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Lockdown

Lockdown Mayhem – Nature Special 2020

My fourth and possibly last blog based on my occasional travels during these unusual times during Covid19 lockdown and the phased return to a new normality. This one focuses on pictures I’ve taken that fall into the ‘nature’ category that didn’t make it into my previous ‘Lockdown Mayhem’ series.

I hadn’t realised how many places I’d visited. As well as my local wanderings, some were taken in open areas where social distancing was easiest to maintain, or latterly to gardens which operated a timed entrance slot to help reduce the numbers at any one time. 

In a small way, these pictures help to define the Lockdown summer of 2020. I hope you like them?

#01: Cornflower

a single bright irridescent blue cornflower head

Centaurea cyanus, commonly known as cornflower or bachelor’s button, is an annual flowering plant in the family Asteraceae, native to Europe. In the past it often grew as a weed in cornfields (in the broad sense of “corn”, referring to grains, such as wheat, barley, rye, or oats), hence its name.

The bright, almost iridescent, blue makes this flower stand out, and is one of several varieties which was amongst a collection of wildflowers we were given as a wedding anniversary present earlier this year. Other colours we noticed were pink and white, but to be honest the blue ones stood out by far.

From germination, they flowered for about four months and were a great addition to several pots attracting a variety of bees during the summer. Before discarding the flowers, I sprinkled their seeds along a border hoping to create a homemade wildflower area for next year. For anyone who wants to grow simple, maintenance free flowers, then I’d recommend the Cornflower.

  • Location: Home garden
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 2nd June 2020 at 6.44 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ5.6; Shutter Speed – 1/320; Focal Length – 75mm; Film Speed – ISO640 

#02: Field Grasshopper

a grasshopper perched on a leaf as if ready to pounce

Chorthippus brunneus, also known as the common field grasshopper, is a species of grasshopper of the subfamily Gomphocerinae.
…and this male, one of many, was living quite happily in a corner of the garden dedicated to wild grasses.

Despite their ability to jump quite quickly, they weren’t too difficult to catch, or even get close to and this little chappie was happy posing for his picture.

I think the collection of grasshoppers were around for about a month, and reading about them, I suspect the local ants were harvesting their eggs. We had an ant infestation nearby in a walled border and each time we tried to move them on, there was a mass of eggs they shifted quickly. I appreciate they were also ant egg cases, but given their proximity, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a mixed batch.

Well, let’s see if these hoppy critters return next year?

  • Location: Home garden
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 2nd June 2020 at 7.18 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ8; Shutter Speed – 1/100; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO6400 

#03: Where’s the Ice Cream?

eastbourne pier in the background. Seagull standing on a lamppost in the foreground. a black and white picture

Have you ever had your ice cream pinched by a flying seagull?
Well I hadn’t until a couple of years ago. I’ve laughed at seeing others being taken, but I have to admit when it happened to me, I was shocked at the speed and accuracy with which these ice cream pirates attacked.

This one, perched atop a lamppost on the upper balustrade of Eastbourne bandstand was evidently looking out for its next free meal: be it ice cream or chips. It didn’t happen during my brief walk past, but the picture does help epitomise today’s seafront with the pier in the background.

It was a nice stroll out though, and I have to applaud everyone’s desire to walk past each other responsibly and at a distance.

  • Location: Eastbourne promenade
  • Date/Time: Saturday 20th June 2020 at 3.26 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ8; Shutter Speed – 1/500; Focal Length – 54mm; Film Speed – ISO100

#04: Yorkshire Fog

three single strands of meadow grass brightly lit by the day's sun. black and white picture

Nomansland Common is an area of land about 6 kilometers north of St Albans and consists of open heathland, and a wooded oak woodland. It’s ideal for nature spotting, whether your interest is in insects or birds. And for younger kids, the trees and wooded area have been creatively managed to help encourage some fun activities. 

The common lies across two parishes, Sandridge and Wheathampstead, and during the 15th Century the monasteries of St Albans and Westminster both contested the Common for their respective parish. The Common acted as the ‘no-mans-land’ between the two warring factions, with over twenty years of disputes. Finally in 1429, a jury agreed that the parishes should share the grazing rights.

On the day I visited, the insect wildlife was awash with bees, several types of butterflies, ladybirds and spiders, all of which entertained the grandchildren in one way or another. But it was this sunlit grass that caught my attention.

It’s the kind of grass that you casually stroke as you’re ambling along a country walk or you pull up to scatter the seeds without a thought. I decided to leave well alone this time and just enjoy the simplicity of what I think is Yorkshire Fog

  • Location: Nomansland Common, St Albans
  • Date/Time: Saturday 11th July 2020 at 10.33 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO640  

#05: Pigeon Hotel

a black and white picture of scores and scores of pigeons perched on a tiled roof, basking in the sun. a church steeple in the background

What a sight this was. On the roof of the boarded up church just behind Romford Central Library. I wanted to shout at them to see them all disperse and catch the resulting mayhem, but I thought better of that.
Pigeons aren’t everybody’s favourite bird, and I understand why, especially as they poop everywhere, and when clustered like this, it’s a lot of poop.

The ground in front of me was also smothered with pigeons and I was treading carefully to avoid them as I moved about to get the best angle to capture this shot. They were quite unperturbed too, and casually moved as I got amongst them.

I’m not sure if it’s coincidental, but has anyone else noticed an increase in pigeons in the outer reaches of London since they were scared out of Trafalgar Square over 15 years ago?

