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Parallel Worlds in East Anglia

Parallel Worlds.

Parallel worlds, for many years, only existed in Science Fiction… Now, however, theoretical physics indicates parallel worlds may not be a flight of fancy after all.  “The truth is stranger than fiction” they say..

“Parallel worlds”.. the thought popped into my head as I walked along the north shore of the Orwell river.  As was the case in all my previous visits, the tide was out. Vessels of all shapes and sizes were moving up and down stream, all utterly dwarfed by the Orwell Bridge.

As I ambled along, the sight of a tree began to totally absorb my attention. Many trees along this stretch of the river have had their roots undercut by the encroaching river. Some have keeled over completely and soon succumbed to the waters. Others however, may have taken on a serious lean, but are holding on regardless.

Orwell Bridge

The parallel world I speak of here is a literary one from the mind of J.R.R. Tolkien. For me, one of his most enduring creations are the Ents. For those of you that have yet to read his ‘Lord of the Rings’, Ents are tree-like and sentient. They can move about and talk – think benevolent Triffid 🙂 From the instant I first read of them, I simply adored the idea of a ‘shepherd of the trees’. So, from that time, I would find a tree here and there that looked a likely candidate and I would wonder if it would, well, ‘up sticks’ and go for a wander after I was out of sight.

The tree in the foreground of this shot is such a tree. While it belongs in one world, it has found its way into ours and is leaning out to see how the world of Man crosses a mighty river.

Was he impressed, I wonder? Or was he thinking “houmm, root and branch, very odd.. very odd indeed”?

If you would care to see a much higher resolution version of this image, you can find it here on my 500px pages.

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Fangorn in Suffolk

Only followers of Tolkien would know Fangorn. So I wonder how many of us that have read Tolkien, have had their lives at least in some small manner, altered by the experience? Some may argue it is folly to suggest that a work of fiction could (or should) have such an effect.

Not I though.

The imagination is one of the few human characteristics that can be free of the rigours of ageing – if we allow it 🙂 Life in the ‘real’ world is often a matter of dealing with all sorts events that cause physical and mental wear and tear.. The imagination too, can suffer but keeping it safe from all the corrosive events in our lives can maintain a potential to maintain and boost even, the colour in our lives. We do, however, have to allow it to remain open to all sorts of influences – including, therefore, what we read.

So what brings this on? A tree… a gnarled old tree.

Fangorn, Wandering River

“For all Hobbits share a love for things that grow” – I don’t know if this line was written by the great man himself but even if it was written by Peter Jackson’s script writers, I am sure Tolkien would approve of the sentiment. This lovely old specimen has been through the wars a bit.. Now I come to think of it, this is probably true in the literal sense as well as figuratively. Nature has seen fit to take its top; whether by wind or lightning, I don’t know but in the years we have walked by, we have seen it in all seasons.. something reassuringly constant in countryside.

One Chestnut tree does not, I know, make either Mirkwood or Fangorn.. In Suffolk, trees are not as commonly found as they in other places and reminds me of a passage in the Two Towers (I think) where Treebeard speaks of the Ents walking far and wide to find the long lost Entwives.. So I see this tree and the imagination starts to wonder…

So, what of you? If you are out and about for a walk, do you pass a solitary tree and does your imagination tell you a tale?

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2014 in Photographs

2014 in photographs -The idea of using photography to reflect the passage of a year may not be an original idea – it is, nonetheless, a great way to present a set of ‘markers’ from a purely personal perspective. Each image represents a bit of a struggle – though not an onerous one. Simply an effort to be faithful in representing what I see. “Ah!” you might say 🙂 “What does “Faithful” mean in this context? Well, the answer is simple and complex all at the same time.

The ‘simple’ answer is I always strive to portray an accurate representation of a place or a thing from an image. The complex bit? To imbue a sense of the spirit of the scene. The latter is, or course highly subjective.

Regardless of all, here it is.. I recall pressing the shutter release for all of them – The scene touched me for different reasons and now I would love to know what, if any, emotions these may evoke in you.

January 2014

Diamonds and Spiders.
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The winter of 2013/14 was shaping up to be one of those nondescript, damp affairs… Cloudy, dull skies and little sign of Winter. Then in late January, frosts started to descend and late one evening, before the frosts arrived, there was a heavy mist. In the small hours the temperature fell and all around was turned into a crystal world.

In the shot you see, small branches of a hawthorn had the dew frozen to its surface and to a spider’s web. Its remarkable strength is made clear and illuminated by flash, the frozen drops of water sparkled like diamonds.

