Journeys From My DoorstepA Visual Diary
Photography by Roff Smith
Although I have pedalled along this stretch of the Bexhill promenade many times over the years, it wasn’t until this morning, in the rich dimness of blue hour, that I took artistic notice of this line of identical beach huts. They reminded me of those little houses in Monopoly. I liked the repetition abnd the colour palette and so I set up my tripod and camera and captured this image.
For the longest time I have been looking for a way to illustrate the sense of escapism I often feel when I vanish down these crooked little lanes in the Sussex weald. It’s as though a magic portal opens and one is transported back to an older, slower gentler age where life is lived on the village scale. It’s another of those concepts painters can illustrate nicely since they can visualise just such a scene and then render it on paper or canvas, complete with obliging cyclist. A photographer, however, has to work with the lanes as he or she finds them. In this case that meant a lot of location scouting, looking about for possibilities whenever and wherever I rode and then once finding the spot, waiting for the right time of year abd making four visits to the site to capture the image I had in mind. I used the hedgerows and the bough of the oak along the lane to create the ‘portal’ and timed my visit so that the lanes were deep in shadow and the village in the distance – Doleham – was dozing in hazy summer sunshine, as though it were a painting. It was then a matter of pedalling into frame and having the slant of sunshine just touching my shoulder as I enter this old-fashioned world.
In looking over the collection of images I’ve made in my travels at home over the part year, it would be hard for anyone to guess that I live in an old fishing tow – a seaside holiday town, yes, but of the fishing fleet there’s been no mention. For more than a thousand years the fishermen of Hastings have been launching their boats off the shingle beach beneath the sea cliffs, and now, in the 21st century it is one of the last of shore based fishing fleets in Britain and indeed in Europe. It is also the largest of these old fleets, although only a ghost of what it was a century ago, and longer.
Setting out in small boats, typically under thirty feet long and launched by tractors, they work the banks just offshore this stretch of Sussex coast. It’s a highly sustainable style of fishing with a small carbon footprint. The hauls of fish they bring ashore have come only a bare few miles.
I decided it was high time to amend this oversight in my local travels and include the Hastings fleet. And so for the past few days I’ve ridden down to the working end of the beach and looked for some compositions in which bicycle and boat could come together. It was a matter of trying to find order in chaos, as this working beach is strewn with piles of nets, floats, lobster traps, cables, rubbish bins, broken down old dinghies and the rusted-out hulks of tractors, badly corroded after many years in the salt air.
I found these two old clinker-hulled luggers together with a smaller boat in a pleasing alignment and after much tinkering around, trial and error and waiting for the right light, captured this image.
There are mornings when I feel as though I am pedalling into the pages of some old-fashioned adventure story.
I love this neo-classical monument along the seafront at Bexhill-on-Sea. Built in 1911 to commemorate the coronation of King George V, it lends an air of grandeur to the seaside and early on a summer morning, when the sunrise is at 4:43am and absolutely nobody is about, I have it all to myself – it’s like having my own private photographic studio/theatre set where I can play around with light and composition. In keeping with the tone and style of the image, the map I am reading is an original 1919 cyclist’s map of southeast England.
An eerie night fog shrouds the seafront at St Leonard’s-on-Sea. I’ve noticed in the past the Hopperesque, Nighthawks quality of this illuminated street corner at the intersection of Grand Parade and Old London Road but seeing it this morning bathed in fog, was a revelation. I loved the added sense of mystery and moodiness, and the way the mist defined the figure and enhanced that atmosphere of after-hours solitude and desolation and so instead of continuing on down to the old quarter of town, I hopped off my bicycle, set up tripod and camera and began to shoot.
Although it means I’ll have to wash off my bicycle when I get home, to splash away the sand and salt, I can never resist a stroll along the beach when the tide is out in the small hours of the morning, and the beach sands are shimmering in the blue hour light. I especially like walking amongst the massive Victorian ironwork of the old fun pier at Hastings at this hour – in this case about a quarter past four.
For quite some time I’ve wanted to capture an image of this stretch of country lane on the outskirts of Winchelsea. I loved the old iron fence and the stately oaks that flanked the road, but I never liked the results of any of my efforts to shoot it. Even in the sweetest morning light, when the air had an appealing champagne clarity and logic told me the images ought to be beautiful, the results I had were underwhelming. Not bad, but very ordinary. But this morning I arrived to find it cloaked in ground mist and with dazzling early morning sunshine simmering through, diffusing the light and illuminating the oaks and their canopy of leaves in a rich painterly glow. I hadn’t planned on shooting here, but when I saw this light I put my other plans aside, hastily dismounted and set up tripod and camera and shot a series of images on this elusive lane that, for once, really pleased me.
I was spinning along the seafront at Bexhill this morning on my way to the marshes where I planed to shoot the sunrise at a particular bend in the road I had in mind, flanked by marsh grasses and curving into what I hoped would be smouldering red dramatic sunrise. It was four o’clock in the morning and the air was warm and still and sticky, as it had been all night – the foretaste of another hot day. But as I pedalled along the promenade I happened to glance out to sea and suddenly my plans to ride out onto the marsh were put on hold. You don’t often see the sea like this – the water like iridescent silk, delicate pink, with a pale violet haze over the horizon. It was magical, and I had it all to myself. And so I detoured to the King George V Coronation Colonnade, to use as a sort of theatre set one of its classic domes, which was glowing ivory white in the pre-dawn light, and with those delicate pinks and violets in the background, took this image – capturing what I hope is an atmosphere of pleasurable solitude and a sense of the otherworldly quality of the light and mood.
Another morning of thick sea fog shrouding the marsh and transforming it into an eerie monochrome world – and a rather dangerous one. While I was shooting this scene, not far from Norman’s Bay, four cars came whizzing out of the mists, with no headlights on despite the almost nil visibility. After the fourth one shot past I decided that discretion was the better part of valour here and packed up my tripod and camera and beat a hasty retreat.
