Chanctonbury Ring: Hiking & High Strangeness

The South Downs are a range of rolling chalk hills that stretch across the south-eastern coastal counties of England. Inhabited and settled for thousands of years, there is archaeological evidence of Neolithic mines and Iron Age forts scattered throughout the green hillsides. One of these forts, known today as Chanctonbury Ring, sits at a height of 782 feet and is marked by a peculiar clump of beech trees. Many of these trees, originally planted by local landowner Charles Goring in 1760, were destroyed in the hurricane of 1987 and subsequently replaced in a replanting programme. Along with nearby Rackham Hill and Cissbury Ring, the three hills are said to have been created by the Devil. Scooping up mounds of earth and chucking them aside, he attempted to create a valley and flood the local churches. But as is often the way, the Devil’s work was interrupted by the crowing of a rooster and he scarpered, leaving behind a large valley known as Devil’s Dyke.

But then the Devil has always had a dark association with this area of England. The northern doors of many local churches were bricked up to keep out evil forces. Infamous occultist and self-confessed ‘most evil man in Britain’ Aleister Crowley, was said to have practised his dark arts on Chanctonbury Ring in his 1920’s heyday. Run anti-clockwise six times round the ring, local folklore says, and the Devil will appear and offer you a bowl of soup in exchange for your soul. The Devil does indeed drive a hard bargain. Throw in theories of ley lines, UFO sightings, and tales of Saxon ghosts, and the Ring pretty much runs the entire gamut of ‘High Strangeness’.

It was a glorious Sunday two weeks ago that Jane, myself, the Nikon F100, and the dogs took an eight-mile hike there. Little did I know then, that thanks to The Coronapocalypse it’d be the last time I had any human contact for the foreseeable future. We started off in the Anglo Saxon village of Steyning, right by the church. Dedicated to St Andrew and St Cuthmann, the church is largely Norman, although its history goes back further than the conquest. Sometime around the 9th century, St Cuthman is alleged to have arrived here pulling his sick mother in a cart. When the tow rope broke he naturally assumed that this was a sign from God that he should stay put. So he stuck around, built a wooden church, and administered to the needs of his adopted flock. Everyone needs a hobby.

All photos: Nikon F100 / Ilford FP4 / Developed in Kodak HC-110 Dilution B

Steyning Church

Steyning hurch

And after two miles we get our first glimpse of Chanctonbury Ring. It’s that little mohican of trees atop the far right hill. Still a long way to go.

Chanctonbury Ring


The footpath goes right through a farm….


…with cows!


This shed looks like it was built by the same person who put up my shelves i.e. me


This could be the final push. But if there’s one thing I hate when struggling to get up a hill, it’s being passed by someone on their way down.


Bertie & Coco make it look like a piece of cake, though.


Almost there. Just need to get past these vicious looking cows…

Chanctonbury Ring


And here we are: Chanctonbury Ring.

Chanctonbury Ring

“Naturally the Ring is haunted. Even on bright summer days there is an uncanny sense of some unseen presence which seems to follow you about. If you enter the dark wood alone you are conscious of something behind you. When you stop, it stops. When you go on, it follows. Even on the most tranquil days when no breath of air stirs the leaves, you can hear a whispering somewhere above you, and if you should be so bold as to enter the Ring on a dark night, as my wife and I did… We never shall repeat that visit; some things are best forgotten if they can be.”
Dr Philip Gosse, local resident, 1935

Chanctonbury Ring

Chanctonbury Ring

Coco & Bertie: Running scared? Or running with joy?

Chanctonbury Ring

In these dark days of isolation, it feels like it could be a long time before any of us can do simple things like this again. But it’s looking at these pictures, and the memories they invoke, that’ll get me through it. After all, that’s ultimately the real reason we take photographs, right?

Bertie News | Episode 07: 7 Months Old – Ilford HP5 Edition

OK, so it probably looks like Bertie and Coco spend most of their time loafing about. But the truth is, this is the best chance I’ve got of a getting something in focus. I’ve got a stack of photos that consist of little more than a blurred tail leaving the scene.

