Dungeness.

Tuesday 23 June 2020 – Dungeness.

We have not been up to much over the last few weeks, lock down has slowly been easing, though that has not really changed us much. We continue to work from home and continue to be sensible when we go out. We have visited a friends garden and had friends to ours, these were extremely pleasant, almost forgetting that there is much more pleasure in being physically in the same place as friends, rather than the ‘new normal’ (Oh, how I hate that phrase) of online conversations which were becoming normalised in a rather scary way.

Apart from small supermarkets we have not been inside many shops, yet. I haven’t even ordered much on line recently (which reminds me, there was a record I was going to order Smile ).

The best news is we came down to St Leonards 10 days ago and have been here since. As we are here and work has been stressful and annoying lately, I decided to take a few days off work this week. It is turning into the hottest week of the year so far, 30 degrees, so I am very glad we are not in London. It is significantly cooler in the flat, half way up a hill I get a lovely sea breeze, taking the sting out of the heat, and I am going to have a swim as soon as I hit publish.

Today was the first day of the four days off, Eleanor is working and is mega-busy. I grabbed the big Canon 5d, a couple of lens and the Polaroid and went on a photo mission to Dungeness; about 25 miles up the coast in Kent. I have been there before, but never on my own and never with the big camera. I will be going back again that is for sure, maybe in the pouring rain next time.

It was not ideal conditions for photography, brutal late-morning sun, no shade, flat, shingle beach, harsh and glary as hell. It was the ideal conditions for Dungeness, and perfect for me as I much prefer extremes. I took a lot of photos, it was the most fun I had out taking photos for a very long time. I had to call it quits in the end as I could feel my face burning under the intense sun, and I had prepared properly and put sun block on before I left home. I didn’t take a hat though, must buy one!

I started by the nuclear power station that dominates the south end of the beach. It has been there for quite a long time and I think most people are quite casual about it. There is only a small fence, and no signs saying you cannot take photos; though there is a ban of flying drones. Something to be encouraged anywhere in my view. I love how the UK Coast Path walks round it’s walls.

Almost every building that is not inside the power plant fence has been converted into a beach house, there is almost nothing here; two cafe/bars, no shops, the beach is shingle, not the usual beach type holiday place. It is very beautiful though.

I am wondering if this was part of any early warning system for the power plant?

I drove back up the beach from the power plant and parked outside Prospect Cottage. The cottage was bought by the artist/filmmaker Derek Jarman in 1986 and he lived there until his untimely death in 1994. The house was passed to his partner Keith Collins who lived there until he too died in 2018. There was an ArtFund fundraising event earlier this year, which I bought a print from, to raise money to buy the property and ensure it’s up-keep in to the future. It is a lovely building and has amazing gardens and I will go back when it opens again.

I took a photo on the Polaroid and to pay homage to the print I purchased.

I took a lot of photos walking around the shingle to the sea outside the cottage. It was a real tonic and I felt a huge lift just from being there and taking photos; of derelict things Smile

The next post I have in mind will just be text, so enjoy the overdose of images, maybe hold some in your mind for next time.

E17 Art Trail Exhibition. Wander to Wonder.

June 2019 – Walthamstow.

Around a year ago I discussed the idea of exhibiting some of my photography as part of the  biannual e17 Art Trail, which was due to happen in June 2019. I approached my local cafe at the time but they already had an artist lined up. I learned at this point that venues for the art trail are booked two years in advance. It is a very popular time.

I next approached Tony who owns the Walthamstow Cycles bike shop, and discussed the idea of displaying some photos of Epping Forest in the shop. Tony introduced me to the forest a few years back and I have bought both my bikes from him. Not that I use them anymore. Lazy or time poor. I am going with lazy.

Tony was very keen on the idea, and we both let it lie for ages. Around the start of March we had to do a few administrative things, and I had to get an advert written for the trail guide. I then let it lie again until May when I had a holy crap moment as I realised I had to print and frame a whole load of photos, then hang then. By the end of the month.

The art trail has been running for a number of years now and is hugely popular. There were around 250 exhibitors in a number of venues all over the borough, there were a couple of really good photography exhibitions so I was in quite good company! The theme this year was ‘Wonder’.

There were a couple of tense weeks as I trolled through hundreds of images of the forest to try and come up with a theme. I also had to decide on a number of images I could print and frame without breaking the bank. I chose to use some cheap A4 size frames from Ikea as well as use a couple of the large frames I had in the exhibition last year. I would have loved to have used all the frames, but printing 11 images at A1 is not cheap, and these were to displayed in a working bike shop, large sheets of glass hanging on walls was not going to be practical.

I chose the seasons as a theme and displayed three or four images of each season round the various walls. Each season also represented a different location in the forest. There are some may interesting places in the forest, often with their own unique micro-environment.

The photos I displayed are below.

I hung the photos two days before the Art Trail started on a Saturday though we did not have the opening until the following Thursday. The basement of the shop was not this tidy and organised when I started.

The opening went well, a few people turned up and I hung around drinking beer with some of the attendees and the bike shop guys until about 9:00. I had some good feedback and very much enjoyed myself.

I must go and pick the photos up now, the Art Trail finished in June and it is now August ! The displayed images are below. The top image in each section was printed as a 4″ * 5″ along with a brief introduction to the prints.

Spring

Summer

Autumn

Winter.

Photosketch. Part one, the day.

May 6 2019 – near Settle, North Yorkshire.

Photosketch Part One.

This will be a two part post, primarily due to a large number of photos to show. This first post will be all about the day and the images taken on my camera. The next post will be all about the Polaroid and Instax images I took as the day progressed.

The reason for this trip to the North Yorkshire Dales was to attend today’s Photosketch walk. It was the excuse I needed to come north, get out of my comfort zone and share a day with some very talented, exciting and experienced photographers.

The event was advertised on the Twitter feed of Al Brydon, a photographer I follow and whose work I greatly admire, I have made a number of images that Al has directly influenced. Al and fellow photographer Fleur Olby organised Photosketch, a photography based walk by Fleur’s home near Rathmell, a village even smaller than the nearby Settle. The village had a car park, and that was about it, no shops, no pub.