A true pea soup fog on the marsh this morning . It’s common to have a ground mist out there, sometimes even a fairly thick mist but not one of these old fashioned sea fogs that clings to the landscape right through the early morning hours and lingers nearly to midday. While the fog adds an element of drama and transforms the landscape it also presents a bit of a challenge for shooting – not least of which is the camera’s autofocus not picking up anything through the mist and therefore refusing to fire the shutter release: no picture. Several times this morning I had the infuriating experience of returning to my camera and tripod, feeling smugly pleased with myself for hitting my marks just-so and discovering that while I might have been perfectly in position, the camera hadn’t fired. The good news was that the fog lingered and allowed for multiple takes, hit and miss – this being one of the hits.
I had to be out the door at 2:45am in order to be sure of being in position along this bit of road just west of Beachy Head by 4:30am – so I could catch the first rays of the rising sun as they broke over the ridge-line and capture this image that I’d had in mind for some time. So many of my images are taken along intimate country lanes, and even those taken on the relative openness of the marsh road don’t have that ‘open road’ sense you get in the vastness of the South Downs with that long view down the coast to the iconic chalky cliffs of the Seven Sisters. For what is often regarded as the first day of summer I wanted to post am image that conveyed a sense of exhilaration, sunshine and limitless possibility. The weather co-operated wonderfully. The hawthorn was in bloom and the summery green of the Downs was livened by countless buttercups. It was up to me to haul myself out of bed that that ungodly hour and make the long ride by starlight to be in place.
Early morning is my usual time to be out and about on my bicycle, but clear skies and the long summer evenings drew me out for an evening ride down to the beach here at Hastings.
I had to be up and out the door by quarter past three this morning in order to be out on the marsh in time to capture this image of the Flower Moon setting over the Pevensey Marshes. This was the third morning in a row I had to be out so early – the first when I was reconnoitring locations for the shoot, the second yesterday when I pedalled all the way out there in time to see the moon disappear coyly behind a thick pall of cloud – and this morning. Three was the charm, with the skies remaining crystal clear and the moon looking creamy and lustrous against the pink-and-mauve pre-dawn sky.
I felt as though I’d peddled magically into the frame of an old oil painting this morning along the old marsh road, with the dense ground mist and the pallid sun struggling to filter through it. A love the antique quality of the light you find sometimes out here. It appeals to the romantic i me.
I love the old wooden signposts you find at crossroads on the English country lanes and the way they evoke a slower, gentler age when the world was so much bigger than it is today, when miles mattered and the distance between villages were distances to be reckoned with. This image was inspired by a cover illustration by English illustrator Ellis Martin that appeared on OS maps from 1918 to 1931, showing a cyclist in Norfolk jacket and tweed cap consulting a map in a rustic setting.
A weathered old seaside town, shuttered up in mist and rain and a solitary traveller approaching by lamplight along the tidal flat – I like a picture that suggests a story, and so this image captured before dawn on a dark and drizzly morning at St Leonard-on-Sea
As the old saying goes, you never step into the same river twice – and so it seems to be with the pretty little lanes up in the Sussex weald. A swirling ground mist, dense shadows and diffuse golden sunshine raking across a field turned this leafy little stretch of lane into a beautiful old painting I’d never seen before, although I’ve ridden along here many times.
Something about standing on the beach here, gazing at this boiling red orb of sun as it rose above the rocky arm of the harbour, makes me feel as though I were, or ought to be, far away – a distant place or a distant time – but it was only plain old Hastings, here in East Sussex, where I was no more than four miles from home
A change in colour palette and style this morning as I headed up into the weald to capture this image of an old Sussex lane, inspired by those illustrations in magazines and posters from the golden era of cycling. I’d hoped that the cow parsley would be in flower along the roadside, to give a dash of contrast to the muted tones, but in the cooler uplands of the weald that marker of spring looked to be another week away yet.
I’ve shot images similar to this one in this old shelter on the seafront promenade at Bexhill-on-Sea, but this morning’s effort with the faultlessly clear blue sky in the background is the first time I felt I got it right – capturing the bold blocky colours of an Edward Hopper painting and the similar sort of simplicity, starkness and mood.
After a year of lockdown and cooling my heels close to home, distant places beckoned. I felt an urge to travel further afield – to far-off Eastbourne, eighteen miles away, and the gilded domes and cupolas of its fabulous old fun pier. I set off at 3:45am in order to be there before sunrise, pedalling by lamplight across the darkened marsh and around the long arm of Pevensey Bay, arriving in Eastbourne just as dawn’s early light illuminated the old pier’s Arabian Nights superstructure against a backdrop of storm clouds. Thunder was rumbling in the air, adding a sense of drama to the scene. It was the first time in a year I’ve journeyed so from home on my bicycle and I was reminded yet again of how much travel and romance can be had so close at hand.
After the chilliest April in 99 years, the buds on the trees are finally bursting forth, giving a fine green haze on the trees and creating a sense of jaunty optimism as I pedalled into spring sunshine along this stretch of the old marsh road, near Pevensey. Soon hopefully we’ll be back to ‘Leafy Sussex’ again and warmer temperatures. But for now though, that lovely green haze, on a morning of champagne clarity and sparkling sunshine – however frosty the air – was more than welcome.
An understated sunrise this morning that cast a soft antique light over the landscape that very much appealed to me, and sent me off travelling to distant places and times and fond old memories. There is no end to the places one can can go on a bicycle.
Soft light and an exceptionally calm sea drew me down to this jetty at Bexhill-on-Sea this morning at high tide, just before dawn. Wanting to capture the ethereal sense of the sea and sky at the edge of the world, I stopped down the lens and used a very slow shutter speed, reminding myself to stand very, very still for the shot. The slow shutter speed allowed the clouds to smudge slightly and the already calm seas became like gently rippled silk.
Always looking for a few way to shoot the sunrise along the old marsh road, I came across this little clearing along the roadside I’d not noticed before and set up to do this shot of the sun peeping over the tips of the marsh grass, with a distant farmhouse in silhouette on a hill. I liked the sense it creates of homeward bound and the morning coffee perking in the pot.
