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Friday, 31 July 2015

Red & green

Red and green: contrasting colours make striking images. Doing the OU course, I've been practising using different depths of field too. It all makes more sense now and I can just about remember that, generally speaking, you're more likely to achieve a blurred background with a telephoto lens, a wide aperture and a focus point about a third of the way in to the picture.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

A tale of two yellow buckets

I put this one in my OU portfolio as I like the colourfulness and thought it gave a good 'flavour' of the garden party atmosphere. Someone commented that they found the yellow buckets distracting, so I tried desaturating them... Now I'm not sure - so it's open for voting!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Tea and cakes

A summer picnic - tea and scones in the shade of the apple trees.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

It's a dog's life

Ah, this is the life!

Monday, 27 July 2015

Flower power

Allotments aren't just for vegetables...

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Knowing your onions

Gardening is all about knowing your onions.... (and garlic).

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Pots and pots

Random piles of pots in varying stages of cultivation.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Allotment Garden Party

My friend has a rather lovely allotment on a rather lovely plot in Bingley. They recently had a Garden Party Open Day and I had a lovely time taking photos for a slideshow (another OU assignment!) There's something about allotments that I really like. They tend to be a bit more untidy-looking than most gardens and yet that sits happily alongside the bountiful productivity created by the hard work of the gardeners.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The fuchsia's bright...

I've mentioned already that I am doing an online photography course with the OU (Open University) which is proving quite challenging, both in the material and in trying to find time for study and practice. One of the suggested activities was to try taking some photos using a pinhole camera or a scanner. I tried the scanner option with a branch of fuchsia from my garden. I was reasonably pleased with the effect.

Interestingly, the artist David Hockney's sister, Margaret, has made a bit of a name for herself by using this same technique on flowers (rather more expertly) and you can buy some of her prints in Salts Mill. (See here). It probably helps if you have a 'name' already!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

And finally...

... two images that in some ways sum up my impressions of Bruges and its enduring beauty. The Markt was reflected rather engagingly in a large mirrored sculpture in the square, part of a large collection of fairly avante-garde 'installations' dotted around as part of the city's triennial Arts Festival. I can't imagine any tourist coming away without some kind of photo of this!

The little lane below is Balstraat, in the Sint Anna district. Away from the busy city centre, this area is a quieter, residential part of town. It has some interesting attractions such as a lace museum and the Museum of Folklore. I spent several happy hours wandering its pretty lanes, enjoying the sense of timelessness.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Ypres Cathedral

St Martin's Cathedral church in Ypres was originally built in the 1300s. During WWI it was heavily shelled and almost completely destroyed. From 1922 to 1930 the ruins were cleared and the church (no longer actually a cathedral) was rebuilt to its original design, although its tower has a higher spire than the original. It is beautiful inside, relatively light and with a soaring vaulted ceiling. Much of the stained glass appeared to be modern and very richly coloured.

I had no tripod so I had to brace my arms on a chair back to hold my camera steady. The off-centre result seems quite pleasing to me, even if it would win no prizes in an architectural photography competition!

Monday, 20 July 2015

Tyne Cot war cemetery

Tyne Cot is one of the largest British and Commonwealth burial grounds in Belgium for the dead of WWI. It also has a memorial wall listing the names of some of the missing, those whose remains have never been found. Some of the gravestones themselves are carved with names but many, many of them are simply inscribed 'A Soldier of the Great War. Known unto God'.

The cemetery is a strangely peaceful place, despite the many visitors. It continues to be beautifully looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. I was glad to have seen it when the roses were blooming. The gashes of red against the white stone seemed an evocative symbol.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

In Flanders Fields

Ypres has a recently established museum, 'In Flanders Fields', housed within the town's reconstructed Cloth Hall. It explores the history of the Ypres Salient through artefacts, personal stories, photographs, audio-visual presentations and interactive screens. There is no glorification of war. One comes away convinced of its futility and uncomfortably aware that the terrified columns of civilians fleeing conflict have merely shifted to other countries and continents...

I found the strange beauty of the rusty and battered bullet cases, collected from the killing fields around Ypres, incredibly moving.

Memory, let all slip save what is sweet
Of Ypres plains.
Keep only autumn sunlight and the fleet
Clouds after rains.
Blue sky and mellow distance softly blue;
These only hold
Lest I my panged grave shall share with you.
Else dead. Else cold.

Ivor Gurney, October 1917.

