Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Devon: Contemplation

One day, our theme was 'Contemplation'. That's not difficult at Lee Abbey. Around the house and on the estate there are many places to sit and contemplate, often with wonderful views of Lee Bay. There are delightful, meandering walks through the woods and a wealth of wildlife, carefully nurtured by the farming and estate management systems used there. These are some of the images that caught my eye that day:

The vantage point known as Upper Jenny's Leap gives a great view down onto the beach. The spot is supposedly named after a sad young woman, Jennefried, who, in the 1600s, was due to marry but then discovered her lover had married someone else. Legend has it that she wandered the estate all night and in the morning her body was discovered by the water's edge. Happily the people by the water's edge when I looked down were alive and frolicking! I loved the patterns the waves were making.

There's an abundance of wildflowers and thus insects and butterflies. The one below is a common Large White but attractive nevertheless.

On top of a hill overlooking the sea there are three wooden crosses, sometimes used as a focus at Christian festivals, always there as a reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made and as a prompt to contemplation.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Devon: Lynmouth at night

After sunset one night, a few of us went down to Lynmouth, the nearby resort, to take some night shots. Places appear totally transformed at night, don't they? It was a bit of a muddled scene with all the varied colour temperatures of the lights. The tide was out (again) too so the boats in the harbour were stranded on mud, which made for a less than pleasing aesthetic in my view. Never mind, you can only photograph what's there... It was atmospheric though and pleasant on a summer's evening, so warm that it felt like being in the Med!

Monday, 20 August 2018

Devon: A gentle sunset

Sunsets at Lee Abbey are often stunning, as the sun sets right over Lee Bay. Most nights there'd be lots of people out on the beach, sitting on benches or leaning on the fence on the lane, just watching the show as the sun sank, the sky and sea turning from pretty shades of pink and blue to an ever-deepening gold and red. It lasted each night for about three-quarters of an hour of absolute magic, so peaceful and quiet.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Devon: Sea fret days

It was warm, sometimes hot, in Devon, even at the coast. There were a couple of days when a sea fret was blown in: warm, moist air condensing over the cooler sea and being blown inland. It was wonderfully atmospheric and quite a pleasure to find something other than clear blue sky to capture in photos. 

Above: Sea fret meeting storm clouds (although the storm never materialised) and below: looking across Lee Bay to Woody Bay.

Above: Countisbury church, shrouded in a gentle mist
Below: Tendrils of mist whispering up the lane from the beach to the house.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Devon: Close up

As well as scenic shots, we were invited to look for the detail and take some close-up images. It's surprising what you notice when you start to look around... These are just some of the random pictures I liked from that day's haul. Some of them defy explanation. I've no idea why it said 'Friday' on a fence next to the church. 

The rather Mondrian pattern is the detail of a glass panel in a boarded up window in Malmsmead, not the kind of image you'd expect to collect in rural Devon. 

A feather is perhaps more to be expected. It had rather pretty markings but I'm not sure what bird it came from.

The tangled leaves of a succulent plant:

A little basket of violas, juxtaposed with a random spray of grasses growing in the wall:

Another image I wouldn't have expected to find: plastic ball-pit balls in the window of an old shed, looking almost as if they were frozen in ice.

A label attached to a gate-hinge, perhaps related to an orienteering game? I'm glad they were 'feeling good on [their] last day'.

And the beautiful, sad eye of the ever patient horse:

Friday, 17 August 2018

Devon: Oare church

In the novel 'Lorna Doone' by R D Blackmore, Oare church was where Lorna was shot by her half-brother, Carver Doone, as she was about to marry John Ridd. It seems the book has a sad end, but then it becomes clear that she was not killed, only wounded. Phew. 

In real life the church, St Mary's, is nestled in its graveyard in the valley, in a pretty setting. It's light inside, with some impressive box pews, some painted plaques listing the Ten Commandments in that quaint old script where 's' sometimes becomes 'f' and a memorial to the writer R D Blackmore, whose grandfather (?) was the rector here. 

I won't tell you how long I had to wait before the church was empty of my fellow photographers and their tripods and I could take an uncluttered interior shot! That's the only downside of going out in a group. 

