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  • Time after time...

    We all know there's 60 seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day and so on culminating in the big 365 (more if its a Leap Year!) days in a year, but dont you find that this passage of time varies so much depending on what stage and age you are in your life? Who remembers the 6 week summer holiday when you're 10 years old being the longest 6 weeks of your life and that wait until Christmas was an eternity, which is even worse now that Christmas starts so much earlier! Days drag when you're young and in love, waiting for a holiday and even just going to work every day...how about watching a bad film in the cinema, spending time with someone who just wants to talk about themselves, waiting for a bad support act to finish or sitting outside the Drs/dentist waiting room! Clock watching - a skill in itself! But as you get older everything seems to speed up and before you know you've been married 35 years, together 37 and on your way to that big 60 when it doesn't seem two minutes since you reached that big 30 (where your kids are now!) For me the first time life seemed to speed up was when the kids arrived. Development stages measured in days and months and years and then when they start school a term flies by so quickly (not for the teachers though!). Four terms and that's another year gone. And now here we are with two 'grown ups' and their partners at the age we think we still are (if not younger!) plus three little grandchildren, who once again have accelerated the months and years as we watch them grow. Add to that the sadness of losing the older generation of your family as one by one they disappear like dominos and before you realise you have become that older generation despite still believing and behaving the age you think you are. So as the Rolling Stones so rightly said "Time waits for no one, no favours has he Time waits for no one, and he won't wait for me" (this was supposed to be a blog about snowdrops! Better write that now...)

  • Snowdrops

    Thinking about the passing of time a lot recently - maybe its age who knows? As photographers there are certain times of the year we love - spectacles of nature, annual events, blossoms and signs of the seasons changing, all which we love to photograph. As January arrives, usually bringing grey skies and bad weather, we eagerly await (like many other people) the arrival of the snowdrops - the first sign of spring approaching. Snowdrops, otherwise known as their scientific name 'Galanthus nivalis' the 'milk flower of the snow', the tiny little flowers, which despite looking so fragile, battle their way through frozen ground each year producing carpets of white to admire and photograph! We have tried many times to grow the beautiful little flowers in our garden, but have never been successful. Someone once told me that they are a delicacy to squirrels and we do have the occasional grey squirrel visiting the garden, so maybe they have taken them home as a family treat every year! Thankfully, we are lucky to live close to some spectacular winter gardens, which, if you visit at the right time of year, become a sea of tiny white flowers. This year we paid a visit to the National Trust's winter garden at Dunham Massey and were delighted to find snowdrops everywhere and even some early narcissus poking their heads up! There was many a fellow photographer crouched down trying to capture that perfect shot - when you reach our age you can still get those low down shots, but you might need help getting back up! Thankfully we're a twosome, so one can always pull the other up as long as we remember to coordinate our crouching! And as you try to capture that perfect shot, it invariably attracts attention with other non photographic visitors stopping to see what you are doing and offer advice. This year we met a lovely couple of ladies who travel the country on snowdrop tours and advised us where we should visit to see even more of the lovely flower. Lytham Hall and Rode Hall were just two of their recommendations and both local to us. Of course we didn't find time to visit this year - partly because the weather was so awful and partly because we are not too good at time management with all the demands of our family life, but they are on our list for next year (which will be here before you know it!). Now when you've got that perfect shot what to do with it? Thankfully we have a very supportive and popular Instagram account @married_with_grown_ups so that is where our shots usually make their way, but this year something very strange happened... ... a comment appeared on our photo feed asking did we know how unlucky snowdrops are considered by some people? We were really shocked - never having heard this at all, but on further investigation it would appear that these beautiful little flowers have quite a reputation! In many parts of the country it is considered very unlucky to bring a posy of snowdrops into your home as they bring bad luck, even death, into the house. It is even considered unlucky to glance on a single snowdrop and some people believe this is another indicator of death. What a shock! Our favourite little flower has quite a macabre history! Superstitions are hard to dispel particularly ones passed down through families and the history of this one goes a long way back. Are we superstitious - not sure really? Do you walk under ladders, count magpies, keep your shoes off the table? Might have to add snowdrop posies to that list now! We'll just keep photographing them and leave them in the ground! They look better there anyway don't you think? If you want to purchase any of our snowdrop photos click the button below. They are available in a variety of sizes, but if there's something you are specifically looking for just let us know. If you know anymore about the snowdrop superstitions let us know! A really fascinating subject to keep us both busy!

