This week I made my 1st trip to Bennery Viaduct near Ikeston in England. Bennerley Viaduct is a grade 2* listed railway viaduct built in 1877 by the Great Northern Railway Company. The viaduct was in operation for 90 years until 1968 when the national railways were restructed.
From a distance the viaduct looks much the same as it did when the trains stopped crossing in 1968.
Not surprisingly, a closer inspection shows the rails are long gone and the ironwork is in a poor state. On the horizon you can see Cotmanhay.
The viaduct crosses the flood plain for the River Erewash. Running in parallel to the river are two canals and an operational mainline railway.
These pillars which hold up the main platform were clearly designed to last.
The shelter given by the viaduct is now a host to nature which is gradually fighting back and reclaiming the area. Throughout the length of the viaduct there are trees which have established themselves and looking really happy. Unfortunately, the tree on the right has been vandalised with a fire.
There are a number of small ponds at the base of the viaduct. These and the river Erewash support much of the rich wildlife in the area.
Bennerley Viaduct Restoration
For fans of the viaduct The Friends of Bennerley Viaduct are currently restoring the structure so that the public can walk across as a part of the pathway network in the area. However, I can’t help thinking that in the long term nature will win out.
There are always flowers to be found in woodlands. However, the most most spectacular time is from mid-April through to May. The days are longer, the waether is warmer and the insects are more abundant. The flowers have their best chance of seeing the essentail sunlight at this time of year before the tree canopy becomes too thick.
Here is the forest floor with masses of Bluebells and Wood Anemones filling every available space.
These Wood Anemones are the early starters and can be seen from March. By early May the flwoers start to die back and the Bluebells become the dominant flower.
The easiest flower to spot is the Bluebell with its uniques shape and color.
Essential to all pollenating flowers are the insects. It’s always entertaining to watch the bees trying to squeeze their large bodies into the flower head.
Here are some attractive white flowers. Starting with a nettle and followed by Wild Garic. When I see these I also think of the edible forest. Freshly picked young Nettles will make an excellent sauce or soup. Like shop bought garlic, Wild Garlic offers endless posiiblites for enhancing your cooking.
This low growing yellow flower is the Lesser Celandine is another of the first spring woodland flowers and is a member of the buttercup family.
Celandines are mentioned in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ when Aslan returns and the wood turns from winter to spring: “Edmund saw the ground covered in all directions with little yellow flowers – celandines”.
To finish we have some of the most vibrant flowers. There is the blue Wood Forget-me-not. The pink flower is in fact called a Red Campion. Like the other flowers in this blog they provide vital food for Bees, Butterflies and Moths.
One of the first signs that the spring growth is truely established is the appearance of the Wood Anemones on the wooland floor. They are normally found in ancient woodland such as these in Swithland Wood in Leicestershire in England. Like all flowers they need lots of sunlight so these flowers appear in late March before the leaves get established in the tree canopy above. They are at their best around mid April but the weather can make a difference.
Its seeds are mostly infertile and it spreads slowly through the growth of its roots.
The Wood anemone is named after the Greek wind god, Anemos, who sent his namesakes, the anemones, in early spring to herald his coming. This legend gives the flower its other common name of ‘Windflower’.
Of course the wood anemone is a vital source of early pollen for insects and bees.
After the long winter and as the days start to lengthen the woodland starts to renew with the first signs of new growth. The images here were all captured in Swithland Wood in Leicestershire in the UK. As with all woods it has it’s own unique characteristics. It is recognised as a site of special scientific interest.
Many of the buds on the trees are visisble throughout the winter but the emergence of the new leaves is a joy.
Another early apperance in the woodland are these hazel catkins. They are in fact flowers but without petals.
Of course the mosses seem to thrive thought the winter. A close inspection in spring will show some clesr new growth.
The most noticeable new comers in the spring are the low growing woddland flowers. They are successful at this time of year becuase they don’t have to compete with a heavy tree canopy which block the sunlight. They are also vital in supporting early bees, butterflies and moths. The purple flower is an early dog violet. The yellow flowers are Lesser Celandine.
There is a section of Swithland Wood called Stocking Wood where some species are very prolific. In late March and April the whole floor is covered in these Wood Anemonies.
Another vital element to the ecology of the woodland are the pollen bearing trees. Here is the fabulous Hawthorn Blossom.
My next blog will be when the Bluebells are fully out.
One very good way to spend an hour or two is to explore the many Ancient Oaks in Bradgate Park in closeup. I find the shapes and colours generated by over 500 years of growth totally absorbing. I don’t think any particulrly commentary is required here. I hope you can enjoy the images for what they are.
As it has been a couple of yaers sunce there has been some local snow it was nice to see aome snow arrive over the last couple of weeks. My Winter Wood series jist wouldn’t be complete,
I was quite fortunate to find a day after the first snow fall when the sun was out. This did test my photograhic skills with the extreme contrast in light. The camera never captures what your minds eye can see. I needed to do quite a bit of post processing work to lower the very bright sun and lift the dsrker areas. I like this image becuase it shows the typical english snow. It never gets too cold and so the snow is always wet and sticks to the tree trunks. This does make for a great image.
Another two images on the same theme. When I was walking in the wood I felt like I had stepped out of a wardrobe into Narnia.
The snow in the wood is ofcourse a great chance to create some true Black and White images. My favourite tree for this style of image is the Silver Birch because of the texture along the trunk.
There is very little snow but the stream offered this little Robin some sanctury and food.
