Saint George: bottom of Trooper’s Hill Road

Photographs from southwest end of Trooper’s Hill Road, Bristol
Notes made in Trooper’s Hill nature reserve

Friday PM 25/03/2016

So. It’s been a while. What started as a simple conceit — walk locally, play with my camera, read some Ansel Adams — has taken on a trickier hue than it ever should have done. What happened? I started driving to work instead of getting the bus, so no meanders down the hill. The evenings drew in. A cloud descended whereby effort — and a project — felt futile. I contracted whooping-cough — I’m about halfway through this 100-day cough. And then there’s Ansel Adams himself. As a figure, I’m sure he loomed large; but more than that, he has a penchant for the monumental within the landscape.

The first photograph in the book is Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, Yosemite, a massive extrusion of rock rising from the snowy alpine slopes around, which sets the scene for the rest of the book. Even his detail shots have a sort grandness, an expansiveness that seems to circumvent the closeness of the shot. His technical language too: on page three, a section is headed Most exposure failures result from erroneous meter readings. I don’t own a photometer, and doubt I could even find one of his recommendations: “The Gamma Scientific, Inc., Luminance Analyzer a-500 measures with great accuracy a solid angle of ½º”. Ok. So do I need one? Is there an inbuilt function for my fairly modern Nikon SLR?

I wanted his overall philosophy to inspire and inform my own attempts at photography, but instead I get the sensation of reading a rather dry technical manual (and who reads technical manuals?).

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Approaching Trooper’s Hill. The chimney atop is a landmark hereabout (though not the focus of this post).

But today, I got out. There were two features I wanted to focus on, at the bottom of Trooper’s Hill Road. 1: The half-ruined chimney stack that forms the corner piece of the Trooper’s Hill nature reserve. 2: The peculiar ripples in the tarmacadam on a steep section of the road

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The chimney stack  felt like an important feature — one that gels with Adams’s penchant for the monumental. It’s tall and narrow, and seemingly once the corner of a larger building. Like Adams’s Half Dome, it apparently speaks of endeavour greater than the photographers’ practical ken. And it’s visible, but rarely properly seen — though perhaps this is an inference too far.

Trooper’s Hill’s appearance is due to extensive quarrying and mining, for Pennant Sandstone, coal and fireclay. The coal was used for smelting copper ore which was brought here via the nearby River Avon. An information board informs that in 1754 there were 49 copper smelting furnaces in the Crew’s Hole area. This particular chimney, though, formed part of an engine house, that was used for hauling up coal and pumping out water from mines.

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The ripples are a more beguiling — and less monumental — feature. I don’t know what’s caused them, but I’ve seen something similar in two different (though mechanically similar) situations. My first thought was toward storm water charging down the hill during heavy rain. Like the rippled bed of a stream, the tarmac itself taking on the form of the rippling water, but held in time — like a photo of a stream; the landscape’s own attempt to make permanent that which is ephemeral.

But what if something more machine-like has caused this? I think of mountain biking. It can be seen on popular trails where a fast straight approaches a slower technical section. As riders approach the corner, they are prone to braking heavily. The wheels tend to skip and skitter where recesses form: known (unimaginatively) as braking bumps.

I’m not sure if either parallel explains the ripples in the road — they’re on the uphill side of the road, so maybe they’re caused by acceleration in a similar manner to braking bumps. But then, the hill’s steep, so perhaps the rain has enough force to do this. Maybe it’s shoddy workmanship. Maybe a combination, or none of this.

But at least I’ve made an effort to record both the bumps and the chimney. Isn’t that why I began this project?

POSTSCRIPT

Notes from Easter Sunday, 27/03/2016

Isn’t that why I began this project?” Well, yes, that was certainly an intended aim. But it was also to get more from my camera. I look back on the processed photos, and I’m not happy with them. Too out-of-focus, poor colour contrast, lost detail. Ansel Adams recommends use of a light meter, and after these photos, I can see how it would help. His discussion of sources of light and how best to use them could be focussed on more closely. I would also probably benefit from paying more attention to my camera, such as noting settings. I struggled to match the better photographs with the settings used.

And last, I already had a plan before I set out of what I wished to capture; though perhaps I should be more flexible. When I got out, a couple more things caught my eye. The rotting wood in the verge, birds in flight. And last: a half-finished nest in the bare May tree. Or was it crown of thorns?

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Ring of twigs in the May tree.

