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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


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


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


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. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

On the way to Snaefellsness

Iceland holiday - After a morning in Reykjavik we hopped in our minibus and set off north towards the Snaefellsness peninsula, known as 'little Iceland' as it has many key features in a small area. As you can see from the photo, the weather was dull and damp. The sprinkling of snow on the hills looked pretty but most of the high mountains were shrouded in cloud. Still, it is stunningly beautiful. Photos don't really do it justice as they don't convey anything like the sense of space and peace.

We'd agreed that if anyone spotted somewhere they thought looked especially interesting to photograph we could shout 'Stop!' and, if we could find somewhere to safely pull off the road, we would. That worked very well and was one of the privileges that being in such a small (eight of us) group of like-minded people gave us. (I have sometimes been on guided coach trips and longed to shout 'Stop' - but you can't!) The photo above was taken at one such 'Stop!' I'm not even sure exactly where we were but it was lovely in its way.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Harpa, Reykjavik

Iceland holiday - I was surprised by how modern and stylish Iceland is. The geo-thermal energy means buildings are warm and cosy; the rapidly increasing tourism means that much of the visitor accommodation is fairly new and of a high standard. In Reykjavik the new concert hall, Harpa, opened in 2011, seems to be a statement about the forward-thinking mindset of a country with a rich tradition of folklore and creativity.

Harpa was an exciting building to photograph - and a welcome haven from the heavy rain and wind.

Detail of the ceiling

Wednesday, 23 November 2016


Iceland holiday - As I've mentioned before, I kicked off my retirement with several trips away. The most notable of these was to Iceland. I was fortunate to be able to visit with a small group of friends, all keen photographers. We were able to focus solely on our photography but without the eye-watering expense of a commercial photography tour (although Iceland itself is definitely not a cheap place for us Brits to visit at the moment!)  The weather was extremely wet and windy but we still had a great time.

Our first stop was in Reykjavik, the capital, where 60% of the island's small (less than 330,000) population live. We visited the cathedral and wandered the city streets, admiring the lovely Scandi textiles, homewares and chic clothes in the stylish shops. What struck me most was the vivid colours of the houses, perhaps a necessary choice when the days are short and the weather often challenging.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Life as art

I'm always fascinated to see what people do with their leisure time. It was Sunday morning up by the Glen Tramway and a dog obedience class was in full swing. I only had my iPhone, which didn't cope well with the lighting conditions, so I've played with this image a bit to give it a painterly effect. Barking mad, perhaps?

Monday, 21 November 2016


Walking from Saltaire up to Shipley Glen takes you from the urban sprawl, across the canal, river and park, up through the wooded hillside and out onto the heather moorland. The glen moorland is merely a staging post on a climb that ultimately crests Hope Hill, out onto Baildon Moor. It seems 'wild' but in fact has been shaped by hundred of years of man's activity. There are stones with ancient cup and ring markings and the glen area was at one time a huge Victorian funfair. Heather has reclaimed the rocky plateau and a few spindly birch trees have gained a hold here too. I find them so delicate and pretty with their silvery bark and cascades of little leaves.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Bench with a view

Closer to home again and I've resolved to get fitter by having a 'proper' walk most days. Hmm, not that I'm always managing it... Instinctively, it seems to me that 'little but often' would be the best practice, maybe 2 or 3 miles a day - but in fact some days I'm doing very little and other days much more. Binge exercising, in fact! I'm not sure on the relative merits of this...
Anyway, I did a little cardio-vascular workout by walking through Roberts Park and up the steep path beside the Glen Tramway, onto Shipley Glen. It was lovely up there, though a bit muddy underfoot. The autumn colours are fast fading as the leaves fall but still very pretty and there is a fine view over the Aire valley. It was a four mile round trip, so I felt good about that.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Edith's House

Exploring London requires lots of tea and cake, in my experience! You can walk for miles and it's good to keep stopping for refreshment and a bit of a rest. On my recent trip, we went one stage further and actually had breakfast out, in a very unusual café in Crouch End called 'Edith's House'. Upon entering, the café seems lovely and cosy, with armchairs and sofas arranged around little tables in the front room. These days, that in itself isn't unusual; many tearooms - even the chains like Costa - seem to be supplying comfortable armchairs for their customers to relax in. Step further inside though, and you soon realise this one is all decorated like a 1950's suburban house. You can even take tea sitting in the bathroom or tucked up on a bed! Mismatched china and the generally quirky decor wouldn't compensate for poor coffee - but the food and service was excellent. I had a potato scone with kale, tomato and a poached egg for breakfast. My friend had a cinnamon scone with fruit and yoghurt. All very tasty. We (both vintage 1950s) amused ourselves with reminiscing about our childhoods, sparked off by the articles and pictures on display. My mum had a 'kidney dressing table' almost identical to the one below. 

