Spring. A time of new life, a hopeful season after the short days of Winter. A time slow stirring at first- and then a furious bustle in the trees and hedges, new lambs in the fields and the first shoots of Spring flowers.
Just as each season is part of a cycle, so each season has its own cycle. Beneath stark and empty trees, wild garlic and bluebell compete and make use of damp soil and sunlight. Then come the leaves: first the beech and birch, brilliant green against the blue, followed by sycamore, oak and ash. Then, on the forest floor, the light is too little for the wild garlic and bluebells, and inevitably, their spring is short.
But what a time it was! Carpets of blue or white, dappled by the first tree's leaves and the scattered light of the young sun. A stream runs between brilliant tufts of grass, where dippers skim the water and, on good days, kingfishers pass in a flash of blue. Where blackbirds sing, their mellow fluting a perfect accompaniment to the stream's musical babbling.
Above all, for me, this is a time when the ordinary shines with its own light. Bluebells, blackbirds, the darting flight of the swallow, the air thick and the hedges laden with May Blossom, the beautiful but ordinary hawthorn. Spring has a light touch, where hope dances like mayflies over the slow waters of the river. And who, who had known only winter, like the lambs, could ever foresee this? Born in cold winds, close to their mothers, icy rain gives way to a startling green, and a sun that brings warmth and fresh grass, a thousand new sights and scents. Completely unexpected.
I made a trip to Middleton Woods, near Ilkley, which is in West Yorkshire, but is only 8 miles or so from where I live. The photos below were taken there, using my usual 400mm lens.
You can see the photos HERE
Loughrigg Tarn, near Ambleside, Cumbria
The air is warm and heavy. In the distance, geese call as the sun starts to sink. The light is soft and golden. The dog lies dozing in the grass, a tennis ball in his mouth. I nudge him and say "come on, then". Without hesitation, he follows me happily, walking into the light of yet another dusk. Over the stile, through a gate and onto the shores of the Tarn.
All is so quiet, so still. The water is like a mirror, reflecting dappled streaks of cloud, tinted gold. A grebe dives silently, then re-appears. Damsel flies, turquoise and blue, dart and dash at the water's edge. In the distance, mountains crowd the horizon, stacked against the orange sky. Trees cast long, soft shadows and even the mundane becomes staggeringly beautiful. It occurs to me, not for the first time, that all of this exists, yet it is plainly not for us. It can neither nourish nor keep us alive in the cold, hard reality of being human. Why should a sunset elevate the senses so? Why does Summer rain, or a waterfall, or a cuckoo calling from the high trees cheer us so much? I don't know: I am merely glad that they do. That some cannot see this is incomprehensible. For others, like myself, it is an unfailing source of joy- and our only reality.
I watch, as minute by minute, the sun sinks and stars begin to appear. My dog decides to go for a swim, causing waves which makes the sky's reflection shimmer and scatter. He has no such thoughts, only that today is a good day to be here, and that tomorrow, he'll do it again. Dogs know what most humans can only grasp the edges of.
Later, we sit beneath the stars, the fire flickering and lighting the pint of beer in my hand. In its amber-red depths, I am reminded of sun on the barley, and nights spent like this, below the same moon and stars. The dog looks at me, then at the stars. I wonder what he is thinking: is it any different to my thoughts? Together we sit in contented silence, and listen to the owls in the woods, the bleating of sheep, the crackle of the fire, and nothing else.
This is priceless.
Please feel free to comment. More pictures of Loughrigg Tarn:
Like many landscape photographers, Autumn is by far my favourite time of year. My definition of Autumn is somewhat different to the "official" one: mine runs from whenever the leaves are changing colour to early December. Why is this? A simple answer is the quality of morning light. Even up to mid- December, some mornings are beautiful: cold, frosty and yet the light can actually be very "warm" (golden). This has more in common with Autumn proper. What follows is a mid Autumn ramble, just myself and my dog, Beau.
Horse Chestnut (conker) leaf
Autumn! The fruit of Spring's furious bustle and Summer rain. A time of fleeing birds, frost underfoot and carpets of fallen leaves. But, what a time. To watch the sun rise over fields that shimmer with frost, watch as it gains strength. To see low clouds of golden mist amongst the trees, over last year's flowers and turning the ice upon a delicate leaf into a drop of purest water. Take your time: over every dead flower, spiders webs are draped, coated in white. Streams of gossamer, freed from their icy weight, flutter and dance amongst blades of grass. Look closer: the indescribably beautiful patterns on scattered seed heads. Thistles, bearing dew, defy the cold. The low and the humble, like last Summer's nettles, or blades of grass, transformed by crystals of ice. Even the steely ugliness of mankind's barriers, a wire fence, made sublime by a far older master, a spider's web. See footprints upon the white grass, watch as red, gold, brown and green leaves frame themselves upon a deep blue sky, or lie in scattered profusion amongst the trees. Look closer: frost turns to dew and each vein in every leaf is clear, sharply defined. Blackbirds and thrushes haunt the hawthorns, flocks of finches flit along the hedgerows, where fruit hangs in profusion. This is not the end. Autumn is peace. And yet, Autumn's quiet glory will show again the new shoots of Spring, for without Autumn, there can be no Spring or Summer.
