11

My Christmas gift to you is this beautiful stained glass window, depicting the visit of the three wise men to the infant Jesus, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. The window graces the Hope Chapel (named after the first vicar, Rev'd Frederick Beresford Hope) at St. Peter's Church, Shipley - my home church. The church was consecrated in 1909 though the window was added slightly later as a memorial to a parishioner. Much of the fine detail is painted on the glass and it has wonderfully rich colours.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope you receive gifts today, those wrapped in paper perhaps and, more importantly, those less tangible but nevertheless very real. 

Wishing everyone a very joyful and peaceful Christmas

'It came upon a midnight clear, that glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold....

And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring. 
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.'

E H Sears 1810-76

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Nativity

The Annunciation
I was out walking on the Saturday before Christmas, enjoying some winter sunshine. My route took me through Bingley and Myrtle Park, where I stumbled across the beginning of the local churches' Walking Nativity. I'd not seen it advertised but I presume, as in past years, it was mostly organised by All Saints Church, with a cast drawn from several local churches. It looked quite professional, with a real donkey in the procession. We've had several Walking Nativities from St Peter's (though not this year) but we never included an actual donkey!

Mary and Joseph start their journey to Bethlehem.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Visting Santa


My son-in-law captured this lovely picture when my two little granddaughters, in that time-honoured traditional ritual, visited Father Christmas a few days ago. I love the tenderness shown by my five-year old to her little sister (and the care and attention that Santa seems to be giving) and I love the heartwarming innocence in their faces. I vividly remember the excitement and slight apprehension I felt as a child, doing the same thing.


Thursday, 22 December 2016

Salts at Christmas



Salts Mill is a magical place to explore at Christmas. (OK, it's a magical place to explore at any time of year...) The huge, high rooms can accommodate massive traditional Christmas trees and there are usually three or four across the different floors. It's all done very tastefully, with none of the glitzy excess that you tend to find in city shopping malls. If your budget can stand it, there are some lovely gifts to be had too - lots of gorgeous books, of course, but also stylish things for the home, unusual jewellery, outdoor wear and beautiful gifts with an artistic flavour like calendars, notecards and art supplies. I hope you've done your shopping by now... It's getting a bit late.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Sweet treat


Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2016 - The seventh advent window, at 3 Albert Terrace, no doubt brings a smile to weary commuters walking home from the nearby railway station. This is just a small segment of the whole, since I thought the detail was worth highlighting.  The entire window is a knitted delight, with robins, snowmen, penguins, holly, mistletoe and even a couple of alpacas all crafted from yarn. Cute.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

We three kings


Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2016 - This bold offering is in the window above the door at Saltaire's United Reformed Church. The simplest and most graphic designs tend to be the most effective, I think.They've achieved lovely rich colours in this.

Monday, 19 December 2016

A hoot


Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2016 -  Another hugely professional and attractive advent window at 23 Albert Road. The owl and snowflakes are painstakingly cut from tissue paper and glued onto acetate, before being backed with white sheeting and lit from behind.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Fairytale in New York


Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2016 - Window number 4 at 57 Albert Road has more than a nod to the Pogues hit, Fairytale in New York. Wonderfully creative and a very effective window, this is one of my favourites this year.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Salt of Saltaire


Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2016 - Window number 10, at 75 Albert Road, is another masterpiece of art by the painter David Starley. This year his subject is the statue of Sir Titus Salt, Saltaire's founder, in Roberts Park, with the tower of the famous United Reformed Church in the distance. A sprinkling of snow transforms the scene into a winter wonderland.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Thrive at Hive


Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2016 -  Window number 11, at 11 Herbert Street, is a collaborative effort by members of the Thrive project, which provides creative and volunteering opportunities and support for people living with mild to moderate mental health issues. Based at Hive, Shipley, they do some great work throughout the year.

