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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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Sun, 17 Jun 2012



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



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


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.




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.


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.



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.


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.



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?


More pictures in the Highlands gallery.

View Larger Map

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

Thu, 7 Apr 2011

The Moine House

The Moine

The geology and landscape of the Scottish Highlands are famously divided by the Great Glen fault. Less famous is the Moine Thrust Belt, running almost parallel to the Great Glen a hundred miles north. Here the rocks and landscape of the northern Highlands are pushed over those of the Hebrides and far north west, forming a belt of steep hills and cliffs from the north coast at Eriboll down to the west coast at Skye. It's named for The Moine -- the moss -- the vast peat moor that sits at the top of the hill on the northern Highland rocks above Eriboll on the northern coast of Sutherland.

Moine House Moine House

As you climb the A838 from the sea inlets — from Loch Eriboll heading east, or from Kyle of Tongue heading west — the great flat empty moor stretches to the distant mountains, Ben Loyal in the east and Ben Hope in the west, interrupted only by two curious steep pyramids almost on the horizon. As you cross the bog they grow into the gable-end walls of a house, a perfectly ordinary little highland cottage isolated in the middle of the moor.

Moine House

With two rooms, a porch, and a loft, Moine House was built with the road in 1830 as a half-way stop for travellers. Occupied by several generations of Mackays, up to ten people at a time, the house still acted as an inn for travellers throughout the 1800s, until the motorcar era negated its original purpose, and the Mackays moved on to less harsh and more profitable locations.

Moine House Moine House

The roof fell in sometime around 1987, though there has been some attempt since to preserve what remains. The EU have since "improved" the A838 by building a whole new road over the moor on a different alignment, straighter, wider, faster, allowing the old single track road outside the house to slowly fade under the moss. Despite its isolated location, miles from anything in an already sparsely populated region without cities, it has managed to acquire some murals, distinctly urban in style, slightly faded now after three or four years exposed to the relentless rain of the northern Highlands.

Moine House

More photos in the Highlands gallery.

View Larger Map

[Tag] Tags: abandoned places and things, bleak locations, end of the road, flow country, graffiti, highlands, photo essays, ruins, rural decay, rural, scotland, structures, sutherland, the moine, uk

Mon, 21 Feb 2011

Night bus


A young smartly dressed woman gets on, concentrating on her phone call. The bus pulls out before she has time to mount the stairs, and the motion throws her to the side, her bag swinging and bashing the passenger behind her. Fifty. Nine. To. Streatham Hill. She climbs slowly, letting everybody know about the important things she has done today. Then drops into the nearest seat as the bus brakes at the first set of lights. "Did you remember to tape Eastenders?" Puts a laptop on one knee, opens Microsoft Excel, a page full of graphs. Continues call, continues describing her brilliant sucess with the Weight Watchers account. More passengers board, one indicates to the empty window seat beside her. She turns to let him through. Drops the computer. "Fucksake". People chuckle.


A young woman stumbles up the stairs at Shaftesbury Avenue. She's not dressed for the weather. Only a dress, earings, socks and a shock of hair. She carries only the mobile phone that she is jabbing at clumsily. She's crying, sniffing loudly. The bus is full, but everybody is silent. She sits on the top step and puts the phone to her ear. Nineteen. To. Battersea Bridge Road. "Daddy! -- Daddy come and get me." People stare out of the windows at the traffic. "I'm on a bus, but come and get me daddy. -- I've lost my shoes. -- I don't know. -- I'm on a bus I tried to get a taxi but I've lost my bag I'm so sorry daddy." She gets up and gets off at the next stop. A woman looks up from her knitting, turns to her partner and sighs. "Oh dear."


An old lady in a headscarf and heavy coat gets on at Trafalgar Square. Number. Twelve. To. Dulwich Library. She likes the bendy buses. Likes the big doors. On the double-deckers, she's always holding people up, her trolley bag always in somebody's way. On the number twelve, she's amongst recognisable faces from her neighbourhood. She sits down across from a young Iranian woman in a headscarf and heavy coat. The young woman's boy is playing on the bend in the bus, one foot on and one foot off the rotating section, surfing the corners. As the bus turns into Whitehall, a taxi cuts in front for a fare and the bus jerks to a stop. The boy tumbles, knocking the old woman's trolley bag over. A cauliflower rolls through the dirt under the seats.


