Monthly Report, September 2020

New month, new report.

  • Reporting Days: 30

  • Location: Mostly Oxford (but I did make it back to Shetland just before the end of the reporting period)

  • Miles Walked: 114

  • Miles Driven: 750

  • Gardens Tended: 1 (Oxford)

  • Puffins Seen: None

  • Photographs Taken: Hundreds (mostly trees)

  • Zoom/Teams/Hangout Meetings Attended: One

  • Major Birthdays: One

Circumstances (mainly the timing of the major birthday) meant that most of the month was spent around Oxford - so I was able to add to my extensive collection of pictures taken on local walks near the Oxford house - mostly around the C S Lewis Nature Reserve, Shotover Country Park, the Lye Valley, Mesopotamia and Sydlings Copse - and I did get to watch (mostly from the comfort of a deck chair) the summer slowly tip over into early autumn.

Lye Valley

Sydlings Copse

C S Lewis Reserve

Shotover Country Park


The socially distanced haul north up the M40, M42, M6, M74 etc to Shetland (which included what I think was my 21st night in a Premier Inn and my 64th night on a Northlink ferry) just crept in at the end of the month - and I just had enough time to fit in a walk on Quendale Beach and on Scat Ness before the rain closed in to end the month damply.

Leaving Aberdeen

Quendale Beach

Scat Ness

21st September

One the benefits (or downsides, the jury is still out) of having taken photos meticulously (obsessively?) over a significant number of years is that I can pick any random day through the year - and (thanks to the habit of designating a "Picture of the Day"), I have a ready-curated snapshot of that day through the years.

For instance the 21st September - the collection starts in 2005.

2005 - Walking in the Pyrennes

My recollection is of doing lots of relatively short - but very hot - walks on that trip.  And I still have nightmares about getting to Toulouse Airport in the morning rush hour in a rental car - back in the days when we travelled!

2006 - One of many offices at the Open University

I worked at the Open University for about 20 years - and had a lot of offices.  This office doesn't exist any more - the building was completely gutted and rebuilt as open-plan.

2007 - My Abstract Phase

I got a bit experimental at various times over the last 15 years of photography - this involved a long exposure and a spinning office chair.

2008 - Sunny Sunday in the Oxford garden

Still have the garden. Still have the garden furniture.

2009 - Journals (His and Hers)

I've kept journals at various times over the years - but never for as long as I've kept a photo-journal.

2010 - With Nikon

Some things do change over the years - still have grey hair, still have that sweatshirt - but the camera got traded-in and replaced.

2011 - Open University Quiz

Never did get an explanation about why there were questions on the Open University fences.

2012 - Renovations at Sumburgh Head

Have spent a lot of time at Sumburgh Head over the years - including their big refurbishment.

2013 - Childhood Travels

My enthusiasm for maps - and for travelling - came from my early years - my father kept 'holiday journals' and plotted lots of the caravan holidays on an old-fashion paper map.

2014 - Coniston, Lake District

On holiday in the Lake District - my recollection it that I'd just spent a month exploring some of the remoter Scottish islands (including St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides and Foula in the Shetland Islands) and stopped off in the Lakes for a couple of weeks on the way back south.

2015 - In the Balance

My diary has a note that talks about searching for a work-life balance... and then says something about eating more fresh fruit.

2016 - Free Cakes

It's always good to be sent a box of free cakes - these came from Moo as a thank you for being a loyal customer.

2017 - Warwick Business School

During my Warwick years I regularly stayed on campus to get out of doing the commute from Oxford every day - sometimes the views were better than others!

2018 - Giving Blood

I started giving blood when I was a student - then stopped for far too long - and until the end of 2019 was donating again regularly, haven't felt that keen to venture into the donation centre at the local hospital over recent months.

2019 - University of Stirling

Passing through.  Stopped off in Stirling to join in at a conference on rewilding then headed on to Aberdeen to get the ferry north to Shetland.

And in 2020? This year I'm spending 21st September in Oxford.

2020 - Same Garden. Same Chairs as 2008

2020 - Different Camera from 2010

2020 - Still enthusing about maps (see 2013)

2020 - More Fruit and Veg than 2015


Back in the early days of LockDown I did a series of blog posts based on desk-based exploration of some of the sheets pulled at random from my collection of OS Landranger sheets - all part of planning what I was going to do After LockDown. 

That little bit of virtual exploration included 10 sheets from Shetland down to the Borders and to Dumfries and Galloway.  At the time I promised to do a further set of sheets but got otherwise distracted.

So, resuming where I left off - Series Two - OS Landranger Sheet 83 - Newton Stewart & Kirkcudbright.

