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Hillmorton Locks

Look up any reference on Hillmorton Locks and they are quoted as being the busiest along all of the UK canal waterways.  Found on the outskirts of Rugby, they are a hidden gem as accessing them is not straightforward.  From the south, the locks are approached via a narrow entrance tunnel under the West Coast Railway line.  Once through this, then there is parking available at the local parish church St John the Baptist.  There are three sets of locks and the lower lock has a workshop and a few bridges.  Nestling on the banks of the canal was a small inviting coffee shop which is getting ready to open. 

Hillmorton Locks
Hillmorton Locks

The locks themselves are unusual in that there are two side by side.  This was to ease congestion due to its position on the canal network as being the main highway south to London.  The second of the locks is after a gentle curve in the canal and this is different as the lock beams have letters carved into them.

Hillmorton Locks
inscriptions on the lock gates

Locklines consists of a poem of which four lines are on the lock gates at Hillmorton.  At first I wondered why they had been placed in the gates but then it made sense reading the article on them.  They are interesting lines

WORKING WATER
CAPTIVE FOR A WHILE
CLIMBS CAREFULLY DOWN
THIS DOOR MAKES DEPTH

There were three poets involved and one designer and the weblink provides more details on how it all pieces together.

Hillmorton Locks
Looking down from the upper lock

It is then a straight walk up to the third and final lock.  This provides nice views back down the locks and the criss cross pattern of the gates makes for some nice pictures of the canal.  The canal then moves onto run past a new housing estate that is built on the old radio masts that used to be a feature of Hillmorton.  I remember both as a boy and young man taking the train down to London and passing the Rugby antenna masts that were tall structures in the Landscape.  Little did I realise that many years into the future that I would be passing them again but under different circumstances.  Walking back down the locks provided different views including glimpses of the Church of St John the Baptist which were especially pleasing to photograph with the locks in the foreground. 

Hillmorton Locks
Details around Hillmorton Locks
Hillmorton Locks
Details around Hill Morton Locks
Hillmorton Locks
Details around Hillmorton Locks

I am glad that I lingered around the middle lock as my attention was caught by a signpost that had the directions Vaccine and New Normal.  There was even a strange red ball structure on the top that I realised was meant to represent a corona virus.  Further investigations revealed that there was a third sign with Way Out.  Clambered over the gate I looked around to see where it led.  Nothing to see until I turned around.  The back of the sign was inscribed with different lines about the Covid19 pandemic and these included

No Hugs
Mask uo
No PPE
2 metres
Clap NHS
Rule of 3
Bubbles
Home workers
Pubs shut
…..plus many others. 

The whole list maybe seen in the photograph and I have highlighted the post for clearer viewing.  It is great fun and it is still continuing I expect.

Hillmorton Locks
The post with a record of the pandemic written down.

Finally I had a quick look at the Church which was quietly sandwiched between the railway line and the canal.  Spring is starting and the blossom was just opening.  I will revisit when the leaves are fully on the trees and the lovely café is open for a cup of coffee or tea. Enjoy the pictures!

Hillmorton Locks
Church of St John the Baptist

More information
Locklines tells the story how the poem was put into the lock gates
The Canal and River Trust have lots of information about the area
My previous blogs on the Canals in the West Midlands
Walking along the North Stratford Canal
– Lockdown 3 walking along the Grand Union Canal


The pool in Brueton Park Woods

When the snow first fell the skies were overcast and whilst there was a some beautiful snow scenes, I longed for a blue sky to provide some colour. The next day the sun shone and there were no clouds in the sky. I planned my walk to take me over fields to Widney Road allowing me to approach Brueton park and the nature reserve from the west.

Lea Wood in the snow
Lea Wood in the snow

My first stop was Lea Wood nature reserve which I had not visited before on my travels. The wood used to be a tree nursery and the trees now fully grown are aligned in lines. This creates many leading lines along the paths in the wood. There were several walkers in the wood so I was able to compose some eye-catching pictures with leading lines towards the silhouettes of people . The low level of the sun also produced lovely light that I was able to shoot towards the sun with the trees as a backdrop. I hung around for some time fascinated by the trees and the patterns caused by the light.

