Journeys From My DoorstepA Visual Diary
Photography by Roff Smith
I like experimenting with different styles and here once again I am going for the tone of those colour-plate illustrations you find in those old-style adventure classics, the ones that were illustrated by the likes of Howard Pyle or N.C. Wyeth, but with a touring cyclist instead of pirates, highwaymen. Here also I am paying tribute to the English illustrator Ellis Martin who illustrated the covers of Ordnance Survey maps during the interwar years (1919-1939). He did lovely work and a great many of his covers depicted a cyclist or motorcyclist, in jacket and cap, paused at a crossroads, consulting his OS map. As a cycling romantic, who loves old maps and illustrations as well, I couldn’t resist turning my hand at producing one – and so this image captured before dawn at a crossroads along Doleham Lane. By way of authenticity, the map I am consulting is an original 1919 Ordnance Survey map with one of Ellis’ illustrations on the cover. For those interested in the technical aspects, I achieved the painterly/illustration feel by shooting in low light using a telephoto lens (70-200 f2.8) and a very shallow depth of field and then flattened the tonal contrast slightly.
Hastings, one of the ancient original Cinq Port towns along the Sussex-Kent coast, has one of the last, and the largest of the old-fashioned shore-based fishing fleets left in Britain. For more than a thousand years the local fisherman have dragged their small boats up onto the shingle beach beneath the sea cliffs on the east end of town, at a place that has been known as The Stade, for centuries. The local fleet work the banks just off shore, and the catch they bring back is not only sustainable but has a very low carbon footprint, having come only a bare few miles. I’ve wanted to capture a sense of this aspect of the town in my travels-at-home photography but needed to wait until winter, when the sunrises over the sea instead of coming up from behind the cliffs, so I could get the right sort of delicious light to make the image ‘sing’. On a cold clear January morning I went down to the Stade and setup this shot between two old clinker-hulled boats.
A combination of clear cold winter light and low tide drew me down to the seafront this morning, and to the broad stretch of shimmering tidal sands just east of the old pier at Hastings. It was just before sunrise when the sands were aglow with the ambient light of blue hour and reflecting the silvery-blue of the sky, creating an effect of a surface that was neither land nor water but some magical third state. I loved the clear fragility of the light, and the way the solitary figure of the cyclist – me! – and the spindly legs of the pier in the distance could stand out so sharply. And so I set up my tripod on the damp sands with with a 17-40 wide angle lens on the camera, made a series of self captures. I liked this one the best.
I love Art Deco and here on the seafront in St Leonards we have a lovely example of it – or rather, its first cousin, Streamline Moderne – in the form of the Marine Court Building, which was, when it opened in 1938, during the glory days of the English seaside, the tallest residential building in Britain. It was designed to resemble the (then) newly launched Cunard liner, RMS Queen Mary, with the balconies of the flats resembling promenade decks and a spacious restaurant and ballroom designed to resemble a ship’s fo’c’sle. It cost more than £500,000 to build, with the prospectus proclaiming that the flats were ‘ultra modern’ and ‘all electric’. Alas, the flats were slow to sell and the developer went bust. The building has had its ups and downs over the decades since then, but is a landmark on the St Leonard’s seafront, distinguishable from miles away. In the right light, it still projects the jazzy optimism of the Art Deco age, and the glory days of the English seaside holiday. I ride past this building every morning, but to catch it in its true glory, I made a trip down to the seafront at peak hour on a clear winter’s evening, with a faint cinnamon coloured sky in the west and with a 13-second exposure and a Zeiss 21mm lens captured this image.
Something about this image reminds me of a colour plate illustration for some old-style adventure story, something illustrated by N.C. Wyeth but with a cyclist instead of pirates or highwaymen. A dense fog settled over the weald during the night, promting me to head up into the hills to see what adventurous scenes could find ad shot this image along a serpentine stretch of lane near the ancient village of Guestling
Not so much a cycling shot this time but rather the view from the saddle – this rolling landscape just off Wickham Lane, near the ancient village of Winchelsea, just before dawn on a frosty autumn morning
It looked to me as though Nature couldn’t quite make up its mind about the sunrise this morning but went through the whole paint box trying out various shades and hues to see what might work best for the main event. Being a man of peasant tastes and disorganised mind, I found I preferred these riotous test patches to the more formal arrangement that appeared in the eastern sky about half an hour later and so I paused to capture this image along the seafront at Bexhill-on-Sea
I noticed the other morning when I was photographing this lovely old colonnade on the Bexhill seafront that its moon-like lamp globes, which had been missing for ages, had been replaced at last. They’d been smashed by vandals months ago and it apparently took quite a while to find replacements. Pleased to see it restored to its full glory, and with an image much like this in mind, I decided to ride over to Bexhill one evening and try shooting at the other end of the day for once. As things turned out, I pedalled over there three evenings on the trot, trying to get the most atmospheric light. I was fortunate in that we’d been having a burst of late summer sunshine, with clear skies and warm temperatures. And this was a scene if ever there was one, that called for translucent skies. Although I didn’t much care for the dinner-hour ride along Bexhill Road to get there, battling aggressive, homeward-bound traffic every inch of the way, once I reached the seafront things were very pleasant indeed. The tide was out, families were having picnics on the beach, couples were strolling along the promenade; the ice cream kiosks were doing brisk trade; there were queues outside the fish-and-chips shops and the summery smells of hot chips and salt-and-vinegar were in the air. As twilight deepened and the lights shimmered on, I went to work, pleased to have the colonnade to myself. The best evening light was on my second visit. As I looked over the takes on playback I found myself thinking there was something vaguely Gatsby-ish about the scene: the solitary figure, alone in a setting suggestive of wealth, staring out across the sea in the gathering dusk, as though looking for that twinkling light across the bay.