February 2014

Martlesham Creek
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I was asked if I had some shots of Martlesham Creek in my collection of Suffolk landscapes…. Well, at the time, “no” was the answer. So, never needing too much persuasion to visit a place yet to be seen, I went along to check it out.

The weather was overcast and cold but the place was LOADED with atmosphere. On this day, the air was so still and wreaths of mist were appearing and and then disappearing.. wonderful stuff.

March 2014
The Making of Harry Potter
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This is the month of my birth. Guess where I was taken out for the day?

What a place. What a day! I can’t help but wonder if J.K Rowling has to pinch herself at times when considering the huge world that has been built around the product of her imagination. I hope so..

The scale of the work is awe inspiring. The attention to detail. A day here is not long enough so if you have yet to go, book a time in the mid morning to give you plenty of time..

The Castle was one of many, many highlights. It is a 1/24th scale, if I recall and so very detailed.

April 2014

Sea defences at Old Felixstowe.
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I am indebted to a fellow photographer for being able to to present my own ‘version’ of this. Such structures serve a single and simple purpose and are often made from shaped concrete blocks with little that is pleasing to the eye. These, however ‘break the mould’. I do not think I have ever seen a coastal defence structure that looked so elegant. The curve is so graceful and the way it appears to disappear into infinity. Also, the mood of the structure changes with the tide and how restless the sea is.

There is a dream-like quality to this… but only because the way the sea was washing over the pillars presented that sense to me. In a simple shot, this would not be apparent. So this was a 30 second exposure – time for waves to wash over each other while the shutter was open.

May 2014

The Abbey Gardens, Bury St. Edmunds.
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It was a dull ol’ day when I was here but looking at the blaze of colour these Tulips offered, it did not matter how dull it was. In my very limited knowledge of such things, I knew I had never seen such vibrancy. As much as I like a sunny day, it no longer seemed quite so important to get one after seeing this.

June 2014

“As large as life” is an old saying…
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I was about to set out for an evening walk. I managed to get no further than the path that leads from the front garden to the road when I saw this wee fellow basking in the last of the day’s sunshine. It was still of much of the time – then, very slowly, it would stretch one of its limbs and return to stillness..

July 2014

The Guildhall in Lavenham
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We thought a day out to Lavenham was in order… It was sunny at home – a beautiful morning but by the time we had travelled the few miles to Lavenham, the sun had been lost behind cloud and the temperature became almost autumnal. Regardless, the light made the old Guildhall an interesting subject and once again, using B&W to portray the venerable old building has not, I hope, done it a disservice..

The carvings alone are noteworthy but the scale of the building shows the wealth that was about this town when wool was still king.

August 2014

Awe inspiring Skies.
World's End

August 2013 was to herald a series of unreal skies. The same, it would seem was to be so for August 2014. For a period of a few days, you could be forgiven for believing “the end is nigh” when looking at the sky. Torrential downpours were forecast – serious enough to warrant amber warnings from the Met Office and from this high point in the county of Suffolk, we could see the squally rains pass us by.

September 2014

Harvest and the first Mushrooms.
Inkcap Mushroom

September brings the hint of Autumn and with that season, Mushrooms! This specimen is the Inkcap and lies on a well trodden path that is our “round the block” walk. It passes through the graveyard of the village church and passes by the wonderfully named “World’s End Lane”. Considering how flat East Anglia is, this part of Suffolk has ups and down that almost qualify as hills…

Almost.. but not quite.

October 2014

Time Out.
Wilderness. Beach, Northumberland

There are a number of photographs that would fit in the space for October… and many would show a sunny day. So why this one? The answer lies in the pristine beach and vast skies that are a feature of Lindisfarne. The tide was on its way out when we arrived and this, combined with the fact it had rained heavily the previous evening, had wiped away any footprints that may have been set down the previous day. The rain had left a dipped texture to the sand making it even more alluring.

Then, there is this little branch. Almost like a skeletal hand.

November 2014

Rosehips and Diamonds.
Dew, Rosehip

At another point in the “around the block” route, a sparkle of light caught my eye. Move a fraction this way or that and the mote of light disappears. Finding it again, I managed to snag this shot… Luck was with me on this day. The sun was shining through a gap in the trees and no more than 10 minutes earlier or later, these rosehips would be in shadow.

December 2014

Deep Mid-winter.
Winter in Suffolk

Rarely do have a winter we can actually call a winter. Many days, often dull, neither warm or cold. Sometimes though, temperatures take a tumble and the skies take on a scene W.M Turner would have recognised.