I’ve been shooting a few rolls of HP5 lately, after years of mainly using Kodak 400 speed films. The contrast is a bit more subdued, and as such I had some good results on New Year’s Eve pushing it a couple of stops.

These ones didn’t come out too bad either. I think Bertie was rather pleased with his tonality, but Coco just rolled over on her back and wanted her tummy tickled. I sometimes feel she’s not taking it seriously.

Bertie (with added Coco) the working cocker spaniel puppy at 7 months / Nikon F100 / Ilford HP5 / Developed in HC-110 1+31

working cocker spaniel puppy 7 months

working cocker spaniel puppy 7 months

working cocker spaniel puppy 7 months

“Don’t let the puppy on the bed Gerald….”

working cocker spaniel puppy 7 months

working cocker spaniel puppy 7 months

Check out all episodes of Bertie News here

Brexit Time Capsule

As I write this, it’s 1000 days since the UK voted to leave the European Union. And it seems fitting that I was wandering round a cemetery whilst considering those things I’d bury in my Brexit time capsule. You know how this goes. You gather the things that are important to you, and wrap them up carefully. Then you bury them in the ground, the hope being that some future generation will discover them, and marvel at the way we once lived.

We’ve come along way in the last few years. In 2015, front page news was a picture of then-Labour Party leader eating a bacon sandwich. By 2016, the country was on fire. Here are four things I’m going to miss and fear are gone forever:

Polite discussion on the internet

OK, this one’s not exactly new. Failing to tell someone you disagree with that you hope they die of cancer was made illegal by an Act of Parliament sometime around 1998. Nevertheless, things have got exponentially worse in the last few years. So I’m shoving this one in the Brexit time capsule.

All photos Brookwood Cemetery / Mamiya 645 Pro TL / Ilford FP4 / Stand developed in Kodak HC-110 1+160 for 45 minutes

Brexit time capsule

Brexit time capsule

Brexit time capsule

Satirists

They say that satire is dead. Not true. It’s just that we no longer have the need for satirists. Politicians and public figures are now self-satirising. They’ve cut out the middleman. Take Member of Parliament Jacob Ress-Mogg, for example. Here’s a man whose idea of kicking back at the weekend is to wear a top hat and speak Latin. Who happily admits that even though he has six children, he’s never changed a nappy. Who since convincing the public to leave the EU has made seven million pounds by investing in funds in….er… the EU. Yet this multi-millionaire has managed to convince a significant number of people that it’s everyone else who’s the elite.

Or how about Brexit minister Stephen Barclay? He presented the government’s case for an extension to Article 50 in the Commons last week, saying it was for the good of the country. Then promptly went through the division lobby and voted against the amendment himself. But not to fear, this week he’s being sent to Brussels to argue for an extension.

So sorry satirists, you need not apply. Into the Brexit time capsule you go.

Brexit time capsule

Brookwood Cemetery

Brookwood Cemetery

Shame / Honesty

These two go hand in hand. Because once politicians and pundits dispensed with shame, they realised they could lie without consequence. In days gone by, a person in a position of authority would have had to resign if they knowingly told the public a bare-faced lie. These days they can stand up and say the exact opposite of what they said before, without any recourse whatsoever. You can even show them the video of them saying it and they decry it as fake news. The truth has evaporated into steam.

We used to say that everyone was entitled to their own opinion. Now it seems that everyone is entitled to their own facts. And that’s whats truly terrifying; that the people believe the lies, in spite of all the evidence. I had to go back to my copy of 1984 and check exactly how Orwell defined Doublethink:

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.

I think they call it cognitive dissonance these days.

Brookwood Cemetery

Brookwood Cemetery

Brookwood Cemetery

Brookwood Cemetery

Nuance

You’ve probably come to some opinion on my political views from reading this. And you may well consider me either a hero or a monster, depending on how you perceive they align with you’re own. But in fact the only point I’m making is for people to be nicer to each other.

It’s possible to not be responsible for voting in the most shameful government in my lifetime, without being a supporter of the most incompetent opposition I’ve ever known. It’s possible to have views on our current political situation without being on one extreme on the other. Yet everything appears to be binary these days; black or white. You’re either a leaver or a remainer. A communist or a conservative. A traitor or a patriot. A libtard or a fascist. But there are very fine people on both sides. Well, OK, not always. And those people with sticky-out rather than sticky-in belly buttons are kinda weird, no?