An elderly couple get on at the top end of Whitehall. In their eighties at least. She has thick NHS glasses and short dyed brown hair. He has thin grey hair and a thin grey face, but bright eyes still within it. He, a head taller than his wife. Walking stick in his left hand, with the other he briefly lets go of his wife's hand so that he can flash passes for the two of them. He surveys the bottom deck. Nobody is giving up their seats. But he seems happy to help his wife up the stairs to take the front seats -- she by the window, he by the aisle. The driver waits for them. Number. Three. To. Crystal Palace.

"Number. Three," she repeats. "To. Crystal Palace. Crystal. Crystal Palace. Three."

He pulls her tighter under his arm, his bright eyes dampening. Her bottom lip slumps and is still. He looks down on the wreaths of poppies outside, looks down on his Rosie, and remembers for her.

Parliament Square

There is gridlock at the bottom end of Whitehall. The driver opens the doors to release those who would prefer to walk. Eighty. Eight. To. Clapham Common Old Town. The buses inch forwards on the single open southbound lane. On the northbound side, a pair of unmarked police cars have successfully blocked the progress of a black Range Rover. Behind them, a third and marked police car sits on top of the crumpled railings of the pedestrian crossing refuge, its remaining functioning lights still flashing. Bent over his car, a stoned man is having various items of clothing removed. A solitary protester from the peace camp dances alone in the empty street outside the foreign office. The traffic lights lying in the road turn green. The passengers have had their entertainment.


The river is the great border, the last of the bright lights. The red rippled reflections of the palace, parliament, and the red white and blue of the Eye, made to shimmer even more by the movement of the bus and the flow of a fast falling tide. The last of the crowds and movement, from the tourists stepping backwards into the bus lane to the bobbing boats below and the trucks and trains on the neighbouring bridges. And then, on the other side, dark empty streets under the railway arches and out into the suburbs.

Full of beans!

[Tag] Tags: buses, flash fiction, london, long exposure, night, photo essays, streetscapes, transport, uk, urban

Sat, 16 Oct 2010

How to deliver a petition

Science Is Vital! Science Is Vital!

First, get 35,000 people to sign your petition, and find a friendly university stationary office who can print that many hundreds of pages. Hurry down Whitehall to hang around outside Downing Street while another petition goes in before you.

Science Is Vital!

Ensure that you have one Evan Harris to turn up unannounced with a Lord Willis, to efficiently direct and choreograph things.

Science Is Vital!

Pose and smile! L to R: Michelle Brook, Imran Khan (CaSE), Evan Harris, Jenny Rohn, Phil Willis, Richard Grant, Colin Blakemore, and Della Thomas.

Science Is Vital!

Get your petition out and wave it around for the camera.

Science Is Vital!

Panic when you realise you've got to reassemble it all again.

Science Is Vital! Science Is Vital!

Ring the bell, and pass it to the doorman, whose job description apparently includes posing for camera when petitions are delivered.

Science Is Vital! Science Is Vital!

Amswer some questions for the press agencies — I don't know whether any news outlet actually used any of their footage, but I imagine the agencies have cameras here all day to capture far more exciting things, like the arrival of Arnold Schwarzenegger earlier that morning

Science Is Vital! Science Is Vital! Science Is Vital!

And finally, play around taking pictures of eachother pretending to be the new prime-minister.

More photos in the Science is Vital flickr set.

[Tag] Tags: downing street, events, london, petitions, photo essays, photography, politics, traditions, uk

Tue, 12 Oct 2010

The Cheese Festival

Ice Cream

I love the Durham Township photoblog -- all the fabulous atmospheric shallow-focus photos of rural Pensylvania. Especially the ones of the traditional county fairs and farm shows. The kids with candyfloss, prize livestock on display, and old fashioned family entertainment.

Cheese Festival!

We have those in England, too: things like the Sturminster Newton Cheese Festival, a celebration of cheese and cider, annual except if it rains so hard that the river floods the car park field. A place to show off local artisan foods, crafts, and livestock.


Where you can test your strength, guess the number of sweets in the jar, watch a classic Punch and Judy show, or learn how to milk a lifesize plastic animatronic cow that's branded with the name of the local independent supermarket.

Punch & Judy!

Or just enjoy the late summer of the English Westcountry.

Cheese Festival!

[Tag] Tags: blackmore vale, british culture, dorset, events, festivals, fetes, photo essays, photography, rural, sturminster newton, traditions, uk, westcountry

Mon, 20 Sep 2010

Protest The Pope!

Protest The Pope!

