ARCHIVE: LEVELS 25 – RUBY RED DEVON (MONO)

 

 


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Red Ruby Devon cow on Peacock Farm, northeast of Westhay, on the Somerset Levels; 21 Mar 2012.

Having large animals fill the frame has always attracted me – I like to get in close to them, usually with a sizeable telephoto and, in a way, turn them into landscapes. 

Here the accent is very much on the animal’s pale and coarsely hairy face, with its bulging eye and odd strands of pale straw.  Then my eye is taken left to its wonderfully hairy ear and then, further left again, the dark flank fades off into abstraction.

This archive presents some of the pictures that I’ve taken on the Somerset Levels over many years.  More context can be found in the first post in this archive – 1 – and also in my first Somerset Levels post, from 2011 – here .  Further posts in this archive are here: 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 .  All of these links will open in separate windows. 

The first Somerset Levels picture gallery, which shows the first 10 of these posts with short captions – ideal for quick viewing – can be found here .

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: D700 with 80-400 Nikkor lens at 400mm; 3200 ISO; converted to mono in Silver Efex Pro 2.

SOMERSET LEVELS: SOME KEYWORDS

And finally – some keywords that will often be mentioned in this archive series:

Droves:  to avoid crossing other peoples’ land when accessing their own, the farmers constructed a series of tracks, known as droves, between the fields. Some of these droves are now metalled roads and many persist as open tracks – all of which allow wonderfully open access to this countryside.

Rhynes: the fields are bounded by water-filled ditches – which both drain the ground and act as stock barriers. Hence strange landscapes – where fields appear quite unbounded, except for a gate with a short length of fencing on either side of it, where a bridge crosses the water-filled boundary ditch to provide access the field.  These small wet ditches communicate with larger rhynes (“reen” as in Doreen), which in turn flow into larger drains, e.g. the North and South Drains in the Brue Valley. All of these waterways are manmade and, by intricate series of pumping stations and flood gates, all of them have their water levels controlled by local farmers, internal drainage boards or the Environment Agency.

Pollarded Willows: the banks of the rhynes were often planted with Willow trees, both to help strengthen the banks and also to show the courses of roads and tracks during floods. These Willows are often pollarded, i.e. their upper branches are cut off, which results in distinctively broad and dense heads to the trees. Pollarding keeps trees to a required height, while ensuring a steady supply of wood – more important in the past than now – for fires, thatching spars, fencing and so on.

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ARCHIVE 581 – FISHEYE LENS MEETS IRON AGE HOUSE

 

 

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This is not some huge mushroom, although that’s what it reminds me of every time I see it.  It is in fact a side view of a house in a reconstructed Iron Age village, near Westhay on the Somerset Levels.

The house is round, with walls made of wattle and daub, which is a building technique over 6,000 years old where straw mixed with wet clay, dung, etc is plastered (daubed) onto a wooden frame (the wattle) and left to harden and dry.  The roof of the hut is thatched, and it overhangs the walls quite a lot, to help keep them dry in bad weather.

The photo was taken looking at the hut side-on, using a full frame fisheye lens.  The extremely wide angle view of this lens encompasses the full diameter of the hut, as well as some of the thatched roof.  But the thing which really baffles my eyes here is that cut logs – firewood – have been stacked around the house’s wall, to dry more speedily beneath the overhanging roof.  The pale, cut ends of these logs catch the eye and – for me at least – provide a distraction that prevents identification of what otherwise might be a reasonably straightforward structure.  The faintly bluish grey wall of the house can just be glimpsed between the tops of the logs and the gloom of the overhanging thatch.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended, for greater clarity.

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ARCHIVE 575 – WOOL, AND THE DEATH OF A SOCIAL CENTRE

 

 


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Wool on a sheep’s flank, photographed during a shearing demonstration at the former Willows Garden Centre, at Westhay, on the Somerset Levels; 28 May 2006.

The light and textures here get to me.  The dab of blue is presumably an identifying or ownership mark – it provides something of a focus in what appears to be a sea of softness – although wool on a sheep is of course a far cry from the soft material of our cosy clothes!

