the nearest faraway place

Horizon, West Kirby, WirralMy contribution to the project – low tide, West Kirby, on the Wirral Peninsula

Ages ago – years ago, now – when I was just finishing studying with Open College of the Arts, some students on the Flickr forum got together and designed a collaborative project.  It was called The Nearest Faraway Place, and each of us who wanted to take part had to supply a 6 x 4 print that interpreted the title any way we wanted.

The book took a concertina form which made it easy for each person to add their bit onto the end of it, and it travelled round the world to one student at a time so that they could personally attach their contribution.  Each person also saved the stamps from the parcel it arrived in and added them to the metal box in which the book travelled. The idea was that these would become part of a collage that made up the book’s cover.

I remember the day it came to me in the post.  It was incredibly exciting to be holding something that had travelled so far, and had been put together by many people whom I knew online but had never actually met.  There was something very special about holding the book and knowing that these people had also held it in their hands.  This is how it looked when I got it:

OCA book, on arrival

The book made its way round a large chunk of the world – USA, China, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Russia, Tanzania, Japan, Switzerland, Greece, Ireland, and more – eventually ending up in the UK.  There were one or two hairy moments when it seemed to have got lost in the post – with one notably long and anxious wait when it was making its way from South Africa to the UK – but it always turned up eventually.

I think it took about two years in the end for everyone to get their chance to contribute, but a few months ago the book finally made it to the last person on the list.  This person is Yiann, who had volunteered to tidy the book up, make a cover for it, and generally put it into its final physical form.  On one of my increasingly rare visits to Flickr, I discovered that she’s now done just that and, even better, made a video of the finished thing.  She’s done a brilliant job with it, as you can see in the video below:


Desperately seeking the sea

Marine Lake, West Kirby, WirralThe Marine Lake, West Kirby, Wirral

I had all sorts of plans for yesterday, all of them involving sitting at my computer writing, but it was a glorious day out there and I couldn’t resist it.  The weather forecast said we’d be back to rain from today, so I reckoned there’d be plenty of opportunity to get some work done while that was happening.  I really could feel spring in the air yesterday, despite the continuing chilliness, and it lifted my heart.

I’ve had a yearning to spend some time by the sea lately. I’ve never lived anywhere that’s so close to the sea while at the same time having gone so long without actually seeing it.  It’s out there somewhere, but this is a coastline of very flat beaches and shallow water and estuaries, and when the tide’s out it’s really out – you can’t even see where the water is.  I was going to go out for the day whatever, so I didn’t bother checking the tide tables before I went, and of course all I saw when I got to West Kirby was miles of empty sand.

When we first moved here I wondered why they’d built a marine lake at West Kirby – it’s basically a very large, fenced-off piece of sea with a path round it. It seemed perverse to me to make an enclosure for the sea when you could be out in the whole airy expanse of it.  I assumed it must be for safety reasons and that perhaps there were dangerous currents and tides.   Now I totally understand – it’s the only way there is of keeping some water at hand so that people can windsurf or sail, because for most hours of the day that would be impossible otherwise.

The Marine Lake does make for some interesting photo opportunities – it can look almost as if people are walking on water from a distance, as in the picture at the beginning of this post.  It works best when there’s only one or two and it was a busy day for promenaders, and I’ve got some closer shots that show just how many people were having a stroll round it.  Doesn’t look nearly so mysterious from this angle, does it? – who says the camera never lies!

Marine Lake, West Kirby, Wirral

Marine Lake, West Kirby, Wirral

The upside of the tide being out is that I was able – for the first time – to walk out to one of the Hilbre Islands. At low tide these three small islands become accessible to walkers.  I’ve thought about doing this before, but you’re supposed to check when high water is, and then set out at least three hours after it and come back at least three hours before it, with extra time for higher tides and some weather conditons.  All very sensible, but it begins to feel as if it needs a lot of planning and of course that’s not what I did at all.  I couldn’t see the notice board with the tide information on it, although I found it when I got back, and I hadn’t intended to walk out there without knowing what was what, but there were plenty of other people walking to and fro and the sea was nowhere in sight.  I thought I’d just walk a little way.  And then I thought I’d just walk a little bit further.  And then I thought I might as well just go for it, so I did, while keeping a slightly nervous eye out to make sure I wasn’t the only person still left out there.  This is probably how people end up needing to be rescued.

