Work has stolen and sapped all of my energy this week. I’ve still found time, though, to go out walking; and although the weather has been bitterly cold there are signs that spring is coming. The trees are full of songbirds, too.
I’m entranced by this fallen electricity pylon, lying on its side battered and derelict, its structs bent and broken like some ancient reptilian fossil. My own local beached plesiosaur. I keep watching it from different angles; I really should come by with the Proper Camera.
Similarly, I keep watching Mynydd Machen from different angles. I can see it from my window; sometimes invisible, sometimes flat and two-dimensional in mist, sometimes so bright and bold I could reach out and pick it up. On the wide-angle phone camera, though, it always looks small and disappointing.
There will naturally be a proper railway history post at some point; I just need to put it together and decide exactly what I want to say, other than “this railway is much older than all those fancy modern upstarts like that one from Manchester to Liverpool”.
And finally, all cats are grey, as The Cure once upon a time said.
The ongoing February, which feels as if it is the longest month of the past 12, is sapping my writing energy. Hopefully the oncoming spring will sort that out: today I saw my first queen bumblebee of the year flying purposefully around the neighbourhood looking for a spot to start her nest. This post is something of an appendix to the previous, with a few more photos. I’ve been repeating previous walks, but this time with the good camera.
I’ve been repeating previous walks, but this time with the good camera, which is why regular readers might spot some similarities. At some point I will tell you much, much more about the history of this particular railway, but not today.
It was built in the 1820s, as a plateway; I suspect that low wall on the right was put there in the 1890s when it was widened from single to double track.
Hopefully as the weather warms and the seasons change, my writing energy will come back too.
I was asked the other day to provide a photo of The Children for a family project. Nothing difficult, nothing complicated, just a photo of the two of them, together, both looking at the camera, such as you might want to put on your wall. So I spent a while one evening going through all the photos I’ve taken since the start of 2020, and did I find a single photo that matches that description? Just one with both of them in it, looking at the camera, not pulling a daft face? Not one. Zero. Nil.
Oh well, I suppose that means that over the weekend I’ll have to try to actually get them to appear alongside each other in a reasonably-sensible-looking conventional portrait photo at some point. It did make me think, though, that actually over the past year I did take a few photos that were not too bad but are buried away in my archive. So here is a very random miscellany, from the last year or so.
The combination of being back at work, and the ongoing pandemic situation (particular disastrous in this misgoverned country) means that photography at the moment is limited to things we can photograph whilst walking-for-exercise (if it was walking-for-fun it would be strictly forbidden, of course). Luckily, there are enough interesting views within walking distance that it doesn’t have to be a completely fallow period. Last weekend, when it was cold, I took the camera out and have already posted here the photos I took of Ridgeway Park Cemetery. However, as it was such a cold and icy day, there were plenty of others too. Being an inner city area, we naturally have dystopian motorway overpasses…
However, there’s also the wide open spaces of Eastville Park.
The park’s pond had frozen and refrozen a few times over the preceding days, and The Children enjoyed seeing how far sticks would slide across the surface of the ice.
The river, though, was unusually clear. We stood a while by Stapleton Weir and watched the river water foaming over the edge.
All in all, it’s not too bad an area to live in.
Regular readers might remember the post last week about Ridgeway Park Cemetery, a small and heavily overgrown cemetery bordering Eastville Park in Bristol. As our daily exercise at the weekend, I took The Children back there again, but took the Proper Camera with me this time.
It was an excellent winter’s day for taking the camera out, and you can certainly see the difference when compared to the previous photos.
We took the opportunity, as it is winter, to poke around in some of the parts of the cemetery that are completely overgrown and virtually impassable in summer.
I won’t post the full set of photos here because there’s quite a few, but you can go and look at them on Flickr if you’d like; I’ve tried to transcribe some of the inscriptions too.
Another day, another cemetery, although back on to a human one this time. Back in October, Twitter user @libbymiller asked if I knew Ridgeway Park Cemetery. Although I do know it, and I’ve been foraging for brambles there frequently in summer, for some reason I’ve never taken any photos. Today I woke up, saw it was a fine frosty day, so tried wandering off in that direction.
Ridgeway Park is only small, but its history tracks in microcosm the history of the great urban Victorian cemeteries of Britain. It opened in the 1880s as a private alternative to the nearby city-owned Greenbank Cemetery, filled up with graves, and as it filled up and plot purchases dropped off its owners could no longer make a profit from it. In 1949 the owning company was wound up and the cemetery taken over by the city council.
It was built behind a grand old house, Ridgway House, which in the 1860s seems to have been the home of the private school attended by local celebrity W G Grace. The house was demolished in the late 30s, and there is now no sign of it at all above the ground as far as I’m aware, although Huyton Road runs on the line of its approach drive. Although the house has disappeared completely, the boundaries of the cemetery still follow the lines of previous boundaries. The following map is from immediately before both the cemetery and Eastville Park were laid out, but the cemetery boundaries can be clearly traced on the tithe map from 40 years earlier.
Unlike the still-active Greenbank, and the much-loved Arnos Vale, Ridgeway Park seems relatively forgotten as cemeteries go. The area near the gates is in reasonable condition, just with grass a little long; but as you go in further, towards the park, it becomes more and more overgrown until you are effectively in a patch of woodland with added gravestones.
If you’re local, this is the ideal time of year to visit somewhere quite so overgrown. If you’re not, you might have to wait a while and come back next winter. Or, indeed, in summer, when it has an entirely different atmosphere but is still just as lovely a spot.
