Monday, 2 March 2009

A New Place

If, like me, you're the kind of photographer who likes to find a local picture mine and work it regularly, you'll know that uneasy feeling when you start to think: maybe it's finally running out. I had that feeling last year at Mottisfont Abbey, a particularly rich vein which I have worked for nearly a decade. I was still driving over most weekends and going through the motions, but had got to the point where everything I was finding was merely a reflection or a refinement of something I'd already done. As B.B. King says, the thrill is gone.

Luckily, a new place may have emerged over the last few months: St. Catherine's Hill just outside Winchester. It has all the right qualifications: a varied landscape in a contained area that can be reviewed in circular walks, and which is close enough to my favourite chair that -- when I get the urge at around 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon to head out for a walk with a camera -- I can get there at least an hour before the light fades on a winter's afternoon, and be back in time to get the roast in the oven at 5:30. We're not talking about wilderness trekking here.

St. Catherine's Hill, like a lot of places in Southern England, is dense with hidden pasts. It's a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is also the site of an Iron Age hillfort, a vanished 12th century hilltop chapel, and the enigmatic Miz Maze. The area came to national attention back in the 1990s when it was proposed to drive a vast cutting straight through neighbouring Twyford Down to complete the M3 motorway from Southampton to London. Of course, Twyford Down is also an SSSI and thus legally-protected but, hey, needs must when the Devil drives to London every day... As a consequence, the first anti-road protest camps took place here. The so-called Dongas Tribe of protesters borrowed their name from the ancient trackways on Twyford Down, which, curiously, were named with a Matabele word for "gully" -- presumably brought home by someone as a souvenir from the Boer War (compare the way "The Kop" was adapted for the steep end of many football grounds, most notably at Anfield, Liverpool).

Anyway. Here are a few pictures from Sunday -- we'll see how things develop over the coming year. (I'm already kicking myself for missing February's snow ... There probably won't be any more like that for a decade ...)

View towards St. Catherine's Hill, across the Plague Pit valley

A closer view of that white dot in the valley:
not snow, but ash from brush clearing activity

Part of the infamous motorway cutting that now separates
St. Catherine's Hill and Twyford Down

Deer are numerous in the area:
they are very fond of tree bark

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