Snow and ice in our neck of the woods makes getting about tricky. Since snow and ice are rare, it is the reason us Brits just ain’t geared up for it. That said, we seemed to be taken by surprised whenever it does snow 🙂

On a day like this, I am raring to get outside. The fact the temperature may be well below the line makes the desire to get out even stronger. It was the case on this day. During the night, there was wind enough to blow snow across the road that passes between my village and our neighbours. By the time I was up and about the wind had settled to the merest of zephyrs. The clouds in the sky were like a freeze-frame.. for a long while, it seemed, they hardly moved.

All was silent. Just me out and about.

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A Videographer’s day

If you have ever watched a concert on the telly or online and was curious about how it is all done, read on 🙂 Like all professions, what is visible to the public is the tip of the iceberg – so it is for the Videographer. This wee missive sheds a little light on the preparation that is done before the ‘Record’ button is pressed. Parts of the account border on ‘technical’ but it is all kept, hopefully, within the bounds of ‘normal’ human speech 🙂

When I was offered the chance to produce a video recording of a classical concert by The Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra, I jumped at it. The venue was to be The Apex – an excellent venue in the Suffolk town of Bury St. Edmunds. It was an exciting prospect – many times have I seen a production from the audience perspective but not since my school and college days, have I worked on a stage. To add to the fun, I would have to understand how to use the venue’s audio infrastructure – there were microphones to set up and their signals returned to the other end of the auditorium where the camera would be.

This is The Apex without a soul about – apart from me.

The Apex

It is a great venue. Being on my own in the auditorium was an experience in itself. All that space and the hushed quiet.

The reverie quickly dissolved. The thought of having to complete as much of the setup on the stage as possible before the orchestra arrived was enough to bring me back to the present! The main tasks were twofold. First, the initial placement of microphones – ‘initial’ because their final location could not be set until the orchestra’s seating arrangement has been fixed. Second, the routing of cables to the microphones. On each side the stage, cables can be passed through wee doors allowing access between the stage and ‘patch panels’ and from there, to the rear of the auditorium. As for the cables on the stage, trip hazards were identified and dealt with.

Once the players had arrived and had organised themselves on the stage, the slack provided at the mic end of the cables allowed me to position the mics and their stands appropriately. In this shot, the rehearsals had finished and the microphone on the left placed close to where the soloist, Benjamin Baker would stand. To its right, another can be seen – this one was to pick up the sound from the Cellos.

The Apex, Wandeirn River

Ideally, I would like to have positioned them closer to the instruments but this was to be a public performance. Positioning microphones to gain best sound quality had to be measured therefore, against the reasonable expectations of a paying audience.

Of the 8 recording channels I had available, six originated from microphones on the stage. A channel each for Violins, Horns, Percussion, Cello and Bass. One additional channel allowed me to record any announcements made over the auditorium’s PA system. The remaining channel was used for a synchronisation signal – an aid to quickly link the audio to the video when the time comes to edit the recording.

All the wires that carry the microphone signals pass to the rear of the hall. There, setting up the audio was reasonably straightforward. That said, there were a number steps in the process and each one could make a mess of your labours if not done properly. First, the feeds from the stage were connected to a seriously clever box of tricks. Under the control of a laptop, each microphone input from the stage was labelled, the sensitivity of each input adjusted, a stereo mix from all the inputs created and passed on to the video camera and last but not least, all 8 channels routed to the software that was be responsible for recording the concert audio.

Audio Recording

“..the sensitivity of each input adjusted..” What’s that all about? Well, the incoming signals need boosting to a useable level – a level that will vary depending on what instrument a microphone is close to. A cello usually needs more ‘oomph’ than a kettle-drum 🙂 This process can only be done once the rehearsals begin but during the concert, a beady eye will need to keep watch on how the levels are looking. Too high and you have ‘clipping’ – an awful sound that you can do little to correct. Too low and you run into the risk of other unwanted noise.

You may have spotted two recordings are made.. “Why so?” you may ask. If the multitrack recording fails, then there will still be a stereo mix laid down with the video as the recording progresses. If all records OK, a higher quality mix can be created and then added to the video.

On the video front, the videographer has to take some essential steps. First, to set ‘White Balance’. Under stage lighting, video and stills cameras need to ‘know’ what white looks like. Once this is established, the recorded video has a better chance of representing colours faithfully. It can be possible to correct a degree of colour imbalance in the edit process but if what ‘goes in’ is as close to correct as possible, this makes the edit process that much simpler.