It seems quite a stretch to call this The Pink Moon, but of course the term refers to the pink flowers – Phlox – that bloom in April, and thus give the April full moon its name. I’d planned to shoot the “Pink Moon” from the marsh road and had visions of a certain image I thought I might be able to capture, but after a couple of very early morning rides out there to scout my location and plan the shoot, and another early ride out there to attempt it – which was foiled by a totally unpredicted, and unexpected bank of cloud – I took advantage of some beautifully clear evening skies and a lowish tide to ride down to the beach at Hastings and shoot the Pink Moon as it rose out of the sea. As the twilight deepened the sky, reflected on the damp low-tide sands, became a rich lapis lazuli blue, one of my favourite shades – and something which all on its own made the trip down there worthwhile.
Murk and a sense of mystery along the old marsh road. I love the thick ground mists that so often well up here and the sense of solitude one finds in riding through it is the quiet hour before dawn.
A touch of Edward Hopper style this morning at the King George V Coronation Colonnade on the seafront at Bexhill-on-Sea. This is a concept I’ve been fiddling around with for several months, since at least last September, with varying degrees of success. There are two domes on the monument and my earlier efforts were centred around the other dome. Some of them I quite liked, but this morning’s efforts, using the eastern dome have come the closest to realising the vision I had for the image.
On a week when lockdown restrictions have been eased here in England, I pedalled up Battery Hill, along the seacliffs over by Fairlight – a strenuous ride to tackle first thing in the morning, but worth it for the exhilarating views of the Sussex countryside. I reached the crest of the hill just as the sun was breaking over the horizon and illuminating the treetops, even as the little lane upon which I was riding was still immersed in shadow. I set up camera and tripod on the hilltop to capture this hopefully optimistic – and metaphorical – image of emerging from the dark into the sunshine of a brand new day.
I love riding through the dappled light one finds along these old English country lanes, but capturing this magic in an image is awfully tricky. The strong contrasts between light and shadow, and the random and shifting nature of the sunlight means I’m either going to be too much obscured by shadow, or my silhouette is going to be lost – for these old sunken lanes can be very shady – or, if one exposes for shadows, there will be some random distracting hot-spots in the image from overexposed patches of sunlight.
It takes a bit of location scouting, quite a bit, actually, and after much trial and error, and many futile shoots along what seemed at the time to be promising stretches of country lane, I found this attractive bend along Wickham Lane, near the village of Winchelsea. Here I had a nicely lit backdrop and good overall lighting, and a broad shaft of sunshine into which I could be emerging, giving definition and detail to the bicycle and myself, while still being in that evocative dappled shade. After that it was a matter of timing and finding the sweet spot on the road, and doing multiple takes before the rapidly shifting early morning sun could alter the scene.
A bit of seaside minimalism this morning with this distant silhouette of man and bicycle set against a wide swathe of shimmering low-tide sands on the beach at Hastings in an apricot coloured glow of dawn. I used to filters here – this is the image as it appeared in the camera. It’s wonderful, the effects that low-angled sunshine and a thick rolling mist off the sea can create. I was pleased too, to learn that the New York Times has re-run my story in their Weekender edition, which is a compilation of eleven hand-picked features representing the week’s best. How lovely to be included in that!
Once upon a time this stretch of the Sussex coast was Britain’s own Costa del Sol. To this day the area holds the record for the most hours of sunshine ever recorded in a single month in Britain – a record set way back in the especially sunny July of 1911. Even now on a day of broad sunshine, like this morning, one can still get a sense of being in some warm Mediterranean clime, especially if you get the setting right – like this scene at the King George V Coronation Colonnade, along the seafront at Bexhill on Sea.
With dawn still an hour away and a dense sea mist rolling in off the Channel, “blue hour” this morning had a velvety richness that really appealed to me.
I’ve always preferred softer tones of blue hour, those magic moments just before dawn, to the hard dramatic oranges and bold crimsons of sunrise itself. I especially loved the violets and pink in the along the horizon this morning, the gentle blues in the sky and the same soft hues reflected on the shimmering low tide sands on the beach at Hastings.
I rode down to the seafront at S Leonards-on-Sea this morning to find a thick sea mist rolling in off the Channel. Leaning my bicycle against one of the beach huts along this bit of the promenade, I stopped to take in the sunrise.
What a magic sunrise this was! I pedalled down to the seafront in this mist, an hour before dawn. The tide was out and so I walked down onto the wide flat stretch of sand and awaited the sunrise. I had the place all to myself. As the daybreak grew nearer the sky grew light and the sands began to shimmer. And then a haunting orange orb of sun simmered through the mist, casting reflections. I set up my tripod and a wide angle lens, and still with the beach entirely to myself, strode into the frame with my bicycle.
With low tide coinciding with the dawn the past couple of days, I was drawn back to the iron pilings of Hastings Pier. I love them in blue hour – the cold blue light before dawn seems to bring out the moodiness of all this old ironwork. I photographed it in heavy mist the other day, but this morning the skies were clear, etching the details into sharper relief and making it feel like a different place altogether.
In most of my landscapes I like to have a human figure – that of a cyclist – to add interest, a sense of a story or a bit of scale. Occasionally though I come across a scene that needs to be empty, such as this view along the coast towards Norman’s Bay in hazy early morning sunshine. I loved the minimalism and the faded painterly effect, something that was ruined when I placed myself in the frame. And so his simple bicycle-free image of a stretch of Sussex coast in pale spring sunshine.
It was bitterly cold when I pedalled down to the seafront at St Leonards-on-Sea this morning, the mercury hovering at around minus-3ºC, but the blue hour light was beautiful, the winds were light and the high tide was lapping gently at the shingle. And so I paused to admire this view up the seafront, towards the glow of the sunrise.
I love pedalling along a darkened country lane by the light of the full moon – this along the old marsh road in the hour before dawn. The sky was just starting to blush violet and a pre-dawn glow was creeping over the landscape. A lovely time of day.
A thick sea mist had enveloped the seafront at Hastings when I made my way down there an hour or so before dawn. When the sun eventually rose, the dense fog diffused its light so that when I formed this composition with the heavy iron pylons of Hastings Pier, I found it made a strong monochrome image which I liked very much. I set up my tripod beneath the pier and shot this scene of myself walking along the shimmering low tide sands. The strong black and white contrasts and the heaviness of the Victorian ironwork lend the image a graphic old fashioned quality I particularly liked.
