Tag Archives: castle

It’s not grim up North

Holga island

After my last post on the 1st August I said that this blog was not going to die so here is another post just to prove my point. I will admit that not blogging has been a blessed relief for the last couple of weeks, although during those two weeks it seems that England (yes, England NOT the UK as news outlets would have you believe) has gone to hell in a handcart. This blog is not going to try and understand why the recent riots happened but I do I find it very sad. A lot of lives and livelihoods have been ruined and even lost but I think last week’s events have been coming for a long time. Our culture is now obsessed with the accumulation of goods and the cult of celebrity then it should come as no surprise when those that have nothing decide to take what they don’t have. The violence cannot be condoned and those involved must be punished but at the same time those at the other end of society – bankers, MPs who were economical with the truth expenses wise, huge corporations avoiding tax – must also be seen to be punished. But that will not happen. Indeed, our current Prime Minister, and the Mayor of London, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were members of an exclusive club at university (the Bullingdon) that used to regularly behave badly, smashing windows and trashing restaurants. Of course in their case they could pay for the damage and it was only ‘youthful high jinks’. Similarly, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has admitted to setting fire to a greenhouse full of rare cacti in his youth.

It’s very sad that a student – with no previous convictions – walking home from his girlfriend’s house who stole a 3.50 bottle of water gets 6 month in prison and does not deserve a second chance; conversely, Andy Coulson, the Prime Minister’s disgraced communications chief did deserve a second chance despite allegedly overseeing widespread criminality at the News of the World. Of course the majority of the rioters deserve to go to prison for a very, very long time but for a government obsessed with fairness this seems to be in short supply. Knee jerk reactions are almost always wrong and there seems to be no proportionality.

But enough hand-wringing. I never meant to write all that but got carried away a little. Despite the news coverage coming out of England this week, its still a beautiful country and today we are heading up north to my favourite place, Northumberland. From a photographer’s point of view I find the landscapes of Northumberland, where it seems you are never that far away from a castle, a rugged coastline or mile upon mile of empty sandy beaches, to be inspiring. I am hoping to get lots of good pictures that I can share as the blog progresses at a more sedate pace.

This picture was taken in Northumberland, on Holy Island, last year at the same time as I was photographing a wedding. Of late I have been experimenting a bit with different effects and tints and this was an image that I liked but which in its colour form was bleached out by the sun rising over the headland. This seemed to work and prints are available from my society6 shop.

In other news, the last set of wedding photographs that I did, which I agonised over for so long were delivered to much praise (phew) and as a result I have had an enquiry about shooting another wedding next year. Sales are picking up slowly on the society6 site and a friend in PR has decided to take me by the scruff of the neck and put a plan in place for promoting my photography more widely. We’ll see how that goes. But first a holiday… Back soon

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There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.
Jean-Paul Sartre

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The Scottish Play

Bamburgh castle

This evening I am off to the theatre to see Macbeth at the Liverpool Everyman. It is the last production to be staged at the Everyman before the theatre is pulled down and a new one raised in its place; it also marks the return to the stage after many years of the popular television actor, Twitterer and all-round nice guy David Morrissey. Morrissey started his career at the Everyman and it is is fitting that this final production should see once of its own returning, hopefully triumphantly. The Everyman is a great little theatre and I used to go there all the time as a student, given its proximity to the university; unfortunately most of the time I was there to drink in its famous cellar bar than to watch a performance, although I did go to many.

Macbeth is probably my favourite of all Shakespeare’s  plays, probably because I never had to study it. I know Lear, Othello and Hamlet inside out through constant appraisal at school but the first time I saw Macbeth it was not on the stage. My first Macbeth was John Finch in Roman Polankski’s 1971 film version and I think I saw it as part of Alex Cox’s much-missed Moviedrome on BBC2 some time in the mid 1980s. It was filmed in Northumberland – as was Polanski’s Cul de Sac – which is my favourite place in the UK and used the imposing Bamburgh castle as its backdrop (pictured). Whilst Cul de Sac used Holy Island as its striking location Macbeth used Bamburgh. Here was Macbeth as gothic horror film, which is probably why I like it so much and still do to this day. It is well worth seeking out, if only for the novelty of seeing a very young Martin Shaw as Banquo and an even younger Keith Chegwin – yes THAT Keith Chegwin – as Fleance.

I think I like Macbeth because despite its horrors it is also a very intimate portrait of a marriage and the very definition of the old adage that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Plus it fair rattles along, hardly pausing for breath amidst the carnage. The Everyman production has been getting good reviews so fingers crossed we are in for a good night.