Hilbre Islands, West Kirby, WirralLittle Eye Island, Hilbre Islands, seen faintly in the distance

Walking to Hilbre, West Kirby, WirralWalking towards Little Eye, Hilbre Islands, West Kirby, Wirral

It felt wonderful being out in this huge expanse of sand and sky with the sun – albeit winter-weak – shining dazzlingly over it all.

Beach, West Kirby, Wirral

The smallest of the islands is very small indeed – not much more than a large rock – and there wasn’t a lot to see.  There were quite a few rockpools but not the kind that have much in the way of marine life in them.  I liked the way the sun was shining through the water onto these shells, though.  (And incidentally, the Lensbaby worked surprisingly well here.  I didn’t think it would, but it’s really helped concentrate attention on the central shells.)


I also liked these sand ripples.

Sand ripples

This is the view looking back from the island towards West Kirby.

View of West Kirby from Little Eye, Hilbre Islands

And finally, on the way back I saw this rather unusual reflection.  It’s actually the houses on the shoreline, but they were still some way off and I still don’t understand why they were reflecting in a puddle this far out.

Reflection, West Kirby

Ness Gardens

Dee Estuary viewNess Botanic Gardens, Cheshire; view over the Dee Estuary

I haven’t been out a lot since I moved here. There’s been so much to do around the house, and so many deliveries I’ve had to stay in for (one of the perils of not going out to work is that you become the default delivery-receiving person).  To be honest, I’m usually feeling uninspired at this time of the year and I have to force myself not to huddle inside in the warmth, idly surfing the web and generally managing to put off a lot of things that need to be done.

The problem for me is always that flat, grey light that we get so much of in winter; it has a way of turning me into a flat, grey person who has no interest at all in picking up a camera.  But……the other day we got some sun!  There are some botanic gardens just a mile or two from the house and I seized the moment and took myself off there – if nothing else, to indulge in some tea and cake from the excellent little cafe.  As always, of course, once I got going with the camera I found things to photograph and even got quite excited about some of it.

It’s still winter, really, even if bulbs are starting to bloom and blossom is beginning to appear. I can see these gardens will be glorious when spring gets going in earnest, but they’re still a little stark right now.  I concentrated on looking for small abstractions that might make for an interesting shot.


Pond life


Tree shadow


Tree trunk

Blue boat, with reflection

Reflected clouds

At the far end of the gardens, where few people go, I found a very small lake – or perhaps a very large pond – with a boat in it and a bench to sit on.  It was a warm day for February and it was blissful to be able to sit in the sunshine and enjoy the peace, with the birds singing and the breeze rustling the leaves.  A sudden movement caught my eye, and I saw a toad hop across the decking and pause on the edge, before diving into the water.  I was just quick enough to catch him and actually managed to get him in focus, too – if you’ve been reading along with me so far, you’ll know that doesn’t often happen.

Toad about to jump into pond

The gardens are owned and run by Liverpool University, and one of their projects is to investigate the effects of global warming.  They have a huge area with 42 small ponds in it; each pond is kept at a very slightly different temperature and the health and growth of insects, algae, pond plants, and fish are all monitored.

Eco ponds

They also rescue and rehabilitate battery chickens. The first time we came here – on our house-hunting visit in January – some of the chickens were a heart-breaking sight.  They were skinny, ugly, bald in places, and one had some very nasty sore areas.  I was thrilled to see how they look now – fat, glossy-feathered and happy.  I’ve always thought I’d love to rescue some of these birds and give them a good life for what remains of it.  Maybe one day.  I wasn’t having a lot of luck getting any decent shots; you think chickens move around quite slowly, but you’d be surprised, and they don’t synchronise well compositionally.  I did manage to catch this fellow – see how shiny his feathers are.

