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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 cumbria dorset events highlands history industrial lake district lakes london mountains not the uk photo essays photography politics protests rural rural decay scotland somerset structures the north uk urban urban decay wales westcountry • all tags


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Sun, 13 Jan 2013

On the canals at Castlefield

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Until May 2011, when I had to go to a meeting in the city, I'd never been to Manchester. I've still spent barely any time there.

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With little time to devote to photography while there, I instinctively rode over to the part of the city centre that looked most interesting on the Ordnance Survey map: Castlefield.

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With the world's first industrial canal and the world's first passenger railway, the neighbourhood is a tangle of basins and viaducts and narrow cobbled pathways. The Bridgewater Canal arrived here from the Worsley coal field in 1761, and a second branch of the canal reached the Mersey estuary at Runcorn three years later. The opening of the Rochdale Canal through to West Yorkshire in 1804 put Castlefield on a through-route, and the basin was also connected to the nearby River Irwell — later to be turned into the Manchester Ship Canal.

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In 1830 the canals were joined by the railways, with the world's first passenger line, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, terminating at Liverpool Road Station (now the Museum of Science and Industry) adjacent to but not crossing the basins. The first two railway viaducts over the water came in 1849 with the Manchester South Junction & Altrincham Railway lines which fork here as they head west from Piccadilly. These lines were in turn crossed by even higher viaducts with 1877's Cheshire Lines into Manchester Central — victims of the Beeching Axe, but reused in the early 1990s for the trams — and the now disused turreted tubular steel Great Northern Railway viaduct of 1894.

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Now it's in the half-done regeneration stage, with mixed decayed and preserved industry, warehouse conversions, empty plots and infill apartment blocks.

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I think the instincts probably did a reasonable job.

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[Tag] Tags: canals, history, industrial, manchester, railways, the north, uk, urban decay, urban


Sun, 30 Dec 2012

der Telespargel

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Fernsehturm, the television tower in Alexanderplatz, central Berlin, Germany's tallest structure.

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Built as a show of GDR strength and to be an icon of East Berlin, but also an excellent example of the pettiness of political rhetoric, positioned deliberately to loom over West Berlin's Reichstag when the latter is viewed from the front, and in return cited by Ronald Reagan as "the Pope's revenge" because the diamond-shaped reflection of sunlight on sphere sometimes looks vaguely a little bit not really very much like a Christian cross.

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These shots, and more from the visit in December 2007, in the Germany gallery.

View Larger Map


[Tag] Tags: berlin, germany, history, not the uk, structures, urban


Sun, 21 Oct 2012

The standing stones of Machrie Moor

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On the west side of Arran — the "Scotland in miniature" island of the Firth of Clyde — you might find a gateway, half hidden in high hedges, with a sign indicating the path to Machrie Moor.

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The track winds through the sheep fields and scrubland, and past a small and slightly mediocre fenced-off stone circle.

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To a little yard of part-ruined stone barns.

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And thence to the great array of neolithic structures, from clumps of squat granite boulder circles to triplets of tall sandstone megaliths.

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All set in the wide valley of the Machrie Water, around the point where a midsummer sun rises in the centre of the valley's dip on the horizon...

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...against the backdrop of Ard Bheinn and the view to the distant Goatfell in the island's mountainous north.

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View Larger Map View Bird's Eye


[Tag] Tags: arran, highlands, history, islands of the clyde, machrie moor, rural, scotland, stone circles, uk


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, 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.

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


Sun, 29 Apr 2012

Courthill House

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Heading up the coast of the Northwest Highlands, on the road from Kyle of Lochalsh to Applecross and Torridon, a brief glimpse of the mountains of Skye down the length of Loch Kishorn is soon hidden behind the trees and a high wall of big stone blocks.

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Chimneys poke their stacks out above the wall but it's not obvious what hides in the tangle of trees.

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It's only if you turn off onto the little track past Courthill Chapel and push through the junk and young trees that have accumulated and established themselves on this long uncared-for plot that you might find Courthill House.

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The Tudor-style mansion was built as part of the Lochcarron Estate in the early 1800s, and was purchased with the estate in 1882 by the Tory MP for Hastings (and later Coventry) Charles James Murray.

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Murray's son built a new mansion, Couldoran House, on the estate, and after Murray Sr's death in 1929 Courthill House fell into disuse. When the estate changed hands in 1946 the roof of Courthill House was removed to avoid tax, leaving a spooky hidden ruin.

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View Larger — View Bird's Eye — Google Maps Version


[Tag] Tags: abandoned places and things, architecture, highlands, history, northwest highlands, rosshire, ruins, rural decay, rural, scotland, uk, wester ross


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