  • 'when the smoke and dust had all cleared from the air...'

    I’m sure that if you know Liverpool’s Crosby beach at all it is for the striking art installation by artist Antony Gormley which moved to the beach back in 2005 and thankfully is now a permanent addition to the coastline.  Another Place consists of 100 cast-iron, life-size figures based on the artists body spread out along three kilometres of the beach and almost a kilometer out to sea. The figures stand on the beach, looking out to sea, staring at the horizon whilst they naturally weather - changing colour and attracting nature including barnacles, greenery and a constant stream of dogs who seem to like the smell of them very much! ​ We love Another Place. Every time you visit the photo opportunities change – the skies are different, the tide from the River Mersey could be anywhere (and please read the warning signs before you go wandering out too far), a very active shipping lane could bring you anything from the regular Isle of Man and Ireland ferries, cruise ships to occasional ships from the Royal Navy fleet and everything in between! At the Waterloo end you have the docks adding more excitement to your photos and people. There are always lots of people and personally I think they enhance your photos so much adding a definitely LS Lowry feel to your shots! You might be able to tell we really love Crosby beach and visit often, so consider how surprised we were to find out that if we walk further up the beach there is a very poignant and unusual part that we knew nothing about. Anyone who knows about Liverpool’s wartime history will know that it was bombed relentlessly in World War 2 thanks to its proximity to the River Mersey and its large port. Liverpool was also the base from which the Battle of the Atlantic was run. Now at this part of the story it begins to get very personal for me. All my family are Liverpool born and bred although thanks to my Dad’s job me and my sister were both born in Manchester and our part of the family never returned to Liverpool. Anyway, both sides of my family experienced the horrors of WW2 Liverpool with my Dad’s family closely experiencing two bombs which thankfully were just far enough away not to cause any damage to them – although one blew my Grandie up the hall as he opened the door to find out what was happening (one of those stories we were all bought up on- I’m sure you have them too!). My Mum’s Dad was a merchant seaman serving on ships which were responsible for bringing in much needed food and supplies to the country. He was torpedoed twice during his service once turning up on his doorstep dressed in someone else’s clothes with nothing else as everything had gone down with the ship. Both of my parents remember seeing the bomb damage surrounding the city, streets lost, houses just rubble. At the start of May 1941 Liverpool was bombed relentlessly for 8 days. 1,900 people were killed, 1,450 seriously wounded and 70,000 made homeless…. in just 8 days. 8,000 out of 17,000 houses were destroyed or damaged in just one area of the city, Bootle. Liverpool, like many other towns and cities in many other countries were left with tonnes of rubble from derelict streets and houses and churches. At some point the decision was made to move the rubble to shore up the coastal defences in Crosby and create what is one of the most poignant and moving beaches we have ever visited. Nothing prepares you for the rubble stretching along the coastline. Decades old, worn and smoothed by the tides of the Mersey, bricks, masonry, tiles, parts of peoples lives and probably even deaths all piled up with the River Mersey washing over them each day. Tiles from houses still brightly coloured, parts of churches which remain recognisable and grand and apparently (although we didn’t see this) there are parts of gravestones scattered around. ​ In Chris’ words…” The effects of the sea and tide over 80+ years has created a unique landscape - man made but now gradually becoming naturalised and shaped by the elements. All shapes and sizes and all with a story to tell, a place that's poignant and completely fascinating that's prompted us to do some more research into the history of the place and what you find there. It's also somewhere that, despite temptation is most definitely a place we should leave as we found it for nature to continue to do what it does.” So, take a trip out to Crosby. Park by the Coastguard building and go down to the beach. Turn left and you’ll see the Antony Gormley’s stretching all the way to the docks. Turn right, watch your footing and wander among the rubble of people’s lives destroyed by war. A moving and thought-provoking experience. ​ 'Way back in the forties, the world had went mad Mister Hitler threw at us everything that he had When the smoke and the dust had all cleared from the air...' ​ In My Liverpool Home Peter McGovern You can read more about the bricks and the statues just click below...

  • keeping life in focus...

