Shellness, Sheppey.

October 13 2020 – Shellness, Isle of Sheppey, Kent.

The Isle of Sheppey, yes, I went there. On purpose, and for no other reason than going there to see it. No one made me. I think that is somewhat unusual. I even went to its furthest south-eastern tip, probably as far from anywhere you can get in Kent, a county that rubs up against London on its western flank, so it is hardly remote.

This is day two of my isles of Kent road trip, and Shellness, at the fore mentioned south-eastern tip was the final location to visit before driving back to St Leonards. The attraction, a lone second world war bunker sitting on the beach, the final relic of fortification to see and photograph on this trip, the newest and only one built in the 20th century. Its purpose; to guard the entrance to The Swale, the river that makes the Isle of Sheppey an Isle.

It is an isolated place, people come here to fish, and possibly in these difficult and austere times, to live in campervans and other, less suitable vehicles. Away from people, problems and maybe those who represent the law.

Past the fishing spot, the public car park and the golf lies the settlement of Shellness. It is accessed by a rutted, pot-holed single lane road that could well be below sea level. A high seawall runs along one side and swampy fields the other. At the end of the road, next to the fenced off houses of Shellness lies the Swale National Nature Reserve.

Parking the car I donned my jacket and gumboots, (I am so glad these were in the boot of the car), and walked down towards the beach. It was blowy and not particularly warm, though the sky was bright and the light savage. I wasn’t here for birding or dog walking like the few others I saw early on this Wednesday afternoon. I wanted to see the old bunker which sat small, alone and forlorn in the distance.

This is a strange place, swampy, marshland, odd coloured foliage that I have not seen before, a long ditch dug, to protect the wall.

On the other side sit a few houses, old and new; gated, fenced and warning-signed away from you and I. Strange and unwelcoming.

I liked the old bunker, perhaps because unlike most of places I attempted to get to over the past two days I could actually get to it; or perhaps because it is just there, all alone, with nothing much around it. Brutalist in a completely different way to what is a beautiful, but possibly quite brutal environment. I would not want to be out here on a stormy night.

Walking around to the front I was pleasantly surprised to be confronted by a painting by the street artist ATM. I faintly recalled that he had painted this, possibly around 2013/14 when I stopped being interested in street art. It suited this environment perfectly.

More so than the rest of the spray painting.

As you would expect the interior of the bunker was a complete mess; smashed bottles, dozens of empty drink cans, an old mattress and signs of a long history of camp fires and parties. It was not out of place and sort of added to its alien and alienated beauty. The view out of the bunker over The Swale to Whitstable.

I did not stay long, I walked around took some photos of the bunker and with spirits lifted after a frustrating couple of days walked back to the car. I was looking forward to going home.

The lovely ruins of Bayham Abbey.

06 September 2019 – Bayham Abbey, Kent.

Bayham Abbey in Kent was founded in 1207 and existed until the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541. It was a Premonstratensian, or White Canon abbey and was built when two nearby abbeys failed and combined resources to build a new one. The ruins were modified in the 18th century after the new abbey was built to provide a better landscaping feature. Whatever was done to it, certainly did not detract from the ruins as it is a magnificent structure. One of the loveliest I have visited, and it has been a while since I visited one.

The abbey can be found just off the A21 on the way from Walthamstow to St Leonards, probably not too far off half way time wise. I have been planning to stop here for a while, and with no rush to get back to London, today was the day.

I took lot of photos, way more than I have here!

I was mostly alone during my visit, at different times three couples also walked around, but that was about it, I liked it like that. It was peaceful. I picked up the habit of walking around the outside of a ruin, before going inside when I visited the Khmer ruins of Angkor Wat. At that time it was a way of avoiding the crowds, though sometimes there are things to see on the outside that most people miss as they just charge straight through the centre. I walked round the outside first today.

On the edge of the abbey ruin is a summer house and the old gateway. I went there first.

The gate was closed and had a sign saying advising that on the other side it was ‘Private Property’, though the amount of bramble and head high nettles on the other side of the gate makes the sign rather redundant. No-one was going to pass through that mess.

