Winter has arrived, missing out autumn, and the weather is making me work now. No more sitting around in the sun watching the world go by, it’s cold short days that need to be busy to stay warm, well planned to make meetings and ensure I get all the locations photographed in a day. Subtler colour palettes, and long shadowed orange light. Long nights in the tent where I can sleep for fourteen hours and still have a lie in. Yes, winter is here.
The trip started in the summer though. It might have been November, but no one had told the weather gods to adjust the thermostat. I started this trip at The Tame Valley east of Birmingham with blue skies in a t-shirt and shorts. The deep cool water filled former gravel extraction pits that make up much of the attraction to wildlife and pleasure seekers looked really enticing. Not that there is much wildlife to see, or hear, without close inspection at this time of year. The countryside is now very quiet after the noise and showmanship of spring and summer. And less tweets is meaning less Tweets, hey ho. I added in the luxury of a campsite as well as the sunshine. After the last trips succession of shady urban wild camps, I couldn’t face more of them round Birmingham. Which was a shame really, because there is so much green space around Birmingham. The city seems to transition instantly from grey urban, to green rural, so places like the Tame Valley may be busy with people, but they do feel like green spaces, although not quite wild!
A lovely country lane ride through Warwickshire deposited me in the centre of Coventry, for a quick coffee stop before heading out to Brandon Marshes visitor centre just outside Coventry to meet up with Gina from Warwickshire Wildlife Trust who was going to show me round Princethorpe Woods Living Landscape. It’s a bit of a warren of little lanes and small coppiced ancient woodland, but Gina had thoughtfully brought along detailed maps for me. The gold and copper woods were pretty quiet during the day, no much to see or hear in the wide rides (tracks) that are kept clear for butterflies, or in the coppiced glades that are managed for a variety of species including ‘cute’ little dormice. Come sundown though and the woods came to life with a cacophony of owl and other night sounds. I met up with Mike the volunteer warden the next morning who was showing people round and then a team of Community Payback lads who were helping with the coppice management. It looked like hard work clearing the dense wood and the hot weather just made the work harder. I was keen to photograph them at work because I like showing the range of people who volunteer for the Wildlife Trusts and the hard work they put in. I wasn’t sure if they would be happy to be photographed. I approached their team leader who did an intake of breath and said they probably wouldn’t want to be photographed but he would ask anyway. And they all promptly said yes. Cool. A pleasant wild camp in some fields overlooking Coventry completed a good day.
That was it for the good weather days. As I got on the train for Hereford the next morning it was apparent that winter had arrived, the weather gods had tweaked the thermostat and added in a bit of rain and mist to make me suffer. I arrived at the Herefordshire WT office and did my usual scrounging of battery charging and shower before we headed of to the Woolhope Dome. It’s a pretty impressive feature of bumpy limestone hills poking out of the flat floodplains. Herefordshire presents a bit of a contradiction. On the the one hand there are many very affluent people, and this is apparent looking at the neatly groomed countryside. But, there are also some very deprived areas which don’t receive a lot of attention as Herefordshire is perceived as wealthy, and the wealth skews the stats. So, with pretty countryside, but grey gloomy skies I feel that the photographs I made reflect this contrasted area. I was also sad to learn that for a variety of reasons the funding for Herefordshire WT had dramatically reduced leading to many redundancies and reductions in projects.
The River Severn
The last stop was Shropshire where I had a couple of locations to visit. The first was Holly Bank west of Shrewsbury which sits on the River Severn floodplain. The Holly Banks reserve is a pilot field system to explore sustainable and wildlife friendly farming methods and also to explore the use of farmland as a sink for flood water rather than building an ever increasing number of flood defences around towns which only pushes the flood problem elsewhere. The project is still at very early stages so there wasn’t a lot to actually photograph at this stage, but it is an exciting concept for the future. The weather wasn’t at it’s best for photographing such a location, I would really have liked some bright blue sky to enhance the currently rough look of the location, but the sun stayed hidden for much of the day. With slightly grim heart and an oncoming case of man flu I packed up my gear only to find that my bike had a puncture. No trouble, until I broke the pump! In the middle of nowhere! Shit! I stuffed the tyre with grass and rode a lumpy twelve miles to the nearest garage to repair the puncture and inflate the tyre. Grrr.
And so I finished at the wildly contrasting Living Landscape of Meers & Mosses east of Ellesmere. A place of deep glacial lakes (the meers) and mosses (bogs where peat has been cut). I woke with a grim heart and my man flu/cold even worse but at least the night in a hotel had been kind so the grey morning didn’t feel as bad as it could have. But as I slipped through the grey mist I studied the light and how it was fluctuating and enhancing the autumn colours at times. Fab, an opportunity. I waded out in the shallows of the mere, draped in the hanging weeping willow and went for a moody pano surrounded by water. The mosses in the afternoon were only slightly drier, but an abundance of autumn coloured grass and heather made the grey sky a blessing that let the subtle colours of this beautiful landscape shine through.
It wasn’t the easiest trip with the grey skies, damp camping and quiet landscape, I found it hard to enthuse, hard to Tweet, just mentally hard. I think I am now fairly well burned out. But I am past halfway, my equipment choice is holding up for the most part, I’ve got nearly two weeks at home, and my next trip is a return to Essex. Bring it on!