Monday, 7 March 2011

Somewhere to Stand

I've been meaning to wander over to the south-east of the Twyford Down motorway cutting near Winchester, where there are some interesting water-meadows along the old Itchen Navigation canal. We finally got over there this Sunday and, although the Spring light was a bit harsh, I found some handy places to stand, which is half the battle with landscape photography.






I'll be back, hopefully on a day when the light is kinder. Mind you, I'm very impressed by the ability of the Panasonic GF1 with the 45-200 f/4-5.6 lens to deliver usable results, hand-held in these late afternoon conditions. If I can be bothered to lug a tripod next time, things could get interesting.

21 comments:

Martin H. said...

It's good to see the resting Winter landscape in this light, before everything becomes seriously greened up. I'm trying to get into the habit of using my tripod when the occasion calls for it.

Paul Mc Cann said...

I like the composition in the first one

Mike C. said...

There's no doubt about it, a tripod is the no. 1 asset for the landscape photographer, even with small, image-stabilised DSLRs (though you do have to remember to turn off the image-stabilisation...). The fact I virtually never use one these days is neither here nor there...

On the other hand, the day you find yourself contemplating a graduated filter, or a polariser, or HDR, is the day to question your motives...

This may be the year I do a proper, tripod-assisted landscape project on the Twyford Down cutting. No-one else seems to have done it, surprisingly.

Mike

Huw said...

I like the echoing curves in the first photo - very nice. We used to live in Colden Common and never explored Twyford Down / St Catherine's Hill as much as we should.

Huw

Mike C. said...

Huw,

It takes uncommon determination to explore your own back yard...

Looking at the Google satellite imagery, there's some amazing dense field markings NW of Colden Common -- is this well-known archaeology? Looks like a classic "lost village".

Mike

struan said...

I suspect you are looking at relict water meadows. You find them all along the Test and Itchen rivers, and other streams and rivers in the area. Some date back to monastic times, but the heyday of the Hampshire water meadow was the 18th and 19th centuries when they produced an early crop of hay.

One of the agricultural colleges in the area once tried to run a meadow to measure the productivity changes. They had to abandon the idea when they found that the students were left with not time to do anything else. Getting the right hydroponic-like trickle of water is a complex, skilled and time-consuming job.

The wikipedia article is pretty good (and is entirely about English-style meadows: here in Sweden we had similar meadows but managed so as to boost productivity, not for an early crop). You'll love the vocab.

Water meadows attract amateur ecologist and antiquarians (like me :-). There's a lot of information and speculation about their function and purpose which won't pass close inspection, but which gets repeated until it becomes accepted truth. The way that any field with flowers in gets called a meadow these days doesn't help. There are however plenty of enthusiastic amateurs who will point you to the best flower sites.

Even in derelict meadows the ecology of the water carriers is very different from that of the growing zones, and often there can be obvious differences between the lead and drain waterways. In the right season it can lead to fascinating spatial patterns. There have to be some good photographs lurking there.

Mike C. said...

Quite right, Struan (and your comment is more informative than the "interpretation board" planted near some recent restorative work). The whole area is a fossil landscape reflecting 17th & 18th c. activity hauling stuff up from Southampton docks and intensively managing water meadows for, as you say, early hay. I'm going to explore it a bit, as it looks like it could offer interesting seasonal changes.

Mike

struan said...

I went looking for information on my local relict meadows when thinking of possible photographic projects. Despite the apparent availability of everything on the web, there's a lot more useful information in reports and student thesis which have never been scanned or digitised.

You should talk to a local academic librarian :-)

Enthusiasts are good. The dragonfly spotters turned out to be one of my best sources of information. Toad and newt fanciers were useful too. Don't get hung up on flowers - even gardeners now accept that sedges and grasses are in.

I used to do cross-country running all over the hills behind St. Catherine's, usually finishing with a soggy race to the line through the water meadows. Practice runs would sometimes turn into a steeplechase beeline disregarding everything except razor wire - the river was no wetter than the sumps, and much less muddy. You find some odd spots that way.