Yesterday, upwards of 10,000 people marched through the streets of London to protest the pope. The roads were closed from Hyde Park Corner to Whitehall, where speeches were given outside Downing Street. It was a carnival -- everybody dressed up, wrote witty placards, told jokes, and danced and sang. But we were there to make serious points -- points that not everybody who heard about the march got.

Suffer Little Children
Sage Advice

Many of those on the march are to some extent anti-religious, and the media gave a lot of attention to Richard Dawkins. Most were probably some variety of non-religious. But the march was not a march against the religious or even Roman Catholics: the religious who marched with us and the Roman Catholics who gave speeches were not out of place. Rather, the march was to highlight the many bad things that the Pope says and does. Really terrible, awful, immoral things. Amongst the most appalling things said by anybody in contemporary international politics.

Ben Goldacre

One of the most evil things that The Pope does was explained best by Ben Goldacre. The Catholic church, under the explicit instruction of The Pope, actively sabotages effective public health campaigns for controlling HIV infection. Bishops in sub-Saharan Africa and South America tell lies so absurd that they should be laughed out of public discourse: in Mozambique, where one in eight of the population is infected, the church has invented a vast conspiracy theory and teaches that infection is actively spread by condoms; in Colombia, where infection rates have not yet caught up with Africa and could be kept under control, bishops make ridiculous claims about condoms being full of holes that let HIV through -- a claim that was ably refuted by the hundreds of inflated condoms floating over the march (hint: viruses are thousands of times bigger than oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide molecules). This was not about a petty or academic disagreement. This is about a bizarre and arbitrary dogma that contributes to the deaths of millions of people every year, and the one man who could put a stop to it.

Spinning Pope

Another of the most evil things that The Pope does was explained by Johann Hari. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he was for 25 years in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and in this role encouraged and enabled the systematic protection of thousands of sex offenders, and the cover-up of their crimes. The Pope has not merely inherited an organisation that has a problem: he was and is the problem. He could have stopped these crimes; instead he allowed them to happen. Any other organisation under competent, responsible, ethical leadership upon learning that their staff are rapists report them to the authorities that can prevent them from raping again. And if they didn’t -- if the director of a company thought that transferring a sex-offender to a different office would make everything OK -- then we prosecute them for obstruction of justice. The Pope even now thinks that child abuse is something that the church should handle itself, and considers it “deplorable” that the Belgian Police or justice system should think that they have any role in the investigation or prosecution of sex-abusers.

General Disapproval

The Pope and the Vatican are homophobic, and spread homophobia in the Catholic Church and in politics around the world. In 1986, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote the letter to bishops on the “pastoral care of homosexual people”, which is the document that many well meaning but dim Catholics use to justify to themselves their own role in homophobia. Ratzinger used the age-old tool of cults, ideologies, and dictators: he redefined his opponents as the troubled victims of mental disease and violators of a fictitious “natural law”, and his followers now cheerfully tell themselves that they are doing gays and lesbians a favour by denying them human rights. But the Pope’s homophobia is not merely a case of ruining the lives of gays unfortunate enough to be born into Catholic families, or restricting the careers of gay priests. The Vatican has repeatedly interfered in the politics of nations and international organisations in ways that can not possibly be reconciled with their claim to care for gay people, even as sick people. In 2008 they opposed a UN declaration for the decriminalisation of homosexuality which aimed to end the laws that in many countries still treat homosexuality as a crime punishable by death. In 2009 they interfered in Italian politics to oppose a bill that would recognise violence against gays as a hate crime, because, they said, it would give homosexuals “special rights”. The same is happening in Poland, South America, the EU, and everywhere that the Catholic Church pokes its way into politics. If the Pope really believes that homosexuality is a mental disorder, than it follows that he defends the practice of hanging the sick in Iran, stoning the sick in Saudi Arabia, and imprisoning the sick for life in many other countries; that he thinks attacking sick people in the street is just fine.

It's the frickin POPE!

These are not the only harmful teachings and actions of the Pope and the organisation that he directs. They are merely the three that strike me as the most outrageous. They are three policies that the Pope is directly responsible for or deeply involved in. They are policies that he had and has the power to change. But he doesn’t. He has the effrontery to say he feels “deep sorrow and shame” for child-abuse while refusing to address the policies that caused the scandal, refusing to acknowledge his own central role in it, refusing to cooperate with the police and authorities and organisations who are trying to put right whatever can still be put right.

