The British Isles

Go straight to the British Isles pictures.

Being a naturalised Londoner does not mean that I don’t enjoy a trip to the sticks. In fact I have been to almost every part of the British Isles as all these pictures will testify. Customs and Bridges have their own sections, these come from work for In Britain and other magazines and newspapers, industrial clients and what are known in the family as ‘holiday snaps’, taken for my own pleasure and interest, mostly in black and white and entirely bereft of Sal or our children. They tend to be about people and things because I find them much more interesting than landscapes or impressive buildings. I have folders of what really are holiday snaps from a dozen places in Europe and America. See World.

The first real set of holiday snaps was only recognised as such 20 years after they were taken. All beginners do things on spec and this project, suggested by a picture agency I knew, was to do a story about the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, in the west of Ireland. Sal and I spent a few days on Inishmore, the largest of the three islands, a limestone pavement from end to end, in those days without electricity, the islanders dressed in in their world-famous island-made sweaters, it was like going back 50 years. All different now, of course, but young Teresa in my pictures is still there, now running Kilmurvey House where we stayed, in the care of her mum, Bridget Hernon.

As for the rest of Ireland I seem to have neglected my homeland a bit. Growing up exploration was never a family priority, curiosity an unknown concept except for me, who stared out of the windows of cars, buses or trains agog with it whenever rare expeditions had to be faced to shop in Dublin or visit relations in their houses in the countryside.  It is still true. It wasn’t until the sixties, on regular visits ‘home’ (London had become my new home in Jan 1954) that we began to explore Dublin when we could get away for a day from the family. The North Side of the city was a revelation. My family were definitely Southsiders (even if they lived 16 miles away in Co Wicklow); north of the R Liffey was foreign territory. Serious exploration of the rest of Ireland was out of the question until the aunts and uncles faded away altogether in 1995, but since then we have been around most of it, except Donegal and the North Antrim coast. There aren’t that many actual photographs here and what there are seem more than a little melancholy. Mind you we all know it is always raining in Ireland...

Most of the UK pictures were shot on real jobs – sometimes brief holidays from whatever the job actually was when something caught my eye. Otherwise they were holiday snaps on purpose. In 1962 we did many British Battlefields from Culloden, near Inverness, to Bovey Tracey in Devon. There are 40 or so here but we discovered that on the whole the locations were rather dull – which I suppose was very much the point. Since then many of them have been made much less interesting with ‘visitor centres’. However, out of curiosity, on our battlefield adventures we visited at least a dozen cathedrals and they made much more interesting pictures. On Easter Saturday 1981 we took lunchtime off from the Britannia Coconut Dancers (well, everyone else was in the pub) to take a look at Bacup, a very interesting Pennine town, even if the resulting pictures might not appeal to the local tourist office.  The aerial shots are all from a trip in 1978 around BAA airports in their four-seater plane. The thing was that the entire UK was covered with serious snow, which on the flight from Gatwick to Prestwick, in the dark but with a full moon in a cloudless sky, was one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen - but didn’t photograph because I hadn’t expected it and my equipment was ‘safely’ packed away.  On the way back I was ready and had wondrous opportunities over Edinburgh, Newcastle, Durham, Goole and Lincolnshire. The food pictures might seem out of place but they were preliminary shots for a book about traditional East Anglian recipes that never happened. Still I got a day out in Norwich and enjoyed a taste of every dish. Anyone for Tansy Pudding?

Aberdeen, Coventry and the Avebury stones are all comparatively recent, me learning a new digital camera. I had been to Aberdeen several times before but never had an opportunity to explore the granite housing, a fascinating combination of Georgian and Scottish Baronial, with television dishes. The sand dunes were just to the north. This is where Donald Trump built his controversial golf complex. Ask any Aberdonian what they think of him. We first visited Coventry Cathedral soon after it was consecrated in the early 1960s and we were interested to see how it looked after more than fifty years. Very good. One in the eye for all the boring old you-know-whats that wanted a neo-Salisbury. There are lots of pictures here of the engraved angels on the glass screen, because they were designed and executed by John Hutton, Sal’s godfather. The Avebury stones and Anthony Gormley’s iron men on Crosby Beach seem strangely similar, mysterious yet friendly, happy to play along with whatever tourists, or the weather, might do to them. Sal obviously agrees. But I swear the Christmas outfit was nothing to do with us.

I reckon I have driven over a million miles around the British Isles, at roughly 30,000 per year, not to mention air and train trips and trips in other people’s cars, so I do know them pretty well. I’m definitely not the sort of townie that has never seen a cow. If pressed I will concede I enjoy most of the bigger cities, I love the uncompromising Pennines, I have a soft spot for the Fens and the Somerset Levels, and the way farmers go out of their way to built monstrous barns that ruin the view for twenty miles around. Most seaside resorts are terrible; no wonder people prefer to go abroad. The best thing about them is the whelks. The Highlands break your heart with their melancholy beauty, and the midges.

I guess there is sustainable life in the sticks, just don’t ask me to live in them!