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Devon: Doone Valley

Lee Abbey is situated on the edge of the Exmoor National Park. Our third day's programme saw us exploring the area of Exmoor known as the Doone Valley, around Malmsmead and Oare. Malmsmead is a picturesque hamlet with a ford and an old packhorse bridge over Badgworthy Water, the river that forms the boundary between Devon and Somerset. I loved all the place names displayed on the signpost. There was lots to photograph, including some patient horses.

The Doone Valley is named after the famous Victorian romantic novel 'Lorna Doone' by R D Blackmore. It's set in 1685, the the tale of a local farmer, John Ridd, who falls in love with the adopted daughter of a band of outlaws, who lived in a hidden valley near Oare. It is said to be culled from real-life, based on tales of a band of Stuart sympathisers who fled Scotland for Exmoor, where they preyed on travellers.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Devon: Welcome to Lynmouth

On the second day we were set the task of taking a picture that could be used in a holiday brochure, to entice people to visit the area. I went into the nearby resort of Lynmouth

It is one of those timeless seaside resorts, still looking much as it did decades ago. It retains a small harbour (the tide was out) and a few fishing boats, a street of cafés, gift shops, galleries and a couple of old pubs. It is surrounded by small hotels, guest houses and holiday lets - a popular destination for families and retired people. 

Perhaps its most notable attraction is the Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway (see left), a Victorian funicular (cable railway) - still working -  powered by water and gravity, which connects Lynmouth to its sister village of Lynton on the cliffs above. 

In 1952, Lynmouth was devastated and 34 lives were lost when the two rivers that form a confluence above the settlement, the East and West Lyn, flooded dramatically and swept away many of the buildings and roads.

I visited on a very hot and humid day though the sun was missing, making everything look rather flat - probably not the best conditions for an advertising brochure! There was, however, plenty to see and photograph including a group of watercolour artists (definitely not beginners. Their work was stunning.)  I also took a walk up the river gorge, through woods and past waterfalls to Watersmeet, a very pretty National Trust tearoom. It's a walk I've done before but it seemed much further in the heat of the day, leaving me reflecting that perhaps I'm not quite as spry as I was fifteen years ago! I had a good day out anyway.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Devon: Self portrait

Each day of the Photography programme involved a session of input covering technical and compositional considerations, and some spiritual reflection linked to the day's theme, before we went out with our cameras. I've long found photography to be a source of spiritual blessing for me, a form of active meditation, especially when I'm out on my own with my camera. It was enriching therefore to find this confirmed, developed and shared with others.

Our theme for the first day was 'self-portrait'. Aaagh! I'd much rather be behind the camera than in front of it and I'm not fond of my tripod, so this was a real challenge. I went down to the beach, with the idea of taking a picture of myself with the sea behind. It's a beautiful cove, but quite rocky - and it was very, very, hot with hardly a breath of wind on the beach. I set my tripod up, with difficulty, clambering about on the uneven rocks. Then followed a fruitless time of trying to get the camera at the right height, myself in the right position, taking photos with the timer... I got hotter and hotter and crosser and crosser and didn't get a single picture that looked good and properly focussed, though it was pretty hard to see them in the bright sunshine on the backscreen of my camera. In the end I retreated to the small chapel carved into the rocks by the beach. There, in the half dark and relative cool, I did manage to get a photo that was at least in focus. It's by no means one of my favourite photos of myself, all dishevelled and hot! Yet I'm sharing it, simply because the point of the exercise was to be vulnerable and to be honest. So that's me, with no artifice.

It's a steep walk back from the beach to Lee Abbey, still too hot. I paused for breath and noticed my reflection in the window of the hydro-electric plant by the waterfalls. This one's out of focus too, but in this case the blurring was the result of the reflection in the dirty, warped glass and seems rather more artistically pleasing!

It was a good, and humbling, exercise.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Devon: Lee Abbey

OK, back to my holiday. After a meandering journey down (and having negotiated the usual endless traffic jam on the M5 round Bristol, this time in 30C heat!) I made it to my ultimate destination, the coast of North Devon near Lynton/Lynmouth. I was staying at a Christian retreat, conference and holiday centre called Lee Abbey. I've stayed there many times before (though I think my last visit was as long ago as 2010) and it's a place I love very much. The week I had booked on was a 'Contemplation and Photography' programme: a chance to enjoy my hobby in the company of other like-minded people, to learn, to share the fun and to enjoy some quiet, reflective time too. 