Sometimes in Saltaire's narrow streets, parked cars in front of the windows can be a bit of a hindrance to taking good photos. In this case, I rather liked the reflection in the car windscreen.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Santa Special



Saltaire Living Advent Calendar 2016 - So... it's that time of year again, when the village of Saltaire turns itself into a living Advent calendar, to count down to Christmas. Every day in December, one new window is unveiled, until by Christmas Eve the streets are glowing with lights and artwork. The windows are in houses and businesses across the village and the trail can be followed with the aid of a map (available here).  This has been a tradition since 2006 and gets better and better every year. It even got a mention on the Chris Evan's Breakfast show on BBC radio this year. For more information and pictures of all the windows, look at the Facebook page here.

This lovely display was one of the first to be lit, at 24 Fanny Street.  It depicts the nearby Shipley Glen Tramway, which runs Santa Specials on December weekends, a lovely treat for young children.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Coal tit


I have a bird feeder in my garden but I rarely get anything more exciting than blue tits and great tits calling at it. Occasionally a portly wood pigeon tries to balance on it, always rather amusing as they are far too big for it. I sometimes see a robin and wrens in the garden, though rarely on the feeder. Other than that, this part of Saltaire, devoid of large gardens, is not a very good area for birds. When I see bird hides, therefore, I often like to sit and observe what comes and goes. A recent visit to Harlow Carr Gardens' hide also revealed a lot of blue and great tits, a few chaffinches - nothing very exciting. Then a couple of coal tits eventually appeared. They are rather sweet little things, not at all uncommon but still nice to watch.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Stems


A recent trip to RHS Harlow Carr Gardens with a friend yielded: a very pleasant stroll around the gardens, a good chat over coffee and then a nice lunch in the excellent Betty's Café, an amble around the huge shop, full of Christmas goodies - and a few photos. Sometimes I end up too busy chatting and don't have the attention for potential photos but then, for me, an essential pleasure of this new phase of retirement is the chance to meet more frequently with and enjoy the company of friends.
We were both struck by the vibrant colour in this border, which I think are dogwoods, though the label appeared to say willow (salix); black and red stems set against the bright green of a different variety.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Donna Nook


I've been on a short visit to my sister's in Lincolnshire. Whilst there, we went to the east coast to a place called Donna Nook. It is an area of sand dunes and mud banks, protected as a nature reserve, near the mouth of the Humber estuary. During November and December each year, hundreds of grey seals that normally live out in the North Sea, swimming and resting on distant sandbanks, make for the safety of the shoreline to give birth to their pups. Pups are born with white furry coats. They suckle from their mother for two to three weeks, after which time the mothers (who do not eat while on the beach) return to sea to find food. The babies stay ashore for another week or two, living off the blubber they have accumulated and shedding their white, downy coat. Eventually hunger drives them to make their way to the sea to find their own food. The males (bulls) arrive too, since once the females have given birth, they mate again before returning to sea. 

The beach is fenced off from the dunes but the public are able to walk along a boardwalk and view the seals. There are volunteer wardens on duty to ensure that people don't bring dogs or touch the seals. A baby tainted by human touch will be abandoned by the mother.  Many of the pups nestle right up to the fence and it's very easy to see them. It is a fascinating spectacle. You can hear the babies calling for their mothers, with a high-pitched cry that sounds just like 'Mum!' The adults make a rather unearthly wail. Some of them snore! If you're lucky, you might see a pup being born or perhaps witness a fight between the males, competing for the females, or see a pair mating. 

The count for the last week of November (about the peak) was: bulls 686, cows 1502 and pups 1630. (I'm not sure why they don't call the babies 'calves'... except that the furry little ones do look strangely like earless and limbless dogs!)



 Newborn pup and its mother.


Suckling infant.


This pup is slightly older and is beginning to shed the down and get its spotty coat.  The older ones are more alert and seem to enjoy watching the people watching them.

The reserve is home to many birds, like the dunlin below. It is also a Ministry of Defence bombing target range, so there are often military planes flying overhead. We saw two Chinooks and some planes dropping flares. The planes don't seem to bother the seals.