Saturday, 18 July 2015


The town of Ypres occupied a strategic position during WWI, standing in the path of Germany's planned sweep to the Belgian coast and the Channel ports. It never came under German control but the town itself was reduced to ruin and has since been reconstructed, faithful to the detail of the original buildings. The Menin Gate, at the eastern entrance to the town, is a memorial to the missing: British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient but whose bodies have not been found. The memorial is inscribed with over 54000 names but was found to be too small to contain the all names of the missing and so another 34000 are commemorated on a memorial in Tyne Cot cemetery. Every evening at 8pm buglers (from the local fire brigade) play the Last Post here, a tradition started in 1927 when the gate was unveiled and continued unbroken apart from a period during WWII.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Traces of the First World War

Of course, sadly, Belgium is known for more than its beer and chips and many choose to make a pilgrimage to the battlefields of WWI. It was something I felt I wanted to do, perhaps should do, at least once in my lifetime. Although I have not been able to trace any family members who were killed overseas, I do remember one great uncle who had a prosthetic arm as a result of injuries he received during WWI, though he never spoke of his experiences. The tour I chose took in the city of Ypres, a central point in the long stalemate between German troops and the Allied Forces, plus one of the Commonwealth War cemeteries and a small museum called Sanctuary Wood.

Sanctuary Wood, in the so-called Ypres Salient (a salient is a battlefield feature where the front line projects into enemy territory) is one of the few places where the original trenches can still be seen. The front line around Ypres moved back and forth over the four years from 1914 to 1918 and was the scene of some of the worst and bloodiest battles of the Great War. Thousands of soldiers lost their lives and many thousands more were maimed in body and mind. For all the horror and carnage, only some five miles of territory was lost and gained over those four long years.

The small museum owes its existence to a farmer, who simply collected up the artefacts he found on the land around. It is all displayed in rather a muddle but is no less interesting for that. In fact perhaps one comes away with a stronger sense of the chaos and futility of war because it is not all tidily and slickly presented.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Impressions of Bruges #11

'Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy'.... and so are chips. I don't drink beer, which is a pity as Belgium is famous for its beer and there are reputedly over 500 different varieties to be sampled... but I was happy with the chips, piping hot from a van in the Markt and served with a lavish dollop of rich mayonnaise. When in Bruges, do as the Bruggians do...

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Impressions of Bruges #10

As well as Madonna statues, there are flowers all over Bruges - in gardens, in window boxes and growing through the cracks in the pavements. I stopped many times to enjoy and photograph a pretty display. I won't inflict all of them on you here!  But here are two that I liked....

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Impressions of Bruges #9

'Looking up' in Bruges is often rewarding as there are statues and gargoyles all over the city. Many depict the Virgin Mary, with some inscribed Ave Maria. In the Church of Our Lady is the finest of them all - Michelangelo's white marble Madonna and Child (1506), which was reputedly snapped up by a Belgian merchant after the family who commissioned it in Italy failed to pay the artist. It has twice disappeared from Bruges, swiped and taken to Paris during the French Revolution and again stolen by the Nazis in WWII.  It is very beautiful (even if Mary does look really sad) ... though it is displayed in a rather ugly, heavy looking altarpiece alongside some other statues which, by comparison, look quite crudely worked.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Impressions of Bruges #8

The historic centre of Bruges is a World Heritage Site, just like Saltaire. Also on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list are the Flemish Béguinages. The Béguines were lay women (often quite well-to-do) who devoted their lives to God without retiring from the world and without taking lifetime vows as a nun would do. They occupied themselves by helping the poor, teaching and preaching. They lived in sheltered, walled communities which provided these single women with protection in a world that was often hostile to women outside the family or church.  The Bruges Béguinage was established in 1245 with cloistered houses (originally timber) and a church clustered around a large, central courtyard. The existing whitewashed houses were built in the 18th century and part of it is now occupied by a community of Benedictine nuns. One of the houses is open as a museum so that you can easily imagine what it might have been like in days gone by. It is still a very peaceful place, despite the masses of tourists walking through.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Impressions of Bruges #7

I tend to associate windmills with Holland, but there are many windmills in Belgium too. Bruges has several, preserved from the days when they were used to mill grain. This is an example of a timber-stilt mill, one of four remaining on the north-east perimeter of the city. This one, St John's House Mill, was in use from 1770-1914. It is open to the public... provided you're brave enough and fit enough for the very steep climb up the vertiginous staircase. (More of a ladder really!)  I was really proud that I managed it, even though I hate ladders and heights. But the view over the city from the platform was lovely and it was interesting to hear the sails revolving and see the mechanism inside. My legs were shaking by the time I got to the top and I had to steel myself to climb back down, but actually that didn't seem quite as scary as going up had been.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Impressions of Bruges #6

