Monday, 23 April 2018

Farnley Hall

I was fortunate to be able to go on a privately arranged tour of Farnley Hall, near Otley. It is a Grade I listed mansion, built in the late 1700s by John Carr, who (along with Robert Adam) also designed nearby Harewood House. Farnley Hall was built as a Georgian extension to an existing hall (just visible behind in my photo) that dates back to the early 1600s and is now called Farnley Old Hall. (I haven't shown a full photo of the Old Hall as it is nowadays a separate, private dwelling.) 

The Old Hall was owned and occupied in the 1780s by Francis Fawkes. When he died in 1786, without children, the house was inherited by Walter Hawkesworth, who adopted the name Fawkes as a condition of the will. It was Walter who commissioned John Carr to build the huge new wing now known as Farnley Hall. Walter sadly died in 1792, and his son Walter Ramsden Fawkes finished the house and furnished it.

The house has a special connection with the artist JMW Turner, who was a close friend of the family and often stayed with them. Turner's watercolours, including some of the house and the local area, give a fascinating glimpse into how it all looked, both inside and out, in the early 1800s.

We were welcomed by the present owner, Guy Horton-Fawkes, and the tour was led by two ladies with a long connection to the house, who were both extremely knowledgeable. It is beautiful inside, with the wonderfully symmetrical and well-proportioned rooms so typical of Georgian architecture. The interior has stunning plasterwork on the ceilings and walls; delicate white mouldings against a pale blue or duck-egg background are reminiscent of Wedgwood pottery.

The windows frame the sweeping view over the valley to Otley and The Chevin.

The Hall sits in extensive grounds, with some lovely trees, one of which is a 200 year old weeping beech - which I must admit I'd never heard of before. The pendulous branches touch the ground and form new roots, so the tree spreads out like a tent. The garden entrance has this rather imposing archway that, according to one of Turner's sketches, was once sited at the front of the Old Hall as its main door. The datestone is 1604. 

It was a privilege to be shown round such an exceptional mansion, to hear its history and to see its interesting and beautiful contents. We were made most welcome, even being treated to tea and cakes around the kitchen Aga. I can't say that I envy those who have the responsibility of preserving such places, especially when they are still family homes, though I'm really grateful when they do such a good job of it. I had a fascinating afternoon.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Human tide

And so to Oxford Circus, a heaving and cosmopolitan mass of people. It was actually a little scary trying to get down the stairs into the underground station, swept along by a tide of humanity and almost as powerless against the current as one would be in the raging sea. I love visiting London for a day or two but I'm also enormously glad not to have to live there. It's so noisy and exhausting. Glad to be home!

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Swinging London?

When I'm in London these days, I seem to spend most of my time on the South Bank, exploring the galleries and tourist magnets like Borough Market. Although the gallery@oxo (where the exhibition was) is close to the Tate Modern and the Hayward Gallery, I decided this time to forgo their delights and venture north and west, across the river, up through Covent Garden (above), Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus and then up Regent Street to Oxford Circus. There was plenty to enjoy - and lots of people everywhere.

I'm old enough to remember the 1960s, when Carnaby Street (above) was the place to be, at the heart of 'Swinging London'. It is still full of quirky shops and independent traders, and interesting to wander down. It's now pedestrianised too, so at least you don't have to worry about stepping out into the path of a London taxi!  The days when I could wear shoes like these are also long past, but I thought they were fun and so colourful.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Flat white

It turned out to be a 'flat white' kind of a day in London, fuelled by several cups of my favoured coffee... and determined to get a few photos, despite the unpromising dull, flat light and blank, grey skies. In some ways a diffused light is easier for architecture and suits the pale Portland stone buildings, like Somerset House (above) - yet you do really need a bit of sparkle to enliven a photo... and there was none. 

I like the little 'wedding cake' churches scattered through the city, like St Mary-le-Strand below, now marooned in the middle of the busy thoroughfare that is the modern-day Strand, with St Clement Danes, equally marooned, a little distance beyond. They are known as 'island churches', for obvious reasons. Built in the early 1700s, I guess its location would have looked very different when it was first used but it is still a functioning church, and acts as the home church for the Women's Royal Naval Service. 

On such a day, it was better, perhaps, to focus on close-ups. The magnolia trees in front of the church were in blossom, their colour and chaos forming an interesting foil to the church's Baroque ornamentation. 

