Friday, November 9, 2012

Creating a Black and white image with contrast from a colour image with none

To see the entire layer palette scroll to the bottom of the screen. 

Black and white image of cotswold village of Bibury

Here is a picture of Arlington Row, a collection of 17th century weavers’ cottages that sits next to the banks of the river Coln in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. Originally built as a monastic wool store in 1380 before being converted, these cottages are the very epitome of picturesque, especially when you consider that they are not just the most photographed dwellings in the Cotswolds, but the most photographed anything in the Cotswolds.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Combining exposures for a painterly effect

When I’m out and about taking landscape photos one thing is painfully obvious, however careful my approach, or however fastidious my preparation, nature could not give the smallest toss about me and my troubles. In fact sometimes I think that nature actively dislikes me, that I have must have committed some terrible indiscretion at the expense of nature and it now snubs me at every given opportunity.

These of course are ridiculous thoughts, nature doesn't just dislike only me, it dislikes everyone, and that is a fact. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Autumn photography - images that work, images that don't, and why

After taking a trip down to Westonbirt Arboretum the other weekend to check out the autumn colours I thought it might be interesting, if only to me, to look at some of the pictures I managed to get and to explore why some images work better than others.

Managed by the Forestry Commission, Westonbirt Arboretum is located near the historic market town of Tetbury in Gloucestershire, England, and is perhaps the most important and widely known arboretum in the United Kingdom.

Planted in the heyday of Victorian plant hunting in the mid-19th century, today Westonbirt Arboretum is one of the finest tree collections in the world, carefully laid out within a beautiful Grade One listed historic landscape.

It is this variation of trees that makes the place so interesting, especially during autumn, as the transition into colour manifests itself across the species, and combined with the endless shapes and structures of the different plants, means there is always something to catch the eye.

But despite the fantastical displays of colour and the incredible variety on offer, or maybe because of it, it’s not always straightforward to get a satisfying image, it still needs thought and patience to capture something worthwhile. Just getting an image full of colour doesn’t guarantee its success, sometimes the overabundance of colour can make us overlook the other aspects that make a picture work like composition and light.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Portugal Day 5 - Unpopular stones & a chapel of bones

Rose to a rather dismal morning that, with the usual turn of events, manifested itself into a rather dismal day, weather wise. Today we were heading to Évora, with its wonderfully preserved monuments and buildings of public interest that led UNESCO to protect it as a World Heritage Site in 1996.

Each age has left its trace on Évora. It was the Celts who named it Ebora and the Romans gave it its most famous landmark, the Temple of Diana. Dating from the 2nd century, it is one of the Iberian Peninsula's best preserved Roman monuments, raised on a 3m high stone platform, with 14 of the original 18 granite Corinthian columns still standing. While the whitewashed houses, arches, and twisting alleyways that characterise the town reflect the Moorish presence.

But before we got there, we were making a scheduled stop at The Cromlech of Almendres, scheduled because I had scheduled it, much to the dismay of everyone else, the philistines that they are. Dating from the Neolithic period, somewhere between 4000 and 2000 B.C they have been called "the Portuguese Stonehenge" and are the most important megalithic group in the Iberian Peninsula. Consisting of a huge oval of almost one hundred rounded granite monoliths, some engraved with symbolic markings, it is believed, due to its elevated location and orientation with regards to the cyclic movement of the sun and moon, to be a sacred place, although what its actual use was is still a matter of some discussion.

But before we even got there though we made another stop, this time of the unscheduled variety, because the road to the stones passed through a cork plantation, and these trees had been freshly harvested, so still had the deep red under-flesh, no idea if that is the correct term for the part of the tree that is beneath the bark, but it’s the term I’m using. The rich, red ochre of the under-flesh chiming perfectly with the green foliage of the canopies meant these were the cork trees I had been searching for, so I ordered a complete halt and I was soon out capturing them in all their glory.

