North by Northwest and 500 Miles.

North by Northwest doesn’t make sense on a compass (and in truth it didn't really make much sense in the film plot either), and it’s just over 500 miles (I'm only planning on walking very limited parts of it) but my next trip is to a remote UK location about 500 miles northwest of Oxford.

I regularly head due north from Oxford for about 500 miles to get to get Shetland, this time I'm going the same distance but heading rather further west to the island of Hirta, more commonly just known as St Kilda.

There are half-a-dozen islands in the St Kilda group, but the only one that was ever regularly inhabited was Hirta.

Hirta was probably continuously occupied for about 5000 years until the summer of 1930 when the remaining residents finally conceded that they weren't going to be able to stay and petitioned to be evacuated. Since then the island has come into the ownership of the National Trust for Scotland, and since 1957 there has also been a military presence on the island. There is a certain irony in the fact that the island was evacuated in 1930 because it wasn't considered practical to establish regular communications to the island, but only a few years later a well-supported base was created on the island (presumably from a different budget!)

St Kilda has been on my visit list for a long time. My last (somewhat) half-hearted attempt to get there was in summer 2006.  I was spending a bit of time in the Outer Hebrides, but on the days I was able to go all the tourist boats to St Kilda were either fully booked or weathered off.  This time St Kilda is the focus of the trip, and I've got several days booked to try and get there.  I've opted to go with Kilda Cruises from Leverburgh at the southern end of Harris in the Outer Hebrides and I’ll be getting there via Skye (and CalMac Ferries).  It’s a long time since I visited Skye, so long ago that I needed to get a ferry there rather than being able to use the bridge!

So what's the attraction. The island is unique in the UK in having UNESCO dual heritage status - for both natural and culture significance. It's also remote and at least a bit difficult to get too - both factor getting points on my list. And I don't know very many people who've been there. 

Hopefully Hurricane Bertha won’t be doing an encore in the UK next week, but I do know from spending lots of time on Shetland that Scottish island weather is an unpredictable at any time of year - particularly on isolated little islands surrounded by ocean - so I won't be crossing St Kilda off the list until I've actually set boot on ground.

Pictures and Stories: 18th October 2014

A date for your diary.

Saturday 18th October 2014, 15:00, The Coach House, Quarry Road, Headington, Oxford OX3 8NU.

I'm going to be talking about, and showing, pictures from the far North and the far South.  If you want to hear about snow, ice and the northern lights, or puffins, penguins and polar bears do come and join me.

Chasing Icebergs in Greenland
Talking with Puffins on Shetland
Making Friends with Penguins in the Falkland Islands
Dining out in Svalbard
And there will be an opportunity to buy prints, cards and calendars.

For more information about 'Pictures and Stories' contact me on or follow me on twitter @northsouthimage

Tents and Cars

The acquisition of a new tent provoked me into digging out images of old tents - and it also turned out be an automative history lesson too.

First Tent. Summer 1966.

I'm claiming this as first tent - and I did spend a few nights sleeping in it mostly in the back garden or alongside my parents caravan.

Wouldn't claim it was very weather-proof - single layer of thin canvas, no ground sheet and wooden poles.  Was more often pressed into service for summer picnics - this particular picnic was somewhere in the Sperrin Mountains in Northern Ireland.

Lovely looking Hillman in the background - my parents first new car.

In case you're wondering, I'm the little chap in the Aran sweater with back to camera.

First Real Tent, Summer 1983

Spending too much time in the mountains as a student meant needing to find a little back-pack-ready tent.  I had (I think) a Pheonix Phantom - it's the brown tent on the right of the image. Storm proof synthetic fabric, proper inner tent, aluminium tube A-frame.

And in the background - somewhere in North Wales, I believe - an array of Ford Fiesta, Ford Capri, Morris Traveller and a Mini. I think I'd arrived in the Fiesta.

[UPDATE] And in breaking news - my brother has just confessed to still having the Phantom - hidden in the cupboard under his stairs.

Latest Tent, Summer 2014

Another generation of tent technology - and I've probably missed a few innovation cycles over the years too. The wee brown one was pretty weather proof, lets see how the new one (a Vango Tempest 300) does. Properly separated inner, curved tensioned poles, wind-proof inner tensioning.   It gets it's first outing in a couple of weeks.


It's the time of year when I replenish the cards and calendars I have in the North South Images online shop.

I've just added a batch of new images from the Lofoten Islands and Shetland to the galleries, and also added new choices to the greetings cards section, and (in response to requests at Artweeks earlier in the year) I've also added a new selection of post cards too.

Do drop by and have a look. 

Oxford: Take Two

You might recall that back in January this year it was a little bit damp in much of south and central England.

At the time I took the opportunity to dodge the showers and take a few pictures of the flood waters around Oxford - some of these appeared in a blog entry at the time.

I thought it would be a good idea to revisit the viewpoints I'd found to see what they looked like when the water had receded.

It's taken me a while to get the chance to do this.

The January images are on the left, the July ones on the right in each pair below.

Oxford University Botanical Gardens

River Thames just below The Head of the River

Abingdon Road, Oxford

River Thames below Sandford Lock

Outside Annie's Tea Room at Thrupp

Bus Stop on the Botley Road, Oxford

Botley Road Allotments

Port Meadow

Port Meadow

North South Images Newsletter July 2014

The latest issue of the North South Images newsletter is now available.

This edition has images from visits to Shetland in March and June, and from a return visit to the Lofoten Islands in May.

I've been on Shetland in the spring numerous times and I know how changeable the weather there can be, ranging from thick mists to bright sunshine and from dead calm to storm-force winds. I was particularly pleased the puffins at Sumburgh Head were quite so cooperative, I hope their cooperation is rewarded by a fantastic breeding season.

Lofoten was a disappointment.  I had gone hoping for at least a glimpse of bleak Arctic weather, and a glimpse of bleak Arctic weather was all I got.

For almost all the time, the sun shone and winds were light.  It's not easy telling a story about the bleak north, when the pictures look more like the Caribbean (albeit without palm trees) than the Arctic.

The newsletter is available either on Slideshare or as a PDF file.

The previous newsletter (Feburary 2014) is also still available on Slideshare or as PDF

If you are interested in hearing more about people, places and wildlife in the far North or the far South, do get in touch.  I'm always happy to talk (and enthuse) about cold places in front of an audience.