Pace Egg play performance at Heptonstall

One of the Calder Valley’s most popular folk attractions is the annual Pace Egg Play. Its origins are now lost in the mists of time, but it continues delight generation after generation with a delightfully haphazard mix of performance, audience interaction and comedy. Revived in 1979 after a brief hiatus, the roots of Pace Egging hark back to before the 1500s, and are quite different across the north of England. In many towns the tradition has died out, but it’s still performed in the upper valley by players from Hepstonstall, and Calder Valley High at Mytholmroyd…

Clog-wearing players perform well-trodden routines and well-loved lines to an appreciative (and increasingly merry) audience in Weaver’s Square, Heptonstall, on the hill above Hebden Bridge in Calderdale. The central theme is a bit hazy, but involves St George and a host of others; a degree of pantomime theatre; some swordplay; and a healthy amount of ale-swigging.

It’s always a bonus when the sun’s out on Good Friday, and the audience numbers were swollen for this, the final performance of the day. As the players tend to retire to one or other of Heptonstall’s hostelries between stagings for some well-earned liquid refreshment, this was a glorious mix of ad-libbed responses, fluid moves and the occasional flubbed line, all being embraced and egged on by the audience. “Mince pies hot, mince pies cold; mince pies in the jar, nine days old…”

There’s much more information on the Pace Egg play here


Sylvia Plath’s grave at Heptonstall

Click/tap the image above to view a panoramic 360° view of the scene in your browser. 

The American-born poet, Sylvia Plath, was buried at Heptonstall, near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, in 1963 after a short and troubled life. In the past she was perhaps better known for her marriage to the former Poet Laurate Ted Hughes (originally from Mytholmroyd, a short distance away) but in recent years her creative impact and ability has been positively reappraised, based on a wider body of her work being discovered.

Her grave lies in the new graveyard: the headstone carries a simple inscription from Hughes, and has been defaced several times (if you look closely the name ‘Hughes’ is typeset slightly differently as the text has been replaced: a certain strand of more radical feminists is alleged have attempted to remove his surname repeatedly, in response to the abusive relationship in life and revisionist way he managed her creative legacy after death).

Sylvia Plath's headstone

On previous visits (see photo above from August 2012) the grave has been marked with stones, pens and other trophies and tributes from fans and well-wishers. On this occasion, fifty years after her death, the grave had been tidied up, just displaying floral tributes. During the time I was photographing this pano there was a steady stream of visitors to the site…

I shot this panorama on the same afternoon as a short and impromptu photoshoot with the excellent and highly tipped Merseyside band Bird, in and around the old and new church of St Thomas at Heptonstall.

Adele and Sian from Bird

I shot the band shortly before the second date on their current UK tour, when they played at the Puzzle Hall Inn in Sowerby Bridge. We had a short window of opportunity to take a few shots on a cold February afternoon, in the sombre surroundings of this ancient Yorkshire hilltop village under leaden skies. The weather matched their enigmatic, emotional and intimate music… given extra resonance as we viewed Sylvia Plath’s grave.

Thanks to Adele, Sian, Lex, Emma and Jack for their patience and good spirits: sitting in front of an open fire in the pub after an hour’s shooting in the raw winter’s air has rarely felt as rewarding!

Bird’s fourth release, Ophelia, is out now on Jack to Phono Records.


Lumb Bank, at night in deep snow


This evening I took a rather exciting and unplanned 4×4 journey via Colden Clough to Lumb Bank from Hebden Bridge, after the heaviest snowfall of the year so far. My mate had to go and feed his sheep so I tagged along. Some things don’t stop for the weather … ruminants need their feed no matter what. The unexpected diversion meant stunning quantities of snow, tough driving, and a beautiful view. Real picture-book scene.

The photo is misleading: despite what you see here it was pretty dark. A few lit windows in nearby buildings, a faint sodium orange cast on the clouds, and that unnatural shimmer of snow carpeting the ground were all that illuminated the view. The magic comes from a long exposure to bring out all the detail. For the geeks, shot as a series of single 30sec exposures, f8, 1600ISO.

Click below for a fullscreen 360° view of the scene in Flash, or for more info in Google Earth.

Early evening in Heptonstall

The ruins of the old church at Heptonstall, near Hebden Bridge, on a warm sping evening.

There’s a sense of things coming full circle with this photo. I first shot this scene in April 2007 with my first generation of panoramic kit, and was pleased with the results at the time. I’ve since been using the second generation kit for almost two years; but have recently upgraded my kit and updated my workflow radically. This third generation setup seems like the pinnacle of lightweight yet extreme quality panoramic photography: this is the first full spherical I’ve shot with it, and I love the amazing detail, wide tonal range and that lens flare … really nice!

Shot with Canon EOS50D, Sigma 10mm f2.8, Nodal Ninja w/R-D8 rotator, stitched with PTGui 8.1.

Click below for a fullscreen 360° view of the scene in Flash or QuickTime format, or locate the scene in Google Earth.

Feeding the horses at Lumb Bank, near Heptonstall

This is the sight at Lumb Bank which greeted me when I went with friends to feed their horses in the nearby fields. A cold layer of freezing fog clung to the bottom of the valleys all day; as the sun crept down behind the hills it was still wrapped, wraith-like at the bottom of Colden Clough. The light changed and the temperature dropped rapidly as I shot this. It was very cold, very still, and incredibly beautiful.

Ted Hughes, the former Poet Laureate, used to own Lumb Bank: now the Arvon Foundation run it as a centre for writers.

Click below for a fullscreen 360° view of the scene in Flash or QuickTime format, or locate the scene in Google Earth.