Freshly harvested cork trees and their lovely under-flesh

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Portugal Day 4 - Rice, salt, grapes and a killer robot.

Headed out early into the paddy fields in case the changeable weather we were having would be on my side, but all it seemed to bring was cloud and a bit more cloud, add to this the fact I was battling a ferocious gale that whipped about my person like the thrashing skirts of an enraged flamenco dancer trying to wrestle me to the ground, it was not the most calming way to spend a morning, especially a morning feeling as groggy as I did.

The brooding, overcast sky bought out the colours of the vegetation

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Portugal Day 3 - In search of cork under an unforgiving sun

After a late start we rolled out of Comporta towards Santa Cruz, stopping along the way in one of the many cork plantations to see if I could get a picture of the partially stripped trees. I couldn’t get much as it was very sunny and the place itself was not very well looked after, which all combined to make it look a bit of a mess.

The cork tree itself is an evergreen oak tree which is grown in various parts of the African continent as well as in south west Europe but it’s in Portugal where they are most abundant, with the country accounting for about 50% of the world’s cork production. Cork oak trees, or Quercus suber are preserved and cutting them down is illegal unless it’s sanctioned by the forestry department. The harvesting itself is a natural process and it is estimated that the trees can live for over 150 years with the first cork yield obtained from its bark when the tree is about 25 years old and then harvested every 9 years for over a century.

None of which I particularly thought about as I stumbled through the detritus of vegetation, racking up scratches on my defenseless shins as one wickedly sharp thorn after another made a beeline for my delicate flesh.

I decided to concentrate on one tree as I liked the play of
light on the contours of its smooth trunk

Friday, October 5, 2012

Portugal Day 2 - Fish, whether they be salted, butchered or mammals

Up at 6.30 for a dawn shoot at Comporta beach, but it was not to be. The dawn came and went with nary a by-your-leave which I thought was most ungrateful, seeing as Father and I had made a special effort to greet it. I got a few shots off in the vain hope that they might turn out OK, but soon enough we had packed up and trundled back to the house for some croissants and coffee to assuage our restless disappointment. But that betrayal by the sun, that huge, blistering bastard in the sky, was soon forgotten as we motored to Tróia for our date with those aqueous clowns of the sea and their terrifyingly benign smiles, just like real clowns in fact, but without the red noses, tiny cars and tragic alcoholism.

As you can see there was a bit of colour in the sky but not a great deal

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Portugal Day 1 - Rickety boardwalks and ruining things for everyone

Arriving in Comporta, Portugal the evening before, after a dull and uncomfortable flight (aren’t they all?) where the stewardesses, sorry, customer facing service enablers, or whatever they’re called now, seemed to get annoyed with me purely based on the fact that the plane was far too small and their derrières were far too large. This disappointing paradox gave rise to the result that I was constantly being bashed about the shoulder every time they passed by, usually on their urgent need to distribute that beige, feeble cuisine that airlines specialise in. Needless to say, although I will say it anyway, I was glad to disembark.

We drove the hour and a half from Lisbon to Comporta in what can only be described as a nail biting excursion through the night. My Dad was at the wheel, and not being used to driving on the right, he seemed intent on guiding our automobile on a knife edge between the road proper, and the perilous gravel it gave way to. Hopefully the baleful whimpers I periodically emitted as the car drifted alarmingly towards our certain fiery demise didn’t distract him too much from the task in hand.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Exmoor Day 3 - Highland cattle & cream teas all round

We rose to another hearty breakfast that set us up for the day before driving to Winsford, with its beautiful old thatched pub, and which according to them, is one of the most photographed inns in England. I don’t doubt it at all, but unfortunately the weather, yet again, wasn’t with us, so we contented ourselves by looking at it through the rain splattered windscreen.