Sunlight in the woods
Sunlight in the woods
Sunlight on the tree branches
Sunlight on the tree branches
A leaning tree
A leaning tree
Snow on the trees
Snow on the trees
Trees on the way to Breuton Park
Trees on the way to Breuton Park

Finally I moved onto Brueton Park proper. It was very muddy despite the frozen ground. When I got to the river Blythe, I made the decision to go into the old Wood on the west bank to the River Blythe. The place was deserted and following the muddy path, I threaded my way deep into the wood. I arrived at the north end of the water pool which interestingly is unnamed on the map. The sun was shining brightly but the thick canopy of the trees diffused the rays. The path led around to the south side and here I was able to get close to the water’s edge. With the light low, bright and just right a beautiful scene opened up. I was so pleased with the pictures of the water and the framing from the trees. It was a richly rewarding photo walk with many different variations of the snow lying on the ground reflecting the sun. It was a much different day than yesterday and very productive.

The river Blythe
The river Blythe
Path around the pool
Path around the pool
The pool in Brueton Park Woods
The pool in Brueton Park Woods

Photo tip. Don’t be hasty in taking your pictures and try and slow down. I was very excited at first especially in Lea Wood. Then with time I started to enjoy myself in the woods and came away with many different pictures. I had my iPhone, large Canon camera with lenses plus my Fujifilm x100v. Yes it was a bit over the top in terms of photographic equipment but I was glad that I had all of them with me.

More pictures of local parks can be found on my blog
The photographic delights of Umberslade Park
Coombe Abbey Country Park during the Golden Hour
Watching the sun go down by Bracebridge pool, Sutton Park

More information
Brueton Park and its sister, Malvern is on the Solihull Council Website
Malvern and Brueton Parks
or check out Trip Advisor



Coombe Abbey Lake

Coombe Abbey Country Park is to the east of Coventry and both the gardens and lake featuring designs by Capability Brown make this a must visit attraction. Even though this is on my doorstep, it is nearly 10 years since I lasted visited on the occasion of a wedding. The family decided this was the place to visit on a Saturday afternoon in December. I got my camera gear ready. I am now well practised at taking photographs under family pressure. Those lovely views by the lakes are only available for a few minutes as I am asked to hurry up and stay in touch with the family walk. In some ways that makes it fun as you have to get your settings right and take the picture quickly.

View of Coombe Abbey
View of Coombe Abbey from the top pool bridge

The park is picturesque and lends itself to photographs. The downside is that even on a late Sunday afternoon, there is a lot of people around. Making sure that they do not feature in the photographs is difficult as well. My tips are to look for different views of the well known pictures that are taken. Coombe Abbey Country Park is photographed so often that it is difficult to find that different view.

The endless lake of Coombe Abbey Country Park
The endless lake of Coombe Abbey Country Park
Paths through the woods
Paths through the woods

One tip is the timing. The family decided to visit after 2pm on a December afternoon. The weather was good and the sun was starting to come out. The Golden Hour beckoned. There were some delays along the way when we got there. The birds had to be fed by the grandchildren and other small holdups, such as splashing in every puddle that we saw, made the walk slow. In many ways that was an advantage as it gave an opportunity to take a few more pictures.

The Grandchildren posing for a picture
Entertaining the Grandchildren
Places to run
Places to run
Puddles to splash in
Puddles to splash in
Buildings to see at Coombe Abbey
Buildings to see at Coombe Abbey
Two swans in the top pool
Two swans in the top pool

Finally on the way back the sun started to set very low and it lit up the classic view of the Coombe Abbey Hotel from the footbridge that separates the main lake, Coombe Pool, and the smaller Top Pool. There is a lot more to see and when Covid-19 restrictions are finished then there will be a return visit to the park. Meanwhile enjoy the pictures!