This is one of the sheets I know fairly well.  It covers the area between the Galloway Forest, and the Galloway coast - mostly Wigtown Bay.

The main road across the sheet from west to east is the A75 - linking Stranraer (and the boats to Northern Ireland) and Castle Douglas (just off the eastern edge of the sheet).  I've driven (or more accurately, been driven) across this sheet more times that I can remember - travelling between my childhood home just outside Belfast and a grand-parental home in the Scottish Borders (on OS Landranger Sheet 79).

I can see there are also fragments of disused railway line at various places on the map - but I suspect these were Beeching casualties - and that they were also long gone when I was using British Rail to get to Stranraer in my student days.

These visits both by car and (potentially) by train were long long ago - however I have had one real (as opposed to virtual) visit to the area in more recent years. 

Three landmarks I picked out for that visit were

(i) Threave Castle. On Threave Island in the middle of the River Dee and one-time home of the 'Black Douglases'. I've got lots Douglas connections in my family tree but haven't yet been able to claim a direct link!

Threave Castle

(ii) Isle of Whithorn.  Which isn't currently an isle at all - but once was an important pilgrimage site.

St Ninians Chapel, Isle of Whithorn

(iii) Ross. Aside from natural curiosity, I think I mostly went here so I could hear my sat nav announcing "Ross. You've arrived in Ross." as I arrived in Ross.  Around the time I was visiting (in 2017) the nearby island of Little Ross was on the market - complete with lighthouse and a macabre history.  We decided not to put in an offer. 

Ross Bay

And for the next visit?  Like a lot of this coastline there are a huge number of little bays and inlets to explore - and I think a bit more time to do just that would be good.  The other place that would deserve a visit is Wigtown  - known for the abundance of second-hand bookshops, and for the annual Book Festival.

And from the southwest corner of Scotland - the next step (in real life requiring quite a lot of road miles, and then an overnight ferry then at least one more ferry after that) is to Sheet 1 (Shetland: Yell, Unst & Fetlar).

Monthly Report, August 2020

New month, new report.

  • Reporting Days: 31
  • Location: Oxford (not sure how that happened)
  • Miles Walked: 134
  • Miles Driven: 200
  • Gardens Tended: 1 (Oxford)
  • Puffins Seen: None
  • Photographs Taken: Hundreds (mostly trees)
  • Zoom/Teams/Hangout Meetings Attended: 0

Another very satisfactory month - despite not managing to get back to Shetland (if you're trying not to fly, it's not easy to do a quick trip North) and some rather indifferent weather down south - I did manage to spend plenty of time away from the desk and in and around the local Oxfordshire nature reserves. I have successfully avoided any Zoom, Teams or Hangout meetings again. 

This month the southern garden got significantly more attention that it has recently - several of the bigger shrubs have been restored to the size they were ten years ago (have pencilled in another round of chopping for mid-2030) and it feels a lot more open now.

C S Lewis Nature Reserve

River Cherwell at Mesopotamia

Lye Valley

Shotover Country Park

Between C S Lewis and Shotover

Objectives for the coming month; getting back to Shetland - but hoping that someone else will cut the grass and finish painting the northern fences that didn't get done last month.

Landscape or Portrait?

One of the things I encourage when I'm teaching photography is experimenting with different aspect ratios when you're composing an image.  Most of us have a tendency to take landscape format images when using a camera and portrait format images when using a phone - this is simply a function of the way the devices are built.

The subject is (rightly) a key factor in figuring the best aspect ratio but the other factor that often drives my choice of image shape is what the picture is going to be used for.  I tend to imagine my images being viewed on a desktop or laptop monitor or as part of a stream of images on Twitter or Facebook - where a landscape format seems to fit more naturally, and a portrait image often needs an extra click to see the whole image.

So, since I really should practice what I preach, over the next few days I'm going to experiment with taking portrait format images on my morning walks.

The landscape images from this morning (at the C S Lewis Reserve) included

The landscape alternatives I took at the same time included

You might also have spotted that I swapped from 16:9 to 3:2 format too - the 16:9 landscapes look 'right' on most screens, 16:9 portraits look too 'thin'.

Europe Revisited

This was going to be the year to spend lots of leisure time in mainland Europe.  

Early on in the year we booked three trips - and then added a fourth - all to various places in the Alps, with the expectation of being a bit pampered and getting the opportunity to wander in the mountains. And we'd decided to do it this year while we still had EHIC cards and travelling was supposed to be easy.

All the trips were booked through Inntravel (lovely folks, highly recommended) - and used a mix of trains and planes - and one flightless trip (to mark a landmark birthday) involved the luxury of the NightJet sleeper trains.  With the benefit of hindsight we were lucky to have managed the first of the trips before travel went completely haywire on the back of Covid-19, and very fortunate that Inntravel were able to refund the various deposits we'd paid for the other three (thank you, Inntravel).