The concept behind Photosketch was for a diverse group  to get together to create photographic art while walking, taking to time to think about and reconnect with nature and the outdoors. It sounded like just the sort of thing I needed to drag me out of a long photographic slump. I liked that this was about making art.  I needed to be reminded that photography is art, and I do it to be creative, not for Instagram followers.

I was a bit pensive going into this event, Al and Fleur are great photographers and I knew there were others coming, they were probably good as well.  I felt a bit of fraud coming along. What if I sucked? We were supposed to show some photos as part of the introduction, my images, my style, my lack of a ‘body of work’, would those be held against me? Would there be sneery looks at my ineptness? Breaking my main camera on Saturday didn’t help much either, cannot even look after my equipment!

As you would expect these were ridiculous thoughts.

Fleur picked me and a couple of others up from the train station in Settle, and we set off in her Land Rover (so much more appropriate here than in London) to Rathmell, where we met Al and the rest of the participants in the towns only highlight, the car park. There were five participants in all. Most of them seemed to know each other, either by reputation or through working together previously. I was not intimidated by this at all, oh no, not at all.

The day started with an introduction session in Fleur’s office/studio/barn. She lives a long way from nowhere, it is very remote and very beautiful. Pretty much all of my event mates were professional photographers or ex degree/masters students; all had exhibited before. In galleries, not in cafes like me. I felt inadequate to start with, however they are all lovely people and once we got talking things all balanced out. We are all human, and all love what we do. We are all equal, just different.

The day was split into two, a short walk to a small ancient swamp forest near the end of Fleur’s property, followed by lunch and then a longer walk into the moorland above. For the first session we took our own cameras, the afternoon was all about playing with instant cameras; both Polaroid and Instax.

The forest was beautiful, very small, very quiet, verging on eerie. It would have been magical to spend some time here alone, absorbing.  There is an interesting mix of light marsh grass and twisted beech amongst rock and fern. There was a very brief moment as we arrived were the light was stunning, though it did not last long enough to get cameras into action.

I was trying to think about my photography in different ways, take things slowly, looking at the details, watching the others; trying to get the feel of the place and get that onto the sensor in the back of my camera.

I wanted to think a bit like Al in the short period of time we had., time when I was largely on my own and able to think and focus.  A lot of Al’s work is underexposed, dark and very moody, allowing the viewer to interpret more from the things that cannot quite be seen than what can be seen.

I had to take a couple of my more usual impressionist photos though 🙂

After a very big lunch and a long discussion covering art, photography, books, nature, place and a wide range of other vaguely related subjects we all donned boots, coats, woolly hats and headed off up the hill and onto the moorland above Fleur’s house.

We were all given an instant camera, with a pack of film. I started with an old Polaroid, others had a range of different Polaroids and Instax cameras. The idea behind this longer walk was to play with this different technology, look and think about what we were going to take images of, not just snap away taking dozens of frames of the same thing with the hope of getting one good image. The instant cameras meant we could review the results today. I have never used an instant camera before, I was the only one who hadn’t, all the others regularly shot film, or used old plate cameras and were ued to thinking about taking images over a longer period of time.  This sort of low tech was what they were used to. I will talk about the instant camera experience in the next post. It was fun.

We passed an old farm house on the way and I got told off for taking photos. The locals do not like the ruin porn thing, displaying the slow decline of the rural way of life. Fair enough I guess.

The moorland was amazing, I really liked it up on the hills, we had a few zones to take pictures, with 20 or so minutes in each as we covered the six or so mile walk. It was moody and cold up in the hills and at once point it rained heavily, though fortunately briefly. The clouds were amazing and I was gutted I did not have the big camera as the wide angle was perfect for this environment. The little G16 did OK though.

We dropped down into a small section of pine forest, passing a really cool mountain bike loop on the way. The pine forest was an interesting change from the open and mostly treeless moors, and Iiked the closeness and darkness of the trees. We didn’t have long there unfortunately, I think I could have gotten quite ‘lost’ in the depths of this large grove.

Walking back down from the top we were again exposed to some massive views, with big clouds, big horizons and wonderful contrasts between the yellowy grasses and the grey sky. I took way too many photos. This is my sort of place, though I was supposed to be not taking cliché Phil photos today. I couldn’t help it, and I know I was not the only one…

Watching sweeping rain showers batter the horizon from our position of relative dryness was dramatic and inspiring and I wanted to stay longer, however those clouds were not all ‘over there’ and we could see them coming our way, with growing rapidity.

Apart from the pine forest, we saw very few trees, coming across two trees together we stopped to take a few photos, they were almost unique in that environment.

I had a lot of fun with the instant cameras, I had a go with both types and took about 24 photos. All the cameras were old, some hadn’t been used for a while so results were unpredictable, there was a lot of roller noise, but for me this just added to the joy of the images. This was my favourite, a landscape Instax. I will show some of the rest in the nex post, maybe tomorrow.

It was cold out, so the instant photos took a while to develop, even stuffed into pockets close to body warmth.  Back at Fleur’s we spent some time looking at all photos we had taken, comparing images and effects from the different cameras and discussing experiences. It was really nice, quite education, and interesting to see the varierty of styles. I very much enjoyed it. adly and all too soon it was time to be dropped back in Settle, the day was done 😦

It was a good day, I learnt some things, met some brilliant people and came away feeling validated that I can make good images. I just need to find my thing, as I don’t have a thing at the moment. It will come !

Big thanks to Fleur and Al for organising, and to Steve, Rachel, Kristell and Phoebe for being great company and good teachers.

The next Photosketch is in the Peak District on the 8th September. Check it out here.

A trip to the 60s, under Euston Station.

Sunday 24 February 2019 – Euston Station London.

Wow. That was a pretty cool day!

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but this was definitely better than I expected. It was also what I needed to get out of a fairly long photographic malaise. I haven’t been wanting to go out just with the intent of taking photos for months, so paying for an expensive event was a good motivator to get out.