There were not many original features left, this was one of the few original carved faces I found, a number of new ones have been added in modern times, as you will see later.

Entering the ruins I spent some time strolling around the various spaces, all slightly different.

I found lots of archways, I am a big fan of archways, one of the things I like the most in European ruins, particularly abbeys.

There were some small amount of detail left in the ruined walls.

My favourite bit was this tree growing on top of one of the old walls, this very much reminded me of the Wat Ta Prohm site in Cambodia where some of the trees that took over the ancient sites were left in situ, growing on and over the walls and buildings. I loved that place, and I love this one as well.

I really enjoyed the ruins, a highlight of the week, and highly recommend you visiting them if you are on the A21!

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!

Orford Ness Photography Tour. P3 – in and out of windows.

Saturday 16 July 2016 – Orford Ness, Suffolk.

This will be the final post from the 24 hour photography tour I attended on Orford Ness in Suffolk. For information about the Ness you will need to track back a couple of posts. If you like landscapes that are utterly different to the typical English rolling countryside then I recommend you visit Orford Ness. If you want to get access to the places I have photographed here then you will need to join a tour. Space on these tours is very limited and you will need to book via the National Trust Orford Ness web page. I believe 2016 tours are all booked up.

This last post has some images I took that were frames by windows and doors.  I have been experimenting a bit more with the use of framing in my photography, using trees and buildings to frame the centre of the image. The broken windows and window frames in the buildings at Orford Ness allow for some interesting framing opportunities. Next time I will use the tripod and get a bit squarer on the frame – if I can. Using my tripod is a habit I really need to get in to…

Lab 2 from Lab 4

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Lab 4 from Lab 5

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The aerials of Cobra Mist
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As I have mentioned a few times in these three posts, Orford Ness is an amazing place to visit, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in photography, landscapes or the small weird or unusual parts of English History. Thanks National Trust for keeping it open, and thanks to the volunteers who look after this wonderful place.

Orford Ness Photography Tour. P2 – bits and pieces.

Saturday 16 July 2016 – Orford Ness, Suffolk.

This is part two of a three part post of images taken at an overnight photography tour to Orford Ness. I really enjoyed Orford Ness. It is my kind of place; flat, wind exposed, a bit bleak and ‘flat’ coloured, with the added bonus of visually and historically interesting buildings. The photo tour was very enjoyable, I learnt a bit and took more photos in the 24 hours I was there than in any 24 period before.

I particularly enjoyed taking photos of some of the detail inside the buildings, rusty and faded light fittings, old electrical boxes and cables. Not the sort of things I normally take photos of, I am a wide angle lens big sky kind of guy, so this was a new challenge for me.

I was looking for lines and angles, rust and little bits of detail in the decay. There was not a lot to see as most of the buildings have been stripped of saleable material, you can see this in the cut off cables in some of the rooms. It would make for a good movie location. Taking an organised photo tour of the ‘Ness allowed us to access some of the buildings that a day visitor is restricted from entering, or even getting near to.

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One of the first rooms we entered had these wonderful switches on the wall, I have no idea what they controlled, the cryptic labelling made them even more interesting.

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This rusting out radiator was one of favourite things in the whole ‘Ness and was on the wall below the switches.

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As we walked around the various buildings I was looking for straight and clean lines to contrast against the rusty old switches and cables.

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The switches themselves were interesting too. What did they do?

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Most of the cabinetry had been removed, though there were the odd one left here and there. I like the birds nest in this one.

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The last building we visited was the old Navy, Army, Air Force Institute ‘NAAFI’ building. It is being turned into a museum, and is not yet open to the public, but it did have one of the old high speed cameras they used to record explosions and other experiments.

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I will finish this post with another one of the lovely of radiators.

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There will be one last set of images after this one. Things taken through windows and doors.

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Orford Ness Photography Tour. P1

Saturday 16 July 2016 – Orford Ness, Suffolk.