After that it was onto Dulverton where we bumped into a flock/pack/herd? of ducklings all huddled up against the miserable morning air, and Sarah met up with a local photographer with a view to possibly setting up some more workshops, both here in the UK and overseas. Meanwhile I had taken myself up onto the moors of Winsford Hill to see what I could see, and thankfully it was quite a lot. The sun had decided to get his hat on and it was warming up a treat.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Exmoor Day 2 - Getting wet & annoying the ponies

After a hearty breakfast and a game of one man and his dog 
with the hound at the farmhouse, in which I was think I was cast as the sheep and there was no man, we (Sarah and I, not me and the dog) revved up the car, turned on the wipers and headed across the moor towards Dulverton, under a leaden and generously leaking sky.

We took a drive to Simonsbath House Hotel to have a look around, and very nice it was too, we also had a chat with the owner and learnt about the varied and lengthy history of this 17th century building, some of which can still be seen in the wood panelling throughout.

Next up was Rockford, which is a tiny village deep in the heart of the National Park set along the banks of the East Lyn river, and is a great place to walk to Watersmeet from, which is where we headed to next, not by foot I hasten to add, we had too much to do. Stopping down by the river at Watersmeet we availed ourselves of a coffee and a piece of cake, as the sun splashed itself liberally about their beautiful tea garden.

As we were around that area we headed over to Lynton, which, with Lynmouth, is one of the most popular places on the Devon coastline, we wanted to see if the tide was in and get a few photos. As it happened it wasn’t, but the sea was looking an iridescent turquoise even though it was quite far out. We did get some photos, not many mind, as soon after setting up it began to spit with rain and within 5 minutes a downpour that could only be described a torrential was upon us, whilst the once turquoise ocean had disappeared in a haze of indistinct fog. 

I did get a few images looking out to sea as the mist and cloud began to roll in. There is something about a dramatic sky/sea image that I like a great deal. But before long my lens was getting wetter faster than I could dry it so I had to give it a rest. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Exmoor Day 1 - Packhorse bridges & National Trust villages

After setting off on a long weekend away in Exmoor, with a view to photographing some of the varied landscapes contained within its 267 square miles, our first stop was a motorway service station just outside Bristol, so we could take care of that most basic of human needs; coffee. 

So after refueling, we had a quick sprint along the M5 before taking the turn off to Bridgewater, where we fully immersed ourselves in that archetypal English summer pastime, being stuck for miles and miles behind a caravan. But soon we were on the fringes of Dunster, and our first photo of the trip presented itself via the impressive façade of Dunster Castle as it emerges from the surrounding canopy of trees. 

There has been a settlement on this site since the 11th century, originally a motte and bailey construction, which gave way to a timber castle after the Norman conquest of England, it was not until the 19th century that it was converted into the sumptuous manor house that stands there today. So with the sun sparkling upon its fortifications we set up our tripods and took a few pictures. The sun was fairly bright by now as it was around midday so a polariser helped cut through some of the glare, as well as making the sky a richer blue. The foreground was barely of interest, being just a field of grass so I decided to use the 70-200 lens to get tighter to the castle and crop out anything that wasn’t essential to the picture. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

France Day 8 - Lautrec - the village & the painter

Our last day and we got up to a damp grey morning, which, if nothing else acclimatised us for the return to England. After giving the gite a spruce up and getting our deposit back we sailed forth in search of that elusive Canal du Midi shot. Since the tarte au pomme quest had been satisfied, Sarah’s new mission was to get a picture of this stretch of water before we left, so it was with this zealous enthusiasm that we zoomed around various lanes and highways always within site of the canal, but never really reaching anything that might be called a view. In the end I got fed up of the whole exercise and we wished the Canal du Midi a resigned bonne journée before heading north.

We stopped in Fanjeaux which was a lovely old town, you know the score, medieval streets, half timbered buildings and suchlike, unfortunately the weather was turning decidedly unpleasant so we had a bit of a walk around and soon decided to move on. It was almost coffee o’clock so we pulled into Revel which is a bastide, or fortified town and, unlike most bastide towns, has kept its original layout intact. The centre of town is home to a central square which is still partially covered with a 14th century roof, topped with a distinctive bell tower from those medieval times.