    Do you take as much care of your mental health as you do of your physical health? We’ve all had years of advice on how to eat healthily, those five or seven pieces of fruit and veg a day; exercise for that minimum of 20 minutes 3 times a week; watch your sugars and your fats; don’t eat too much red meat; it can all get very confusing but maybe it’s having an impact? Mental health has been the hidden illness for decades and has only recently begun to gain a higher presence in the media bringing it to the forefront of society. Shockingly the statistics connected to the decline of your mental health make hard reading. British men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives and with suicide rates in young people continuing to grow each year it is time we all found ways to ensure looking after our mental health is a top priority. There is no stigma, or there shouldn’t be, attached to suffering from a mental health illness, but it is still a hard subject to broach with friends and family and especially your employers. As more and more people begin to tell their stories it will hopefully become just another ‘illness’ that you may suffer from during your lifetime and we can all try to see the symptoms of someone’s suffering and maybe help them find a way through it. It makes good practise to watch your mental health and if you feel yourself declining try to take steps to support yourself as you would with any illness. Sometime that’s just not possible and as a society we need to learn how to spot the sign of someone in distress and support them as best we can until they are feeling more capable. For me, when a low mood begins, I find a release of sorts in being outdoors with my camera. Solitude and peace help me to try and cope with the state of whatever is happening in my mind. It is not always an easy thing to pick the camera up and go outside – sometimes the easier  choice is just to stay inside and hide away from the world and all the problems in it, but thankfully I have always found the strength to take myself outside and once there my love of photography takes over and for a few hours at least I manage to forget whatever turmoil is currently clouding my thoughts. Lifting yourself out of a low mental state is not always this simple, but photography helps me to cope with life at times when I feel that I can’t and as I read of yet another closed bridge, another ‘police incident’ how I wish that these people could find a way to get through their suffering and stay. And what about Social Media? Is it really to blame for the decline in the state of our mental health? It’s certainly sometimes hard to distinguish between real life and the digital world. Maybe it feels that your ‘friends’ have so much as you strive to just keep afloat. Loneliness sets in as you watch everyone surrounded by friends enjoying their lives. Photoshopped images causing you to yearn for a perfect body and lifestyle. Addictions to the number of likes you gain – after all doesn’t the number of likes reflect your popularity? Instagram is currently experimenting with the removal of ‘likes’ from posts. Will that change social media for the better? Negativity abounds on social media – internet ‘trolls’ bullying and harassing, the spread of extremism on all sides, horrific comments, death threats. The anonymity it provides offers a haven which incites some people to adopt personas that are probably far removed from their real-life roles. Would they make these comments to someone’s face? I doubt it, so why do they feel it is acceptable to do it via a keyboard? But isn’t there also a positivity there that was certainly missing from my younger years? How many school friends are you still in touch with? Who picked the phone up to telephone anyone when we were younger? Friendships just drifted away when circumstances changed but thanks to social media it is now so much easier to maintain contact with important people in your life. There are no barriers of distance to stop you from sharing a message or a post or maybe even a video call. Relationships formed via online dating are now much less likely to end in divorce than one formed the conventional way. Social media puts you in touch with similar people who share mutual hobbies and interests – Instagram and twitter both have thriving communities of photographers offering advice and sharing tips. Strong ‘online’ friendships sometimes result as part of these communities. Will you ever meet up? Maybe not but there is pleasure to be gained by messages of support and mutual respect and by sharing your lives through your photographs. Resilience is the current ‘buzz’ word to help us all cope. We must build resilience to help us to overcome issues that affect our mental health. Toughen up and learn how to handle the ups and the downs. The older generation would almost certainly tell you to ‘pull yourself together’ – after all there’s nothing in your life that could possibly be making you sad -look around don’t you have everything you want and need? But true depression and anxiety has no reason or rules. You’re not responsible for these feelings – you’re ill and just like with any illness you need time and support. Looking after yourself – your ‘wellbeing’ – should be something we are encouraged to do from a very early age but sadly we live in a society of constant pressure and stresses and strains in people’s lives. More cars on the road make commutes longer and harder. Unreliable transport systems lead to long hard days leaving hardly any time to relax. An expectation to work above and beyond your working hours whilst maintaining perfect health – pity the person who incurs the wrath of the work sickness policy. The lack of community spirit leads to social isolation and loneliness and look at that social media again – isn’t everyone having so much more fun than you? From a very early age the pressures of life begin - families paying for tutors to get their children through primary school tests, exams after exams after exams followed by crippling student debts and a glut of people with degrees making your career route much more difficult. Parents having to work full time to keep their families afloat; trying to bring up children whilst supporting their elderly parents; bills going up much quicker than wages; politics going mad; BREXIT, BREXIT, BREXIT…It’s no surprise that across the country everyone’s mental health is suffering. The path to mental peace and calm is not an easy one. What works for one person might not for another. Just like a cold that turns into pneumonia some people need more help than others. You may be strong for a while then slip back into anxiety and depression for no apparent reason. Friends and family may not notice – everyone wants to appear ‘strong’ to the world and it’s a difficult decision to reveal your pain and suffering. We manage to stay afloat supporting each other, but contrary to what you might think if you read our blog or visit our social media accounts, our life is not perfect. Many a comment comes our way envying the life we lead, the places we visit, the ‘fun’ we have. Our photos reflect the best times of our lives and, thankfully we have plenty of those, but we don’t spend every day out with our cameras, visiting spectacular places in the sunshine. Like most other people our lives mainly consist of working to earn the money to do the nice things; supporting our family as they work through their individual periods of stress. We have suffered times of great sadness and loss, had close family involved in very difficult and traumatic situations, wondered how we’d pay the next bill that arrived through the door – all of which have shaped us as life seems to momentarily spiral out of control.There have been periods of my life when anxiety has ruled; when the feeling of pointlessness has overridden every other feeling in my head. When the vice like feeling of everything around you squeezing conspires to make you want to run as far away as possible, but I am much stronger than I think. My camera comes out, my walking boots usually follow, and I walk and walk and walk. Nature calms me. Photography soothes me. I take pleasure in taking a photograph I love and if it is just me that loves it then that is fine.​ So, take the time to check on your friends and family, work colleagues who pass you by, the neighbour who lives alone. But ensure you are also checking your own mental health, finding time each day to think of yourself. Enjoy the sunny days and get through the darker ones and remember it might be a cliche, but it really is ‘OK not to be Ok.’. Just tell someone and stand together.