Steve and I were meeting the rest of the group and the tour leaders at 5:00pm at the National Trust office on the pier in Orford. We left Leiston Abbey with what seemed like plenty of time, but only arrived a few minutes early. One of the other group members was waiting when we got there, I think most people were impacted a bit by traffic, one guy was really late, traffic ruined his day.

There were eight of us on the tour, two photo guides and six punters, all middle aged blokes :). This photo is by Steve.

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National Trust run one overnight tour to Orford Ness a year, though a number of photography and other groups can book private trips. This is the only way to see the area after hours and the only way to get access to some of the closed off sections. To enter the buildings that were open to us we all had to wear hard hats. Once inside you can see why, a number of the buildings had material dangling loosely from their open and exposed roofs. As these buildings get more and more run down and dangerous they will slowly close and one day there will be no access at all.

For more about Orford Ness, check out my last visit here.

This was to be a 24 hour stay, it was a photography based tour, and the aim was to make as much of the available light, and dark, as possible. We were out and about from soon after we arrived and had been briefed what we will be doing until a late dinner about 9:30pm, back out again till midnight and up again at 4:30 for sunrise. I took more photos in those 24 hours then in any previous 24 hour period. I am not a prolific photographer – my habit is to take one, maybe two images of something and then move on. I took about 350 photos, an extraordinary amount for me. There was a lot to see and do! I am going to split the tour into two or three posts, I will see how I go. This first post will be a general overview of the 24 hours.

After finding bunks and unpacking our kit we jumped into a National Trust Land Rover and an electric buggy and headed off on a tour of the site. Other than the guides I was the only person who had been here before. The first place we visited was through the no-entry for the public gate and up to the far end of the Advanced Weapons Research Areas (AWRE) to labs 4 and 5, the ‘pagodas’ and the places I wanted to see the most – I was very excited to know we were going to be able to see inside these places.

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The pagodas were built in the 1950s to test components used in nuclear weapons, mainly the triggers and detonators. There was never any acknowledgement that any fissionable material was ever on the Ness, but of course, what secrets the M.O.D. have will not be revealed for a long time yet. The roof was designed to collapse and seal the room below in the event of an explosion, I think they look very mysterious. Brutalism in the architectural and the real sense.

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There is very little left to see inside any of the structures, when the M.O.D. left in the 1970s the site was savaged by metal collectors and scavengers and most things of value was stripped out. There are still a few bits and pieces and this made it quite interesting from a photographic point of view. I took a lot of pictures of the fittings that remained and these will make up my next post.

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We spent a few minutes looking around one of the pagodas before heading off to the far end of the site to the north of the light house to have a look around one of the more desolate areas, and to check out a good location for tomorrow’s sunrise. I was just taken with the flatness of the land and the big, big expansive sky above it – a sky filled with lovely clouds.

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As it drew closer to the end of the day we headed back to the hut and took some photos back towards Orford and its castle. The sunset was not particularly brilliant to start with, though there was some late flare that lit the sky as we were eating our evening meal.

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I am not often out in the ‘golden hour’, that period of time around sunset and sunrise, when the light is mellow and filtered. It is the landscape photographers best light, and I never use it. Don’t ask me why – perhaps now I am not working and have a car I could nip out to the forest in the evening?

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Once it had gotten dark we headed out again to take some long exposure night images, there was a bit too much cloud around to get much moonlight – or any star trails. This is a one minute exposure towards the lights of Harwich. I haven’t done any night photography for ages and really enjoyed it, though it was very windy so not the best of conditions, even with a fairly sturdy tripod.

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It was past midnight when we headed back to the hut for some ‘sleep’ before a 4:30am start, coffee and then back out for the sunrise. Like the sunset the night before it was not a great glowing light fest, though it was good to be out in the early morning light.

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This photo of me is by John, one of the tutors, I was probably taking the above photo.

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After breakfast we went back up to the AWRE area for a more detailed explore of the buildings. We were split into two groups making it easier for us all to get time in each location and look for images. Being on a tour means we could ignore the signs and enter some of these spaces, some were deemed too unsafe to enter.

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I love these buildings, I love their shape, and the harsh design and build and I love their location on this flat, desolate and ancient area.

