Monday, 22 January 2018

Oakwell Hall

We've been suffering some horrible, damp, gloomy days since Christmas. I'm trying not to let the weather get me down or prevent me doing things. In that spirit, I and a couple of friends arranged to go for a walk. It was so dull and wet, however, that our planned route through woodland was inadvisable, so instead we visited Oakwell Hall Country Park, south of Bradford.

The Hall itself is a lovely Elizabethan manor house, built in the late 1500s. It was known to the novelist Charlotte Brontë and is the model for 'Fieldhead' in her novel "Shirley". During its history, it has been a home and a boarding school, and is now owned by Kirklees Council, furnished inside much as it would have been in the late 17th century. It is open as a museum, and is used for weddings and as a film location. The TV series 'Gunpowder' (which I saw being filmed on the Bolton Abbey estate, HERE) also used Oakwell Hall as a location.

We had a short walk around the grounds, where there are nature trails, ponds and woods, but it was all extremely muddy - and the dull roar of traffic from the nearby motorway was a bit intrusive. Perhaps I'll go back later in the year and take some photos when it's a bit brighter.

Sunday, 21 January 2018


One of the things I most appreciate about tramping the same familiar, local paths over and over is that scenes never look the same two days running. I'm always seeing new things. Sometimes they are literally new additions or subtractions but often it's just a trick of the light that reveals some fresh magic. I have walked along the carriage drive up towards Milner Field many times and never noticed the way the land beyond it curves and the trees nestle into the contours. On this day, the light and shadows really made this stand out, with the sinuous branches of a nearby tree echoing and emphasising the sweep of the land.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Mist and trees

A dull and misty day and an attractive stand of young trees. It seemed to want to be photographed and I think a black and white conversion with a fairly light touch suits it quite well. I'd have been happier without the encroaching branches top right but I couldn't easily find a viewpoint that excluded them. Walking with a non-photographer friend, there was a limit to how long I could 'faff about' choosing my spot!

Friday, 19 January 2018

Battlefield Cavern

The White Scar Caves visitor trail ends in a vast underground cavern called Battlefield Cavern, so called because the pile of boulders at the entrance looks like the aftermath of a battle between giants. It is over 330 feet long and 100 feet high in places. It was discovered as recently as 1971, by a teenage girl called Hilda Guthrie, a member of the Happy Wanderers caving club. She entered the cave by coming up through a tunnel in the base, holding her breath and swimming through a water-filled 'sump', to then surface and discover the massive cave. Just imagine how exciting that must have been! Visitor access to the cavern was achieved in 1991, when tin miners from Cornwall blasted a 65 metre sloping tunnel to connect the cavern with the existing stream tunnel lower down. It is pretty phenomenal! It's rather attractive in parts too, with the delicate stalactites illuminated by coloured lights. 

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Under Ingleborough

Cave systems like White Scar Caves are formed by groundwater and underground streams dissolving the limestone rock, sculpting out tunnels and caverns. It's an amazing subterranean landscape, with streams, waterfalls, huge caverns and strange formations of stalactites and stalagmites, pillars and flowstones, formed when the calcium carbonate dissolved in the dripping water builds up over thousands of years.

It's quite difficult to photograph. It's much darker inside than the photos suggest, with key features picked out by lights. You aren't allowed to use flash or tripods so I had to use the highest ISO my camera allows, with a slow shutter speed and wide aperture. A lot of my pictures came out really too blurred to use. The metal walkways are rather bouncy too with a group of about 20 tramping along them! But I think you can get an idea of what it was like from these pictures.

Some of the formations have been given names, like the one above. There was 'the judge's head' (a small stalagmite that looked like a head wearing a wig), 'the witch's fingers' and 'the devil's tongue'.

Wherever you are, underground, you can hear flowing water, and sometimes the waterfalls and streams are visible.

Deeper into the system there were some huge caverns, quite awe-inspiring.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Going caving

I met up with my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughters at White Scar Caves recently, to do a spot of caving! White Scar is up near Ingleton, on the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, deep underneath Ingleborough, one of the famous Yorkshire 'Three Peaks'. It is the longest 'show cave' (ie: those that the general public can enter) in Britain, as visitors can walk about half a mile inside the system, though experienced cavers have, of course, explored much further into the whole system of tunnels.

The system was first discovered in the 1920s but some of the guided walk we took was opened up much more recently. There is a trail of natural tunnels that have had concrete paths laid, metal walkways with streams flowing beneath and some long staircases; some sections require you to double over and creep under low overhangs. The hard hats were mandatory and very necessary. I'm not a great fan of being underground in enclosed spaces... You'd never get me actually potholing, even when I was younger. But the visitor trail is safe inside, even for little children to walk through, and the caves are very interesting. It does sometimes flood, but they have a careful monitoring system and would not allow you inside if there was any danger. The children had to wear woolly hats under their safety helmets. Even then, the littlest one managed to knock hers off (there was no chin strap) and lose it in the abyss!

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Hole in the heart

I seek, wherever possible, to notice and photograph the beauty in the world... both where that is obvious and sometimes where it might be hidden. I suppose I try, in my own small way, to magnify and share beauty. There seems to me to be enough that is ugly and tough in this world, without adding to it. 

A recent visit to Bradford city centre, however, has me breaking that self-imposed guideline, simply because what I saw breaks my heart. The ugliness I show above is Darley Street, once the heart of Bradford's retail centre. 

