Picture this: In the misty morning…

First posted February 2015

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There are many beauty spots in North Devon that I’ve visited again and again to take photos, but it occurred to me today that I’ve taken more pictures in one place than almost any other.
Although it isn’t, strictly speaking, one place.

About eighteen months ago I posted a photo-blog based around my journey to work, along the A361 North Devon Link Road from Barnstaple to South Molton, on the edge of Exmoor National Park.
Since then I’ve taken dozens of photos of the sunsets, sunrises, landscapes and trees on and around the twisty, undulating ribbon of tarmac that winds through the wooded and field-checkered countryside.
Happily, they have proved very popular, both here on the blog and on Facebook, (where I have recently set up my very own public photography group to showcase any and all types of photographic art) but most of these shots are captured whilst making a hurried stop at the side of the road or a quick detour on the way home in the evening.
So today, having awoken at the unreasonable hour of 7.30, I took a traffic-free trip into the misty, frost-sparkly morning and went exploring.

Here’s one of two tunes I’ve picked to soundtrack my journey:

My first stop found me on the hills above the A361, looking down from the road to West Buckland

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…from whence I made my way towards Exmoor and my main objective for the morning’s adventure, the viaduct that spans the spectacular Castle Hill Estate at Filleigh.

I travel over the viaduct nearly every day and yet, apart from the time I had a job driving a large van, I’ve never been able to take advantage of the views afforded by its lofty elevation.

Until today, that is.

I parked in a lay-by just uphill from where the viaduct spans the steep-sided valley and walked back along the hedgerow, finally reaching the point where I could look over the parapet, onto the misty landscape below and across the treetops of the wooded hills that stretch off into the hazy distance.

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But I wasn’t satisfied with that.
What I wanted to do was to get some shots from under the viaduct itself.
Which brings me to the second tune with which to accompany this photographic odyssey:

Clambering over the crash barrier and down through the tangled undergrowth, I eventually came to a farm track that led me under the towering stone supports, into the dappled pine forest and fields that border the road.

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I climbed back up the steep slope of the valley to the road, sounds of traffic just beginning to disturb the peace of morning, heading home with the usual feeling of privilege I get when I’ve had a chance to witness the world as only the early bird sees it.

Picture this: Tapeley Park…

First posted January 2013

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Tapeley Park house and gardens is a unique and fascinating place, on the road between Barnstaple and Bideford.

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Tapeley Park house, seen from the Italian terrace garden.

The estate has been in the same family since the 1700’s, and is now owned by local anti-corporate campaigner and political activist, Hector Christie, who runs it on a sustainable basis, and he is proud of his Green credentials, supplying the local community – as well as the estate cafe – with organic vegetables, and using recycled materials wherever possible.

The house has it’s own claim to fame – the fact that it has an important collection of William Morris furniture – ironically preserved over the years, due to the house being unheated and mainly closed up for years, as revealed on a C4 documentary.

But it has always been the grounds – which include a Victorian kitchen garden and experimental permaculture garden – that make us go back time and again.

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The lake is a beautiful place for a picnic.

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Many exotic plants grow in the mild, sheltered climate.

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Neatly trimmed arbours lead you on…

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…to surprises around each corner.

There are animals too. Apart from the wildlife scurrying in the undergrowth, the estate keeps rare breed pigs, sheep, and highland cattle.

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Three little pigs.

The hard landscaping has been lovingly restored, most notably on the steps leading down to the Italian terrace garden…

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…and yet, there are still echoes of the past, lending a eerie calm to quiet, reflective corners.

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There is even a labyrinth, made from the stone shards of an exploded obelisk, victim of a 1931 lightning strike.

A fascinating and, in some indefinable way, enchanted place, it’s somewhere to return to again and again, always discovering something new.

If you’re ever down this way, why not go and see for yourself, you never know what you might find…

Picture this: Historic Winchester…

First posted November 2013

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Winchester in Hampshire is one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in the country, having had settlements of one sort or another there since the iron age.

The Romans later made it one of their most important towns, extending it until it was the fifth largest town in Roman Britain.

After the fall of the empire however Winchester, like many other English towns of the day, fell into decline.

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King Alfred. Great, apparently.

The Anglo Saxons rebuilt much of the town, (Alfred the Great himself laid out the street plan) making it the capital of the Kingdom of Wessex and much of their architecture remains, including this ancient defensive feature, the Westgate. It is one of two remaining gateways, the other being Kingsgate.

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Partially rebuilt in the twelfth century, this magnificent fortified gateway (featuring the earliest examples in Britain of inverted archers’ slits, designed specially for hand-held cannon) was still in use as late as 1959, when the High Street was diverted round it.

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Next I went on to the Great Hall, which is all that remains on the site of the old castle that once stood here.

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Originally built around 1225, the imposing hall looms over the large open courtyard that leads to the main entrance, the intricate stonework forming almost geometric patterns on the walls.

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Inside, the cavernous space is surprisingly light, the weak wintery sunlight filtering in through beautifully crafted stained-glass windows.

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On one giant wall there hangs the 12th century recreation of King Arthur’s Round Table

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.. and opposite, on the far wall, HRH Prince Charles’s “Wedding Gates”, made to commemorate the 1981 royal wedding.

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Queens Victoria and Elizabeth are both immortalised in wooden sculpture, Liz getting a more restrained make-over than poor old Vicky, who looks like a teak Davros.

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Finally a stroll down to the cathedral.

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Winchester Cathedral was originally built in 1079, but was added to right up until the 16th century, giving it many differing architectural styles.

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Then it was time to meander back to the car to continue my journey homewards, via a café for a much-needed coffee, taking a last chance to snap a few interesting shots.

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We bid farewell to Winchester as King Alfred saluted the setting sun…

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..and what better to play us on our way than The New Vaudeville Band with “Winchester Cathedral”. (after “Peek-a-boo”)
Take it away boys…