Empty Essex is the name of ride in Jack Thurston’s excellent Lost Lanes book (NB. The first one. There have been two others since, for Wales and the West Country). The route starts in Southminster in Essex, heading out to Bradwell-on-Sea and past the St Peter-on-the-Wall chapel on the Dengie coast. The route goes offroad around the northern tip of the peninsula, past the now decommissioned Bradwell Power Station (although it may be redesigned and recommissioned in the future).
The route runs along the mouth of the River Blackwater, and the area is popular with the sailing community. Then it heads south passing through Southminster before reaching the southern part of this coast at Burnham-on-Crouch. From there, it was the train back.
This video was shot with a combination of my DJI Mavic Pro drone, and my Garmin Virb Ultra 30 camera mounted on my bike.
Note that there is an off-road part of this ride, meaning that thoroughbred racing bikes are not suitable. Something like a cyclo-cross bike, mountain bike, touring bike or hybrid will be much better. It’s a fairly flat route since, as the video and photos show, it’s a flat part of the world. On the other hand, you do have to face wind. It’s not for nothing that there are on-shore and off-shore windfarms all over the place.
As well as the photos below, there are more over on Flickr.
[Scroll down for more photos – and even more over on Flickr]
I like to get along to the London Nocturne when I can – the Mr Porter London Nocturne to give it its proper title. There are a series of races across the afternoon and into the evening. Earlier in the day, before I arrived, there had been a Santander Cycles race (and prior to that, an open session around the closed roads), a penny farthing race and a folding bike race. I also saw a number of very smartly dressed people with their bikes who’d no doubt participated in the “Concours d’Elegance.”
I arrived during the Masters Criterium, and also saw both of the fixed gear races. Despite a decent bit of searching, and it being a couple of days since the race, I’ve struggled to find the results of the fixed gear crits. Based on the event’s Facebook video, I think it was Rafaela Lemieux who won.
The one person I did recognise was Keira McVitty who finished 7th. She was on her own in the last few laps neither being able to reach the group in front, nor slowing enough to be caught by the larger group behind. I mention her because she’s does a lot on YouTube (her video from the evening is here), and she also features heavily in the latest episode of The Espoir Diaries for Friends of the Cycling Podcast which is a great series for subscribers following a household of young British riders finding their way in Belgium.
In the men’s fixed gear crit Alec Briggs of Team Specialized Rocket Esspresso took the win thanks to some good teamwork.
In the women’s Elite race Louise Heywood-Mah of Les Filles Racing Team rode away from the race early on, and then managed to keep the entire chasing peleton at bay for the rest of the race. She had nearly 40 seconds on them by the end, which isn’t bad for a course that they were getting around in 90-120 seconds a lap.
In the men’s race, Rob Scott of Team Wiggins tried to do something very similar. He went away early, and held off the peleton for most of the rest of the race. However team JLT Condor were very strong, and they packed the chasing group. Rising British superstar Tom Pidcock stayed close to JLT Condor’s train, and when it came down to finishing sprint it was Ed Clancy who just managed to hold of Pidcock to take the win.
Taking photos of very fast cyclists at night is always a challenge and I’m always learning. I was using an A77 Mk II and an A77. I started with my Sigma 70-200 lens, and even tried a 2x lens converter, but I lost way too much light. This event starts in the daytime, but the Elite women’s and men’s races begin as the sun is setting and finish after it has gone down. While the organisers put up some additional lighting, you are mostly wrestling with streetlights. On Saturday, there wasn’t even that much good light during the daytime as it was overcast and there was even the occasional drizzle.
I used shot mostly with my 16-50mm lens once I’d packed away the bigger one. I tend to need two flashes as my better F58 flash will overheat after too much use. So I switch to an older less powerful flash for a while, and then switch back when it’s had a chance to cool down. One way or another, this is a type of photography that requires as much low-light capability as your camera will give you.
The blurry photos are shot using a rear curtain flash – in other words, the exposure may be as long as 1/15 second, but the flash comes at the end of the exposure. That’s still very fast, and as I’m also panning a little, you get lots of motion blur and hopefully a relatively sharp image at the end of the exposure. Lots of trial and error. I took nearly 1700 photos on Saturday!
