I had in mind to make a post about the London Eye a while back. This was going to be based on some old pictures I had taken when we lived and worked in London. Since then, we made a trip to the UK and ended up staying very close to the attraction. I remember when they were initially building it. The whole structure was laid out flat on the river and, only when it was complete, did they winch it up into the vertical position.
It was a huge hit when it opened and it remains so today. The opening of The Shard has provided a new location for people to get an elevated view of London but this hasn’t stopped the visitors lining up. While we were visiting, England was preparing for the start of the Rugby World Cup and the pods on the Eye had the flags of the competing nations applied to the undersides. This added some color to the structure.
Shortly before we left London, I headed out early in the morning to get some shots of the Eye. It was interesting to see the different shapes it offers depending on where you view it from. It wasn’t in use at the time so things were being readied for the day with some of the mechanisms being tested and the pods were stationery. I didn’t get a chance to shoot it at night which was a shame but that wasn’t why I was there. However, it was nice to see it again and to see that it is going strong, long after its original out of service date has passed. I hope it will remain a feature for a long time to come.
A short while ago, Nancy and I returned from a vacation in the UK. We had an excellent time and ended up seeing and doing a ton of interesting things. Consequently, the blog is going to have a stream of things from the UK showing up in the coming weeks. This is just the start.
In putting together a recent post about the kite festival in San Ramon I was taken back to my kite flying exploits when I lived in Lancashire. I had always been a kite fan as a kid and had a Peter Powell stunt kite at some point. In the early 90s, the designs of kites really got inventive. I bought my first flexifoil kite when I lived in Lytham and had a lot of fun flying it on the green by the sea. A few of my friends also got into the flying and they bought the same kite. The design meant it was easy to stack them on the same lines which meant you could have quite a lot of pull if the wind was good.
We weren’t the only ones flying though. Some other people were flying on the sands at St Annes so we headed down there one time to join in making quite a stack. My flexi was 6’ in span. We had about ten of them on the line with two 8’ span kites and one 10’ on top. The wind was not strong but this was quite a combination.
We all had a go at flying this. I found that I could turn it one way a lot better than the other as a result of lacking arm strength on one side. We all got dragged along by the combination. Retreating along the beach needed a couple of guys to drag you back. My mate, Rich, got caught by a big gust and went rolling down the beach. We realized later that his watch had been ripped off and we never found it. I guess kite flying is more dangerous than we realized!
This is a very self indulgent post (as if having a blog isn’t self indulgent enough). Many years ago, we spent our honeymoon in Cornwall. Just outside the town we stayed in was a small village. We drove through it many times on our way to something else. However, one time I did think it necessary to stop and take a picture with the village’s sign.
There are plenty of historic railways in the UK but most of them are a tourist attraction and operate at limited speed to allow people to experience something from days gone by. However, there is a slightly more unusual railway on the Kent coast. The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway runs along the Kent coast from Hythe down to Dungeness. It is a narrow gauge railway that, while popular with tourist, does provide a year round service. It is even contracted by the council to take kids to a local school.
The railway has been in operation for decades. In the Second World War they even had an armored train for coastal defense. The service was restored after the war. Most of the locomotives date from before the war and are outstanding scale steam locos. These are a few shots I got of the trains from a crossing in Hythe about ten years ago.
As a kid growing up by the sea in the UK, I had a fascination with lifeboats which remains to this day. For those of you not from the UK, the sea rescue service in the UK might come as a bit of a surprise. It is a charitable organization, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) formed in 1824 which has continued to this day to provide rescue services around the coast of the UK and The Republic of Ireland. The government has no role in its operations and it is entirely funded by donations. Various members of my family have been involved in fund raising and serving in the crews and I remain a member of the institution despite having left the UK over ten years ago.
The Isle of Wight, where I grew up, had two offshore lifeboats. Cowes, the town in which I lived for many years, is home to the Inshore Lifeboat Centre for the RNLI where they build the boats while Bembridge and Yarmouth both have boats. Yarmouth’s boat is permanently afloat in the harbor while Bembridge’s boat is housed in a boathouse at the end of a pier with a slipway direct into the water.
A few years ago we were in Bembridge for a family wedding. We took a trip down to Lane End where the lifeboat is based and we timed it well since they have a practice launch once a week. I wasn’t going to miss this.
I actually nearly blew the shot. We were on the shore waiting for the boat to come down the slip. I figured I should get as many shots as possible since I wasn’t going to get a second chance. As it happens, the boat goes down the slipway a bit more slowly than I had anticipated. I started firing as soon as I saw it. On the body I had in those days, the buffer wasn’t huge and I managed to fill it up. However, I did still get some shots as it entered the water.
Since that trip, the old boathouse and pier have been replaced with a new facility. I have a shot of it taken from the air. However, if we go back sometime soon, I would really like to set up something with the crew to get shots of the new boat launching from the new ramp. Ideally, I would like to shoot from a boat out at the end of the ramp. I would aim to have a second body mounted on the boathouse with Pocketwizards mounted on both to get simultaneous shots from two angles with both the side on splash and the overhead view of the boat entering the water. I have relatives who know members of the crew. Whether we can make anything happen I don’t know but it would be cool to do!
