Category Archives: Photo Essays

Death at Deerpark House

It’s May, 1954. At Deerpark House in North Yorkshire, the home of Lord William and Lady Tanya Marchmain, a group of guests are assembling for a weekend party. Before Friday night is over Lord William will have been murdered by one of the weekend residents at Deerpark House. Because of a dangerous escaped prisoner from nearby Scampston gaol, the house is in lockdown. The telephone has been cut off and it’s too dangerous to leave the house to go and get police assistance.

There’s nothing for it, the remaining house guests will have to try and solve the crime themselves. Everyone in the house is a suspect, everyone has a motive for murdering Lord William. The question is whodunnit?

Actually it was really May 2017 when a group of our friends gathered to help celebrate Liz’s 60th birthday. We played out a murder mystery that Liz wrote especially for the occasion. There were nine of us, each with a motive for murder and with plentiful clues spread around the house to back the motive up. Each guest picked an envelope, inside eight of them was written a letter I (for innocent), only one person had a letter G for guilty.

The idea was that, by examining the clues and questioning each other, each of us would try and identify the murderer.  We did most of the questioning on Friday night, sat around the kitchen table at Deerpark House. In true Agatha Christie fashion, we all gathered in the drawing room on Saturday night for the denouement.  We’d already each nominated our preferred suspect and, over killer strength cocktails, we all revealed our choices and then voted for who seemed the most likely suspect.

We  had great fun playing at detectives and everyone got into character. After the killer was revealed we retired to the dining room for dinner and copious amounts of wine. The photographs below show a little of what went on.

The Scene of the Crime

Deerpark House is a real place near the Village of Wintringham, in North Yorkshire. It started life as a hunting lodge in the eighteenth century and has been extended over the years and is now a beautiful, but quite eccentric building.

Deerpark House

Deerpark House at Scampston, the setting for our little mystery.

Country Seat

The home of Lord William and Lady Tanya Marchmain. Who knows what ugly secrets hide behind it’s walls.

The Victim

I started out the evening as Lord William Marchmain, to help set the scene for the murder, but when everyone went up to their rooms to dress I quickly changed character and placed the body in the dining room.

The Victim

Lord William Marchmain, found dead at his desk at Deerpark House. Everyone has a motive for murder, but who hated Lord William enough to do the deadly deed?

Waiting

Lord William is obviously a tough old bird. Even after he has been found dead in his study, he refuses to leave the house. Here is is, waiting with his faithful dog Sally, while the guests question each other. Sally’s taken quite a shine to him and spent most of the weekend lying at his feet.

The Suspects

What a dodgy crew they look. If I were trapped in a country house for the weekend with this lot I’d probably barricade myself in my room and wait for help.

Did one of them do it?

Could this be the last night of freedom for one of this dodgy looking lot? Four potential victims in the drawing room at Deerpark. From left, Lady Tanya Marchmain, grieving widow of Lord William. Ronata Delron, successful artist and songwriter: thwarted in love by the dastardly Lord William, Johhny MacEnroe, nephew of Lord William: his tennis career threatened by his Uncle. Janetta Scarletta: is she hiding a dodgy past in espionage?

I spy

Is this what Janetta Scarletta wants to hide? Here she is rubbing shoulders with Stalin. But who’s side was she on?

Major Mainwaring

Major Mainwaring enjoying a glass of Pimms. He loves huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’. The amiable old buffer also has a secret passion for Lady Tanya Marchmain. Was this enough to make him commit the crime?

Professor Plum

This famous historian and genealogist, Professor Peter Plum,  has been asked to trace the Marchmain family history by Lord William. But he’s unearthed a secret that brings him into conflict with Lord William. Did it all end in bloodshed?

Angelica Futura

Angelica Futura is a famous medium and frequent visitor to Deerpark House. But has a smouldering sense of injustice caused her to murder the peer?

Mrs Danvers

A smiling Mrs Danvers, faithful housekeeper to Lord William Marchmain. But does the smile hide a sinister motive for murder?

Father Brown

The saintly Father Brown. Close friend of the Marchmain’s. But Lord William knows his guilty secrets and threatens to tell the Bishop. Is this enough to turn the priest into a killer?

The Clues

Fake photo’s, dodgy passports, incriminating letters, old newspaper clippings and a genealogy chart were amongst the clues spread around the house. Here they are all gathered together for the guests to review.

The Evidence

After Lord William’s untimely demise, the guests were asked to search the house for clues. Here is the collected hoard of evidence, enough to implicate each of the guess. But who really did the foul deed?