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I spent a lot of time picking out the small details, the photos will make up the bulk of the next post. I was looking for industrial shapes, and of course a bit of decay! Like this extractor pipe.

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Most of the day was spent out and about, the light wasn’t brilliant, it was a bit bright for my taste, I would have preferred more dark cloud – but at least it was not uber bright and sunny.

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Though we were looking for a patch of bright sun to get the shadows from the failing roof structures in the back of laboratory 1. Luck was briefly on our side! You can see why you need a hard hat to enter these places. We were not allowed into the main space as those ducts are hanging quite precariously. Interestingly; that ground looks like it is a flat floor, but on the far side is a 12 foot deep pathway about a yard wide. It is impossible to see, only old photos of the site reveal it. If you wandered over there you would disappear into the mire, possibly to never be seen again.

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The interior of this building was excellent for photos, there was a surprisingly large amount of ‘stuff’ left inside. We spent a lot of time discussing what it was for. The shell of the centrifuge was quite obvious, but what it was for is unknown.

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Another of the buildings we visited had a centrifuge we could see in to. It is all so interesting, yet so little is publicly known about what actually happened in these buildings. We know that many things were invented or tested on Orford Ness, that experiments with things like high speed cameras, radar, weapon systems and explosive triggers for nuclear bombs happened here. But what really went on ?  One day we will know.

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All too soon it was mid-afternoon and time to pack up and head homeward. Steve and I left with the early group, some of the others continued on to see things like the lighthouse, which I had visited before. I was keen to get back to London as I have to be up at 5:00am tomorrow to go to Spain. I needed some sleep 🙂

It was a very enjoyable and educational trip, the guides/tutors were great and my fellow photographers were a good bunch to hang out with and I look forward to seeing some of the photos that other have made, and how they may have seen Orford Ness.

I might go next year!

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Leiston Abbey

Friday 15 July 2016 – Leiston Abbey, Suffolk.

Three months ago I resigned from my job, and after a very busy few weeks I finished yesterday. I am now officially ‘between jobs’ as they say, though I do not have another job to go to quite yet, a situation that should resolve itself next week. I say this hopefully. The good news is there appears to be plenty of work out there when I choose to start looking with any vigour.

I was really looking forward to this weekend, and not just because I do not have to go to work on Monday. Tonight I am staying on Orford Ness as part of a photography tour of the area. After my visit two months ago I was very much looking forward to going back, and hopefully seeing some of the places that the general public cannot access.

My friend Steve is coming along for the trip, unlike me he is working so I picked him up from work at lunch time and we set off towards Suffolk. We left London early so we could squeeze in a quick visit to Leiston Abbey on the way to Orford. The abbey is only a few miles away and looked like it was worth a visit as we were in the neighbourhood.

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The abbey was originally built nearby in 1182 by Ranulf de Glanville, but had to be dismantled and relocated due to being built on land that turned out to be a bit swampy. The new abbey was built using the material from the original, but incorporated some of the more modern Norman features into its original Saxon design. 

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There are some interesting details that can still be seen, I quite liked this stairway (to heaven?) heading up in to a destroyed tower.

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The outside walls were finished in this lovely chequerwork, which is still visible around the edges of the main church.

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The abbey was home to Augustinian canons and was a working abbey, unlike monks the canons took on pastoral and preaching work in the local area.

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After the suppression of the monasteries in 1546 when the abbey was largely pulled down the site was given to King Henry VIII’s brother-in-law Charles Brandon. He built a farmhouse in one corner and the ruins were used to shelter stock.


IMG_0276The building is currently owned by a music school, but the grounds and ruins are managed by English Heritage.

Unusually for a free and un-manned ruin there is a small viewing platform which allowed for a nice view from slightly above ground level.

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>My favourite bits of the site were all the arches that were left undamaged, or partly damaged and how they could be used to visually link the separate sections together.

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Steve liked the arches as well. 

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Even though I had seen some photos and read a little about the site, I was quite surprised at how large it was. It is well worth a visit.