I shot many of these images as JPGs and to be honest I should have stuck with RAW. I would normally shoot everything in RAW, but when you’re taking bursts of photos, the time between the camera emptying its buffer and writing to the SD card really matters. My cards are pretty fast, so I’m at the mercy of a camera that is a few years old now. However, thinking about it, the limitations of many flash exposures I can manage in a short period means I should have stuck with RAW. The photos mightn’t be quite as noisy if I managed that.
There are some really good exhibitions on at the moment in London. Actually, there are always really good exhibitions on. But over the weekend I went to three new ones, and all three were really good, and well worth visiting in their own rights.
I spent a May Sunday visiting the three and using a Boris Bike to travel between them.
My first stop was the Victoria and Albert Museum where they have just opened The Future Starts Here which aims to show “100 projects shaping the world of tomorrow.” That could make it sound a little dry, but there are some real things of substance in here. From food to society and democracy, everything is covered.
The exhibition explores electronics that are there to help us – the first thing you see is a robot that will seemingly do the laundry for you, to exosuits that could help those who require extra support or strength. Sometimes there are projects that are relatively simple – reusing old smartphones to do other tasks around the home.
Other times, these are much bigger projects – underwater drones, or 3D printing building to live in on Mars.
The exhibition asks questions of the future of democracy. They even have an exhibit which shows Alexander Nix of Cambridge Analytica famously explaining what his company claimed it was capable of, speaking at a conference. I laughed out loud when I saw they’d included that!
The exhibition is there to challenge us, and ask us questions. What is the future going to mean for us?
It runs until 4th November 2018.
From there it was a ride through Hyde Park around Buckingham Palace, through Westminster and along the South Bank to Tate Modern. They’ve just opened a new exhibition – Shape of Light: 100 Years of Photography and Abstract Art.
This is an exhibition to be experienced rather than described. The images – mostly photographs – are broad, and arranged thematically by subject. The tale is told of abstract movement and photography moving in parallel as artists began to understand what was achievable. Sometimes they utilised nature – other times very close up imagery to present us with things we mightn’t understand.
I went away quite enthused and keen to explore some of the themes in some of my own work.
Shape of Light runs until 14th October 2018.
Finally it was over the bridge and into the City to the Museum of London, somewhere I’ve not been for a while. They have a new photographic exhibition called London Nights. It displays an enormous range of often extraordinary photos taken over the last hundred years or more. While today we expect our smartphones to be able to take halfway decent photos in the lowest of light, it’s worth noting that photographers in the past had to go to great lengths to take photos in such conditions. Some of the earliest pictures, showing London’s fog-filled streets, are therefore remarkable.
The real fun can come from seeing everyday shots of London from the past, particularly in familiar settings. Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus appear repeatedly, with the people and the signs being fascinating.
The exhibition is thematically structured, and reaches right up to some very contemporary photographs. But sometimes a photographer like Bill Brandt will have photos in a variety of sections, seemingly able to cover it all.
Often it’s the very ordinary that becomes extraordinary. There are a series of perhaps a couple of hundred contact prints taken in the fifties, and even though the images of are “just” of people, you can’t help staring into the lives of those captured at that moment in time.
The exhibition catalogue is particularly good and worth mentioning, being published by the excellent Hoxton Mini Press who publish some excellent photographic books. Furthermore, compared with many equivalent exhibition catalogues, it’s really good value at just £14.95 for a hardbound copy (for exhibition ticket holders).
London Nights runs until the 11th November 2018 and is well worth a visit.
In 2011 a record price was set for the sale of a photograph. Rhein II by Andreas Gursky was sold at Christie’s for $4.3m. It was the then highest price paid for a photograph (and likely remains so). Compared to the Leonardo da Vinci Salvador Munci painting that was sold for $450m last year, that’s a relatively modest price. But photo sales are more interesting.
First of all, there’s the fact that they’re largely reproducible. While a painting is one of a kind, a photographer can make as many, or as few, prints as they choose. A photo might be sold in editions of as few as 1 or as many as several thousand.