I am not sure how often London Museum/Hidden London run this photographic event, but if you are interested in seeing a very small and normally unseen part of London’s history, have an interest in photography and a good tripod; this event, while not cheap, is very worth investigating. Hidden London run a number of tours into disused London Underground stations, most of these are very busy and are not specialist photography tours. This tour is different, focused on photography, with a maximum of eight people, split into four groups of two and across four zones s no-one gets in anyones way. The visit allows for two hours underground, though I would have liked at least one more. 

Steve and I met outside Euston station and were joined by the other six members of the group along with three staff from Hidden London. Our bags were searched (I guess for hidden bombs) and we donned hi-viz jackets; promptly covering them in camera and tripod bags. We were escorted into the station, through the ticket barriers, down to the Victoria Line platform, and then through one of those locked doors that you see every day and sometimes wonder what lurks behind.

This door took us to a short set of up steps that used to be the end of the platform, and back to the 1960s…

Once inside and the door closed to the normal people we were given a quick safety briefing and then a history of the tunnels, what we were about to see and a quick look at the four locations we would shoot in.

The mainline station at Euston was served by two underground lines. The first stage of the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway opened in 1907, and The City and South London Railway, running from Stockwell to the city, was extended north to Euston in the same year.

The two lines, from competing companies, were separate and had stations on either side of Euston mainline station. However, they did agree to building an interconnecting passageway that contained a ticket hall and lifts to the mainline station platform.

The two above ground station buildings for those underground lines were closed in September 1914 after the two railways were taken under the ownership of the Underground Electric Railways of London, though the lifts and the tunnels remained in place. Eventually these two lines turned into the two branches of the Northern Line. Eventually the interconnecting tunnels were closed in 1967 when the Victoria Line was opened.

One of the key attractions for the tours is that tunnel walls are still liberally adorned with posters from the weeks and months before closure. Mostly they are badly damaged, though some are in remarkably good condition given they have been stuck to walls for over 50 years

After the brief history lesson on what we were seeing we were split into four groups of two, Steve and I pairing up. We were given a guide to ensure nothing untoward happened, and I guess to make sure we didn’t scarper into the tunnels for further exploration, though it was tempting…

We were allowed 20 minutes in each of the four zones, there was enough room for two people to take photos without getting in each other’s way. Steve and I have shot together before so know how we work. We are quite different in style and method, which is even better.

Our first 20 minutes was spent in a section with a number of posters as well as one of the old lift shafts. With the advent of the Victoria Line the lift shafts and old tunnels are part of the air conditioning system for the Victoria and Northern Lines. Nothing was wasted. My attempts are capturing the lift shaft failed, for some reason I did not think to bring a flash… I did have a tripod, though shooting vertically was quite difficult.

There were a few old posters here, but none of them were in particularly good condition. Though tatty and old is good.

The airconditioning is all quite modern, and I was surprised at how small the units were, probably explains why the Victoria Line is so hot in summer !

A lot of the old tile work in these stations is from Leslie Green, the man pretty much responsible for all the design and tiling in 50 stations built between 1903 and 1907. His work is iconic, and glorious and you always know when you are in one of his stations.

Section two was also comprised of two shooting areas, the first along one of the vast air venting tunnels. There is nothing pretty in this dark section, just dirt, dust and rusty pipes. It is very dirty here – we were warned before coming to not be wearing our finest. The plates making up the air conditioning ducts are all stamped with their details, size, bolt holes, batch and date manufactured. This one is from 1965. I love that sort of detail!

The second part of this section allowed us to peer down into the Victoria Line and the tops of the trains as they passed. It had been surprisingly quiet so far, but coming through the vents was the sound of a busker playing a bouzouki or similar instrument, it was eerie and appropriate. I have never noticed the vents before, and have yet to see them now I know they are there. I am not entirely sure how they can be some invisible, they are hardly small. It was quite fun watching people move on and off the trains, and seeing the trains whizz by underneath.

Section three was the main passenger link between the platforms of the two lines. It also contained the lovely tiled ticket office, which I managed to take a very poor photo of as I ran out of time due to there being so much to see.

Strangely none of the posters had a year on them, even the ones with dates.

This is my favourite of the posters.

Section four was the most one most used by those who work on our tube system while we sleep. There are stacks of tools, and large metal components, brooms and a bunch of stuff that I did not recognise at all.

There were a number of posters here, a lot had been ripped and damaged over the years and it was really interesting to see the layer on layer on layer of paper that had accrued over the years. Though the famous Psycho poster is still there 🙂

I had a bit of a play with some long exposures at the far end of the tunnel. It was quite dark here so perfect for attempting some ghostly walking, though I ran out of time to get anything I really liked.

Far too soon the visit was over and we had to down cameras, pack bags and head back above ground. I really could have done with another hour or two, and to have been able to explore a little further…..

It was a fabulous experience, and one I would highly recommend. Do the photo tour rather than the general one as you get to take a tripod and spend some proper time.

Thanks Steve for organising, and Hidden London and London Transport Museum for making it available!

My photography exhibition!

Thursday 11 October 2018 – Walthamstow.

I am going to say I was very nervous about tonight, an opening viewing of an exhibition of photos I was showing at Buhler and Co, a lovely cafe just down the road from where I live. I was worrying that no one would turn up, that something stupid would happen; like a picture would fall off the wall. Stupid worries, but worries none the less.

This exhibition had a rather short gestation; it was not even in my thoughts three months ago. I have been seeing a career coach off and on over the past 18 months. Among the many things we have talked about is that a lack of confidence holds me back from doing some of things I think I would like to do or try.

This includes my photography. I know I take good pictures, I am often told I take good pictures; however, I still doubt my ability. Apart from posting photos as part of this blog, and putting some on IG I do not do anything with them. I have been taking photos for a very long time, but have few prints and do not display them anywhere.

There is a biannual art trail where I live, and two months ago my career coach, Nat, challenged me to organise an exhibition for the next event, in June 2019. I visited Buhler and Co to ask them if they had wall space I could use next June, but those walls were already booked. What they did offer me was the space to use for two months from October 9th. Oops, that is a bit close!