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Peckforton sunset

Peckferton sunset 

This is probably the new record in terms of time between pressing the shutter button to image on blog. I took this just over an hour ago on the way home from work. It was so beautiful I just had to stop the car and I hope you agree that it was worth it. Being a Friday evening, this will be the obligatory short blog post but in this case I feel more than justified in letting the picture stand alone with little interference from yours truly. The picture is the sun setting over the Cheshire plain today, the 4th March 2011. On the left is Peckforton castle most famous for being the location for the Patrick Bergin version of Robin Hood that failed next to Kevin Costner’s and also the Doctor Who story ‘The Time Warrior’ which starred Jon Pertwee. Out of shot on the right is the far more authentic and ancient Beeston castle. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the wide-angle lens with me in order to get both in and the sun was that little bit closer to Peckferton. It seems like Spring is finally upon us and the sun is hanging around that little bit longer; certainly just long enough for me to take this picture.

I’ve taken about 20-30 of this view this evening and this is the first one I’ve looked at so I’m hoping the others are just as good. Off out tonight to see friends’ band (another manifestation of mid-life crisis) and to have a few beers. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing have a lovely weekend; it’s all started rather promisingly…

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The gloaming

Dinas bran

When the night has come …And the land is dark …And the moon is the only light we see

Stand by me, Ben E. King

This blog post follows on from yesterdays as it’s one of the images from Dinas Bran (or Crow Crag) castle that I was talking about. Obviously Dinas Bran is the Welsh, and original, name but I must admit to liking Crow Crag; I have no idea if the Welsh name translates directly to the English but either way is a great name for a castle, particularly one from the mid 13th century. As I said in the blog yesterday I have attempted to photograph Dinas Bran before with limited success. After two attempts I now realise that this is one of those rare occasions when an overcast day or an early morning is required as the castle is so close to the mountains that the sun sets behind that the sunlight in the afternoon is harsh and unforgiving, even when compensating for exposure. This time I got to the top of the peak where the castle is late afternoon, around 3.30 pm; even then the sun was still going strong. Being a lovely day there was a lot of people up there – walkers and photographers – but I decided to hang around and wait until the sun had finally disappeared beyond the mountains.

Once the sunlight has gone then time is of the essence. The sun may have disappeared but residual light still remains before it finally vanishes over the sea-level horizon. It is this residual light that enables you to take photographs at all during the magic hour or, to use a Middle English term, the gloaming. Isn’t language great? Gloaming is such an evocative word and fits what it describes so well. Here’s the dictionary definition:

gloaming [ˈgləʊmɪŋ] n

Poetic twilight or dusk

[Old English glōmung, from glōm; related to Old Norse glāmr moon]

For a 13th century castle this fits quite nicely, as does its description as ‘poetic’. Dusk is a great word as well (and the name of a much underrated album by The The), although ‘twilight’ is now saddled with far more sillier baggage. It may be a while before anyone can use the word ‘twilight’ again without conjuring up the world of fey, grey, bloodless, sexless, six-packed vampires.

As you know, it’s impossible for me to get too technical on this blog as I would quickly be exposed as not knowing what I am talking about but I would hope that it is now obvious to regular readers that you cannot take pictures in fading light without a) using a tripod or b) dialling the camera’s ISO number up really high.* For this image I used a tripod to ensure that no camera shake could be introduced and also so that I could shoot at a low ISO number. I do not have a particularly good tripod (that’s next on the list of expensive camera equipment I covet) but the cheap and cheerful one I do have is OK for the time being.

So, believe it or not, this picture was taken in the dark, the exposure lasting 8 seconds. This is why it looks the way it does. You can tell its dark as the street lights are on in the town of Llangollen below but the fading light has a really interesting effect on colours. The light hitting the camera sensor here is residual light still visible over the tops of the hills despite the sun having gone; in addition there is reflected moonlight – as I said yesterday the moon was out all day on Saturday and very, very bright despite only half of it being visible. The result of this is that the sky takes on those marvellous purple and blue tones and the grass is that mustardy green. This is the same technique I used to take my not-quite-award-winning picture of Chester cathedral. With that picture I just lucked out; I just happened to be there at exactly the right moment. This picture was planned and hopefully it shows. It also works marvellously well in black and white.