Click below for some of 2017's Autumn images, or use the "Search" button to find more:
The Leeds to Liverpool canal runs for 127 miles, linking Yorkshire and Lancashire towns to Liverpool and allowing the supply of coal, textiles and limestone. Via the Aire and Calder Navigation, the Leeds to Liverpool canal allows navigation to Hull. This was the great age of canal building, which only lasted some 50 years before being supplanted by steam railways. The canal was built by famed engineer James Brindley and John Longbottom and work started in 1770. This was no mean task: crossing the Pennines meant that 91 locks were built and, as ever, canals twist and turn to follow the contours of the land. It is hard to believe now, but this canal was a hive of purely industrial activity, and it reaches Skipton, just outside the Yorkshire Dales National Park, in order to make use of the limestone quarried nearby. Lime was the miracle ingredient of that age. Canals started furious lawsuits and arguments over streams, watercourses and even the rain that fell upon the canal: who owned what?
Now, the canal is a place of tranquility, a haven for wildlife and a softly spoken reminder of our industrial past- and a rare example of it creating true beauty, rather than destruction. Particularly beautiful is the stretch that runs from Skipton to East Marton. My dog, Beau, and I spent a lovely morning there last Autumn.
The Leeds to Liverpool Canal near St.Peters Church
The air is crisp and clean and cold. Ahead, the sun rises against a silvery blue sky, impossibly beautiful. Fields are striped by long soft shadows of towering trees. Plough and furrow marks laid bare where now sheep graze. The canal is a dark mirror, casting reflections of red, gold and green. All is so still. The ground crunches underfoot and my dog trots by in a cloud of breath. In the distance, the weak sun burns the ice into rising mist, that soon disappears and leaves only sparkling dew. All is so peaceful. A farmhouse chimney in the distance, its smoke rising vertically. A heron rising slowly as ducks fly in. As we walk along the tree lined canal, the sun flickers and flashes between the branches. On we go, along the tow path, to the bridge that crosses the water and leads across frosty fields to a church seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
A closer look, and the sad outlines of an ancient settlement in the field next to the church reveal, perhaps, some ancient tragedy as to why it is long since abandoned. Through the narrow gate and amongst the tombstones. Ancient stone memorials to those who made this place, whose beliefs and names are carved upon the cold stone in the hope of memory and, perhaps, resurrection. An implacable belief, the bones of which are in the very land itself: tied to their God by a cycle and process they knew intimately, for their very lives depended upon the seasons, the growing of crops, or the fattening of sheep, the changes of weather and the capricious ebbs and flows of what some call "fortune". Each mouthful of bread a gift from God. So far removed from now.
Cold progress came in the form of the canal: a gentle easing of the old ways, so unlike today's spreadsheet evangelism which gives and takes so much and yet which never satisfies. Those old tombstones, forgotten testimonies to forgotten lives, make it clear to me: each day is a gift, and mornings like this particularly so. A fallen leaf upon the stone. The rooks that call from the church tower. No-one places flowers upon the graves any more: there is no-one left to know. Yet, between the stones, the beeches, the church and the long shadows, there is a sense of strength here. For who, who lies beneath these stones, could have known what was to follow, to see the four seasons racing down the centuries, rain upon the grass, snow upon the silent fields, Autumn leaves falling, carefully it seems, to land upon someone's final resting place. To be sure, those people saw the coming of the canal and the upheaval of change, some for the better, no doubt. But few could have foreseen that calm and serenity would fall again upon the placid waters, that trees would once again crowd in, and, most of all, that a few centuries on, someone would gaze upon their gravestones, wonder, and feel far older than he is.
From a photographic point of view, I used my 400mm Canon lens, my 14mm Wide Angle and a Sigma 50mm Macro.
Please feel free to comment, to let me know what you think about this and other posts- and my photos.
You can find more images of the Leeds - Liverpool canal and St.Peters Church, East Marton, here:
Swaledale is probably the most grand, yet rugged of the Yorkshire Dales. I love the villages, particularly Muker and Keld. I spent almost a week there last Summer, just myself and my faithful dog. Swaledale is particularly well known for its hay meadows and long fields with beautiful stone barns. Like most of the Dales, you're rarely far from water. The weather is unpredictable even by North Yorkshire standards: racing clouds and furious bursts of driving rain are often followed by bright sunshine, which makes shadows of clouds racing across the moors.
Looking down towards Muker, Swaledale
To stand high up on the sweeping moors, the only sound the wind and a lonely curlew. Below, Shadows race across moors and long fields, as clouds tumble across vast skies. In the distance, nestled at the bottom of the dale, where a river wends its way, sits a village. Warm coloured stone, scattered chimney pots, a church and not much else. To walk around that church, to see the testimonies to the lives that made this place, their beliefs laid bare. Yet, for me, a better testament lies outside the stone walls of the church. To walk across the fields, along the ancient paths, through meadows, real meadows. The high running dry stones, silent and empty barns: a way of life so much richer than today's. I envy those people. The land has strong bones, like those who farmed it. They could face you in a meadow in spring, look you in the eye and say "I made this. Me and mine". This is no small achievement.
You can see more Muker and Swaledale images here: