Beechwoods Slug

If really felt like late summer in the Beechwoods this morning – bright sun, but a chill wind that sent a surf-like susurrus through the treetops. Big mushrooms with scaly biscuit coloured caps sprouting through the open ground under the beeches were a hint of approaching autumn.  The appearance of a slug after a wet night was not surprising – leaving its silvery train two metres up a beech tree was.

Photo:  Beechwoods, Cambridge, August 2017

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Maize Maze

Another alternative crop.  Rectory Farm on the Fen-edge at Landbeach harvests leisure.  Hidden in the field is the Maize Maze, a jungly labyrinth in the meandering form of a castle and dragon for family adventures.  At the end of the summer the maize in half cut for animal feed and half ploughed back in to nourish the soil.  Sustainable diversification.

Photo: Rectory Farm, Landbeach, Cambs, August 2017

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Sustainable Fenland

The early morning sun picks up a ruler-straight line of light across the graphic landscape of the Fens.  A solar array.  The Fens, drained over the centuries in what Ian Rotham claims is the ‘greatest single ecological catastrophe that ever occurred in England’ (The Lost Fens (2013)), include some of the best agricultural land in the country.  Is covering it with solar arrays, rather than growing vegetables, wheat, potatoes, sugar beet and so on, perverse?  Keeping the waters at bay in this low lying land is an ongoing struggle, a struggle that climate change is set to make ever more challenging.  Harvesting sustainable energy is not perverse, more a survival strategy.  The silver line, at first glance water, is a hint of an alternative future.  Perhaps Ian Rotham wouldn’t mind.

Photo: Solar array, Chittering Farm, Streatham, Cambs, August 2017

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Tourism Backlash

On Saturday 12th August the Guardian carried a full page article, ‘Wish you weren’t here: locals take on tourists in Europe’s crowded hotspots’.  Spain is the focus for much of the spate of anti-tourist incidents reported, but it’s not alone in seeing a backlash against apparently unregulated tourism, including the impact of innovations like Airbnb.  The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) has responded by stressing the value of tourism and calls for ‘sustainable tourism policies [and} practices’ and a multi sector response.  ‘The focus should not be, it says, on simply stopping tourists arriving.’

Three points.  First, in 2010 I worked with the European Association of Historic Towns and Regions to prepare for the Council of Europe a set of ‘Guidelines for Sustainable Cultural Tourism in Historic Towns and Cities’.  I’ve yet to see any evidence that government at any level and public and private sector agencies have taken any notice of the Guidelines, much less taken any action.  Second, regardless of what the WTO says, it is about the numbers and the impact on places where visitor want to go.  Third, modern tourism is now shaped and driven by internet technology, yet the public agencies who are responsible for destinations seem unwilling or unable to use technology to help manage tourism effectively.  Once again technology drives business, but not governance.

Photos: 1. Ephesus, Turkey, 1995; 2. Quai du Louvre, Paris, 1988

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Car Futures

Computer controlled self-driving cars are being touted as the future for motoring.  Well, just maybe, though it has the ring of one of those mistaken ‘Tomorrow’s World’ promises about it.  Will it be safer, or at least as safe as at present?  Questionable.  Will there be fewer cars on the road?  Doubtful.  And what are we to do while the car is driving itself?  More time on social media or checking e-mails from an ever demanding boss perhaps.  It all sounds like technology in search of an application and a frantic attempt by the technology companies to create a new market.  We might be better off putting the energy into shaping 21st century attitudes to travel and developing sophisticated managing traffic?

Photo: Hills Road, Cambridge, August 2017

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Beechwoods Origins

I went to the Cambridgeshire Collection today to see if old OS maps of the Beechwoods give any clues as to why it has its distinctive shape.  The map for 1903 shows the familiar modern shape for the woods established by then, so I will need to look at earlier editions – it should be possible to go back well into the 19th Century.  The map shows the existence of an old clunch pit in the north eastern corner.  Might digging for clunch be the origin of the depression in the centre of the woods?

Picture: Ordnance Survey 1903

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Beechwoods Block?

I walked in the Beechwoods early this morning.  The sky was heavily overcast, lending the woods a flat, sombre, in places gloomy, air.  The play of light and shade that characterises the woods on good summer days was gone.  I felt no inclination to take any pictures,  I couldn’t see anything of interest.  Was that because the sun is so important to the distinctive look of the woods at this time or year; or have I become trapped into thinking I’ve exhausted them as a subject?  If the latter, how do I break through this block, because I’m sure there is more to be explored?  The picture opposite is from an earlier visit and shows there is another side to the woods, besides the regiments of beeches.

Photo: Beechwoods, Cambridge, July 2017

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Bartlow Enigma

What is this object, one of several, hunkered down in a shelter belt near Hills Farm, Bartlow?  A trap? If so, what for?  A military left over?  Left over from what? Ventilation for something running underground?    An unlikely place for pipes and cables.  Something to do with rearing game?  Feeding station for condemned pheasants?  A picnic table?  Hardly, unless for Hobbits and with a corrugated top designed by the Mad Hatter, Frodo meets Alice.  Do we want to know?  Is speculation more fun than the reality?

Photo: Bartlow, August 2017

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‘The Treachery of Images’

This seems an extreme way to fill a gap in a hedgerow.  Why not just continue the fence or, better still, plant a couple of hawthorns and let nature finish the job?  Even more curious, on the other side is a sign saying ‘Not a public footpath’.  It conjures up Rene Magritte’s ‘The Treachery of Images’ with its caption Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

Photo: Bartlow, August 2017

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Beechwoods Moment

I often hear people talk about ‘living in the moment’.  I’m not quite sure what that means, but it does seem foolish to both ignore the lessons of past experience and fail to plan for a rewarding future.  Better to cultivate the ability to be in the moment, to enjoy the experiences of our senses, however small, to the full.  Sitting quietly in the Beechwoods on the 18th July: the sound of the breeze in the trees, rising and falling between murmuring and rustling; pigeons cooing and a wren trilling; the sudden broken clatter of something falling through the branches; footsteps, a dog barking, the clink of a chain.

Photo: The Beechwoods, Cambridge, May 2017

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Beechwoods – Road Less Travelled

Three of the most quoted lines in poetry are: ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – / I took the one less travelled by, / And that has made all the difference.’, from Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’.  This has been widely misunderstood ‘as an emblem of individual choice and self-reliance’, argues Matthew Hollis in his biography of Edward Thomas, Now all Roads Lead to France (2011). Apart from the traps laid earlier in the poem (no discernible difference between the two paths at all), Hollis asks: ‘…how can we evaluate the outcome of the road not taken?; and ‘…had the poet chosen the road more travelled by, then that, presumably, would also have made all the difference.’  The poem took the path less travelled with its tongue firmly in its cheek.

Photo: The Beechwoods, Cambridge, May 2017

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Beechwood Variations

If I sit here and try to imagine The Beechwoods, indeed a beech wood, the image is of smooth, grey bare-trunked trees rising up from a ground of mast, leaf litter and a few herby plants, broken here and there by gnarled roots, to a thick canopy of whispering translucent leaves.  It’s an accurate enough picture, subject only to the variations gifted by the seasons.  But it’s also an archetype.  The reality is of diversity, of the existence of atypicality that can’t be categorised.  It does not deny the archetype, rather it reinforces it as the ideal beech wood, Beechwood, of both experience and imagination.

Photo: The Beechwoods, Cambridge, June 2017

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Street Photography – Two Views

Earlier this week I spent an hour with David Runnacles drinking coffee and looking through his latest Cambridge street photography.  David has a very distinctive style.  His slices of street life are inhabited by lots of people, usually in close proximity and there is invariably a lot going on.  The subjects are active and interacting, sometime intentionally and sometimes accidentally and the pictures pose the challenge of how to read the gestures and movements.  His camera captures more dynamic and fractious street scenes than are apparent to unaided bystanders, street scenes that are a carnival of exotic and quixotic characters.  Using both colour and black and white, his contrasty, saturated images enhance the sense of drama and strangeness.  He takes hundreds of pictures in a session.  See David’s work on flickr under ‘selcannur’.

As we were talking David pointed out how very different my street pictures are from his.  (I should say that he is a very much better and experienced photographer than I am.)  My pictures focus on individuals, or maybe two or three people, picked out from the crowd, showing a relationship with another or with their surroundings.  There are fewer things going on and less complexity to unpick, though I aim to reveal subtle relationships.  My pictures are more reflective, less dramatic in composition, and the tones are softer.  The streets and their inhabitants are more quotidian than exotic.  I take maybe a handful of pictures when I’m out.

Photos: 1. Bridge Street, Cambridge, 2017, David Runnacles; 2. Eat, Lion Yard, Cambridge, Brian Human

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Beechwoods in Leaf 2

On the 1st May I commented on the variable behaviour of the trees coming into leaf.  This picture from around then shows an extreme case of a dense crown on one tree amid an almost bare tracery of branches on others.  Nature conforms to repeated cycles of change, but there are always variations, an unpredictability that makes the natural world full of endless delights.   The photograph is also an example of slow photography: two and a half months to use the whole cassette of film and then get it processed.  Delayed gratification, like nature, is therapeutic.

Photo: The Beechwoods, Cambridge, May 2017

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Mismanaged Destination

I spent a large part of my professional life studying the impact of tourism on historic towns and promoting destination management.  In the blessing v blight debate I was inclined to the former and promoted value over volume.  Walking around the centre of Cambridge yesterday and making way for endless crocodiles of visitors demonstrated the extent to which this has been a waste of time.  Did they all know here they were and what they were endlessly framing in the backgrounds to their selfies?  A dispiriting experience of blight.

Photo: All Saints Churchyard, Cambridge, July 2017

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