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Contiguousness of Memory: recalling Lynmouth

When you look down on Lynton, from Barbrook Road, the town appears to lie in a combe beside the sea; but when you look up at it, from Lynmouth harbour, it appears to cling from a cliff above the sea. Lynton’s setting is Lynton’s name, the tun on the lilynn or torrent. Strictly speaking, Lynton bestrides two torrents, for the River Lyn has both arms, East and West. With Lynmouth, the town forms an urban district; but hill and harbour remain as they always were, self-consciously separate. Not even Parliament can join what Time and Space have set asunder.

P.72, Portrait of Exmoor

A semi-aimless drive, with no more in mind than to visit Exmoor in north Devon and Somerset. Along the M5. Ignore Bridgwater. Ignore Taunton. Ignore Minehead. So junction 26, somewhere I don’t know called Wellington. Head north, north, north, towards the coast. Signs for Watchet – too far east. Signs for Minehead – still too east, and too familiar. Lynton and Lynmouth? Yes. I don’t recall visiting since I was I kid. What will it look like? Will I recognise it?

An enchanting, and circuitous, journey. Sunken lanes of red sandstone; steep up and steep down; deciduous woodland; passing places; old two-pronged tractors; Victorian manorial farmsteads. Then wind-blasted heaths, rolling and roiling, with Wales way off. Then: 30 or so car-towed horse boxes, their back gates swung wide, and empty inside. Few people around; I imagine local horse-owners suddenly and simultaneously overcome with compassion, and releasing their horses to the wild. The road demands concentration, but I look around: I see nothing, but know it’s most likely the sign of a hunt. My car is sealed so neither bark nor horn reaches my ears.

The slopes steepen once more, and become heavily wooded, leaving behind the unpleasant underbelly of rural life. Some of these roads are half-familiar from cycling from Barnstaple to Bridgwater last Easter; a lot, though, is beguiling in their newness.

As I near Lynton and Lynmouth, older memories peel into my consciousness – those maybe-memories/maybe-will-to-believe of a place I treasure for the two short weeks I spent here when I was little. The road follows the West Lyn river through a steep-sided valley; a road junction and a choice of the twin villages: Lynton at the hilltop, or Lynmouth on the bay where rivers East and West Lyn meet briefly, before plashing over granite slabs and into the Bristol Channel.

I choose Lynmouth, and everything is still kind of in place. There’s the hotel we stayed in! There’s the House of the Rising Sun! The park where I learned to play catch! The funicular! In an odd way, Lynmouth is a much diminished version to that which I held as a memory. Was it not a sizeable, bustling town, like Minehead? But this is all it is. My memories may not record accurately, but the steep slopes show that this place could not have been much different those 30-odd years ago.

I have little stories for those things familiar. The hotel’s food was bad, but they cooked the fish we caught when we went sea fishing. I learned to play catch with a large golden sparkly ball. I’d already decided before the trip, that if I ever owned a pub (such ambition!) I should call it the House of the Rising Sun. That the funicular ran by using water as a counterweight to bring the opposing carriage down – and that at least once I walk up the cliff path to get the railway back down to Lynmouth.

There are also less obvious reminders, which need to be picked at to induce recollections. The flood which devastated the place in 1952, and on which my middle school pal JF did a presentation. Since my last time here, a wooden cross has been erected at the point where the river wall collapsed, on the flood’s 50th anniversary. Then there was the walking up the Valley of Rocks into Lorna Doone country. There was the son of my parents friend who was staying at the same time (who I am assured was rather unpleasant, though I remember nothing of him it but his name). I want to walk up that valley; see what it conjures: but that will have to wait. Will it activate something? Will I again find rainbow trout in one of the river’s pools? Did that even happen? For now the memories – no matter how time-encrusted and incomplete – must suffice.

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Postscript

Memories are a fickle thing. I once heard it said that memory is not continuous, but rather contiguous: that the act of remembering is merely a process of recalling an earlier act of recalling that is a process of recalling an earlier still act of recalling, and so on. In retrospect I question whether I have not been to Lynmouth and Lynton since I was little; not having returned seems unlikely. But all I have are these memories, recollections butting up and scraping against other recollections, jostling alongside wishful imaginings.

My compact camera didn’t work for this trip, so all images are from my phone – something that annoyed me at the time, but I think well suites the musings of this post.

Reference

Peel, JHB., 1970, Portrait of Exmoor, London: Robert Hale