Fellow blogger Leanne Cole recently wrote a piece for the Digital Photography School entitled Finding Comfort with Off-Season Photography in which she extolled the virtues of shooting in the Australian winter and offered some advice on the equipment required, and I was thinking about that piece yesterday as I set out to take some pictures at the end of an English summer because the conditions she described (grey and wet) were exactly what I was facing. Sadly both my memory and Leanne’s advice overlooked a tripod so I was struggling to get the right compromise between an acceptable ISO and shutter speed fast enough to produce sharp images in the gloom.
I headed for an old favourite, Wallington Hall, though this was the first time I’d done so alone so I wondered if being able to please myself in terms of the time I spent exploring would reveal something new. Having watched the Jake Gyllenhaal film Demolition with my daughter Holly the previous evening I’m sure there were aspects of that film still exerting their influence on my thinking too.
“I find I’m suddenly starting to notice things I never saw before. Well, maybe I saw them, I just wasn’t paying attention”
Of course while the National Trust put a lot into conservation, they try something new every time I visit, though this customer remained unimpressed; I’m guessing the ribboned spades were part of some trail for children to follow; the elf doors seem a little passé and smack of The Grundys, and then there’s the picture frames! Large frames highlight potentially photogenic vistas, but they offend me for two reasons; I don’t need to be told what is beautiful thank you, and what’s more the frames actually get in the way of any creative use of shooting angles. Small criticisms though because Wallington has beauty in spades (sorry about the pun!).
Most people associate the Trust with their historic buildings and formal gardens and in this respect Wallington provides a Georgian mansion, a fantastic walled garden, and acres of woodland and wetland. This is the environment where “Capability” Brown grew up and so there is much speculation about the influence that Wallington had upon his subsequent garden designs, and whether he ever returned to share ideas with the Trevelyan family who owned Wallington.
As Leanne said the conditions do at least have the benefit of providing shots without the intervention of passing photo bombers!
So far, so obvious but Wallington is a site that highlights another facet of the Trust’s work; as one of England’s largest landowners they also carefully manage the environment. A case in point is at the wildlife hide where my daughters used to thrill to see the antics of red squirrels raiding the nut feeders that were placed there to attract them. The only feeders there now are purely for the birds however, for this part of Northumberland is one of the last places where the reds have survived the onslaught of the more aggressive greys. Feeding the reds was thought to be helpful until it was discovered that by encouraging them to congregate in one place actually facilitated the spread of disease in the population. Of course that doesn’t entirely deter these greedy showmen.
Elsewhere there is plenty of evidence of woodland being managed for the benefit of nature; piles of brushwood, stacks of logs, pyramids of poles, all providing habitats for wildlife. Trees allowed to rot where they fall, or crumble from the advance of boring insects are all part of the strategy. Nature’s version of demolition. Gyllenhaal’s tool of choice may have been the sledgehammer, here it is the fungus.
One thing I noticed that I hadn’t spotted previously, and by the age of its components must have been there for many years; a felled tree that seemed at first to be coated in some tiny type of bracket fungus, yet as I approached it turned out to be studded in coins, driven into the timber with a nearby stone. A Trust technique for encouraging the breakdown of the wood surface? Or a new fad akin to love-locks that had been embraced by passing visitors? I have no idea though if it’s the former it seems particularly labour intensive!
Returning to the walled garden I found the impressive early 20th century greenhouses were encased in scaffolding to enable maintenance work to be undertaken. These wooden frames are every bit as susceptible to the wet conditions caused externally by the plentiful rain and internally by irrigating gardeners as the trees in the woods, so here the rot cannot be left unchecked.
The day wasn’t all doom and gloom however. Where you can find a spot of colour the rain does give it a nice wash and a coat of varnish!