  • Location: St Edward the Confessor’s Roman Catholic Church, Romford
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 21st July 2020 at 12.05 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ8; Shutter Speed – 1/400; Focal Length – 125mm; Film Speed – ISO100

#06: Geese Ahoy!

a black and white picture of canada geese in a V formation swimming towards the river bank

Lee Valley is an excellent expanse of managed waterways, parklands and sporting grounds and it’s somewhere to explore more than once. There are so many different areas, that once you’ve been, you’ll want to return and investigate somewhere different.

I’d been to the Lee Valley before during my endoftheline visit to Cheshunt station when I walked down the canal to the white water rafting centre, which was built for the 2012 London Olympics. You can read about that journey here.

But today’s visit is a family event and we meander around an area of Fishers Green, just north of Waltham Abbey. Not really knowing where we were going we tried following the park signposts and thankfully ended up at our intended destination.

Along the way, there are many of nature’s wonders to enjoy, and no doubt these will be seasonal too. But this flock of Canada geese, zooming towards us in ‘flight’ formation is one of my favourite memories of the visit. They must have thought we had food, as there was a determined charge in our direction, and I was surprised to see them swim in formation. But I guess the same principles of flight work equally well in the water.

  • Location: Hooksmarsh, Lee Valley Park, Fishers Green, Waltham Abbey
  • Date/Time: Wednesday 22nd July 2020 at 10.16 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/500; Focal Length – 147mm; Film Speed – ISO500

#07: Sunflower

a single bright yellow sunflower head

There’s nothing like a sunflower to bring a smile to your face. So easy to grow, and they come in many different forms. My personal favourites are varieties called ‘Toyshop’ and ‘Firecracker’. Toyshop grow no larger than three feet tall, and have a variety of flower heads. Firecracker have a distinct orange colouring, and both varieties attract pollinators all season.

On one of my local days out, I walked down a path alongside the library in Gidea Park emerging in the cul de sac of Balmoral Road. I hadn’t realised, even after living here for 30 years, that there are allotments here. In fact it’s the home of the Romford Allotments Association, and if you’re interested in acquiring an allotment, you’re invited to make your way to the allotment entrance in Balmoral Road on a Sunday morning. Alternatively, contact Bob Mercer on 07779 519911.

Alternatively for any enquiries about allotments in Havering, have a look here.

This was a solitary sunflower standing about eight feet high

  • Location: Romford Allotments Association, Balmoral Road, Romford
  • Date/Time: Thursday 30th July 2020 at 11.47 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ7.1; Shutter Speed – 1/320; Focal Length – 89mm; Film Speed – ISO160

#08: Just Fishing

a grey heron standing still in an algae covered pond

This was a day out at Beth Chatto Gardens, east of Colchester. If you’ve never been, and you’re a keen, or even casual gardener, it’s well worth a visit and ideal if you’re looking for inspiration, or simply want to enjoy the different gardens.

The gardens are based on ecological planting: the right plant for the right place. Created by award-winning gardener, author and lecturer Beth Chatto OBE VMH, who won 10 gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show, in the 70s and 80s.

There are five garden styles over 7.5 acres: Gravel garden, Scree garden, Reservoir garden; Woodland garden and a Water garden where this heron was captured.

I’ve been fortunate to photograph several herons over the last couple of years, but this has to be my favourite picture. With my zoom lens at full stretch, I’ve balanced the barrel on a handy nearby fence. The heron didn’t move, but rest assured it was studying the water very intently looking for any slight ripple of movement ready to pounce; it’s almost a seamless motion, swift and precise.

I took two pictures, one in black and white, and this one which highlights the green of the plants and water borne algae. Not sure if this is the dog dangerous blue/green variety, but in this controlled environment, it wouldn’t pose a risk to dogs.

  • Location: Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens, Elmstead, Colchester
  • Date/Time: Saturday 1st August 2020 at 11.01 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO320

#09: Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’

an almost black succulent flower head. alomost rosette like with petals radiating from it's core. dark dark red colouring of this aeonium zwartkop

My final nature shot is also from the Beth Chatto gardens in Elmstead Market, east of Colchester.
We were coming to the end of our visit and heading out past the scree gardens and exiting through the tea rooms and this almost black succulent caught my attention.

Looking closely, it’s more of a dark red/purple, but it was one of many flower heads on a shrub sized potted plant. The flower heads sat on the end of long woody stalks, almost miniature tree like. It was quite a display.

I looked for the name on the display, but there was none to be seen, so an internet search suggests this to be a member of the Aeonium family. In particular the ‘Zwartkop’ variety.

  • Location: Beth Chatto’s Plants & Gardens, Elmstead, Colchester
  • Date/Time: Saturday 1st August 2020 at 11.23 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO5000

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Lockdown

Lockdown Mayhem – August 2020

My third occasional blog sees me travelling around the northern stretches of Romford, and a  seaside visit down to the south coast at Eastbourne. I hope you enjoy this short selection of the month’s travel pictures?

North Romford

I had an ambitious notion of walking to Bedfords Park, a nature reserve managed by the London Borough of Havering and the Essex Wildlife Trust. I knew this would be a challenging day as it had been a number of years since I last visited and my recollection of getting there on foot was a little hazy. But I knew if I followed a simple trail through Raphael’s Park and Rise Park, it should be straight forward…

Well, despite Google Maps, and a belief I had a good sense of direction, I got a little lost. Not lost in the sense I didn’t know where I was, but more in that I believed the Park was more to the left of where I was walking (it was actually more to the right). So I ended up traversing across an open field in front of Bower House, part of the Amana Trust building, and emerging onto Orange Tree Hill instead of into the main Park area. Ah well, it was good exercise.

The Walled Garden in Bedfords Park is well worth a visit, staffed by volunteers, and it gives an insight into how an estate would have provided for itself in days gone by. My trek into the village of Havering-atte-Bower was concluded by my walking back towards Romford through Havering Country Park – a predominantly wooded forest with a striking avenue of Wellingtonia trees at the northern flank of the park. It was a very hot day so I ended my day returning to town by bus.