A sunrise this morning that J.M.W. Turner might have painted. I came down to the seafront hoping that mists and a receding tide might make for some interesting compositions and was rewarded with this gorgeous sunrise over this wonderfully deserted beach. I had the place to myself and with this shimmering orb of sun sifting through the mist and all this gorgeous creamy soft light. Loved it!
I took advantage of the low tide to go out on the damp sands for this view along the Hastings/St Leonard seafronts with the nearly full moon declining in the western sky, in that magic blue hour, not long before sunrise.
A smouldering orb of sun peeps above the ground mist as I spin along the old marsh road, near Pevensey,
A lamp-lit spin along the Old Marsh Road, near Pevensey, in that magic time just before dawn. Blue hour and a thick sea mist is a lovely combination…
The golden hour of dawn finds me spinning along the Old Marsh Road, not far from Pevensey, homeward bound from a thirty-mile ride by lamplight through the Sussex countryside.
Low tide and a deserted beach in the blue hour just before dawn at Bexhill-on-Sea. There was only me and the solitary figure of an angler digging lugworms on the shimmering sands below the tide line. I liked the solitude and sense of vastness in the scene, and the silhouette of the bicycle against the dawn sky.
A rather Hopperesque image captured along the seafront promenade at Bexhill-on-Sea. The times being what they are we are all living in Edward Hopper paintings these days with the emphasis on isolation and social distance. This image taken at one of the newly restored Edwardian shelters along the promenade on a fine morning when people were out taking their socially distanced constitutions on the seafront.
Cycling along the seafront promenade at Bexhill-on-Sea in that velvety blueness of the blue hour, forty minutes before sunrise on a damp and cloudy Thursday morning. I loved the after-hours melancholy of the scene and so I set up my tripod and camera and made a few passes to capture this image.
Over the past year as I’ve pedalled around the countryside, travelling at home, I’ve come to know the tide tables as well as the fisherman do and especially like those mornings when low tide coincides with the sunrise, and the shimmering colours one finds on the damp beach sands as the sun emerges over the sea. I have a couple of favourite places to come then – and this stretch of beach near the King George V Colonnade at Bexhill-on-Sea is one of them.
Bitter cold and a hard frost made for a challenging ride. I’d wanted to capture an image of these imposing oaks coated with frost, but getting there at dawn required a very early start and pedalling for more than an hour and a half by cold starlight to be there – to say nothing of the potential to fall on the icy road. It was a risk – one I’m not so certain I’d take again – but the image seemed worth the effort.
It was bitterly cold this morning and a strong wind was blowing so I decided at the last minute to skip my ride across the marsh in favour of shooting along the seafront. I remembered also that the tide would be out and that January’s Wolf Moon would be hovering over the town. It made for a lovely start to the day.
A sunrise spin along the Edwardian seafront promenade in Bexhill-on-Sea. Like Henry David Thoreau, in Walden, I consider myself something of an inspector of sunrises as I make my morning rounds on my bicycle. This morning’s was a particularly nice one.
Watching the sunrise from the seawall by an old cafe along the promenade at St Leonard-on-Sea. I’d had an idea for this image for sometime, but had to wait for the seasons to pass so I could get the sun rising in the right part of the sky to illuminate the bicycle the way I wanted it.
I’ve spent virtually all of my adult life – the past forty years – living as an expatriate in one country or another, and with that comes a certain sense of isolation, and being an outsider, living one’s life among strangers and being a stranger oneself. I found a chance to capture that sense of otherness here on the Hastings’ seafront at low tide.
Incoming! A heavy winter storm brews over the English Channel in the blue hour before dawn as I was pedalling along the seafront at Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex. I like being out and about, monitoring the weather and the sunrises, and I loved the colours and tones in these layered clouds, and using the red taillight on my bicycle as a counterpoint. I find that my taillight makes for a handy artistic device in my cycling photography in helping to define the bicycle and cyclist in the image, and helping establish a mood of solitude and self-reliance.
I loved the pale blue winter sky and the way it played with the pale gold of the landscape this morning as I pedalled across the marshes towards Pevensey. Having the right colour jersey is an important detail in making these cycling landscapes work, and I always keep a couple of spares in my camera bag so I can change if necessary. This pale blue RApha one has been very handy on more than one occasion, and although it was rather nippy to change on the roadside, and then ride without a jacket on this cold frosty morning, I thought the overall tone was worth a few minutes of chilliness.
It was every bit as chilly as it looks on my ride along the old marsh road this morning, with a freezing mist draping the countryside and a har frost on the ground. I checked the weather forecast before I set out and when I saw ‘freezing mist’ in the forecast for the marshes I made sure to rug up warm for my ride, but even so it was nippy – the kind of cold that seeps into your bones – and I was very much looking forward to a warming pot of coffee at the end of my ride.
Exploring the labyrinthine country lanes in the Sussex Weald can feel like a pleasurable step back in time. To create an old time mood and feel for this image I used a very shallow depth of field and a 70-200 f/2.8 zoom set to 200mm. And to add a touch of verisimilitude I brought along an original 1919 map of Southern England. At that, the old map is still wonderfully accurate when it comes to exploring these old lanes. Little has changed in a century back here.
December’s full moon is known as the Beaver Moon, sometimes known as The Cold Moon. Here was the last full moon of 2020, a year most people were not particularly sorry to see come to a close. The swan-song moon, at least, was a visual treat, and a pleasant companion for my dawn ride along the old marsh road to Pevensey
A dense sea fog over the English Channel lent a bit of JMW Turner magic to the dawn this morning at Bexhill-on-Sea.
‘Twas a dark and rainy morning along this little country lane near the village of Doleham, in East Sussex. I have shot this same scene in the broad summer sunshine but in the cold damp grey of winter it is like a completely different place.
