Urban Forest

IMG_7980London went through a phase of using concrete as a facing material for construction a few decades ago. It has not weathered well. The concrete now looks tired, drab and in need of a clean. In some places it is stained dramatically – dark patches showing the run off of rainwater and pollution.

This is a section of a high-rise block of apartments at the Barbican in London. Stained concrete balconies. I saw the patterning and then I saw the pine trees in silhouette.

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A Place to Pause


Strahlhorn (centre left), Rimpfischhorn and Allalinhorn far right

Mountain walking is not always about the objective; there are days when one just wants to walk and soak up the landscape, listen to the quietness, and be at peace.

Takehide Kazami – Japanese author, climber, and photographer wrote way back in 1960: ‘you don’t have to climb a mountain to experience the beauty of the country. There is something indescribably delightful in just wandering around the countryside with a small party, the great mountains towering above you’. He was actually writing about Nepal, but what he says is equally true of any high mountain area.

This viewpoint is close to the Britannia Hut in the Swiss Alps, a place I have walked to on many occasions – alone, with other climbers, and with my wife and children. And I’ve sat on this exact spot too, more than once. A colour version of this image appeared in a previous post ‘The Britannia Hut’. Very recently thumbing through the archives I thought it would make a good B&W image.

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The walkway at King’s Cross station in London, that crosses over the main concourse, is frequently a photo opportunity.

IMG_7909There is always someone on the move or standing up there waiting: watching the departure boards, phoning or texting, or just passing the time. The light streams in through the roof transforming people into silhouettes.

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Triumph and Tragedy

Today, 14 July 2015, is the 150th anniversary of the first ascent of the Matterhorn – the iconic unmistakable mountain that dominates Zermatt and has made that resort famous across the world and brought it extraordinary wealth.

IMG_3986_pptThe mid-nineteenth century was the golden age of mountaineering in the European Alps – one by one the mountains were conquered but the Matterhorn remained unclimbed – many believed it was unclimbable. Edward Whymper a twenty-five year old English engraver was at the forefront of this group of intrepid mountaineers. Whymper had made a number of attempts on the Matterhorn from Italy as well as Zermatt but had failed repeatedly.603_DSC04441_ppt1In July 1865 Whymper was lodging at the Monte Rosa Hotel in Zermatt with Lord Francis Douglas (brother of the Marquess of Queensberry) and preparing to mount a further assault on the Matterhorn. They met two fellow climbers: Rev Charles Hudson, a clergyman and established mountaineer and his protégé Douglas Hadow aged 19 (a young man with little climbing experience) who also were contemplating an attempt on the mountain. They agreed to join forces and engaged three guides to assist them: Michel Croz a native of Chamonix and well-known to Whymper, and the guides Peter Taugwalder and his son, also called Peter, from Zermatt.

They triumphantly reached the summit but shortly afterwards, while descending the steep rocky roof of the mountain, tragedy struck. Douglas Hadow was in difficulties. Very probably he was scared, having never before been in such an exposed position, and Michel Croz was having to assist his foot placements as the party edged downwards. Hadow slipped, dislodged Croz and then Hudson and Lord Francis Douglas were dragged after them. Whymper and the Taugwalders were better attached to the rock and the rope snapped leaving the three of them as the sole survivors.

Sunrise from the Dom

Sunrise from the Dom

The bodies of Croz, Hudson and Hadow were retrieved a few days later at the foot of the north face but the Body of Lord Francis Douglas has never been found. The three are buried in the climber’s cemetery in Zermatt.

This calamitous loss of life was greeted with uproar when news reached London. Perhaps for the first time (but not the last) mountaineering was regarded as an irresponsible sport with articles in ‘The Times’, and debate in Parliament. Charles Dickens condemned the sport as: ‘a greater folly than gambling’. Others called for mountaineering to be banned.

Whymper himself never fully recovered, seldom climbed again and died in Chamonix in 1911 as a semi-recluse.

Old Sunrise_final

Dawn from the Matterhorn Hut – 1966

Today we celebrate this mountain but also remember more than 500 Alpinists who lave lost their lives while attempting to climb this mountain. Each one of us who has had the privilege to stand on the summit will never forget that experience.

Forty-nine years ago – July 1966 – I too was privileged to stand on that summit.

ANH_Summit MatterhornI had been invited to Zermatt to join my ex-housemaster from boarding school for a climbing holiday. He was a member of the Alpine Club and a keen mountaineer. The walls of his study at school were covered in B&W images of the Alpine peaks that he had climbed and each autumn there would be additions to this tally of ascents. I owe him a huge debt – my first rock climbs were with him on the sea cliffs of Devon and my first trip to Switzerland aged fifteen was with him, my parents, and a group of mutual friends. We remained in touch until his death two years ago.

Sadly we are not in Zermatt to join in the celebrations but we are there in spirit. As a mark of respect the mayor of Zermatt has barred everyone from climbing the mountain today.

To read more there are well-written articles on Wikipedia about Edward Whymper and the first ascent of the Matterhorn.

Enjoy the full gallery below, some of which have appeared previously but I felt this article deserved to have them repeated.

Posted in MountainScape, Swiss Alps - Summer | Tagged , , , , , | 28 Comments

Ridge Line

In the mountains, the light never seems to be the same from one day to the next. That is especially true early in the morning, when low-lying cloud and valley mist  start to clear and brief gaps allow the sun to shine through.

DSC_0256_NikThis is part of the long undulating summit ridge of the Breithorn in the Valais Alps in 2007. The conditions on that particular morning saw the light pick out that ridge line to perfection. I’ve never again seen it quite like this.

Click on the image to see a higher quality enlarged version.

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The Orangery

Wrest Park in Bedfordshire is a superb country estate that had its origins in the early seventeenth century but was developed later by the de Grey family and is dominated by the French-style mansion built in the nineteenth century. In the last few years the grounds have undergone extensive renovation as a result of grants from English Heritage.

There is much to explore: formal gardens, extensive woodland areas, lakes, numerous statue scattered across the grounds, and several outlying buildings including the Archer Pavilion, and the Orangery (orange trees really did grow there). It’s a delightful place to visit.

The Orangery, Wrest Park

The Orangery, Wrest Park

When the sun shines the Orangery offers a number of photographic possibilities. The one that attracts me the most is the play of light and shadow on the walls from the framework of the glass roof. I’ve never used HDR techniques, and this is a single image shot, but there was a little work selectively on the windows and on the interior to get the right balance – more in terms of contrast rather than exposure.

The view back ( William 111 in foreground) across Long Water to the Mansion

The view back ( William 111 in foreground) across Long Water to the Mansion

For more about Wrest Park – click here to see my first post showing the reverse view of the view down the lake from the mansion – or enter ‘Wrest Park’ in the search widget in the right sidebar to see a number of previous posts from this estate.

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Twenty Versions

Those of you who know of my liking for reflective glass will understand that it was impossible for me to walk past this building without taking a picture or two.

IMG_7919It’s the rather uninteresting façade of a hotel on the Euston Road, London – a road that is a regular source of images for me. The light wasn’t brilliant on this particular day but that didn’t stop the windows putting on a great show. A combination of curtains and distorted views of the building opposite.

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