It is also home to a few cafes, which were our main draw, but all of them were shut apart from one, luckily they had a table inside, it was far too cold and wet to sit outside, so we joined the throng of locals tucking into their midday meal. They sure do love their lunch over here, and we felt slightly out of place with only a coffee in front of us, while all those around were sat behind huge platters of food washing them down with ample amounts of wine. But as much as we would have liked to join them, we had limited time and a very limited budget to last us for the rest of the day, so after gulping down the below average coffee we left behind the warm, delicious smells and amiable chatter and stepped into the grimy half light to continue our journey. I believe somewhere, in the hazy back streets, a violin was playing, just for us.

View of Lautrec and surrounding countryside

Friday, July 13, 2012

France Day 7 - The drama of Castles and Campers

After an early start, our first stop was a petrol station to quench the raging thirst of our four wheeled brute. So after visiting most of the pumps the forecourt had to offer and sticking my credit card into various parts of the apparatus it was never meant to go, I finally figured out how they worked, and not more than one hour after beginning the endeavor, we were off.

Straight to Quillan, which was a nice enough town set next to a river, where we stopped for an insipid coffee and a rather decent pain au chocolat. But we were soon on our way again as today we would be exploring some of the finest castles this area has to offer, and they do a very nice line in castles around here.

After a drive of an hour or so, we entered the part of the Cathar region that is home to the most magnificent chateux, or ruins thereof, than any other region. Although to call them Cathar castles is somewhat of a misnomer as the Cathar Church never built anything, these castles were already standing by the time the Cathars came to prominence, they either took them over or had the use of them from owners sympathetic to their cause.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

France Day 6 - Canal Du Midi & the French diversion

Had a bit of a lay in this morning, as it was quite a late one the night before, so by the time we’d got up at eight, then arsed around for a while, we didn’t leave the gite until around ten, which is practically unheard of, so we headed to the car, roundly chastising ourselves, little knowing it would set the tone for the day ahead.

Again, most unlike us, we didn’t really have a plan for the day, we did think of going to see some of the finest Cathar castles in the area, but by the time we’d have got there it would've been baking hot, and they are quite a climb to get to. So we decided to stay around the local area and just go for a bit of a drive.

Unfortunately as we had been doing quite a lot of driving already (we would notch up over 1000 miles before the week's end), it meant a lot of the places we ended up going we had been to before, either because we couldn’t remember we’d been there, or we recognised the name but couldn’t recall the place, so the whole thing was an exercise in voluntary déjà vu.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

France Day 5 - Carcassonne & conspiracies

Up nice and early this morning, but unfortunately the weather wasn’t on our side and was decidedly grey and misty. We decided to go to Carcassonne and scout out a suitable place to get some pictures of the old city walls that evening when they were all lit up. Parked up at La Cité and walked down to the main city to look for that viewpoint. After a bit of wandering about we found somewhere in what I think was the rough end of a hospital car park, but it looked promising and we decided to return that evening.

Walked back up feeling absolutely knackered (me), I hadn’t slept that well the night before so it really took it out of me, I looked like a cadaverous, hollow eyed spectre. We went, well I loomed, into a rather chic café and after terrifying the small madam’s nibbling on their croissants, sat down to recover with an astoundingly priced coffee and pain au chocolat. When I was feeling slightly more human again we bought ourselves a ticket for a tour on the city ramparts.

A view across town to the outer wall

Sunday, June 17, 2012

France Day 4 - Lagrasse, Narbonne & a fruit pastry

Probably the most sensational and thrilling thing that happened today, happened first thing in the morning. Fresh bread, butter and jam for breakfast. It was ambrosial, like a rapturous, fantastical encounter with a delicious memory long thought forgotten. I couldn’t have been happier, shame our coffee was crap, but there is only so much pleasure a human mind can cope with at once. I guess I should have been grateful I wasn’t spazzing out on the stone floor, after my brain was overloaded by such arresting tastes.

