Much in Little…

or Multum in Parvo, is the motto of England’s smallest historic county*: Rutland.  The historic counties are those administrative areas created by the Normans (though they may represent earlier shires or kingdoms) and which remained in place for nine centuries.  It has the smallest population, and in terms of area only the City of London is smaller.  To my eyes it’s an anachronism whose survival seems evidence of the influence and snobbery of its residents, largely Conservative, who have resisted attempts to absorb it into the larger county of Leicestershire.

I’ve never had any formal reason to visit the area; it’s largely agricultural, but it did achieve a sort of celebrity when former Python, Eric Idle, produced a comedy series called Rutland Weekend Television, leading to the spin-off Beatles spoof called The Rutles.  

As I was working in Leicester I opted to correct this omission, though it meant a pre-dawn start to my day to enable my trip.  My objective was the reservoir at its heart; Rutland Water.  On a summer’s day I might have gone in hope of photographing osprey fishing from the man-made lake, but on a cold November morning at first light there was no chance of this so I concentrated on another attraction.

_pw_3738-2Normanton Church is a Rutland icon, and is apparently becoming one of the most photographed buildings in England.  On one hand this is off-putting (why follow the masses?), but on the other is a challenge to try and find a new angle on the subject (quite a challenge when you have only half an hour, diffuse grey skies, and no local knowledge!).

Normanton Village was flooded to construct the reservoir in the 1970’s but the locals wished to preserve the unusual church (which reminded me a of a miniature Birmingham Cathedral) as a museum to village history and the building of the reservoir.  They did this in quite an unusual way.

Moving the  150 year old building would have been prohibitively expensive, but the position of the church, near to the proposed edge of the water, meant that it would not be completely submerged by the flooding, although the planned water levels would have been above floor level.  Ingeniously they filled the church with rubble up to the level of the windows, thereby raising the floor and then with more stone built a small peninsula in which the structure now sits.  Note that I say “in which” rather than “on which”._pw_3778_hdr

_pw_3785Some refer to the church as appearing to float on the water, though clearly the proportions bely this; it is a church that has sunk into the water, but in a way that preserves the building, and though it was deconsecrated before work began on the reservoir it has now become a very popular wedding venue with quirky low ceilings.

I didn’t have a colourful sunrise to give interest to my pictures, or the calm waters that would provide an interesting reflection of the church, so I had to work hard to get and then process a shot that I was happy with.  Without taking to the water you’re limited for angles, and most shots are taken along the peninsula or just along the shoreline.

Eventually I found my originality by going much closer for one shot…_pw_3787_hdr

and much further away for another.  Much effort in Little Rutland._pw_3738




Welcome to McElderry Country?

To the native Celts it was Caer Urfa.  When the Roman’s sought to fortify the mouth of the Tyne with a fort, they called it Arbeia (“place of the Arabs“), a name which could have been reapplied in the 19th Century when a Yemeni community was established there.  To us it’s South Shields.  Or just Shields.

Shields lies about 5 miles north from me, and though dwarfed by nearby Sunderland is the largest town in South Tyneside.  Like much of the region its history is entwined with coal and ships, and like many it has had to face the decline and eventual passing of these industries.  Seeking to reinvent itself as a tourist destination Shields and its environs branded as Catherine Cookson Country, though after 25 years of association with the prolific writer, who was born in Shields and drew on the history of the area for inspiration, the council have recently abandoned the brand.

The sands South Shields 1903
The sands South Shields 1903 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the signposts for Cookson Country have been removed, ostensibly because the gritty realities of her books aren’t something we want to be associated with any longer, and replaced with a sunny beach scene somewhat reminiscent of a 60’s postcard.  Shields is a resort town now and rather like Amityville in Peter Benchley‘s Jaws is keen to play up the sun, sand and sea, and play down the pit heaps and poverty (though thankfully not shark attacks!)

As a brand Cookson wasn’t tied to the seasons, but I wonder, for what percentage of the year do the golden sands of South Shields beach resemble these new road signs?

It’s mid-May, and whilst not high summer, we should be seeing temperatures averaging in the high teens.  My car told me it was 9.5 today. And very wet.

The dunes were deserted, as was the shoreline but for two young lads sprinting for shelter in the greyness.

No one playing football, though three determined individuals did fight the elements.  (You’ll get your balls wet boys!)

An amusement park out of season is a sad and shuttered place, but it seems worse when those same shutters are down at this time of year.

On the plus side you wouldn’t have had much difficulty in finding a table at Minchella’s Ice Cream Parlour!

Amidst all of this dreek misery the show must go on, and so I found Allan updating one of the visitor noticeboards nearby, and his eyes were able inject a little colour into the day.

Still it could be worse; and as Shields-born Python Eric Idle put it:

Always look on the bright side of life…