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[Me]

Touring Britain bit by bit with a pair of boots, a few bicycles, a lot of trains and a bag of lenses. I take pictures and then I write about them.

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abandoned places and things architecture bristol coastal dorset events highlands history industrial lake district lakes london mountains not the uk photo essays photography politics protests rural rural decay science scotland somerset structures the north uk urban urban decay wales westcountryall tags


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Sun, 2 Sep 2012

On Calton Hill

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When arriving in Edinburgh, whether by two wheels from over the Moorfoot Hills or up the towpath on the Union Canal, or especially by Lowland Sleeper arriving on time before breakfast is served, one can't miss out a first five minute detour to greet the city from atop Calton Hill.

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To survey it all laid out around you in the dawn twilight or warm evening sunshine of arrival time.

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Survey the trains and traffic snaking and scuttling between the spires and turrets of cathedrals and castles, and the towers and domes of railway stations and municipal chambers.

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Survey the chimneys and cranes and colourful council flats standing out in their sea of Georgian terraces and simple sturdy grey Victorian tenement blocks offset in the spring by streets and squares of trees.

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Stretching out inland to the great mound of the Pentland Hills.

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Flowing around the jagged lump of Arthur's Seat to Musselburgh and Portobello.

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And up against the Firth of Forth and the North Sea, and out into it at Leith Docks and Granton Harbour

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Where giant boats, rocky islands, and drilling platforms rest lit against the Fife coast and the distant Ochil Hills.

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A brilliant cityscape, all to be surveyed from beside the structures and monuments of the World Heritage city, five minutes walk from the railway station.

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More pictures can be found in the Edinburgh gallery

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View Larger Map


[Tag] Tags: cityscapes, edinburgh, scotland, uk, urban, world heritage sites


Sun, 26 Aug 2012

The dismal town of Yeovil

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It's difficult to find a nice thing to say about Yeovil, the nearest proper town to where I grew up.

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But I could go on at length about the awfulness of it. The miserable generic shopping precincts with a skin of decaying and derelict buildings...

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...trapped inside a fortress of traffic crashing through the town centre...

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...on dual carriageways with municipal flower arrangements draped over central reservation guardrails.

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I don't think I've ever found anything there with any great character, any beauty, any real kind of life, only boxes speeding through from roundabout to roundabout, cutting the town into perfectly isolated chunks of bland housing and bland light industry, no interest or activity amongst it.

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I was given some driving lessons there once and, though I quickly stopped them, I think they left me permanently with a Pavlovian response to getting in a car: there is always a fear that I will end up in Yeovil.

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I know, it's just a dismal small town, they're not uncommon. But the west country is fortunate to mostly escape them, and there are none so dismal as Yeovil in this part of Britain.

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[Tag] Tags: crap towns, flowers on dual carriageways, somerset, uk, urban decay, urban, westcountry, yeovil


Sun, 15 Jul 2012

The Crinan Canal

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Not your usual inland navigation: the 14km canal from sea to sea — Ardrishaig on Loch Gilp in the east and Crinan on the Sound of Jura in the west, cutting across the top of the long and narrow Kintyre-Knapdale peninsula — built in 1794 for commercial sea going sailing vessels.

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Later replaced by steamboats, the Clyde Puffers, cargo carriers between Glasgow and the Hebridean islands and isolated West Highland coastal communities.

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And now in turn largely replaced by private yachts, taking advantage of the 100km shortcut and bypass of the exposed waters around the Kintyre peninsula that are provided by the canal.

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And by towpath tourists taking in the views to the islands and out over the Moine Mhòr to the mountains.

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View Larger Map


[Tag] Tags: canals, highlands, history, industrial, rural, scotland, uk


Sun, 8 Jul 2012

In Credit Crunch Caernarfon

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Caernarfon has been a town of political and economic importance. Positioned on the fertile and mineral rich territory at a small natural harbour at the mouth of the Afon Seiont north of Snowdonia, standing guard over the Menai Strait opposite the Isle of Anglesey, the Celts settled here, later to be ruled over by the Romans from their Caernarfon fort. When the Romans left, the Kingdom of Gwynedd emerged in North Wales, until, after centuries of Norman and Plantagenet coveting and encroachment, Edward I took Wales and filled it with his castles to impose his control. Caernarfon was chosen for one of the most substantial fortifications, with an extremely expensive new walled town and garrison built to administer the new English-style shire county of Caernarfonshire. The Royal Town's historical status is reflected in its hosting the investiture ceremonies for Princes of Wales.

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But Princes of Wales aren't made all that often. The harbour is tiny and shallow by today's standards. The Menai Strait needs no guard. The garrison has been empty for centuries. The railway came and went already, and the modern road is more curse than asset. And so with the latest recession it has been looking a bit sad.