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Fog on the Thames

I had a day trip to London to see a photographic exhibition, Vision 9 (see HERE), at the 'gallery@oxo' on the South Bank. It was a most enjoyable treat and a wonderful exhibition to see. I'd seen it advertised and realised that, of the nine photographers exhibiting, five are people I already follow on Facebook, finding their work very inspiring. So, even before I'd really thought about it, I'd booked a train ticket to go! All the artists are landscape photographers but they are producing some exquisite and unusual work, far removed from a straight landscape shot. Some use multiple exposures and ICM (intentional camera movement) or long exposures to produce work that sings with light and has an impressionistic feel.

I took my own camera, hoping for some city shots, but it was a poor day, dull and foggy and very cold. The view along the Thames looked almost monochrome, with the dome of St Paul's Cathedral and the skyscrapers in the City looming out of the mist in the distance.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Trains and boats, no planes

My family have just returned from a holiday and we arranged to meet up for a day, before they all started school/nursery/work again. Lo and behold, it turned out to be a dry and sunny day, even beginning to feel a little warmer. We met at Shibden Hall Park, near Halifax, as it is about equidistant between our homes and has lots for the children to enjoy. Away from the paths, it was horribly muddy, so we all got a bit grimy. Nevertheless, we had a lot of fun.

There is a miniature steam railway that makes a circuit of part of the estate. The girls love riding on that and loved waving to all the people we passed. We had a picnic (first of the year!). Then we bravely decided to hire a rowing boat. My daughter turned out to have some unexpected skills in rowing and navigated us safely around the lake, and the girls managed to stay on board!

My older granddaughter found a painted stone, hidden as part of the craze that is spreading around the country for people painting small stones with nice pictures or positive messages and leaving them for others to find. (Locally it's called 'Calderdale Rocks!') After that, she started searching for them and found three altogether. We took a photo of each one and then she hid them again for others to find. All rather sweet and it kept her amused. They had a longish stint in the adventure playground (both the girls are quite brave in climbing, sliding and jumping) and then a well-earned coffee and ice-cream on the café terrace in the sunshine concluded a most enjoyable day out. I feel so blessed to have them.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Dark Ages and daffodils

East Riddlesden Hall is the nearest National Trust place to me, so I can now take advantage of my membership and pop along there anytime. It is only small but it's pleasant: an interesting old manor house and ancient tithe barns, with a large pond in front and small but attractive gardens. It was another dull day, but the daffodils were in bloom in wide sweeps across the lawns. In the gardens at the rear there were few flowers blooming as yet, though the blue ones, which I think are Siberian squill, made bright drifts in the flower beds.

There was an event advertised: an Anglo-Saxon Experience Day. It was mainly aimed at children and there were some families in a side room, busily creating round shields. I had expected a few more costumed actors but there were only two or three, from a group called the English Companions. It was, however, interesting to read in their displays a bit about The Dark Ages, that period in British history between about 450 and 1066, after the Romans withdrew and before the Norman Conquest. Germanic tribes migrated from Europe and settled, and the Anglo-Saxon period effectively saw the birth of the English nation, English language and culture. Christianity was established and systems of government grew as various kingdoms (Mercia, Wessex and so on) developed. It was a complicated and turbulent time but it laid many foundations that still influence life in Britain today. The earliest archeological traces found at East Riddlesden Hall date back to 973 though the house we see now originated in the 1600s.

I'm always grateful for the volunteers and historians that seek to bring these times to life. I studied history at school but remember it as a fairly dry subject. It is only in recent years that I have really started to be aware of the evidence of the past all around us and to be interested, particularly in social history.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Leeds owl mural

I've tried to take a picture of this mural in Leeds city centre before, with little success. Then I had reason to pass through Leeds railway station and realised that from one of the platforms it is much more visible and accessible. I didn't know much about it, but searching online I found that it was commissioned as part of a street art project, 'A City Less Grey'. Called 'Athena Rising', it was painted on the east side of the recently revamped Platform building by two female artists known as Nomad Clan. (See HERE for more details). It is more than 150ft high and is believed to be Britain's tallest piece of street art.

The owl is the symbol of the City of Leeds (see HERE), and there are many owls scattered around on buildings and bridges so the subject matter is quite appropriate.

(Taking part in Monday Murals. Click HERE for more murals from around the world.)

Sunday, 15 April 2018

In reserve

I've mentioned before (see HERE) the small nature reserve that has been started near Hirst Lock, on a boggy field that was once part of a farm, beside the canal on the edge of Saltaire. It's the brainchild of the Hirst Wood Regeneration Group, who had already transformed a scrubby patch by the lock into an attractive garden. Some three years in the planning, the reserve officially opened in September 2015. Despite some problems with vandalism, it is beginning to establish itself and is a pleasant place for a stroll.