#01: Bedfords Park

a black and white picture with a treeline in the foreground and an overhanging branch framing a distant view across the Thames to north Kent


This view from the visitor centre in Bedfords Park looks across the Thames and into Kent. On a hot, clear day, it was a welcome, mid point stop after traipsing through the Park forest and open land.

For those who don’t know the area, the park sits in 217 acres of open land and deciduous woodland, between the northern boundary of the London Borough of Havering, and the village of Havering-atte-Bower.

Open parklands make it an ideal picnic spot and play area, and an enclosed deer park provides ideal viewing.

The park has a chequered history, with its origins being made up of two estates dating as far back as 1285. There are many internet references if you want to find out more. But for those looking for a nice day out, there’s something for all here. Alas, the visitor centre is currently closed due to the Covid19 restrictions, but don’t let that deter you from exploring this wonderfully maintained landscape.

  • Location: Bedfords Park, Havering-atte-Bower. Outside the Visitor Centre
  • Date/Time: Thursday 6th August 2020 at 12.21 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ7.1; Shutter Speed – 1/400; Focal Length – 54mm; Film Speed – ISO100 

#02: Spooky Tree

a black and white photo of a (presumably) dead tree as it has no foliage. A fe black birds are perched on some of the outlying branches

I spotted this on my way out leaving Bedfords Park from Broxhill Road overlooking the open space. It’s at a distance, so full zoom needed to capture the tree in shot, which seemed to be a good resting place for a few birds.

The tree stands defiantly in isolation amid an open plain. Perhaps one of a crop of trees felled maybe to create the open plain. But if so, why wasn’t this one felled too? Perhaps it has mystic or mysterious properties which draws the crows to stand guarding its barren branches. Even in the bright daylight, it reminded me somewhat of the Daphne du Maurier story The Birds, and subsequently translated into Alfred Hitchcock’s spooky film.

Time to move on methinks…

  • Location: Bedfords Park, Havering-atte-Bower. Broxhill Road, opposite entrance to St Francis Hospice looking south
  • Date/Time: Thursday 6th August 2020 at 12.51 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ10; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO200 

#03: Havering-atte-Bower

a village sign of havering-atte-bower

Part of my intended day’s walking route was to make my way to Havering-atte-Bower. The northernmost village in the borough of Havering as it borders the county of Essex.

I’ve often driven through here whilst taking the back roads to join the M11 at Harlow, and in doing so wondered what lay behind the picturesque village green.

The village sign, which stands prominently on the village green depicts three scenes. The sign, incidentally, was unveiled in 2010 by the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to commemorate the village’s 1000 year history.

I now take a little liberty in deciphering the three events depicted on the sign as despite many internet references to the sign, I’m unable to unearth any information about it’s make up. So here goes, but I’m happy to be corrected:

  • The top picture, I speculate, may represent the original ‘bower’ or country retreat and hunting lodge owned by Edward the Confessor, which later became known as Havering Palace. There are several interesting references worth reading to help you differentiate between the real and fabled history here: Wikipedia and Hidden London.
  • The final image represents the Havering coat of arms with the date 1042, no doubt symbolising the earliest known date of the village. This is some 44 years before it’s reference in the Doomsday Book under the name of ‘Haueringas’ meaning a ‘settlement of the followers of a man called Hæfer’

So the next time you pass a village sign, why not stop and explore its history too?..

  • Location: The Green, Havering-atte-Bower
  • Date/Time: Thursday 6th August 2020 at 12.56 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 106mm; Film Speed – ISO400

Eastbourne

For over 40 years, Eastbourne has been my second home as it’s my father in law’s (FIL) home town. Our trip was to spend time helping FIL recover from a spell in hospital. Not Covid19, but nevertheless one that serves to remind us of our frailties. Thankfully, FIL is making a good recovery.

On this particular day, it was very interesting as there were high winds and I wanted to explore the shoreline under the pier at low tide. Very reminiscent of my childhood days exploring under the Pier in my own home town – Aberystwyth.

Personally I don’t think you can beat a bracing walk along the shoreline, the incoming tide splashing on your shoes and getting a little wet, and being mesmerised by whatever the sea and winds throw at you.

#04: Speckled Shoreline

a sepia toned black and white picture of eastbourne shoreline as the tide comes in

I noticed the tide times were quite favourable with the low tide conveniently at mid morning, so time enough to get the early morning chores done before making my way to the beach.

A combination of the strong winds and the effect on the tourist industry due to Covid19 saw the prom almost empty. Only a few hardened, or maybe foolish souls were out and about.

This shot is taken right on the shoreline looking west towards The Wish Tower and beyond to the Western Lawns where the frame of the summer ferris wheel stands out. I’ve applied a sepia filter to add a little mood to the shot, which shows tidal debris on the sandy beach being washed in by the incoming tide.

The upturned marker buoys in the distance, act as a warning of deep water and of the submerged barriers to bathers and swimmers during high tides.

  • Location: Eastbourne Beach
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 25th August 2020 at 10.04 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/320; Focal Length – 46mm; Film Speed – ISO100  

#05: Mid Flight

a black and white photo of a young seagull, amid wing, with the scrolling waves underneath

Seagulls are I think a bit like Marmite. You either like them or hate them. But for me they are synonymous with the seaside, chips and ice cream, and their squawk/cry is so unique that once you hear one, you instantly know what the bird is.

I once recorded a seagull sound as my phone ringtone…I always found it funny.

There’s a large flock of seagulls on the waterline, all standing into the wind blasting from the west. Adults and youngsters alike, the later with their distinctive brown and mottled plumage. Some are happy wading, others dipping for food, and there was one pair fighting over a pebble.