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We had to be at Orford to catch the 5:00pm ferry over to the Ness, so our time here was quite short, but with Orford Ness as our next destination I left this lovely abbey in eager anticipation of good things to come.

A brief journey to explore some ruins in southern Norfolk.

Sunday 15 May 2016 – Suffolk, Norfolk.

I had spent quite a lot of time procrastinating on whether to do this trip. Though there is nothing unusual in that I guess, procrastination is my middle name. I was worried about the weather, early in the week the forecast was for rain this weekend, and I was also trying to find somewhere decent to stay that was not too far away from the places I wanted to visit. This seemed to be a bit of a battle.

In the end I settled on staying in Lowestoft, mainly because it had the most choice on the website I use to find accommodation. I didn’t want to spend vast amounts of money, but I did want to stay in a B&B or guesthouse rather than a hostel or campground. I chose No. 18 guesthouse as it had great reviews and was reasonably priced.

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I rarely name the places I stay or eat in, the purpose of my blog is not free advertising for OK places, nor is it a vehicle to slag off places I don’t like. I will make an exception and say that No 18 lived up to its good reviews. Very comfy room, excellent wifi, great view over the North Sea, friendly and welcoming host and a decent breakfast, I find it so rare to find all the things I want at a good price. So, if you are looking for somewhere to stay in Lowestoft, try it. The view from my window was not bad either!

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I arrived in Lowestoft late yesterday afternoon, and headed out soon after for a walk around. It is an OK place, it has a nice enough beach, long and sandy, but the weather wasn’t exactly brilliant for beach walks,  I had my jacket zipped up to my chin. It was that sort of evening. It looked to be a typical east coast English town; beach huts, a pier, pavilion and fish and chips.

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I took a walk into the central part of town area,for somewhere to have dinner, but didn’t find anything much at all apart from pubs, so to a pub I went. Fish and chips and a glass of wine. As it was still quite early when I finished I bought a small bottle of wine and a chocolate bar and went back to my room to look at the Orford Ness photos. I was very happy with them.

After a good breakfast and settling up with the guest house I was back on the road heading up to the small village of Bungay. Bungay was sort of on the way to where I was going, had a priory and a castle so was worth a visit. It was a pity it was market day and it was rammed with people. It seemed like a nice place though. The Church of St Mary’s is officially redundant, but it is used for a variety of community related activities and it is still a lovely building. Though the priory was disappointingly tiny !

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The church and priory were established in the 12th century. The church was heavily modified in the 14th century and then the priory was destroyed in the 16th century during the dissolution of the monasteries.

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The castle was a bit of a disappointment as it is privately run and the entry was through the busiest cafe I have ever seen outside of rush hour London, I didn’t bother going in.

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From Bungay I headed towards my first major stop for the day, Thetford Priory. On the way I passed by Billingford Mill and had to stop to have a look. It was established in 1860 and was working until the 1950s and was the last working windmill in Norfolk – I seemed to have drifted in to southern Norfolk !

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The Priory of Our Lady of Thetford was one of the largest and most important monasteries in medieval East Anglia. Founded in the early 12th century, for 400 years it was the burial place of the Earls and Dukes of Norfolk. It was because of this that Thetford was one of the last monasteries to be suppressed when it surrendered to Henry VIII’s dissolution in 1540.

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It is massive, I was really surprised at how big the site was, and being free there were a few families there enjoying the space and the walls for the kids to clamber over. Nice!

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This little line up of pillars really reminded me of the Angkor ruins, like a row of small ruined stupas, a happy memory.

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There were some nice details in the walls which was great to see, so many of these old sites have no detail left – which is fair enough given the amount of vandalism and theft that happens.

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I do love a mystery well!

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I left the priory and was looking to head out to an old warreners house on the edge of Thetford Forest. I got stuck in road works hell in Thetford, drove round in circles, got stuck further in what seemed to be the world’s largest no exit housing estate. Needless to say I got a bit grumpy and may have said some bad words before I managed to escape.

