history, landscape, Shropshire, Stone

Mitchell’s Fold

the ancient stone circle at Mitchell's Fold with Corndon Hill behind in the distance
Mitchell’s Fold with Corndon Hill behind

No-one knows who they were or what they were doing, but their legacy remains…

There are only two neolithic stone circles remaining in Shropshire, and by far the best is Mitchell’s Fold.  (The other is the nearby Hoarstones)

It’s not like Stonehenge, it doesn’t have the enormous and technologically impressive trilithons,  and it’s not like the village encircling stones at Avebury – it’s a lot smaller (about 25m across), and the stones aren’t nearly as impressive.

The circle dates from about 4000 years ago, and sits 330m above sea level, with some great views.  Some of the stones are 6ft tall, most a lot shorter. Some have fallen over.  About half of them are missing.  One seems to be buried in the centre of the circle (and is a petrified witch, if you believe the rather fanciful local legends).

No-one has any solid idea what it was for, only guesses.

I’ve been meaning to visit for over a year now, but always things get in the way. Mostly weather.  I’ve been trying to interest friends into coming along, and this week the stars aligned and I had both beautiful weather and (beautiful) friends.

It got off to a bad start when the sat-nav insisted we travel most of the way down single-width country lanes – dodging the many and seemingly suicidal baby pheasant – when there was a perfectly good A-road to take us 95% of the way.   When we finally got out of the car we decided to take a shortcut that involved hacking through head-high bracken straight up a steep hill,  although we eventually realised the shortcut took four times as long as the route would have taken otherwise.  We’d have been faster without 3 children and 2 dogs. It got a bit chaotic.

When we finally got to Mitchell’s Fold, we found a small herd of cows grazing between the stones, and in some cases using them as scratching posts.

We ate our picnic, then spent the afternoon up there chatting and throwing balls for the dogs. We’ll definitely be going back.

 

 

Camera, landscape, Photography, Shropshire, Stone, trees

Expired Film, Lomo LC-A

Quantum Leap Sculpture
Quantum Leap Sculpture

I’ve discovered that some of my rolls of film are waaayy past their use-by date, sometimes by ten years or so.  So now my project this year is to use all the really old films before they’re unusable. They are mostly B&W, although there is some colour slide film.

The roll of Agfa APX100 here should have been used by November 2010.

Some film forums advise shooting expired black and white film as if it were half the advertised speed to compensate for the changed film chemistry.  I recently shot some seriously expired Fuji Neopan and found them to be too dark, so this makes sense.   As it turns out these shots mostly came out too bright! Luckily film is fairly forgiving.

The main problem was half of the film being blank – the batteries were failing, so about every other shot the camera’s shutter didn’t open (I didn’t discover this until I got the developed negatives back).  Some of the shots look a little soft, that’s a ‘feature’ of the lens on the Lomo LC-A.

Here then are a few shots of Shrewsbury.

Camera, Nature, Photography, Shropshire, Stone

Stiperstones Film (Finally)

I finally finished the films I shot up the Stiperstones just before Christmas, and just got the developed negatives back. It didn’t take too long to scan them in, as there are only 8 shots per roll when you shoot with 120 film.

The 1st roll was the slowest film I’ve ever shot with – Ilford PanF 50 – and I think that’s why the roll didn’t come out so well – the shutter speed was so slow that the slight wobble of me trying to hold it steady in a strong (and freezing cold) wind created the slight blur, and lost me a lot of detail, and so I only got  a few usable photos.  I’m annoyed, because the most blurry photo (which I’ve included below) would have made the best shot otherwise. Grrr. Next time with this film I’m using a tripod.

Luckily, the 2nd film came out mostly ok. There are a couple of shots I took around town just to finish off the film, I’ll post them separately, in case I confuse anyone and give them the impression there is a river up there on the top of the Shropshire hills.

 

In case this sort of thing interests you, the camera was a 1946 Voigtlander Bessa and the films I used were Ilford PanF 50 and Fomapan 100.

landscape, Nature, Photography, Shropshire, Stone, Voigtlander

Stiperstones

On the weekend before Christmas, I went with friends for a walk up the Stiperstones, a hill in south Shropshire.  The summit ridge runs for 8km, and features several jagged quartzite rock outcrops, which make for dramatic photographs (I hope).

It was a bright, sunny day, but once we got onto the hills it was surprisingly cold*. It always seems bleak up Stiperstones, for some reason.  It’s 20 years since I last went there, and it was bleak then, too.  I was juggling 2 cameras with increasingly numb fingers**, not easy when one is a 1946 VoigtlanderBessa , with some fiddly adjustments necessary just to get the device to open.

One of the rocky outcrops is known as the Devil’s Chair, one of several bits of folklore attached to the area. Apparently the Devil dropped a load of rocks he was carrying in his apron (!) and just left them there, although he does use the rocks as a chair to address evil spirits, witches and the like on the longest night of the year.

