Category Archives: Nature

Full Bloom at Dunham Massey

It’s the weekend, spring is here and the sun is out. Lady Hughes and myself had taken a few days off over Easter with no great plans, so we decided to take it easy and go for a stroll around Dunham Massey.

Knowing the flowers would be out I figured this would be a good chance to practice my macro (close-up) photography on subjects that weren’t going to run away while I worked out what I was doing – though they do have a tendency to waft about in the breeze just as you’re about to take a shot, no matter how much I shouted at them.

Dunham Massey is stately home (and deer park) in Cheshire, not far from Altrincham, and only 15 minutes drive from our house so we know it well. As it was a sunny weekend, it was very busy with lines of people queuing up for ice creams and every inch of manicured lawn full of families playing football, throwing frisbees and trying to fly kites. We decided to head for the relative calm of the gardens.

Now my knowledge of horticulture if virtually non-existent, so apologies for the lack of information, but there were lots of flowers and they were very beautiful – if you want to know more, get a book.

Without getting too technical, macro photography can be a bit tricky. As your subject is usually on the small scale, your margin of error is pretty small too. I’ve found picking the appropriate depth of field particularly challenging, but I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of it now and I’m much happier with these shots – what do you think?

As I started to get more comfortable with the technicalities, I thought I’d try and move on from flowers and get some shots of the insects. You need to be quicker with these so they were a bit more of a test – I’ve found it’s very hard to get a bee to pose for you.




Manchester Macro

I’ve not posted anything for a while, don’t worry, I’m not dead – just getting a few things sorted, unfortunately not the kind of things that make great blog posts

So, to get the ball rolling again, I’ve done a little photography project.

My lovely wife, Lady Hughes, gave me a new macro (close-up) lens for Christmas and I haven’t had chance to try it out properly – until today.

I’ve always wanted to have a go at macro photography so I dropped various hints in the run-up to Christmas and Clare didn’t let me down. Many lenses have a ‘macro’ setting, allowing you to get a bit closer, but they’re not strictly proper macro lenses like this one – Canon EF 50mm macro, for the photographers out there. It’s not a microscope, but it allows you to get very close and still be able to focus.

The challenge I set myself was to go to the Northern Quarter of Manchester, a place I’ve photographed several times before, and try to get a new perspective with the new lens.

What I found was you start looking at the details, the textures, patterns and the abstract. It’s quite interesting walking round a place you already know and just focussing on the small. You also get a few strange looks from passers by, wondering why you’re taking pictures of a bollard from only six inches away.

Going through the photos afterwards, I realised that the wide open aperture I used gave me a very narrow depth of field, which was a bit tight on several shots – but hey, that’s a learning point for next time.

Here’s the rest of the pictures, see if you recognise any of the places, and feel free to give me any (constructive) feedback.



Scaling the Steep Steps to South Stack

A few weeks back, Lady Hughes and myself were invited to the beautiful wedding of Scott and Becca Parry (probably doesn’t mean a lot to you unless you know them). Anyway, the wedding was held at Treaddur Bay, Anglesey in Wales, which meant us booking a night at a local hotel.

The wedding was lovely and we managed to control our drunken revels enough to be able to function in the morning (unlike some others – not mentioning anyone in particular – Tony).

The day after the event was windy but there was clear blue skies and we were literally ten minutes drive from South Stack so off we went.

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South Stack is small rocky island off the north-west corner of Anglesey, reached by descending a thousand steps down the cliff face and crossing a small bridge.

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On the island there is a lighthouse and the whole area now is a haven for a variety of birds including gulls, puffins, chuffs, gannets and peregrine falcons.

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I really wanted to get a shot of a puffin, but we’d picked the wrong time apparently and we mostly saw gulls, but even they were impressive as they flew around the cliffs with the waves crashing below.

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Photographing the birds as they fly past requires good reflexes, catching them as they approach. If you hesitate, you tend to get them as they fly away and I didn’t want numerous shots of birds arses, if I could help it.

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The missed shot of the day was as we walked along the cliff edge and reached a spot where the wind was channelling up a corner, lifting the spray and creating a temporary water feature with a fountain of sea water glistening in the sunlight. We walked up to the edge and were immediately buzzed by a peregrine falcon shooting up through the water and over our heads. By the time I’d worked out what was happening and raised my camera, it was off into the distance, but please close your eyes and try and imagine a stunning shot of a falcon, only yards away, flying through a fountain of sea spray.

