ADULT EDUCATION IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

June 07, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

                                                           I KNOW IT'S HARD TO BELIEVE, BUT THIS IS A TYPICAL SCENE IN SCOTLAND; LOCH LEVEN

After nearly two months away from home, it's interesting to be back in my study, writing about my travels with my wife and my camera. We have just spent six weeks in England and Scotland, and I feel very privileged to have been able to make such a trip, and to do it in our way. In this day and age, I felt a little paranoid about admitting that our house was empty for such a long time, so I resisted posting about our trip while it was underway. It is also interesting that my readership actually increased while I was away, which either means that I have built up a certain amount of momentum, or that your hearts grow fonder if I just shut up for awhile. Fran and I had an incredible time slowly exploring some select parts of the United Kingdom, and today I would like to explore several things I learned, or re-learned, about a photographic adventure far away from home.

                                                           A MEMORIAL ON A CHURCH IN CIRENCESTER, A MARKET TOWN IN THE COTSWOLDS - 1914-1918 BELOW WASMORE THAN 4 PANELS. A WORKMAN WATCHING ME TAKE THIS IMAGE REMARKED THAT WORLD WAR TWO'S CASUALTY LIST WAS SMALLER BECAUSE THERE WAS NO ONE LEFT IN THE TOWN TWENTY YEARS LATER

                                                           A TYPICAL LANE IN THE LAKE DISTRICT

The first and most important thing is to always keep safety first. I am sixty-eight years old, and even though I "practiced" hiking with my poles in Laurelhurst Park for weeks before we left, I was not ready for hiking in the wild, especially in Scotland. Part of this was due to my age and physical condition, but a big part of it was due to the differences between American and Scottish theories about protecting people once they have left the urban environment. Fran did an admirable job at doing all of the driving, and I must say that after a month or so she was a far better driver than most people on the road. There were two recurring problems on the road. One was that unlike all of our English detective shows, the one-lane roads were never empty. Passing a car coming the other way can work like clockwork if everyone knows the rules and follows them. If anyone is murky on the proper procedures (it took awhile to realize that all of the Europeans were in the same backwards boat as we were) or are just plain assholes, native or not, then the whole thing just breaks down. I finally begged with Fran that if someone was just being ridiculous, to just stop dead and at least they would be hitting our stationary car. The scarier thing , single track road or not, was that it soon occurred to us that any safety measure found on the roads - signs, lighting, guardrails, etc. - were indications that someone had already died at that spot. We were on our own.

                                                                 FOUR IMAGES FROM GLEN COE, ONE OF THE MOST SPECTACULAR PLACES ON EARTH. ALL OF THESE SCENES ARE LITERALLY TAKEN RIGHT OFF THE ROAD. IT IS ONE OF THE MAIN ROADS IN SCOTLAND, BUILT BY THE KING TO PACIFY THE HIGHLANDS

This cavalier attitude extended to the hiking trails as well. While I would not characterize anywhere we went as "wilderness", Scotland is certainly wild in the sense that there is very little accommodation to your safety if you venture out on paths and trails that might be a thousand years old. You have got to know what you are getting into, and to take every guide you read with a big grain of salt. I will illustrate this with the first two occasions where we got in over our heads. The first time was in the Lake District in England. I conned Fran into driving down a famous road with 20+ grades, which she passed with flying colors. When we go to the big hiking spot, I first observed people going off on hikes that clearly were probably way beyond their skills and certainly beyond ours. At the information desk my alternate choice of hike was loudly applauded as the best and easiest hike in the area, and we set off. The English have a rather casual relationship with the metric system. Distances on the road are all in miles, and speed limits are all in miles per hour. While I could never understand their penchant for citing parking and tourist stops as 420 or such yards away, as if yards were at all relevant to driving instructions, at least it was the outmoded English dimensions we were used to. But then came time to talk about hills and mountains, and suddenly without warning everything was meters. The hike we were sent off on was only one mile in length, and I thought that the four hundred foot elevation gain was not going to be easy, but certainly was doable. One quarter of the way up I realized that it was really 1200 feet straight up. If you have ever climbed past the bridge all of the way to the top of Multnomah Falls, then you know that this is not for the faint of heart. I have done that hike, and realized how long a one mile hike can be if you include all of the switch backs. This hike in the Lake District had no switchbacks - it was simply straight up. I was smart enough to simply sit down and wait for Fran to realize that while she was certainly doing better than me, this was not to be. I was content to return down the hill on my ass since I found it impossible to stand up again until I had nearly reached the bottom of the hill.