When on the wing, their flight pattern could be quite erratic, but taking off was an intentional act on their part. Their flight is determined by the swirling gusting wind, but give them credit, they’re just as happy being blown about to recover their intended flight path to achieve their goal. For some it was just to get back to where they left. But I suspect it’s not a folly to randomly fly into the wind and end up going backwards, but an attempt to gain some height to search for food.

This is one of the youngsters which I’ve captured showing off its immature colouring against the pier in the background and the incoming rolling tidal waves.

  • Location: Eastbourne Beach looking towards the Pier
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 25th August 2020 at 10.11 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO200

#06: Watery Legs

a black and white picture of eastbourne's pier supporting legs

I took a similar picture in my teenage years when I first started exploring black and white photography. It was under the pier in Aberystwyth at about 5.00 am in the morning as the sun was rising behind and casting amazing shadows. That picture has stayed with me all these years and was one of the ones that inspire me to enjoy photography.

I had a notion to try and recapture that image, but clearly there are several things not the same: there’s no sun to cast shadows, and it’s not Aberystwyth Pier. Nevertheless, the hour or so I spent this morning taking a collection of pictures here was just as invigorating.

I probably collected a portfolio of over 20 pictures in this short spell, and this ONE, evokes the image I wanted to capture. Taken in black and white in homage to the image I had in mind, it also transforms what would otherwise be a dull and drab colour picture blanched by the windswept seaspray. The strong black tones of the pier legs against the rolling seahorses on the incoming tide sells the picture which is framed by the body of the pier at the top and the shadowy breakwater on the bottom.

I’m happy…

  • Location: Under Eastbourne Pier looking west
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 25th August 2020 at 10.14 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ7.1; Shutter Speed – 1/320; Focal Length – 39mm; Film Speed – ISO100

#07: Eastbourne Pier

eastbourne pier

Okay, okay, okay. This is a postcard picture of Eastbourne Pier. But it’s one that I played with for a while to decide how best to represent it.

You see, after over two years of using my trusted camera, I’m still learning how to get the best out of some of the settings, and this one jumped out at me.

Whilst composing the shot, the boulders in the foreground were an obvious candidate, and then I played with several settings. This is taken with an ambient setting, and what struck me immediately was how the golden towers just stood out as if under a spotlight. The picture looked exciting, almost like an antique postcard with the towers painted.

From local knowledge, the pier’s owner is overtly flamboyant and he has deliberately emblazoned all his properties (of which there are several) with splashes of gold. He even has a gold plated car!

  • Location: Eastbourne Pier from the shoreline
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 25th August 2020 at 10.41 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ5.6; Shutter Speed – 1/320; Focal Length – 54mm; Film Speed – ISO100

#08: Just Visiting

a black and white profile photo of Mary Elizabeth. An elderly lady enjoying the windswept view looking out at eastbourne pier

Meet Mary Elizabeth.

This young lady was sheltering under the bandstand canopy away from the windswept rain as she caught my attention as I was walking by. She had been watching me take pictures along the shoreline and questioned whether there was a dead seal down there; I reassured her that what she could see was simply a collection of boulders.

That led to a long conversation where we shared each other’s stories and how she had come to be in Eastbourne during the Covid19 lockdown. A very adventurous lady with a thirst for life and a passion to enjoy herself.

If you happen to be her relative reading this, please rest assured that I was fully vetted by Mary before we chatted and that she decided I was OK to chat to. You see, as Bob Dylan once sang “the times are a changin” as her children have warned her not to talk to any strangers. I hope I’m no longer a stranger? It was a delight to meet you Mary…

  • Location: Under Eastbourne Bandstand shelter
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 25th August 2020 at 11.09 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ5.6; Shutter Speed – 1/250; Focal Length – 75mm; Film Speed – ISO400

#09: Stormy Sails

a black and white photo of a windsurfer caught beteen railings

Even in stormy seas there are those who want to challenge the elements. I just hope those who do, do so carefully and sensibly.

I caught this windsurfer as I peered through the railings on the Bandstand parapet, and I followed his progress as he sailed into the wind. I’m not sure how long he had been surfing for, but soon after this shot, the session came to an end.

Here ends my windswept walk along Eastbourne seafront, and my August lockdown memories

  • Location: Looking out to see from Eastbourne bandstand paramet
  • Date/Time: Tuesday 25th August 2020 at 11.14 am
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ7.1; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO250

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Lockdown

Lockdown Mayhem – July 2020

So… a month on, and more and more shops are opening their doors. Still not enough to tempt me back onto the trains, but there is a sense of a new normal emerging. The must have ‘wear item’ is now the facemask. I’ve tried a few varieties, bought from the local dry cleaners, online ‘bargains’ and the best fit for me is from Gap. So out I go with my choice of three fashionable face masks.

The weather has improved, but before I share my travelling stories, a little about other events that have kept me busy, entertained and angry!

The garden has looked after itself and the fruits of my labours are starting to justify the extent of my earlier hard work. Tomatoes, courgettes and runner beans aplenty, and root vegetables firmly taking stock for the autumn and winter months.

In between all that, I’ve had the pleasure of chasing up roofers to part replace the front of the house. As with all tradesmen, they promise delivery tomorrow, but what they actually mean is sometime in the unspecified future. Despite that, the work was good and I was happy with the price and equally happy to recommend in the Romford area.

But that’s not something I can say about my recent run in with a car garage. You see I was off on a jaunt to visit family, and the dashboard suddenly displays three orange amber warning signs and one red one. Not a good look, so I head back home and the garage offers me a date a month away. My hands are tied, what can I do except wait. Long story short…the bill came in in excess of four figures but just as I was about to pay, there’s mention of a faulty part. Now ‘hold on I say’, surely if there’s a faulty part, that’s not for me to pay. And do you know what…in a matter of seconds, the bill was reduced significantly with very little quibble.