  • tiny little numbers and online stories

    Margaret Robertson lives in Edinburgh, writes an occasional blog  on running, and observations of Edinburgh life : www.theunfinishedsentence.net Instagram @marob23 Twitter @marob23 Not everyone is a fan of social media - but without Instagram I would not have encountered Chris and Viv or as I still think of them - them Married with Grown ups - and would not be writing this. I first came across their Instagram feed a while back, liked one of their images and then saw from their profile that they were, like me, at a similar stage in life with children grown up but still looking for adventures! They posted beautiful pictures of landscapes, of sunsets and birds and then even better, places in Scotland that reminded me of home and a place of happy memories from where I lived as a child. In my day job, I work in marketing and if I believed much of what is written in the marketing trade press, I could be forgiven for thinking that life online is solely the preserve of those under 30, but this is not my own experience. Like most people of my age who are working - we are using all sorts of tech daily, and many retired and older family members have found in later life how iPads and similar gadgets are a great way to keep in touch with family, to research holidays and do all manner of things. The beauty of the internet and social media is how simple it is to use and the ease of access and while we may use the social channels differently, social media and life online is a home for all ages. ​ ​I can remember life before 'the Internet', Facebook, Instagram, Twitter et al. and because I lived through analogue times – I can also remember the time and effort involved in photography, writing and publishing. Maybe because of this, I am still entranced by the novelty and immediacy that social media provides. I find pleasure in the simple act of sharing a picture I have taken, and of seeing and commenting on what others have shared. ​Having a window into different lives has opened my mind, taught me a lot and I have even made some good real-life friendships, started via the tiny squares of Instagram. ​I do understand that when we post images we are only sharing a version of ourselves and curating our lives by selecting what we post – but as an amateur writer, dabbling photographer and observer of life - discovering interesting people via  social media including blogging, has provided me with inspiration and in return access to an easy way of doing something a tiny bit creative - which I find therapeutic. There can be anger and intolerance online - particularly on Twitter - but my own experience is that as with all communities - like-minded people find each other through shared interests and values. This is a roundabout way of me saying that I think social media is more of a force for good than bad :) Dabbling in Photography ​ Years ago I was quite a keen photographer, but was not sufficiently dedicated to want to go everywhere carrying heavy cameras and lenses or fully committed to understanding the technical aspects of exposure and F stops to improve my craft ;) Over time I moved from a SLR camera to smaller cameras - sometimes disposables but still with film, progressing to digital versions of mini cameras. When I came to replace my Fuji fine pix - and discovered that the iPhone camera was almost as powerful - that was a game changer and was both the end and beginning of my photography pastime. We do now own a decent digital camera, but I hardly ever use it, and while my iPhone is not right for every situation, the convenience of having a powerful pocket-sized camera always available - has rekindled my interest in photography. It also dictates the subject matter - as even the best iPhone has limitations when it comes to capturing landscapes or zooming in on faraway objects and this might explain why I find myself drawn to taking pictures of small things. The Joy is in the Detail ​ Most of my photography takes place as I am walking around Edinburgh or other cities, and when strolling if you look closely - there is a wealth of interesting detail to be found. Wandering through cities, I have spotted everything from ornate ironmongery on a manhole cover to intricate stonework on building lintels, and many things in between. The city is awash with tiny fragments of art that tell a story. Once you have 'your eye in' to see these small details, they pop up everywhere and lend themselves very well to iPhone snapping. Tiny Numbers I can't quite remember when I started taking pictures of numbers, but I have always loved typography and commercial art and perhaps an interest in these