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Not the terminal feel that I get from its neighbour up the coast, Llandudno, I don't think. The castle and walls stand as strong as ever; the market square and sea front, when not given up to long rows of static automobiles, can still be nice places; and the Welsh Highland tourist railway has reached the town. There was evidence of care when I last walked around, a year ago. Down but not out, perhaps.

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[Tag] Tags: caernarfon, castles, gwynedd, history, recession, uk, urban decay, wales


Sun, 1 Jul 2012

The Derwent Dams

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At the northern end of Derbyshire the rain that falls on the Dark Peak of the Peak District gathers into the River Derwent, a tributary of the Trent, which cuts a deep valley through the millstone grit plateau.

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The valley here is dammed by the Howden and Derwent Dams, and then, after conflux of the Derwent with the Ashop, by Ladybower Dam, to form one of Britain's major water supply systems and quench the thirst of the industrial towns of South Yorkshire and the East Midlands.

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The solid stone neo-Gothic Howden and Derwent dams were constructed first, starting in 1901, with a narrow gauge railway constructed to carry rock up the valley from their quarry to Birchinlee, the temporary "Tin Town" of the builders. The upper of the two, Howden, was completed a hundred years ago, in July 1912, and Derwent followed at the end of the following year.

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It immediately became clear that the dams weren't catching enough to support the growing populations and industries of the areas, and so a weir-culvert-tunnel system was constructed to divert the Ashop from the neighbouring valley into Derwent Reservoir. But even after with this source added in 1920, the problem was not really solved. In 1935 work began on Ladybower Reservoir, capturing further tributaries and extending the catchment area from 21 to 26 square kilometres, and adding 6.3 billion gallons of storage capacity to the 2.1 billion of Derwent and 1.9 billion of Howden.

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These photos were all taken in May last year. I'll have to go back for more one day, though: after prolonged rain, the dam faces become huge spillways.

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View Larger MapOrdnance Survey Map


[Tag] Tags: derbyshire, history, lakes, peak district, reservoirs, rural, the midlands, uk


Sun, 24 Jun 2012

Boston, six years ago

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I was at a conference in Boston, Massachusetts, when the East Coast of the United States flooded in June 2006.

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Boston wasn't badly hit with flooding, but it did spend a few days covered in fog and puddles.

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I'd only just bought my first SLR a couple of weeks before — the D50 with 18-55 lens — so wandered around town trying it out.

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Pointing it at anything and everything, and not usually doing a very good job at all.

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There are more pictures in the Boston gallery.


[Tag] Tags: east coast, floods, fog, massachusetts, new england, not the uk, rain, urban, usa, weather


Sun, 17 Jun 2012

A82

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The A82 between Tyndrum and North Ballachulish in the West Highlands is a remarkable road.

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Astonishing not just for the breathtaking moorland and mountain landscape that it floats across and weaves through.

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And the extraordinarily difficult remote and hostile conditions in which it was constructed, across deep peat bogs, around peaks and lochans and over fast flowing and frequently frozen mountain rivers.

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But because it was built in 1931 to a very distinctive engineering style which is rarely seen in our mediaeval lanes or our modern roads made up of computer generated continuous gentle curves.

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It is more like a Roman Road or the military roads built to suppress the Jacobite risings, in following perfect straight lines for many miles at a time across the flatter parts of the moor, joined in short curves.

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But maintaining a relatively flat and practical course, across the rocky mountain streams on reinforced concrete bridges and viaducts, built in situ to graceful but experimental designs that haven't been seen since the discovery of the boring but cheap square beams on straight stilts method of road bridge construction.

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It’s one of those few places that actually bears some resemblance to the great open road of car adverts and Top Gear features — the thing, the freedom, the lifestyle that people are told that they are buying when they get conned into a daily grind of traffic jams on cluttered streets and webs of dull computer-designed roundabout-linked suburban distributor roads, and all the ill-health and unhappiness that comes with it.

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Except that this is still a real road, with real traffic and real drivers. So the moor is littered with broken plastic and glass; bumpers and hub caps and metal slowly sinking into the peat. Better the quick death by car here than the slow one on the ring road, perhaps?

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More pictures in the Highlands gallery.

View Larger Map


[Tag] Tags: bridges, highlands, history, mountains, photo essays, rannoch moor, roads, rural, scotland, uk


Sun, 10 Jun 2012

Purdown Transmitter

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Another one of those shots that I've taken again and again and again, capturing it in all seasons, lights and conditions, in this case because it was on my commute for several years.

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The BT tower on Pur Down, in the north of Bristol, a thin and increasingly isolated sliver of green space, once farmland, consumed and constricted and now cut off from the surrounding country by the growing city: one of those locations where you can pretend that the city isn't there if you get the camera angle and conditions right.

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When I returned that way a few weeks ago for the first time in five years, the microwave transmitters which were the original point of the tower had gone, like those on the BT Tower in London.

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[Tag] Tags: bristol, structures, time series, uk, urban, westcountry


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