Author Archives: Steve Walker

About Steve Walker

Once a tech in-house PR type, now professional photo/videographer and recreational drone pilot. Violinist. Flautist. Occasional conductor. Oenophile.

We decided to ignore Lockdown and go away for the weekend

Well, you know how it is – nearly a full year of restricted freedoms. The third lockdown, particularly, has been a draconian curtailment of liberty combined with utterly shite weather. This has led to a build-up of frustration – drowning in mud on local walks, too horrid and icily unsafe for running or cycling, and not being able to go further afield.

So, when we found out about this Nice Little Barn Conversion which offered a cosy weekend away, we thought how nice it would be to celebrate one of our many anniversaries with a change of scenery. I have to say that we only gave the lockdown restrictions a second’s thought before setting out on the journey to investigate the place where we could celebrate 32 years as a couple.

And very nice it was, too. Tastefully decorated and with an appropriate welcome laid out for us as we arrived.

And the hosts had kindly laid out the necessities for the morning, too!

So, all was set for a pleasant celebratory evening.

There was one essential duty we had to perform, of course, which was the next in a series of posts we started before Christmas.  Saturday night is Cocktail Night (#saturdaycocktails), and so we had to cobble up a post from the available resources, since our normal cocktail cabinet wasn’t available to us.



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The place is very comfortable for a weekend away.  I didn’t sleep all that well, but that was more to do with a strange bed and too much booze. The bedroom itself was very comfy.

So, all in all, we can declare our discreet little weekend away to be a success – we had a nice time, and were able to celebrate our 32 years together in a pleasant variation from the Lockdown 3 norm of being slumped in the lounge reading or doing the crossword.

You might think I took what might be thought of as a little risk in posting about our excursion on social media as I did; and I was quite surprised that only a couple of friends spotted that we were apparently breaking the law.  I was frankly hoping for a little more outrage (beyond someone arguing that I’d posted a photo of food, something I normally abominate).

So, once I’d got the reaction, I was going to show the video of the journey to our little tryst.

Yes, we didn’t really go all that far!  We had just finished setting up the outbuilding which used to be the garage, and which was where Jane’s mother lived for the 10 or so years she spent with us.  Now we want to use it as guest accommodation for friends when they come to stay.  So, our “weekend away” was just a test run.  Well done to Kate, who spotted that we might just be spending the night in the shed! 😊

However, the exercise showed that we have a viable guest suite now, so here’s to the real end of Lockdown and we can once again enjoy face-to-face socialising with friends and offer them somewhere comfortable to recover from the cocktails that seem to be becoming an ineluctable part of our life these days.



The role of workshops in developing skills

This post was inspired by Amateur Photographer Magazine, who said, in a Facebook post, “We’re planning a feature about photography workshops and holidays. Have you ever done one, and if so who was it with, where did you go and what did you think of it? Would you do another one, once Covid is gone, and if so what’s on your wishlist?”

Using my phone, I started writing a response, then realised that there had been several workshops which had been not so much valuable as crucial in developing sufficient photo skills to sustain me in a certain amount of paid work – plus one which I was unable to attend for health reasons. So this post is my response in more detail than would have been appropriate for a Facebook stream.

The first workshop lesson: take it seriously (Nikon School)

Having dabbled in both film and digital photography, I screwed my courage to the sticking point and bought a digital SLR, a Nikon D70 (the courage being necessary to explain to the distaff side about the amount I’d spent). I realised quickly that I needed education about how to get the best out of it, and so enrolled on a specialist one-day course with Nikon School designed to bring home to the participants the sort of capabilities the D70 brought to bear. So, although I didn’t technically learn anything that wasn’t in the instruction manual, I picked up a sense of the importance of understanding the kit so that I could use it well. This principle was more important than the actual technical knowledge imparted.

Interim learning – the value of a mentor

Shortly afterwards, my work in PR enabled me to meet a professional photographer, Rob Matthews, who we employed to help us with a couple of PR projects. He was very patient in answering my persistent beginner-type questions and I also learned a huge amount simply by watching him at work and seeing the results he got. Not a formal workshop but an invaluable learning experience which shaped my professional style and, importantly, earning ability.

The second workshop: composition (Light and Land)

My principal (unpaid) photography was based around travelling and I simply made sure that I had a camera with me wherever I went. So when I spied an opportunity to visit the Lake District in a landscape photography workshop, I thought it presented a good chance to help me up my game from simple travel snaps, which is all I had really managed thus far. It was organised by Light and Land and, further, was an opportunity to meet not only Damien Demolder (who will be familiar to any regular Amateur Photographer readers, him being one-time editor and that) but also the great Charlie Waite, who is not only one of the great landscape photographers but is also a gent. I learned huge amounts about how to compose decent images rather than simply capture what’s in front of my eyes at the time.

