Journal Places

Grey Seal Pups at Donna Nook, December 2011

As this is my first blog post of 2012, I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy and healthy new year.

As some of you will know, I was born in Lincolnshire and the majority of my family still live there, even though I now live in Northamptonshire with my daughter Sophie.  It is always a great pleasure for us to spend Christmas over near Lincoln with my brother and sister-in-law, Alan and Helen.

Young grey seal pup laying on its back

Every year, during the holidays, we try to fit in a visit to one or more of the many attractions in the area although last year was an exception as I managed to catch the flu during my stay which spoiled any plans we had.

Adult female (cow) seal with its young pup

This year I managed to avoid any bugs and we took the opportunity to visit the grey seal colony at Donna Nook, near North Somercotes on the Lincolnshire coast.  This was not the first time we had been to see the seals there, we first went there during the Christmas holidays in 2007.

Young grey seal pup showing off its rear flippers

Over the past few years, Donna Nook has attracted visitors from all over the country to see the grey seals who have chosen this particular stretch of beach to give birth to their pups.  During the peak season, from early November to mid December, up to 1,000 female seals (cows) and their young pups can be seen from the special viewing area.

Young grey seal pup looking alert and showing off its webbed hind feet (flippers)

Adult males (bulls) tend to stay further up the beach, away from the public area, but can still be seen and photographed, albeit with a longer lens.  For this trip, I had my trusty  Canon EF 80-200mm F/2.8L with me, together with my EOS 5D Classic.  This has been a terrific lens for me over the years but perhaps a little short for this subject at times, although the seal pups do venture surprisingly close to the double picket fence that separates them from the viewing public.

Young grey seal pup has found something to play with

When they are newly born, the seal pups are covered in white fur and appear somewhat “deflated” by a beanie toy with insufficient beans to fill it.  During the next 3 weeks, they feed on their mother’s milk which is 10 times richer than cow’s milk and soon start to put on weight, giving them that oh-so-cute rounded look that we all love.

This seal pup has its white baby fur on one side, and new grey fur on the other

After about three weeks, the mothers will return to the main seal colony further out to sea, to feed and to get their strength back.  The seal pups, meanwhile, will start to lose their white fur which is replaced by the much shorter haired grey speckled coat that you see here.

The foreground pup has lost its baby fur while the younger pup in the background waves to its fans!

By the time the pups are about 6 weeks old, they are strong and confident enough to leave the beach where they were born and at high tide they will swim out to join the others in the main seal colony, which lives for large parts of the year on sand banks further out to sea.

This young seal has lost its baby fur and will soon join the main colony out at sea

I have posted some more photos from our day on my website here.  I shall also be posting some of my photos from 2007 in due course, including the one shown below which I titled “Bashful Seal” and which recently won the “digital image of the year” competition for 2011 at Desborough and Rothwell Photographic Society.

"Bashful Seal"

If you are planning to visit the seals at Donna Nook, remember the best time of year is from early November to mid December.  The best days to visit are during the week if you can, as the public viewing area and adjacent car parks get very busy at weekends during the peak season.

Have a great 2012!


Events Journal Re-enactments

Battle of Bosworth Re-enactment – August 2011

Last weekend was the occasion of the Battle of Bosworth Anniversary Re-enactment.  The Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre near Market Bosworth in Leicestershire was the venue for this event.

The King addresses his soldiers before the battle, Bosworth Battlefield 2011

The Battle of Bosworth took place here in 1485 and the battlefield at Bosworth is famous as the place where King Richard III was defeated and lost his life and his crown to Henry Tudor, the first of the Tudor dynasty.

Receiving orders before the battle – Bosworth Battlefield 2011

This battle followed the “Wars of the Roses”, a series of battles between two rival dynasties, the white rose of York and the red rose of Lancaster, for the control of the English throne.  Between 1454 and 1471 the houses of Lancaster and York fought thirteen battles with the Yorkist Edward IV winning the eventual victory.