I really struggled with choosing a theme for the exhibition, and I had already decided that I was going to print some big images. I didn’t want to display a stream of small images. Less and big was my plan. If I was going to put things on a wall I may as well put big things on a wall.

There were a few weeks of stress, consternation, worry, doubt and all the other emotions I have when trying to do some creative, Here are the 11 images I chose to display.

The first four are all printed at 50*50cm.

The next seven were printed at A1, the biggest prints I have ever made.

There was a lot of work, and not a little expense in getting this set up. I had a lot of help from friends and of course some magnificent support from El who kept me sane and kept my confidence up as I want through the various phases of doubt and frustration.

The opening evening went really well, there were a lot more people there than I expected, pretty much everyone I invited turned up, along with a couple of people I did not know. It was a good night, and left quite late, but very happy.

Taking the camera for a walk

Saturday 13 January 2018 – London.

Happy new year! Welcome to 2018. Year six in my two years away from New Zealand. Day some number of thousands in the blog that probably wouldn’t last past the first day. I cannot believe I am still here, and that I get viewers on a daily basis, thanks 🙂

El was off to the football this afternoon, she now has a season ticket to the club that will not be named by an Arsenal supporter. She also had some work to do this morning and I didn’t (well I did but meh) so I decided to take the camera out for a walk. My plan was to catch the train into the city, find St Dunstan’s Church, walk up to The Photographers Gallery in the west-end to see the Wim Wenders exhibition, buy some new walking shoes, then go home. I am trying to do more exercise than I have been, taking a camera with me meant a meandering two or three hour walk.

Now I had decided to visit St Dunstan’s Church I felt I needed to take the Canon 5d MK 1 rather than the smaller, lighter point and shoot. I keep thinking I need to replace the 5d, it is 13 years old; which in technology terms is ancient, there is a MK 4 version now. It is heavy, unwieldy, and unfashionable, and the view screen is terrible. However, every time I take it out for a walk I just love the images that pop out of my computer screen when I get home. It just seems to suit the way I take pictures. In my bag it went, with a wide angle and a 50mm lens.

On a previous walk with El I had failed to find St Dunstan’s, poor research. Today I at least memorised the address. It is easy to find.

The church has a long history, it has been destroyed and rebuilt many time since its creation in 1100. The ruined version that remains now has a Christopher Wren designed tower built in 1701 that still stands and a pile of ruins, courtesy of Nazi Germany, from 1821.

I always wanted to visit over a weekend, as it is a popular lunch and contemplation spot for city workers during the week. At the weekend it is just busy with photographers. It is a very cool spot.

The trick is take a photo that shows off the ruined church; the vines, the moss and mould, but hide the newer post-war buildings that surround it. Avoiding the fashion photographers and their detritus was far harder.

Leaving St Dunstans I started a very meandary path towards the west. I wanted to stay off the main roads and explore the smaller, less known streets, avoiding the worst of the people and finding things I have never seen before. Like St Mary Abchurch.

The churchyard led me up to the intersection at ‘Bank’,

where I headed off bank down the lanes towards the north bank of the Thames.

Walking towards St Pauls I found this rather forlorn looking closed outdoor cafe area outside a church.

There is an interesting mix of old and new buildings along Queen Victoria St, this used to be my ‘patch’ when I was a courier driver for DHL back in the 1980s, not a lot of has changed since then.

I headed back up into the lanes around St Pauls, passing the lovely St Andrews of the Wardrobe church, hidden away from the worst of the rush.

I stopped for a light lunch, coffee and a rest in a cafe on Blackfriars Rd, before crossing over, finally heading down to Thames side.

Though soon after I was back up off the main road and strolling through the peace and quiet of ‘Temple’ , one of my favourite weekend places in the central city. It is pretty much deserted at the weekend, most of the entrances are closed and unless you know how to get in, and more importantly out you would never know it is there. I was looking for some of the small flower gardens, but it is the wrong time of the year for flowers, and the few that were there were blowing around in the quite strong wind. I decided to find the exit on to Fleet St, which is not as easy as it sounds on a weekend as a lot of the place is locked up.

One of the great aspects of London, that does go a bit unremarked upon, is the vast number of trees scattered all over the central city, trees both ancient and new, near buildings both ancient and new.

Crossing back down to the river again I came across No 2 Temple Place. The building is slightly off the Thames and I must have passed nearby without actually spotting it before. It is a gallery though it was not open when I was there. I had been planning on taking a few photos using a very shallow depth of field of any flowers I found, not having found anything suitable I decided to experiment with these two small statues marking the entrance to the gallery. I liked them both.

I took the stairs up to the top of Waterloo Bridge.

Making my way through a very crowded Chinatown and Soho, I went to The Photographers Gallery to see the Wim Wenders Polaroid exhibition, which I very much enjoyed. It was quite busy as well.

My final mission for the day was to buy myself a new pair of trainers for walking the streets, I have worn out another pair with all my walking around, mainly, London. I was surprised to find this a successful, and not too stressful event. I headed home with purchases, and a what I hoped was a bunch of photos I would be happy with.

One of the things that I love about, and am frustrated with, when using the old 5d is that it is so old it is does not have an active rear screen. There is a screen and I can see the image I have taken, but the screen is small, has a very low resolution, is a bit worn and quite faded. I do not get much of an appreciation of the image I have taken. I sort of like this as it means I do not ‘pixel-peep’ every shot I take, so I tend to take less shots and use the camera almost like it is loaded with film. The downside is I have no idea how good, bad or indifferent my photos are until I get them loaded on to my computer.

I am going to say I was pretty pleased with what I got today. Going on a photo walk was a really good idea. I need to do it a lot more!

A brief moment of solitude – Beachy Head.

Saturday 23 December 2017 – Eastbourne and Beachy Head.

Not having had a weekend away on my own for months I booked a couple of nights in a bed and breakfast in the coastal town of Cromer in Norfolk. I had a full day of photography planned; sunrise at Cromer Pier, some nice ruins scattered around the county, sunset back at the pier, followed by some long exposures of the sea and clouds. A drive and walk on my own. Sea air to clear the head and a couple of days with my own thoughts; not having to speak to anyone, unless I was ordering food or drink.