tiny artworks is a by-product of that. I don't have any rules as to what constitutes a 'good' number - it's very subjective and there is no formula - it just depends on what I like at the time. It might be a carefully painted number in gold leaf above a door, or brass numbers screwed on a bit squint. I love a weathered number on a stone gatepost - but am equally fond of a 70s style 'stick-on' decal against a garish colour of paint. The house number sits sentry both welcoming and protecting and while houses are remodelled and reconfigured over the years - often the house number remains unchanged. I think about what and who the number has witnessed over the years, and the  tales it could tell. Some numbers seem to have a personality - cheeky, austere, whimsical, stalwart, and if I can, I try to write a caption to match the style of the number.​This is entirely my own interpretation of the number persona and others may not see the cheeky insouciance I see - or the flirty nature of a particular digit as I do. My tendency to anthropomorphise numbers might also depend on the mood I am in when I take the snap! These tiny artworks don't always need a description, or caption and so I leave the pleasing visual combination of number and background to do the talking. When I was training for a marathon a few years ago, I had a notion to collect pictures of numbers 1- 26, but I gave up on this when I kept taking pictures of 2s and 3s and 5s - and never finding a 26 or 8 that made the cut. As a pastime, I prefer to be free to take pictures of those numbers that appeal to me and so my collection of number pics will always have doubles and triples and omissions as there will always be some that for whatever reason just don’t speak to me ! As a photographic subject, it is one of almost infinite possibilities - the world is full of numbers and I am happy to just keep snapping as I encounter those that catch my eye.

  • up the hill backwards...

    We're lucky to live within a half an hour drive of the Pennines and our local 'hill' -Winter Hill. Now Winter Hill has several claims to fame including terrible fires, the local television mast, aeroplane disasters, the 'Right to Roam' march, UFO's and even a murder! It stands on the West Pennine moors and is 1496 feet (456m) high. Locally it is more famously known as 'Rivvi' - the home of Rivington Pike which is a hugely popular place for walkers, cyclists, motorcyclists and in the winter sledgers and skiers! If you ever hear a northerner saying they are 'going up Rivvi' you now know exactly what they mean! The climb up to Rivington Pike is steep, but the views from the top can be spectacular (when it isn't raining or cloudy!). Walkers are rewarded by reaching the Pike Tower - a Grade II listed building (originally a hunting lodge) built by John Andrews in 1733. On a clear day you can see Liverpool, Blackpool, Manchester and even the hills of Wales. If its raining or cloudy you'll be lucky to see the nearest sheep! The climb up takes you through the wonders of Rivington Terraced Gardens - caves, lakes, bridges - its a magical place and its easy to see why it is so popular. The gardens were designed and paid for by Lord Leverhulme (he probably invented your washing powder amongst other things!) working alongside Thomas Mawson who is known as the first real 'landscape gardener'. After the death of Lord Leverhulme in 1925 everything was sold and the gardens fell into a state of disrepair. The house and other buildings were demolished after World War II and the gardens were left to Mother Nature. 60 years later, and now under the ownership of United Utilities, the Rivington Heritage Trust and Utd Utilities managed to secure a Heritage Lottery grant and work started on a £4.2 million restoration and conservation project. The Gardens contain 11 Grade II listed structures, including the Pigeon Tower, Seven Arch Bridge and five Summer Houses plus Italian & Japanese Lakes. You can read more about the garden's history and their current state on the Rivington Terraced Gardens website. You will also find maps of the area, things to do and much more. We need to study this in great detail before our next visit as everytime we go we manage to miss so much of the gardens! If you see us wandering about you'll usually hear us muttering as to which path we need to take! In fact if you do see us please point us in the right direction! It's a wonderful place for photography from the summit to the structures, the lakes, the bridge, the countryside and even the television mast! If you visit on a sunday head for Rivington Barn and youll be met with motorbikes of all shapes and sizes. We love it!