Dinas bran b&w

Here are a couple more images that I took at the same time; one has a nice little Star Trek vibe going on but without Joan Collins:

Town on the edge of forever

Arch 2

That’s it for today. Comments are very welcome (as always) as are requests for print quotes [shameless plug]

*Technical bit: The ISO number indicates how fast a camera’s image sensor absorbs light. Therefore, in low light, increasing the ISO number will mean that the camera’s ability to absorb light in the dark is increased. But there is a payoff. Increased ISO means increased noise (grain) in your images because to take a picture in low light the shutter needs to stay open for longer and, therefore, the slightest motion results in image blur. Put simply, when hand-holding a camera if the subject of your picture moves when you are using a slow shutter speed then they will appear blurred (assuming that is that you manage to keep the camera stable). If you don’t manage to keep the camera stable when hand holding then the entire photo will be blurred (also referred to as camera shake). So increasing the ISO helps to protect against blur but the higher the ISO number the greater the noise. Modern DSLRs are getting better and better at reducing grain at high ISO numbers when hand holding the camera but if you want true image sharpness then a tripod is the only way to go.

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An Englishman’s home is his castle

Mow cop castle

"For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge]" The Institutes of the Laws of England, 1628

Nowadays, the old maxim about Englishmen and castles has a somewhat different meaning than when it was enshrined in law in the 17th century. Then, it simply meant  that no one could enter a home unless specifically invited by the male resident of a household. More recently, it has been invoked by certain areas of the British press to support the idea that each householder has an unalienable right to do as he pleases in his own home (most notably when farmer Tony Martin shot and killed an intruder who had broken into his house). Note that English women seem to be conspicuous by their absence in this scenario; perhaps understandably in the 17th century but less so now.

As an English man I do not consider my house to be a castle, it has no turrets or a moat for a start,  although it’s definitely a place of refuge and security for myself and my family and our chickens and Ziggy the guinea pig. In today’s climate I consider myself quite lucky to actually have a house at all given the difficulties faced by  first-time buyers since the credit crunch hit the housing market so hard and the lenders stopped lending. Even before I joined the ranks of the mortgaged, I have always been lucky enough my whole life to always have a home to go to, be it my parents’ house, a hall of residence, a student house or rented accommodation. Others are not so lucky, and I fear that once the changes to the housing benefit rules kick in we may well see a rise in the amount of people left homeless or forced to relocate.

I am also [touch wood] lucky in that in my life so far I have only been the victim of a burglary once. This was when I was living in a shared house in London; someone kicked the door in when we were all at work and made off with a disparate collection of objects including my video recorder (yes it was a long time ago) and, somewhat inexplicably, a pea green suit that a housemate of mine had bought and that we had taken the piss out every time he wore it. I even joked to the police that the burglar would not be difficult to find as I would know that suit anywhere [he was not impressed]. I know people that have been burgled who have been left devastated by the thought that someone had been in their house; I was nonplussed. For a start it wasn’t my house. Also, whoever broke in obviously just grabbed what they could carry. There was no damage; no-one was in when it happened.

However, since having children I have become more security conscious and make a point of locking everything up and setting the alarm before going to bed each night. The importance of this was brought into sharp focus recently when my daughter, aged 8, suddenly and inexplicably developed what are commonly known as ‘night terrors’. Common in children, night terrors are actually more terrifying for the family of the person experiencing them than the person themselves.  While still asleep she would scream – blood curdling, ear splitting screams – and shout thereby waking up everyone in the house but herself. So we sat her down and asked all the pertinent questions: Are you upset about something at school, has anyone at school said anything nasty to you, are you worried about anything at home, etc, etc. The answer was no to everything we asked.

And so the night terrors continued. Finally, after we discussed going to the doctor she finally confessed. Recent storms had brought the cast iron drain pipe down off the front of the house together with a well-established wisteria. Therefore we had to cut what remained of the vegetation right back and put two new trellises up; these trellises run upwards and to the side of my daughter’s bedroom window. Even though there had been trellises there before they had been covered in wisteria and were not visible. It seems she had got it into her head that someone could climb up the trellises and into her bedroom when she was asleep; this had been compounded by a Newsround story about burglary [as an aside, my kids learn everything they know of the world from Newsround; it pulls no punches and although I generally think this is a good thing there is a thin dividing line been informing & education and scaring the bee Jesus out of children].

In one of my ‘random thoughts’ that head this blog I state that having kids is the scariest thing in the world and that I want to give them the happiest childhood they can have before the shit kicks in. They are now at the stage where they realise that not everyone in the world is a good person, that evil does exist and that the people they love (particularly grandparents will not always be around). Providing a secure environment is the best you can do but as I have said in a previous blog there is a very fine line between protecting and restricting, The night terrors have stopped as quickly as they came; all it took was a demonstration of the window locks and the fact that the trellises wouldn’t hold a child’s weight let alone anybody bigger. But it brought things home. Maybe the old adage should be extended to children as well?