There's some interesting sociology at work with water meadows. The Winchester ones were saved from the M3 because of the tangled, wildlife-rich relict state they had fallen into, not because of their historic or cultural importance. Biodiversity is the new watchword, but how much of the biodiversity is from the small-scale structure of the working meadow, and how much from a lack of present management is often unclear. Just as newly trimmed pollard is very different from and much less romantic than a gnarly topped out - and ultimately doomed - relict oakm 'saving' a meadow can mean turning it back into something quite unlike what it's fans have come to love.

I look forward to the pictures. I like the signs in your first one here, but want to see more of the curves above. I don't think I'm *just* hankering for a square frame.

veriword: ackre, which sounds suitably mummerset-like.

Mike C. said...

"You should talk to a local academic librarian :-)"

I'm sure we've got one around here somewhere.

There's "restoration" going on south of the golf course -- not sure who's funding it -- mainly in the form of new elevated paths along the canal. As an instinctive romantic, I always prefer the decayed state to the restored state. I'm still seething over what they're doing to our "valley garden" in the university -- they've demolished all the old greenhouses, tidied up the abandoned terraces, put in paths and footbridges over the stream... Grr. Come the summer it'll be full of people eating sandwiches...

Fascinating as the area is, my main attraction is the motorway cutting, and I'm primarily looking for places that give interesting views of it. It's a wonderful metaphor, and also a bold touch of the "industrial sublime" in an ancient human landscape which, as you point out, has been intensively managed in the past.

Mike

struan said...

Our relicts will be much bigger :-)

You know how to run your own projects, but I can't resist a little demo egg sucking. Mostly beacuse were it me, I would try not to isolate the cutting too much.

The firing range, the sewage beds, the plague pits, the viaduct, the mizmaze, even Spitfire bridge; all have stories, visual stories, to tell. Nicely tangled secondary succession on steep chalk rubble is only part of the story.

Mike C. said...

Firing range? I found several spent rounds of .303 up on Old Winchester Hill, but didn't know there was a range on St. Catherine's.

I despair of the mizmaze -- I just can't get a satisfactory image. What I really need to do is take a ten foot step-ladder up there with me, or try using a kite...

The plague pits are a classic of "map vs. landscape" -- nicely marked on the OS, but no blackened bones sticking out or even a grassy hump visible on the ground... They would be a great example of the power of labels: a photograph of a bland stretch of grass with dog-walkers and joggers, labelled "Plague Pits".

Mike

struan said...

The range is east of the sewage farm: http://tinyurl.com/6z46vul

The first real wood on the Moorstead road was devastated in "The Hurricane". There's some good tangly stuff there. It's beyond your bounds, except that a really good walk takes you from the water meadows, under the viaduct, up through the golf course and then cross-country on footpaths and lane to the moorstead road, quick glimpse of the Cathedral and town, and then back across the footbridge over the M3 to St. Catherines.

The mizmaze is one of those things I could never understand people getting excited about. With plague pits there's at least a chance of death if you dig incautiously. Looking at the mizmaze on google maps it looks as though the network of desire paths around it is at least as interesting.

I'll look out for your tripod holes next time I'm there.

Mike C. said...

Oddly enough, that is pretty much our alternative standard walk -- park in the Park & Ride, up past the crusties' caravans, over the motorway bridge, down the east edge of the golf course, over the field to Moorstead Road, down it and back over the fields (with glimpse of cathedral) to the bridge again.

This week we parked by the golf club entrance and went south into "Tumbling Bay" and along the canal, back up along the railway, then under the motorway.

I'm sort of sneaking up on the viaduct by circular, indirect moves -- I have high hopes for it, but haven't actually been there yet.

Mike

Kent Wiley said...