Update, January 11th 2021: I went back to Ridgeway Park with an SLR camera and took some more photos. The new post about it is here.
As it is such a lovely, sunny, bright and winter day, we went out for a walk, for a picnic on Troopers Hill. The lumpy, bumpy and steep slope overlooking the Avon, crowned with a rough and slightly wonky chimney. It was busyish, not crowded, but full of groups of families, walking dogs, eating picnics and flying kites. We sat and ate our food, tried to look at the view without squinting, and watched buzzards hovering and circling over the woods.
The chimney was probably built in the late 18th century for copper smelting. Various copper and brass works lined the Avon and Frome in the 18th century; it was Bristol’s major industry, powering the city’s corner of the transatlantic slave trade. The chimney on Troopers Hill fumed to turn copper and zinc ore into brass kettles and other ware, for sale in West Africa in exchange for people, to be shipped as slaves to the Caribbean for the enrichment of Bristolian merchants. Quite a dark history for a local landmark. The brass works did not survive the end of the slave trade, as they no longer had a guaranteed profitable market for most of their products; by the mid-19th century, the copper smelters had closed. Troopers Hill was still covered by other heavy industries, though: coal mining, clay mining, stone quarrying, and a tar distillery. As the industries declined through the twentieth century, though, it slowly turned into a slightly wild and unruly green space. The chimney, though, was left looking over everything.
The council have repaired the base of the chimney, where the flues would originally have entered it, and built a little passageway into it. Inside, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
After a few weekends without touching it, I did a bit more work on the papercraft pinhole camera (previously discussed here, here and here) today. I’m sure The Children have completely forgotten that it was supposed to be for them originally.
Today was the moment that some of the key engineering parts of it dropped into place. Firstly, the film take-up spool was glued into its position.
The main stem of the spool had to be threaded through a triangular hole in a small piece of card with small flaps on the inside of the hole, and these flaps had to be glued to the spool without sticking anything to the main body of the camera, so that the spool is free to rotate. My biggest worry was not pushing that piece of card far enough up the spool, because the spool has to be wide enough to hold a roll of film. It’s one of those things we will only find out about when we try to put a film into it and wind it on, I suspect.
You can see, also, that I’ve tried to fix my earlier mistake building half the camera upside-down, by hacking at the body with a scalpel and extending the frame mask downwards a little bit. I might touch up the edge of that with a black marker.
Next, the shutter mechanism, made by laminating six pieces of card together, trapping a sliding shutter piece in the middle. The sliding piece—itself laminated from two thicknesses of card—is the rectangular piece in this picture.
When the whole mechanism is built up it’s a fairly chunky-feeling assembly, complete with a functional bayonet-mount on the back just like an SLR.
The main “pinhole”, which is a metal sheet, is then stuck in place in front of the shutter assembly with double-sided tape, and various semi-cosmetic rings of cardboard are stuck on in front of it, partly to make it look like a real camera lens and partly to hood the pinhole from glare. I’m quite pleased just how well the shutter itself seems to work, but not really confident in my cardboard-rolling ability for the next step.
If you have a day to spare at the tail end of autumn, and the weather is all damp and misty, what better to do than go for a walk in the woods? In this case, a Forestry England wood just outside Failand, Ashton Hill Plantation. At its centre is a stand of sequoias, looking suitably mysterious in the mist. For a moment you can start to imagine you’re in some sort of supernatural horror-mystery filmed in Washington State.
However, brief glimpses of the rolling landscape outside the woods, showing off the traditional English fear of outsiders, soon remind you where you are.
Near the edge of the wood is a fairy tree, naturally beloved by The Child Who Likes Fairies, decorated with several tiny doors and various garlands and trimmings round its base. Further up, I noticed at adult head height, something that seemed much deeper, speaking directly to the fairies themselves, not there to entertain children.
A corn dolly pinned to the tree with a baby’s teething toy. Some sort of offering; some sort of old ritual; maybe some sort of prayer.
Regular readers will know I’m the sort of person who always has an eye for odd little details, odd little quirks of history or mechanical gubbins. You’ll probably be unsurprised to know that this has never really changed much.
Last week I posted photos of my first ever trip to the Ffestiniog Railway, from back when I was still in primary school. I can still remember being intrigued by the “chopper” couplings the Ffestiniog has used as standard since the 1950s (and to some degree since the 1870s—naturally the full details are online). I can’t say it was the first time I had seen them, but it was the first time I had been close enough to notice they were a novelty to me, enough for me to want to take photographs of how they work. So, naturally, I did.
This is my grainy 110-film photo of the coupling on FfR Car 100. On the far left is its electrical connector, with a hood to shelter it. In the middle is the coupling: a central buffer with a hinged hook fitting into a slot, and a weight (the “bob”) hanging below. Bear in mind that when I took this picture I didn’t know any of this; I was just intrigued by this peculiar metal prong. I’ve learned the technical details since.
After the loco (Mountaineer) coupled up to the train, this is what it looked like. The hook on each coupling is swung down into the opposite slot, but initially it doesn’t drop all the way; it’s blocked by a camshaft attached to the bob. The bob is swung to one side until the hook drops into its running position, and then swung back; the bob’s camshaft locks the hook into place and prevents it lifting. After that, you can attach the brake hoses.
Nowadays, of course, there are probably a thousand videos of how this works online, that you can go and watch whenever you like. I’m quietly pleased with myself, though, that back in the day when you couldn’t do that, this is the sort of thing I felt worth recording on film.