The best one: Historic Warbirds (Nikon School)

As you can infer, I’m a Nikon user, and have attended various other Nikon workshops, such as a wildlife expedition to the British Wildlife Centre. This was enjoyable and I got some great photos out of it – and Nikon sold me a good lens on the strength of it, so winners all round. But Nikon School really came up trumps with an opportunity to photograph Spitfire and Hurricanes – Historic Warbirds – with the USP of being able to do this from the air. As well as learning the best way to photograph aeroplanes in flight, I and the other participants got the chance to capture some absolutely unique images. A memorable experience indeed.

The one that got away: Printing (Light and Land)

The trouble with Light and Land’s offerings is that they are all so tempting! I managed to resist their blandishments for a while, but then spotted a workshop with Joe Cornish, another great of landscape photography, focussing on preparing and printing images. Sadly, I had to cancel my attendance due to medical reasons, but this is an area where I recognise my own shortcomings and so is likely to be the subject of my next photo workshop.

The value of workshops

There is little substitute, when it comes to learning about something like photography, for just getting out and doing it. The value of a workshop is in shaping the practice – imparting knowledge, giving feedback and enabling the exchange of ideas. You still have to get out and do it, but with the help of workshops you can do this with greater confidence, insight and quality.

Day 13 – Camintosh: wet weather gear needed!

Cami-flage Day 13Wednesday 23rd September 2020

And so to the final day of our Cami-flage walks. From the weather perspective Menorca has the last laugh; our expectations were set low by the Met Office weather app – correctly so, as it turns out.

Our final walk was a round trip from Denbies Hillside and up round Ranmore Common; a shorter walk of about 8 miles.

(Dorking is just off to the right in the image.)

The walk started with a great view over the North Downs

(I have a confession to make – I have titivated some of these photos to make them a little less dull and more colourful; the above is an example. So one or two are not exactly as they came from the phone.)

We soon joined the North Downs Way, which at this point is a long, long straight path.

That’s a magnified view along it, Here’s what it really looked like.

Long and straight. It passes several great views such as these

which are, of course, enhanced by having a gin bottle in them.

If you have better eyesight than mine, you can even see Leith Hill tower on the horizon.

It’s a very enjoyable trail to stomp along. It reminds me of a story about a lady who used to keep herself fit by going for an exhilarating tramp in the woods every day. She died unexpectedly, and her family were really cross with her when they discovered she had left all her money to the exhilarating tramp.

As we walked along, we could hear some very loud crashing, bashing and gnashing. We eventually came across a very industrial strength bit of forestry kit in use beside the path,

although it rather looked like it was Forest 1 – Human 0, as the driver was seen getting some huge spanners out in order to do something arcane to the crashing-bashing-gnashing appendage on the front.

This is a very splendid forest trail, with some great groves of beech and yew trees along it

and a precipitous drop to the left in places.

It is part of the North Downs Way, which is some 153 miles long.

We passed a wartime pillbox or two

and some spectacular views

before turning off it and heading up to a major forestry trail

alongside which was evidence of some pretty major forestry having taken place. After a while, we emerged at a house called, for some bizarre reason, Red Gables.

before heading back into woodland. The path was not always clear.

but we found ways round and debouched on to Effingham Golf Course (I wonder if if it’s called that because of all the Effingham Blinding that goes on when a golfer hits a bad shot?).

We passed a “Neo-Tudor” pile called Robinswood

which seemed an obvious place to stage another gin bottle shot.

As we crossed fields on the edge of Ranmore Common, we could sort of make out London in the distance.

A short dive into woodland revealed the merciless nature of ivy’s grip once it gets established.

And as we emerged, blinking, into open countryside once again, it started raining, albeit not too heavily.

We passed a viewpoint over Polesden Lacey House

which seemed a good place for our final gin bottle shot of the not-holiday.

The final stretch took us into forest, which offered some protection from the rain: first beech;

then oak. It really was quite dark in the looming weather.

A final dash along Ranmore Common Road got us to the car before we became too bedraggled so that we could take ourselves off to Denbies Wine Estate for a Nice Lunch in the Gallery Restaurant. After today’s 7.93 miles we had something, after all, to celebrate.

13 walks in 13 days; 121.12 miles covered (6 miles more than would have been needed in Menorca); 3,623 metres of elevation gained (943 more than the Menorca total); and no injuries – we both feel that we could just carry on.

One reason not to carry on is actually the amount of time it takes up – not just the walking, but also the writing of the blog posts. I’ve hugely enjoyed all aspects of the last 13 days – yes, even the uphill bits – and writing about them has been wonderful, as I haven’t had an excuse to update this blog for ages. But we’ve acquired a bit of a backlog of Real Life Things that needs to be dealt with, so a few days of not walking will ease the pressure. But there’s a nice 18-mile walk that looks tempting for early next week; 9 miles along the canal to Weybridge, a Nice Lunch and then 9 miles back again, trying not to fall in.

I will add a couple of posts to the blog over the next days: a general wrap-up of our impressions of the fortnight; and a specific exposition of my thoughts on having used nothing but a mobile phone camera for the photography (OK, a drone, twice, but you get my thrust, here). So I hope to see you back here in some days. In the meantime, thanks for joining us on these walks and see you soon!