Sunset at Coombe Abbey
Sunset at Coombe Abbey

Do you want to know more about Coombe Abbey Country Park? Then visit the Coventry City Council website which will get you started
Coombe Abbey Country Park

There is also the City of Coventry nearby if you want to make a weekend of a visit to the area with your camera
Send me to the City of Coventry


Sunset glow over the water

Surprisingly I have never been inside Sutton Park.  Why not I ask myself, having lived in Birmingham and Solihull for over 35 years.  I have been to Sutton Coldfield many times but not to the park.  With some meetings cancelled, I planned a visit and got there around 45 minutes before the sun was to set.  I timed my walk to be at Bracebridge pool when the sunset was due to take place. 

Bracebridge Pool at Sunset
Bracebridge Pool at Sunset

It was muddy on the trails and I did get distracted by Blackroot pool on the way as the tree lined avenue next to the train line was glowing in the setting sun.  Eventually I arrived on the shore of Bracebridge and I sat down to admire the colours of the sunset.  I had debated whether to bring my tripod with me and I therefore played around with the ISO and left it at 400.  The colours were beautiful, and I lingered a long time around the pool. 

The shore at Bracebridge Pool
The shore at Bracebridge Pool
Reflections in the water
Reflections in the water
A bench with a view of the sunset
A bench with a view of the sunset

It was dark getting back and the prospect of negotiating the woods alone but luckily I met a couple who were disorientated and wanted to get back to the same car park.  The park does get very quiet when the sun goes down.  I came back and processed my pictures.

Blackroot pool in Sutton Park
Blackroot pool in Sutton Park

There was one I was particularly proud about and I received some interesting comments on it from Ewen in the British Tech Network Slackroom.

Sunset glow over the water
Sunset glow over the water

“So at that distance F10 to F8 is zero noticeable difference and F10 to F5.6 would have been a small enough amount for sharpening to reduce the difference. Handheld I expect myself to be able to shoot successfully at 1/15th There are trees there to brace against or you take off your shoe laces and tie them around the camera and hold the other end under you feet to get a taught line to pull against. All of these give you extra stops back to reduce the ISO. My first choice is always to maintain the lowest ISO and highest image quality as possible. Zooming in you already have excess grain in the water through the higher ISO and lower light level. Secondly, when adjusting the RAW file, use of ‘highlight’ slider to reduce the glare form the sun is the starting point as you need to get the ambient light on the rest of the image up. Your job is to balance the colours AND the textures. You’d nailed the textures but lost the awesome colours in everything but the clouds around the sun. Your next question is ‘what looks natural’ and when looking towards the Sun, your natural vision is ‘blown out’ in order to see the other details, so its ok to burn out the clouds around the sun a little more than you feel the histogram is telling you to. In that way you see more of the great detail in the trees and lake and you still get great colours in the clouds…just a little further away from the sun.”   

Always good to get such advice and thanks Ewen.

If you are thinking about visiting Sutton Park then there is a good website from Birmingham City Council which has maps and information.
Sutton Park, Birmingham City Council


Gas Street Basin

Now I am back in a work routine, I take the opportunity to park in the city around 7am and stay until 8am just before the car parking charging begins.  I set myself an area to walk around and aim to come away with 4 to 5 pictures that I can use over the coming days.  These may be for my 365 project or pictures that I can post onto Twitter and Instagram.  Gas street basin is a changing place and there is always something to photography during a walk on the tow paths.  On this visit, it was very still and quiet and there was a hint of mist.  The water in the canal was so still that it provided perfect reflections for my photography.  I had my trusty Canon 5D mark VI and my ‘go to’ lens EF24-70mm with me.  Initially I did not think I would get particularly good photographs but then as I got down low I started to see the photographic possibilities.   

Reflections in Gas Street
The still waters reflect the buildings of Gas Street Basin.
Birmingham - new vs old
Showing the new versus the old in Birmingham
Gas Street Sunrise
Golden buildings in the sunrise

With the reflections of the buildings, I saw that there were many different views.  I took around 20 to 30 pictures and then carefully selected around 6 photographs.  A selection of 4 posted on Twitter took off with many likes. At the last count it was over 20 thousand views.   I see so many excellent pictures of Birmingham and I am not here to say that mine are any better.  These pictures are my own personal view of the area and I am pleased that they make people happy.