Next, a series of simple house-keeping measures: Make sure the video camera was fixed to a levelled tripod – sounds a minor thing but panning can look very strange if this simple step was not made 🙂 Next, video recording settings checked and sound levels from that ‘clever box of tricks’ also checked.

So. There you have it. I hope this has given an interesting insight. From arrival to a state of readiness had taken about three hours. I had time to grab the stills camera and take some shots of the orchestra as they rehearsed. For me, this is a great time.. to be so close to the musicians as they rehearsed is a memorable experience. While I was on stage with them, the sound was all around me – something that does not happen when at the back of the auditorium.

There are shots of the event in one of the galleries on my Facebook page… you are welcome to check them out:-)

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Kentwell Hall

Kentwell Hall is sited in the midst of timeless grounds, close by the Suffolk town of Long Melford. “Timeless”? A quizzical eyebrow may be raised at such language but Kentwell Hall is like other of our old manor houses – much is done to preserve them in aspic.

On this visit, my time was restricted to the grounds and I wish I could have spent much longer there to find more of the many hidden gems and secret corners it holds. For now, however, I am content with what I have seen – the walled garden on the northern aspect of the house. Long established deciduous woodland borders the garden so the path I found myself following was lit by a green gloom – this enhanced the sense of mystery further.

Kentwell Hall

On reaching the farthest extent of the wall, a corner is turned and you see a derelict building that adjoins the wall. There is a door – but it is barred shut.. There is a glassless window above it that gives a tantalising view of the long forgotten interior.. Oh, how I would love to be able to explore!

The building is long but narrow and soon, a flu can be seen – so a fire once burned here… A thought occurs. Many such places had grapevines growing under glass. I wondered if this was a boiler house to generate steam?

An ancient door, very much in the gothic style, is set into the wall – and it is open 🙂

Kentwell Hall

Within a few steps of entering the walled-garden, it was evident there had indeed, been glasshouses built into the wall. There were three.. all to a greater or lesser degree, in ruins. The one closest to the door had only the brickwork surviving and a curious structure it was. It appeared these used to be a greenhouse within a greenhouse. Huge steam pipes ran the length of the ruin.. so perhaps the building attached to the wall was a boiler house..

The remaining pair had, not only some of the timber structure still standing, but also a magnificent and all but wild vine. It had long forgotten the touch of human hand and had grown well beyond the boundary of the glasshouse that once contained it. Gnarled and twisted it may be but it looked as though it was still vigorous enough to produce grapes.

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In its day, these glasshouses must have been remarkable. The remains of Victorian engineering was seen everywhere – a handle that used to open roof-vents..

Kentwell Hall

There was one section of the original wood frame that remained relatively free of the vine. It towered over my head though what was keeping it in place, I don’t know – it just seemed to hang there.

Kentwell Hall

How wonderful it would be to see it restored but part of me feels to do so would in itself represent a loss. Seeing these remains made me stop and wonder about the past and the intervening years. Would that still happen if, on returning someday, these glasshouses were restored?

Kentwell Hall… If you have not visited, then it is well worth the trip. If you would like to know more, click here.

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Gig in the Garden

The Gig in the Garden


As fund raisers go, Gig in the Garden has to be amongst the best. The gig is held in the wilds of Suffolk near the town of Stowmarket. It had its first outing last year – a one-day event that was a stonking success. This year’s event was held over two days (July 12th and 13th, 2014) and despite a decidedly damp second day, the entire show was a blast.

Gig in the Garden is in aid of Action Medical Research – A Charity close to the heart of many of the movers and shakers of the Gig. The work done to make the event a smooth running success was immediately obvious when I arrived. Car parking was organised and marshalled, the redoubtable St. John’s Ambulance were visibly in attendance, high quality caterers (including a lady that served CRACKING coffee), room to camp if you wanted to stay over for both days and of course, the essential ‘rest’ err… ‘cubicles’ 🙂

Most important of all, a remarkable array of musical genres lined up…

I arrived at around 1pm.. It was grey and overcast but with a promising forecast. By the end of the evening, there was to be a light show no one had expected.

Wandering River and Gig in the Garden


I was there to capture the mood of the day. Right from the ‘off’, the grey skies did not cast a shadow on an atmosphere that was light and easy. I watched folk find a space, lay out rugs and organise picnics. As more arrived, the open spaces gradually filled with folk content to sit on either picnic rugs or chairs of all shapes and sizes. Inevitably, the beer tent soon had folk propping it up… and since this year’s event provided room for camping, some had no concerns about drinking and driving – aa fact soon made evident 🙂

Gig in the Garden

Photographing gigs is a favourite but this adds another element.. The daylight hours opens up opportunities for people-watching. Folk of all ages were there – from months old to ages old and it was great to watch them revel in the company around them and in the day’s entertainment.