Marching into battle – Bosworth Battlefield 2011

Richard III was Edward’s youngest brother and succeeded him to the throne in 1483.  Just 2 years later, he rode into battle at Bosworth in Leicestershire on the 22nd August 1485 where he met his death and lost his crown to Henry Tudor.

Man to man combat – Bosworth Battlefield 2011

If you are a fan of Shakespeare, you will recall that the bard immortalised King Richard III as he lay defeated on the battlefield with the famous line: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.”

No quarter asked for or given – Bosworth Battlefield 2011

I must admit, this was not the easiest assignment I have been on.  The battlefield itself was surrounded by tents and spectators on all sides making backgrounds a problem.  The other problem is that you can only ever be in one place at once so of course you can only photograph what is in front of you.

A pause for refreshment – Bosworth Battlefield 2011

As it happened I was quite well placed for both of the day’s big battles and hopefully managed to capture some of the atmosphere and action of the day.  The living history encampments at either end of the main arena provided further photo opportunities throughout the day.

After the battle – Bosworth Battlefield 2011

I have posted many more photos from the day, including the excellent Jousting Tournament, over on my website


Journal Places

Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door – A Walk Along The Jurassic Coast

I thought I would share some more photos taken on my recent holiday in Dorset.  This time I will be taking you up and over the coastal path from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door.

Lulworth Cove - A wide-angle view of the bay

Lulworth Cove is a natural phenomenon formed over hundreds of thousands of years.  The cove, which is almost circular in shape, was formed because softer clays just behind the shoreline eroded faster than the Portland Limestone that forms the cliffs at the entrance to the bay.  The faster erosion of this soft clay, with harder chalk cliffs behind it, is responsible for the impressive shape of the cove – one of the finest examples of such a feature in the world.

Lulworth Cove - Close-up of the beach

The two photos above were taken from roughly the same place up on the grassy slopes overlooking the bay.  The wide-angle shot shows the view at the wide end of my 17-35mm zoom.  Even at 17mm on my full-frame Canon 5D, I was struggling to get in all of the cove.  Using such a wide-angle lens also distorts the view somewhat as I was considerably closer to the bay than appears from this shot.  By comparison, the close-up shot of the beach was taken at the long end of my 55-200mm zoom.

"Lulworth Cove is a magnet for geology students from all over the world"

Lulworth Cove is a magnet for geology students from all over the world.  The photo above taken in the nearby “Stair Hole” shows an example of limestone folding caused by movements in the Earth’s crust millions of years ago.  It also gives an idea of what Lulworth Cove itself would have looked like in its infancy thousands of years ago.

Looking back towards Lulworth Cove from the coastal path

In 2001, this stretch of coastline was granted World Heritage status by UNESCO.  The coastal path heading West towards Durdle Door climbs steeply from the visitor centre and car park at Lulworth.  My daughter Sophie and I took several breaks as we headed up the chalky path.  My excuse was that I wanted to stop to take in the views, nothing at all to do with being out of breath!

Looking West towards Durdle Door and the Jurassic Coast

The rewards for our efforts were spectacular views along the Jurassic Coast.  As we finally made it to the summit and the path levelled out we caught our first sight of Durdle Door, not the arch at this stage but the huge hunk of Portland Limestone from which it is formed.

The limestone arch at Durdle Door

Finally, after a quick stop for an ice-cream, we arrived at Durdle Door.  The limestone arch was every bit as spectacular as I had expected it to be.  It’s not easy to convey the scale of it in photographs as the cliff-top location from which I took the shot above is itself massively tall.  However,  a closer look at the foot of the arch reveals a number of young men and teenage boys perched somewhat precariously on the rock waiting their turn to either jump or dive into the water below…

"Tombstoning" feet first at Durdle Door

The act of jumping into the sea from various heights has recently become known as tombstoning.  The practice has been in the headlines recently due to a number of incidents where there was insufficient depth of water to jump or dive into, sometimes leading to serious injury to those taking part.  Diving head-first from a pier would appear to be especially dangerous and should never be attempted under any circumstances.

