29 Apr 2015

The Beautiful Bluebell Woods of Buckinghamshire

A few years ago I discovered the most glorious bluebell woods near where I grew up. My parents then moved - only a few miles down the road - but it made visiting these woods more of an effort. I finally got round to doing so yesterday, by combining it with a visit catching up with an old friend and neighbour. I almost don't want to advertise the name of the woods as they're so beautiful I just want to keep the spot to myself!

Before I visited there I also spent some time capturing the bluebells in Lane Woods, behind where my parents now live, just up the hill from the Chess Valley in Little Chalfont. My first walk in the woods was with my mother and dog, so it wasn't convenient to set the tripod up and spend much time taking photos (my mother is patient, but the dog is extremely impatient), so I just jacked up the ISO and kept the aperture wide. It was a lovely walk, giving me a chance to scope out a few spots for early the following morning. The bluebells were looking far more profuse than last year. The skies were overcast, so there was no late afternoon sun pouring through the trees to light up the purple flowers. The fields nearby were full of ever-expanding lambs bleating away. We saw a couple of massive deer in the distance, darting off as they heard us. Beautiful crepuscular rays poured down over poplar trees as we headed home.

The following morning sun was forecast, so I checked the TPE app to see where the sun would rise and at what time. It was a horrifically early 5.40am, from the far side of the woods, so I set my alarm for 5.25am - the earliest I'd got up in a long time. I got dressed in lots of layers, thankful I'd brought my hat and had a long down coat of my mum's to borrow - it was bitterly cold out at that time. I headed back to the woods, past the fields of grazing sheep as the sky lightened.

When I reached the woods it was still pretty dark beneath the trees. It is a difficult wood to photograph, as it is hilly, with big dips and hollows off down the hillside and trees and stumps growing haphazardly. The bluebells were closed but still looked stunning. The woods were awash with small patches of new, impossibly green leaves. Eventually the sun began to peak from behind dense trees in the distance, but the light wasn't particularly special. A little fog would have helped no end! 

Soon patches of sun hit the ground, lighting up small patches of bluebells. The air began to warm up a little, but then a chilly breeze arrived, moving the flowers and leaves around. So much for capturing still, sharp shots.

I got to the end of the loop where I'd walked the previous day and headed back, stopping to capture the forest floor now bathed in sunlight.

Eventually I tore myself away, hunger and warmth calling. Later on I went with my parents to visit my friend Adrian's mother in a nearby hospice, and then Adrian and I drove back to Chorleywood for lunch (and a sneaky, nostalgic peak at the house I grew up in). After an emotional catch-up we headed up Shire Lane towards Philipshill Woods. I called my mother, who then came along later, together with my niece, dad and dog, who I was taking back with me to London after my visit. Adrian had a quick walk with the others leaving me to take a few shots of the glorious carpet of bluebells there, which was even better than the previous time. The sun came and went, creating different lighting conditions. I played around with different compositions, lenses, apertures, trying to capture the intensity of the flowers. I was in photographer's heaven!

The others came back and I took a few shots of my niece posing for the camera, something she's very adept at!

My last shot was of Adrian and Henry, who's not very good at posing for the camera. I was sad to leave - I could've spent days there - but it will always be there, with the promise of bluebells beckoning.

27 Apr 2015

The 2015 London Marathon

If I'm around in London in late April I usually try to go along to the Marathon, as the atmosphere always blows me away - and it's only a short tube ride away. Almost instantly I feel tearful - in awe at the effort and commitment of the competitors, and this year was no exception. I arrived at Temple station at 11.45am and headed immediately up to Waterloo Bridge, where I was early enough to get a great spot from where I could watch and capture the action. My eyes streamed immediately, partly from the wind (it was a particularly chilly day which was great for the runners, not so much for the spectators), and partly from emotion.

 The first competitors to pass beneath the bridge below me were wheelchair racers and blind runners - mostly Japanese women, it seemed, with guides. They were followed by the elite racers - Kipsang and Kipchoge neck-and-neck at that point, and eventually a stream of thousands of ordinary people of all shapes, sizes and ages, who had all no doubt spent the last few months training hard in addition to continuing on with their normal lives. In amongst them - or rather at the beginning of these normal runners - was the incredible Paula Radcliffe, running her last ever marathon, her world record still intact twelve years on. We knew she was approaching as three helicopters circled above her throughout her run. She received massive cheers from everyone along the road, and a huge smile seemed fixed on her face.

I stayed up on the bridge for hours, watching the marshals hurriedly usher people across the road between runners until the road was a constant, brightly-coloured flow approaching Mile 25. I chatted to some of the people around me and helped to look out for their friends and family (we saw a couple and shouted and waved madly).

Eventually I got too cold up there and headed to the balcony of Somerset House to get a different view, before going back to my usual spot, between Waterloo Bridge and Temple, along the barriers that keep the spectators out of the road.

From there I joined the rest of the crowd in cheering and encouraging runners - especially those with their names visible. As usual I was overwhelmed by the incredible effort people had made - particularly those with uncomfortable or ridiculous costumes, such as the rhinos. One man was even wearing a Dr. Who Police Box. Some looked as if they were in excruciating pain, others in a complete daze, while others beamed and grinned as you called their name.

I hoped that the crowd's presence made a difference to the runners and helped them along. Emotional runners hugged friends and family in the crowds.

The presence of the charities was massive too along the sidelines, and they - along with the runners' shirts - reminded me of the enormous amount of money that would be raised in recognition of everyone's efforts. As a recipient of medical treatment last year myself it felt more touching to think of the massive impact that this makes to the success of the charities and their breakthrough research and how peoples' live are improved as a direct result of this and similar events.

I used to come away thinking that I'd have to take part the next year, but that urge seems to have gone now. But I will continue to go back and take pictures of, shout encouragement at, and be in awe of this amazing collection of crazy people.