The Willows Garden Centre was a wonderful local social centre and hub, employing disabled staff, producing wonderful homemade food – oh the cakes, the breakfasts, the faggots and pies!!! – selling local produce including cider and plants, used for meetings of local groups and societies >>> only to be closed down and left empty for years by Somerset County Council, before becoming – of all things –  an arts and craft gallery.  Does that make my blood boil?  Yes it *************** does, as hot as the water in the ************ kettle!

And people in Somerset had their own local District Councils – which were conversant with local issues and needs, more in tune with them.  But Somerset County Council wanted to close those down too, to bring everything under its centralised, monolithic control – but that was thankfully stopped by sheer force of people power!

Somerset is my homeland.  I don’t live there any more, I haven’t done so for a very long time, but it is and always will be my spiritual home, and I am very grateful for that.  Hopefully some of these feelings come out in my Levels photography.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: F6 with 80mm-200mm Nikkor lens at 200mm; Velvia 100 colour slide film rated at 125 ISO; given a slightly warm tone in Capture NX2.

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ARCHIVE: LOOKING AT CARS 9 – SELFIE WITH BLUE LORRY (MONO + COLOUR)

 

 


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Self-portrait with blue lorry, near Peacock Farm, Westhay Moor, on the Somerset Levels; 24 Jul 2012.

I’m sitting very upright in the driving seat of my car, using a wideangle zoom to record both the scene in the rear view mirror, and the road ahead as seen through the windscreen.  Back home, I’ve converted the shot to mono using Capture NX2, but retained original colour – and added some brightness too – for the scene in the mirror.

The rows of small dots above the mirror are a device to help prevent dazzle when looking up at the mirror.

The Looking at Cars series: looking back through the nine years of the FATman Photos archives (and some new images too), I’m posting pictures of cars in various contexts and styles.  Earlier Looking at Cars posts are here: 1 (with context); 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 .  

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

Technique: D700 with 16-35 Nikkor lens at 24mm; 800 ISO; manipulated with Capture NX2.

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ARCHIVE 527 – SWANS, GRAZING (MONO)

 

 


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Swans grazing on pastureland; Westhay Moor, south of Wedmore; 2 April 2015.

Some see swans purely as waterbirds, and on or beside water is where they’re usually encountered, reaching down into the water’s depths with their long necks to feed on aquatic vegetation.  But they are often seen out on the fields of the Somerset Levels, quite at home grazing on short grass.

These are Mute Swans, the UK’s common and often tame, resident bird.  But in the winter they may be joined here by a few Bewick’s and Whooper Swans that have come south to avoid the Arctic’s bitter freeze.

And the pylon?  Well, 15 miles or so west of here, and in stark contrast to the Levels’ rural reaches, there is the Hinkley Point atomic power station, which sends lines of such gaunt metal towers snaking out across the surrounding countryside.  The two reactors there are ageing now, but a third is proposed and construction is underway.

And  – hot question! – am I in favour of nuclear power and especially, in this instance, so close to my favourite haunts?  Well, the jury’s out on nuclear, I guess, my only certainty being that we need to get power from somewhere – news stories talk of our electricity supplies being only just sufficient to cover winter demands.  

Click onto the image to see a larger version in a separate window – highly recommended.

Technique: D700 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 2,000 ISO; Silver Efex Pro 2, starting at the Dramatic preset.

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ARCHIVE 505 – TIN SHED, ROTATED

 

 


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Corrugated iron shed (its roof on the right) at the former Willows Garden Centre, near Westhay, on the Somerset Levels; 15 Jul 2005.

Minimal colour, not far from monochrome.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window – recommended.

Technique: F6 with 80-400 Nikkor lens at 400mm; Fuji Provia 400 colour slide film rated at 400 ISO; image rotated 90 degrees clockwise.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 454 – FENCE AT A GARDEN CENTRE (MONO)

 

 


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A photo from sometime ago, using a technique that now seems to me to be from another age.  The camera was a Nikon F6, a simply wonderful film SLR of great quality, and the last of the professional range SLRs that Nikon made prior to the market being taken over by digital cameras.  But the real point of interest here is the film.  Most of us – or perhaps the more senior of us … –  will have shot colour transparency film – colour slides, those little pictures in cardboard or plastic frames that could be looked at through a viewer, or far better viewed using a slide projector and screen.  But Agfa Scala was a wonderful, 200 ISO black and white slide film that could be push processed to 1600 ISO, 3200 ISO and beyond, and which was simply, well, exciting, to use.  Also, in those far off days, I used a tripod for shots like this, whereas in these days of excellent quality image stabilisation and image sensors that give very acceptable results at high ISOs, my tripod stays in the boot of my car.

