Landscape and family pictures: Hogsback weekend

Last weekend’s trip to Hogsback was a good time for photography: the light was excellent, landscape compositions were everywhere and, of course, there’s my daughters and grandchildren.  I’ve already posted my antique picture panorama but here’s a selection of the other pictures I took.

This composition was right outside Helen’s house: the building poles were stacked above the fire pit with Tor Doone looming behind them.  I couldn’t resist taking another, with completely different clouds, the following morning when we set off for one of our walks.

Family walks with small children and an even smaller puppy can be slow affairs.  Here’s Helen holding hands with Luke and her new puppy, Rain, trotting along beside them  This was taken in poor light with my telephoto lens looking down the long hill beside Helen’s house.  The next day we had another walk – to Luke’s ‘Niagara’ waterfall – and here is Sophie being carried in her backpack by Jeannie.

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Helen gave me a great guided tour around the property before we left for a Sunday meal: she ended it by showing me where she plans to build the new main house.  Driving home to Grahamstown on Sunday the light was lovely and the clouds were dramatic so I stopped at the Pluto’s Vale turnoff to take some last pictures before sunset.

Hogsback panorama, antique painting?

Last weekend was spent at my daughter Helen’s place high in the Hogback mountains.  On Saturday evening we took the three dogs and Jeannie with the two little grandchildren up the hill for a sunset walk. It was quite a dark scene with soft light playing on the clouds above the mountains.

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The light and composition reminded me of a nineteenth century colonial painting.  I took seven images to piece together. This evening, once the power outage was over, I corrected them for brightness and then stitched them into one scene using Double Take.  Then I imported the panorama into Aperture and removed blemishes (dirt on the lens) before exporting it again and finally importing it into FX Photo Studio Pro.  The last step was to mask the photo with the ancient canvas filter and add a suitable frame so as to give the picture the antique feel I had experienced on the hillside.  You can see the result above.

Late and early spring flowers

A couple of days ago we visited Kate’s sister at Harbottle.  It’s an enchanting village, quite remote at the upper end of Coquetdale, where spring flowers are still to be found in full bloom at the end of May.  I’ve never seen clematis look so enchanting. The air was full of their delicate blossom and they looked like jewelled ropes strewn over the grey stone walls.  The beech and oak woods were full of bluebells: this made for a slow walk with the dog as we just had to stop for photographs.

It was the very start of spring (mid April) when we arrived in Sweden.  Opposite our bedroom window at Valla Folkhögskola in Linköping there’s a south facing bank of wild flowers beneath an avenue of trees.  One morning in late April the light was just perfect and, with the ground being dry, I just had to go out and lie down amongst the flowers to take some pictures.  There were carpets of daisies, scilla, vitsipporna (wood-anemony) and gullvivorna (cowslips).  I’ll never forget the vitsipporna blossoming in Vallaskogen this year: they looked like gentle drifts of snow.


Sonja Maersk runs aground: a small mystery solved

When we were in Iceland in 2013 we couldn’t find any mention of the cargo vessel Sonja Maersk running aground in Reykjavik Bay.  I had a picture of it which my father had taken but there was no indication on the harbour display.  You can see the pictures in Alfred Fox, Iceland 1940-42, first connections.  It’s a bit of a puzzle because you can clearly make out from the writing on the back of another picture of the same ships ‘ …. blown ashore du(ring storm) – Feb 41. Rey(kjavik) Bay.’

Maersk 3


Since I posted about my experiences in Iceland I have heard from two people whose fathers were also involved when the Sonja Maersk ran aground.  The first is Ian Lambert whose father, John, served in the Dukes with my Dad.  Ian kindly sent me extracts from his father’s diaries, pictures and a copy of the Yorkshire Post’s ‘Garrison in Iceland ‘ a photo visit to the troops in Iceland. When I read them I didn’t connect them to the Sonja Maersk until much later. A couple of days ago I had this email from Jo Usher Schembri in Canada:

“Hello, my daughter was doing some research about the ship my Dad was on during the war, when she came upon your site. He sailed from Halifax Nova Scotia on the Sonja Maersk, and was shipwrecked in Reykjavik (the ship was also damaged and towed into England twice).  The only photo I have of the ship is one taken after another boat collided with it (which I think was also in Reykjavik). I had done some searching a few years ago, but this is the first time I have come across any info (I wanted to find some photos and maybe the names of some of the other men to give to my Dad, who unfortunately passed away 2 years ago).  My Dad’s name was Joseph Henry Usher.”

When I read this I immediately thought of the two other photos my father had taken of the Sonja Maersk. You can clearly see a second ship colliding with the Maersk, whose stern is on the rocks, and the smaller vessel is wallowing in deep seas up against her.

Maersk 1

The next picture must have been taken from the other side of the incident – you can imagine my father rushing down from Skipton Camp to see what assistance they could give to those onboard – Joseph Henry Usher would have been one of them. The figures in the foreground are bent over the winds are so strong.

Maersk 2

The last piece of the puzzle fell into place when I went back to John Lambert’s diary.  The entries for February 24-28th are very poignant. John records the incident pictured above: but he’s also receiving messages from home that his father is dying.

Lambert Diary Feb 41


Throughout the five days it is blowing a gale (up to 120 mph) and temperatures are extremely cold.  Two ships are sunk on the 26th, three ships are beached on the 27th with sailors swept overboard. One of his colleagues is blown into the sea and drowned trying to get food on board to the stranded men on the ships.  On the 28th 20 men are blown clean off the road. His entries end with the sad news from Mary (his sweetheart) that his father has died.

So a small mystery is solved.  John Lambert is writing every night in Skipton Camp up on the hill above the Bay – waiting for news from home.  Joseph Henry Usher was on board the Sonja Maersk when it ran aground.  He would presumably have gone down the rope ladder you can see in this final picture and walked ashore through the wreckage you can see in the foreground.  My Dad will have been one of the troops who rushed down to help – in appalling conditions – and he somehow managed to capture the scene with a camera.

Maersk 4


Many thanks to Ian Lambert for his father’s records and to Jo Usher Schembri whose email helped me piece this together.

Two webs, a bug and a special lady

Fieldwork with Kate in the Karoo usually involves lots of walking in hot dusty and scratchy places.  Last week’s trip to Ganora was no exception.  On the way to collect data from various instruments and gadgets you find yourself dodging spiders webs and finding the most exquisitely coloured insects.  They are the inhabitants of the sand gullies where Kate has been monitoring erosion for some time now.

So here they are: two webs, a bug and the lady herself!


Indian Summer: trip to Shelley Beach

It’s a holiday weekend and our long summer continues with some very hot weather.  Kate and I invited Luke to Shelley Beach at Kenton on Sea to escape to some cooler conditions.  After the long trudge up over the dunes (carrying Luke …) we saw there was hardly anyone there – as usual.  We had a great time relaxing in some big waves, shepherding Luke over the rocks and pools and eating a nice picnic in the shade of the big cliffs.  We drove back into some serious heat, 38 according to the Rhodes weather station, and we were teated to seeing an elephant from the main road to Grahamstown. He was at Kariega’s waterhole just after you leave Kenton.  When we got back our swimming pool was only  24 degrees so we got straight back into the water!

Here’s a few pictures capturing the spirit of a lovely day out.