Another famous Cotswold village about which I knew nothing is Painswick. I am beginning to think that I am clueless about my own country! Even so, I managed to get us there (even if a little GPS assistance was involved).
Painswick is another of those old towns that boomed in a time before industrialization when the local production and access to a river meant it was well suited to commerce. Apparently the town flourished in more than one area if the local signs are anything to go by but if you want to know the details, Google will be more helpful to you than I. The town has an interesting selection of old buildings a winding streets but the area that was of most interest to me was around the church.
As befits a community that had a lot of cash, they had a big church. The idea of buying your way into heaven has obviously been around a long time! While the church is impressive, what really catches the eye is the topiary collection in the churchyard. There are many yew trees that have been trimmed and shaped together over a long period of time. The result is many shapes and archways across the paths all formed from the trees. The town may not be the booming center it once was but it still knows how to take care of itself and these displays really impress.
The rest of the town is worth a wander around too and that is what we did for a couple of hours. If you are in the area, pay it a visit. Then you will know as much about it as me!
Nancy had looked at some possible places to visit while we were in the Cotswolds and one of them was Bibury. I had never heard of the place but it turns out that this is one of the most photographed places in the UK. I guess I should have known about it but I didn’t. The photogenic area is a row of old cottages that are down near the river. We certainly took a look but we also wandered around the rest of the village which is pretty without needing the most visited sections.
The heart of the village is the church. It was a pretty nice looking building but surrounded by some places that were either not too appealing or were being rebuilt and were covered in scaffolding. A little careful angling meant I could avoid the worst of the backgrounds. The graveyard was also an interesting place to look around and see just how old some of the grave were.
We did return to the most visited part of the village. Coach loads of people would show up every once in a while so we did our best to avoid them and find times when they weren’t filling up the view. Also, it was an effort to try and minimize the cars in the shot. When you live in an old home, you don’t have parking included. Therefore, you park outside your house. Perfectly reasonable for the homeowner but having colorful modern cars is not what you want when taking a picture of centuries old buildings!
I can certainly see why the place is so popular with the tourists. It really is about as typical of an English country village. No idea why I had never heard of it but now I have so all is good.
One of our transit days in the UK had us moving from the Cotswolds back to Surrey for my Dad’s birthday party. En route, we decided to take a detour to an old favorite location of ours. When we lived in Sussex, we were not too far from Sheffield Park. This is an estate that has been divided up with the National Trust owning the gardens and parkland and the house being privately owned. The gardens are a delight to visit.
Over many years, a collection of different botanical species have been cultivated at the gardens so they have a great diversity of plants and trees including some sequoias. The gardens are built around a series of lakes that make the whole place look just gorgeous. Some of the older trees are really solid and gnarly looking. Nancy thought it looked like something from the Wizard of Oz. One of the National Trust guys told us to look for a spot that had a great view back up the lakes to the house. It took a bit of searching since the tree cover is quite dense but we found it. It was certainly a nice view.
Great to get back to this place after being away for so long and to see it on a lovely day was even better. If you are ever thinking of visiting, they apparently have a nice day trip from London to get there. You can take the normal train to East Grinstead and from there the Bluebell Railway runs a steam service to Sheffield Park. A shuttle from the station operates on busy day but it is not a long walk if not. Not done this myself but it sounds like a nice way to make a day trip of the whole thing.
Our stay in the Cotswolds needed a base and Burford was the place we chose. It is Oxfordshire rather than Gloucestershire but just about sneaks in on the edge of an area that I don’t think has a hard boundary anyway. Burford is an old market town and looks just like you would expect a Cotswold town to look. The buildings are all Cotswold stone and fit your image of what you would want. Apart from providing a nice location and a great hotel, it also provided the opportunity to take some walks without having to drive anywhere.
One walk we took was a loop starting and finishing at the hotel. It was a lovely day for a walk (and not just because I could see Hercules and A330s flying from nearby RAF Brize Norton in the distance!). The sun also seemed to be attracting a large number of pheasants. Every time we came around a corner, there seemed to be more pheasants hanging out in our path.
The walk provided a variety of sights as we went. Some wide open hillsides which had been harvested so were easy to cross, wooded areas, small valleys with trees either side and riverside sections meant the outing was constantly interesting. We saw some very old churches, some long views and a selection of wildlife.
The river had swans and geese that were interested in our presence and one section of the footpath included some young cattle. They were not huge since they were young but young cattle are still pretty chunky. While they were busy eating, we appeared to be of no interest. However, once we got a little closer, they got curious and came to greet us. We took a little care since, while they were not going to harm us, they can push you around without realizing it.
The last part of the walk brought us back in through the village and to the hotel. Given how much we were eating and drinking on this trip, it was a good thing to get some exercise in at last!