  • but where, where do they make balloons?

    The brand name 'Factory' holds a special place in the hearts of Manchester people and memories of a man remembered as 'Mr Manchester' - Tony Wilson - who sadly died in 2007 aged just 57. Back in the late 1970's Manchester had a 'Factory' nightclub which eventually led to the creation of independent record label Factory Records by Wilson and Alan Erasmus. Home to the original 'Madchester' sound the label launched the careers of some huge acts including Joy Division, New Order, Happy Mondays and James. Factory were also partners in the equally famous Haçienda nightclub. Jump forward to 2023 and the brand new 'Factory', strange shaped, other worldly, shiny building was ready to open. (Would you believe we haven't even photographed it!) "Aviva Studios is the new home of Factory International. A hive of invention and discovery, we’ll produce a year-round programme of the world’s best new dance, theatre, music, visual and performance arts and digital commissions in this landmark new space. Built with flexibility in mind, the design of the building is led by Ellen van Loon of the world-leading practice Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). The multi-use space can adapt to host any kind of set-up — from intimate theatre shows and intricate exhibitions, to huge multimedia performances and warehouse-scale gigs fit for the greatest artists of our time." Now we love unusual art exhibitions, experimental theatrical events and generally anything new! So we kept a close eye on the launch events for the building. Great excitement when the launch event was announced as an exhibition by Japanese balloon artist and polka dot lover Yayoi Kusama. Born in 1929 (we'll not mention her age!) Kusama is known for large inflatable sculptures which look to us like balloons and she indeed she calls them 'balloons! She is also a big fan of polka dots which she believes are 'a way to infinity' and allow us to become 'part of the unity of our environment'. It is hard to imagine before you visit the sheer scale and wondrous surroundings of 'You, Me and the Balloons.'. From the moment you walk into the strange yellow polka dot room and climb the stairs to the enormous exhibition space filled with 'balloons' and polka dots with the artist reciting a poem continuously and clouds for you to relax on it is an other worldly experience like no other! It was wonderful to see people of all ages enjoying the surreal world around them as they walked through the immense space of the 'Factory' building. Testament to the grand theatre of the exhibition and, I think, 'word of mouth' the entire run sold out , so congratulations to all of you who managed to see it and immerse yourself in such a weird and trippy experience! We can't wait to see what comes next! Exciting times! Watch our YouTube video of a tiny section of the exhibition.