Sunday, 11 December 2016

Twilight


Another reflection - and another late afternoon walk, that brought me back home via the canal towpath as night was falling. It's rare that I pass that way on a winter evening. There was no wind either and it struck me that I'd never before noticed the lit windows of Salt's Mill reflected there so clearly. I liked the way the bright windows echoed the autumn leaves floating on the water. I played around with textures to give the image more depth.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

A new perspective


Back home... It's rare that I find a genuinely new perspective to photograph in Saltaire these days but I had one such 'aha' moment the other evening. I went for a brief, quick walk just as the sun was setting (keen to boost my mileage for the day... that's what having a Fitbit does for you!) I went down into the village and round Roberts Park, always a pleasant amble. I've crossed the footbridge a million times before, in all weathers, and never really noticed before that at a certain point you can see trees mirrored in the top of the weir. (I'm usually more aware of the oft-photographed reflections of the New Mill - see here). Just at that moment, the sunset sky was prettily suffusing the water with a pink tinge. I really liked the almost abstract juxtaposition of the grey, rushing water on one side of the drop and the calm, reflected sunset trees on the other.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Through a glass...


Iceland holiday - A few more iPhone, slow shutter abstracts, taken through the minibus windows as we were speeding along. The distances we had to cover were rather longer than I had realised; it's a big island (40,000 square miles) and basically there is just one main road that circles the perimeter. Although we stopped frequently for photo opportunities, there were times when we just had to drive, to get to our next accommodation stop. 

What a wonderful trip I had! I've been having to adjust to a more settled life again since I returned, albeit no work to have to go back to. I can still hardly believe that! Unfortunately I've had a dreadful cold and cough. (Blame the grandchildren for sharing their germs so generously!) I've felt really under the weather for a couple of weeks and haven't been out much to take photos. Nevertheless, from tomorrow, it's back to 'normal life' here on the blog, and counting down to Christmas now.  



Thursday, 8 December 2016

Abstract Iceland


Iceland holiday - Sometimes on the longer drives, I amused myself by taking slow shutter photos with my iPhone, through the minibus windows. I discarded a lot of them but occasionally I thought the results were pleasing. They seem to me to give a flavour of the colour and the landscape, without actually having any specific points of reference. The activity kept me quiet anyway!



Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Jökulsárlón


Iceland holiday - We travelled along the south coast as far as the Jökulsárlón area. This is a large glacial lake, very famous - it has appeared in several movies - and very spectacular. It is formed where ice breaks off the Breidamerkurjökull glacier and floats around in the lagoon before drifting out to sea as it melts. The ice forms fabulous shapes and has a wonderful variety of colours and textures, which all makes it an incredibly photogenic place, though I found taking good photos to be quite a challenge. It looks very different in different weather conditions. We were lucky enough one day to catch some sun which really made the ice sparkle. The second day was duller but that makes the ice look more blue. Fascinating. Sadly, as I mentioned yesterday, the Icelandic glaciers are all retreating really fast as our climate warms. The area of the lagoon has more than doubled in size since 1975.

We were lucky enough to see another wonderful show of the Northern Lights over the ice lagoon too, so it was very memorable.


Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Glaciers


Iceland holiday - There was lots to get excited about in Iceland. It really is an amazing country and particularly good for photographers - so many varied subjects. For me, it was chance to see things I've never seen before and may never see again, like the glaciers. We mainly toured the south coast, around the Vatnajökull National Park. Here, one massive ice cap, which covers 8% of the total land area of Iceland and is one of the largest in Europe, flows out via around 30 outlet glaciers, like fingers, carving their way down from the ice cap cutting huge glacial valleys. You glimpse many as you travel and we were able to get close to about four of them. (You can actually take tours and treks onto the glaciers in some areas, using specialist vehicles with expert guides, but these are of course very expensive). 

They are beautiful and I found it awe-inspiring, and humbling too, to realise how old the ice is. You then start to realise, from the evidence of the natural geography and contours and the large ice lagoons, not to mention the photos and displays in the visitors' centres, that the ice is now receding at an alarming rate. Before too long there may no longer be any significant glaciers to marvel at, only the evidence of global warming. 



Monday, 5 December 2016

Troll Rocks


Iceland holiday - Close to Vík is this wonderful black basalt beach with the rock stacks known as Troll Rocks. It takes the full brunt of Atlantic weather and waves. (There is no land mass directly between here and Antarctica!) It's wonderfully scenic and atmospheric. The rocks themselves are steeped in folklore, believed to be trolls who tried to pull fishing boats out to sea but were turned to stone as the sun rose.