No matter what the weather dogs always get their walk,
One of the features of many of the woods in the Charnwood Forest are the rocky outcrops. There are almost always volcanic and have interesting angular shapes. There will more about this in my next blog.
The edge of the Outwoods are surrounded by farmland. Even so it is good to see that a number of mature trees still remain.
In part 1 I focused on looking up at the tree canopy in Swithland Wood. In this section we turn our eyes down to look at the woodland floor. In some ways the woodland floor is more vibrant in winter as it is not shaded by the tree canopy. Although slow, the woodland continues to grow throughout the winter.
Some people say that a managed wood should be kept tidy and fallen trees like this cleared away. However, once a tree is fallen it becomes a vital to host to many other species which are vital to the diversity of the woodland. Here we can see some moss enjoying the winter sunlight.
Fallen and decaying trees are often the best place to look for the fungi which likes to feed on the decaying wood. It is worth noting that fungi can be found all year round and not just in the abundant autumn.
Another species which is easy to ignore is the lichen which can be seen on both fallen and live trees. There are many fascinating textures and shapes if you look closely.
With a fallen tree the bark tends to disappear to reveal the grain of the wood below. Here a broken branch shows more detail of the innards of the tree. This of course is a timeline of the lifetime of the tree. Layer by layer year by year.
It is quite remarkable that trees will grow anywhere that they can find a foothold for their roots. I love this tree at the Druids Mound with its roots draped across the ancient volcanic rock.
Water is vital to the success of any woodland. Swithland Wood is fortunate to have many streams which cross the wood. These can be quite lively after heavy rainfall.
Even in winter the streams sustain plants like this fern. I enjoyed seeing this arrangement of rocks and imagined how someone was inspired by their surroundings. No doubt the rocks will be displaced at some point to take a more natural position in the stream.
I Included this image of the old stone building bathed in the beautiful winter light to remind us that Swithland Wood hasn’t grown naturally. It is the result of good woodland management over hundreds if not thousands of years.
Being at home at this time of year and looking out of the window at yet another rainy day it is very easy to give up on the great outdoors. However, it is very rare for it to rain everyday. There is some great soft winter light which can reveal all of the hidden features of a winter woodland. Fog can bring a feeling of mystery. Snow and frost paints a whole new world.
In part one of this blog I’ll show you a sunny December day in Swithland Wood in Leicestershire. I’ll take a look at what is exposed in the trees when all of the folliage has gone from the branches.
Swithand Wood is a mature wood being remnant of the ancient Charnwood Forest. It is a site of special scientific interest because of its many and varied species. Here we have a group of Scots Pine which don’t make a particularly interesting image. This is due to their immense height with a relatively small canopy perched on top.
Getting right underneath one of these tall pines with a wide angle lens produces a far more interesting view. The effect compresses the height and the image captures both the essential features and the surrounding tree top environment.
Moving to another part of the wood reveals how the tree canopy looks once all of the leaves have fallen. This view was achieved by laying on the floor looking directly up and making use of a 16mm wide angle lens. This view is how I imagine the roots would look if all of the soil was removed. It is also interesting to see how the trees compete for every inch of sky to gain access to the life giving sunlight.
One of my favourite trees to photograph is the Silver Birch. I like the light produced by the bright bark which contrasts wonderfully with the dark layers underneath. This combination leads to a very pleasing and varied contrast. This view shows how much the trees compete for the light and results in very tall growth when the surrounding trees are close togther. As with the previous image this image was captured very close to the base of the tree.
Here are two more examples illustrating both the tree texture and canopy.
This image shows how there is a great interdependance between the species. It does look like the Ivy is attempting to strangle the tree. However, this is not the case as the Ivy needs the host to suceed in order to thrive.
To finish here is a youngish oak which still has hold of its leaves in December. The golden leaves make for a beautifull colour contrast with the blue sky behind.
I made my first trip to the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire today. It is a large site with around 30,000 trees and oer 350 memorials. Far to much to cover everything in this blog, so I thought I would let you have my personal impressions of the day.
The Armed Forces Memorial which is the centrepiece of the Arboretum. Interesting the site has many non-military and individual memorials as well.
In the centre of the memorial are some very powerful sculturees.
At this time of year meny people visit the many memorials and leave their own tributes.
Here is a powerful reminder of the Christmas Day Truce in World War One where both sides laid down their arms for a day and played a game of football.
The Free Spirits memorial which is a tribute to recognise the unique partnership between human and horse. It reminded me of my Grandfathers role in World War One where he drove horses wagons to supply the front line.
During the Second World War my other Grandfather drove steam Trains which were always a target. After a long days shift he would also volunteer as an air raid lookout.
My father was called up as a Bevin Boy in World War Two when the government realised there was a massive shortage of miners. As health and safety practices were lacking by today’s standards this wasn’t a safe option.
The Polish Memorial was interesting as it told many of the heroic stories.
This was the memorial that affected me the most. This is for all those who were shot for not carrying out their duties. We now know that many of these men will have been suffering from shell shock. Each post represents those who were shot and is labelled with their names and ages.
Look at the date on this. Only four days before the Armistice was signed. The war was over but still the killing went on.
In someways it’s quite surprising that Birmingham has much to commend for beautiful photos. I found this out on a recent trip with my good friend Dave Walters. Our objective was to create some really great architectural images. I’ll leave you to judge the results. The other good thing is that Birmingham is far easier, cheaper and quicker to get to than London which is where many photographers go for their architectural images.
To finish here is traditional Birmingham, the city with more canals than Venice.