A couple of weeks ago we had the pleasure of attending the Whit Marches in the Tameside, Oldham and Saddleworth area in North West England. These are a series of brass band competitions held in 22 towns and villages on the edge of the Pennines and date back to the 1870s. Whit Friday has traditionally been a holiday in the area. On the Friday morning the traditional church Whit Walks take place and in the evening each village holds its own brass band contest. Well over 100 bands from all over the country tour the area in coaches, visiting as many contests as they can. The bands include all levels from Championship level, including National Champions Foden’s, to school and youth bands. This year there were also bands from Canada, Iceland, Sweden and Switzerland.
At each venue each band performs two pieces – a march performed on the move, where they may be awarded marks for deportment, and a set piece performed on a temporary band stand. The adjudicators are concealed in a caravan or nearby room, awarding marks without knowing the bands’ identities.
The Whit Friday contests are a favourite event in the brass band calendar and attract thousands of people. They are often described as ‘the greatest free show on earth!’
We have been out and about this week taking a few mid-May landscapes. I only tell you this so that I can use the expression ‘mid-May landscapes’.
I first heard the description over 30 years ago, when a colleague, who was also interested in photography, told me he would be taking his mid-May landscapes the following week. Ron’s birthday was in the middle of May and each year, without fail, he would book the whole week off work. This was partly to celebrate his birthday but mainly to capture his mid-May landscapes.
Each day of that week Ron would load his car with his camera gear and set off in a different direction, towards the open countryside, sometimes with a destination in mind, but more often than not, just follow his instinct, the light, the dramatic sky or whatever else caught his eye. He would drive down roads and lanes he had never explored before and thoroughly enjoy his week of self-indulgence.
I hadn’t heard the expression until I met Ron but I immediately realised that it meant the time of the year when the leaves are new, fresh and vibrant; when the grass is lush; when the whole of nature buzzes with life and energy and the light often has a special quality about it. I thought perhaps it was a well-known term used by photographers and artist which had somehow passed me by.
That was back in pre-internet days but the term stuck with me and several years later I consulted Professor Google expecting to find a long list of famous artists or photographers who had used the description, but nothing. Perhaps it was an expression Ron had made up, or had once heard and it stuck with him just as it stuck with me and perhaps after today, with you too.
Created by the artist Andrew Sabin, The Coldstones Cut is a massive construction, described as a sculpture, which visitors can walk through and explore. The sculpture overlooks the working Coldstones Quarry, hence the name.
It is the biggest and highest piece of public artwork in Yorkshire and stands 1375 feet above sea level. Construction commenced in March 2010 and it was opened later that year. There are great views of Nidderdale which is situated in the picturesque Yorkshire Dales.
I was probably guilty of over-thinking the Coldstones Cut. In part like a Roman wall, but with modern street features, including yellow lines, alongside. Plenty of ‘whys?’ but not so many answers so the best thing to do was to just enjoy exploring it, admiring the views and remembering the importance of quarries and the part they play in the construction of so many building and roads.
If you want to see it for yourselves, The Coldstones Cut is just off the B6265 between Skipton and Pateley Bridge, postcode HG3 5BJ. Parking is available near the sculpture and admission is free.
Here in the UK we have more than half of the world’s bluebells and you can see them in woods up and down the country each spring. They are powerful magnets for photographers and artist alike, although strangely not always the easiest of subjects to photograph and capture the colour accurately.
Native bluebells are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It’s against the law to dig up bulbs in the wild and landowners aren’t allowed to dig them up to sell them either. The ones found on many gardens and for sale in garden centres are Spanish bluebells.
During our visit to Hilltop Farm (see rabbits, rabbits, rabbits…) we enjoyed looking round the garden and finding the many nooks and crannies to photograph. I saw this gate which attracted my attention but only when we returned home, and read the leaflet properly, did we realise this was Tom Kitten’s gate. I was intrigued by the similarity of the illustration, done by Beatrix Potter in 1907, and the gate as it is now, over 100 years later. Surely this couldn’t be the same gate? It looked in fairly good condition. Perhaps it was a more recent addition, based on that original illustration, just to satisfy the thousands of visitors, including many Japanese, who come each year. If it is the original gate, then surely the hinges, latch and wood must have been replaced many times.
I was reminded of the classic scene in ‘Only Fools and Horses’ in which Trigger claims that he’s had his road sweeper’s broom for 20 years. But then he adds that the broom has had 17 new heads and 14 new handles. “How can it be the same bloody broom then?” asks Sid the café owner. Trigger produces a picture of him and his broom and asks: “what more proof do you need?”
So how can this be the same gate? Well see the original illustration and my photograph – what more proof do you need?
We discovered Filey, a gem of a town on the Yorkshire coast, about 15 years ago and have returned several times since then. Living just about as far from the coast as possible in the UK we need an occasional fix of ‘vitamin sea’ and a week in or around Filey dispenses the required dose. We particularly enjoy walking on the long beach with its clean, firm sand. It has become our ‘standard’ for beaches and wherever we go around the world, the beach is judged on our ‘Filey scale’. It was after one such walk that we sat enjoying a coffee when this elderly couple arrived and stood there, presumably reminiscing, for quite a while. This could well be the resulting postcard to a son or daughter…
Make way for sweet May flowers. April has started true to form with showers most days this week. Rain, but not as much as in Seathwaite, Lake District. That is the wettest place in England and receives between two and three metres of rainfall each year. I took this photograph a while ago near Hawkshead, 30 miles or so from Seathwaite. The National Trust had thoughtfully provided umbrellas for visitors walking the short distance from the car park and ticket office to the entrance to Hill Top Farm. Short, but long enough to get drenched if caught in a Cumbrian shower.
It was a dull day but then the rain stopped and the sun made a brief appearance. Brief, and barely long enough to highlight the colour and shapes of these umbrellas for a quick photograph. It could almost be an art installation at the Tate; or being even more fanciful, perhaps it’s the parking area for those dropping into a meeting of the Mary Poppins Appreciation Society.
Do any get stolen or are they dutifully returned after each use? Is it someone’s job to count these at the end of the day? (not as easy as it sounds – try it if you have nothing better to do!
Not only is Burton on Trent the brewing capital of the UK, but it is also the home of Marmite, which has been produced in the town for well over 100 years. Marmite is a by-product of the brewing process and is made from the excess yeast produced during brewing.
Those of you who don’t live in Burton on Trent can be forgiven for thinking that this is an April Fool joke. Why? Because while other towns and cities have statues of kings, queens, prime ministers, politicians, military heroes, writers, artists, sports personalities and entertainers, we have a sculpture of a Marmite jar! (Actually we do have other statues, etc. and these may be covered in future posts).
So, well established facts or April Fool fiction?
• Marmite is good for you. It is gluten free and contains high levels of vitamin B3, folic acid and thiamine
• Countless Burton babies have been weaned on Marmite on toast without any (known) ill effects.
• There is a sculpture in Burton in the shape of a jar of Marmite
• The sculpture is called Monumite
• It incorporates some digital technology and visitors can download information from it onto their mobile phones via Bluetooth.
• Recent scientific studies have discovered that ‘love it or hate it’ all depends on your genes. The Marmite Gene Project reports that ‘whether you fall into the loathe it or love it category all depends on your genes. The ‘Marmite Gene Project’ shows that people are born biologically more likely to be either lovers or haters of Marmite thanks to 15 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP’s or genetic markers, in lay terms) linked to their taste preference’.