Eventually I managed to get out of town and found the old warreners lodge. Built in the 1400s by the priory it would have been built as a fortified home for the game keepers who protected the forest lands from poachers. It later became the lodge of the head rabbit warrener when this area was used to farm rabbits up until the early 20th century.

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After the lodge I set the sat nav to home and took a slow drive back to London. It was not a bad day, no where near as good as yesterday, but nice to be out and about with my camera.

Castles and churches, not a bad afternoon!

Saturday 14 May 2016 – Orford Ness, Suffolk.

In the previous post, I talked about how I had spent the morning and the early part of the afternoon visiting the wonderful Orford Ness, a National Trust wilderness area. A beautiful spit of land tagged on to the Suffolk coast, and separated from the town of Orford by the River Alde.

When I arrived back on the mainland from the ‘Ness’ it was only mid-afternoon and though it was cold there was still plenty of day time left, and plenty of things to see in the village of Orford itself.

Like all coastal towns Orford has a long history of fishing and shell fishing, there is still some industry here but I suspect it is now subservient to the tourism industry. Having a few old fishing boats lying around is never going to hurt from a photography tourist’s perspective either!

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The older part of Orford has really embraced tourism; so well that you could drive through and not notice it was there at all. Just how it should be. The village is really pleasant to walk through, lovely red brick houses, nice old pubs, one tiny store, a village hall and a fabulous bakery/cafe. It is all subtle, there are no overt signs, nothing showy. Just a small village full of seemingly very friendly people. They do it well. So shhhhhhhh, don’t tell anyone or they will come along and spoil it.  I must admit I fell in love with it, as I suspect do a lot of other visitors.

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St Bartholomew is an old Norman church in Orford, originally built around the same time as the castle in the 1170s, though there were extensive modifications in 1300s. The chancel was walled off in the 18th century and then collapsed in 1830. The remains were restored in the 60s and 70s and is a charming and peaceful little spot.

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After a invigorating coffee and a totally unnecessary, but delicious slice of chocolate brownie I went to visit Orford Castle. I was surprised at how popular it was, a full car park and a number of other visitors. I thought it was only me who liked out of the way castles !

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Orford Castle was completed in 1173, under King Henry II. The keep, for something so old, is in remarkably good condition and is the best preserved keep in the UK from that period. Though the castle lost favour with the crown after the death of Henry it still had some significance as Orford was a major trading port. More important than  nearby Ipswich, which is hard to believe now! Unlike so many other castles Orford pretty much allows access to the whole building, there are loads of little rooms and hall ways and of course my favourite – spiral staircases. All maintained by English Heritage, who are doing a great job here. 

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I enjoyed my visit, the highlights for me were the old names carved into the walls, I like to believe they are original.

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I am staying in Lowestoft overnight, I thought it was the nearest town with accommodation, but when I walked past I noted that one of the pubs in Orford had rooms. I looked it up when I got home as I thought it might be a nice place for El and I to visit in summer. At £270 a night (including dinner for two) I think we will have to pass! Orford is a lovely village though, and I will return now that I have a car.

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Over my pre-castle visit coffee I looked through my ruins book and decided to check out St Andrews Church in Covehithe as it is pretty much on the way to Lowestoft and looked quite interesting.

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The oldest part of the church remains are from the 15th century. What is unusual about this particular church is that rather than it being destroyed by war or by royal decree it was pulled down by its own parishioners in 1672 when they could no longer afford the upkeep. The smaller church was constructed inside it – and is still operating today.

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 It is a lovely little spot, made a bit moody by some heavy handed editing to make the clouds look a bit fuller than they really were. Though to be fair to me it did actual drizzle a bit while I was there. What I liked about St Andrews is that there was some detail still left in the stone work, you could imagine what the building looked like with the tiled finish on the outside.

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The amazing Orford Ness

Saturday 14 May 2016 – Orford Ness, Suffolk.

Wow, what a day today! It was so good I have had to make it a two post day. I love a day like this, and there should be/could be/would be more if I wasn’t so lazy or prone to prolonged bouts of procrastination. All I needed to do was to grab my camera and get out of the house, though it did help that I went somewhere amazing!