Brexit time capsule

Brexit time capsule

Brexit time capsule

Brexit time capsule

I’m of an age that grew up without the Internet, and yet was quite an early adopter in my early twenties. I remember being very pleased when I had my first email address, before realising I didn’t actually know anyone I could email. That optimistic sense of a Brave New World seems almost laughable to be me now.

We used to say that a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on. These days, a hateful ideology can travel to the moon and back whilst common decency is still lolling around in its gingham nightshirt. I’m not hopeful for the future.

Sorry. I probably should have ended on a song.

The Serpent Trail

One weekend of warm sunshine in February is a surprise.; two consecutive ones is jaw dropping. Making the most of the weather, we took an eight mile walk along two national trails, the New Lipchis Way and the Serpent Trail. The latter is a is a 64 mile long path through the purple heather, green woods and golden valleys of the Sussex greensand hills.

This was another opportunity for me to play with stand development in HC-110, this time with Ilford FP4. I’m particularly pleased with the results of this combination.

This is the walk we did. Fancy Free Walks is a really good resource for walks in the South East of England. I’ve probably done about 30 over the last five or six years.

Mamiya 645 Pro TL / Ilford FP4 / Stand developed in Kodak HC-110 1+160 for 45 minutes

The Serpent Trail

The Serpent Trail

The Serpent Trail

The Serpent Trail

St Mary’s in Chithust is an 11th Century church, probably built after the Norman Conquest. Chithurst has probably always been a sleepy place, but a note of high drama was sounded in 1757. The rector, Rev John Denham, was stabbed and murdered. A man named Aps was tried at Horsham and convicted of the crime. He was hung, with a contemporary report saying that he ended “his wicked life without the least sign of repentance”. We thought that’d be a good place to stop for lunch.

The Serpent Trail

The Serpent Trail

Just because I’m biased doesn’t mean that Coco The Cocker isn’t the world’s most beautiful dog. She hardly ever sits still, so a photo of her taken with a manual focus lens is a rare occurrence.

The Serpent Trail

The Serpent Trail

The Serpent Trail

The Serpent Trail

The Serpent Trail

There’s a certain type of weirdo that enjoys cemeteries. I’m one of them. This little isolated cemetery was a final treat for me near the end of the walk.

The Serpent Trail

The Serpent Trail

The Serpent Trail

The Serpent Trail

West Wittering Beach

West Wittering Beach is a beautifully sandy beach located at the entrance to Chichester Harbour. On a unexpectedly sunny Sunday last week, we loaded up the car with and assortment of kids, dogs, and sandwiches and headed on out.

Yashica Mat 124G / Kodak Tri-X / Stand developed in Kodak HC-110 1+160 for 45 minutes

West Wittering Beach

I generally use just two films in medium format these days; Ilford FP4 and Kodak Tri-X. And this being Feb, my Yashica Mat was already loaded with Tri-X. I typically stand develop both those films in Rodinal with good results. However, blue skies on Tri-X with Rodinal was likely to show a little too much grain for my tastes. I therefore decided to use stand development with HC-100 instead.

West Wittering Beach

West Wittering Beach

This roll was developed for 45 minutes in a dilution of 1+160. I used 5ml of HC-110 in 800 ml of water, and developed for 45 minutes with one very gentle inversion at the halfway mark. I’ve often head it said that stand development is temperature agnostic, but for the sake of consistency I stick to 20C.

West Wittering Beach

These frames don’t quite have the lemon-juice-in-the-eye sharpness of Rodinal, but the grain in those skies is less pronounced.

West Wittering Beach

Daisy’s nearly 16 now. Her legs don’t really work like they used to and everything’s a bit harder than it once was. I know how that feels. But I’ve never seen her happier than when she’s on the beach.

West Wittering Beach

There’s some great dunes at West Wittering Beach. I’m always reminded of 1968’s ghost story Whistle & I’ll Come To You, although that was filmed on the Norfolk Coast. If that means anything to you, you may find this interesting.

West Wittering Beach