On the first (and only, so far!) warm, sunny day we've really had, a few days into April, I had a little walk in that direction. Everything is really behind this year. Daffodils were only just beginning to flower (although the smaller narcissus were a little more advanced) and there was at that stage hardly any blossom or signs of trees in bud. Nature's energy is literally held 'in reserve' but the warmer weather soon encourages growth to speed up.

The reserve is used for educational purposes by the local primary school. They have made a nice little mosaic picture, which clearly shows the mature tree near the reserve's entrance.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Artistic licence

It has continued wet and cold here, apart from the odd day when there have been a few tantalising hints of warmer sunshine, so I still haven't been inclined to get out much to take photos. (Where is Spring?) I have, however, spent some time processing images and attempting a few artistic effects. It's fun and very absorbing. This is another picture of reedbeds, taken at the Leighton Moss RSPB reserve, where I visited in late March. Don't ask me what I did to it! I just kept on trying different things... but ended up quite happy with this result.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Gibson Mill

One final post from Hardcastle Crags... This shows Gibson Mill from the back, beautifully reflected in the mill pond.

Thursday, 12 April 2018


Remarkably, this old range and kitchen is still on the top floor of Gibson Mill, a relic of when the place was a busy restaurant in the early 1900s.

It seemed to fit the theme for March in my online photo group, which was 'Abandoned'. I suppose you could argue that it is hardly abandoned, since it is now in the care of the National Trust. But it was clearly abandoned at some stage. I don't think you'd get far trying to cook on it now! I can vividly picture waitresses in long black skirts, starched white aprons and frilly caps, rushing in and out for the orders.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Now and then

Gibson Mill has a fascinating history. It was built in 1805 as a water-powered cotton mill but, as the Industrial Revolution gathered pace, the initial attractions of the site (alongside a fast flowing river to power the waterwheel) became more of a hindrance. The valley is narrow and when packhorse transport was overtaken by rail and road, it became increasingly difficult to get supplies and goods to and from the mill.

It finally closed as a mill in 1902 but was almost immediately reopened as a restaurant. During the previous decade the wooded valley, full of waterfalls and picnic spots, had became a tourist attraction and various small pavilions had opened, serving refreshments to cater to the weekend visitors from the nearby industrial towns. The mill became an 'entertainment emporium', with first and second class (!) restaurants, a dance floor and later a roller skating rink. At its height in the 1920s, the area was attracting 500,000 visitors a year. People were transported from Hebden Bridge railway station in open carriages called wagonettes that could transport 25 people at once, pulled by teams of four horses. The last owner left the mill and the estate to the National Trust, on his death in 1956.

You can see from the photos that superficially the Mill is still very similar to what it looked like in the early 1900s. It is, however, now one of the NT's flagship sustainable enterprises. Apart from a telephone link, it is completely 'off-grid', generating electricity from a water turbine and photo-voltaic panels, heating from a bio-mass boiler and having composting toilets.

(Old photos are taken from the display panels around the mill. Hope nobody objects!)

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

A walk round Hardcastle Crags

The National Trust not only cares for many historic properties but also manages huge areas of the British countryside and coast. One area locally that falls under its jurisdiction is Hardcastle Crags, a wooded valley very near to where my daughter lives in Hebden Bridge.

My granddaughter attends a Church of England primary school, and they were having a special Easter service in the adjoining parish church. She had a part in it, so I went along to watch. It was an early start for me, and then it was all over by 10.30am so I had the rest of the day to play with. Although it was a bit dull and drizzly, I decided I'd take a walk round the Crags. (There is no entrance fee to the NT's country areas but my newly acquired membership of the organisation does give me free parking. It would be rude not to use it!)

The valley has many way-marked trails of varying lengths and difficulty. I set off on the red route, scrambling up through woods and outcrops of millstone grit and returning along the riverside. Much of the walk was paved with old stone flags, which usually denote ancient packhorse routes. The local area was home to many handloom weavers in the 18th century, so there was a busy trade of goods criss-crossing the valley on horseback.

In 1805, Gibson Mill, a water-powered cotton mill, was built, harnessing the power of the river, Hebden Water, which runs through the valley to join the River Calder in Hebden Bridge. The mill forms the focal point of the Hardcastle Crags trails, and now has a café, gallery space and educational facilities.

Though the countryside still seemed held fast in the grip of winter, I saw quite a few birds as I walked through the woods, including a great spotted woodpecker, which didn't stay still long enough for me to photograph. Upstream from the mill, I saw a grey heron. They do stand still - sometimes for hours!

The path back to the carpark ran alongside Hebden Water, which tumbles over little cascades and has many points where you can cross by stepping stones or packhorse bridges, another sign of how busy this now quiet and peaceful valley once was.