Last weekend I finally got around to buying a car. I have been pondering it for a while, but living and working London I have not had a desperate need to own one and if we did want to go away it is cheap enough to rent a car. However, there are always those things you need to do that require a car, and having to plan ahead to organise a rental, or book affordable train travel, meant we rarely did spontaneous trips out in to the country. Not having, or wanting to spend a vast amount of money on a car – I do hate them, I ended up buying a 2003 Lexus IS 300. With a three litre motor it is not the most economical or emissions friendly vehicle, but I wanted a car I could throw a mountain bike in the back of if I ever decided to do a riding trip. Thinking ahead, that is my motto 🙂

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At the end of last year I bought a book about unusual ruins in the UK and there was mention of Orford Ness. The pictures in the book made it look interesting and as Suffolk is really easy to get to by car from NE London I decided to go and check it out.

Orford Ness is a 12 mile spit of land, pretty much entirely separated from the mainland by the River Alde and is accessed via a tiny ferry from the town of Orford. Orford is just under 100 miles from home, so a perfect distance for a first drive in a new car.

I left home pretty early, by my standards anyway, and made good time. Cruising down English country lanes shrouded in trees with dappled sunlight hitting the road has to be one of life’s real pleasures, I could have done this all day. I stopped once on the way to take a photo of a rape field. I think there is a law that requires all people who think of themselves as landscape photographers to stop and take a photo of a rape field at least once each year.

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I arrived in Orford just after 10:00, when the ferry starts its regular run across to the Ness. Orford Ness, or at least this section of it, is managed by The National Trust, of which I am a member. They run a small ferry across the river and only allow 13 trips a day with a maximum of 12 people per trip. This reduces the impact of humans on the very fragile shingle environment.

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In the 1920s and 1930s the site was used to test a wonderful new technology called radar, later, in the 1960s, it was a semi-secret location for atomic weapons research. Of course no bombs were tested there – these were all done in the US, but detonators and other components were designed and tested. Testing all these things like radar and detonators meant a heck of a lot of bombs were dropped here from the 1920s onwards. Wandering off the beaten track is not encouraged, and there are numerous signs warning of this.

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It is also very popular with the birding community as there are a number of nesting sites across the marsh and shingle areas. Some of these areas are closed to the public at the moment while the birds are breeding, so only one of the three ‘walks’ is open today. 

The boat ride over to the Ness only takes 5 minutes, there were seven of us on the boat, when I was leaving the ranger on the island told me there had been just over 80 people there all day, perfect numbers for me. My first photo on the Ness, flat, empty and big big clouds overhead. I was thinking that this was going to be a great day.

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The first few hundred yards are past some swampy waterways, those more interested in birds than I am spent a bit of time here while I carried on going, heading for a bridge over a river and on to the shingly side. I stopped at the information centre for a look around, there was some interesting photos and history in there, I am assuming this warning sign is an old one!

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There is a concentration of old buildings here and a few rusting, decaying pieces of machinery are reminders of when this place was busy with men doing manly things with bombs and technology. A lot of it is behind signs barring entry, though all the fences have been taken down so the restrictions are just based on trust. I liked that, and decided to not breach that trust. 

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I took a few photos from the bird watching hide, none of birds of course! I wanted to visit the ‘pagodas’. Remnants from when this was under the control of Atomic Weapons Research establishment (AWRE) and I was really looking forward to getting to them. They are one of the reasons I wanted to visit. They, and a lot of the scene here, remind me of the old computer game Doom.

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There are paths that have to be followed to get around, as I said earlier there is a lot unexploded munitions on and under the shingle, and caution needs be taken at all times. These gates were leading off to one of the paths that was closed today, as always I was intrigued as to what was there.

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From 1982 until 2011 the BBC World Service was broadcast to Europe from Orford Ness, and the transmission towers can be clearly seen further up the spit, past those gates.

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The shingle area is covered in vegetation, some of it quite rare, another reason this is a protected site. The mix of the muted greys and browns of the shingle and the brighter colours of the grasses and wild flowers made for an interesting sight and hopefully I will get some photos that make the most of that variety.