So after that mind blowing opener to the day, we capitulating to our unfulfilled obsession, and headed to Siassac, again, to see if we could get a decent picture of the castle, again, but of course we couldn’t, the light just wasn’t right, again. After that, it was on to Montolieu to get a picture of the village from the bridge, which was OK but, using our commanding solar and meteorological mastery, and an app I’ve got on my phone, it looked as if the light would be at its best in the evening. We would return.

Montolieu in the morning light

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

France Day 3 - A couple of moulins, then Brian's Waters

Bounded out of bed with a view to having a decent breakfast at last, so after quickly getting dressed and looking more agreeable, I gambolled across the village square to present my self at the shop for lashings of fresh bread, butter and jam.

The shop was closed.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been more disenchanted at the prospect of being fresh breadless than I was that disappointing morning. So with a heavy heart I headed back to the gite and attacked yesterdays stale, dry bread with as much enjoyment as I could muster, which was precisely none.

So after breaking bread in the least satisfactory way possible, we piled all our stuff into the tank and headed into the wooded wilds of Aude. First of all we stopped at a paper mill, in fact the only working paper mill left in the region, down from the 67 along this stretch of water in 1845. This moulin, which is located near the village of Brousses and settled along the banks of the river in the valley of La Dure., still produced hand made paper using the power of the water to drive its machines.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

France Day 2 - After hours at the Lastours Chateaux

After, not exactly an uncomfortable nights sleep, more of an awkward nights sleep, we arose about nine. When we booked the gite we noticed it boasted of its historic credentials, and it is indeed an old building, and also of its historic furnishings. The thing though about the historic people who peopled these historic places, and used these historic furnishings, is that they were historically on the short side. Why this is I do not know, it’s just a fact, enter any old dwelling and you have to stoop to do so, they just did not build things to accommodate those over 5ft 2. I assume this is where the airlines get the inspiration for their seating from.

This propensity for diminutive dimensions stretches, so to speak, to beds, which is why I spent the night sleeping diagonally across mine as it was not physically possible to lie out vertically, what with the bed being boarded on both ends. Even when I laid my head on the furthest reaches of the pillow my feet still hung off the opposite corner. Luckily I was very tired so it was not too much of a handicap to sleep.

Wolfed down a few hunks of yesterdays dry bread and a coffee for breakfast then led the beast out to Montolieu which has made a name for itself as an officially designated Historic Book Village, much like Hay-on-Wye in Wales. This 12th century village has around a dozen bookshops and a museum dedicated to all things bound. It sits at the foot of the Black Mountains on a narrow plateau between two streams, one of which we had to cross over via a high bridge on entering the village, with the views to the town being quite impressive.

A view of the village from the bridge

Friday, June 8, 2012

France Day 1 - Heading to the Black Mountains

So we decided to head to France for the week, it was a bit of a rush job, as we only booked it Thursday and flew out Sunday. As is usual though, we had been thinking about it for about 4 weeks, but couldn’t decide where to go, either France or Italy, and were undecided where in each country to visit. But, as usually happens, we got fed up thinking about it and just decided to go for the cheapest place we could find. Why we never do that to begin with is, and will probably be forever, a mystery.

Which is why, at 3am on a Sunday morning, we were struggling about in dimly lit rooms trying to get the last of our things packed and loaded so they could accompany us to the Aude department of Languedoc that region of France that sits at the bottom, near the Pyrenees and next to Provence.

Got to Gatwick in pretty good time, parked the car, got the shuttle bus to the South Terminal and then stood in a line to check in for far too long at that time in the morning. After that is was just a case of quietly dozing off into some breakfast for a while. Unfortunately an early night couldn’t be had the day before, as one of our neighbours thoughtlessly married off his daughter and then compounded his mistake by feeling the need to host the reception in his garden, replete with live band.