Also, I avoid garden centres like the plague, but the former Willows Garden Centre was something quite different – it was just what I like, tatty around the edges; and it also sold good local produce; and it employed disabled people in a very basic, down to earth cafe that, amongst other things, could whip up wonderful, large Full English Breakfasts, and tea/coffee strong enough to make your hair stand on end, at the drop of a hat >>>> just the thing for very early, very cold winter mornings!

The picture shows one of the fence’s stout uprights, to which panels of withies – pliable Willow stems – are tied with string.

But, gentrification is occurring even on the Levels, and what has this tatty, much loved, down at heel garden centre become?  Well, its now an art gallery.  Yes, well, enough said.  And the food available is simply not what it was, and so I no longer call in there.  Well, that’s how it is.  Life moves on … and, as I’ve often quoted, “Time passes.  Listen.  Time passes.” (Dylan Thomas).

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window.

Technique: F6 with 80-200 Nikkor lens at 200mm; Agfa Scala monochrome slide film rated at 400 ISO; tripod; the former Willows Garden Centre, near Westhay, on the Somerset Levels; 8 Mar 2005.
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BIRDS 117 – EGRETS ON THE SOMERSET LEVELS (MONO)

 

 


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Great White (the two larger birds towards the left) and Little Egrets, feeding in the mud and water of old peat workings on Westhay Moor, on the Somerset Levels.  (For info: egrets are in the heron family)

Climate change?  I started birding, not too far from where these pictures were taken, in 1967.  And, as a friend from those far off birding days says, if we had submitted records of such a gathering to the Somerset Ornithological Society in those days, we would have been treated with total derision, with doubts about our honesty / mental health probably being thrown in too.  In 1971, anxious to see a Little Egret, my first in the UK, I had to travel all the way to the far west of Pembrokeshire, in Wales, for the treat.  And the Great White Egret has changed its status from being a rarity in the UK late in the last century, to being quite common now.

So, is this climate change?  I don’t know, is the simple answer; although, equally simply, I do believe that climate change is taking place.  But, from my mapping of the ranges of Kenya’s bird species, I know that factors other than climate change can influence bird distribution.  What is certain though, as my old birding friend said on seeing these pictures, is that this is not the Somerset that we used to know, 50+ years ago.

And of course, although we are seeing dramatically increased number of these egrets, numbers of many, many other UK bird species have fallen dramatically over these 50+ years: climate change may have had an effect here, but intensive farming practices are probably a bigger culprit at the moment.

Other recent bird pictures are here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 .

Click onto each image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it – recommended.

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 12,800 ISO; jpegs produced by in-camera processing of raw files, using the Graphite profile; no further processing; Westhay Moor, on the Somerset Levels northwest of Glastonbury; 25 Oct 2019.

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SOMERSET LEVELS 415 – EARLY MORNING 19 (MONO)

 

 


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A stormy morning, and Westhay Moor Drove – one of the many dead straight roads in this relatively recently created, lowland landscape – makes off eastwards towards the wild sky of the sunrise.

Other images in this Early Morning series – from both rural and urban settings, and from Kenya too – are here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 .

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to enlarge it further – recommended.

Technique: X-T2 with 10-25 Fujinon lens at 15mm (equiv); 200 ISO; Lightroom, starting at the Camera Acros+R profile; Westhay Moor Drove, Westhay Moor, on the Somerset Levels southeast of Wedmore; 9 Aug 2019.
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SOMERSET LEVELS 391 – FARM GATE

 

 


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Always plenty for a fly to eat on a farm but, equally, always good to keep away from the cobwebs on the gates.

Click onto the image to open a larger version in a separate window, and click onto that image to further enlarge it.

Technique: Z 6 with 70-300 Nikkor lens at 300mm; 800 ISO; Lightroom, starting at the Camera Neutral v2 profile; Westhay Moor, on the Somerset Levels northeast of Westhay; 9 Aug 2019.
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