Diving from the rock at Durdle Door

There appeared to be no such problem with depth of water here, at least not at the time of our visit.  Divers and jumpers alike were encouraged by their freinds and families while entertaining casual onlookers from the beach and cliff top directly opposite.

Durdle Door - View of the beach and the arch looking West

After a very enjoyable time watching the antics on the rock and enjoying the views out to sea, it was time to head back along the path to Lulworth.  I stopped one more time to take in the view looking back along the beach with the arch pointing along the coast towards Weymouth in the far distance.

Looking East from Durdle Door towards Lulworth

We certainly enjoyed our day exploring Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door.  The path from Lulworth was quite tough and steep for inexperienced walkers like us but it was well worth the effort in the end, and the return journey was somewhat easier, starting as we did from the top of the cliffs at Durdle Door.  Our original plan was to go down to the beach for a better view of the arch but in the end we decided to leave that for another day…

More photos from our walk can be found on my website here


P.S.  Safety advice for anybody considering “Tombstoning” is available at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) website here

Events Journal Places Re-enactments

Back to the 1940s for a Weekend at Crich Tramway Museum

One of my all-time favourite places to visit at any time of the year is the National Tramway Museum at Crich, up in the Peak District near Matlock in Derbyshire.  Twice every year the museum, which depicts a traditional english village complete with working tramway and rolling stock,  is transported back in time to the 1940s.

A domestic goddess – 1940s style! Crich Tramway Museum – August 2011

Not only are there lots of period vehicles on display, but there are also dozens of individuals and groups dressed in authentic 1940s costume.  It is these re-enactors, some in military uniforms of the period, and some in civilian outfits, that make these events such a wonderful opportunity for us enthusiast photographers.  The attention to detail of these re-enactors, together with the location, brings a unique chance to capture the look and feel of the 1940s in our photographs.

Fun and Laughter 1940s style – outside the Red Lion Public House at Crich Tramway Museum – August 2011

Unfortunately, I missed the Easter 1940s weekend in April of this year so I made a point of not missing the August event.  I was accompanied by my very good friend Barry who not only drove us all the way up from Northamptonshire but also paid for both of our entrance fees.  How could I not enjoy such a day?  My contribution?  Paying for lunch and tea – a fair deal I think.

The lovely Lola Lamour – brilliant entertainment 1940s style – Crich Tramway Museum, August 2011

The forecast was for a fine if cloudy day after an early morning shower.  Perfect conditions for outdoor portraiture, cloudy bright, was exactly what we enjoyed for most of the day save for the odd sunny spell in the afternoon which added some welcome warmth to the day which started a little bit chilly for short sleeves.

1940s style and elegance – Crich Tramway Museum – August 2011

As we had been to this event several times before, we talked on the way up about strategies for the day i.e. how to get something a little bit different to the usual photos taken at such events.  I had already decided I was going to look for candid shots first and foremost, using my longest lens to diffuse the backgrounds which are inevitably busy at all these events.

What’s going on here? A sophisticated 1940s lady showing off her knee in public – outrageous! Crich Tramway Museum – August 2011

Using my long lens and a wide aperture enabled me to take pictures from across the street without being in the faces of the re-enactors and that was really useful in getting some natural looking candids.  Unfortunately, when certain activities were taking place, especially the 1940s wedding, I was limited to head and shoulders only for some shots due to the closeness of the watching crowd and other photographers.  That’s how it is with these events, you win some and you lose some.

The bride and groom – wedding day 1940s style at Crich Tramway Museum – August 2011

Overall, I am very pleased with the set of candid pictures I took on the day, and I hope that if the people in the photos eventually find themselves on my website, they will be pleased too.  I think they are a refreshing change from the posed smiley photos that appear on many photographer’s sites.  I realise also that some people won’t agree and that’s fair enough.

