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National Memorial Arboretum

Instameets are friendly photographic get togethers where you meet like-minded people for a social chat and take pictures.  The meetings are also held at fascinating venues around the West Midlands.  My usual patch is IgersbirminghamUK or the Westmidlandsphotocollective. Both hold meetings at venues which provide a multitude of photographic opportunities.  Igers_staffordshire is a group that hold Instameets around the Lichfield area.  The venue for this meeting was the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.  The Arboretum occupies a large swathe of land just North of Lichfield and is well signposted off the A38.  However, it is a place that I always pass by and think to myself that is somewhere to visit in the future.  When Igers_staffordshire advertised the event then I quickly signed up.  The meeting started in the car park which is one of the strategic places in the Arboretum.  Whilst entry to the site is free, car parking is strictly controlled and must be prebooked.  The entrance and the welcome buildings guide you through to the main body of the Arboretum.  I was greeted by the organisers and it is easy to work out who the photographers are as you will not miss the tripods, backpacks and cameras on display.  Once through the entrance we made our way to the most commanding monument which is the Armed Forces Memorial.  It is not difficult to miss as it sits as a raised structure with an attractive circle of trees.  We posed on the steps for the picture of the group and then started exploring.

National Memorial Arboretum
The inside of the Armed Forces Memorial

You find yourself pulled towards the Armed Forces Memorial, up the steps and into the inner parts.  It borrows heavily in architectural design from the Greeks and Romans.  It is impressive, and it was here that I met Kenneth who is a volunteer at the National Memorial Arboretum. We got talking about the Arboretum and Kenneth outlined some of the major features about the place. He showed me where a shaft of sunlight shines through the gaps in the southern walls onto the central bronze wreath on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month #Armistaceday. Kenneth does two days volunteering and is out in all weathers, greeting visitors. His welcoming smile and enthusiasm help visitors to get the most from their visit. Kenneth is one of many volunteers who I met during my time at the Arboretum. I explained to Kenneth about my ‘100strangers’ project and he agreed to being photographed. This picture shows him standing in the centre of the #ArmedForcesMemorial near the central wreath with the #cenotaph in the background.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CVqFBz6DwvR/
Kenneth, Volunteer

Next, I set off to visit the rest of the Arboretum.  There were several memorials that I passed along the way including those to the Iraq war and The Polish War memorial.   I did like the Irish Infantry Grove.  The paving stones are set out with a map of Ireland.  From there, I wandered into the trees and was taken with the numerous discs with messages on them.  There is so much to take in and this blog only touches the surface.  I posted several sets of pictures on Instagram.

National Memorial Arboretum
Looking through and remembering

The first is a set of lines and colours that made an impression on me. The #shotatdawn memorial by artist #AndyDeComyn was particularly moving.  Consisting of stakes in the ground representing the young men shot by firing squad.  There are several other memorials captured here.

My other reflection from my visit was the numerous Connections in the Arboretum and this is the link for this series of photographs including pictures with permission of soldiers remembering people behind the names. The sun and the rain connect with the memorials to enhance their stories.

It was a moving day out and I covered a fair amount of the Arboretum.  There is still much more to see.  These are the best of the pictures although there were many more to discover. Several of the memorials have been cleverly designed to catch the natural elements such as the sun and rain providing reflections and opportunities for carefully taken pictures that bring out the best in their design.

Finally a big thank you to @igers_staffordshire for organising this instameet. I also met such great fellow photographers.  Follow #igersstaffordshire_nma for all the pictures taken by the group on the day.

National Memorial Arboretum
A rainbow brings hope and joy
City of Culture 2021

Coventry is the City of Culture for 2021.  This prestigious title runs from  May 2021 to May 2022 and it follows on from Derry/Londonderry in 2013 and Hull in 2017.  Taking my first train for over a year, I set off from Leamington to Coventry.  So let’s be brutal, Coventry is not a place you would first associate with culture but do a little digging and you will be pleasantly surprised.  The home of the Specials and Ska music offers up several delights.  Autumn 2020 was my last visit to the City.  Then my pictures were taken around the two Cathedrals and a brief stroll around town.  This visit began at the train station and we moved through the city to the Canal Basin.  The train station is sixties architecture which has seen better days.  Leaving the station area we moved into the Plaza towards the much loved Trigger statue.  Trigger, a metal horse, was put together by Coventry University student Simon Evans in the 1980s using scrap materials.  Lots of photo opportunities around Trigger whether it is close up details or the interaction of people around it.

Trigger
Trigger, the metal horse
City of Culture 2021
Bustling Street Scene

Moving on through towards the shopping centre, next stop the rainbow street or better known as Hertford Street.  Here the Coventry City of Culture offices are situated.  I asked the volunteers if they did not mind having their photograph taken to which they were a bit taken aback.  I love their jackets!  The street is colourful and a haven for Streetphotography as you will see from my photographs. I had my polariser filter on the wide angled Canon 5D which brought out the colours as people wandered past.  We could have spent hours there but we moved on into the central shopping area. 

City of Culture 2021
City of Culture 2021
City of Culture 2021
Rainbow colours

We took a look at Pepper Lane that had been spruced up with colourful paint.  The street art mural by @mattchuuk dominates the far end.  The mural is a past, present and future dreamlike composition representing the spirit of Coventry.

City of Culture 2021
Pepper Lane with the mural by Matt Chu
City of Culture 2021
Matt Chu’s mural representing the past, present and future looks onto the Holy Trinity Church

Moving on to, through and past the Cathedral Square. We hit upon the tired and brutal architecture of the Britannia Hotel and moved swiftly onto the Whittle arches around Hale Street.  Their imposing shapes fits in well with the surrounding area.  Everything is blue including the buses and the spiral overpass into Lady Herbert’s Gardens and Volgograd place.  So good to take pictures and another place where you could spend a great deal of time people watching and taking pictures. 

City of Culture 2021
Reminder of Brutal Coventry
City of Culture 2021
Blue bridge and cyclist
City of Culture 2021
Old and new of Coventry
City of Culture 2021
On the bridge

Moving on our next destination was the Coventry Canal basin.  I warned my photo buddy not to expect much as at my last visit, there was not much to see.  I was glad to be proved wrong as there was activity around the basin and a few long boats were moored up.  By chance I noticed people sitting outside a café near the canal bridge.  Playwright’s café turned out to be a hidden gem.  Scones were lovely and the coffee just right.  Great service from the owner as well.  So my opinion of the area is changed now! 

City of Culture 2021
on the way to the Canal Basin
City of Culture 2021
Coventry Canal Basin

Time to make our way back through the City to the train station.  So lots to like about Coventry in its new clothes as City of Culture.  There is still the awful Brutalist buildings, the bad architecture but there is also a sense of optimism around the place.  The Specials sang in 1981  “This town is coming like a ghost town”, to which I would have agreed a few years ago.  Now “the good old days before the ghost town” are slowly returning.  I really hope so!

City of Culture 2021
No Ghost Town on the left but maybe on the right

Here are some more pictures from our walk

City of Culture 2021
My good friend and photo companion, John Bray

There is a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  It is the feel good factor that thousands of children across the country have drawn a rainbow and put in their front windows.  Other children have drawn the rainbows in chalk and they brighten up the pathways outside houses.  These are a few examples from our village of Knowle near Solihull.  Chasing the rainbow brings much hope to people and is a way of connecting everyone through this terrible crisis.