It was a good plan. A shame it did not happen!

To reduce the stress of travelling on what was being billed as the busiest travel day of the year I had taken Friday off work. A bit of a lie in and then on the road for mid morning, allowing myself plenty of time to get to Cromer. There were a couple of interesting places on the way I was going to stop at to take some pictures.

I loaded up the car and headed off just before 11:00. I made it approximately 100 feet up the road before stopping at the top of the hill to change a flat tyre. Bugger! Not the stress free start I planned.

Luckily the spare was not flat and all the tyre changing bits were in the boot, it was my first flat in this car and I had brief moment of panic when I could not find the jack. Tyre changed and I was on the way. The car felt fine, even at 70 on the M11 it was running straight and true. However, as I approached the inevitable tailback at the junction with the M25 I tapped the brake pedal to shave a bit of speed off and the steering wheel kicked and bucked like a wild beast. Brake off and it was fine, back on and wildness.  It was too unsafe to drive any distance, so reluctantly I turned round and headed home.

The weekend was over before lunch on Friday. Not admitting defeat I spent the rest of Friday sulking at home. I did, however, book myself a return to ticket to Eastbourne for the following day. Today.

I was up early, fed and on the tube to Victoria by 8. ‘Early’ Saturday morning is an eye (nose?) opener on the tube, the carriage stank of booze, there was a dozing rough sleeper and a well dressed woman conversing loudly with her invisible friend. A fully immersive experience.

I dislike Victoria Station, it is my least favourite of London’s mainline stations. With two concourses it is big and confusing and always seems to be manically busier than the other stations, even, like this morning when it is half empty. Drunk youths staggering around on their way home to provincial towns after a night out in the city mixed with wealthy looking tourists lugging heavy cases looking for trains to the airport. Everyone looked dazed and confused, I just felt it.

The ride to Eastbourne was uneventful. I read, listened to music, drank the coffee and ate the sausage sandwich I bought as I waited for the train. It was overcast, but was not supposed to be too cold, too windy or to rain, I was only moderately prepared for all three of those things.

A five minute walk from the station got me to the waterfront. Christmas is approaching and the shopping streets were busy. The town is nicer than I expected, and that niceness is reflected in the property prices I noted when I got home, it is more expensive than its neighbours to the north.

I took a quick look at the pier, I thought about walking to the end, but the winter days are short and I had a bit of a walk planned, so I moved on.

I have been wanting to come here and walk the South Downs, past Beachy Head Lighthouse and on to Burling Gap for quite a long time, but never managed to get around to it. The walk along the front is really nice, and it was surprisingly busy this morning. The hills of the Downs were looking a little murky, and slightly intimidating under that low cloud.

Arriving at the foot of the cliffs I found a sign pointing to the South Downs Way and its 100 miles to Winchester. I wish I had the time, fitness and the will to do a long distance walk. I fill my head with so many ideas and plans, some get started, most do not. I blame time and work, needing money to do things, my age and my sometimes aching body. Maybe I should fill my head with only one idea and see it through to completion. I still have 500 or so miles of the Southwest coast path to do, I should not be thinking about other walks.

I started up the short, steep grassy climb, glad I had worn proper walking shoes, it was pretty slippery after all the rain. A teenage break means my left ankle hates these steep climbs, if I do not stretch it, which naturally I don’t, then it loses its full range of movement after a few weeks. I struggled up, knowing tomorrow it will ache like hell.

It was windy and quite cool, very damp, and there was limited view out to sea, but what there was was glorious. There are a lot of bent and twisted hawthorn trees, providing a clear indication of the direction of the prevailing wind.

Ahead it was looking a little less enticing and as I walked I wondered if that was going to be the end of the view for the day. I was quite surprised by the amount of scrub and wildness on this stretch, in mind the walk from town to Burling Gap was almost manicured lawn, the result of mis-seen photos. Those photos led me to believe it was always sunny here too. Maybe just mis-remembered.

After walking through the edge of a scrubby wood I was out on the cliff tops and the first view of Beachy Head Lighthouse. I took a lot of photos from various angles, so if you hate lighthouses, and Beachy Head in particular you should look away now. It is a spectacular piece of coast so your turning away would just be wrong.

The chalk cliffs look amazing in any light, though they seem dirtier than they were in older photos. At this point, which is roughly the highest, the cliff top is 162 metres above the sea. Given the cliff edge and the popularity of the area, I am surprised there are few fences, only where there have been slips is the edge closed to the public. I guess you cannot fence off the entire coast. I now see there are two people ahead of me. It almost seems a shame that I appear to not be alone, that I have passed through the dull low, damp mist and can see and hear further; and that people now occupy that new space.

Further out of the cloud I can see Belle Toute Lighthouse in the distance, at least there does not appear to be any more people than when I emerged, nor am I catching up on those ahead.

From Belle Toute I looked back up the cliff line towards Beachy Head.

There are more people here, even though Belle Toute is a privately owned B and B, it attracts visitors from the car park at the bottom of the short climb on the east side and a lot more from Burling Gap on the west. I was really looking forward to seeing the tiny community of Burling Gap. It features in numerous images of the area, though none of the ones I have seen feature a large orange crane and a large car park. I was a little disappointed!

There is a National Trust Cafe and I was pleasantly surprised to find it was open. It was a good excuse to stop for lunch and a coffee, though I did not linger as it was after 1 pm and I had taken almost two hours to do the 90 minute walk. If I took the same to return after eating it would be almost dark by the time I arrived. The view along the chalk white cliffed coast is breathtaking and I will certainly be back to walk more of it, perhaps on one of those blue sky days I see on the post cards.

The walk up to Belle Toute was the busiest it had been all day. 

I want to know what this is!! Why is there hatch with a padlock? There are other concrete pads where I am guessing lookouts, gun emplacements and other wartime things were located. Though this was the only one I saw that appears to have something underneath. Are there tunnels?

I took a few more photos of the lighthouse on the way back to Eastbourne, and I saved my favourite photo to share last.