Can you see it? Great isn’t it? – see, who needs a camera?

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Walking the Cliffs at Stanage

Last day of my time off work so Clare and myself set off for the longest inland cliffs in the UK – Stanage in the Peak District.

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Weather was hot so Stanage was a good choice for a hike, as you can get excellent views of Man Tor, Win Hill and Kinder Scout without much of a climb.  My fitness needs some work so I was grateful for as little ‘up’ as possible, especially in the summer heat.

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Stanage is a gritstone cliff, couple of miles long, and as such is a Mecca for climbers from all over the world. This day was no exception with bodies clinging to the rock almost everywhere we went. We used to take our boys climbing here years ago and no matter how busy it was you could always find a climb – as long as you didn’t mind a bit of a walk to get to it.

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We would take a picnic and spend the day taking turns to climb the easier grades – good times, I’m tempted to dig out the gear and start again.

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The walking was easy and the breeze took the edge off the sun so we had a great time strolling along the cliff edges and taking in the views.

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We passed climbers and walkers and a couple of fell runners too. We even spotted one guy running backwards and forwards along a lower path. Watching him from above we wondered what he was doing. He’d run fifty yards and then turn back and run not quite to were he started, gradually progressing but covering the same ground several times over. Eventually we spotted a girl plodding along behind him. It must have been his girlfriend and she wasn’t quite as fit as him so he would run off and then turn back every so often so she wouldn’t feel abandoned – he knows how to show a girl a good time eh?

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Great weather, great walk and just the kick I needed to start working on my hill fitness.


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Dodging Doggers at Chorlton Ees

The sun is out, the sky is blue, just got to decide now, what to do.

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The idea was to visit Chorlton Ees, a nature reserve not far from where I live, just next to the River Mersey, for a spot of photography. I was especially hoping to get some dramatic woodland shots. Rays of sunlight streaming through the green canopy, serene, timeless, natural beauty, etc.

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I parked at a nearby pub, Jackson’s Boat, crossed the river and then considered which way to go. My first impression was how busy it was. With it being a sunny weekend, I was almost run over by all the cyclists, joggers and pushchairs racing across the bridge and along the riverside paths.

First objective – get away from the crowds.

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I headed into the reserve and looked for the faintest track into the trees, working on the theory that most people would stick to the main paths.

With all the rain we’ve been having and the recent sunshine the undergrowth had experienced something of a growth spurt and now resembled more of a jungle than a Mancunian woodland park. I quite enjoyed the challenge of hacking my way through the nettles and generally getting as lost as I possibly could.

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This was when I noticed something strange.

No matter where I went, however remote or difficult it was to get to, within a minute or two a middle-aged man in shorts would appear, say hello, and then disappear off into the undergrowth again.

At first I thought this was just a coincidence, but it kept on happening. I would push through stinging nettles and wade through deep mud to find a quiet spot to take a picture and without fail, some bloke would stroll up, look at the camera slung round my neck and then walk off.

They were never threatening in the classic sense, but were slightly unnerving as they never seemed to look surprised to find me there as well. Can there be so many people in South Manchester all wanting to get lost in the woods?

I then remembered that there had been some reports of unsavoury activities carrying on at Sale Water Park, just across the river, with lonely men looking for ‘companionship’ in the woods (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean squire?).

This realisation suddenly made feel like I’d wandered into the wrong part of town. I also felt a bit angry to be honest as well.

Chorlton Ees is a nature reserve, not a singles bar. There are not many places you can go to in a city like Manchester and find real solitude in a natural environment, so somewhere like this is valuable to many people, as an escape from their claustrophobic urban lives. Somewhere you can go, just be alone, breathe and relax.

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You shouldn’t have to worry that some sad, middle-aged  Romeo is going to turn up, wanting you to brighten up his day.

Anyway, I survived the lonely woodland zombies and still managed to take a few pictures. I didn’t get the beautiful woodland scene I was after but here’s a few of my better ones.

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Oh, one small correction. Doggers are people who meet in car parks and watch each other have sex, which isn’t technically what I meant, but it works better in the title than ‘lonely men possibly engaged in lewd behaviour’I wouldn’t want to offend anyone.