Brindley Place
Venturing into Brindley Place for the reflections of the canal waters

Having done Digbeth, I felt brave enough to go into Birmingham again and look around both Gas Street Basin and Centenary Square.  My first difficulty was parking as car parks and on street spaces were either shut or there were traffic cones preventing you from parking.  I found a place and wandered down into gas street.  What I noticed was how many runners there were out and about plus cyclists using the tow path.  It is wide enough to do social distancing and it was being patrolled by two police officers as well.  

Some parts are locked up
The basin is still colourful
Many runners around

After Gas Street I went to Centenary Square and I had brought along my lensball as I thought it might give me some different and creative photography.  Sometimes the lensball is frustrating as it just does not add anything more to the picture.  In this situation, the shallow pool of water allowed you to place the crystal at the water’s edge and then lie low to line up a picture.  I was pleased with the result and it was well received on the social media.  I also noticed that whilst Broad Street is undergoing changes for the metro tram, there are social distancing notices all over the pavement.  The virus is still around and although walking around the streets of Birmingham has a normality about it, you do realise that we are sill in a state of crisis.

Work on the tram makes for lockdown pictures of the Library
The lensball likes being reflected
When will the Rep open for performances?
Centenary Square is quiet
Evidence of neglect on Broad Street
Changes and more Changes on Broad Street
It is a difference world
Social distancing on Broad Street

Keeping motivated under a lockdown does mean that you are ready to try out new ideas. I have always been fascinated by oil and water pictures so with time on my hands I decided to give it a go. What you need is a macro lens and off camera flash. Then to get a big bowl of water on top of some colourful paper or fabric. Set up the camera using a tripod so that is is over the surface of the water. Start dropping in some Olive Oil and/or washing liquid. Then start taking pictures. Here is a nice link from PhotoCrowd
https://www.photocrowd.com/…/158-11-tips-creating…/

There is still some work to do after taking the pictures and opening up Lightroom initially the pictures will look a bit dull. Look at that histogram and ensure you have a good distribution and that you use the highlight and shadows sliders wisely. The exposure should be adjusted and then you may need to push the saturation up to around 40 points on the scale. Then after some cropping of the picture a few of the final results are shown here. This is definitely a project that I will be going back to at a later date.

A gloomy day with little light is giving this Sunday more credit than it deserved. Undeterred I visited Clowes Wood which is adjacent to Earlswood reservoir. There had been a great deal of rain earlier I the week and the wood was tracks were soft underfoot and there were sections where there was standing water. However the light did hold up and the colours of the wood were still present. There was a carpet of fallen leaves that gave a dull orange colour to the surroundings. I was pleased with the pictures that were taken mainly with my Canon 5D using both a normal and wide angled lens. There was minimal processing and one or two of the photographs do stand out.

An arch of trees
Through the clearing
Patterns of decay
Over the bridge
A branch of leaves
Carpet of leaves
The turning colours of the ferns

I like this assignment that I was given by a 52 weeks of photography group that I am a member of on Flickr. This was to tty out a new way of exploring a landscape. The idea is to create a composite of multiple pictures of a landscape that you’ve taken during a short walk through it. It was a simple job of taking many shots of the Watergate Bay beach landscape. I found lots of views that caught my eye. It was also great fun assembling this selection of pictures. 

I am catching up with my photographs. I visited Winterbourne house in July and the flowers were in full bloom. This photographic journey features the Nut walk. I used a lensball to create the effect at the end of the network which provides a natural frame to the house. Following this I moved onto the flower beds near to and around the glass houses. There were several damsel flies flitting in and around the flowers. It is always a fascinating place to visit and has featured in previous blogs.

A place to pass the time away
more flowers
Worker bee is very busy
In full bloom
Damsel fly
The oriental garden in the lower reaches of the garden
View over the lake adjacent to Winterbourne
Natural framing of the house from the Nut walk
View of the house via a lens ball
The Nut walk
View of Winterborne from the garden (selected for BBC midlands weather)

A previous visit to Winterbourne House

http://damienwalmsley.com.dream.website.dream.website.dream.website/winterbourne-house-worth-a-visit/