Somerset hedge laying

Out for a drive on top of the Mendips I came across this beautifully laid hedge.

I would have loved to photograph it being done, as it’s such a fine country craft. It takes great skill to work with what you’ve got in the hedge and lay it in – you can’t add anything.

What control you need to judge how hard to cut into the stems, so you can bend them just enough without cutting through them completely. It needs a steady hand, a good eye and a lot of experience.

I would like to go back later next year and shoot it again as it grows.

As an exercise in photography it’s quite difficult to get good shots out of it, avoiding a road and the telegraph poles in the field. The attraction is mainly in the varying pattern of lines,  but I welcome the discipline of trying to make myself look harder and let what is there emerge from the landscape.

Hedge laying-9

Hedge laying-2

Hedge laying

Hedge laying-8

Hedge laying-6

Hedge laying-7

Hedge laying-4

Hedge laying-3



Floods on the Somerset Levels and Muchelney

This week I had to go to the little village of Muchelney on the Somerset Levels in connection with a project I am working on. Muchelney has attracted national interest because for the past couple of weeks or so it has been cut off by the flood water that has turned large parts of this low-lying part of England into an enormous lake.

My project is not connected with the flood, but I would like to share some of the pictures I took on the way to and from the village.

On the approach from the north, the main road between Langport and Muchelney is still flooded. The brother of the person who ferried me in to the village had driven it in a Landrover and found the water four feet deep in places. The water came up over his bonnet and, though it didn’t get into his engine and kill it, it did start coming in through his air vents.

So my approach was from the south via the village of Kingsbury Episcopi. Here is the road (yes, it’s a road not a river) seen through the windscreen as we start on the approach to Muchelney.

Muchelney - approach from Kingsbury Episcopi

The water level on the road is at the same height as the flooded fields on either side.

Muchelney - approach road

Muchelney - approach road

Of course some of the houses in the village have flooded and over 100 people have had to be evacuated (the population is only just over 200). This medieval house stands on the edge of the village and the floods can be seen in the background on the left of the house.


Muchelney was mentioned in the Domesday Book and is famous for its ruined abbey founded in the 10th century and its 14th century Priest’s House. It often floods in winter – Muchelney means ‘big island’ in Anglo-Saxon – but this is said to be the worst flood in 100 years.

Looking across the garden of a house on the edge of the village at the flood water:

Looking at the flood water from MuchelneyIn the village itself the roads are dry and free of flooding. Vehicles coming in are he subject of intense interest, as the inhabitants try to gauge from speaking to the drivers whether the flood waters are going down.

Muchelney village

At the height of the flood a local farmer laid on a tractor and trailer service to enable people to get into and out of the village. But others have resorted to a different form of transport to cope with the flooding:

Boat on the edge of Muchelney

At one point I started to walk back from the village into the flood water, just to see what it was like and took a few shots along the way.

Road out of Muchelney

But it’s not long before the water starts to get deeper.

Road out of Muchelney

Road out of Muchelney

Road out of Muchelney

Flooded fields - Muchelney

Flooded fields - Muchelney

I turned back when the water had got about 8-10″ up my Wellingtons and when I realised, from the freezing cold water seeping into them, that they were no longer waterproof.

Later I got a lift back to Kingsbury Episcopi to pick up my car and took a few final shots on the way:

Flooded fields _DSC0187

Dry land comes into sight as we start to emerge from the flood water.


Occupy London and the English Civil War: a contemporary link

                    Tents outside the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Putney

This year is the 365th anniversary of a key event in English political history which has a curious link with the current Occupy London movement.

From 28 October – 11 November 1647 a series of debates took place between the radical elements in the New Model Army’ rank and file and their senior officers about the nature of society. The radicals wanted ‘one man, one vote’, authority in the country to be vested in the House of Commons rather than the King and the House of Lords. In addition they declared certain ‘native rights’ for all Englishmen: freedom of conscience, freedom from impressment into the armed forces and equality before the law. Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, speaking as a radical, memorably encapsulated the aspiration for universal suffrage when he said:

For really I think that the poorest hee that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest hee; and therefore truly, Sr, I think itt clear, that every Man that is to live under a Government ought first by his own Consent to put himself under that Government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not at all bound in a strict sense to that Government that he hath not had a voice to put Himself under.