So needless to say, I was feeling slightly groggy as I tucked into my strange cereal, which consisted of oatmeal matter on some kind of cheesecake mixture placed on an underlay of jam type substance. It was a somewhat bizarre concoction but not entirely unpleasant. So this, along with the breakfast baguette seemed to do the job. Little did we know that baguettes would feature more heavily in our forthcoming diet than would be acceptable, even for France.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

South Africa - Day 13 Wild animals and cobwebs

Up nice and early this morning for the first of our twice daily dose of animal gazing. Not to be caught out again I wisely festooned myself with a full compliment of clothing, which by the end of the drive I couldn't wait to be shot of, not that I became affected with a unhealthy desire to try out safari nudism of course, none of us had had breakfast and I didn't want to be responsible for all that food going to waste. I merely meant that I was looking forward to getting into a t shirt and shorts, once the sun comes up the temperature climbs considerably.

We headed into the East side of the park in our quest for big mammals. First spot of the day though was neither big nor a mammal, it was a giant kingfisher hovering above a pond, OK it was big, as far as king fishers go, but not big as far as hippos go, but it was a beauty, wings moving in a blur as it stared intently at the water below.

After that brief diversion we rounded a bend in the track and immediately came to a halt, it was either that or run headlong into 19ft and 1200kg of pure giraffe, who, it seemed, was in no immediate rush to get out of our way. But after a short while he loped off allowing us to pass unhindered, not that giraffes are especially known for their hindering of course, in fact they are probably more celebrated for their non-hindering abilities. If pushed I’m sure most people would point to the fact that giraffes, as generally docile and quiet beasts, do not excel in the hindering department.

The resemblance is uncanny

Saturday, February 18, 2012

South Africa Day 12 - Kariega Game Reserve

Up early this morning for our drive to see the animals of this fine country in all their splendour. After a swift breakfast, we departed around 8.30 and got stuck into the four hour journey that would ultimately deliver us to the Kariega Game Reserve which would be our base for the next couple of days. En route we stopped in Jeffreys Bay, which is famous for its annual surfing competition, and is the sort of place that’s rife with hostels, laid back cafés, people who wear beads in their hair and caters for travellers not tourists, yep it’s full of slackers and bloody hippies. Needless to say, and with a certain deadening inevitability, it’s also referred to as J-Bay.

Anyway, we stopped for a decent coffee and wrong turn that took as along the coast for a while, in the opposite direction we wanted to be going, but once that had been sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction, I put my foot down and headed on a course bearing due giraffe.

We made pretty good time, the roads, as normal were relatively quiet, and with a fair tailwind, good speed could be made. As the speedometer was in KPH, and I’m not completely sure how that exactly relates to MPH, I was never certain how fast I was actually going most of the time, in relation to how fast I would drive at home in the same conditions. I tended to go at a speed that I felt was covering a good amount of ground in a decent time, but not too fast that I was starting to feel like I had to concentrate too hard on the actual driving.

The main roads that cross the rural plains are of a pretty good standard, whilst not overly wide for two way traffic they do have capacious dirt sidings along their length. This is useful as it’s courteous to pull over slightly to let faster vehicles pass you, and most people do actually do this, it is equally courteous for the passer to flash their hazards at the passee to say thank you, which in return they may receive a sparkle of the headlights to say you’re welcome. I thought this type of roadway affability was splendid and it was one of the factors that made driving in this country so enjoyable. It was only when I got home and discovered that 140kph equates to around 90mph that I realised why I was passing so many cars on our assorted jaunts.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

South Africa Day 11 - Prince Alfred and the Garden of Eden

Had a bit of a lay in for a change before descending to the breakfast hall for a leisurely repast. I decided to go for a cooked breakfast as I hadn’t had one for a couple of days, unfortunately it was rubbish. Insipid, shiny skinned sausages, vapid, mushy tomatoes and bacon that looked like it had been part of a well loved shoe before being poached in oil and making the journey onto my plate. As it lolled there unctuously dripping grease into the yellow, watery fluid leaking from the scrambled eggs, I watched the ensuing slick unfold and realised I did not have much of an appetite.