A pre-dawn spin along Castle Lane in Pevensey takes me past the ruins of Pevensey Castle whose walls date back to the 4th century AD. This was where William the Conqueror landed and marshalled his men in October 1066 before marching them inland several miles to Senlac Hill where they fought the Battle of Hastings. The old castle was a ruin even then, and Pevensey an island, surrounded by shallow coastal marsh. I have been riding over to Pevensey for years and have long wanted to get an image of the castle that would capture something of the atmosphere of the place and a sense of the ride to get here. Autumn had the best light and with the bare trees offered the best composition. Being something of a cycling romantic I wanted to re-create the feel of an old-time cycling magazine illustration. I hope I’ve succeeded.
A week of blustery rain and powerful coastal winds stripped away the autumn leaves on the trees along the old marsh road, shifting the whole tenor of the landscape, giving it a wintry bleakness instead of the ‘harvest feel’ of autumn. I love the tracery of the bare branches against the November sky and the sense of advancing seasons and lateness.
With more and more cars on the roads these days I find myself wandering further afield, deeper into the weald, on smaller less explored lanes seeking quiet and solitude. This on a steeply descending switchback on Penshurst Lane, just before dawn.
A lamplit spin along the old marsh road.
A dense autumn ground mist cloaked the coastal marshes this morning.
With the end of lockdown traffic on our roads – even quiet country lanes – has picked up dramatically – not merely to pre-Covid levels, but to new heights of busy-ness as people avoid public transport like the…uh…well, plague, and carpooling has become not only unfashionable but downright illegal in some instances, given the ever-shifting social distancing and no-mingle regulations. And so there are lots of cars in the morning. When later sunrises are thrown into the mix, my once-quiet pre-dawn rides across the marsh have taken on an urban commuting feel, with car after car sweeping by, solitude out the window and the throb of engines replacing the soft splashes of waterfowl and the whirr of insects in tall grass.
Low tide on the beach at Hastings, a few minutes before sunrise on a warm clear Indian summer morning, and the damp sands are shimmering like carnival glass.
A quiet dawn and a fragile, antique light along the seafront promenade at Bexhill on Sea. I’ve always liked this wonderfully ornate late-Victorian (1896) shelter and have been waiting for ages for just the right sort of complimentary light in which to photograph it. With the run of fine Indian summer days we’ve had lately I’ve been riding over to Bexhill before dawn each morning and setting up my tripod and then waiting and watching as the sun rose and bathed the shelter in varying lights. I took many, many shots over the days and while i had some that I liked, none of them quite captured the antique feel I was after. But then finally it happened – a dawn with perfectly clear skies and that beautifully translucent champagne light. And I captured this image.
Traffic has picked up noticeably since the lockdown eased and now with the resumption of the school year, it has picked up even more. Coupled with the later sunrises – this morning’s was at 6:34 – I am finding it harder and harder to shoot quiet country scenes. Those quiet little lanes are not all mine anymore, and the ride home is becoming more and more unpleasant in fast and aggressive peak-hour traffic. And so lately I’ve been shooting on the promenades along the seafronts in Bexhill and St Leonard’s-on-Sea. This I shot just before dawn this morning on the seaside bicycle in St Leonard’s, near the ruins of the old lido.
Although the morning was predicted to be clear, a thick haze had crept over the sky by the time I reached Bexhill, at about half past five. I had planned on taking some predawn shots elsewhere along the seafront and was feeling rather glum about the dull light when I happened to glance to the east and saw a huge magenta sun smouldering in the haze over the Channel. It was unreal, otherworldly. I grabbed my tripd and camera, set up quickly – there was little time for the niceties of composition – and began shooting this very strange sunrise. I’ve since read that modelling from NOAA suggests that this eerie sunrise may have been due in part to smoke from the bushfires raging in California, Oregon and Washington.
Making plans by lamplight. Early morning along the esplanade at Bexhill-on-Sea.
The mornings are getting noticeably darker now, with the sun not rising until twenty minutes past six. As I spun along the Bexhill seafront in the dark at half past five on this rare perfectly clear morning, with a slack tide and calm seas, I couldn’t resist pausing to enjoy this view over the English Channel.
Another Hopperesque image, this one inspired by Edward Hopper’s 1952 painting Morning Sun. It was taken at the King George V Coronation Colonnade on the seafront at Bexhill-on-Sea. This one took a surprising amount of work and patience. I had a general idea of what I wanted and kept going back every morning for a week, trying out different compositions and, since each sunrise is different, varying qualities of light. I had a couple of images that I kind of liked, but what I really wanted was perfectly clear skies. That’s a big ask in England. Every evening I would check the weather – the Met Office, I’ve learned from long experience, has a way of dangling clear morning skies like a carrot and then when you wake up you find it ain’t so (and that they’ve changed their forecast during the night to match the real-life conditions). But then it happened, a perfectly clear dawn. I woke to a sky full of stars. I couldn’t believe my luck. In my eagerness I hastened over there an hour before sunrise – way too early – and stood about anxiously, certain that some great cloudbank would come along and ruin it. But it didn’t. The sun dawned clear and bright. And I got busy with my camera.
Having done so much trial-run preparation during the week, artists studies if you will, I knew right where to set up my tripod. Since the ground falls away from the colonnade, I had to shoot from a gentle rise about fifty metres distant, which meant a fifty meter dash for every take. While I do a lot of cycling, I don’t do much running and during the course of the week, and this morning’s shoot, I must have run several miles’ worth of windsprints. By my final frames I was having to give my achy legs a couple of extra seconds to get into position. Still, I was happy to do it and pleased with the results.
A sunny bank holiday weekemd, a bicycle and an open road. It doesn't get much better than that. I went for a Mediterranean vibe this morning, something suggestive of more distant and romantic travels than just a spin along the familiar old English seaside. Just...
Liquorice colours and minimalism on the glistening low-tide sands at Bexhill-on-Sea in the quiet hour before dawn.
A line of squalls blew in from the Atlantic, bringing heavy cloud and wind-whipped raindrops along the seafront at Bexhill. This taken shortly before dawn at the King George V Coronation Colonnade along the promenade with the tattered Union Jack fluttering in the gusts.
I’ve long been a fan of Edward Hopper and his portrayals of solitude, insularity, pensiveness and the sort of bittersweet after-hours melancholy that characterises much of his work – all themes that play well with today’s world of social distancing and isolation. But there is a hidden resilience in his characters too, that often goes unremarked. In this ornate Edwardian shelter along the seafront promenade at Bexhill-on-Sea, I saw a chance to capture some of this resilience in a quintessentially Hopperesque setting and style. Here, the solitary cyclist is facing the sun, consulting a map, making plans, envisioning a future, and with the means at hand to take himself there, make it happen. To create this image I visited the shelter repeatedly over a succession of mornings, photographing it from different angles, then waited for a morning of soft diffused light. In keeping with the tone of the image, and to make sure the paper colour of the map didn’t conflict in any way, I used an original 1919 motoring and cycling map of southern England.
Continuing to play with the Edwardian shelters on the Bexhill seafront, with a Hopperesque image this morning, helped along in no small part by the delightful pink light that bathed the scene in the moments before sunrise.
More of a photo-journalistic feel to this morning’s offering, a snapshot of a moment. For some months now this Edwardian shelter on the seafront at Bexhill-on-Sea has been undergoing restoration, surrounded by chain link and construction cladding. This week, all was unveiled and, what has been especially nice for me, the lights have been left on an all-night timer, making a nicely lit stage set for this image of a cyclist planning a ride in the blue hour before dawn .
The sea was eerily slack this morning when I was riding along the promenade at Bexhill-on-Sea, as calm as a lake on a still day and with a thick misty haze obscuring the horizon. The tide was in and the concrete jetty looked to me like an empty stage. I hopped off my bicycle and made my way out onto it. An obliging fishermen, out to catch some mackerel, let me have the stage to myself for this shot.
Looking east along the coast towards Hastings from the seafront promenade at Bexhill-on-Sea at daybreak on a warm August morning.
Dawn sunshine illuminates the branches of the forest canopy over this old sunken lane in the Sussex weald.
One nice way to freshen up after a hot sticky sleepless night is an easy predawn spin along the seafront, your cheeks fanned by a gentle breeze of your own making and with the splendour the sunrise to put the day back on track.
I like the sense of isolation and thoughtful solitude in Edward Hopper’s paintings and saw a chance to affect some of that same sense myself in this image taken at the Edwardian shelter on the seafront at Bexhill-on-Sea.
I love the old Edwardian shelters along the seafront promenade at Bexhill-on-Sea, this particular one especially. There’s something exuberantly frivolous about all the fretwork and curlicues and elaborate architecture simply to provide cover for a public bench. It says something about the times when they were built, when aesthetics were as important as function. Councils would never spend money building something so elegant and frivolous today. This morning I had the benefit of both aesthetics and function, while I was shooting this scene on this warm muggy dawn a fine cool sprinkling rain began to fall.
A lovely dawn light over the English Channel this morning ahead of what the Met Office tells us is likely to be the warmest day of the year.
A quiet dawn by a deserted beachfront café along the seafront at St Leonard’s-on-Sea
August’s full moon is the Barley Moon. With clear skies and the moon set coinciding with low tide and sunrise I rode down to the beach at Bexhill before dawn this morning to watch the Barley Moon set over the cliffs at Beachy Head.
You can’t really see the sunrise when you’re cycling along these ancient dark sunken lanes in the Sussex weald, but you can get a wonderful sense of what is going on out of view when the sun’s early rays illuminate the forest canopy above you. This along Compass Lane, near the village of Ninfield, East Sussex.
First rays of sunshine glow on the flank of a distant hillside near the village of Doleham at the start of a hot and muggy day late in July.
First rays of morning sunshine illuminate the tall grasses along the marsh road on the homeward-bound leg of my ride to Pevensey.
One place you’ll never find me is on Strava. Or pedalling around with one of the nifty GPS-equipped cycling computers that uses satellite tracking to tell me where I am, how fast I am going and how much elevation I’ve gained or lost in the course of my ride. If I am uncertain of my location, I look at a map. As to speed I am generally either going slow or slower, and my legs give me a sufficient indication of how much climbing I’ve done and whether or not a hill is steep or really steep. I am old school in this regard and quite happy to remain that way. For the purposes of authenticity in taking this photo, I used a 1919 cycling map of the south of England. And what is especially nice about it is that on the crooked little Sussex lanes I follow, it is almost perfectly accurate!
Just to show you don’t need to hop on a jet to enjoy the magic of a sunrise above the clouds – a spin along the old marsh road in the hours before dawn found me on this gentle rise, with thick ground fog clinging to the lowlands, just as the sun broke above the horizon – giving me a chance to enjoy a once familiar spectacle that I hadn’t seen since the last time I was on an airplane, returning from South America in March.
Dazzling sunshine and patchy ground mist created a pleasing watercolour wash effect to the backdrop of this stretch of quiet country lane near Norman’s Bay, along the Sussex coast.
Spinning along the seaside promenade at Hastings, one can easily imagine that one’s pedalling along the deck of some grand old liner, with its white-painted nautical railings and the wide blue sea spreading away to starboard.
I set out very, very early this morning in the hopes of glimpsing the comet Neowise in the dark skies over the marsh. The comet proved elusive, but the sunrise was lovely with the ground mist clinging to the landscape.
It was heavily overcast when I set out this morning at 3:30am with patchy ground mist clinging to the landscape along the marsh road, but a quiet sort of beauty nonetheless.
There’s no finer place to witness a sunrise than from the saddle of a bicycle on a country road miles from home.
Cresting a rise on the marsh road just at daybreak on a hot summer morning.
Spinning along the seafront promenade at Bexhill-on-Sea bright and early on a warm sultry July morning. Later on the promenade will be bustling with day-trippers and beach goers, and the ice cream kiosk will be doing brisk trade, but for now I had this lovely sunlit stretch of promenade all to myself.
Seizing the day on the old marsh road…I had been wanting to try something new in photographing the marsh road, something with a different style and tone, and so I set up my tripod along the side of a stretch of road that nearly – but not quite – ran into the sunrise. I used a wide-angle lens to get a sense of the road leading into the horizon and relied on the dark backdrop of marsh grass for visual contrast wit the bicycle. I was pleased with the results, but more pleased with it still when I used a sepia toner to create a more uniform tone.