Gursky reportedly sells in editions of six, with two artist proofs. Without any attribution displayed elsewhere in the recent Hayward Gallery exhibition, I assume that the exhibits in the Gursky exhibition currently nearing the end of its run at the reopened Hayward Gallery, are all artist proofs.
I went along to the exhibition because, frankly, I’ve never really got Andreas Gursky. What I mean by that is that while I appreciate his skill as a photographer, and the grandiosity of his works’ scale, I have never seen him as an artist far and away ahead of other photographers, as the prices of his pictures tend to suggest.
I wanted to see if my eyes would be opened by this exhibition. Was I missing something? Why are some of his photos traded for millions of dollars?
Reader, I still don’t really understand.
Gursky absolutely makes powerful pictures, often detailing man’s impact on the landscape. And the scale of many of his photos is really important. They are often more than 2 metres wide or tall, some bigger than that. And Gursky’s style is to have the lens wide open – everything should be in focus. Furthermore, and importantly, many of his images are composite photos made up from several images, with a significant amount of post-processing in software like Photoshop. Gursky is clearly a master at this kind of thing, because as he flattens out perspectives, you can’t see the joins.
I think the most obvious photomontage for me was a picture entitled Tour de France, which purported to show the race heading up a mountain. Except that somewhere in the lower portion of the image you could see the King of the Mountains banner – which would almost always be somewhere near the top. The images were probably taken from a helicopter, and I’m not certain they were shot on a single mountain. You can’t see enough detail, but some of the “leading” cyclists don’t seem to be accompanied by camera bikes which would ordinarily be the case, while groups further down the mountain do.
And Gursky also makes his colours pop quite a lot, often adding an almost ethereal glow to the pictures.
So these are heavily manipulated images. But they don’t pretend to be anything but that. And so I’m not sure.
Some of the images are not even taken by him. The exhibition features a satellite photo of Antarctica. I suspect that it’s a heavily manipulated collage of many satellite images, and it’s possible that Gursky commissioned his own images from a satellite photography provider. A second image of the North Atlantic claims to have had much of the clear water created with software. So perhaps Gursky was using imagery from a platform like ESA’s Earth from Space.
In another photo entitled Supernova we see a relatively decent example of astro-photography, but nothing especially impressive.
Returning to that record selling Rhein II, which is displayed here, and what’s most remarkable about it is how unremarkable it is. Another photo-montage, Gursky has removed a powerstation to leave nothing else but the grassy banks, the river, and the sky.
I’m probably being unfair. Gursky’s images are impressive, and he does have something to say. But I can’t claim to have been converted by this exhibition. I would put him in a similar category to Damien Hirst, in that I can see the talent, but I don’t really understand the appeal, and certainly don’t understand the prices that are achieved by his works.
Anyway, if you’ve not seen the exhibition, it’s too late, as it closed a couple of weeks ago.
It has been a while since I screen-printed anything, so with Simon Yates in the Maglia Rosa at the moment, winning today’s stage at the Gran Sasso d’Italia, I made the t-shirt above.
I’m reasonably happy with it, and that’s a treated image of Fausto Coppi on the right, the five times winner of the Giro in the forties and early fifties.
The country has been covered with snow for the last week or so, but it’s not straightforward to get some spectacular drone shots because of the weather. Consumer drones aren’t capable of flying while it’s snowing. And you also have to consider wind speed, and there’s been quite a lot of that.
So my only practicable solution was to get up very early in the morning. Although a fresh fall of snow had been dropped the previous afternoon, and overnight the temperatures had remained sub-zero, but this morning the melt was very much on.
I shot this video and these pictures during a misty dawn. There was still plenty of snow on the ground, although it would disappear fairly rapidly as the day went on. The key thing to always remember with snow photography is that you need to increase the exposure beyond where the camera thinks it should be.
Here’s a cycle ride I took in April 2016. I think the winter and spring months are quite a nice time to do this ride. It’s not especially demanding and is easy to reach from London with direct trains from King’s Cross. Another in my series, Stuck in Draft.