1940s elegance and sophistication, Crich Tramway Museum – August 2011

There are many more of my 1940s photos from this event on my Flickr Site


Journal Places

Horses of The New Forest

Just thought I would share a few photos I took on my recent holiday in Dorset.  It was the first time I had visited the area so didn’t really know what to expect.  I had heard about the New Forest Horses of course but what I didn’t appreciate was just how many there would be and how widespread an area they are free to explore.

Lone Horse in the Long Evening Shadows, The New Forest, Dorset

One of the highlights of the week for me was seeing all the horses (and cows and occasionally goats and donkeys) roaming virtually free across large areas of the New Forest.  Drivers need to be on full alert at all times although the horses themselves seem to be oblivious to passing vehicles.

New Forest Horses are free to roam over large parts of the National Park

As anyone who knows me would testify, I am pretty hopeless when it comes to photographing landscapes but put a large brown animal into view and suddenly I have something to point the camera at and use as a focal point around which to compose a (hopefully) pleasing composition.

Grazing Horses in the Long Evening Shadows, The New Forest, Dorset

One thing I have picked up from landscape photographers over the years is the best times of the day to take scenic photos.   Early in the morning (even before sunrise) is one of those times, especially if there is a morning mist as there was in April for my visit to Bradgate Park.

Mother and Foal, The New Forest, Dorset

Then in the evening as the sun goes down and the shadows grow longer, and the light takes on a warm glow, assuming of course that the sun stays out which in my experience it often doesn’t.  So it was that I set out one evening to photograph the horses of the New Forest, not really knowing where to head for, but with a vague idea of the sort of light I was hoping to see.

Lone Horse in the Long Evening Shadows, The New Forest, Dorset

I shall post more photos from my Dorset holiday soon, including my hike from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door on the World Heritage Jurassic Coast.  Meanwhile my New Forest Horses can be seen in higher resolution over on my website.


Events Journal Places Re-enactments

The Festival of History, Kelmarsh Hall 17th July 2011

It’s fair to say that the Festival of History held anually at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire is the jewel in the crown of the English Heritage events calendar.  I had been looking forward to this event for a long time so it was with some trepidation that I watched the weather forecast for the weekend on the Friday night which warned of heavy rain showers on Saturday followed by more heavy rain showers on Sunday.

The Story of the British Army, Festival of History, 2011

As it turned out, Saturday morning was a wash-out as it rained almost constantly right up until around 1pm but from there onwards it stayed more or less fine for the rest of the day.  I had already decided to take my chance on the Sunday and that turned out to be a day of sunshine and mostly light showers so not as bad as forecast.

Roman Soldiers, Festival of History, 2011

The Festival of History presents many opportunities to the enthusiast photographer, but also some challenges.  On the positive side, there is so very much to see, so many people and events to photograph and so much going on all the time.  The enormous number of re-enactors taking part, the different periods of history portrayed and the variety of set-pieces and encampments to explore is mind-blowing.

The Boar War Battle Re-enactment, Festival of History 2011

It’s the sheer size of the event that presents one of the major challenges.  At any given time there are at least three different places you need to be.  Another problem is trying to isolate your subject from the background which at times can get a bit messy with white tents, members of the public (refered to as MOPs by the re-enactors), other photographers (grrr!), videographers (is that a word?), trade stands, caravans etc.

The challenges of taking photographs at the Festival of History

The problems continue when trying to shoot the big battle re-enactments in the main arenas.  Every photographers worst nightmare, the safety ropes – white this time, a welcome change from blue you may think – are there to ensure that almost every photo you take will contain at least some portion of the dreaded rope.

“The sheer variety of re-enactors facial hair is mind-blowing”

Despite all the above, I love this event.  There are so many photo opportunities all around you but you do have to keep a close eye on procedings and you do need to be lucky sometimes in order to be in just the right place at the right time.