Consulting my “GPS”. Here’s how I find my way around our labyrinthine Sussex lanes – a good old-fashioned fold-out map, that is when I’m not just going by guess and by golly as I very often do. I like maps, always have. They are tactile, decorative, rich in story, suggestion and possibility. Even more I like being totally off the grid, not being tracked by satellites or having my rides recorded by Strava. I know where I’ve been – usually – and roughly how long it took me to get there. Whatever I might lose in precision by not having a bicycle computer on my handlebars – distance, elevation gain, average speed – I gain in satisfaction at having left the 21st century behind.
This particular morning I’d pedalled an hour through the hills by starlight to get to a lookout point where I hoped to shoot the sunrise over a pretty, steepled village nestled in the folds in the landscape below. That was the plan, the hope. But England’s capricious weather had other ideas. By the time I arrived, a thick cold clammy mist had rolled in, totally obscuring the view. Sunrise brought a lovely soft-box light to the hilltop but never penetrated the pea-soup mist in the valley and so at last I decided it was time to consult the map and come up with Plan B – in this case a twelve-mile retreat, back to the seafront, where the sun was shining brightly and the cafes were starting to open.
For some time I have been fascinated by the graphic possibilities in this row of old houses along Cambridge Road, coming up out of Hastings. In their blocky simplicity and strong colours they remind of Edward Hopper’s Sunday Morning (1930) and as a Hopper fan I have tried several times to photograph them with a figure of a cyclist – myself – in silhouette, pedalling up the street. Although I have posted a couple of these efforts in the past I was never really satisfied with them. The technical aspects of creating the image I had in mind were just too tricky for a solo operator, too many variables to juggle: getting a moving cyclist in sharp focus, in low light, with fine grain and with sufficient contrast to make the figure of the cyclist stand out against the dark facades of the houses. So I decided to try it without the cyclist, letting the moodiness of the desolate street speak for itself, as it does in Hopper’s painting. Straight away I could see this was the way to go. I made three visits in all to the location, an hour before dawn each time, and was fortunate on my third visit to find a lighted upstairs window in one of the houses injecting a note of intrigue and urban solitude. Freed for once from the tricky logistics of trying to capture a moving cyclist in frame, I used a manual focus 21mm Zeiss lens – a gorgeous lens! – and a four-second exposure, letting the light of a street lamp illuminate the scene from the right and allowing the film noir shadows fall where they may.
Travels at Home: Postcards From The Edge – For some time now I’ve wanted to find an image that would illustrate at a glance the notion of travelling at home, in my case the faded old seaside town of St Leonards-on-Sea and its immediate environs. But it wasn’t until a few days ago when I paid a visit to Seaside Modern: Art and Life on The Beach, an exhibition at the Hastings Contemporary art gallery, that I felt inspired to start looking around in earnest.
The exhibition, which celebrates the allure of the English seaside from Victorian times through the post-war era of the Fifties and Sixties, occupies two floors of the gallery and contains a colourful mix of vintage railway posters, advertisements, postcards, photographs, etchings and paintings of seaside holiday destinations from Yorkshire to Cornwall and of course the south coast.
In looking around for a suitable setting I found this mural, one of a series of brightly coloured murals painted along this stretch of the 1930s Modernist promenade in St Leonards. With its art deco lettering and cheery slogan promoting sea and sun, and the sleek façade of the Streamline Moderne Marine Court building which dominates the St Leonards seafront, it called to mind the old travel posters from back in the golden age of the English seaside holiday, when travelling to the seaside meant you were leaving your cares behind – and going somewhere fun and exotic!
To do this shot properly meant coming down to the seafront at the unaccustomed hour of eight o’clock in the morning, much, much later than usual. Buoyant old-style railway travel posters, I learned after a couple of unsatisfying early morning takes, aren’t about subtle lighting and muted tones. They’re about bold colours, dazzling sunshine, deep angular shadows and of course a taut blue sky. I was fortunate that all this came together yesterday morning. As a side note, the map I am holding is an original Bacon’s cycling map of Hastings and its environs, dating from around 1907 – making it somewhat anachronistic for the overall 1930s tone I was after, but I liked its ornate design, the name of the town in bold print and the image of the cyclist on the cover.