Reading Rain recently, I realised that it had been a while since I last visited Wicken Fen, the National Trust owned wetland fen in rural Cambridgeshire. It’s a wonderful little paradise that shows how the fens would have looked before they were managed by man. The fenlands are very arable, so over years, a complicated system of ditches, dykes, pumps and droves has led to the marshes being drained and many crops being grown.
At Wicken Fen the National Trust has a 100 year vision to take over more of the land between Wicken and Cambridge and to preserve a unique natural habitat.
I suspect that most people drive to Wicken, but it’s pretty easy to get to via bike, which is of course how I travelled there. The closest station to the reserve is at Ely, but it’s a nice ride to continue on afterwards back to Cambridge. Ely is very easy to get to from central London, with three trains an hour leaving King’s Cross, the fastest taking a little over an hour.
The route I took, shown on the linked Strava map below, is actually not the one I’d fully recommend. My route took me along the A142 from Ely a bit too much, and although this isn’t a terrible road to cycle along, traffic does past you at speed. It’s worth noting that much of the landscape here is very exposed, so even a slight wind will be felt by you.
I’d instead recommend following the Sustrans National Cycling Route 11 which runs along the Ouse before turning SE and towards Wicken. The only thing to note about this, and other parts of the route, is that they’re not suitable for cyclist with skinny racing tyres.
My slightly duller route joined up with Route 11 at Barway, where a large grocery packing plant sits alone in the fens. An adjacent hostel suggests that many of the workers are not local. And continuing on, a sign in both English and Polish warning drivers to be on the lookout for cyclists, backs that up.
It only takes a little over half an hour to reach the reserve itself, down a short road in the village of Wicken itself. You pass a car park and several houses before reaching the visitor centre.
I would say that I’d arrived early, but the site is open from dawn to dusk, and now that we’re on British Summertime, that would have meant 6:30am – far too early for me to reach Wicken via public transport from London. Nonetheless, even a little past 9:00am, there were few about.
A helpful staff member pointed out the various routes around the reserve, and where was currently accessible. As these are wetlands, much of the land is inaccessible for large parts of the year. Sedge Fen has a Boardwalk allowing access year around, and that’s where most visitors go. Beyond that there is the longer loop that takes in a couple of the bigger hides that tower over the nearby fens. When I visited this was an out-and-back walk since the ground was still too wet towards the back of the reserve.
The National Trust also has cycle hire, a nice little café where I got a snack for lunch, and a well stocked shop. You can do short boat trips, and they even have some geocaches hidden around the reserve!
One solution for being able to get into the reserve early might be to camp, and I note that there’s a wild camp nearby that you can reserve for a group – especially good for families.
I got back on my bike and headed south, still in Trust-owned fens. The cycle route is well signed and you’re soon out in open land.
I’d brought my kite with me since I thought it might be fun to try some more kite aerial photography. There wasn’t a great deal of wind, but it was enough to get my camera up into the air. Not as fancy as my drone, but it’s much more packable in a runsack, and I’m not sure that the Trust would have been happy with me buzzing around with rotors, whereas a kite is harmless.
The cycle route is also called the Lodes Way, because it reaches the pretty village of Lode near another National Trust property, Anglesey Abbey. But also because lodes are what the manmade waterways that criss-cross the countryside in these parts are called. Lode is a pretty little village, filled with thatched cottages (alongside some more recent buildings). I’d have called in at the Abbey, but the car-park suggested that it was quite busy, so I decided to give it a miss.
From Anglesey Abbey, I should have perhaps headed south a little further to the village of Bottisham, before joining National Cycle Route 51, but I instead cycled along the B1102 through the village of Stow cum Quy before rejoining the route and riding into Cambridge. If you’re lucky you might pass the end of Cambridge Airport’s runway when something interesting lands.
The massive new CyclePoint at Cambridge Station has recently opened, with room for nearly 3,000 cycles, perhaps the closest anywhere in Britain to those enormous cycle parks you see near Dutch train stations. In due course there will also be an attached shop. But the whole area around the front of the station is still something of a work-site at the moment.
The whole trip at 36 km (22 miles) is a nice day out – especially if the weather is good.