This post has been a bit of a uphill struggle. Words just wouldn’t come and I had to resort to an old photograph; so this is the third in a loose series of black and white images. This is Mow Cop castle on the Cheshire/Derbyshire border – more of a folly that a bona fide castle. I really need to take some new pictures and keep hoping the weather is going to pick up. Not sure how long I can keep up posting every day but hopefully see you tomorrow…

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Blow out and break down at Mow Cop

Wall spikes, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

First up many apologies for neglecting the blog of late; all will be revealed (and the blog title explained) in this post I promise. Previously, I have expounded at length that sometimes things go incredibly well in photography and sometimes they go incredibly badly. As I am sure you are all aware this is also very true in life.

Last Wednesday my wife’s car broke down leaving me stranded for several hours in the freezing cold somewhere in Ellesmere Port as I foolishly agreed to go out and sit with it and wait for the recovery van. It’s a long tale of woe in which two separate recovery vehicles had to come out and which resulted in a huge bill for £800 of repairs…

On Friday I had a day off and intended to spend all day taking photos. I had my itinerary planned, starting at Mow Cop Castle (see picture) a grand folly/summer house in the shape of a castle on the Cheshire/Staffordshire border. I set out quite early but unfortunately the weather wasn’t great and the pictures I took weren’t either (this one is probably the best and the others can be seen here on my Flickr stream). On returning to the car (my car this time) I was greeted with not one, oh no, but two flat tyres. It seems the long climb up to Mow Cop was not one my car was going to do without complaining about it. Of course one flat tyre is an inconvenience but thankfully there is a spare; two flat tyres is a different matter involving recovery vehicles. Also, when you are stranded in a car park high up on a hill, the address of which you don’t know, then the fun is tripled. In other words by the time I got home, organised new tyres (£160), etc, the day was over.

Still, I thought, at least it’s the weekend. And I have a stay in the luxury 4* Hard Days Night hotel in Liverpool (courtesy of Stephen King competition win) to look forward to… Admittedly, the hotel stay was marvellous (although if you don’t like the Beatles and city centre noise don’t even think of staying there) but on Sunday morning I started to feel a little peaky and by Sunday afternoon I was bed-ridden and dosed up on painkillers AND antibiotics.

So it’s been a week of physical and mechanical breakdown in which all I have achieved is 11 pictures of mock castle under a glowering sky. I was going to call this blog post ‘Blow up and Break down’ in homage to the 60s film starring David Hemmings as a swinging London photographer but I soon realised that not only was it not accurate it was also not reflective of my shit week [although the more observant among you will notice that I now reference an underrated Brian De Palma film starring John Travolta). To be honest I cannot wait for this week to be over…

This weekend I deliver my framed pictures to the good people at Didsbury Life for a mini exhibition and next week I undertake my first commissioned piece of photography, the outcome of which will either lead on to more interesting things or demoralise me further.

On a final note, any other amateur photographers based in the UK who are reading this should have a look at this and send off to their MP. As @Glinner says on Twitter ‘The planned photography laws show copyright is a one-way street. They want to take your stuff for free, but make you pay for their stuff’.

Do you like Castles? A walk to Dinas Bran

Castell Dinas Bran, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

For as long as I care to remember I have been going to Llangollen, either for day trips or passing through en route to somewhere else. This lovely Welsh town is only 30 minutes away from my home town of Chester and is well worth a visit if you have never been. Llangollen, as you may know, is also home of the International Eisteddfod.

On a hill overlooking Llangollen, Castell Dinas Bran (known as Crow Castle in English) occupies a spectacular position on an imposing foreboding crag. Looking at it logically, this was an ideal spot for a castle, you wonder how any enemy would ever have got up there, surrounded as it is on all sides by spectacular views. Any castle dwellers would have seen them coming in no time. It was home to the native Welsh princes of Powys but apparently only occupied the hilltop for a few decades before beginning to crumble. Maybe it’s location was too foreboding, a little bit too remote…

Certainly, even today, the site is difficult to get too but it is open to public exploration, although not protected by the National Trust or Welsh Heritage as far as I can see; in fact the fields around it are very obviously working farmland.

At the age of 41, and despite numerous trips to Llangollen as mentioned previously, I decided to climb to the top of Dinas Bran last weekend for the first time, accompanied by my 8-year-old son. Finding the route to the top is not easy unless you know what you are looking for but fortunately there are some guides on the Internet. On climbing to the summit you really do get a sense of what a difficult place it must have been to get to and to live in, especially in the 12th century. But once you get to the top the views are genuinely spectacular, at least they were on the day we climbed, thanks to last weekend’s Indian Summer.