Now I’m delighted of course, BUT if I hadn’t challenged the garage, I would have ended up with an inflated bill. Why didn’t they do this before presenting the bill to me? You can draw your own conculsions.

OK, that was a slight digression, so let’s get back to my July travels in and around Romford. This month I’ve concentrated my walking on the northern part of Romford, inside the A12 ring road, and to the west as far as Chadwell Heath (almost). A total of 30 kilometers over three hot days.

So here goes with my second occasional blog about my local journeys.

#08: Taking the Sheep to Market

A black and white photo looking through a tiled underpass with a row of black sheep on the ceiling. A couple of pedestrians in the far distant exiting the sunlit tunnel entrance

Romford market dates as far back as 1247 when a Royal Charter was granted by King Henry III. Originally a sheep market which no doubt inspired the ceiling mural in this underpass.

I’d never been through here before, and to be honest I didn’t think anything of it. Just another underpass for pedestrians to make their way under the busy roundabout feeding Romford’s inner ring road.

But I stopped to look behind and realised I was being overtaken by a flock of black sheep on the ceiling. I don’t think the pedestrians walking through even noticed what I was seeing: they were too busy checking their mobiles, nattering to each other or trying to calm down a child in a buggy. So it was easy to capture them walking through the underpass to add some context to the picture.

I’ve been unsuccessful in my research to find out more about this mural, so if any reader would like to shed any light, I’d be happy to update my blog.

  • Location: South Street to North Street underpass, Romford
  • Date/Time: Monday 20th July 2020 at 2.32 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ5; Shutter Speed – 1/125; Focal Length – 39mm; Film Speed – ISO1600 

#09: R.I.P Rob

A black and white photo of a car number plate style RIP Rob sign attached to the dual carriageway central reservation barrier with a decayed bouquet of flowers

‘…Sadly missed your loving family’ is the underscore to this car number plate type memorial firmly attached to the fencing above the central reservation along the main A12 Eastern Avenue.


Looking on Google maps, this has been there since at least September 2008, and for each iteration of the Google Maps reference, there are always flowers, albeit in a sad state of decay.


Despite a thorough internet search I’m unable to reveal who Rob was, but nevertheless he was a much loved person.


It’s hard to know why it’s here, in this location, but I hazard a guess it was either a road traffic accident, or a pedestrian trying to cross the main road. Whatever the circumstance, it’s a sombre reminder of the frailty of life and the need for vigilance when crossing roads. I pause to think about the nearby underpass: was it there before the accident, or because of it?

On a related theme; whilst walking through the main Romford Cemetery along Crow Lane, I stopped to admire the array of children’s gravestones. There was one inscription that brought a tear to my eye – it simply said ‘born dreaming’

  • Location: Opposite Footpath No. 79 emerging from Parkside Avenue on the main A12 Eastern Avenue, Romford
  • Date/Time: Monday July 20th 2020 at 2.58 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO800 

#10: Victoria Centre

A black and white photo of a view of three dorma windows at roof level on the dilapidated pavillion style building

Locals will almost certainly know this as one of the places to go to for a blood test where you don’t have to queue for ages. Well that’s been my experience to date anyway.

This rather dilapidated building, is in the main, full of character even in its unloved state. In fact I think the aged and tired look adds to the building’s charms.

It was originally built in 1888 at a cost of £1,000 in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Known as the Victoria Cottage Hospital, and through gradual expansion over the decades, it grew from having 13 beds to 101 beds by the time it became part of the NHS in 1948. During the 1970’s and 1980’s changes to the health care system saw a decline in the hospital’s use when it eventually closed for inpatients in 1985 when only 32 beds were available.

Since then, the site has catered for several outpatients departments for which it continues to do so to this day. It sits proudly, in it’s own grounds (now car parks) just off Main Road in Petits Lane and serves as a reminder of how cottage hospitals once supported their communities. There’s no doubt it is a distinct looking building and one to admire for what it once was, and is now.

My thanks to the Lost Hospitals of London site for this information. I’m so glad such sites as these exist as otherwise this kind of information would be lost forever.

  • Location: Victoria Centre, Havering NHS Primary Care Trust, Petits Lane, Gidea Park
  • Date/Time: Tuesday July 21st 2020 at 12.35 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/320; Focal Length – 75mm; Film Speed – ISO100

#11: Victoria Road Footbridge

A colour photo looking along the length of a footbridge with tall sides and a mesh canopy. In the bright sunlight, the blue/grey metalwork contrasts with the yellow overhead light guards

Bridge reference LTN1/103-ROU/11.

Did you know if you ever wanted to find a bridge reference number other than finding it on or near a railway bridge, then there’s a very helpful resource.


Thanks to Daniel Hanson, who made a Freedom of Information request to National Rail Limited in 2015 who subsequently provided a full list (at that time) of every railway bridge in the UK. You can view it here. But be warned, it’s a hefty data set, but if it’s your thing…then fill your boots.
Access to this footbridge on either side is via isolated cut throughs from their respective roads. Ok for daytime  passage but less so I would imagine at nighttime. 

It’s a bright sunny day today and a few pedestrians are making their way across. There’s one mum with a toddler in tow, somewhat frustrated at the length of time the little boy is hovering to see the trains pass by – oh such simple choices.

I wait until all have passed, as to be honest, it could be a little intimidating seeing someone crouch down taking photos as they walk through. I decide to err on the side of caution.