The Denouement

I learnt one thing over the weekend, and it’s that I’ll never be a cocktail waiter. It’s a miracle that we were all able to stand upright for this photograph of us all gathered together to discover the identity of the murderer.

The guests assemble for cocktails before the killer is revealed. Everyone is smiling, but someone in this photograph hides a guilty secret.

During the course of cocktails we all revealed our prime suspect and then voted for the one person most likely to have killed Lord William. The person with the highest number of votes then had to reveal their innocent or guilty card. To be honest, there wasn’t much doubt amongst us about the nefarious villain.

Whodunnit?

It just goes to show you can’t get the staff nowadays. The unrepentant Mrs Danvers (Liz) was revealed to be the murderer.

Guilty

Yes, it’s a spell at Her Majesty’s pleasure for Mrs Danvers. It look like she’ll be going to the land of stripey sunshine for a very long time.

It all ended happily.

Fortunately no peers of the realm  were harmed during the murder mystery, and we all ended up in the dining room for a lavish meal. Even Lord William joined us.

Dinner's served

The killer unmasked, Lord William and his guests assemble for dinner.

 

 

Cygnet Special

Every year a pair of swans nest on our local pond and lay a clutch of eggs. This year our resident pair laid four of them. As soon as they’re laid I begin my almost daily ritual of watching over them. I must admit I was a bit worried this year. I’m not sure how experienced this pair are.

Their large, shallow circular nest was perfectly made, but I thought it was a little too close to the bank and any potential predators. Once the eggs were laid, normally one of the swans will always sit on the nest, but in the early days they seemed to leave the eggs uncovered whilst they both went off to feed.

However I’m probably either just very inexperienced about swans or an over-anxious surrogate parent: they seem to have got it right.

I’m not exactly sure when the eggs hatched. They were still eggs on Saturday afternoon, but by Monday afternoon they were cygnets. My first sight of them on Monday was only a fleeting one: they were lying on the nest covered by their mother’s wings. All I could see were brief glimpses of grey feathers and the odd beak. I hung around for a while, but no one seemed to be going anywhere, so I left them to it.

Peek a Boo

Here they are sheltering under a wing. They’s definitely not leaving the warm to be photographed by me.

I went back on Tuesday and all four cygnets were on the bank with their parents. I got as close as I could to take some pictures, but their father was doing an excellent job of guarding them. He was chasing everything off,: dog walkers, ducklings and photographers!

I’m not about to start getting on the wrong side of an irate fully-grown swan, so I played a  patient game. I’ve noticed that if I stand very still and edge forward a few inches at a time, the swans tend to relax a little, and I can get close enough to take some decent pictures. I suppose a smart photographer would invest in a high quality ultra-long lens, but patience and a bit of stealth is about two grand cheaper than hi-tech optics.

Just resting

The cygnets seem a bit braver now and are happily settled on the grass.

The swans sat around for a while, but eventually they took to the water, which is what I really wanted to see. The whole family did a stately circuit of the pond

Swim Time

Here’s the whole family deciding whether they want to swim or not.

Swimming lesson

Keep up at the back there and don’t go too far.

Convoy

Both adult swans carefully guarding their young

After their swim their mother took then back to the nest. What fascinated me was that the adult swan then started to groom herself and a few seconds later the cygnets followed suit. It’s amazing how quickly they learn.

Back Home

Settling down on the nest and ready for a quick brush up.

In a few days, once the cygnets have grown a little and become stronger swimmers, the whole family will move from the pond onto the river. I suppose food supplies are better there, and the cygnets will do most of their growing up away from the prying eyes of humans. In a month or two a pair of adult swans will return to the pond, and next spring the whole cycle will start again.

I hope the cygnets survive to maturity. It’s a harsh environment for them for the first few weeks, but they are well guarded by their parents. I always feel very lucky to have the swans living so close to me, and very privileged that I’m able to get close enough to photograph them. I’ll be back next year, but in the meantime I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Avignon

In June 2016 my wife and I stayed in Avignon for a week. The city of about 90,000 people is in Provence in Southern France. The city is dominated by the Palais Des Papes, a huge palace complex (actually it’s two palaces), and the River Rhone. Avignon is a modern city but, within the old city walls, it has a much more relaxed and historic feel. We stayed at an apartment in the centre of the old town, which was perfect for seeing the sites.

Avignon has an interesting history. For most of the fourteenth century it was home to the Popes in their self-imposed exile from Rome. As such Avignon was at the centre of events.

Across the Rhone lies Villeneuve Lez Avignon, a much smaller and relaxed town. It’s dominated by Fort Saint Andre. In the middle ages the Rhone was the border between France and The Holy Roman Empire, and the fort was built to protect the border.