As time went by, the clouds did indeed give way to the sun. Some folk had bubble makers and in the lazy breeze, bubbles large and small drifted about with many picnics in full swing. Gig in the Garden was well underway and filling the air with music.

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Bands and Stages


Two stages, one of them provided by the John Peel Centre, were hosting a seriously diverse range of bands.. it was so good to see they included (like last year) bands made up from folk in their teens as well as those on their 20’s and up. Some made a repeat (and very welcome) return – the redoubtable Underline the Sky, Polar Collective and Chasing Storms to name but a few.

Solo artists too featured large with Gion Stump (all the way from Switzerland no less) and Zak Macro to name but two. Double Acts also featured all with seriously talented guitarists and vocalists. Jo and Rob were on stage when I arrived and they were performing a fabulous version of Nancy Sinatra’s “these Boots are made for Walkin'”… I could not recall how many years it has been since hearing that one!

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Underline the Sky were as energetic as ever – and certainly, the decibels went up a notch or two judging by the extra pulses of air the stacks were throwing at me as I walked by them. I checked out one of their videos and I loved it 🙂 A fabulous ballad with video covering a trip to Wales… with an interesting insight into their culinary skills..

Gigs in the Daylight Hours


I attended last year’s Gig in the Garden and not until I reviewed the shots I had taken, did I realise how different the atmosphere can be between daylight hours and after it gives way to the dark hours. A ‘conventionally’ timed gig gives the atmosphere a kick start. Not so for an event during daylight hours. Something else, beyond a well composed shot, has to replace what the darkness provides. I am, by no means, certain I know what that “something else” is but it is great fun trying different options in the processing.. Please do offer your own thoughts on the matter.

So darkness falls… and the time comes around for the headline act. The Bohemians. I had always been a little wary of tribute bands. Last year’s main billing was Ultimate Madness and they did much to banish any misgivings. So this year, my mind was a little more open to a tribute band that focused on all things Queen. Until I checked out their website, I had no idea how accomplished this band was. This will give you an idea…

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A wee while after Bohemians had started their set, I could see flashes in the sky.. In no time, I knew it was lightning and it was to be the beginning of one the best natural light shows I had seen for many a year. I had enough material by then so I thought a graceful exit was wise. All the wile I was packing up, the lightning was taking up more of the sky and becoming more frequent. Better still, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was the current cover being performed with “thunderbolt and lighting, very,very frightening” coming over the the PA… I am not sure it could have been scripted better…

Soon after, I could hear the gig coming to a premature end and a wise decision it was too. The heavens opened and the storm passed right overhead.

That is what I call a good ending 🙂

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Railway Walks

Julia Bradbury presented an excellent TV series about Railway Walks.. One that was left out is in our own home county of Suffolk. It passes between Lavenham and Long Melford – quintessential English towns, real honeypots for visitors from home and further afield. To visit both is easy enough – it takes about 15 or 20 minutes drive from one to the other but if you are happy to walk, there is another way – one that avoids the road, one that passes through some beautiful Suffolk countryside.

This post is a walking guide should you wish to follow the path between the towns. If you decide to check it out, I do recommend you use the appropriate OS map to ‘fill in the gaps’ 🙂

The photography was taken in the spring, summer and autumn.It does I hope, give you a real flavour of what this walk is like in all its seasonal moods. As you read the post, you will see numbers in brackets… these refer to the numbered photographs.

In the mid 1800’s the rail network had links connecting Mark’s Tey, Sudbury, Clare, Long Melford and Lavenham. Sudbury still has a railway link but lines to the other places mentioned have long since gone; the section of line between Long Melford and Lavenham closing in 1965. This was not the end of the story however – echoes of the old line remain to this day in the guise of an excellent alternative to the road if you want to pass between the towns – and are happy to expend some calories along the way.

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At the Lavenham end, the route starts at the north end of the town; close by the bridge on the Bury road – the first visible sign of the old line. Within the first minute of the walk you join a path that passes under a canopy of trees (photo 1). If the thought of walking about four and a half miles is too daunting, the first of a couple of routes back to the town is about 300 metres down the path. The second is a little way further on..

After a few minutes walking, the path leads you up onto a minor road. This is the second route back into Lavenham. If you want carry on, cross over the road to rejoin the path. The bridge over the line may have been filled in but if you look closely to the right of the path, you can see what remains of the old abutments. There are two more bridges further on.. one is another road bridge and the other crosses a small river but more about that one later.