The Pod Delusion
Pope Kiss My Ring

The Pope was invited to the UK on an official state visit, paid for by British taxpayers. He was supposedly here as our guest; not as head of a church but as a head of state and diplomat with whom we wish to cooperate and develop our relations. We spent £10-14 million on his visit at a time when infrastructure projects are being mothballed and councils are literally switching off the lights.

This is a Pope who plays an active role in the spread of untruths that will lead to many millions of needless deaths from a cruel disease, and the entrenchment of poverty in third-world Catholic countries. No head of state that does that should be welcomed as somebody with whom we can cooperate in delivering international aid and development. The Pope was and still is central in the decades long international criminal cover-up of sex-abuse and the protection of child-rapers. The director of an organisation that behaves this way should be subject to an international arrest warrant, not an invitation on an ell-expenses paid luxury visit and dinner with the primeminister. And the Pope is a homophobe, teaching homophobia and defending violence against gays and lesbians. Nobody should be allowed to preach that hatred to our politicians unchallenged.

To mistake these objections to the very specific bad things that the the Pope has done for a general knee-jerk or “militant” anti-theism would do a great disservice.

Protest The Pope!

There are more photos in the Protest The Pope flickr set.

[Tag] Tags: demonstrations, events, london, photo essays, protests, religion, the pope, uk, westminster, whitehall

Thu, 2 Sep 2010

Location: Arno's Vale Cemetery

Arno's Vale

In the 1830s, on the eve of the Victorian era and with maturing industrial and agricultural revolutions and a growing empire, Britain's urban population was booming. Around the country people were leaving the land for the historic port cities and industrial new towns; the mills and potteries and mines. And they kept dying, as people do. The old parish churchyards, designed for small and low density settlements, and already with several centuries beneath them, were overflowing. Literally: new burials were taking the plots of old; burials were stacking up; decaying flesh was somehow ending up in the water system, and diseases were spreading. In 1832, parliament passed laws to legalise — encourage — private cemeteries; not small churchyard burial grounds, next to people's houses and shops and wells, but great out-of-town parks. In London, the magnificent seven — most famously Highgate Cemetery — were created.


In Bristol, the population had doubled in the three decades since the turn of the century. Its dead suffering from the same issue of post mortem accommodation as those of every city, a shareholder company was formed in 1837 to establish the park cemetery at Arno's Vale, on the Bath Road, two miles south-east the city centre and on the then outskirts of the city. The gently sloping site was landscaped in the Arcadian style, with neo-classical mortuary chapels and entrance lodge by local architect Charles Underwood, and the first burials were made in 1839.

Tomb of Ram Mohan Roy

Nine years earlier, the Indian writer and reformist Raja Ram Mohan Roy had come to Britain as an ambassador from the Mughal Emperor. A lifelong campaigner against sati, the Hindu tradition of widows immolating themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres, Roy was seeking to influence British lawmakers who had the power to uphold or overthrow the Bengal governor's decree of 1829 outlawing the practice. He died of meningitis in Stapleton, then a village just beyond the northern limits of Bristol, where he was buried. Supporters and admirers felt that his basic resting place was suitable for such a great man, and in 1843 was moved to the new cemetery at Arno's Vale and reinterred in a Bengali-style "chatta" tomb, one of the most impressive and unique of the cemetery's listed monuments.

Arno's Vale

In total there are 25 Grade II* listed monuments — statues, obelisks, mausolea, and war memorials — alongside the four Grade II* listed buildings. A driveway leads between two entrance lodges, sweeps past the doric non-conformist chapel, past rows of obelisks and statues and up to the grand corinthian-style Anglican chapel, set on a rise to one side. Then, behind the grand buildings and monuments, paths wind away up through trees and denser fields of more modest memorials. And these densely filled plots were almost Arno's Vale's downfall: it got full, and at exactly the wrong moment.


In the mid-1980s, at the height of Thatcher's societyless Britain, plots were running low at Arno's Vale, and business was drying up. Still an independent company, the owners needed to make some efficiency savings, and downsize their workforce: the gravediggers and gardeners had no place left in this business. The cemetery began to be taken over by nature, and by vandals. But the owners did have a good idea for saving the company. They noticed that, while the burial trade was looking down for them, they did happen to have a valuable asset: 45 acres of almost pristine development site on a main road and only a mile from the main railway station. Attempts to build on the site were blocked with the help of campaign groups, but the buildings and monuments continued to decline until the owners finally packed in the business and locked up in 1998. Even, so they didn't let their assets go without a fight when the city council put in a compulsory purchase order for the neglected land and its crumbling listed buildings. Arno's Vale finally became public property in 2003. These pictures were taken in 2006, not long after the peak of the cemetery's gothic phase, when the buildings were boarded and monuments overgrown. Some vegetation clearance had already begun at this point, but most of the restoration work had yet to begin. Since then, all of the buildings have been repaired and reopened.