So onto the photo. I am really pleased with this one. I think the sky looks amazing if hazy (it was a hot day). I took the picture on a tripod with an aperture of f/22 to get as much detail in as possible. I don’t know if it’s my best picture but it’s certainly one I am extremely proud of in a ‘I can’t believe I took that’ sort of way. The picture shows Castell Dinas Bran from the side, and I’m pretty pleased about getting the people in to give a sense of perspective. There are more pictures from our walk up to Dinas Bran on my Flickr stream, please take a look and feel free to comment.

Update: A good friend and proper photographer has suggested that this picture could do with a crop; namely to remove the dark area in the lower left of the frame and to lose some surplus space on the right. I have no doubt that he’s correct so I’ll have to tinker with it later. I think I just got so carried away that I didn’t want to change it in any way.

For more on castle Dinas Bran and how to get there you could do worse than look here

Time travel and still life

Time travel, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Busy weekend this weekend photography wise… On Saturday we went en famille to Chirk Castle in North Wales for know other reason other than the weather was glorious and entrance was free (National Trust open day). Walking round the castle, we came across a man in full chain mail who was talking about the castle and its history whilst also showing off an array of weaponry and helmetry (is that a word? It is now).

As a father to an 8-year old boy obsessed with all things fighting we duly spent a long time talking to the knight whilst the kids tried on helmets and waved swords. Whilst the knight was explaining some particularly gruesome torture to the gathered throng I noticed a collection of his other demonstration objects on the window sill. Without thinking I took a picture and didn’t think twice about it.

However, on getting home I was surprised to find its a pretty effective picture; certainly in terms of conveying the atmosphere of a medieval castle. I’ve never attempted a still life before that didn’t involve flowers and I’m pretty pleased how this has turned out. There was just enough light coming through the window to illuminate the objects and to negate the use of a flash. But at the same time the extremities of the image are in darkness (The Dark Ages? honk!).

Later on we walked through the gardens and I took some pictures of a pair of statues which I believe represented a Greek myth (but which I don’t know – any classics readers out there). Anyway, the statues struck me as interesting because not only were they incredibly life like, one of them was blindfolded and the other had her hands bound behind her back. Both statues were female nudes in, I think bronze. You can see pictures of them on my Flickr feed.

One of the things I like about Flick is that people can comment on your pictures and when you are an amateur photographer there is nothing better than unsolicited positive feedback. So, I was pleasantly surprised this morning to find that one of my statue pics had been added as a favourite by some one I didn’t know. However, on clicking on their user name it appears that here was someone with a ‘thing’ about blindfolding. It’s my own fault for naming the picture ‘Blindfold statue’ and it’s certainly getting some views but I now worry that this might be for the wrong reason. Certainly, said statues did not strike me as being particularly erotic, certainly when compared to some of the great statues of antiquity. So there you go, maybe I have found my niche at last 😉

All comments welcome as ever…

A grand day out at Beeston castle

Ramparts, originally uploaded by Zardoz67.

Lots of opportunities this weekend to get out with the camera! Now this may seem heartless given that I have a young family but let me explain. Saturday was my daughter’s 7th birthday and she was having a party, meticulously planned to the nth degree, and we were expecting up to 14 7-year-old girls to descend on our house for craft activities, dancing to High School Musical/Hannah Montana/Abba (delete as appropriate). One key part of her plan was that her 8-year-old brother was not be there following the pool party debacle of the year before where he had taken his role of life guard a tad too seriously. And, before you ask, it was a paddling pool.

So I was tasked with taking son out for the afternoon while wife and grandma wrangled the tweenies. Seeing that Beeston castle in Cheshire had a ‘Gladiators and Warriors’ event going on we headed there as I thought it would be right up his street, and so it proved what with lots of fighting gladiators and marching Romans. In between combat sessions we walked up to the castle itself.

Beeston castle is known locally as the ‘Castle of the Rock’ and the climb to the top of its rocky promontory yields incredible views over eight counties, from the Pennines to the Welsh mountains (on a clear day, which it was, you can see Liverpool Cathedral and Jodrell Bank radio telescope). Legend also has it that Beeston still guards King Richard II’s lost treasure although no-one has ever found it. The castle itself was begun in 1225 and has more than 40 acres of woodland trails to navigate.

I took this picture just before taking the bridge to enter the castle itself and you can make out the Cheshire plain and the Welsh mountains beyond. Unfortunately, not much of the castle is left but it is worth it for the views alone.

Heading back down the hill we spent the rest of the afternoon watching several suspiciously overweight gladiators being despatched, much to my son’s excitement (photo can be seen on Flickr titled ‘Gladiatori’). Hope you like the picture and comments are welcome. Thanks!