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My first stop was the bomb ballistics building; built in 1933 it was fitted with state of the art equipment to monitor the flight of bombs to help with designing aiming tables. The view from the top was really interesting, it was the only place that provided enough height to look down on the shapes in the shingle

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The view from the inside was good as well.

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I followed the red shingle road towards the black beacon for a while before turning off and heading towards the lighthouse.

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The shingle is constantly being moved around by the sea and the weather, it almost appears to be laid out in waves, with vegetation growing on its crest. It was quite arresting. I was very interested to know (and still don’t) what the small square concrete pads are, there are a hell of a lot of them seemingly randomly placed.

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There is a lot of old metal and track lying around, but not many exploded bombs – this one was conveniently located right next to the path.

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The PO has been to most parts of the country, but I was surprised to find they had laid cables here, I guess they go to the lighthouse ?

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The lighthouse is not managed by the National Trust, it is owned by a small local trust, who have open days, today was not one of those days, so I was unable to get in and have a look, but I expect the view from there is stunning. The light house and its neighbouring coast guard house just feel so isolated, as a bird flies they are probably only a kilometre from Orford, but the shingle and marsh and the river have them cut off, it feel like another world.

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The light house is in danger of falling down now, the trust are trying to raise funds to save it. When you get round the far side you can clearly see why, the ground is almost completely subsided, the only thing holding this section together is the sewer.

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Next to the lighthouse is a derelict building that was used as a coast guard lookout up until 1951, and finally abandoned in the 1960s.

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The trail goes along the edge of the North Sea for a couple of hundred yards before turning inland towards the Black Beacon, built in 1928 to house an experimental new beacon.

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I had a walk around looking for somewhere sheltered from the strong and cold wind so I could sit down and eat some lunch, but there was not a lot of opportunity so I just carried on going I liked the football sitting in the window of this building along with a pile of rubbish washed up by the sea.

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Finally the path took a turn towards the old AWRE area, which I was really looking forward to exploring. I loved this gate, ensuring no-one passes along that road. It is a shame there is no longer any fence 🙂

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The security fence has mostly been taken down, there are occasional fence posts and light poles still standing, and I particularly liked this one with its broken light arm laying at its foot.

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There are a couple of interesting buildings here, this one covered in shingle for instance, there was no entry point though, but I have visions of a vast network of tunnels underneath the shingle, joining all these low, almost hidden buildings together.

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Sadly, and to my disappointment there was no access allowed to the pagoda area 😦 I was a bit gutted by that to be honest. I guess I could have strayed in there for a sneaky look, but there a number of rangers around and I did not want to annoy anyone, and I do want to come back!

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I cannot quite work out what this last building is, but you could at least get in the doorway and peer through into its rather damaged centre.

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This photo almost sums up the Ness for me, darkness, dankness and decay in the buildings, and an almost arid nothingness outside. Like a post-apocalyptic science fiction movie. Love it!

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I stopped for lunch here, before turning round and walking back, mostly the way I came, to the ferry point. Stopping to give some grass and then take a photo of these lambs on the way.

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While I waited for the ferry I had a chat with one of the National Trust volunteers. He told me about some organised photo tours that take place three times a year and explore some of the places closed to the general public. One of those tours is an over night visit in July and I managed to book myself on one of the final places once I got home. I am very excited about that!

Just before I left I took a photo of where I am heading next, once I am back on the mainland. Orford Castle.

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I was on the Ness for about four hours. I took more photos there (as you can tell) than I have anywhere else in a very long time. It is a fascinating, interesting, glorious place. Make a visit !

For the first time in ages I took and used two lenses. I have got into a bad habit of just using the 16-35mm wide angle lens, and at the occasional gig the 50mm. Today I used the wide angle and a 70-200mm zoom, I really should use the 70-200 more, it is a brilliant, if very heavy lens and allowed me the chance to get different angles and views.  I want to improve my photography, so I should use all the tools I have to hand. 

What a fantastic day, and it was only mid afternoon!