Looking forward to these pics, Mike. Sounds like a fascinating area. No doubt some height would be seriously advantageous. I have been known to carry a step ladder out into our local National Park. But I'm still trying to figure out how to rig one of these or these.

But eegad! A tripod? I can't believe I heard you utter the word!

Mike C. said...

Kent,

I like the idea of a hyper-tripod that folds into a mini-tripod bag, but has a 7 lb "fine tuning" accessory weight. Perfect for the backpacker with a team of mules and/or native bearers! Hell, why not just drive into the park with an off-road fruit picker? The ones I've seen do a respectable 2 or 3 m.p.h.

Well, yes, it's easy to say the word tripod, but much more difficult to pick the thing up, carry it into the field, and set it up just right so you get the picture you had in mind, rather than the one the tripod thought looked about right.

Mike

Graham D said...

A tripod? In the daytime? Why would you want to do that :-) ?

I recommend extending your walk from the back of Hockley to take the path down into Chilcomb past it's little saxon church, and then completing a circuit up a small part of the South Downs Way to the other track that leads back to the Morestead road. There is a new bridleway that is not shown on all maps that takes you back to the Hockley path. It’s an attractive stroll most times of the year but you need to make sure the red flags are not flying. The Chilcomb range seems quite a distance away, but I guess there must be some pretty poor shots using some serious firearms down there!

Mike C. said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Graham D, I can see I'm going to have get the maps out.

The red flags reminds me of going with a friend to photograph the sea stacks in Mupe Bay, Dorset, which can only be accessed on non-red flag days by walking from Lulworth Cove along the cliff path through the Tank Regiment's firing range.

It does give a certain edge to your outing.

Mike

struan said...

The range always used to be small arms only, but that included novices with .303 and similar calibre rifles. Missfire one of those and a bullet can hurt a long way off. The flags used to fly all the way out to the Moorstead road.

Two things I miss most about the Hampshire countryside are hedges and proper old trees. Hedges, old trees and pubs with good cider. The three things I miss most about the Hampshire countryside are hedges, old trees, pubs with good cider, and chalk streams with flint gravel bottoms. Four. The four...

Incidentally, if you're taking Graham's advice you can always loop through Itchen Stoke, which has one actively maintained water meadow, and another area to the west of the village with very well defined interdigitation patterns on google's satellite pics.

Then there's St. Cross........

veriword: slaxe. A tool to chop down trousers.

Mike C. said...

Thanks for that, Struan, you're on fine form -- "slaxe" is worthy of "Sorry, I Don't Have A Clue" -- but I must go to bed...

Would those banging away with .303s have been Wykehamist OTCs, by any chance? God, I'd love to have to have handled and fired a Lee Enfield, even just once...

Mike

struan said...

The .303 was mostly kids. Winchester had its CCF, but various Sea Cadets and Army Cadet Forces also used the range, so it was possible to get shot by a boy soldier from a wide range of social classes.

The Greenjackets were still at Peninsular barracks then, and they also had a few .303s around - the old school marksmen/snipers liked them.

I was ambivalent about the whole Corps thing, and tempted to do 'granny bashing' social work instead, but they started a Royal Marines section and the thought of jumping out of small boats with a knife between my teeth was too much to resist. Undergrowth, loud bangs and stupidly fast watercraft - what more could a boy wish for?

Mike C. said...

Ah, good, equal opportunity collateral damage from "friendly fire" is what we like.

That does sound great -- after a boyhood endlessly playing soldiers in the woods, and concealing Dinky Toy gun emplacements in the lawn (to my dad's fury when they encountered the force majeur of the lawnmower), my hippy-ish veneer was very thin, and I'd have jumped at a similar opportunity.

In the sixth form we had an alternative to games on Weds afternoons called "Perambulation", which involved driving out into the sticks with our favourite English teacher (smoke 'em if you've got 'em), walking a bit, then stopping off for a pint on the way back. Probably a more realistic preparation for prospective lives as teachers and weekend ramblers...

Mike