I was going to create this blog post back in January. But I became so involved in editing one of my books, trying to get it ready for July, that I never did get around to writing this. Until now. I can hardly believe it’s September already.
Back in January, I thought it might be interesting to look at the photographs I’d taken during 2017, and select my favourite from each month. I did that at the time, and I’ve since reviewed them again while writing this post. Turns out, only two have been replaced in my affections.
In January, I had to pick my son up from Grateley station, in Hampshire. I arrived early, so thought I’d take some shots of the station platform and lights. I also caught a very bright Venus.
In February, Lizzie and I went on one of our bi-monthly trips away. This time, we went back to one of our favourite places, the East Devon coast. Seaton, in particular, is liked by us. This photo was taken in the early evening, and catches two young people gossiping on the pebbly beach. There’s a cool winter feel to this shot I really like.
March. The evenings were drawing out, the weather was beginning to warm, the farmers were harrowing and ploughing. Although not very wet, the tail-end of winter and the beginning of spring were damp, with many cloudy days. This particular cloudy day, however, looked fine with the stand of trees and the sheep. This photo was taken with an odd old lens, a Kaligar 52mm medium-format lens, which was mounted on a Sony A55 using a Fujita 66 to Pentax adaptor and a Sony/Pentax adaptor… The effect of the various crop factors was to make the Kaligar somewhere around 50-60mm on the A55. I had bought the lens on a whim for a mere £24. I sold it for a few bob more a few months later.
Halfway through spring. The nights are noticeably longer. The sunshine is feeling warm at last. This photo was taken on the way home from work one evening. I was aware that there was a traffic jam in Marlborough, so took a shortcut through Savernake Forest. I noted that the track was dusty, and that the sun was setting behind the trees. So I drove up and down the track before taking the photograph, to create a little hazy atmosphere…
Spring is about to tumble into summer! Sunshine, long evenings and warmth. One thing I find fascinating is the routes of old roads. Salisbury Plain is crisscrossed by old roads, prehistoric, modern, early modern… probably medieval as well. One of these roads, the old Salisbury-Devises turnpike road, still exists, although its route across the Plain is maintained by the Ministry of Defence now, and is a gravel track right across The Black Heath. This heath is a high point of the central Plain and the road follows a ridge across it. The photo shows the old road as it enters onto The Black Heath. The building is an observation point for the military.
In June, we took another of our bi-monthly trips, this time to Hele on the north Devon coast. This area — around Westward Ho!, Ilfracombe, Combe Martin, Lynmouth, and Exmoor, is another favourite. As we drove around some backroads near Combe Martin, we arrived at the top of a high down. The light was intriguing, so we stopped to take photos. I could see this interesting sea of green, a field among trees, distant from where I was standing, so used the far reaches of the zoom to snip this shot from the wider landscape.
In July I took a trip down to North Hampshire — in fact, what would have been South Wiltshire at one time — to visit a friend in Martin. We went for a walk on Martin Down. This was full of wild flowers at the time, including one I don’t recall seeing on Salisbury Plain, the rather lovely round-headed rampion.
By August, the weather had been dry for a while. The tracks across Salisbury Plain are a mixture of chalk (unimproved) and gravel (improved for use by the MoD). The eastern Plain in particular has a lot of gravel tracks. When these tracks are dry, vehicles kick up a lot of dust as they travel along them. This can be very photogenic. In the photo below, two off-roaders were travelling along the track. I photographed the second of them through the hazy dust, capturing also the dust trail they had both left behind them.
Back to the centre of Salisbury Plain again for September’s favourite. This is on The Black Heath, at the junction of two old turnpike roads. To the south, the road heads towards Salisbury; to the north a road heads towards Devizes, across The Black Heath; and a road heads north-west towards Market Lavington. The fingerpost in the photograph had only recently had its fingers reinstalled. For at least four years, only the post had stood here.
This day had been very stormy, with thundery showers and thunderstorms all around — in fact, I had chased a storm across Wiltshire, and you can see one of the photos from this chase at the head of this post.
As you’ll have noticed by now, a lot of my photos are taken on Salisbury Plain. You might also have noted references to chalk and gravel tracks. Some of these tracks do get quite tricky to traverse by mid-winter, and an off-roader becomes useful — even necessary.
For my needs, any off-roader has to fulfil three functions. It has to be small enough for Lizzie to drive — she is very wee; it has to be cheap, because we use our off-roaders as photography platforms, so we happily climb all over the bonnet and roof for better angles; and, it has to be decent off-road — not Land Rover or Unimog proficient, just decent. An Honda HRV ticks all the boxes. It has slightly over-sized tyres for extra ground clearance, but I know which ruts not to drive in — I usually know a way around.
When I was taking photos one afternoon, I turned around and noticed the cool evening light on the battered old Honda, and thought it looked pleasing. I knew that the Sigma would take a nice photo of it.
Autumn. Most of the leaves have fallen from the trees. I prefer bare trees to trees in leaf. This group of trees, one of the Charlton Clumps, is one of my favourite subjects. You will find many interpretations of this clump on my Flickr pages. This photograph was taken in the late afternoon — the light was nice, and the clouds all fluffy and lovely.
The lens was an old M42 mount 135mm lens, made or distributed by Cimako. It only cost £5 and was actually very nice. I don’t know why I sold it on. (Well, I do really — an abundance of M42 135mm lenses in my bag).
Into the final month of the year. Salisbury Plain attracts several species of rare or scarce birds. The wide open spaces, the relative peace and isolation (if you discount the odd passing tank or explosion), the tracts of treeless grassland, are enticing to certain birds. During the summer months, Montagu’s harriers and stone-curlews nest here. In the winter, hen harriers follow their prey south and quarter the grasses, hunting for meadow pipits and skylarks.
This female hen harrier favoured me with a relatively close approach in lovely late afternoon sunlight.
And that is the story of my photographic year, 2017. What will this year bring?