The next kilometre is fairly straight and flat with glimpses of the countryside on either side. The canopy of trees becomes thinner and fails altogether at times giving you sight of the sky.

You reach a second road bridge. This one is still in service and you can pass under the road that runs between Lavenham and the aptly named ‘Bridge Street’. Soon, you enter a cutting (3)- on the right bank, trees have established themselves and along the top, a tall hedge and fields beyond. The cutting follows a long curve to the left and after about half a kilometre, the line and surrounding countryside level out. Woods are in front of you and on your right you will see a reminder of less gentle times. A Pill box (4)… you will see more of these (7 and 8) as you go further.

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You have a choice at this point. You can continue along the old railway or choose to walk a path through the wood (5). It runs only a few metres from the track but it offers a slightly different route on the way to Long Melford or on your way back.

The wooded section lasts for two or three hundred metres and then the path enters an open field. Woods remain on the right but your path lies along its border with the field.

The line of the woods follows a gentle curve to the left. As I walked the old line at this point, I wondered what it was like during the war years. There were three airfields close by this line so it must have been at the centre of less than friendly attention. Certainly, the pill boxes would suggest as much. I also wondered if passengers looked about them at time – the views from this point must have been beautiful.

Returning to the present (!), you see a farm track on the right. Almost straight ahead however, is your path – look for the entrance to an avenue of trees. The old line runs on top of an embankment for about 750 metres at which point you pass into an open field. The path runs alongside the hedge that borders the left of the field. Photo 6 gives a view that looks back towards the avenue of trees.

Soon, the path takes you sharply to the right and for the next kilometre or so, you part company with the old line. You enter a narrow wood and cross a stream; one you will cross again further on. When you exit the wood, turn left and your path follows a field boundary with the woods on your left.

Here, Suffolk could almost be said to have ‘rolling’ countryside 🙂 Keep an eye out for two more pill boxes (7 and 8) on your left. Though they are right on the edge of the field, they are well hidden. One, we only saw on our way back – Elder is doing its best to reclaim the ground it stands on but the 70-year old concrete has so far, proved indomitable.

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After about 500 metres, the path turns to the right and you now walk the closest thing this walk has to a hill (9)! At the top, you are close to the Long Melford bypass. You can, if you wish, cross the road here and continue along the farm track which ends at the north end of Long Melford. Just before you reach the road, there is a Garden Centre with a cafe 🙂

If you wish to continue on the longer route, follow the footpath sign to walk with the bypass to your right. The path, after a little while, moves away from the road and passes under another avenue of trees (10). For a few hundred metres, your route takes you downhill and at the bottom, a bridge takes you over the same stream as before (11 and 12). You have also rejoined the old line at this point… The bridge has low parapets but the risk of any accident is mitigated my large amounts of undergrowth and ivy that keeps you to the centre of the path.

After crossing the stream, the path continues straight on and eventually, you reach a point where you have to cross the Long Melford bypass. From this point, the last remaining kilometer is by road until you reach the main street of Long Melford – conveniently, right next to the Bull 🙂

You will find a good range of ‘watering holes’ to have a well deserved cuppa (or something stronger) before making your way back!

For more historical information about the old railway line, click here.

I would welcome any suggestions or comments you may have about this blog 🙂 so please use the facility, below, to leave your thoughts…

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Kathryn Tickell – Northumbrian Voices

I was attending the Apex for an unrelated purpose the night Kathryn Tickell was due to perform. To give the complete picture, I knew she was in concert on the night but a question I had raised about photography had gone unanswered and so I had assumed my offer had had not been received or it was not of interest.

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Well, I was there… and as the hour approached, I had finished the earlier task and could see members of the local organisers of the concert had begun to arrive. “Nothing ventured” I thought so I approached a member of the team and asked about photography. “Oh yes, please!” came the reply… I was surprised and seriously happy about the prospect of another gig.

I had, more in hope than anything else, brought the necessary gear with me so I was ready in plenty of time. I remembered there was some literature about the concert on a table in the foyer.. The performance had been given an evocative name: “Northumbrian Voices”. I was intrigued – enough to do a spot of digging to see what I could find on the net. Kathryn Tickell’s website added real substance to the title – there would be music combined with tales going back over three generations.