I like to think that if JMW Turner ever painted a cycling scene he might have come up with something like this. Alas, he never did. Turner died in 1851, some thirty-four years before another Englishman, John Kemp Starley, invented the modern safety bicycle at his workshop in Coventry. Even so there is a little known link between JMW Turner’s paintings and the development of the bicycle. That link is the massive eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815 – the most violent volcanic eruption in recorded human history. The ash cloud from the explosion circled the globe, lowered temperatures and temporarily altered the world’s climate to the extent that the following year, 1816, became known as the year without a summer. In the Northern Hemisphere heavy frosts fell in every month, crops failed, livestock died, and there was widespread famine. There were also vivid sunsets, of just the sort the 41 year-old JMW Turner became known for in his paintings at this time.
Elsewhere, a shortage of horses, because of the lack of feed, prompted a German inventor named Karl Drais to come up with a sort of two-wheeled hobby horse, on which one could sit and propel oneself with one’s feet – a prototype bicycle. Drais introduced it to the world in June of 1817. The Draisine, as it was known, had no pedals or drive-chain of course – just two wheels, a frame and a seat. Locomotion was purely a matter of kicking yourself along the road, balancing as you went, but all the same a rider could cover ground swiftly – so swiftly that the new, and instantly popular, vehicle was deemed a menace to pedestrians and was swiftly banned by authorities in Germany, Great Britain, and the US, thus postponing the development of the bicycle for several decades. Otherwise, who knows? JMW Turner might have included a cyclist emerging from the mists in one of his paintings, such as his Norham Castle, Sunrise which has a similar colour palette and mood to above vignette of the Pevensey Marshes bathed in mist, at sunrise.
We might be at 51ºN here along the Sussex coast, but thanks to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream we are blessed with a climate that allows us to have ornamental palm trees growing along our seaside promenades – something that comes as a surprise to many people who imagine that we’d need to travel down to the Mediterranean to see such exotica. The shelter here is a creation of Sidney Little, better known as ‘the Concrete King’ who was the Hastings’ borough engineer back in the 1930s. It was he who created the double decked promenade along the Hastings-St Leonards seafronts, built of what else? – concrete. The shelters along this promenade lack the airy charm of the ornate wooden ones along the Bexhill seafront, but has an interesting Brutalist style. I seldom shoot along this stretch of the St Leonards promenade, in part because much of it it is cluttered or in disrepair, but also because this is quite a rough area and not always the best place to be wandering around during the small hours with an obviously expensive camera – a fact I was reminded of this morning as I was shooting this image when an ugly customer in a battered blue car screeched to a halt on this desolate street at 5am and began screaming obscenities at me and threatening me with physical assault if I didn’t stop taking pictures. By the look of him and his car I am guessing he was on his way to his next burglary or drug deal and was not happy to see someone hanging about with a camera. I continued with my shoot anyway, ignoring his – unrealised – threat to come back and kill me. Nevertheless perhaps a return to the wide open spaces of the marshes tomorrow.
As anyone who follows my travels at home would know, I am a creature of the early morning hours – nearly always on the road by 4:30am and often much earlier during the summer months. Early morning hours suit me. They always have. I love the colour of the light at dawn, and I like the blissful solitude of the small hours of the morning when all the rest of polite society is in bed. But yesterday evening was so lovely and clear and warm I decided to drag the bicycle out of the shed and go for a spin along the seafront and out on the marsh. It was a very different experience – there was much more traffic on the road, even as the day was winding down, and the sun was in a different part of the sky, casting different shadows and plays of light than the ones I am accustomed to. I decided to treat it as an exploratory ride and not bother much about shooting, but on the way back home, after sunset, as I was riding along the nearly deserted promenade at Bexhill-on-Sea, a came upon this old-fashioned ice cream kiosk closing down for the night after a long and busy day pedalling ice creams to holiday beach-goers. Something about the scene put me in mind of Edward Hopper’s painting Gas, where a solitary figure of a man is closing down a gas station on a lonely road with dusk creeping up around him. I stopped and set up my tripod to capture this image.
I can appreciate an overblown histrionic sunrise as much as anyone – the sky ablaze in a suite of scarlets and golds and the newly risen sun’s rays shooting over the landscape, deepening the colours and casting rich shadows – but when it comes down to it my favourite part of the sunrise is the fifteen or twenty minutes leading up to it. My preference is always for soft pastels and muted tomes, and I love the sense of expectancy you feel as you cast your eyes along the eastern horizon and wonder what the forthcoming show is going to be like. This morning’s prelude along the old marsh road had the benefit of a thin ground mist to soften the colours further and create a pleasingly imprecise landscape, like a watercolour, that allowed me to exercise my imagination on it. This was taken about twenty minutes before sunrise on a hill near Norman’s Bay.
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.