Built in 1893, this lattice wrought iron bridge has lost its charm, as probably a lot of railway footbridges have since they’ve been enclosed. No doubt a preventative measure, but one that nevertheless results in the bridge largely being devoid of its character. This sunlit and shadowy picture offers a glimpse into the view you get when crossing over five railway lines.

  • Location: Railway Footbridge over main railway line adjoining Victoria Road and Junction Road, Romford
  • Date/Time: Thursday July 30th 2020 at 12.13 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ8; Shutter Speed – 1/200; Focal Length – 21mm; Film Speed – ISO100  

#12: Just Chillin

A black and white photo of a gent dressed in white shirt, trousres and headcap covering long dreadlocks who's sitting on a street bench

I spotted this gent casually sitting on a bench on the opposite side of the road and I almost walked on. But I found myself backtracking to try and capture the moment. A little difficult as the junction was busy with cars, vans and lorries queuing up at the traffic lights so there were only momentary glimpses of this scene.

So as the lights changed and the traffic moved on, I took a series of shots before the next queue formed. Each shot I took, I zoomed in closer. Some of the earlier shots capture the ‘Mercury Gardens’ road sign, but that’s eventually lost as I’m at the full extent of the zoom.

The gent seemed pretty relaxed sitting there watching the world pass by, and I was equally content to capture the moment with his profile nicely silhouetted against the distant lamppost.

A serene moment in time caught in the otherwise hectic surrounds of the junction between Mercury Gardens and Victoria Road on a hot and sunny afternoon.

  • Location: Crossroads between Mercury Gardens and Victoria Road, Romford
  • Date/Time: Thursday July 30th 2020 at 12.23 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length -200mm; Film Speed – ISO250

#13: Tiled Walkway

A black and white photo with diagonal lines of this shadowy walkway edging from middle left to bottom right. A gent walking into shot at middle left helps to balance the picture

This blog seems like a story of underpasses. Well maybe it is and although unintentional, clearly the stark summer sunlight and a return to my black and white roots has helped me capture the patterns created by the contrasting shadows.

I’m crouching down at the base of this ramp just as it enters the underpass as I spot the diagonal lines converging on the corner. The dull brown wall tiles appear almost white with darker brown tiles forming the vertical darker stripes.

The combination of the slant of the ramp, and the shadowy handrail all draws my eye to where I’ve positioned myself and I take a series of shots with and without pedestrians walking through. Some walking towards me and some walking away. But this one, with the gent at the top of the ramp, almost leaning into shot and walking in the direction of the focal point helps to complete the picture’s composition.

  • Location: Underpass emerging into Waterloo Road from Rom Valley Way, Romford
  • Date/Time: Thursday July 30th 2020 at 12.45 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ8; Shutter Speed – 1/400; Focal Length – 39mm; Film Speed – ISO100

#14: Nursery Walk

A black and white picture of a couple in the distant walking through and emerging out of a tunnel; their profile in shadow. The picture is framed by overgrown foliage to the footbath which helps to complement the shot

Unless you’re a local resident, and I mean local to the immediate area, I doubt you’ll know about this little gem. Nursery Walk is behind what used to be Oldchurch Hospital and provides a cut through under the railway line from the south to north side.

The underpass is a little dingy but suitably bedaubed by local graffiti artists and at its narrowest, probably just wide enough for two to walk through side by side. I took some shots inside the underpass, but as I emerged into Nursery Walk on the south side, I stepped to one side to let a family walk by. I walked on and looked behind and caught a glimpse of this couple exiting the underpass into Cotleigh Road.

Their shadowy relief encapsulated by the surrounding vegetation creating a tunnel effect, mirroring the underpass, helps to transform this simple shot into an almost romantic one.

  • Location: Railway underpass leading from Nursery Walk to Cotleigh Road, Romford
  • Date/Time: Thursday July 30th 2020 at 1:03 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 200mm; Film Speed – ISO800

#15: The end of the Gas Works

A black and white photo of a capped gas pipe in an overgrowna and somewhat derelict enclosure

The ‘end of the line’ meets the ‘end of the gasworks’. Until recently (2018 I think), the remaining three gas holders posed as a familiar Romford landmark; a site often seen whilst travelling by train to and from Romford station as the works sat adjacent to it.

I’ve taken the picture more as a matter of record than for its photographic quality, and in some way to commemorate the works which have been on this site since the early 1880’s. 

The site is now a fenced off area, and this capped pipe no doubt represents one of the inlets/outlets to a gasholder, and is in some way a rather sad reflection on what is now a derelict, but secure, fenced site.

In researching for this blog, I’m pleased to have found quite a detailed report commissioned by the National Grid who wanted to create an Historic Building Record of these Crow Lane gas works. There’s an abstract here, and the full 78 page report, produced by Oxford Archaeology. For those interested in the detail, then it’s a worthwhile read – see here.

  • Location: The Old Gasworks, Crow Lane, Romford
  • Date/Time: Thursday July 30th 2020 at 1:11 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/640; Focal Length – 170mm; Film Speed – ISO200

#16: Trinity Place

A colour photo of four columns of three vertical windows framed by white vertical bricks dotted with brown bricks to complement the main building brick colour

This is a new building on the edge of Rush Green and Chadewll Heath, next to the Three Travellers pub and near to the iconic Barking and Dagenham Civic Centre. Built on what was once a local car park.

I was coming to the end of a 10 mile walk which saw me explore, from the outside, West Ham United’s two training grounds: The Academy for Under 23’s and Women’s ground in Chadwell Heath; and the main training ground in Rush Green.

Amusingly, one of the security guards at the academy was a Manchester United supporter. But I digress…

This building catches my attention as the facade is of a different style to the ‘new norm’ cropping up all around London. The brown-on-white-on-brown brickwork provides an interesting design feature complementing the vertical windows, and I’ve saturated the picture slightly in this final image to accentuate the colour contrast. 