Rescued chicken



Wandering along the Wirral coast

Yellow glow

We’ve got a place to live! Not the one I wrote about in my last post – after making us wait two and a half days for an answer, they refused to remove anything at all from the property.  We might have given in on the cupboard junk and the stuff in the shed, but there was also a tatty old sofa and a bedframe which apparently weren’t going anywhere either, and which we didn’t want – we have enough tatty old junk of our own……  Since there wasn’t even a garage to stash them in, we decided to walk away and start again.

That left us with one day to find somewhere (yikes!).  Out of six possibles that I found online, three were gone, two weren’t ready for viewing, and we managed to arrange a viewing on the sixth one for the next morning.  It was well over budget, yes, but it was lovely – clean, fresh, full of light, ready to move right into, and with a huge garden and in the place we most wanted to be.  By lucky coincidence, the owner was there and we could ask him directly if he minded pets rather than wait till the agent phoned him, he phoned back, the agent phoned us…..you know how it goes.  We took it.  We’re sorted.  Let’s talk about photography again.

We took a leisurely drive up the west side of the Wirral coast one day, and came across some paragliders having a high old time.  I tried, but none of my shots were up to much; I wasn’t quick enough, and most of the paragliders are about to disappear off the side of the photo like this fellow.

Paragliding, Wirral

As the light fell, there was yet another wonderful sky.

Evening, Wirral

Evening, Wirral 2


I also tried taking this in portrait format just to see the difference, but it doesn’t work nearly so well.  It’s interesting to see how the longer horizontal lines above give a far more restful, tranquil feeling than the more upright composition.







It was getting too dark to see by this time, so we turned for home. Next day we carried on from where we’d left off and ended up in West Kirby, which has a marine lake.  A marine lake, in case you don’t know (I didn’t), is a very large, ‘fenced-off’ area of sea where people can sail, windsurf, canoe, and otherwise indulge in watersports, presumably in more safety than they would if they were out in the open sea.  I’m not sure I like the idea myself, being cooped up with large numbers of people doing the same thing in a relatively small space, although it’s probably good and reassuring when you’re learning.  What I did like was that there was a path running round the edge, and you could do a walking circuit of the whole thing – about two miles, all round.  From a distance, it almost looked as if people were walking on the water.

Marine Lake 1

Those of you who know me well may be surprised to see me produce a black and white image.  I felt the coloured version didn’t really work – the colours were dull and didn’t add a lot.  I’m not a huge black and white fan, so I played around to see what else I could do with it.  I came up with these sepia and blue versions.  I like the warmth of the sepia; not so sure about the blue, although the mood it creates is more true to how it felt at the time – it was a cold, damp, windy day.  Maybe it’s just a little too blue?  It is interesting to see how much a change of colour changes the feeling.

Marine Lake 1, sepia

Marine Lake 1, blue

There was a break in the cloud for a few moments, and a brilliant shaft of light shone down onto the water.  There was only a moment or two to catch it, and the contrast in light was just too much for the camera (and me) to deal with, but I do quite like how it turns the two small figures into ghostly shapes.


Finally, back on dry land, I saw this torn and tangled bunting blowing in the wind and liked the contrast of the bright colours, and the warmth of the pavement stone, against the cold greyness of the sea.


Sunset over the Dee estuary

View from the sitooterie

This has got to be one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen; I was just mesmerised by it.  It had everything, from fiery oranges and blacks to softer blues, pinks and golds, and I haven’t enhanced the colours at all.  I rarely see a sunset where I’m living at the moment, as it’s so built-up here, but every evening in this holiday cottage we were treated to amazing skies.  Not all were as exciting as this one, but every evening produced a new delight and a half-hour spent sitting in this space with a cup of tea, watching evening fall.  Even better, our new house (more later on that) is just up the coast a bit, and this view is at the end of our road.  You may be seeing rather a lot of sunset images in the next few months…….