The walk back was a lot quicker, the cloud seemed lower, though with the wind in my back it was not as cold and mist no longer formed on my camera lens. I did walk a more direct route, further away from the edges, though the mist was never that thick to be unsafe. I ventured almost alone back into the cloud. There was a walker behind me and I caught glimpses of him as I walked, seeing him for the last time on the train back to London.

As the light was so dim I decided to experiment with a bit of intentional camera movement (ICM) photography, something I did a lot of back in NZ in 2008/09. I have dabbled with it a little in the past couple of months. I am trying to achieve an impressionist painter effect; a work in progress.

As I returned to the top of the hill overlooking Eastbourne I could see the sun trying to work its way through the cloud, though it never quite managed to.

I made it back with plenty of time before darkness started to arrive, so took a round about way to the waterfront, strolling through the gloomy Italian Gardens,

before heading back down the beach. I love the way that over the years (decades?) the tide has finally overcome the steps, and every other set of steps along the front. I really want to know how deep they are and when the council gave up resisting the relentless move of the shoreline.

The waterfront was even busier than late morning, there were a lot of family groups out walking and a lot of older folk walking dogs. In fact there are a lot of dogs here, mainly small dogs. A heck of a lot of small dogs. So many I took no pictures of them. I did take a picture of a large building, a hotel I am guessing; and a street light.

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As I said before, I really liked Eastbourne, the waterfront is decaying less than many of the other coastal towns, especially in the south east. It is clean and tidy and most of the shops are open and active. There seemed to be a pretty good feel in the air, though so many bloody smokers!

It does have damn good pier !

I arrived in the small station about 40 minutes before the train I had booked was schedule to leave. I was going to sit in a pub over a quiet pint, but found there was a train leaving sooner, so I grabbed a bag of crisps and a small bottle of red wine and got on the earlier train.

The ride back to London was good, I read a book and then relaxed in my seat, Mogwai playing in my headphones  and reflected on what was a really pleasant day out on my own.

The Taj Mahal.

Sunday 13 November 2016 – Agra, India – Part 1.

This post is all about the Taj Mahal, which I visited this morning before catching a train to Delhi, where I will stay the night near the airport before flying up to see my daughter, Meliesha in McLeod Ganj in the morning.

Well that was the plan when I wrote that sentence this morning in between visiting the Taj Mahal and the ‘Baby Taj’ and then leaving town. Though it did not turn out that way! More about the that in the next post…

It is a quiet day in Agra, I believe it is a holiday, but not sure what for. I was up earlyish after a pretty average night. I wanted to get to the Taj Mahal reasonably early. I selected this home stay because it is half way between Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal, the two main things I wanted to see in Agra, both are a walkable distance. The home stay owner, Faiz gave me a lift on his motorbike to the entrance which was nice, he is a good host!

The queue to get in was tiny, but quite maddening, lots of Indian men waiting by the foreigners queue asking foreigners to change their small notes for big ones, as the ticket counter was taking the big notes. There has been changes made to money this week which is causing chaos in India, this will feature a lot in my day today. I did swap 1000 rupees in small notes with one of the guys and used his 1000 rupee note to pay the entrance fee. This made him very happy. It took about 15 minutes to process the two people in front of me.

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Like yesterday at the fort Faiz had told me I would not be allowed to take a bag into the site, and they were a lot stricter here than at the fort. No-one had large bags, there is also a lot of armed security about as well. Again, I just took the small camera and a bottle of water. I have been looking forward to visiting here, it is one of those must see places that adorn the list of anyone who likes to travel.

The Taj Mahal was completed in 1653 and is the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, the favourite wife of the Mhughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It took 10 years to build and is the centre building in a fairly large site that also includes a guest house and a mosque.

The Taj Mahal site is a lot bigger than I expected, and not quite as crowded as I expected it to be at 8:00 am – it opens at sunrise, which this morning was around 6:15. I had pondered arriving for sunrise but the air is so thick that from a light perspective there would be no point, so I stayed in bed. I suspect it was busier then than it was when I arrived. It got very busy later in the day.

The great gate from the outside.

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The first view of the building is pretty breathtaking, and everyone stops just inside the great gate to take their first picture – and a hell of a lot of selfies…

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I didn’t bother stopping, I knew I was going to take a lot of photos, I also knew I was going to try and take this one, the classic reflection shot. I was very lucky to grab one without anyone in the way.

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I was not really in the mood I must admit, so my roaming of the site was a bit listless. I am very worried about my finances, or complete lack thereof. Spending 1000 rupees on the entry fee alone seems to be a lot, when I am not sure if I can get to my next destination, however I am here to see things, and the Taj Mahal is THE thing. This place is the sort of place you need to visit with someone to share the experience with.

I spent a couple of hours walking around, I took a lot of photos as you would expect. There were some very helpful gentlemen there who pointed me to the exact spot to get reflections etc, for a tip of 10 rupees, I am quite surprised that others did not take up their offer. I was very happy with their recommendations. I would not have gotten the photos I did without them. I didn’t manage to get another one without people standing in the way !

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The great gate from the inside.

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The mosque.

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The view of the River Yamuna, overlooking a bit of where I was yesterday evening.

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The building is covered in inscriptions and motifs on the walls, though I did not capture any of the detail, part of my listlessness I guess. There is also renovation work going on on the sunrise side of the mausoleum.

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There were the ubiquitous monkeys everywhere, I think this is going to end badly!

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The crowds had really ramped up when I left, I think I picked the perfect time of day to visit… I enjoyed my time there, though I wish I had been in a better frame of mind as I would have appreciated this wonder of the world a lot more than I did. Glad I went though!

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I walked back to the homestay. I think to the bemusement of some of the locals, I had lots of hellos and waves from people on bikes and on tuk tuks, I don’t think they get many westerners walking the streets.

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Forts, frustrations and a first glimpse of the Taj.

Saturday 12 November 2016 – Agra, India.