Here are a few pictures from our stay there. We had a greta time and ‘d happily go back again. For a large city Avignon has a laid back feel to it, with a fantastic market and good restaurants. History buffs can find plenty to interest them too and the surrounding scenery is stunning.

The Rhone and the Pont Saint Benezet

The Rhone

The River Rhone flows outside Avignon. Avignon is in Provence, which in the middle ages was part of the Holy Roman Empire. The Rhone was the border between The Empire and France, and it wasn’t until 1480 that Avignon became French territory. In the past the river was a major transport route, but was always prone to severe flooding. Barrages further down the river have reduced the problem, but not completely. We were able to go on a boat cruise at the start of our trip, but severe storms in other parts of Europe forced river traffic to close down during part of our stay.

Going Nowhere

The Pont Saint Benezet used to stretch across the Rhone, but the river often flooded and the bridge piers frequently collapsed. In the seventeenth century the city of Avignon finally gave up on the bridge, and the four piers in this picture are all that remain.

Pont Saint Benezet

This is all that’s left of the famous Pond Saint Benezet. Anyone’s who’s suffered French lessons in English schools will remember ‘Sur le pont D’Avignon’

Avignon and the Palais Des Papes

Avignon

This is one of my favourite views of Avignon, taken from Villeneuve. The mountains in the background are the Chaine Des Alpilles.

Avignon was home to the Pope from 1309 to 1377. For political reasons Pope Clement V, a Frenchman, refused to move to Rome on his election and set up his throne in Avignon. The next six popes ruled from there too. The palace was still used by the church until the French Revolution, when much of the building became a barracks. By the end of the nineteenth century, it was in a poor state of repair, but the place has now been renovated. It is now a Unesco world heritage site.

Le Jardin De Doms

This natural outcrop of rock, Le Jardin De Doms, is one of the earliest inhabited parts of Avignon. Neolithic remains have been found there. The site is now home to peaceful gardens with amazing views over the Rhone.

The Virgin Mary on Cathédrale des Doms

This impressive statue of the Virgin Mary, is on top of the Cathédrale des Doms, next to the Palais Des Papes. It towers over the city and is visible for miles around.

The Walls of the Palais Des Papes

This picture is taken looking back along the battlements towards the Palais Des Papes.

Villeneuve Lez Avignon and Fort Saint Andre

Villeneuve Lez Avignon

Across the Rhone from Avignon is the small town of Villeneuve Lez Avignon. Towering over it is Fort Saint-Andre. Built in 1360, it’s role was to protect the boundary between France and the Holy Roman Empire.

Fort Saint Andre

This is the view of Fort Saint Andre from across the river in Avignon. The castle is a much more workmanlike, and warlike, building than the Palais Des Papes.

Chapel

We came across this small chapel in Villeneuve Lez Avignon. Silly me, I forgot to make a note of it’s name.

In complete contrast to the grandeur of the Palais Des Papes is this old house in Villeneuve Lez Avignon.

Spring Special

Spring is Finally Here

After a really tedious winter, spring has finally come to my little corner of North Yorkshire. I always get an instant lift from the lighter nights and warmer days, and the countryside starts to wake up too. It’s been a particularly fine spring I think, and perfect photography weather. I’ve taken hundreds of pictures of flowers, trees, wildlife and landscapes, and here are twelve of my favourites.

Lovely Landscapes

I’m very privileged to live in a photogenic part of the country, and I always think it looks at it best in the spring and early summer. Here’s a selection of sweeping landscapes, dramatic skies, rolling rivers and woodland pathways.

Derwent Valley

This early spring photograph looking down into the Derwent Valley was taken from one of our favourite spots in Menethorpe. Spring really has yet to get underway yet, but the landscape seems full of promise.

Spring Skies

This is taken from a bridleway connecting the Langton and Beverley roads. I couldn’t resist the chance to photograph the dramatic sky. Malton is in the distance.

River Scene

I walk past this old warehouse on the River Derwent in Malton nearly every day, but I seldom stop to look at it. It’s a shame really because it’s a lovely old building. At one time the Derwent was navigable as far upstream as Malton, and the town boasted a biscuit factory and brewery on its banks. Willow trees, like the one in the foreground to the left of the picture, are amongst the first trees to come into leaf every year. They are lovers of water and, before the advent of modern medicines, chewing willow bark was a cure for headache. Apparently they are a naturally occurring source of the same main ingredient found in aspirin.

Leafy Lane

I walk our dog along this path every so often. In winter it has quite a stark, skeletal feel to it. It’s just starting to get it’s summer covering of leaves and in three weeks or so you won’t be able to see the sky from this position.