 

                                                           THE MOST PLEASANT SPOT ON THE TRAIL. IT WOULD AGAIN SOON TURN VERY GRIM

Suitably chastised, or so I thought, a week later we set off on what several guidebooks cited as a very easy jaunt just outside of Portree, the biggest, and really only city, on the Isle of Skye. This walk was so underplayed that I foolishly left my poles in the car, since we were only going on an easy 45-minute walk in the woods. While it turned out that I certainly had caught a virus that laid me up for a couple of days after this hike, I would submit that it was not really our fault - them hike had no relation to the guidebooks assessment of difficulty. Have you ever started a hike that seemed more difficult than advertised, and reasoned that it must get easier soon? What a mistake. While the path was "clearly marked" it was only because there was a vertical drop on one side that meant at least you would break an ankle if not something far worse. Without poles I could not negotiate a path that was really a series of too-high "steps" next to a cliff. The views were spectacular, but not if you are on your skinned knees. It took quite a long time for me to get back up, and I didn't want to risk anyone else who offered to help me up since I feared we would both go down the hill. Finally I got up, Fran returned from further up the trail, and we set out again, figuring that it had to get better, as we resisted turning around. It did get better, then it got worse, and after a few more falls, and taking a lot of the eventual downhill portion on my ass, we finally finished the hike. An "easy" 45 minutes had turned into a very difficult four hours, and I was very lucky that I only had skinned knees and a very bruised ego. We never believed any guidebook again except for one very conservative photographic guide which declared that no one should ever hurt themselves in pursuit of a photograph - a position that I agree with 100%.

                TWO IMAGES FROM TALISKER BAY FROM OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE BEACH. THIS PLACE DOES NOT RATE ON TOP SKYE SPOTS!

Fran found a site called "Skye for All" and we certainly could manage trails designed for wheelchairs. After a few weeks we graduated to harder "easy" trails, but never went anywhere without our poles, and promised each other that we could stop whenever we felt uncomfortable. I would stop whenever I had had my fill, and made some of my best photographs when I found a comfortable place to shoot while Fran went further down the trail.

                                                                  FOUR SCENES FROM THE TROTTERNISH RIDGE ON SKYE, BEFORE IT REALLY GETS UNWORLDLY

As a result of my difficulties and the unrealistic trail expectations, even after almost a month on Skye I never got near to some of the "iconic" places that I came to shoot. While I might still be disappointed, I came to realize that I had to come to grips with my limitations, and find other things to photograph. Once again I realized that even when you go far away, it's probably best to shoot in the same way that you do at home. Your view of the world can probably work on Skye as well as it does in Portland. And your particular way of seeing will lead you to more unique photographs than even a well-done rendition of "the shot" that is all over You Tube. Unfortunately photography is in many ways a solitary pursuit, and even a muse like Fran can only take so much of the start and stop that is part of a walk in the woods or in the city with a camera. While I was making every attempt to be a "proper" landscape photographer, we never got up before dawn or made use of our head lanterns. I carried a tripod all over the United Kingdom and only used it once, and then because I was not willing to have never used it all. Most of the time the conditions didn't even require a tripod; while it certainly wouldn't have hurt, I was unwilling to be even slower on the trail than I already was.

 

                WOODLAND TRAIL IMAGE BY FRAN, FROM A VERY FRIENDLY TRAIL. THIS SHOWS WHAT CROPPING AND POST PROCESSING CAN DO FOR AN IPHONE IMAGE.

                                                           ANOTHER IPHONE IMAGE BY FRAN FROM AN EASY TRAIL IN THE FAIRY GLEN. EASY UNTIL YOU'RE CRAZY ENOUGH TO CLIMB THAT TOWER AND PROCLAIM THAT YOU ARE THE KING OF THE WORLD! OH, TO BE YOUNG AND IDIOTIC!