Bruges is also famous for its chocolate and confectionery. We had a guided visit to a small shop (not the one pictured above) that made beautiful hand-crafted chocolates on the premises.  Many of the tourist shops sell mass-produced goods though, so you have to be a bit careful what you are buying. Tasting some of the very good chocolate reminded me that it can be worth buying the expensive stuff...  The 'mouth-feel' is exquisite and the carefully regulated composition of proper Belgian chocolate, with a high cocoa content, ensures that one small chocolate is extremely rich and satisfying.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Impressions of Bruges #5

Think of Bruges and you'd be right to think 'bicycles'. In common with many cities and towns in these relatively flat Low Countries, the bicycle is a ubiquitous form of transport. Because of its narrow streets, vehicular traffic is somewhat restricted in Bruges anyway, so cycling is an easy, safe and fast way to traverse the city. And where would we be without geraniums, cheering up every corner?

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Impressions of Bruges #4

If you have heard anything at all about Bruges, you will certainly think of canals - though to be honest I had not realised there were so many of them. It's not called 'The Venice of the North' for nothing. The city is circled by a ring of wide canals travelled by huge commercial barges, linking the ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge with the the rest of Europe's waterways network. In addition there are numerous smaller canals criss-crossing the centre of this compact city. Many of these date back to the golden age of the 12th -15th centuries, enabling merchants to deliver their goods right into the heart of the city when Bruges itself was a thriving and prosperous port. 

The canals really add to the pleasure for a photographer, with picturesque bridges and pretty vistas round every corner.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Impressions of Bruges #3

Perhaps Bruges makes you think of the stair-stepped gables on many of the old buildings, typical of Flemish and Dutch architecture (and Scottish too, for that matter).

Those below form one side of the Markt square and provide tourists with a choice of café terraces from which to enjoy a coffee (or beer) and observe the comings and goings in this busy open space.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Impressions of Bruges #2

When I say 'Bruges', perhaps you think of the other large square, the Burg. Called after the castle that once stood on the site, it now holds the flamboyantly Gothic City Hall (late 14th century) and the Old Recorder's House (with beautifully gilded details) which was built in 1534-7 in Flemish Renaissance style. Both buildings are currently in use as law courts and for council business.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Impressions of Bruges #1

I recently visited Belgium for a few days, staying in the tourist hotspot of Bruges, a city I have never visited before.

Like most people, I had a vague idea of what to expect and I enjoyed wandering the streets with my camera and my guide book, seeking out the famous sights and the lesser known and quieter streets. I wasn't disappointed; it's a lovely and very interesting city. I've put together some posts summarising my impressions.

When I say 'Bruges', perhaps you think of the vast market square, the Markt, the heart of daily life in the city past and present, and a real tourist magnet. The huge Belfry, one of three imposing towers in the city, was built between 1280 and 1350, making it 700 years old! The octagonal tower was added in 1486 (and yes, it leans a bit!). I'm used to living with history but the age of some of Bruges' historic buildings is mind-boggling.

On another side of the square, the neo-Gothic Provincial House, originally a government building, dates back to the 1880s.

You're going to get rather a lot of holiday photos this year. This is simply because I have so much on the go during July so it is convenient to use the photos I have rather than trying to find time to go and take more. Salt & Light is temporarily decamped, therefore, to Belgium...

Sunday, 5 July 2015


'By plucking her petals, you do not gather the beauty of the flower.' Rabindranath Tagore

Or do you...?  I was inspired to 'play' by seeing the fallen petals of rhododendrons.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Markenfield's gardens

Markenfield Hall
The charming gardens, still being restored and restocked, complement both the ancient hall and the surrounding countryside. You can see right across to the North Yorkshire hills and moors from the terrace.
The moat is home to a number of ducks; their ducklings were dashing around as though they were battery-powered! There are also two resident black swans, which are unusual in this country. Beyond the moat and accessed across a footbridge is a lovely orchard, filled with exuberant lady lace at this time of year. The whole is encircled by farmland, with both crops and cattle evident. All utterly idyllic....

Friday, 3 July 2015

Rose-covered entrance

Markenfield Hall
Lord Grantley died in 1995. His widow, Lady Deirdre, has since married the writer Ian Curteis. Theirs was the first wedding in the Hall's chapel since 1487. Together they continue the restoration of this lovely estate. (See here for an interesting article.) Lady Deirdre apparently takes a close interest in the beautiful gardens, which are also being restocked and improved. She is a charming lady; we were fortunate enough to meet her as we looked around. The main entrance is covered with a tumble of wisteria and climbing roses, unashamedly romantic.