We know what took place, at least for the first few days, as the debates were recorded verbatim until 2 November when all recording ceased.

Clearly the senior officers were alarmed by these proposals, particularly for universal suffrage, which they saw as a step towards anarchy. The King’s escape from capture overtook events and the debates were brought to an end, never published and the radicals in the Army persecuted.

What has this got to do with Occupy?

The events of 365 years ago were probably the first time that a genuine democratic debate involving ordinary people took place in this country, the first time that ordinary people looked at society and thought there might be a different way forward rather than the status quo.

The debates took place at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Putney (SW London). In 2007, on the 360th anniversary, the then rector opened a permanent exhibition to the debates at the Church and organised a series of commemorative events. The rector went on to become Canon Chancellor at St Paul’s Cathedral before the events around the Occupy encampment forced him to resign in October 2011. His name? Rev Dr Giles Fraser.

Occupy London

On a trip to London I stopped off at St Paul’s to take a look at Occupy London. The first thing that struck me was how well laid out the tents are, how clean the area is. The encampment is well away from the steps to St Paul’s itself and does not block the way for people who want to attend church services or walk between the tents and Paternoster Square itself (where the London Stock Exchange is based).

In the Information Tent I asked one of the protesters how it was going: “This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. We’re here for the long haul.” There weren’t many protesters around and most of the tents were empty – many protesters join them in the evenings and at weekends.They were expecting the City to take the case to the High Court to have them evicted and a few days later this is exactly what happened.

Here are some shots I took of the protest camp:

The entrance to Paternoster Square (through the white arch in the picture above) is barricaded off so they can’t occupy the area in front of the Stock Exchange as it’s private land.

What is the point of the occupation and what good does it do?

The Occupy movement is a challenge and a reminder of what we have lost sight of in a society all but bankrupted by the actions of our banks. Our politics have failed us: reaction to the financial crisis has been limited to lots of hand-ringing and political rhetoric, but little action. We are angry and frustrated that we are in this financial situation, but feel powerless to do anything about it. Occupy has no solutions. It is posing questions: does it have to be this way? Is there a better way? How do we engage with each other to find alternative solutions? Occupy asks how we can create a fairer society with greater social justice.      These may be idealistic questions but they make a lot more sense that the cynicism and short termism of most of our current politics.

As we made our way out of the encampment towards St Paul’s tube station, we were passed by a well dressed middle-aged couple, the man in City suit and the woman in a fur coat. “They need to grow up!”, she said, looking at the sea of tents. It seems to me that the process of engagement and dialogue is going to take a long time.

Cider making in Somerset – the traditional way

Stoke Red, Tom Putt, Dabinett, Somerset Streak – just some of the old apple varieties that were used to make cider in the traditional way in Westbury-sub-Mendip. Over two Sundays in October our friends, Mick and Buffy, invited family, friends and local people to bring apples and join them in making cider.

The communal effort was essential to help with all stages of this labour-intensive process. First we had to wash the apples in a large bath to remove surface muck.

With each successive bag of apples emptied into it, the bath was crowded with dramatic reds, scarlets, greens and delicate yellows.

Willing hands of all ages set to, rolling and washing the apples in the darkening water and then lifting them for inspection before putting them in wire trays to drain.

We fed the washed apples into the top of the ‘scratter’ to be cut and squashed into small pieces. Turning the wheel requires a lot of effort, but there was no shortage of volunteers to take a turn.

The apple pieces fall through to a trough at the bottom of the scratter from which they are then shovelled onto the press where a team of helpers created the ‘lissoms’ (layers) each about 8”-1ft deep.

Over the course of each day seven layers are formed in all, each smaller than the one beneath it, to create the ‘cheese’ (the multi-layered cake from which the apple juice is pressed). Between each layer of the cheese stalks of corn are laid to help the juice drain through and stabilise the layers. The press is slightly angled so that the juice runs off into a plastic bucket to be transferred to an old spirit cask for the fermentation.

For many taking part this was their first experience of these old methods, a fascinating glimpse into the past made all the more real by actually taking part in the process. From time to time we tasted the juice fresh off the press and marvelled at its sweetness. We also tasted Mick and Buffy’s previous year’s cider to give us a sense of what it was we were about.