I’m being a bit harsh of course, but I think all this high living had got the better of me, I was actually missing a basic, honest to goodness bowl of cereal. How these fabulously wealthy people manage to get through their quails eggs, smoked salmon and caviar muffins, all washed down with bucks fizz and martini chasers every morning, for that is what rich people do of course, I have absolutely no idea.

So after snacking on a couple of pastries we high tailed it out of Knysna and shepherded our metal steed towards Prince Alfred Pass. This road, built by the pass marvel himself, Thomas Bain, was finished in 1867 and covers about 70km of winding, mountain conquering terrain and is considered one of his finest achievements. Taking about 4 years to build, with it’s precision dry walling and expertly contoured carriageway, snaking their way through a seemingly impassable range, it stands pretty much as it was when completed nearly 150 years ago.

The very pass itself

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

South Africa Day 10 - Tsitsikamma National Park

Made the most of the sumptuous spread laid out for our delectation in the large breakfast room, and after filling up we took the short drive the Knysna Heads, here two dramatic sea cliffs create a lagoon which they protect from the worst of the pounding waves. The weather was dismal so we didn’t get much of a view, dramatic or otherwise, but we dutifully walked down to the shore because, well, we were there and that’s what you do.

A view from Knysna Heads, it looks more interesting that it was
Apart from that, didn’t really see much else, most of the area was filled with gentrified suburbs, as is the way for coastal retreats, not that there was much to retreat from. After that we motored to Thesen Islands, which consist of a series of 19 man made islands linked by 21 arched bridges situated in the Knysna estuary. We took the road that connects it to the mainland and drove into what was a small version of Venice if Venice had been built by yuppies.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

South Africa Day 9 - Carry on up the Knysna (pass)

After a decent breakfast, accompanied by the pleasing sound of running water (we were sat not by the toilets, but next to a small terrace fountain), we checked out of Queens Hotel but left our luggage in the safe hands of the receptionist, whilst we had another bash at the Swartberg Pass.

View from the Pass
This time we got all the way to Prince Albert, the town that that lies at the end of the Pass, or the beginning depending on which way you’re coming from of course. By necessity the journey was pretty slow going, the road is traversable but quite steep in places and as rough as a badgers arse for most of it, so the car took a bit of a beating. But I told the car it was worth it, if only you had eyes to see what we were seeing, I told it, or ears to hear me talking to you, or a voice like in Knight Rider, that would have been amazing. But of course it didn’t, despite the fact I painted KITT on the back of it in Tipex after we picked it up, it just wasn’t enough to make it happen.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

South Africa Day 8 - Oudtshoorn

After a rip roaring breakfast at Rothman Manor, one of the very best so far, much like the place itself, we trundled, with balloon like paunches, to the car and made speed out of Swellendam, pointing ourselves firmly in the direction of Oudtshoorn.

Oudtshoorn’s main claim to fame I believe, and if this is not so then it should be, as it is indeed a marvellous main claim upon that fame, is that it’s the home of ostriches. And when I say home, I don’t just mean a well proportioned pile with a separate reception room and space for a bonquet. I’m talking a dwelling of epic proportions, replete with banqueting halls for each day of the week and more cupolas than you can shake a foxhound at.

Ostrich doing what it does best

Saturday, January 14, 2012

South Africa Day 7 - Swellendam

Had an early breakfast before packing up our stuff yet again in readiness for the journey to Swellendam. Already I’m getting into a routine of packing, making sure everything is in its place, each item fitting in perfect unison. My suitcase is like a well oiled machine, each piece coming together and harmonising in perfect completeness. In fact, now I think of it, my packing is also like a ballet, where I am the conductor upon his rostrum, where my shirts are the horn section, shorts the percussion and my pants the brass. Anyway, you get the idea. So, after that graceful performance we were speeding out of town with the open road in view.