  • a garden of wonders

    There is nothing that makes me think more of the Alice in Wonderland stories than a garden full of 'topiary' where the expert gardener has clipped their trees and shrubs into weird and wonderful shapes. A bit like Japanese bonsai trees, but on a much grander scale! As you enter the Cumbrian Lake District, close to Kendal and just off the main route to Windermere, you will find Levens Hall, a family home dating from the Elizabethan age (the first Elizabeth!) with a garden looking like it has stepped from the pages of a fairy tale. Levens Hall Kendal Cumbria LA8 0PD A little 'potted' history! The topiary gardens were created and designed back in 1694 by Guillaume Beaumont (one time gardener to King James II) and Colonel James Grahame. Monsieur Beaumont (who was obviously French!) also designed gardens at Hampton Court Palace and Versailles in Paris. Levens Hall at the time was the home of Colonel Grahame - the Keeper of the Privy Purse for King James II - who commissioned Monsieur Beaumont to design a garden based on the fashion of the day including formal topiary. One of his criteria was a garden he could look out onto from his window at Levens Hall. Isn't that a lovely thought? Up in the North we get a fair amount of wet weather and the days spent gazing at your garden through a window are plentiful! Centuries and just ten head gardeners later, the topiary gardens remain almost unchanged from Beaumont's original plans. Within the garden there are more than 100 gardening pieces of topiary art, some more than 9 metres high, dotted about and surrounded by huge beech hedges and colourful plants. June 2023 we were staying in Bowness for the weekend so decided to meet up with friends and family and take a walk round the gardens - of course it also involved scones, clotted cream, jam and pots of tea! The skies were blue, the sun was out, it was a 30C bright, summery and very hot day! The perfect day to visit the garden and see it in its summer plumage. Just needed to watch out for the hosepipes everywhere as the gardeners hydrated the garden in what was a very hot spell. It really was the perfect day to capture the garden as the bedding plants, roses, shrubs were all in full bloom and the trees and larger shrubs were a stunning mixture of greens and yellows. It was also very quiet, possibly due to the heat and the fact it was outside of school holidays. Cue a very enjoyable two hour walk around the topiary and gardens - watching croquet, pre wedding photoshoots, gardeners obviously gardening plus the opportunity to cool down by making sure you ran through the sprinklers! Scones before you started then a picnic under the trees at the end - slightly intimidating picnic bench neighbours though with their cut glass glasses, silver cutlery and delicious looking meal compared to our plastic tub of home made sausage rolls and bags of crisps! Forgot the paper plates and napkins too! No photos of that lunch! We enjoyed our visit very much and we were very happy with the colourful photos of the magical garden. Wonder what its like in the winter? I imagine mean and moody black and white shots - our favourites! Might have to try! The skies on this one give the weather away a bit don't they?! If you want to see more of the gardens you can watch our YouTube video and while you're there why not subscribe? We'd love you to join us!

  • behind the green door...

    There are a few iconic places that pepper the history of British music - think of the Zebra crossing of Abbey Road - that draw in fans of the bands concerned and just the seeing an image of them is enough to spark recognition. One of the ones that's close to us - literally and emotionally - is the Salford Lad's Club and the iconic street corner with the club's facade and doors that formed the backdrop for the famous Stephen Wright photo of the Smiths back in 1985. Since then it's safe to say that this corner spot has become a global draw with Smith fans from across the world visiting it for a selfie with perhaps the most famous green doors in the world. Despite us living not that far away we've never been. However, recently we put that right one Saturday morning when we made the short trip to pay a long-overdue visit. Unbeknownst to us the club opens it's doors to visitors every Saturday 11.00am - 2.00pm (and Wednesdays), so after the obligatory outside photo we found ourselves in the wonderful company of Lesley Holmes the project manager as he opened up the doors and asked if we wanted to come in. For the next hour or so he showed us round the wonderful venue dating back to 1903 and full of history, not just about its more recent connection with The Smiths, but back to it's roots as a Lad's club - a place where young boys (and now girls) could come from the local community to meet, play games and generally do things that many people say are all lacking in today's society. It's a historical treasure trove, part of it up to date, part of it, such as the floor in the main hall, dating back 120 years to it's start. We'll write a bit more about this some other time, but if you are a Smiths fan and pay the Lad's Club a visit for your photo replicating the famous 'shot' then why not go on a day when you can go behind the doors and soak in the atmosphere of the club itself. Plus there's also the marvelous 'Smiths' room - curated by Lesley and a positive shrine showing people's continued love of the group that made this unassuming building a global icon and a building that is just as much part of the community it is in now as it was back in 1903.

