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


Whitby Abbey: vampires optional…

This is the impressive ruined Benedictine abbey which sits on the hilltop above Whitby, the delightfully picturesque fishing town on the coast of the North Yorkshire moors. The abbey forms an impressively moody sight in its own right, overlooking the North Sea and the quaint fishing harbour below.

However it (and the town below) found literary fame after Bram Stoker set part of his novel ‘Dracula’ in Whitby. The fictional count preyed on Lucy on the East Cliff, just a few yards from this abbey. 120 years after Bram Stoker wrote his gothic masterpiece, Whitby has become a regular place of gathering for goths from across the country. We arrived there on one such weekend, the day after Halloween, and the site was dotted with impressively-dressed goths checking out the ruins. The spectral figures added to the sense of other-worldliness. The skies were exactly what one would hope for in a setting like this: turbulent and rolling clouds, with shafts of sunlight breaking out above the autumnal moorland. Very evocative…

Click below for a full screen 360° view of the scene with Flash, to read more on Wikipedia, to see the location in Google Earth, or to view an iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch compatible version.

Inside the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle

Dunstanburgh Castle is an archetypal mediaeval castle dominating a headland near the picturesque village of Craster in Northumberland. Much of the castle lies in ruins, derelict and neglected since its decline in the fifteenth century. It’s a pleasant walk along the coast for a couple of miles, although there’s not too much to see or do once you get there, as the castle is quite ruined. I’m sure kids would love to clamber all over the place, re-enacting battles and epic tales of derring-do, while adults enjoy the view and a cooling ice cream.

Incidentally if you do go, be sure to stop for a mouth-wateringly good Craster kipper butty in the car park… local smoked herring served in a bap. A perfect foil to the force of the elements rolling off the sea…

As it was a really overcast day the light was flat with little contrast, so I shot this as a 9 bracket HDR to pull out the best of the detail and dynamic range (like the grass though the windows and the stairwell in shadow). I tried to keep the colours as natural as possible… the damp greens contrasting with the warmer sandstone tones. I’m a sucker for the way sandstone weathers so beautifully, even when it’s been protected from the full force of the elements from the North Sea.

HTML5 version

Click the icons above to view a fullscreen 360° view of the scene with Flash (for desktop) or HTML5 (for mobile). You can also view the location in Google Earth or read more about it in Wikipedia. Happy viewing!

Setting sun over the Giant’s Causeway

Having grown up in Northern Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway was the place you’d always take visitors. Internationally recognised, visually impressive, geologically distinctive, culturally neutral: even at the height of the Troubles when other places may’ve been off-limits , the Causeway was the tourist destination. Rightly so: it’s a wonderous and crazy-looking place, with hexagonal columns formed by basalt cooling rapidly. No wonder in the days before we had an understanding of vulcanology the locals believed it was built by the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill: a much more romantic explanation.

Trouble is, it’s (justifiably) extremely popular, and so viewing it without hordes of sightseeing visitors is nigh on impossible, except in publicity photographs. Apart from on a Friday night when there’s a World Cup match on, so most people are either glued to the telly or going out for the night. Result…

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the bay around the main causeway look as magical. The sea was calm, there was hardly a cloud in the sky, and the sun slowly dropped towards the horizon, painting the vista with increasing saturated colours. With so few people around we felt like we had the place to ourselves, for which I was incredibly appreciative. Such emptiness made it easier to understand the scale and beauty of the natural features. Truly magical.

Click below for a full screen 360° view of the scene with Flash, to read more on Wikipedia, to see the location in Google Earth, or to view an iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch compatible version.

Click below for a full screen 360° view of the scene with Flash, to read more on Wikipedia, to see the location in Google Earth, or to view an iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch compatible version.

Inside Victoria Baths, Manchester

Everywhere you look in Victoria Baths reveals flashes of glory, glimpsed through a patina of old age and gentle neglect. A century after its Edwardian inception the building still stands elegant and ornate on Hathersage Road, wearing the rigours of degradation and dereliction remarkably well. The Baths are being slowly and lovingly restored, so while the character of the buildings remains, the fabric is being delicately reconditioned.

I first visited these Baths in 2003, ten years after their doors were finally closed to the public. For some time I’d been taking an interest in some of the less well-known spots in Manchester that weren’t benefiting from the redevelopment elsewhere in the city. A workmate and I used to drive around the ‘twilight zone’ in the south, east and north of the city during our lunchbreaks. Victoria Baths was one of the most intriguing buildings we came across. From the outside the building looked beautiful but neglected: when I found out volunteers had a series of open days I couldn’t wait to glimpse what lay within.

Later that year, Victoria Baths won first prize on the BBC’s ‘Restoration’ programme, which marked the start of a long process to restore parts of the building. The Turkish Baths have now been partially restored, and the ongoing process of renovation continues. The building was open to the public as part of the Heritage Opendays programme this September, and I was impressed at how much more clean and cohesive it felt after six years.

View 1: Ladies Pool


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

View 2: The Aerotone Machine

I love this room: the shining, retro futurism of the Aeratone sits oddly against the grandiose Edwardian surroundings.In 1952 the first municipal Aeratone therapeutic bath (effectively a jacuzzi) in England was installed at Victoria Baths. It was unsurprisingly very popular, and was used right up until the Baths closed in 1993. The control console looks like something from the set of a 50s sci-fi movie, and the experience of being enveloped in a glistening, warm well of bubbles must’ve seemed like the height of swank and luxury. I look forward to the day when I can have a go…


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