I went into the auditorium and looked at the stage. Places for 6 including, on the extreme right, an easy chair that seemed a little out of place.. Soon enough the concert organiser walked on and Kathryn Tickell was introduced. The first onto the stage however, was a tall man with long, flowing white hair… As it turned out, this was Kathryn’s father, Mike. Five others walked on and as Mike settled down onto the chair, the others launched into their first melody.

Of the five musicians, three were fiddle players (including Kathryn) one guitarist and one accordion player. Kathryn would alternate between fiddle and the Northumbrian Pipes – an instrument that produces a wonderfully soft sound and should not to be confused with the more strident sound of the pipes found north of the border…

Only a few days before, I had photographed Feast of Fiddles but while the fiddle featured prominently in both bands, the experience was very different. With FoF, there was an energy.. a sound that jazzed the blood. Here, the performance was altogether very different and that connected in a very different way. The melodies held all kinds of tempos and moods – uplifting in one moment and casting a more melancholic shade the next.

It was all beautifully tied together by the narrative. This was why Mike was there – to act as the story teller although all the band related elements of a tale from time to time. One in particular holds in my memory.. about the Kielder Valley. It is about the flooding of that place and how it affected the lives of the folk that lived and worked there. Beyond that, I’ll say no more – half the magic in the tale is how Kathryn relates it. The stories were of loss and hardship but also humour. All in perfect measure and I have to say that for a southerner at least, the native accent deepened the whole experience.

As for the photography, there was plenty of deep, deep shades of blue and red and bright yellow in the lighting that made post processing a challenge but I hope the results will speak for themselves.

If you want to find out more about Kathryn and her music: Kathryn Tickell

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Feast of Fiddles

How many times have you heard sayings like “Strange how things turn out”?

A Spot of Background

A few months back, Annya and I attended our first concert at the Apex. The band we were to see was Feast of Fiddles and right from the off, they grabbed your senses.. Their music spanned rock, folk and other genres and was crafted superbly to suit fiddle, guitar, sax, clarinet, keyboards and last but no means least, the melodeon.

There were faces in the lineup that were familiar.. One in particular struck a chord with a memory that was well shrouded by time.. Only when Hugh Crabtree, the founder (and “boss” as he is described on the band’s website) introduced a solo spot to be performed by Peter Knight, was the memory bowled forward – Steeleye Span. Then I managed to associate names to other faces in the line up..

Well, I had already found Feast of Fiddles a great band to follow but seeing musicians such as Peter Knight, Brian McNeill, Phil Beer and others, notched up my appreciation a couple more levels.

During the interval, I was surprised to see the band were enjoying a drink in the bar with the audience. I found the courage to strike up a conversation with one of the Fiddle players – Garry Blakeley. It soon became apparent we had something in common. Garry lives in Hastings and the town was part of my old stamping ground while I was living in Sussex. Much nattering about the area and then before I could chicken out, I brought up the subject of photographing the band. Gary suggested I contacted Hugh Crabtree and ask – the worst that could happen is he could say no.

So I did… and the ‘Man from Delmonte’ said yes 🙂

The band were due to perform at The Cut in Halesworth on October 28th. That meant a busy 10-day period: Friday 19th will be a long day working Long Melford with the Suffolk Philharmonic Orchestra then a drive up to Cumbria, back on the 26th and the gig on the 28th. “London Busses” I cry – but with a HUGE smile on my face.

About a couple of weeks before the gig, the experience of photographing the Krar Collective popped into my head. Holding a camera sporting a 100-400 zoom makes for an arm that all but falls off by the end of the evening. So, a monopod is in order. I quickly bypassed the £300 beasties and settled on a Giotto monopod with a Manfrotto head. This gave compatibility with the quick-release shoes fitted to the camera gear. All for 60 quid – that’s more like it.

Arrival

Time does its thing and Sunday, 28th October rolls around. I leave home at mid-afternoon and arrive at The Cut an hour or so later. The band were already rehearsing and so I found a place where I could dump my stuff and make a start.

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What a privilege.. technicians rushing about doing their thing, the band rehearsing… and me..

The rehearsal ends with enough time to spare to transfer the photographs taken so far to the Mac… Definitely some good stuff there. The quality of the rehearsal shots give my confidence a boost prior to the main event. Looking at the shots, I am struck by the huge difference between this type of photography and what could be described as ‘main-stream’. Low light, constantly changing colour temperatures and an understandable ban on using flash. All things that you usually move heaven and earth to avoid. Thank heaven for digital SLR’s with low-noise sensors and ISO ratings that pass into the thousands 🙂 That last bit may stray into geekery but essentially with high sensitivity, comes the risk of noise creeping in – a bit like visible ‘grain’ in the wet-film equivalent. While new DSLR’s are not noise free, its presence is subtle. One final point on this issue – my respect for the photographers that used (and perhaps still do) wet film for live performance work has gone up immensely.