No, this isn’t a black-and-white photograph but real life: the result of thick sea fog, dense shadows and diffuse sunshine that created this stark monochrome landscape through which I rode along the old marsh road to Pevensey this morning.
Pink dawn by the old beach huts along the seafront at St Leonard’s-on-Sea
A pause at a deserted beachfront café near the ruins of the old lido at St Leonard-on-Sea.
Sunrise over the English Channel: morning sun shimmers on the low tide sands along the beach at Hastings
Good old marsh road – always worth the trouble of rising early and setting out by lamplight to be there for the dawn’s early light. It wasn’t just the magic of mists and golden sunshine that made the morning special, but the lively dawn chorus of chattering birds, waterfowl and the insects whirring in the tall grass that brought the landscape to life.
A spin along the seafront promenade at Bexhill-on-Sea at the start of what promises to be a warm and sultry summer day.
Bursting into morning sunshine along a leafy Sussex lane just at daybreak, near the village of Fairlight
A rolling sea mist and a smouldering orb of a sun combine to cast a rich orange glow over the landscape at the start of a hot summer day along the old marsh road not far from Pevensey.
The sunken mediaeval lanes that meander through the Sussex weald are delightful to ride along – moody and atmospheric, they’re like pedalling into the pages a storybook. But gosh, they are tough to photograph. The shade beneath the forest canopy is dense enough that even on a bright summer morning you can find yourself in need of a headlamp – especially with potholes and damp leaves and broken branches along the way. At the same time the shafts of sunlight coming through breaks in the canopy create hot spots in the image. It’s tricky to find the right balance. This image taken early in the morning along Pannell Lane, between the villages of Pett and Winchelsea.
A silvery disc of sun shimmers through a break in the clouds on a thundery and unsettled morning along the marsh road.
Could this possibly be the soft leafy Sussex whose lanes we know and ride each morning? It was over 20ºC when I went out the door at half past three this morning and when the sun rose over the old marsh road it dawned hot and harsh – none of that gentle English glow today. Instead a metallic glare that bleached out the colours and cast hard shadows.
Purple shadows and a sky full of promise and bright yellow sunshine at the start of a warm sultry summer day on the old marsh road.
There’s a delicious satisfaction in being out and about on a country lane, spinning along under your own steam, while all the rest of polite society is still home in bed with the shutters drawn. This image was taken about twenty past four this morning not far from the village of Brede.
Like Thoreau in Walden I am a self-appointed inspector of sunrises and moonsets. Where he was obliged to make his rounds on foot, I have the luxury of making mine on a doughty old English tourer.
With many people returning to work this week and hardly anybody using public transport, the roads are filling up with traffic. Even the lonely marsh road is suddenly surprisingly busy, at four o’clock in the morning no less, with early bird commuters taking a short cut to Eastbourne, Lewes or Brighton. This morning a thick sea mist lay over the landscape and as I was shooting I kept being interrupted by the passage of automobiles. I cursed under my breath as I heard them motoring up out of the fog behind me, but later when I was home and editing the images I found I was rather intrigued by the sense of menace created by their approaching headlamps.
After setting out from the house by starlight at quarter to four this morning, full of jaunty expectancy and visions of capturing the crescent moon hovering over the bicycle path along the promenade at St Leonards-on-Sea I arrived at the seafront twenty minutes later to find the moon hiding behind a creeping veil of cloud with little prospect of change. I loitered anyway, hoping for a break in the cloud or, failing that, an attractive slant of sunshine once the sun finally rose. I got neither, but as I idled on the promenade, in the pale light of dawn, I looked out to sea and noticed this fishing boat surrounded by gulls, not far off shore, catching the makings of today’s fish & chips. And so instead of doing a cycling shot this morning I aimed my camera out to sea, channeled my inner Winslow Homer and came up with this image.
I liked the stylised simplicity of this composition – the repetition of these beach huts and the silhouette of the lamplit cyclist against the dense navy blue of a hazy June pre-dawn sky. I set up my camera in the weedy lot which back in the 1930s was the huge public swimming pool of the St Leonards lido and made a few passes along this stretch of the seafront bicycle path. The time was about 4:20am – half an hour or so before sunrise.
A bit of an urban vibe this morning with a spin along Bottle Alley, the 1930s covered promenade on the Hastings seafront.
In this new era of isolation and aloneness, my take on Edward Hopper’s Early Sunday Morning (1930), captured along Cambridge Road in Hastings in the blue hour before dawn – on a Sunday, naturally.
Blink and you miss it. Like the iridescence in carnival glass the colours in the pre-dawn sky this morning were shifting constantly. As I photographed this scene with the moon and the domes of the King George V Coronation Pavilion the colours in the sky shifted rapidly from deep blue, through a suite of mauves, violets and purples each shade lasting only seconds…
I was delighted to see that clear skies for forecast for early this morning – to coincide with the setting of the Strawberry Moon, as June’s full moon is known. And with the sunrise at 4:46am and the moon scheduled to set at 5:17am it gave me a nice window for shooting. Having a low tide as well was icing on the cake.
Travels at Home: I like the old wooden mileposts one encounters on the lanes, legacies of an era when distance and miles meant more than they do today. Given the way the world is evolving at the moment, this quaintly old-fashioned grasp of distance and travel may be coming back into vogue.
This lonely column is all that remains of the once glorious St Leonard’s Lido, built back in the 1930s doing the glory days of the English seaside holiday. At the time of its opening it was the second biggest lido in Britain, sporting a million-gallon pool, diving platforms, a roller skating rink, cafes, and underground parking. More than 33,000 visitors flocked to the site the first week it opened, late in May of 1933. Alas that was the only summer the enormous complex ever turned a profit. It was closed and demolished decades ago, with only this solitary column standing as a reminder.
This old ice cream kiosk on the deserted seafront promenade at Bexhill-on-Sea and the impersonal space around it called to mind the sort of after-hours melancholy of an Edward Hopper painting. I pedalled down there at 4am this morning and making use of the rich blue pre-dawn twilight, and the isolating taillight on my bicycle, with its suggestion of solitude and retreat, made a Hopperesque image of my own.