German Half-Track Commander, Festival of History 2011

In the event I was very lucky with the weather, one sharp shower in the afternoon but only a few spots of rain for the rest of the day.  A very enjoyable day and it was good to catch up with some of the people I had met at previous events. 

Update January 2020:  You can find many more images from the event over on my website here.


Events Journal

“Marching On Together” for Aidan Howell 3rd July 2011

Photographers from Desborough and Rothwell Photographic Society, of which I am a member, were recently invited to photograph a 10 mile sponsored walk held in memory of the Desborough Rifleman Aidan Howell who was killed while serving his country in Afghanistan in 2009.  He was just 19.

Marching On Together for Aidan Howell

Aidan was a big Leeds United fan and the walk was appropriately called “Marching On Together” the title of the famous Leeds United Football Club song.  This was the second running of this event after the huge success of the first one in June 2010.  All proceeds from the event go to the Aidan Howell Memorial Fund.

Runners from 3rd Battalion, The Rifles about to start their second run

Among the people taking part were servicemen from 3rd Battalion, The Rifles, some of whom were not content to do just the 10 mile course, but instead completed 2 runs in the same day, and others who ran the undulating 10 mile course with fully loaded backpacks strapped to their backs.

Marching On Together with Fully Loaded Backpacks

The course took the runners and walkers from the start at Desborough Town Football Club through the villages of Arthingworth and Harrington, and back to the finish at Desborough via Rothwell.  Three photographers attended the event;  myself, Trevor Rudkin who is the Chairman of the Society, and Philip Gott.  The society’s auditor, Richard Coe, took part in the walk itself.

Marching On Together for Aidan Howell

Our photos of the walk can be seen here:

Photos by Geoff Oliver

Photos by Trevor Rudkin

Photos by Philip Gott

I’m really glad that we supported this worthy event.  I must confess to feeling a little apprehensive at the starting line as I don’t live in Desborough and I never knew Aidan myself.   Once we got out on the course though, it definitely felt as though we were supporting the walkers and, for the most part, they appreciated us being there to cheer them on.


Journal Places Re-enactments

Great Central Railway 1940s Weekend 2011

The 1940s weekend at the Great Central Railway in Leicestershire is one of my favourite WWII re-enactment events on the calendar.   My good friend Barry and I have photographed it for four of the last five years, and it was great to see some familiar faces from previous years.  Not only that, I even plucked up the courage to speak to some of them!

British Soldiers at the Great Central Railway 1940s Weekend 2011

From a photographers point of view, I thought this was one of the best I can remember, with an assortment of colourful characters and some small but interesting set-pieces to photograph.  We caught the train from Loughborough and travelled south stopping at Quorn, Rothley and finally Leicester North Stations. Unlike previous years there was no “battle” as such, but the demonstrations on each station made up for that to a certain extent.

Re-enactors at the Great Central Railway 1940s Event 2011

One set of photos that I am particularly pleased with is of a group called DasHeer Living History Society who portray German conscript soldiers from the late 1930s and early 1940s.  They have asked me to send them some of my photos to put on their website, which is great, so I will be taking a disc of selected images to Kelmarsh Hall in July where they will be taking part in the Festival of History.

Members of DasHeer Living History Society at Rothley Station on the GCR 2011

Mixed in with the uniformed re-enactors were many people in civilian outfits from the same period.  Some of these were also doing small set-piece presentations throughout the weekend.  My favourite had to be Mrs. Day with her 1940s washing demonstration, a wonderful character to photograph and she played the part beautifully.

Mrs. Day notices a Photographer in the Crowd…

If you love taking outdoor portraits and environmental portraits as I do, these reenactment weekends provide great subjects to photograph and, with the odd exception, the volunteer re-enactors are willing models for the many photographers who tend to congregate at these events.

1940s Shopkeeper complete with Handlebar Moustache and Cigar

You can see more of my photos from the Great Central Railway 1940s Weekend 2011 on my website here.

Update June 2012:  Photos from the Great Central Railway 1940s Weekend 2012 can be found on my website here.