Arno's Vale

More pictures of Arno's Vale can be found in this gallery.

[Tag] Tags: arnos vale, bristol, cemeteries, gothic, photo essays, uk, urban decay, urban, westcountry

Thu, 10 Jun 2010

Location: Millennium Bridge

Ten years ago today, a new bridge across the Thames was opened in central London, between St Paul's Cathedral in The City and the recently opened Tate Modern and Globe Theatre attractions in Southwark's Bankside.

Millennium Bridge

The media loved it: another public project that perfectly fit their millennium story, the story of hugely expensive and over-budget government initiated construction projects providing absurd and unloved attractions. Like the Dome, or the "Millennium Wheel". Do you remember the ridiculed and ridiculous Millennium Wheel? Who thought a giant ferris wheel opposite parliament would be a good idea?

Millennium Bridge

After the big tent and the crazy carnival ride, the press thought they'd seen it all. And then, six months later, The Wobbly Bridge was opened, over-budget -- of course -- and late. And, due to an engineering oversight, the bridge rocked. The 100,000 people per day walking upon it caused synchronous lateral excitation: people stepped, the bridge swayed in time to the steps, the people stepped in time to the sways, the bridge swayed further. So two days later, the bridge closed again. It was two years before the problem was fully fixed.

Millennium Bridge

But none of the millennium projects ever did quite fit the farce invented by the newspapers. They succeeded in dampening enthusiasm somewhat for the Dome; but the ferris wheel proved so popular that it became it a permanent fixture, running near capacity every day for ten years. The bridge had its construction issues, but the story was quite the opposite of the badly managed public works project bailed out by the taxpayer: the bridge is built and maintained by Bridge House Trust -- the 700 year old owner of Thames Bridges that has so much investment income that it can afford to fulfil its charter of maintaining London river crossings while building new ones and giving away a surplus to charity.

Millennium Bridge

And the bridge has been a huge success with locals and tourists alike, perfectly placed between attractions, but also a convenient route between the transport hubs of the south bank and the employment hubs of the City. During rush hours it is saturated; tides flood across, several thousand people at a time. And its unique design has been a success: designed to keep a low profile and leave a clear view of the cathedral and the skyline, the short stocky concrete pillars and the gentle steel curves that cradle the deck are much loved.

Millennium Bridge

But the most important and most loved feature of the bridge -- another feature that was unique at the time that it opened -- is that it is a pedestrian-only bridge. The Millennium Bridge represents a wider welcome improvement in the central London environment: a fight back against the anti-social practice of bringing cars into the centre of the city, the reclaiming of street space for people, and generally making it easier and more pleasant for people to get around and to enjoy the city -- especially along the river. It's a job that is very far from being complete, but after the Millennium Bridge opened, the twin pedestrian Jubilee bridges were constructed between Embankment and the South Bank Centre; and there has been massive expansion to the riverside paths. Progress seems to have been slowing lately. It seems like a good time to remind people what a difference the Millennium Bridge made, and how much still needs to be done to fix the streets of central London.

Millennium Bridge

Where and when to shoot it? The obvious spot is on the south side, looking to St Paul's. The bridge deck divides at the south side, such that you can shoot the bridge deck and pedestrians, but also the river and piers beneath at the same time. You will notice that Sir Christopher Wren made a mistake in designing St Paul's: because it is not built perfectly perpendicular to the bridge, when one lines up the shot for symmetry, one finds that the dome of the cathedral appears slightly to the left of centre, rather than appearing exactly above the bridge piers. Other good spots to shoot are from the beaches on either bank at low tide, and also from the top of St Paul's, if you can get in sufficiently early in the morning or late in the afternoon to prevent shooting directly into the sun. The cafe balcony in Tate Modern also looks down on the bridge. The view from Southwark Bridge rarely makes exciting photos. Shooting on the bridge itself would be difficult during the weekday rush hours.

Millennium Bridge

[Tag] Tags: architecture, bridges, london, millennium bridge, photo essays, river thames, structures, uk, urban

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