Trees and Flowers

Apart from a few hardy early starters, like snowdrops, most trees and flowers have been dormant until a couple of weeks ago. Now. all of a sudden everything seems to be budding, sprouting and flowering.

Daffodils

Spring can’t happen without daffodils. These early bloomers are on a windswept hill near Malton.

Cherry Blossom

This cherry tree in blossom reminds me of the beautiful specimen we had in our front garden. Sadly it had to go last year as it’s roots had spread too far. Interesting but useless fact: Cherry Blossom boot polish is now the only shoe polish made in Britain, in a factory in Alfreton, Derbyshire.

Budding Talent

I’ve spent ages photographing trees coming into bud over the past week or so. I’m fascinated by the way they suddenly break out into leaf.

It’s all About the Birds and the Bees

Most of North Yorkshire’s wildlife has been keeping a low profile during winter, but suddenly, they’ve all become busy again. Breeding, nesting, pollen collecting: there’s so much going on. it’s leaving me feeling exhausted.

Swan Necking

The swans are back on the pond! They’ve built their nest and are currently populating it with eggs – five at the latest count. Here they are in post coital mood: I did catch them in the act, but modesty forbids me to post that photo.

Mobile Home

On the way to the pub I stopped to take a photograph of a currant bush coming into flower. Even at this early part of spring the bush was filled with wildlife. This snail was right on the topmost branch and seemed to have parked there for the night.

Pollen Time

I wasn’t expecting bees yet, but the currant bush was full of them. I was lucky to get this picture, as my camera wasn’t set up for close-ups, but it’s still not a bad shot.

Rookery

Rooks have to be some of the noisiest birds around. In summer it’s harder to see them, but in spring every tall tree seems to be festooned with rooks nests. I like rooks, they’re intelligent, sociable creatures and we often get them in the gardens near where we live. They’re one of the few birds who aren’t worried about the local cats.

Bird posing for the Camera

There were at least a dozen of these perching in this bush when I walked up to them. They all disappeared, except for this little fella who hung around to have his portrait taken. I’m not sure what it is, bird spotting isn’t my speciality!

The Azure Window

This week I was going to post a selection of my favourite photographs from 2016.  But at the last minute I changed my mind and decided to publish only two photographs: of the Azure Window on the Maltese Island of Gozo.

The window is a magnificent limestone arch at Dewrja, on Gozo’s coast. The rock sparkles in the sunlight and the sea around the bay is the most incredible azure blue. Liz and I visited the window in October last year. When you first arrive at Dwerja, it’s quite easy to wonder why you’ve gone there. Much of the coast is like a moonscape, arid and dusty, and the bus drops you off at an overcrowded and slightly tacky array of tourist shops.

A short walk from there takes you down to a bay with a quay and a line of small boats. For a few Euro’s you can take a fifteen minute boat tour through caves to the Azure Window. It’s a great antidote to the barren landscape on shore.

If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, you’ll recognise the Azure Window as the scene for Dothraki wedding from the first episode.

The window is an awe-inspiring sight and one of the highlights of our holiday in Malta…

Landward View of the Azure Window

The Azure Window viewed from the shore. If you follow ‘Game of Thrones’, you’ll recognise this view.

Azure Window

A view of the Azure Window at Dwerja on the Maltese Island of Gozo. The window is limestone and it’s multicolours shimmered in the sunlight. The sea around the window was an unbelievably vivid blue.

…except it isn’t there any more.

The Azure Window has been in a fragile state for many years, due to erosion. The Maltese government has taken steps to protect the arch, including banning people from walking across it. Sadly the window collapsed on Wednesday in a storm.

I’m glad we had the opportunity to visit Dwerja and the window last year. I have to admit it wasn’t on my all time list of places to visit, but it was well worth it. It’s a shame for future generations that they’ll only get to experience the window through photographs.

There are many other landmarks at risk. I suppose the moral of the story is to get out and visit them before it’s too late!

Robin Hood’s Bay

At the beginning of February Liz, Sally the dog and I went for a short break just up the coast to Robin Hood’s Bay. The North Yorkshire village is located five miles south of Whitby and 15 miles north of Scarborough. The old part of the village is picturesque, and perches at the foot of a cliff. In the nineteenth century it was an important fishing port, but now that trade has died out. It’s main business now is tourism. At the time of our visit it was all a bit grim and wintry, as you’ll see from the photo’s, but the beaches are fantastic in summer.  It’s a very low key resort, which I like: it manages to keep much of it’s character.