Friday, 18 November 2016


Whether it's on the distant skyline viewed from Hampstead Heath, glimpsed through a window in the Tate as the moon rises or soaring imperiously skyward from behind the surrounding buildings, you can't really miss The Shard, London and the UK's tallest building. Designed by the architect Renzo Piano and completed in 2012, its 95 storeys hold offices, an hotel, restaurants, residences and viewing platform at the top. Love it or hate it (I'm not sure) it is dominant - and infuriatingly hard to photograph well, in my experience!

Incidentally, the exhibition I went to see at the Tate was 'The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography from the Sir Elton John Collection'. I highly recommend it. As a photographer, I was enthralled by the images on display, which included well known icons like Man Ray's 'Glass Tears' (1932), Dorothea Lange's 'Migrant Mother' (1936) and a host of lesser known but significant photos, collected over the past 25 years by Sir Elton John and normally displayed in his home. On until 7 May 2017.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Borough Market

Borough Market is London's oldest and most celebrated food market. Situated just south of the Thames beside Southwark Cathedral, under a railway viaduct, it is home to British and international traders selling the finest of speciality produce: meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, cheeses, breads, confectionery, spices... Enjoying a renaissance since the 1990s, it has been championed by some famous TV chefs and several movies have had scenes filmed here, including 'Bridget Jones's Diary'. We had a wonderful time browsing and trying some of the various foodstuffs on offer. I bought some beautiful Comté cheese, a firm French variety that is wonderfully creamy, with a nutty, earthy flavour.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Kenwood House

There's lovely autumn colour in the grounds of Kenwood House, a recently restored 17th century mansion on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Between 1764 and 1779 it was remodelled by Robert Adam into a neo-classical villa for William Murray, the 1st Earl of Mansfield and it has some beautiful Adam interior schemes. Now in the care of English Heritage, it also holds a fine collection of paintings bequeathed by the 1st Earl of Iveagh, among them works by Rembrandt and Vermeer. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Here lies....

Among those buried in Highgate West Cemetery are:

The painter, Lucian Freud [1922-2011], (whose work I recently mentioned in my post about art at Chatsworth House). He is the grandson of the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud.

The author, Dame Beryl Bainbridge [1932-2010], whose work, which includes 'The Bottle Factory Outing', I confess I have never read.

George Wombwell [1777-1850] who was a famous menagerie owner, travelling the country with a variety of animals that he charged the visiting public to see. The sleeping lion on his grave reminded me a bit of the lion called Peace, in Saltaire. In fact it is Nero, Mr Wombwell's docile pet. He entered it into a lion-baiting contest with six bulldogs but Nero refused to fight.

Tom Sayers [1826-1865], who was a bare-knuckle prize fighter. He lost only one of his sixteen prize fights. He seems famous solely because of his last fight, in 1860, against the US champion Heenan. He dislocated his shoulder but fought on one-handed, almost blinding Heenan. After more than forty rounds the match was declared a draw after the ring was invaded by the public and police had to break up the ensuing melée. Shortly after this , boxing as a sport became regulated under the Queensberry Rules.  His grave is guarded by his mastiff dog, Lion, who was the chief mourner at his elaborate funeral to which 100,000 people turned up!

Monday, 14 November 2016

Highgate West Cemetery

Another week of retirement... another little holiday. Aren't I fortunate? This time I was staying with a friend in London. It's good having a knowledgeable guide and we explored all sorts of interesting places. I've been to Highgate Cemetery before but never the West Cemetery, which can be visited only as part of a guided tour. It was the first area of the cemetery to be developed, in Victorian times, when burial space in London's churchyards was becoming overcrowded and insanitary. Opened in 1839 by a private company, it was landscaped with features designed to provide a prestigious resting place for wealthy Victorians for whom elaborate funerals were considered a necessity. There are many family mausoleums. Unfortunately, space here too started to run out though, ironically, many of the mausoleums are under-utilised. It became difficult to trace surviving family members, who were supposed to maintain them. The cemetery became unprofitable in the 1970s and was left to vandals and nature. In 1975, a group of concerned 'Friends' started to try to reverse the damage and they continue to battle to keep nature at bay, repair the monuments, respect those buried there and retain the original spirit of the place. Burials there are still allowed. It has quite an atmosphere and the tour was fascinating. 

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Spot the duck

Well, I don't actually think he's called Spot... but you know what I mean. There are so many leaves in the canal that it is hard to see the ducks and they, poor things, are having a harder time swimming than usual, battling against the debris.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Man versus nature

Saltaire's ornate Victorian church is one of the jewels in the crown of the village, set off by gold fretwork and a golden pinnacle on the dome. Usually it dominates this scene, a triumph of man's artistry, but nature's autumn colours are so vivid this year that the trees really are currently stealing the show.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Hop it!