There's a story behind it. I've lived in and around this area for many years, since I was a student at Bradford University in the very early 1970s. In those days (the 1960s and 70s) the city was full of imposing, some might say forbidding, Victorian architecture but it was also a time of great change, with many of the old buildings being demolished and modernist concrete blocks being erected in their place. The bottom of the city centre was where the main civic buildings were (still are) - plus a wonderful and rather classy department store called Brown, Muff & Co and a concrete development that had replaced the Victorian Swan Arcade. A little higher up there were the chain stores: Boots, Marks and Spencer and such like, in and around a concrete mall called the Kirkgate Centre (where once had been a lovely Victorian indoor market). At the top of town there were other markets and stores. 

There was a gradual decline in the traditional retail trade. A large department store on the northern edge of the city (Busby's) was an early casualty and then its building burnt down, replaced by a retail park. Brown, Muff and Co (taken over by House of Fraser in the late 70s) closed down in 1995. New shopping parks, more accessible by car, were built on the edge of town. Chain stores in the middle of town continued to get by, with smaller shops opening and closing all the time. The top end of town just about survives, thanks to the markets and an influx of new independents, many of them bars. 

In the early 'noughties' (2000+), some of the concrete office buildings and shops in the lower end of town were demolished to make way for a new shopping mall. Unfortunately, the recession hit and work was halted, leaving a huge and literal hole in the lower part of the city centre. (See HERE).  It is only very recently that The Broadway development has been completed, opened in 2015. 

Many of the stores (like Marks and Spencer) simply relocated to The Broadway and closed their original shops. The predictable result is that now there is another 'hole', a figurative one in the middle of town, at the heart of the city centre. On the street where M&S used to be, there are literally now only two shops open, one of those being Specsavers. All the other premises are either empty or being temporarily used for community arts ventures.  Last time I walked up that way I was shocked to see the decay and litter. This time, I was heartbroken; it is all so seedy and run-down. I really cannot see what can be done to rescue it. Pity poor Bradford... 

Meanwhile, cosmopolitan Leeds gets bigger and better, as fashionable high-end shops (like John Lewis) continue to open there. I, like most of my contemporaries, much prefer to take the short train ride to Leeds to shop there. I feel like a traitor...

Monday, 15 January 2018

The United Reformed Church

I've taken so many photos of Saltaire's magnificent Grade 1 listed church, I've enough to fill a calendar and more. (One day I might make one!) There are only really two good view points: head-on down the drive, as here, or from the north side as seen from the canal towpath. (See HERE). I have to complain that Sir Titus Salt and his Victorian architects did not consider the building from a photographic viewpoint (!) as the sun only illuminates the building satisfactorily in the early morning. Later in the day it moves round to be an annoying backlight. In fairness, I suppose the trees that surround the church weren't so big in the early days so the church would have stood out more. If you can work within the limitations, however, it is a really wonderful building to photograph, and the overall scene looks so different depending on the seasons.

Sunday, 14 January 2018


This is the point where the Leeds-Liverpool Canal crosses the River Aire on an aqueduct (to the right of my photo). It's just a mile or so out from Saltaire. It's the furthest point of my favourite walk, the point where I leave the canal towpath, slip through a stile in the wall (which you can just see, where walkers have worn a groove in the earth) and clamber down to the riverbank to return home.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Two trees, two days

I had a quick and restorative walk on Boxing Day, taking my favourite route out along the canal towpath and back along the river bank. It's only about three miles but it's enough to wake me up! The furthest point takes me as far as my favourite trees and I like to check on them every now and again. It was a beautiful day, with sunshine and blue skies.

A few days later, I did a different walking route which took me past the trees again. They looked a bit different under a lowering sky. Within a few minutes of me taking the photo, the rain started. Luckily I was already heading for home.

Friday, 12 January 2018

It's that cormorant again

The juvenile cormorant that I spotted early in December seems to have taken up residence on the stretch of the River Aire between Hirst Weir and the aqueduct. One day when I passed, it was perched on a tree stump grounded on the weir. Perhaps fish are easier to catch as they tumble over the weir? From a distance I thought it was the heron, which often frequents this spot, but as I got closer I could see it wasn't. Handsome birds, aren't they?

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Old Bingley

From the vantage point of Ireland Bridge, Bingley's parish church and the cluster of old houses around it looks quite pretty. It would be a lovely place to live, if only the river didn't regularly flood these properties.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Unremarkable scenes

I've been inspired in the past year by a photographer called Lizzie Shepherd, who is based in Yorkshire. She exhibited at 'Art in the Pen' in Skipton last summer and I've been to a couple of talks and presentations she has given, including one at the camera club I belong to. I find her work intriguing. She is technically superb and compositionally precise but, along with the detail, there is often a soft, almost ephemeral, quality to her images that I really like. I find the mixture of precision and gentleness to be very beguiling. She often photographs the kinds of scenes that I find myself intuitively drawn to. Some of her work is very subtle, what she herself calls 'unremarkable scenes' - but the more I look at them, the more I see. My own work is nowhere near her league (nor is my equipment!) but nevertheless she inspires me.

The photo above is what I'd call an unremarkable scene. It was taken on a walk round Bingley St Ives estate on a really dull, dreary and misty day. (Not the kind of mist that enlivens a scene!) I'd passed this way many times before but never really noticed the spiral sculpture. Something about the light that day drew attention to it. For some reason that I am struggling to grasp, I really like this photo: the subtle colours, the way the spiral is counterbalanced by the little fir tree on the left, the tilt of the sculpture echoed by the tilt of that birch trunk, the horizontal branches that bring your eye round... Not everybody's cup of tea, I know, but I like it.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Green building

Here's an interesting house on the outskirts of Bingley... It was built a few years ago, with a very innovative and energy-saving design. It is part buried in the ground and has a turfed roof. From the roadside, it looks as though it could be an industrial building or even some kind of water storage tank, but the elevation that overlooks the valley is fully glazed, which must provide a magnificent panoramic view from the main living areas.