I learned to ignore "the shot" even when I could take it. The chances of coming up with something new and interesting were pretty much nil. We were blessed with the weather, so we didn't face any difficult weather conditions that enable unique photographs. In six weeks in the United Kingdom, it really rained only three or four days. We should have put on our rain pants, which we never wore, only a couple of times. The best excuse for ignoring "the shot" beyond sheer stubbornness is that you are frequently far better off in just turning around 180 degrees and finding something almost equally spectacular that everyone else is ignoring. This doesn't make you a genius, just someone who is willing or forced to find something beyond the obvious. A telling example for me was our trip to Niest Point. Look it up on You Tube and you can decide where you stand on the endless debate (I kid you not) on whether to place the promontory above or below the horizon. Fran and Vinny and Steve went off to take good hour-or-so hike up and down hills that I clearly could not handle to walk to the lighthouse. I found a nice rock to sit on and spent most of the time looking at the literally spectacular mountains and seascapes that were directly opposite the lighthouse. Eventually I had my fill, got up off the rock and proceeded very slowly towards the area that I knew I had to reach to get "the shot." I couldn't take the path which was another collection of wet rocks, but I traipsed across the meadows, negotiated some small streams, and eventually found myself on the exact best spot to take " the shot." When Vinny finally caught up with me, I ceded my spot so he could take "the shot." If all this sounds very anticlimactic, well it certainly was. I have never seen any images like the ones I captured by literally turning around and ignoring the lighthouse. A lesson learned.

                                                   TWO STITCHED PANORAMAS OPPOSITE THE LIGHTHOUSE

                                                                  "THE SHOT" OF THE LIGHTHOUSE

Another lesson I learned was to certainly do a little research, but to then stop. Even travelers like Fran and me who are determined "not to do too much" can fall into the trap of at least planning too much. We were on Skye for almost a month and certainly didn't get to see "everything." While the roads on Skye do not lend themselves to just stopping on the side of the road to capture a scene that you and maybe no one else finds intriguing - because there is no side of the road - you can still find your way to pretty obscure places if you have a good map. I do not mean on your phone, although they are remarkably accurate even in the middle of nowhere. In the United Kingdom the OS Survey maps are so detailed that you can even find the Air BnB you are staying at on the map, along with every road and house in that portion of Skye. This level of detail allows you to find your own way to places that are not world famous not because they are not spectacular but that they are very out of the way. My advice would be to do the level of research that will allow you to find several places you really want to see, famous or not, and then to leave everything else to serendipity.

 

                                                                   OUR FIRST STONE CIRCLE, CASTLERIGG, IN THE LAKE DISTRICT

 

                                                                  OUR SECOND STONE CIRCLE NEAR INVERNESS

                                                           OUR THIRD STONE CIRCLE IN THE PEAK DISTRICT, ALONE IN THE POURING RAIN. ALL OF THESE CIRCLES ARE ABOUT 4000 YEARS OLD, GIVE OR TAKE. WHATEVER INTERESTS YOU, YOU CAN FIND IT ON THE GOOGLE. IT MIGHT BE MORE DIFFICULT TO FIND IT IN REAL LIFE.

Finally, it really, really, really is not about the gear. After sixteen years my DSLR  stopped working four days before the end of the trip. While my mode of shooting does not lend itself to the iPhone, I made do and think I have some very nice images from those final days of the trip. I went to my repair shop a few days ago and the nice young man declared my camera beyond hospice and clearly dead in the water. Not only wouldn't he fix it, but he couldn't fix it -there were no longer any parts around, even if I was crazy enough to spend two or three times what my camera is now worth to fix it. So while I will get a "new" camera, it probably will not be "new" since it would cost me somewhere in the neighborhood of $3000 to duplicate my old camera with something on the same level in a 2024. So just like replacing my 2001 Volvo with a 2006 Volvo, I'm probably going to "make do" with a state of the art camera from 2016 to replace my state of the art camera from 2008. And I will be just fine.

                SEASCAPE OFF THE NORTHERN END OF SKYE

I hope you have enjoyed these lessons and the accompanying images. There are many more tales and photographs to come from the United Kingdom as I absorb all of our memories from an incredible trip.

 

 

 

 

 


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