Robin Hood’s Bay is a popular place to stay, and has a thriving local artistic and musical community. The village is also a good place for walkers: it’s situated at the eastern end of the Coast to Coast long distance footpath and is also on the Cleveland way, which runs north to south. The village has a good website with lots of further information at https://www.robinhoodsbay.co.uk/.

The village and surrounding area are well worth a visit if you get the chance. It wasn’t the best tourism weather when we visited, but the big advantage of visiting in winter is the peace and quiet. Robin Hood’s Bay can get quite crowded at the height of summer. The pictures below are mainly of the bay and surrounding area. If you like mist-wreathed cliffs and iron grey seas, there’s probably something here for you.

North View

A view of the northern end of Robin Hood’s Bay. A bit forbidding in winter, but perfect for sand castles in the summer.

Robin Hood's Bay Harbour

A view of Robin Hood’s Bay harbour at low tide. Hard to visualise, but it was a major fishing port in the nineteenth century.

Bay Hotel

No trip away is complete without a pub. Much used by walkers completing the Coast to Coast path. Nice beer!

Stormy Seas

A bit grim and forbidding. The harbour wall and north shore at high tide.

South Bay

Another picture of iron grey seas, spray and hazy cliffs in the distance. No paddling today!

This is the lower end of Robin Hood’s Bay. The buildings are mostly seventeenth and eighteenth century, with plenty of steep, narrow, windy streets. The upper end of the village was built mostly in the nineteenth century, with lots of smart red-brick villa’s. The railway ran through the upper village at one point and it must have been quite a prosperous place.

Bay View

A view of the bay on our only sunny day there. It gives you an idea of what it’s like in summer time.

The Flying Scotsman Comes Home

The legendary locomotive, Flying Scotsman, was built in Doncaster for the London and North Eastern Railway. Work was completed in 1923. Whilst in service the Flying Scotsman hauled the train of the same name between London and Edinburgh, and it quickly became famous. It was also a record breaker: the first locomotive to run non-stop between London and Edinburgh, and the first locomotive to reach 100 mph in the UK.

The Flying Scotsman remained in service until 1963, when it was retired by British Rail. Between 1963 and 2004, the engine was in private ownership. It toured the US and Australia, but the occasional financial crisis put the Flying Scotsman at risk. One owner went bankrupt and the locomotive was stranded in the US for a number of years.

In 2004 the National Railway Museum, based in York, headed up a campaign to raise funds to buy the Flying Scotsman and preserve it for the nation. In 2006 a £4.2 million restoration process began, designed to restore it to full-time working order.

The restoration programme was completed in 2015 and, following tests, was once again licensed to run on UK mainline railways. The Flying Scotsman is now based in York, but spends much of its time running excursions round the country.

The Flying Scotsman finally came home to York February 25th 2015, and by a stroke of good luck I just happened to be in York with my camera at the time. A large crowd greeted the locomotive as it pulled into York station, before being moved to a siding at the National Railway Museum for the official greeting ceremony.

It was a grey and chilly day, but I managed to get some decent photographs, despite the crowds.   Fortunately I had a long zoom lens on my camera that day, and most of the photographs were taken with my camera held above my head.

It was quite moving to see the locomotive pulling into the museum siding: I think steam railways are in my blood. My grandfather was a railway signalman, and my father started his working life as a railway engineer. I’ve also unearthed some more railway workers in my family, so I’ve got family connections to the railway going back at least 150 years.

In truth there’s not much of the original Flying Scotsman left, most of it having been replaced in various refits and repairs. But that’s not the point: what’s more important is the fact that it lives in people’s memory as a powerful reminder of the past.

Enjoy the photographs!

A packed welcome

There was a big crowd to welcome the Scotsman back to York. I’m so glad I had a long zoom lens with me.

Flying Scotsman Crew

The crew of the Flying Scotsman, resting after bringing it into York. It just goes to show that steam trains aren’t just for old men!

Piped Home

What better way of welcoming a Scotsman home!

Speech Time

There were speeches of course. The woman in the red dress is Mary Archer. I don’t know what she was looking for: maybe Jeffrey’s done a runner!

Splendid Isolation

A lucky picture of the Scotsman without the crowds.

Flying Scotsman Chimney

The Scotsman’s chimney and smoke box, not long after it pulled into York. Like the rest of the engine, the paintwork is pristine.

Flying Scotsman's Front End.

A night shot of the Flying Scotsman’s smokebox door. Close up it’s like a resting giant.

Scotsman By Night

When everyone had gone home I had the Scotsman pretty much to myself. At night it was even more imposing and magnificent than in the day-time.