We visited here (the Dyrhólaey peninsula) twice, once on our outward journey along the south coast and then again on the way back. The first time the wind was fierce, blowing huge rain and sleet storms that came and went quickly. On the second visit, the whole area was fog-bound so that you could barely see 100 metres - but still it rained hard and the wind blew! It's the wettest place in Iceland (maybe in the whole world, haha!) The lighthouse on the headland (behind me in this photo) was flashing its light in the middle of the day, as the coast is treacherous with rocks.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Vík


Iceland holiday - Vick was a vapour-rub we used to have smeared on our chests as children when we got a cold! [I could do with some now. I've been full of cold for over a week. :( ]

 Vík, I now know, is an attractive little village (popn approx 290) on the south coast of Iceland, with a very good coffee shop (and cake!) and a pretty little red-roofed church perched on the hillside above. The church looked like a toy or something out of a story book.

Apparently the village lies in the vicinity of a huge volcano called Katla. It has not erupted since 1918 but, if it did so, it is predicted that it would melt enough ice on the Myrdalsjökull glacier to engulf the entire village. The villagers are trained to flee to the church at the first sign of an eruption, as the church is on higher ground and is the only building predicted to survive such a catastrophe.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

More waterfalls


Iceland holiday - Iceland has a number of spectacular waterfalls. Gullfoss (see a couple of posts back) is perhaps the most famous but some of the others are as interesting and beautiful in their own way. I particularly liked this one, Seljalandsfoss, with its slender columns of water. The water originates from the Eyjafjallajökull glacier (whose volcano was the one that erupted in 2010, bringing chaos to air travel). It falls 60m and visitors can walk behind it into a small cave. (I didn't, as the area was too wet and slippery and I didn't want to risk either myself or my camera.)

We also visited the nearby Skógafoss, which is a similar height but broader and very dramatic. It was raining again and the site was heaving with visitors by the time we arrived.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Geysers


Iceland holiday - Another of the major tourist sights is the Geysir Hot Spring Area. Whilst we can see plenty of waterfalls here in Northern England (though none as dramatic as Gullfoss), hot springs are not found here so I was interested to visit these old geezers geysers. Thankfully by this stage the rain had stopped and it was a lovely evening, with some nice golden light (in the Golden Circle after all). 'Little Geysir' (above) stopped erupting many years ago and is now a bubbling mud pool like a witches' cauldron. Its Icelandic name: 'Litli Geysir' sounds so sweet! The much larger 'Geysir' itself (which led to the English noun geyser) erupts very rarely nowadays but when it does it has been known to throw up a spout of over 120 metres. The one below, called 'Strokkur', erupts continually, a few times every hour. Sometimes it can spout up to 30m. Though the spouts I witnessed were much smaller, it is quite exciting watching the pressure building in the pool and each explosion still surprises.

The area was rather fun to explore, all free to wander round - and a very pleasant visitor centre too.


Thursday, 1 December 2016

Gullfoss


Iceland holiday - There is a part of Iceland, not too far from Reykjavik, that is known as the Golden Circle, a popular tourist route looping up into the southern highlands that takes in some spectacular natural sites - Geysir, Gullfoss and the Pingvellir National Park. Some of it was on our itinerary and I would probably have felt a bit cheated if we had not visited these areas. However, once seen, I wouldn't return to these places. Too many tourists, coaches and competition for the best places to take photos from... Ha!

We visited the huge falls at Gullfoss during a rainstorm. The rain and the wind-blown spray made photography a challenge and I judged it wise not to subject my camera to the conditions right at the edge, where the people you see in the photo were standing getting soaked! The wide Hvítá river rushes over two steep steps and disappears into a deep crevasse. Very spectacular. However, I was unreasonably pleased to retreat eventually to the large and busy visitor centre for a hot coffee and to dry off!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Icelandic horses


Iceland holiday - I'd been hoping to see and photograph some Icelandic horses. There are lots about, though often too far from the road to get close to. We were lucky to spot some within camera range and then luckier still that they were curious enough to walk over to us to inspect us at closer quarters. Icelandic horses were brought by the early Norse settlers in the 9th century. They are pure bred; imports of horses are not now allowed. They are small (pony-sized, but they are always called horses), stocky and hardy. There are many different colours of mane and coat. Those with dark coats and blond manes look especially spectacular. They've played an important role as the country has developed and nowadays are mostly used for herding sheep or for leisure riding and competitions.  


Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Northern Lights


Iceland holiday - The conversation over dinner the first night went something like this:

'There is a very high forecast for the Aurora tonight...'
'But it's cloudy here...'
'We could drive up into the mountains to see if the cloud lifts..'
'But we didn't get to bed until 2am this morning so we're all tired...'
'OK, let's not bother tonight and let's hope the weather improves during the week.'

So, I retired to my room at about 9pm, intending to catch up on my sleep. Within minutes, came an urgent hammering on my door: 'Come out, quickly!'  I thought there was a fire! But no, my friend pointed to the sky: 'Look... the Northern Lights!' I looked and saw the clear night sky, sparkling with millions of stars - and what appeared to be white, wispy, moonlit clouds, or maybe smoke drifting across. I would never have known what I was seeing. Furthermore, I would never have known how to capture them.

We all set up our tripods and cameras, right there on the grass outside our hotel, and the experienced ones helped those of us who'd never done this before. Point camera at the sky, manual focus on infinity, high ISO, widest aperture you can get, exposure no more than 20 seconds (not more or it'll be blurred), press the shutter... Wait ages, nothing seems to be happening - ah, wait, the little green light just came on on the camera (it's focussed). Still nothing seems to be happening... wow! Suddenly an amazing green image appears on the LCD screen. Magic! It's a bit like doing a chemistry experiment. Once the basics were mastered, the trick was in trying to discern where the best Aurora activity seemed to be and then to compose a pleasing image. A little bit of foreground detail seems helpful in that.


It was so, so exciting! I have wanted for many years to see the Northern Lights. I never really imagined that I would - and fully expected to be involved in a week-long chase, standing on freezing cold hillsides late at night in the hope that the cloud might part. Instead, we were blessed with this wonderful show, right there outside our hotel on our first night! What a gift.

As for why they don't really look coloured (as I'd expected) to the naked eye, it has something to do with the rods and cones in our eyes and the way we see at night, whereas the camera captures much more detail. To be honest, I'd have missed it if someone hadn't told me what I was witnessing. (See here for another blogger's take on it).  But oh, the joy...!


Monday, 28 November 2016

'Stop!'


Iceland holiday - Another of those 'Stop!' moments. What photographer could resist a reflection of a snow-capped mountain in the golden hour as the sun was going down? Again, I'm not exactly sure where this was, except that it was on the 54 road north of Borgarnes.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Colour-fest


Iceland holiday - Another photo taken near the town of Akranes. I just spotted this as we stopped at a small but lovely café for a quick coffee. (OK, the real reason to stop was a comfort break and there are not that many possibilities!) I nipped round the corner to take the photo quickly, feeling glad that everyone in our group was exceedingly patient and understanding. The best thing about holidaying with other photographers is that you never feel anyone is getting bored; there's none of the 'Haven't you finished yet?' that you sometimes get, spoken aloud or merely implied, with non-smitten family and friends!

I'm not sure what the industrial silos are but I was amazed at how beautifully colour-co-ordinated they were and also by the house in front that had taken the backdrop as its colour cue. I love this photo, in a way I can't explain. It's just so nice when people take the extra trouble and care to make things attractive.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Akranes


Iceland holiday - That first day, during the late afternoon, the weather started to clear. We stopped at a fishing port called Akranes. There has been a settlement here since the 9th century. Fishing and boat building has been foundational for the town but it is only in recent years, since the 1950s, that industry, such as a cement works and aluminium smelting, has developed the town into the relatively large (for Iceland) commercial centre that it is today. 

The boatyard was a rich source of inspiration to all of us photographers, offering both conventional shots and some of the close-ups and abstracts that I enjoy taking.