The centre nestles in an idyllic setting beyond what's known as 'the Valley of the Rocks'. It has a large estate of fields, woods and its own beach. It has never been an abbey. Originally it was a private house, built in the Victorian Gothic style. It eventually fell into disrepair and was bought in 1945 by some visionary Christians, who turned into the centre it now is. 

It is home to a large, resident community from about 20 different nations, many of them young people who come for a year or more, for a variety of reasons: perhaps taking a gap year, exploring community life or a vocational call, developing skills, perfecting their English, living in a close-knit and hard-working Christian community, with all its challenges and joys. There is a smaller core management team of more mature individuals and families, who commit several years to the community but it is all run very collaboratively, a home rather than a hotel. Guests are treated extremely well and it has all the comforts of a good hotel (lots of cake!) with the added bonus of interesting programmes on a variety of topics and the opportunity to join in the spiritual life of the community - or not, as you wish.  

I hugely enjoyed my stay, and the weather was as perfect as I've ever known it there, with sunsets to die for! It is truly what I call 'a thin place', where I feel very close to God and creation. I'm using my blog as a kind of holiday journal, so bear with me - but, over the next few days, do enjoy my photos of some of the beautiful places and things I saw.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Sacred lotus

I popped over to RHS Harlow Carr Gardens specifically to see this rare flower in bloom - the sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera). They are native to Asia. It is believed to be the first time one of these plants has ever flowered so far north in the UK. The RHS gardeners are putting it down to the sustained hot, dry weather we've had this summer. Apparently it needs temperatures over 20C minimum to grow and flower successfully.  Hot weather is not my most favourite of conditions, it has to be said, but they say that every cloud has a silver lining and it was a joy and privilege to see this graceful, attractive flower.

The plant is growing in the recently revamped Edwardian pond, amongst the more familiar waterlilies, which were tightly closed up when I visited due to the dull and drizzly weather conditions that day. In the photo below you can perhaps see the conical seedhead (on the left) of the first lotus flower that bloomed. It has been followed by two more buds. Each flower only lasts four days or so, so I was fortunate to catch the last one at its peak. (The one on the right is starting to shrivel and lose colour.)

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Deeds or Words

I've mentioned before on this blog that it is 100 years this year since women, over 30 and who owned property, were granted the right to vote in parliamentary elections in Great Britain. (It wasn't until 1928 that women gained electoral equality.) There's been an interesting exhibition in Shipley College, showing letters, papers and ephemera recently acquired by the Saltaire Archive that had belonged to Isabel Salt. 

Isabel was the daughter of Titus Salt Jnr (and therefore granddaughter of Sir Titus Salt). She was well-educated, well-travelled and was a noted Suffragist. I had not fully appreciated that there were two strands in the battle for women's suffrage. There were the Suffragettes, women like Emmeline Pankhurst, who engaged in direct action and civil disobedience in their fight for women's rights. There were also the Suffragists, women who campaigned and were vocal in their call for women's right to vote but who disagreed with the militant methods of the Suffragettes. 

We're familiar with the purple, green and white colours of the Suffragettes. I hadn't realised that the Suffragists wore red, green and white. There were newspaper clippings in the archive that showed that Isabel, after speaking at a meeting, was described in a newspaper as a Suffragette and wrote a polite but robust denial, claiming herself to be a Suffragist. 

The exhibition was accompanied by a short, original drama, describing the various positions held by Thomas, a soldier (soldiers were not allowed to vote); Isabel Salt, a Suffragist; Maggie, Thomas's sister and a Suffragette; Rev. Oates, a man 'sitting on the fence'; and Mr Henry Beecher, a Conservative MP and prominently opposed to women's suffrage. I believe the actors were members of Bingley Little Theatre, though there didn't seem to be any note of their names anywhere. 

The displays at the exhibition included, with my permission, three of my photos (blushes...) that I took at the Women's March in May. (See HERE) So that was gratifying!