Here ends another interesting month during lockdown…

  • Location: Trinity Place, Wood Lane, Rush Green, Romford
  • Date/Time: Thursday July 30th 2020 at 2:26 pm
  • Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ6.3; Shutter Speed – 1/250; Focal Length – 39mm; Film Speed – ISO100

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#73: Romford – 18/12/2019

BUT FIRST – by the time you read this, Christmas will be over and it will be 2020 – so here’s wishing you all a very Happy New Year and who knows what delights it will bring….? Meanwhile, back to the plot…

Welcome to Romford! Some commentators say Romford is the capital of the East End; well I’ll let you and others debate and decide on that.

Romford is at one end of the Overground shuttle service running to/from Upminster, and this visit completes the set of 20 endpoint destinations on the Overground.

I’ve also left Romford towards the end of my journeys as this is where I have lived for almost 30 years, so I wanted to make sure I took an objective view of the area, and I hope I’ve achieved this by exploring the town over several days. In fact, on 02/07/2019; 04/12/2019; 12/12/2019 and 18/12/2019, and I make no apology that this blog is somewhat longer than normal as I want to do justice to the things I’ve seen and people I’ve met.

The Station

Almost my second home for the last 30 years as I pass through and often stop en route to/from Gidea Park, so I feel as if I have some affinity with this station. But to be honest, I’ve never really stopped to look around…until now. The station has 5 platforms. No 1 serving the Overground shuttle to/from Upminster, and the focus of my journey today. No’s 4-5 serving the Tfl line to/from Shenfield and Nos 2-3 for the fast service from East Anglia into London Liverpool Street.

This rainbow roundel was interestingly only displayed on Platform 1 during the summer pride celebrations which Tfl was supporting, but nevertheless I’m happy I had the opportunity to catch it when I did as it didn’t stay for long. And it’s when I took this shot I noticed the nameplate on the bridge leading to Platform 1 for Westwood Baillie & Co. A little research yields some interesting facts about this ironworks engineers who built bridges as far and wide as India and South Africa, and like the one in Romford, still stand today.

I’m always delighted by the wintry dusk skylines in Romford as when the sun sets on clear evenings looking westerly, the transition through red, orange and ultimately dark blue and black, when set against an industrial landscape, is always interesting. This is one of those evenings.

And heading down under the station, there are partly covered arches on the northern side of the station running into Exchange Street. In recent years, the footpath has been laid in multi-coloured bricks and the arches fenced in to make this once seedy cut through slightly more palatable. See my picture of the day below for another take on this scene.

A Shopping Mecca

On one of my outings I decide to explore the rooftops to see if there is a different view of the Town I’d not seen before. You see Romford is a shopping mecca defined by its market, and four shopping centres: The Brewery, The Liberty, The Mercury and the Shopping Hall.

Visitors are incentivised to visit by road as the centre is somewhat characterised by its ring road and 5 multi-story car parks.

From my observations, today’s Romford has been shaped by three architectural periods. The mid 30’s with its art deco style fashion. This is a time when the town grew significantly and became a commuter town; the 60’s with its overuse of concrete; and thankfully the more stylised 21st Century modernist look. One commentator describes quite eloquently Romford’s style as being ‘…at times a little scruffy and smelly…’, but my view is that these moments add character and depth to the hidden parts of the town. What do you think?

But on balance, the town has much to offer, and here I’ll share some examples of how I see Romford through these three eras…

1930’s Art Deco – I hadn’t realised, until I started reviewing my photos, how similar some of the buildings around the town are. Here’s two examples: the Town Hall and the entrance to the Quadrant Centre. Both built in the mid 1930’s.

The Concrete 1960’s – or is it a space invasion with a hidden flying saucer unseen by everyone. Ha! This is the rooftop of the car park exit ramp from The Brewery, but on a dank wintry afternoon, it has an eerie quality. However the use of concrete epitomises its functionality when it was fashionable to do so in the 60’s, and it’s evident in all of the surrounding car parks.

Modernist 21st Century – one of the newest buildings in town is the Sapphire and Ice Leisure Centre built in partnership with the council. A magnificent recreational centre encompassing a swimming pool, a multi-gym and an ice rink. And as a patron, I find that it represents exceptional value for money.

As with most town centres, there is a constant churn of how space is used, with some new developments being created and others left to fester for too long and they themselves become enshrined into the fabric of the town. By way of example, there’s a very new patisserie just opened in Exchange Street – Dolce Desserts. Perched on the cutting between South Street and Exchange Street, I’m welcomed in on their second day of opening to review their deco and range of food offerings. A very simple yet attractive setting in which to relax for a short respite.

In contrast, the cutting from the Liberty Shopping Centre alongside Debenhams to the Market has been left undeveloped for many a year. And the hoarding now installed has become a permanent advert for the shopping centre itself.

And despite the dank and dreary conditions of the day, there’s always an unexpeted and surprising moment to encounter when I least expect it. Where else would you find a leapord and three coloured sheep sharing the same table?

Buskers

On most days you’ll encounter buskers in South Street or thereabouts. And today is no different, but what is different is their willingness or unwillingness to have their picture taken or engage in a conversation. As is the case with the first gentleman I encounter strumming his guitar alongside Santander just off South Street. He is most adamant that I do not take his picture – I wonder why?

And similarly close by down the side of Barclays, a couple of Eastern European gents are sharing their musical talents on an accordion and clarinet. At first they are quite happy for me to take their pictures but suddenly I’m instructed with ‘No Image! No Image!’ I gesticulate that I’ll only take pictures of their instruments, but by which time I have already taken several shots. Ooops!