The trip that happened (to Pertisau in Austria) was revisiting a trip from 2016 (first time in the summer, this time in the snow).  And the sleeper-based trip was partly revisiting previous day-train-based trips to Austria and Switzerland - and sleeper journeys in Scandinavia in 2011 and (I'm old enough to have used) a sleeper from Oxford to Edinburgh.  

The theme of revisiting previous travels has been bubbling around in my head for a couple of weeks.  Maybe that's related to the inaccessibility of travel at the moment (at least the lottery of cross-border travel and quarantines), and the hope that eventually it'll be possible to use the words 'travel' and 'relax' in the same sentence (although I fear that the time when these can be linked with 'EHIC' and 'No-Roaming Charges' might have already gone). 

So, let's assume that we are back to 'normal' - where in Europe am I going to revisit?  And in the spirit of my recent Long-Haul blog post, let's assume that I'm going to do the travelling without flying. 

1. Alps / Pertisau

I've already done this by day-trains, so I really would like to re-book the sleeper-based version that didn't work out this summer. This involved a morning Eurostar to Brussels, day-train to Cologne and sleeper to Innsbruck - and gets you into Innsbruck station just after 09:00 the next day, refreshed and ready to head on into the mountains.

Pertisau and the Achensee

Achensee in Winter

2. Lofoten Islands

I've been to the Lofoten Islands twice so far - and the travels were mostly surface based (with only the UK legs involving planes), so next time I'll dump the planes entirely.   The first time was using the train from Oslo to Bergen then the Hurtigruten (the Norwegian coastal steamer) up the coast from Bergen, and the other time using trains from Oslo to Trondheim and then to Bodø before getting a local ferry across the Vestfjord to Lofoten.  The third option for getting to Lofoten involves train journeys up through Sweden, then the 'Iron Ore Line' to Narvik (there's a little bit of rail track into Narvik, completely disconnected from the rest of the Norwegian rail network). All three of these routes (if I'm going to avoid flying) involve starting with the Eurostar - and going via Brussels, Cologne and Hamburg - and probably Copenhagen too.

Typical Lofoten

Narvik Station

3. Denmark / Copenhagen

And since we've figured out that any surface based route to Lofoten involves going through Denmark this would be an excellent place to add back into the future plans list - it's a lovely city to spend time in.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen

4. Iceland

Although there are no ferries from the UK to Scandinavia (dreadful shame), there are ferries between various bits of Scandinavia. There are boats from Denmark to Norway, and there is also a ferry from the north end of Denmark to both the Faroe Islands and the east coast of Iceland. I've been to Iceland a couple of times but only to the area around Reykjavik - it would be good to do a complete lap of the island next time.  The ferry to the Faroes and Iceland is run by the Faroe-based Smyril Line using the MS Norröna, which once upon a time did used to regularly stop in both Bergen and Shetland - and it's high time it did so again!

Ice and Rainbows

The Geysir at Geysir

And Beaches

Norrøna, getting close to Shetland

5. Spain / Madrid

Long ago I did a travel writing course in Cordoba and Seville (yes,  really) - on that occasion I tried to make enough time to do the entire trip by train.  Unfortunately work got in the way and there was only time to fly to Madrid before finishing the journey by train.  Next time I'll avoid the air miles and go via Eurostar to Paris and then onto Barcelona by TGV.



6. Italy / Sicily

And now we're into nostalgia - long, long ago I spent a couple of summers Interrailing around Europe - in 1981 I used trains to explore the mountains in France, Switzerland, Austria and northern Italy, and in 1982 explored Italy from Venice in the north right down to Sicily.  This was in the old days when crossing the Channel meant a boat, TGV was just three letters, sleepers (at the budget I afford) were six-berth compartments and the train to Sicily went on the boat. Trains may be faster now than they were in the early 1980s, but that doesn't always help when you're using the train as an alternative to a hotel night, and you really don't want to arrive in the wee small hours. However the train to Sicily does still go on the boat, and when I do the trip again it'll probably involve going via Paris and Milan before getting the direct train all the way to Palermo (in about 20 hours)

East Coast of Sicily

7. Shetland

But in the short term, it's much more likely that I'll be heading to Shetland - and rather than flying I'll be either driving or getting the train to Aberdeen before the overnight Northlink boat to Lerwick.  

It would be good to try the Caledonian Sleeper to Aberdeen one day, but I'll not be using the Sleeper bus again.

MV Hrossey in Lerwick Harbour

Sumburgh Head at the south end of Shetland