The day did not start off brilliantly. My throat is really sore and the air is foul, I can taste the pollution, it is very unpleasant. I have no money, I have a head cold and the wifi is complete pants  I think I am the only person in this home stay as well, which this morning is compounding my misery. I hate travel mornings like this.

Over breakfast in the home stay, thankfully complementary due to my finances, I talked to Faiz, the owner. He was telling me how bad the past couple of days had been in his little part of Agra. The ATM has not been uploaded and as no-one is accepting the 500 and 1000 rupee bills all the small businesses are starting to suffer, and those who are willing to take the old money cannot give change as the change is all disappearing. The price of staples like sugar and salt are going up as the small shop owners need to get an income somehow. I am surprised at how calm it has all been.

There is an official tourist money changer at Agra Fort so Faiz is going to loan me 4000 rupees in now unusable, 1000 rupee bills (about 50 pounds), which I will need to change. I am then going to pay him for the board and lodgings and the 4000 via bank transfer from my NZ account. |The 4000 will be my living and touristing money. Like all small businesses, he does not have access to taking credit card payments. As it is I do not have enough money to pay him for the board and as there is no ATM and I cannot get any cash, this is a win/win for both us and a very nice gesture.

Faiz dropped me at the fort, it is about 1.5 kms away from his home stay, and at the craziest junction in Agra. The entry fee is 550 rupees. The fort accepted one 500 rupee note – for the 500 part, but would not accept a second for the 50 part. I had to use one of my few precious 100 rupee notes. I almost got into argument with the ticket man. Just one of the many ridiculous bureaucratic frustrations of this lovely but annoying country. There is no arguing with a government man.

I walked in to Agra Fort in a hump. Faiz had also told me I could not take my camera bag as large bags were not allowed in the fort or the Taj Mahal. I just took the G16 camera and a bottle of water. As I was going in I saw some people were allowed to take massive back packs in and others were told to leave them in a secure room. It seemed entirely inconsistent. Though not as futile as everyone walking through an airport scanner that beeped everybody,  though everyone was waived though regardless. More bureaucratic nonsense.

This did not help my early enjoyment of the place. There is not a lot to see when you first walk in, a big empty space with lots of people in it a large square surrounded by large red walls. I yawned. Definitely not as good as the fort in Jodhpur. I did see a squirrel that did not run away immediately. I took a photo.

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I walked about aimlessly for a while – should have taken that damn audio guide again, teach me to have the hump. I liked these arches.

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And this balcony, which I am assuming someone high and mighty spoke and waved to the peasants from.

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Eventually i found my way though a doorway into what I guess would have been the inner castle if this was in England, much better! Lots more things to see.

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The fort was built in stages throughout most of the 16th century, and under a variety of rulers. In the early 17th century the white marble sections were added under the rule of Shah Jahan, the Muslim Mughal ruler. He also oversaw the building of the Taj Mahal and some other sites in Agra. More on them later.

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The Taj Mhal is 2.5 kms away in a straight line, but I could hardly see it through the haze, this photo has been sharpened massively to get it to stand out at all. The air is so thick. You can barely see the River Yamuna which the Taj sits beside.

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I liked the buildings, there is not a lot to see in them, some detail in the structures, but no museum like at Jodhpur. I did like the mix of the original red stone and the later white marble. The marble allowed a lot more detail to be inlaid in the source material.

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There is still some renovation work to be done, and the way it has just sort of ended was sort of cool. There were two armed guards/policemen here, not really encouraging much exploration. Stick to the good bits Phil!

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I left at the right time as a lot of people were arriving as I walked out the door and got into the queue for the money changer. Quite bit of patience went into getting those photos, largely free of other tourists. I know I could have just included them, but hey !

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I almost got into an argument with an armed policeman in the money change queue. When I arrived there was no queue, and two windows open. A Spanish couple were being served in one window so I waited at the other, in the meantime a large melee/queue started to form and was eventually guided back alongside the Spanish couple. It turned out the guy behind my window didn’t actually serve people, he just sat there. When the Spanish couple finished and I went to stick my form and passport through the hole in the window, the policeman said I had to go to the back of the queue. I politely told him I had been there since before the queue, he knew this as he had been there as well. He put his hand on my shoulder and I refused to move. It was hot, this is India and serving the two Spanish customers seemed to take about 10 minutes and I was not willing to quit my position. It was a tense couple of seconds and eventually his attention was taken up by someone else and I got my way. Whew.

I had a grumpy, but financially happy walk back to the home stay, where I had a very nice lunch., food seems so much nicer when you know you can eat again the next day. Miraculously the internet was brilliant (for about 20 minutes) so I had a quick and pleasant Skype with El. Always makes me feel better.

Late afternoon I left the home stay with Faiz and he organised a decent price with a tuk tuk driver on the main road to take me to the Black Taj.

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The Black Taj does not actually exist, there are some foundation ruins left on the ground, but that is it. The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial to his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal. As we all know the Taj is a glorious glowing white and is built on the banks of the River Yamuna. It is rumoured that he also built a jet black Taj on the opposite banks for himself. This has never been proven, though the foundations show something was built there.

It does have a great view of the Taj Mahal, and is supposed to be the place to go for sunset photos and a good reflection in the river; except you are not allowed near the river anymore due to security concerns, so it is all fenced off. The smog has not done the sunset any good either…

However, those things aside, it is a great place to see the Taj Mahal from. Though, naturally you have to pay to enter the site, I didn’t mind this as it meant I was left alone and no hawkers and beggars were there to follow me around. As I arrived about an hour and a half before sunset I was almost the only one there for quite a long time.

Peace, in India – a rare and beautiful thing.

As is the Taj Mahal, I know that we all know it well, too well probably, but that first sight is still utterly breathtaking. It is one of those places that you just have to see in the flesh. And viewed through a manicured lawn with virtually no-one else in sight; magnificent.

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Though even from this close it was still really hazy.  I was shooting with that wonderfully crisp Canon 70-200mm lens, and even that  had issues with the auto-focus grabbing on to anything.