Sunset 3

Sunset 2

Sunset 5

Sunset 4

Sunset 1

View from the Wirral

View over Dee Estuary

Well, here we are on the Wirral peninsula and the holiday cottage we’re in is to die for. It’s immaculately decorated and furnished, and the owners have provided absolutely everything you could possibly want (well, except for a cheesegrater – we have binoculars, wine, a sewing kit, a first aid box, quilted toilet paper, a welcome pack of basic food and the best organised and most comprehensive information pack you’ve ever seen, but no cheesegrater).  The picture above shows the view from the sunroom (rather sweetly referred to by the owners as the ‘sitooterie’), across the Dee estuary to the Welsh mountains.  I could sit and look at this view for ever.  Every evening has brought another spectacular sky and I wanted to post some of the pictures, but I’m having computer trouble again so you’ll have to wait.

Despite the fact we have two laptops with us, I can’t get anywhere with editing the photos and they do need a bit of tweaking to show them at their best.  (The photo above is untweaked and could probably benefit from some small amount of tweakerie, but I had to give you something to look at.)  We have both a Windows and a Mac laptop with us.  The Windows has Photoshop Elements on it, but I only installed it before I left and didn’t realise I would need to enter the product key code when I first used it and of course I don’t have it with me.

Never mind, I thought, I have Photoshop on the Mac – I’ll use that. But have I mentioned that I hate, detest, and loathe Apple systems?  Every time I try to do anything on one, I end up tearing my hair out with frustration.  I’ll happily concede that they’re beautiful objects, but I just can’t use them.  First of all I couldn’t find Photoshop, it wasn’t in the dock and I didn’t know how else to get hold of it.  I fiddled around and eventually got it up, then tried to open one photo.  The photo was on an external hard-drive and I couldn’t get the drive to open.  Then I did, but when I tried to open the image the drive just disappeared.  Finally I got it back again and opened one image in RAW.  At that point I realised that the angle I was viewing the screen at completely changed the way the photo looked, and I couldn’t tell how it would look when seen normally, so I decided to come out and just play a little with the jpeg instead.  Then I couldn’t close Camera Raw because the buttons were completely off the bottom of the screen and it took ages to find a way of resizing the window so I could get at them.  Having exhausted my repertoire of curses by then, I decided to call it a day and go back to Windows.  Which is where I am now…………. anyone want to buy an Apple laptop? – I’m not joking here.

All that aside, we’re hoping we may have found a house. We did a marathon viewing of eight houses in one day, and apart from the one that was stratospherically outside of our price range, only two of them were even worth considering.  I’m really quite shocked about the state some of these places were in; lots of them (including the one we’re interested in) were really dirty and shabby.  Perhaps I’m being naive here, but I’d think you’d want to at least give the place a good clean before you tried to interest anyone in living in it – wouldn’t you?  If we get this one, we’re looking at a good two or three days of cleaning and going round it with a few cans of emulsion before we start moving stuff into it.  It’s scruffy.  The house itself is really very nice, and meets our needs pretty well, at least in the short term.  It’s more spacious than the one we’re in, and moreover it feels very spacious, and it’s nice and light.  It has loads of storage space and bookshelves, and it’s in a very nice little village and quite close to a railway station.  More importantly, it just felt right when we walked in the door.  But it is definitely scruffy.

We’re now waiting to hear back from the owners. We asked for a small reduction in rent, and for the cupboards and sheds to be left completely empty (some of them were full of junk), and the garden to be trimmed and tidied up.    This seemed quite reasonable at the time,  but it’s been a day and a half now and we haven’t heard anything.  To be truthful, we don’t have much bargaining power – we need somewhere to live and we need it now, so we are definitely going to give in if they object – but you’ve got to try.  At the moment we’d probably roll over and wriggle ingratiatingly at their feet if they’ll only just allow us to live in their house – grubby, scruffy and all.  Keep your fingers crossed for us.