In another story, the ghost of Wild Edric rides the hills whenever England is threatened with invasion.  He was last spotted in 1853 before the Crimean war, although I don’t think we were threatened with invasion at that time.  Wild Edric is also said to haunt the Stretton Hills as an enormous black dog with fiery eyes. Of course he does.

*It was late December, that should have given me a clue. At least it didn’tr rain.

**I was in a rush and forgot my gloves. That’s not happening again.

Camera, history, landscape, Nature, Photography, Shropshire, Voigtlander

Voigtländer Bessa camera

Voigtlander Bessa
Voigtlander Bessa

In 1938, the year that someone first picked up this Voigtlander Bessa camera and looked through the viewfinder, pressing the shutter to preserve a moment in their present, our history, things were getting very unpleasant in Europe: Sigmund Freud was one of the lucky ones to flee the continent for a safer home; the rumblings of the preparations for war were spoiling the mood of the golden years of the Thirties; and the very use of photography would soon become a propaganda tool rather than one for leisure.

Meanwhile, in America, people were still dancing to a freer tune: Benny Goodman was firing up in the Carnegie Hall;  Ella Fitzgerald was at the No.1 spot with A Tisket A Tasket;  and people were taking to the skies for brighter reasons than they would do for some time hence. The Yankee Clipper completed the 1st passenger flight over the Atlantic and Howard Hughes flew around the world in 91 hours.

But this German-born camera might well go on to see darker images through its shutter. Would it capture war-weary faces, shattered homes, tank-track torn fields?

And as it aged, passed from hand to hand, shoved into a box for the attic, ending up in second hand shops on dusty shelves, maybe being used in a movie as a prop… what would it pass by, blind to images not thought of as worthy of its ageing technology?

So to take it up the  windswept, sunlit hill of Caer Caradoc seemed like setting this camera free again: Bessa opened her eye and squinted at the strong light, peering through a lens smeared by hair and dust, struggling to focus.

Caer Caradoc
View From Caer Caradoc

Bessa and I were looking out over the landscape from Caer Caradoc over lesser-known hills like the Ragleth and the Lawley, as well as the famous Long Mynd, a slumbering dragon of a hill.  If you want to find Caer Caradoc, you’ll have to get to Shrewsbury and head due south for 13 miles. Hence the name of this range: the South Shropshire Hills. Not the most iconic or romantic of names, but this is an official Area of Outstanding National Beauty.

For Bessa, this day out represented a renaissance of hope: now her view could fly and soar over freed skies and calm lands. But that’s just the imagination talking. Let’s get back to the reality of the machine…

It is a folding camera, that has pleating (like an accordion or a set of bellows) to allow it to fold down into its case.  It takes the medium format film: the negatives are 6x9cm, with an optional internal plate for 6×4.5cm shots (16 shots per roll for the smaller size, 8 for the larger).

You have to set the focus ring to the distance. It’s not like SLR where you see through the actual taking lens until the moment you fire the shutter: you are framing through the tiny square on the top (or side, depending how you’re taking the shot). Not until the advent of rangefinder cameras could you set the focus, and that was a separate lens to the taking lens.

You have to cock the shutter separately from winding the film: the shutter is so quiet, sometimes I wonder whether I’ve remembered to.  Bessa is a quiet camera: even the unfolding of the accordion-pleated bellows gives not a whisper or a sigh.
And it has a satisfyingly mechanical routine to its use: you have to unfold the lens and the door opens on thin metal hinges and struts. You essentially rebuild the apparatus each time: there is no quick-click short-cut here. With this camera, you must be the photographer: you don’t just take photographs, you take part.

You have to follow a sequence to take a photo, like a magical spell or incantation… Unlock the door, fold it out until the hinges click into place… Set the aperture, the shutter speed dials, cock the shutter, lift the device to your eye and gently depress the shutter lever… You hear a whisper of a click, of clockwork. Then carefully wind on the film until the next number shows in the red window on the back: It’s very easy to wind too far.

Shooting film is different to digital: you are capturing a moment in time, but almost gently, like a butterfly, knowing that this instant must be caught but not knowing until later whether the net is empty or not. It’s not trying to capture hundreds of butterflies, then deciding later which to keep. There is a sweet agony to the wait…

This camera feels as delicate as a steel contraption could possibly be. It’s fairly sturdy in truth, but I’m always careful : this is a grande dame of a camera. My Voigtlander Bessa has seen a lot. It will continue to be idiosyncratic as it approaches its 70th birthday.

Voigtlander Bessa
Voigtlander Bessa, alternative view

You can see the photographs from the walk by clicking on the link here. Please do comment on them or this blog.

And let us know if you, too, are the proud owner of a Voigtlander Bessa .