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I had a bit of a walk around, there was quite a wait till sunset. This was the sort of scene I wanted to see in India, which I won’t see much of as I am staying for such a short time and just hitting the big tourist things. Ruins, disheveled, run down, surrounded by trees, animals about; waiting to be investigated, clambered around. The old romantic adventurer view. A fantasy world that is not my current reality sadly.

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But anyway, stop dreaming Phil. There is the Taj Manal – and its thousands of tourists, just next door, not something that most people will see, you are a lucky man.

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I was waiting for quite a while for the sunset, the air seemed to clear as the day disappeared, and birds…. quick, something interesting, take a photo.

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Back to waiting…. There was a brief moment of excitement when a couple of eagles started to dive bomb the crows nests in the trees behind me, there was a massive kerfuffle, screeching and fighting amongst the milling birds. I tried to take a photo but it was impossible, but it was good to watch the crows join together to fight the two massive eagles.

One of the victorious crows decided to pose for me and I took my last photo of the day. The sunset never happened so I left early as the crowds started to line my side of the river bank, the peace was finally over, a pleasant end to the day. (If I blank the chaotic and stinky tuk tuk ride out).

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Bath and The Roman Baths

Friday 29 July 2016 – Bath.

Thursday morning was a bit grey and damp and the renovation work in the flat above us had  started by 8:30 so we decided to leave one day early and stop in Bath on the way home for a night. We have been talking about going to Bath for ages, but there is always somewhere else to go. As we had to drive past it on the way home it just seemed like the right thing to do. We booked a hotel online, packed the car and drove off. Into the rain…

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We arrived in Bath just before lunch time, the room in the hotel was not quite ready so we decided to dump the bags and go for a short walk. As we stepped outside it absolutely poured with rain, very un-English like rain as well, proper rain rain… We went back inside and had lunch until the room was available. Luckily that was the end of the rain for the day, the forecast was correct and we had a pretty good afternoon and evening.

I selected a hotel that was outside the immediate centre of town, I didn’t want to have to faff too much with the car, and a lot of the central hotels had no car parking. We were only a 10 minute walk from the centre, and it was a nice walk in.Like many Roman and medieval towns Bath is located on the side of a river, in this case the River Avon. We were staying on the far side of the river.

Bath is famous for two things, famous in my mind anyway. The Roman Baths and the Royal Crescent, and we visited both. On the way to the Royal Crescent we passed through The Circus, a roundabout surrounded by wonderful Georgian Terraces. I suspect that some of the pictures I have seen on the internet purporting to be the Royal Crescent, were actually taken here. I much preferred this to the nearby Royal. Crescent. The circus was built between 17544 and 1768 and the buildings are 318 feet from the centre of the circus – the same as Stonehenge. John Wood (the elder), the designer believed that ancient Bath was a centre for Druidism. I really like knowing (and then forgetting) these little snippets of local history!

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The Royal Crescent was designed by John Wood (the younger), the son of the architect who designed The Circus, though it was built just prior. It is still magnificent, but a fair bit of it was covered in scaffold and there were too many cars parked outside to see it in all its glory. There were a lot of tourists here as well.

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We took a walk around old Bath after leaving the Royal Crescent. Bath is a very old town, the Romans built their first spa here in 60-70AD but there are hints of a long history prior to the Romans coming to town. It is a World Heritage site and is well preserved and very nice. We would move here tomorrow ! Even though it is a tourist town and quite busy when we visited, there are plenty of places to wander to get away from the business. The centre had a nice feel to it.

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One of the things I like about my travels and exploring is finding out little titbits of history, things so minor that they are totally irrelevant to almost everyone, but finding them can make a day. Today I found Sally Lunn’s house – the oldest house in Bath, but more importantly the home of the Sally Lunn bun. I loved Sally Lunns, a few years back I used to have one every day for morning tea from a bakery near work. I never knew they were actually named after a person!

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We had booked ourselves an early dinner in a well know vegetarian cafe behind the cathedral so decided to just hang out in and around Bath for the rest of the afternoon, we crossed the Avon behind the train station and found this building with high river marks and dates up its side. There must have been some major floods here in the past, I was standing up right when I took this photo, so those marks are well above my head.

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The river was very benevolent today though.

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The vegetarian cafe was excellent, an imaginative and different menu and the food was excellent, as was the wine we had with our food. I am glad we had decided to go and visit the Spa after dinner, it gave us a good chance to walk the food off !

The Roman Baths are the main attraction in Bath, I have not been before, though El has visited a couple of times over the years and told me the museum just gets better and better. It is not particularly cheap to enter, but well worth the money. It is excellent – one of, if not, the best local museum I have been to. Even better was that it was open until 10:00pm in summer – which mean for a much smaller crowd early in the evening than the middle of the day.

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The baths were built by the Romans between 60 and 70AD, probably on the site of a Celtish site dedicated to the god Sulis, known as Minerva by the Romans. There was a temple to Minerva here as well as the bathing area. The site was redeveloped many times up until the 5th century when the Romans left and the water ways silted up.

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Nothing much happened again until the 12th century when new buildings were erected, there was plenty of further redevelopment up until the 18th century when the current building shell was finally built by the good old Woods – both father and son involved. I loved it, we both loved it.

As I said earlier, the museum is really good. Well spaced and paced and designed to cater for a lot of people. There are some interesting things to see and plenty of information both visually and through an audio guide. I took a lot of photos!

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It really is a terrific place to relax on a relatively quiet evening.

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The temple pediment and Gordons head, is a magnificent relic, probably 1st century and the carving is stunning, remember this is 2000 years old! It was discovered in the 18th century and no-one really knows what all the related carvings mean, there have been many interpretations over the years.

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This gilt bronze head of Sulis Minerva was found in the 18th century renovations, the statue would have stood in the temple near the baths.

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There were a few statues and sculptures in the museum and stupidly I did not make note of the names.

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It was mid-evening when we left and took a slow walk back to our hotel, the sun was setting over Great Pulteney St.

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Arriving back at the hotel just as the sun was finally going down over the grounds at the front of the hotel.

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As expected we really enjoyed Bath. Though we did not linger on Saturday morning, packing up the car and heading back to London. On a gloriously sunny day, of course!