  • garden oddity

    In the never ending quest to make our garden beautiful and very low maintenance it's undergone a bit of a transformation! Railway sleepers to keep those plants and weeds contained, no grass as neither of us have time to mow it and pots, lots and lots of pots! It looked very bleak when we started! We took a lot of very overgrown things out. Now being avid Bargain Hunt fans we love to visit our local antiques centre, which often features on the show - Bygone Times in Eccleston. We decided to go along and see if there was anything in a state of disrepair that we could reuse in our garden and fill with beauty. We weren't disappointed! We looked for things which were at the end of their lives - pots with big holes, rusty kitchen items anything really which needed a home. We almost bought a pair of vintage glam rock sparkling boots with one missing it's heel, but we couldn't find a price on those and, just like Bargain Hunt, we had run out of time! After several visits we now have quite a collection of garden oddities filled with colourful bedding plants. We've had a few problems - trying to drill through cast iron pans is very entertaining! We have the usual items you'd probably expect - buckets, teapots, pans etc - plus some more unusual things and some we're not even sure what they are! Have we a favourite? Well we both love the military Ammo box which still has the label of whoever used it and now sits proudly in the garden housing a couple of fuchsias (new ones this year as we managed to kill last years!) Seems fitting that something linked to war and violence now sits in a small garden filled with beautiful flowers. We also really love the iron although we're not sure what it was used for - it also has a pretty lethal lid so if you ever visit our garden watch your fingers! I worry for the plants if the wind blows - it even looks like it has teeth! And just to finish off our collection of the weird and wonderful all being given an extra lease of life in the garden what do you think of our once leather armchair? Past it's best and too big for the house we couldn't even give it away, so we've stripped it down, given it a lick of paint and a psychedelic theme and it's become an eyecatching feature in the garden. Haven't got the right plants for it yet we think it needs some grasses or something? Any ideas drop us a message! So there's no pristine garden behind our house just a rambling mess of wild plants, weird pots and a big pink armchair! We love it!

  • it was all yellow...

    Well, there are certain times of the year us photographers love - poppy fields, spring flowers, bluebells and of course don't forget sunrise and sunset anytime of the year over anything spectacular! Sadly we usually see them over next doors fence which doesn't make the best photo!! Anyway, here we are in May and the local fields are full of acres of beautiful yellow rapeseed flowers. Time to get the cameras out and give it a go! Now I am sure there is some farming reason for this, but the yellow fields move around each year. Last year we were blessed by blue skies and beautiful views of the Pennines and Winter Hill and our local village - very photogenic... ...so yesterday off we set on a rapeseed field hunt - clouds were grey, rain in the air and a little chilly (doesn't this seem to have been all year so far?). We had a rough idea where this year's crops were hiding as the yellow stands out so much you can see from the distance and we were very pleasantly surprised to find our choice of walks was completely surrounded by fields and field of yellow. Fields and fields of yellow and the most spectacularly moody skies - turned out to be a great photography morning. Just in case you fancy going we walked into Thompson House, Pepper Lane, Standish and took the path round the back of the solar farm. Not only fields of yellow there's horses, the solar farm, farmers field, lots of birds- oh and due to the proximity of the M6 you can even catch the odd lorry speeding past! Now if only I knew why I seem to have hayfever this morning??

  • the not so humble brick

    We're often amazed at where people find beauty - it could be glorious sunsets over the ocean, mountains, lush green landscapes or something more mundane and not worth a second glance like ohh a brick maybe? Before you think we've gone completely crazy please bear with us. You'll have seen on our other posts about our recent trip to Crosby beach and the magnificent 'Another Place' installation by Antony Gormley. Our real purpose for the visit was to take a walk along the rubble beach made up of the rubble from nearby Liverpool and the bombed out buildings destroyed in the Blitz in 1940 and 41. This isn't going into that in too many details there's another post for that (read here) but the effects of the sea and tide over 80+ years has created a unique landscape - man made but now gradually becoming naturalised and shaped by the elements. Just as fascinating as the shapes on view are the makers names that plot out the history of where the bricks were from originally. The photo below shows one from the Hapton works in Accrington that were closed down in 1902. With years of erosion it looks a far cry from the sharp angled familiar shape of a housebrick. It isn't just housebricks either - the photo below shows an Aztex firebrick probably used in someone's fireplace now part of the huge swathe of rubble and masonry on this fascinating shoreline. All shapes and sizes and all with a story to tell, a place that's poignant and also completely fascinating that's prompted us to do some more research into the history of the place and what you find there. It's also somewhere that, despite temptation is most definitely a place we should leave as we found it for nature to continue to do what it does.

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