Thorpe Perrow Arboretum has a birds of prey and mammal centre. You can walk through a little park of very tame wallabies, some of whom will come up and snuzzle into you, perhaps hoping for a titbit.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the people from the wallabies....!

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Red bliss

'Every leaf speaks bliss 
to me, fluttering from
the autumn tree.'

Emily Brontë

Wednesday, 9 November 2016


The deep red acer/maple leaves are spectacular this year. They add such a punch, whether still on the trees or on the ground. The day I visited Thorpe Perrow, it was very cold and very dull; the promised sunshine sadly never materialised and on some of my photos the leaves are a bit blurred by a combination of the slow shutter speed I was forced to adopt and a brisk and freezing wind! Never mind, it was enough to see the colours. Photos are a bonus.

When I prepared this post I didn't intend for it to be prophetic, but as I awoke this morning my heart sank. I thought Brexit was bad enough but, oh America, what have you done? I am truly fearful for our world.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Red Oak Avenue

Delighting in my new-found freedom as a retiree, I took a friend to Thorpe Perrow Arboretum during the week. I've been before and shown photos on this blog (click the label below). It's beautiful in all seasons and spectacular in autumn. Many of the leaves have already dropped and some are shrivelled after a couple of nights of hard frost, but in some ways the carpets of colour are as attractive as the leaves on the trees. The lovely avenue is called red oak avenue. Assuming these graceful trees are indeed red oaks (I wouldn't know!) these are native to North America rather than Europe.

Monday, 7 November 2016


It is always a surprise and a delight when readers of my blog contact me. After I posted the photos I took at the recent celebrations of the bicentenary of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, I received a lovely message from Peter, in Germany. He has kindly allowed me to reproduce (below) the recollections he shared, which I think paint a wonderful picture of a childhood in the 1950s and the history of the Canal.

My photo above shows the bridge over the Leeds-Liverpool Canal in Shipley, at the point where the Bradford Branch canal (to which Peter refers) used to fork off. The branch canal has since been closed and filled in. The bridge allowed boat horses to walk from one towpath to the other. 

Peter says:  

'Thank you for your blog with so many beautiful photos! They bring back such lovely memories for me. I remember the tramway behind Salt’s Mill and helping the last L+L [Leeds and Liverpool] boatmen. For me, a boy on his bicycle, the canal between Leeds and Skipton was my secret, perfect world. I am speaking of 1958 when I was 13 yrs of age. I attended Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley. After feeding my rabbits every spare second was spent assisting and talking with the Shipley boatmen. Glovers barges then carried 40 tons of coal from Allerton Bywater near Castleford up through Leeds to the mills of Shipley, Bingley and Skipton. Tate and Lyle’s sugar and the wool traffic from Liverpool had ceased. I witnessed the canal’s swan song.

The boatmen were so good to me. My special friend told me his first trip on the barges was up to Bradford with carbouys of sulphuric acid. Pumping water up the Bradford Branch using steam engines was always expensive and it finally closed in 1922. Billy told me of his horse, Peggy. One bitterly cold morning he brought her out of the stable in Shipley and attached the swingle-tree. She towed the barge as far as Hirst Wood lock. Seizing her opportunity, she broke free and galloped back  to Shipley with Billy chasing after. He found Peggy standing in front of the stable door. Said Billy smiling, „that Peggy, she were nobody’s fool!“

If in Shipley you walk in the (Leeds) direction toward Dockfield Mill and the wonderfully iconic stone bridge [photo above] diagonally opposite, where new flats now stand, stood Ramseys boatyard where so many wooden barges were built. The famous Shipley barges were lighter and swam well.They were easier for the horses. Much later, sixties film star Lawrence Harvey filmed "Room at the Top" under that bridge. The cameras and lights were set up on Glovers coal boats. A boatman once said to me, "ah've allus 'ad a puir wage". Thus they really admired Harvey's style and gorgeous sheepskin coat!  

I went to sea as an engineer with Texaco Overseas Tankship. Our regular routes were Saudi Arabia to Australia, America, Trinidad and Europe. Later I was responsible for the harbour repair work for a Bremerhaven shipyard. That was fascinating. Each day a new new type of ship: a Hull trawler, a Swedish 4000 car transporter from Japan, an Egyptian container ship, a British Cunard banana ship from the West Indies.

Now retired, I still live in Germany in the pretty Pied-Piper town of Hameln.

I thank you so much for your delightful photos of an area very special to me. So much pleasure!'

Isn't that lovely? Thanks so much, Peter. 

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Stormy light

One thing about this time of year is that the light can be wonderful. Low sunshine and storm clouds make a powerful combination, especially when the golden colour lights up the already golden stone of the buildings in Saltaire. This is the familiar tower of the New Mill, which never fails to delight with its ornate Italianate architecture. And yes, I did get home before the rain came.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Yin and yang

Two little Saltaire front gardens, two different ideas about how to use the space. Both attractive in their own way. Each to his or her own taste.