Into South Street, and I meet my most interesting characters of the day; two in fact. First is Joseph who is sitting outside M&S happily singing and strumming his guitar. He’s been here a while as I could hear him earlier in the day, so I stop to chat, which he’s very happy to do. A friendly and amiable artist who enjoys the busking life, and says he’s had many an invitation to support others through being listened to in the streets. Passers by complain jovially that he’s not singing, but they are still happy to throw coins into his upturned hat, for which he thanks them. I try not to keep him talking for too long, and as I leave him, I listen to his melancholic and soulful sound. Nice to meet you Joseph.

Less than 75 meters along South Street, I stop and admire the wordsmithery of @itsTrueMendous. I  listen and gesticulate if it’s OK to take pictures and with a nod of agreement, I click away. She has a very acute ear and a sharp mind as her rap takes in things in her immediate surrounds; including my distraction. She stops for a short while and as we chat, I explain my ‘journey’ to Chyvonne who’s keen to understand where the best spots for busking are in the East End. I offer some suggestions and as she continues to rap, she does so to the camera. Thank you Chyvonne, and it was a blast to meet you. Go listen to her on Twitter or Instagram.

Romford Market

Do you know what the distance of a day’s sheep drive is? To find out, read on…

The market originated in 1247 under a Royal Charter granted by King Henry III stipulating no other market is permitted to set up within a day’s sheep drive of Romford – defined as six and two-thirds miles. There you have it.

I have a fond recollection of markets; as a child in Aberystwyth, I’d listen to the traders shouting out their latest offerings, and on some occasions trying out their free samples (often sweets or rock) when the fair and market came to town every November. And so I have a particular memory of my first Christmas market in Romford in 1990, as I could hear an incomprehensible chant booming loudly over everyone and everything else. It sounded like…’pan yur sana at’. Now clearly I hadn’t quite grasped the Estuary English often heard in Romford, but as I got closer to the trader and realised what was on offer, I quickly translated his chant into ‘one pound for your santa hat’. I bought two…

Alas inflation kicked in a few years later as the chant had changed to ‘two pan yur sana at’.

Prior to visiting the market, I’d been in touch with the Market Manager, out of courtesy, to explain my intention to photograph the market and outline that I’d be approaching individual traders for their consent. And indeed I met some interesting characters.

First is Ola Leggings, who owned a number of leggings stalls in the vicinity. He catches my attention as he’s singing along to Christmas music being played across the market, but became somewhat bashful as I approach and encourage him to continue.

Secondly are the two gents of the Wickendens Meat wagon. Both are happy to be photographed, and as I start on their portraiture, they begin to move all the hung meet from the back of the wagon to the front. They sure know how to maximise this photo opportunity; and they are equally happy to share a joke too.

The market is an eclectic and diverse mix of traders, but from my experience, the essence has also changed over the past 30 years. The strains of austerity, internet shopping and out of town stores have resulted in fewer traders around at a time when I would have expected the market to be at its peak. Nevertheless, I’m always amazed at the efficiency of the clearing up progress once the traders have finished for the day.

The week leading up to Christmas sees, amongst other festive events, a free mini funfair consisting of a ferris wheel, spinning teapots, haunted house, swing chairs and smaller rides for the younger folk. So not wanting to miss an opportunity, here are a couple of shots showing how colour and movement can be captured. I was a little surprised though that the funfair closed by 4.30 pm when I would have thought more folk would have been looking to enjoy the funfair. But I guess its timing is kept in concert with the market trading times. Anyway, all those there were really enjoying this free time.

And if you wander around the nooks and crannies of the market area, you’ll discover seedy side streets and cuttings which aren’t for the casual passer-by. But take a look down the alleyways and there are some discoveries to be made.

The Brewery

Now a fashionable retail area with ample parking, this area was once the largest employer in Romford; in its heydey employing over 1,000 workers. Life began here as The Star Brewery in 1708, by 1845 as Ind Coope, and into the 20th Century as Allied Breweries, where the John Bull brand of beer was produced. 

The brewery closed in 1993 and once demolished, the site was redeveloped in 2001 into the retail park we see today. Walking around you’ll see remnants of it’s brewing heritage, and you can’t fail to miss the iconic 160 foot chimney which dominates the skyline; this is one of the original chimneys from the brewing days.

As part of the development, metal artwork camouflaged as large insect like creatures help create a canopy for the shops and car park, but I’m unable to find any reference to their origin. If you know anything about them, do please drop me a line. And if you’ve not seen them, the Brewery Centre have teamed up with Things Made Public and installed 10 animal murals throughout the centre which you’re invited to go looking for them. I’ve not reproduced the murals as part of the fun in seeing them is the hunt. Have a go and see if you can find all of them – start here.

Picture of the Day

This view is taken through the partly covered arches on the northern side of Romford station running alongside and eventually into Exchange Street. The multi-coloured path is almost an attractive feature if it wasn’t for the fact that this is a somewhat seedy cut-through to the west of Romford. But nevertheless, it provides for an attractive photo-opportunity.This is taken facing west.

I waited for the right pedestrian to reach the end of the tunnel so that their silhouette helped to fill the tunnel opening. The late afternoon daylight coming in overhead helps to highlight the floor pattern, and the arch brickwork is enhanced using a green (Alpaca) filter.

Settings: Camera – Canon EOS 200D; Aperture – ƒ3.5; Shutter Speed – 1/60; Focal Length – 18mm; Film Speed – ISO6400; Google filter – Alpaca

Social Media

YouTube, Instagram, Google PhotosTriptipedia – here I share some tips I use when travelling around London. A different twist on my ‘end of the line’ story