10 minutes later we were back at the hotel as I had left the passports, money and my driving license behind in the room safe. But after that, we were definitely off.

Again we stopped in Boschendal to have a look at the manor house, as it was closed the day before. If you’re looking for a restored 19th century Cape farmhouse then you cannot go far wrong with Boschendal Manor House, besides the fact it is one of very few in existence, it does give a sense of stepping back in time with it’s beautiful period furnishings and of course it’s pièce de résistance - an antique four poster stinkwood bed.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

South Africa Day 6 - Wineries

After being greeted by a shining and candidly blue sky upon awaking we immediately partook of breakfast by the pool. After a genteel meander through our morning collation of croissants and pastries with the accompaniment of various delicate preserves, quietly rounding off with a robust coffee, we at last felt able to face the world.

Yes, we were about to enter the refined and exquisite world of the winery.

The wine region is split into five wine routes, which all told, encompass two hundred wine and grape producers that lie within the boundaries of the Stellenbosh Wine of Origin classification. We opted for the Helderberg route which is situated to the south of Stellenbosh and who’s farthest reaches border the Somerset West shoreline.

We hadn’t chosen this route for any particular reason except, much like a ripe red grape, it was a nice plumy purple colour on the little map we had. This is quite appropriate I guess, as I tend to choose wines on how appealing their labels look.

Without blowing my own trumpet, I’m unabashed to say that this is not a method of classification I have come across elsewhere, so I was looking forward to imparting my knowledge upon the estate owners we were about to meet, who I’m in no doubt, would be surprised, yet inordinately grateful for an opportunity to expand their understanding of ‘the Grape’.

After a bit of a tour around, including stopping at an estate that had its very own menagerie of wildlife, I took the opportunity to snap a few zebras with the lens I had hired for the safari part of the trip. Little did I know that this was the first and last time I would use it.

Zebras looking. Yes looking.

Friday, January 6, 2012

South Africa Day 5 - Table Mountain & Stellenbosch

Woke up to a glorious morning, a clear, burnished blue sky sporting a fat, cheerful sun. We decided that this was a perfect end to our stay in Cape Town and more importantly was a perfect time to be heading up my old nemesis – Table Mountain!

We headed out straight away, forgoing the diversion of breakfast for the moment, we could always grab some later after those Table Mountain aspirations had been sated. We buckled up and shot from the outskirts of the city like a sprightly bulimic towards an all you can eat buffet, speeding up the road to the cable car, determined not to waste our last chance at glory.

We actually got there slightly too early in fact as it was still over half an hour away from opening, but not to worry, it meant we would be one of the first up there on this most auspicious of days. We were second in line, seems someone wanted it even more than ourselves, or like us they’d thought it opened earlier than it did. So after a short wait, and with quiet anticipation, we paid our fare and entered the cable car that would take us all the way up the mother of all flat topped mountains.

At last, my view of glory awaits. That little mound at the top is the upper station.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

South Africa Day 4 - Bo Kaap & Townships

Woke to an exceedingly grey morning, with intermediate rain, needless to say Table Mountain was off the cards yet again, I couldn’t even be bothered to lament at the situation, instead I went down to breakfast and stuffed myself with an inhuman quantity of pancakes.

Feeling overstuffed and under whelmed we drove into the city and took a gander at the Bo Kaap, or the Cape Malay Quarter. This section of Cape Town was originally established after the years of slavery in the city throughout the 18th century, when people were shipped in from around the world, especially from Indonesia, which was a Dutch colony for several centuries. They were the first to bring Islam to South Africa.

The sky may be grey but the houses are sunny
Although it is called the Malay community it should be more accurately called the Muslim community as most of the inhabitants speak Afrikaans or English, but no longer the Malay languages. But whatever they speak, they sure know how to paint up a storm. The area includes a number of streets, full of houses covered in various vibrant hues and make for an arresting site and decent way to spend a couple of hours, camera in hand.