The Gig

The audience had filed in and had settled into their seats. The band were introduced and they began the gig with a number that had the house rocking in no time. Getting about to photograph the gig was to be relatively easy. The Cut has a stage at floor level with a single, raked audience area. I could move under the seating area to get from one side of the auditorium to other without disturbing the audience. I could also get, discretely, to the upper level of the seating area so the next 3 hours see me walk what seemed like MILES 🙂

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My attention would occasionally turn to the audience; the players could bring the house down one minute and hold the audience in quiet awe the next – particularly during the solo spots. These were a master stroke. Each of the players had their own style of play and having their time in the limelight allowed it to come to the fore.. It was great to experience it and from the perspective of someone recording the event, it was no less remarkable to see how the audience responded to the band during the gig. It was an odd experience – to be around the audience but not part of it.

As for the music itself, any comments are inevitably subjective. Suffice to say I was there to work but strewth, I’d have to be a cold, cold fish not to be wrapped up by some of the melodies they played.

Returning to photographing the event, the monopod was a life saver – or at the very least, an ARM saver. I could not recommend such a beast strongly enough to any one that needs to improve on hand-held but where a tripod would be impractical.. Drop me a line if you want to know more about the one I used…

I had the ‘nod’ to use the images a couple of days ago.. So if you have seen them, I hope they give an idea of what this fine band are all about.

Click on Feast of Fiddles to find out more about the band.

If you would care to leave your own comment, please do – using the space below…

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Sunrise over the Sea at Walberswick

With the early morning weather promising to be grand, I thought it would be fun to have a 4am start to allow me time to catch the sunrise over the sea at Walberswick…

With empty roads, it took no time to get there. The sky was crystal clear with countless stars and even though it was dark, there was that beautiful shade of deep, deep blue all around. With 10 miles to go however, my spirits sank a little as big heavy clouds started to show up on the eastern horizon. Memories of a similar venture some while back popped up.. clear skies at home only to disappear behind cloud as I approached the coast. Well, I was almost there so it would be crazy not to say hello to the sea..

Walberswick - Just before sunrise

I parked up and heaved on the backpack – along with the 40+ kilos of stuff it contained and trudged my way to the spot where I wanted to set up. Choosing the spot was not a random thing.. A good pal recommended an excellent ‘app’ called “Mr Sun” – it predicts where the sun will be at any time of the day and any day of the year.. So using this and then Google Earth, it was relatively easy to pick a spot where I could have the outlook I wanted…

I had time to look about me before setting up.. the constant sound of the sea was the first thing that all but filled the senses – so much so that my earlier chagrin at the heavy cloud on the horizon began to lift. Looking along the shoreline to the north, the channel that guides the river Blythe to the sea and to the south, Sizewell – in the predawn light, it’s white dome clearly visible. All was enveloped in a deep blue light that had an all but liquid feel to it. Considering the hour, I was not surprised to see I was only soul on the shore. All this wonder and only me to witness it.

I may have been the only one on dry land but it was a different story out at sea. There were trawlers, one only recently leaving the safety of the Blythe and in the distance, a couple of very curious vessels.. Support vessels for the off shore wind farms maybe?

Right. Enough looking about.. I had to get set up – a process that takes about 20 minutes. The first challenge was the footing for the tripod.. The shoreline was gravel so not the best surface for a stable platform. There was sand a little higher up the shore but this had been fenced off. A few handfuls of the sand under each leg solved that problem and then a quick dash to sea to rinse off my hands. Soon after, both stills and video camera ready to do their thing.

All that charging about had warmed me up but I knew it was cool enough for the early morning chill to work its way past the fleece and windproof coat I was wearing.

After about 10 more minutes, the sun had just started to appear above the horizon. I could not see it but what I could see were big gaps appearing in the cloud. In a matter of a few moments, the sun found a path to light up the sea – and then another with strong rays of light bursting through. At the same time, lines of geese passed right over head so in moments I had so much to do. It was a bit like a chaotic dance.. hopping about between stills and video cameras and trying not to trip over either 🙂

Sunrise at Walberswick

Oh, how glad I was to be there. Seeing and hearing so much.. the geese overhead, small ships out at sea and to cap it all, the sun. Cold as it was, rarely have I felt so ‘warm’.

I love my new job..

If you care to see a short video that includes some stills, click here…

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