Civil twilight is the unromantic astromonical term for that magic period just before sunrise (or just after sunset) when the sun is six degrees or less below the horizon, near enough to cast a pleasing glow in the sky. This morning, according to the almanac I use to plan my rides, Civil Twilight began at 4:05am in my part of Sussex at this time of year. That means an early start. I had already ridden twelve miles by then, and was pedalling along this leafy little lane near Rye to a cheerful dawn chorus.
I have been planning this shot for some time, waiting for the leafy canopy to thicken and for the leaves themselves to get that rich summery green. The plan was to head out very, very earlyone morning wearing a scarlet jersey for contrast and to arrive at the hilltop on this little lane near Fairlight just at sunup, wen the sun’s first rays pop through an opening in the greenery enough to illuminate a cyclist churning up this steep grade. I had the vision, and the ambition, but when it ame to crawling out of bed and being on the road by 3:30am, with the prospect of a long and very hilly ride on darkened lanes to get where I needed to be, I found myself conjurnig up reasons for putting off this particular shoot. Eventually though I summoned the resolve and made the hilly, lamplit trek out here and then put in the effort of doing multiple takes on this fourteen per cent grade. It was definitely a case of suffering for my art, but I was pleased with the results.
A quiet spin along the seafront promenade at Hastings, in the blue hour before dawn.
Sentinel oaks and a splash of early morning sunshine along a country lane near the town of Rye, East Sussex. Who’d be anywhere else?
It’s a quarter to five in the morning along an evocative old sunken lane near the village of Winchelsea. By now I’ve already ridden over an hour by lamplight along darkened streets and down winding country lanes to be here. A subtle pink glow in the sky and just barest tinge of warmth on the sandstone facade of the farmhouse on the hill behind me is the first tantalising hint that sunrise is not far off.
I had an audience on my ride across the marsh this morning – something I’m not accustomed to given my early starts – and for novelty’s sake I paused to capture this image. A friend of mine, seeing it, said it reminded him of the opening scene to Great Expectations. I rather liked that. Although I took several frames, this one appealed to me the most: where the cow is breaking the Fourth Wall, staring into the camera and communicating to the viewer her wonderment at what was going on.
A burst of intense golden sunshine on my morning ride to Pevensey. There’s no more satisfying place to enjoy a sunrise than from the saddle of a bicycle when you’re miles from home, having been up and out and taking a measure of the day while the rest of the world is home in bed.
No prizes for guessing why Sussex is known as “Leafy Sussex”. The richness and vivacity of the spring leaves in the forest canopy along the lanes makes them a delight to ride along on a bright Sunday morning in May. This image captured along Stonestile Lane, between Hastings and Westfield.
I love crescent moons. There is something magical about them. So when I saw that a fine thin crescent moon would be rising at 3:59am this morning, and the prediction was for generally clear skies, I realised that an early start would be in order if I wanted to catch it before the sun rose and faded it out. With sunrise this morning slated for 5:05am it gave me a narrow window of opportunity – especially since the particular country lane I had in mind for the shot, where I knew I could get a good view of the rising moon, was a good 45 minutes’ ride away. I was out the door by 3:40am, pedalling hopefully into the darkened countryside. The result, I think, was worth the effort.
There is something exhilarating about pedalling into a sunrise when you’re miles from home, having already ridden a long ways by lamplight while all the rest of polite society is home in bed. It makes a day feel as bright and full of possibilities as a new-minted penny.
As spring advances towards summer the leaves on the trees take on a rich summery greenness and form dense canopies over the little lanes in the weald – such as this one near the village of Fairlight. Pedalling along them by lamplight in the grey hours before dawn and then bursting out into clear morning sunshine, with the rolling Sussex countryside spreading away, gives me a giddy sense of adventure and going places on my morning rides.
It’s surprising what you can discover when you explore your neighbourhood by bicycle – slowly, intimately, camera in hand, looking upon the familiar with fresh eyes. I’d been past this corner on London Road countless times in the past, by bus and in cars, but I’d never before noticed its peculiar Hopperesque quality. I love Edward Hopper’s art. Always have. His distinctive blend of pensiveness, melancholy, solitude, use of stark impersonal space and the edgy after-hours feel he manages to conjure in his work has always appealed to me. When I came upon this desolate street corner at 4:30am as I pedalled along the seafront in Hastings, I immediately thought of Hopper’s iconic 1942 painting Nighthawks. And so I set up my tripod across the street and created this tribute to it.
What a glorious thing a bicycle is – jaunty, elegant, easy to repair and maintain, almost glib in its 19th century simplicity, it can carry us anywhere we want to go, anytime we like, at the drop of a hat, be it just down to the shops or around the world. And it will do it swiftly, cleanly and for free. And yet at the same time it’s lightweight enough to tuck under your arm and carry up a flight of stairs.
Sunrise cast a soft painterly glow over the landscape this morning – a contrast to the histrionic sunrises, blown highlights and rosy-gold mists I’ve been witnessing lately on my marsh rides. Today’s show came with a better soundtrack though – an overture of waterfowl honking, quacking and splashing, songbirds trilling and countless insects buzzing and whirring in the grass – everybody getting an early start on what promises to be a fine warm summery day.
A landmark hill on the homeward leg of my old familiar ride across the marsh to Pevensey. Here I’m still a good forty-five minutes out, with home and hearth and a fresh pot of coffee waiting up the road. I have been wanting to capture this image for quite some time, but until this morning the lure of home and fresh coffee would invariably bring out the procrastinator in me: I’d do it another day. This morning though I was out on the marsh especially early – before 5am – and the light was perfect, irresistible. And so I pulled over, set up tripod and camera and captured this image.
I just had a feeling it was going to be one of those smouldering sunrises this morning, and so I left the house extra early to be sure to be in position in time – and given the early sunrise times around here, and the time it takes to pedal out into the marsh, that meant setting off at 4am sharp. My hopes built when I saw the thick ground mist shrouding the landscape and sure enough, this luminous orb of sun simmered above the horizon at twenty past five. Looking at it, one could imagine being somewhere exotic and far away – Africa, perhaps – instead of familiar old Sussex, but such is the magic of travelling at home.